Answer from Religion - Judaism - Bibliography

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The Reader's Guide to Judaism - Essays and Recommended Reading by Professor Sarah Imhoff Chapter 3.0 - Introduction to Judaism Jews and Judaism trace a lineage from the present day back through millennia to the ancient Israelites. Like all religious and ethnic communities, Jewish traditions are characterized by both continuity and change, both recurring themes and new commitments.

Chapter 3.0 – Introduction to Judaism


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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Jews and Judaism trace a lineage from the present day back through millennia to the ancient Israelites. Like all religious and ethnic communities, Jewish traditions are characterized by both continuity and change, both recurring themes and new commitments.

The Hebrew Bible, which contains works written from about 1000 BCE to the Hellenistic period (323-63 BCE), forms the foundational text of Judaism. However, Judaism as we know it today owes many of its theological and ritual features to textual interpretations and religious developments from the early Common Era. Textual and archaeological sources from Second Temple Judaism, i.e. Jewish communities from the time of the Second Temple (late 6th century through 70 CE), demonstrate the diversity of traditions at the time. The late 1940s to mid-1950s discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls brought to light the texts and practices of an ascetic community who lived at Qumran, and also opened new avenues of understanding other Jewish communities of the time, as well as the dynamic development of Jewish scriptures and scriptural interpretation. Florentino García Martínez’s collection The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated presents the text of the scrolls, while the Qumran community and its textual and historical relationship to other Jewish groups is discussed in García Martínez’s The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Apart from this ascetic sect at Qumran, there were many other Jewish groups in the early Common Era. In particular, Jewish thought and community also developed under Greek rule. These Hellenized Jews, including Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus, and their writings, in some ways represent another road not taken for Judaism. The Beginnings of Jewishness by Shaye J.D. Cohen and Between Athens and Jerusalem by John Collins chart the interactions and relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish communities largely in Hellenistic contexts. Daniel Boyarin’s Border Lines charts the social and textual negotiations that formed Christianity and Judaism as separate religious communities. Louis Finkelstein’s The Pharisees studies yet another contemporary Jewish political and theological movement, one that often found itself at odds with the more priestly Sadducees.

With historical perspective, however, we know that the interpretive community that would come to shape the future of Judaism was that of the rabbis. Unlike Karaite Jews, who upheld the authority of the Bible but did not accept the additional rabbinical teachings, rabbinic sages and their followers recorded the “Oral Law,” or complement and commentary to the “Written Law,” or Torah. From roughly the second century of the Common Era to the ninth century, religious scholars known as “rabbis” interpreted and reinterpreted religious texts, often in oral contexts in both master-disciple relationships and religious academies. At times, people within the scholarly community would compile and redact these oral teachings. In about 200 CE, for example, the community produced a set of interpretive (and largely legal) commentary on the Bible called the Mishnah. Later Jewish communities in Palestine and Babylonia would subsequently compile commentaries upon the Mishnah; these are respectively called the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. Other rabbinic sources, called Midrash, are concerned with the expansive exegesis of scripture; while somewhat less authoritative in subsequent religious communities, they continue to interest both scholars and practitioners. Most Midrashim contain more narrative than legal material and have therefore attracted academic commentators interested in language, narrative, and culture.

Rabbinic literature represents the best-preserved traditions from the early centuries of the Common Era, in part because these texts have held religious authority for Jewish communities throughout history and to today. Of these writings, the Babylonian Talmud has become the textual foundation of subsequent Judaism. Hermann Strack and Gunter Stemberger’s Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash serves as the canonical reference book for rabbinic texts, including chronological, geographical, and archaeological information about each collection. The Babylonian Talmud, redacted in Babylonia in the sixth or seventh century, is most significant and voluminous rabbinic text. The Steinsaltz translation is common, and the Schottenstein Talmud Bavli with facing Hebrew and English is an excellent, if occasionally religiously ideological, resource. A wealth of secondary scholarship on rabbinic literature ranges from the literary to the historical to the theoretical; some of its best examples include David Stern’s Parables in Midrash and Daniel Boyarin’s Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash.

The twelfth and thirteenth century emergence of Kabbalah, a mystical trend within Judaism, marked the spread of another interpretive tradition. The Zohar, the major text of Kabbalah, appeared in thirteenth century Spain. Daniel Matt’s translation and introduction volume, also entitled Zohar, are essential guides to its esoteric and obscure text and traditions. In On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, Gershom Scholem, the most famous scholar of mysticism, discusses recurring symbolism and concepts in Kabbalah. In contradistinction to these mystical trends, medieval Jewish philosophical traditions, exemplified by Maimonides, emphasized rationality. In his Guide for the Perplexed and other writings, some of which are available in the Maimonides Reader, he uses Aristotelian logic to create a coherent and orderly presentation of Jewish law.

With his 1670 Theological Political Treatise, the excommunicated Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza and his biblical criticism marked the beginning of the path to Jewish enlightenment thought. Moses Mendelssohn’s 1783 Jerusalem sought to retain both a commitment to rationalism and the value of halakhah in its articulation of modern political power and its relationship to religious freedom.

The strong Jewish philosophical tradition continues into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, often responding to and interacting with non-Jewish philosophies. Hermann Cohen’s classic Religion of Reason mounts a neo-Kantian argument for the reasonableness of Judaism and its traditional sources. Franz Rosenzweig’s 1921 masterpiece Star of Redemption remains a Jewish classic because of its remarkable depth and erudition; departing from German Idealism, Rosenzweig focused on concepts such as creation and revelation, and the relationship of the self to the world. The Star stands as arguably the most significant book in modern Jewish philosophy. French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas presents Other-focused ethics in his works. Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings provides a good overview, while Difficult Freedom and Nine Talmudic Readings deal more specifically with Jewish thought. Martin Buber’s I and Thou remains one of the most widely read Jewish theologies because of its accessibility and depth.

Emil Fackenheim’s Quest for Past and Future and God’s Presence in History are both essential works of post-Holocaust considerations of the possibilities and capacities of a Jewish God. Richard Rubenstein’s After Auschwitz, which spoke of a “death of God,” challenged the possibility of religion after the Holocaust. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s God in Search of Man and Between God and Man probe questions about the human relationship to the divine, especially through biblical interpretations and perennial questions of chosenness. Heschel’s The Sabbath remains a highly readable and profound meditation on the meaning of time and Judaism, and an excellent introduction for those new to Jewish theology. Joseph Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man and Lonely Man of Faith likewise consider the place of the modern observant Jew within a predominantly secular world. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s Zakhor conceives of the relationship of history and memory in relationship to Jewish practice and text. Each of these philosophical texts has had a lasting impact not only on Jewish Studies as a field, but also on the lives of Jewish readers.

Since the 1970s, Jewish theologians have taken the cultural critiques of feminism seriously, and have studied Judaism in its relationship to gender and sexuality. One strand, in which self-identified Jewish feminists sought to envision a Judaism inclusive of women’s experiences and authority, and critique sexism, includes Rachel Adler’s Engendering Judaism, Judith Plaskow’s Standing Again at Sinai, Susannah Heschel’s On Being a Jewish Feminist, and Blu Greenberg’s On Women and Judaism. Another strand hews more closely to traditional Judaism and asks how women and feminism might fit with Jewish practice; Tamar Ross’s Expanding the Palace of Torah, which offers a philosophical reading of traditional Jewish law that opens a space for women’s distinctive experience, is an erudite exemplar of this strand.

At the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, Arthur Green’s Seek My Face articulates a contemporary Jewish theology based on mysticism but oriented to modern Jews seeking religious experience within their world. In Body of Faith, Michael Wyschogrod articulates a traditional Judaism with and through the language of modern philosophy and Christian theology. Michael Fishbane’s Sacred Attunement offers a contemporary hermeneutical theology that focuses on cultivation of the self through attention to art, nature, and scripture.

But what about the whole picture? Where to begin? For historical and terminological reference, the Encyclopedia Judaica remains the most complete reference work, but cannot provide useful narrative ties among its subjects. Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy ties together these threads from the rabbinic to the contemporary in order to sketch a larger picture of Jewish textual tradition. A Time to Every Purpose, Jonathan Sarna’s epistolary introduction to Judaism and its rituals, provides an accessible and yet sophisticated route into thinking about Jewish religious practice today. For an excellent textual introduction, Barry Holtz collects small representative pieces of each of the most important interpretative traditions, from the Torah to rabbinic literature to mysticism, to show the varieties of Jewish textuality in Back to the Sources. The Jew in the Modern World, edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr and Judah Reinharz, provides a wide-ranging and clearly introduced collection of primary documents from Jewish history in the modern period.




Introduction to Judaism

Recommended Reading



Dr. Sarah Imhoff

Dr. Sarah Imhoff is an Assistant Professor in the Religious Studies and Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University, Bloomington.


Adler, Rachel. Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics. Beacon Press, 1999.

Boyarin, Daniel. Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. University of Pennsylvania Press, c2004.

Boyarin, Daniel. Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash. Indiana University Press, c1990.

Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Scribner, 1970.

Cohen, Hermann. Religion of Reason; Out of the Sources of Judaism. Scholars Press, c1995.

Cohen, Shaye J.D. The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. University of California Press, 1999.

Collins, John Joseph. Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora. Crossroad, 1983,

Fackenheim, Emil. God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections. J. Aronson, 1997.

Fackenheim, Emil. Quest for Past and Future; Essays in Jewish Theology, Indiana University Press, 1968.

Finkelstein, Louis. The Pharisees, the Sociological Background of Their Faith. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962.

Fishbane, Michael. Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology. University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Green, Arthur. Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology. J. Aronson, 1992.

Greenberg, Blu. On Women & Judaism: A View from Tradition. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. Between God and Man; An Interpretation of Judaism, From the Writings of Abraham J. Heschel. Harper, 1959.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955.

Heschel, Abraham. The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Heschel, Susannah. On Being a Jewish Feminist. Schocken Books, c1995.

Holtz, Barry W. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts. Summit Books, 1984.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism. Johns Hopkins University Press, c1990.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings. Indiana University Press, c1996.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Nine Talmudic Readings. Indiana University Press, 1990.

Maimonides, Moses. A Maimonides Reader. Behrman House, 1972.

Maimonides, Moses. The Guide for the Perplexed. Barnes & Noble Books, c2004.

Martinez, Florentino Garcia. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English. E.G. Brill, 1996.

Martinez, Florentino Garcia. The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls. E.G. Brill, 1995.

Matt, Daniel C. The Zohar: Sefer Ha-Zohar. Stanford University Press, 2004.

Mendelssohn, Moses. Jerusalem. University Press of New England, 1983.

Mendes-Flohr, Paul and Reinharz, Jehuda. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Plaskow, Judith. Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective. Harper & Row, 1990.

Rosenzweig, Franz. The Star of Redemption. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

Ross, Tamar. Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism. Brandeis University Press, 2004.

Rubenstein, Richard. After Auschwitz: History, Theology, and Contemporary Judaism. Johns Hopkins University Press, c1992.

Sarna, Jonathan. A Time to Every Purpose. Basic Books, c2008.

Scholem, Gershom. On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah. Schoken Books, c1991.

Skolnik, Fred. Encyclopedia Judaica. MacMillan Reference USA, 2006.

Soloveitchik, Joseph. Halakhic Man. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983.

Soloveitchik, Joseph. The Lonely Man of Faith. Doubleday, c2006.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. Theological Political Treatise. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Steinsaltz, Adin. The Talmud, Talmud Bavli: The Steinsaltz Edition. Random House, 1989-c1998.

Stern, David. Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature. Harvard University Press, 1991.

Strack, Hermann Leberecht and Stemberger, Gunter. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. Fortress Press, 1992.

Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History. William Morrow, c2008.

Wyschogrod, Michael. The Body of Faith: Judaism as Corporeal Election. Seabury Press, 1983.

Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory. University of Washington Press, c1996.

Zlotowitz, Meir. Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud Bavli. Artscroll, 1997.