3D Judaism – Special Subjects
by Dr. Sarah Imhoff
Dr. Sarah Imhoff is an Assistant Professor in the
Religious Studies and Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University,
As a religious and cultural community, Jews have lived with
people of other religions and grappled with diverse philosophies. The best
research frames these encounters neither as entirely negative nor as entirely
positive, but as interactions that shape and change ideas and peoples.
Historical studies such as Marc Cohen’s Under Crescent and Cross demonstrate the complexity of Jewish life
with Muslims and Christians, and in doing so reject both a utopic “golden age”
of tolerance and a narrative of unceasingly vile anti-Semitism. Jacob Katz’s Exclusiveness and Tolerance is an early
work in this area. Kalman Bland, in The
Artless Jew, uses Jewish and non-Jewish sources from the medieval and
modern periods to show how the idea of Jewish hostility to visual arts is more
stereotype than reality.
While Cohen’s book focuses on the Middle Ages, other historical
works consider Judaism and Christianity together in antiquity. Louis Feldman’s Jew and the Gentile in the Ancient World
illuminates the sympathetic and positive portrayals of non-Jews in Greco-Roman
society. Going beyond explicit religious comparison, John Collins demonstrates
some of the social and philosophical interactions between Greek and Jewish
cultures in his Hellenism in the Land of
Israel. Amy Jill Levine’s The
Misunderstood Jew focuses on Christian communities’ grappling with the idea
of a Jewish Jesus.
Martin Buber’s Two Types of
Faith, Leo Baeck’s collection Judaism
and Christianity, and Arthur Cohen’s The
Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition each deal with the philosophical
issues of religious comparisons of Judaism and Christianity. Although not all
scholars agree on the utility of scholarly religious comparison, there are
useful studies that consider aspects of Judaism alongside other religions.
These range from broad overviews of religious ideas and traditions such as F.E.
Peters’s study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam entitled The Monotheists to Barbara Holdredge’s
careful textual study of Jewish and Hindu texts, Torah and Veda.
Others, in lieu of offering historical studies, have offered
constructive theological programs for creating contemporary interreligious
dialogue. Much of this literature focuses on Jewish-Christian conversation with
the end goal of increasing cross-religious knowledge and tolerance, as seen in
Edward Kessler’s An Introduction to
Jewish-Christian Relations and Marc Krell’s Intersecting Pathways. Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner focus on
theological difference, rather than parallelisms, in their scriptural analyses Classical Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.
The topic of science and religion has garnered increasing
scholarly attention, even beyond the realm of Christianity. David Ruderman’s Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in
Early Modern Europe shows the historical interactions of scientific and
religious change and development, while Geoffrey Cantor’s Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism focuses on the
topics of evolution, scripture, and theology.
also has a tradition of ethical reasoning, in many cases participating in more
general contemporary ethical conversations, such as bioethics, environmental
ethics, and war and peace. While significant new scholarship is still emerging
in Jewish medical ethics, Elliot Dorff’s Matters
of Life and Death, Benjamin Freedman’s Duty
and Healing, and Noam Zohar’s Alternatives
in Jewish Bioethics each present medical decision-making from a view of
Jewish tradition. Biologist Miryam Wahrman considers issues in medical
technology and Jewish law in her Brave
New Judaism. Robert Eisen’s The Peace
and Violence of Judaism traces Jewish tradition about war and conflict from
the Bible to the present. Martin Yaffe’s edited volume Judaism and Environmental Ethics provides a broad and scholarly
survey of the research and issues in Jewish ecology and environmentalism.