JUDAISM'S THEOLOGICAL VOICE by Jacob Neusner

JUDAISM'S THEOLOGICAL VOICE

The Melody of the Talmud
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A fascinating combination of a sometimes poetic ``love song'' to and a crisp structural analysis of Judaism's magnum opus, the Babylonian Talmud. The metaphor of music may initially seem inappropriate for the verbal, intellectual, and argumentative Talmud, which the author describes as ``so elliptical, so self-referential that its rules of thought require explanation that the writing does not convey.'' But Neusner (Religious Studies/Univ. of South Florida, Tampa; A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, 1993, etc.), by far the most prolific scholar of rabbinic Judaism, succeeds in demonstrating the Talmud's distinctive ``melody.'' In part, he does so by differentiating it from the Pentateuch, which is characterized by narrative and ritual commandments, while the Talmud revels in polemical dialectics. Referring to specific talmudic passages, Neusner demonstrates how the student of Talmud, like the musician facing a score, is presented with a skeletal ``melody'' that he--and, increasingly, she--then co-creates with the ``composer'' by relearning and reinterpreting it. Somewhat less convincingly, Neusner maintains that this hermeneutic is purposeful because it helps the learner apprehend ever-higher realms of rationality and harmony. In his view, the Talmud's logic and law stand revealed as but one facet of the universe's divinely inspired harmony. In a typically beautifully succinct formulation, Neusner writes that ``what we learn about God [in the Talmud] is that what we dispute is beyond dispute.'' Yet what, one wonders, of evidence of divine absence, of human evil, and natural destructiveness? These are, after all, matters both the Pentateuch and the Talmud address repeatedly and, wisely, avoid resolving. Neusner may wax a bit too rhapsodic at times, as lovers are wont to do. But despite minor flaws, he writes with the kind of balance between imaginative daring and explicatory clarity that has become academia's rarest commodity.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-226-57648-5
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995




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