THE DEATH AND BIRTH OF JUDAISM: The Impact of Christianity, Secularism, and the Holocaust on Jewish Faith by Jacob Neusner

THE DEATH AND BIRTH OF JUDAISM: The Impact of Christianity, Secularism, and the Holocaust on Jewish Faith

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A radical theological argument from a leading Judaic scholar: that the forms of modern Judaism have evolved in response to exo-Jewish influences, rather than as natural growths of earlier Judaic forms. Neusner envisions ""eight Judaisms""--all of which he treats with utmost respect--to have flourished since the rise of the Christian West. The first, and most long-lived, he calls the Judaism of the Dual Torah (molded on the Talmud and on oral teachings, hence dual), born in 312 A.D. of the need for Judaism to find its place within the new Christian empire that no longer granted Israel the political and religious autonomy accorded by the Romans. So successfully did this Judaism meet the Christian challenge, states Neusner, that it ruled until secularism, heralded by the American Revolution, displaced the Christian world-view. Then, for the first time, Jews had to define themselves not only as Jews, but as individual political citizens; from this need arose Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative Judaisms, each of which considers itself ""the final and logical outcome of Judaism"" but each of which, in Neusner's analysis, actually ""begins on its own and only then goes back to the received documents."" And following closely after these three Judaisms are four more, all of which he sees as arising in response to political exigencies: Jewish socialism/Yiddishism; Zionism; American Judaism; the Judaism of reversion. Neusner closes by predicting no new Judaisms in the forseeable future, a projected failure of the religious imagination that he traces to the intellectual poverty and emotional banality of our time. The simplicity and elegance of Neusner's exposition, as well as his consideration of Judaism's protean nature as a paradigm for all religions, recommends this work (which is sure to arouse controversy among students of Judaica) for all interested in the history of religions.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1987
Publisher: Basic Books