Exploring Judaism Exploring Judaism
    • $99.99

Publisher Description


This essay is my first major piece speaking to directly to a question of methodology. In it, I respond to the critiques of Jacob Neusner and W.S. Green concerning the “gullible” methods of others as they work with rabbinic sources. My conclusions suggest a kind of compromise: the cautions of Neusner and Green are well taken, but their conclusion is too extreme. That, in any case, was my opinion a decade ago.

At the time I wrote this essay, I had long been the student of David Weiss Halivni and was much influenced by his work. Halivni had, at that time, staked out an interesting position for himself. His work was based on the recognition that the oral traditions of the rabbis underwent significant transformations in the course of their transmission. But he asserted that he could, through careful comparison of rabbinic sources and informed speculation, often recover the “original” forms of rabbinic teachings. Thus, while his work was not as “gullible” as that of many others, it did offer a key to writing histories of rabbinic teachings—and histories based upon those teachings (Halivni was not interested in writing “history” as such).

As a consequence of this influence, I, along with many others, was disturbed by the conclusions suggested in the work of Neusner and Green. It seemed so iconoclastic (which indeed it was!)—even nihilistic. Still, in view of the indubitable correctness of many of their insights, I had to take this methodological critique seriously. At the same time, I believed that, in the evidence I had compiled for my Ph.D. dissertation (which at the time of this essay also came to form the foundation of my work in The Mind of the Talmud), I had discovered a key to answering some of their objections. There is a sort of evidence, I argued, that avoids the pitfalls of the history writing which Neusner and Green dismiss.

My argument for this possibility is presented below. Interestingly, many who want to write rabbinic histories have called upon this essay to support their claims: Isaiah Gafni refers to it often in his presentations, and Michael Chernick included this piece in his Essential Papers on the Talmud (NYU Press, 1994). Nevertheless, I am no longer sure that I stand by the conclusions of this essay. In the next piece in this section, written nearly a decade later, I call upon other scholarship to question even the present conservative claims. I invite the reader to consider these pieces together and judge for him- or herself which position seems more reasonable.

Religion & Spirituality
May 3
University of South Florida
The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group

More Books by David Kraemer

Rabbinic Judaism Rabbinic Judaism
The Meanings of Death in Rabbinic Judaism The Meanings of Death in Rabbinic Judaism

Other Books in This Series

Essays in Jewish Historiography Essays in Jewish Historiography
Targum Studies Targum Studies
Precedent and Judicial Discretion Precedent and Judicial Discretion
The Golden Calf and the Origins of the Anti-Jewish Controversy The Golden Calf and the Origins of the Anti-Jewish Controversy
The Motherhood of God and Other Studies The Motherhood of God and Other Studies
Recovering the Role of Women Recovering the Role of Women