Answer from Judaism - Special Subject Books

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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, Bloomington.

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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.

Judaism 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.