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For centuries, Jews have been known as the "people of the book." It is commonly thought that Judaism in the first several centuries CE found meaning exclusively in textual sources. But there is another approach to meaning to be found in ancient Judaism, one that sees it in the natural world and derives it from visual clues rather than textual ones. According to this conception, God embedded hidden signs in the world that could be read by human beings and interpreted according to complex systems. In exploring the diverse functions of signs outside of the realm of the written word, Swartz introduces unfamiliar sources and motifs from the formative age of Judaism, including magical and divination texts and new interpretations of legends and midrashim from classical rabbinic literature. He shows us how ancient Jews perceived these signs and read them, elaborating on their use of divination, symbolic interpretation of physical features and dress, and interpretations of historical events. As we learn how these ancient people read the world, we begin to see how ancient people found meaning in unexpected ways.
Making the rich narrative world of Talmud tales fully accessible to modern readers, renowned Talmud scholar Jeffrey L. Rubenstein turns his spotlight on both famous and little-known stories, analyzing the tales in their original contexts, exploring their cultural meanings and literary artistry, and illuminating their relevance. Delving into both rabbinic life (the academy, master-disciple relationships) and Jewish life under Roman and Persian rule (persecution, taxation, marketplaces), Rubenstein explains how storytellers used irony, wordplay, figurative language, and other art forms to communicate their intended messages. Each close reading demonstrates the story's continuing relevance through the generations into modernity. For example, the story "Showdown in Court," a confrontation between King Yannai and the Rabbinic judges, provides insights into controversial struggles in U.S. history to balance governmental power; the story of Honi's seventy-year sleep becomes a window into the indignities of aging. Through the prism of Talmud tales, Rubenstein also offers timeless insights into suffering, beauty, disgust, heroism, humor, love, sex, truth, and falsehood. By connecting twenty-first-century readers to past generations, The Land of Truth helps to bridge the divide between modern Jews and the traditional narrative worlds of their ancestors.
The enigmatic kabbalist Samuel Falk, known as the Ba'al Shem of London, has piqued the curiosity of scholars for enerations. Eighteenth-century London was fascinated by Jews, and as a miracle-worker and adventurer, well connected and well read, Falk had much to offer. Interest in the man was further aroused by rumours of his dealings with European aristocrats and other famous characters, as well as with scholars, Freemasons, and Shabbateans, but evidence was scanty. Michal Oron has now brought together all the known source material on the man, and her detailed annotations of his diary and that of his assistant give us rich insights into his activities over several years. We learn of his meetings and his travels; his finances; his disputes, his dreams, and his remedies; and lists of his books. We see London's social life and commerce, its landed gentry and its prisons, and what people ate, wore, and possessed. The burgeoning Jewish community of London and its religious practices, as well as its communal divisiveness, is depicted especially colourfully. The scholarly introductions by Oron and by Todd Endelman and the informative appendices help contextualize the diaries and offer an intriguing glimpse of Jewish involvement in little-known aspects of London life at the threshold of the modern era.
This monument of rabbinical exegesis, written at the end of the twelfth century, has exerted an immense and continuing influence upon Jewish thought. It has also been a formative element in the thinking of leading Christian writers and philosophers down through the seventeenth century. The "Guide" is not a philosophical treatise. Rather, its aim is to liberate men from the tormenting perplexities arising from their understanding of the Bible according only to its literal meaning.
What did ancient Jews believe about demons and angels? This question has long been puzzling, not least because the Hebrew Bible says relatively little about such transmundane powers. In the centuries after the conquests of Alexander the Great, however, we find an explosion of explicit and systematic interest in, and detailed discussions of, demons and angels. In this book, Annette Yoshiko Reed considers the third century BCE as a critical moment for the beginnings of Jewish angelology and demonology. Drawing on early 'pseudepigrapha' and Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls, she reconstructs the scribal settings in which transmundane powers became a topic of concerted Jewish interest. Reed also situates this development in relation to shifting ideas about scribes and writing across the Hellenistic Near East. Her book opens a window onto a forgotten era of Jewish literary creativity that nevertheless deeply shaped the discussion of angels and demons in Judaism and Christianity.
Thanks to these generous donors for making the publication of this book possible: Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence Deutsch.
The latest in the JPS Bible Commentary series, 2011 National Jewish Book Award Winner, Barbara Dobkin Award in Women's Studies
The moving story of Ruth, with its themes of loyalty, loving kindness ("hesed"), and redemption, is one of the great narratives of the Bible.
Socially, the Israelites were aware of their responsibility to protect the weak and unprotected among them. Redemption secures the life of the people as a community, not just as individuals. In this story, Boaz fills the familial obligation to marry the widow of a deceased relative who never was able to father children, both to continue the family line and protect an otherwise vulnerable woman.
The authors provide a critical, line-by-line commentary of the biblical text, presented in its original Hebrew, complete with vocalization and cantillation marks, as well as the 1985 JPS English translation. The extensive introduction places the book within its historical, literary, and critical context, discusses contemporary interpretations of the story of Ruth, and examines its major motifs and themes, among them: family, marriage and levirate marriage in biblical and ancient Israel, redemption and inheritance, hesed, and the book's connection with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
A compelling account of Christianity's Jewish beginnings, from one of the world's leading scholars of ancient religion How did a group of charismatic, apocalyptic Jewish missionaries, working to prepare their world for the impending realization of God's promises to Israel, end up inaugurating a movement that would grow into the gentile church? Committed to Jesus's prophecy-"The Kingdom of God is at hand!"-they were, in their own eyes, history's last generation. But in history's eyes, they became the first Christians. In this electrifying social and intellectual history, Paula Fredriksen answers this question by reconstructing the life of the earliest Jerusalem community. As her account arcs from this group's hopeful celebration of Passover with Jesus, through their bitter controversies that fragmented the movement's midcentury missions, to the city's fiery end in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, she brings this vibrant apostolic community to life. Fredriksen offers a vivid portrait both of this temple-centered messianic movement and of the bedrock convictions that animated and sustained it.
The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah (the Orlofsky Edition) addresses some of the burning issues of our times through the lens of the rituals and texts of the Seder night. As we recognise that "in every generation" we are to seek liberation and freedom, this Haggadah demonstrates an activism that stems from -- rather than being stymied by -- our ancient traditions. Open Orthodoxy is a stream of Orthodoxy that combines a strict adherence to Jewish law with an openness and flexibility on certain contemporary issues. With contributions from prominent and original thinkers and an introduction to the term Open Orthodoxy from Rabbi Avi Weiss, this Haggadah discusses some of these cutting-edge concerns -- such as women as clergy within Orthodoxy (i.e., the Maharat phenomenon), the agunah crisis, and the interaction between Jews and Gentiles.
The book of Jeremiah poses a challenge to biblical scholarship in terms of its literary composition and textual fluidity. This study offers an innovative approach to the problem by focusing on an instructive case study. Building on the critical recognition that the prophecy contained in Jer 10:1-16 is a composite text, this study systematically discusses the various literary strands discernible in the prophecy: satirical depictions of idolatry, an Aramaic citation, and hymnic passages. A chapter is devoted to each strand, revealing its compositional development-from the earliest recoverable stages down to its late reception. A range of pertinent evidence-culled from the literary, text-critical, and linguistic realms-is examined and sets within broader perspectives, with an eye open to cultural history and the development of theological outlook.The investigation of a particular text has important implications for the textual and compositional history of Jeremiah as a whole. Rather than settling for the common opinion that Jeremiah developed in two main stages, reflected in the MT and LXX respectively, a nuanced supplementary model is advocated, which better accords with the complexity of the available evidence.
Normon Solomon's succinct book is an ideal introduction to Judaism as a religion and way of life. Demonstrating the diverse nature and ethnic origin of those with the Jewish faith, Solomon explores how the Jewish religion has developed in the 2,000 years since the days of the Bible. This Very Short Introduction starts by outlining the basics of practical Judaism - its festivals, prayers, customs, and various sects - and goes on to consider how Judaism has responded to, and dealt with, a number of key issues and debates, including the impact of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. In this new edition, Solomon considers issues of contemporary Judaism in the twenty first century. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
In The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World Jordan D. Rosenblum explores how cultures critique and defend their religious food practices. In particular he focuses on how ancient Jews defended the kosher laws, or kashrut, and how ancient Greeks, Romans, and early Christians critiqued these practices. As the kosher laws are first encountered in the Hebrew Bible, this study is rooted in ancient biblical interpretation. It explores how commentators in antiquity understood, applied, altered, innovated upon, and contemporized biblical dietary regulations. He shows that these differing interpretations do not exist within a vacuum; rather, they are informed by a variety of motives, including theological, moral, political, social, and financial considerations. In analyzing these ancient conversations about culture and cuisine, he dissects three rhetorical strategies deployed when justifying various interpretations of ancient Jewish dietary regulations: reason, revelation, and allegory. Finally, Rosenblum reflects upon wider, contemporary debates about food ethics.
Winner of the 2016 Goldstein-Goren Award for the best book in Jewish Thought At once a study of biblical theology and modern Jewish thought, this volume describes a "participatory theory of revelation" as it addresses the ways biblical authors and contemporary theologians alike understand the process of revelation and hence the authority of the law. Benjamin Sommer maintains that the Pentateuch's authors intend not only to convey God's will but to express Israel's interpretation of and response to that divine will. Thus Sommer's close readings of biblical texts bolster liberal theologies of modern Judaism, especially those of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Franz Rosenzweig. This bold view of revelation puts a premium on human agency and attests to the grandeur of a God who accomplishes a providential task through the free will of the human subjects under divine authority. Yet, even though the Pentateuch's authors hold diverse views of revelation, all of them regard the binding authority of the law as sacrosanct. Sommer's book demonstrates why a law-observant religious Jew can be open to discoveries about the Bible that seem nontraditional or even antireligious.
The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Yet the Talmud has remained in print for centuries and is more popular today than ever. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer tells the remarkable story of this ancient Jewish book and explains why it has endured for almost two millennia. Providing a concise biography of this quintessential work of rabbinic Judaism, Wimpfheimer takes readers from the Talmud's prehistory in biblical and second-temple Judaism to its present-day use as a source of religious ideology, a model of different modes of rationality, and a totem of cultural identity. He describes the book's origins and structure, its centrality to Jewish law, its mixed reception history, and its golden renaissance in modernity. He explains why reading the Talmud can feel like being swept up in a river or lost in a maze, and why the Talmud has come to be venerated--but also excoriated and maligned-in the centuries since it first appeared. An incomparable introduction to a work of literature that has lived a full and varied life, this accessible book shows why the Talmud is at once a received source of traditional teachings, a touchstone of cultural authority, and a powerful symbol of Jewishness for both supporters and critics.
Why Evolution Matters examines the concept of evolution in relation to Judaism, showing that far from something to be avoided within the religion, evolutionary thought deepens an understanding of classic areas of Jewish concern, including free will, moral behavior, suffering, and death. The book presents a novel interpretation of biological evolution in which convergences, self-organization, constraints, and progress are seen as components of the divinely intended world. Why Evolution Matters confronts some major questions that are leveled at the Jewish religion: How can God have created the world when evolution says everything just happened? How can we believe in the truth of Genesis when it conflicts with the facts of evolution? How did we evolve and why does it matter? How and toward what ends should we influence future evolution? The book explains how Genesis and evolutionary cosmology and biology reinforce, rather than contradict, one another. Author Joel Yehudah Rutman, an experienced paediatric neurologist, draws on his own practical experience in a branch of medicine in which our evolutionary past is much in evidence. Why Evolution Matters is a 'must-read' for scientists, religious studies scholars, and anyone with an interest in religion.
Christians, Muslims and Jews all stem from one man, Abraham, and yet relations between them are so often strained. Three men of faith - one Jew, one Muslim and one Christian - debate the differences between them. The result is a compelling discussion: What do their faiths teach on the big issues of life? What can be done to make for better relationships in the future? What can be done on the big global areas of conflict and tension? How can they get along? For hundreds of years, many of the biggest global conflicts have been fuelled by religious hatred and prejudice. It is evident, in the early part of the 21st century that not much has changed. Whether it is fundamentalist Muslims waging jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the perpetual low scale hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, to the man in the street, religion seems to make people more likely to fight each other, not less. Why is this? Why Can't They Get Along? is a powerful and much needed account. Current, passionate and compelling it is essential reading.
From the recipient of the National Jewish Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, a "hugely entertaining and irreverent" (Adam Gopnik, New Yorker) account of the art of translating the Hebrew Bible into English In this brief book, award-winning biblical translator and acclaimed literary critic Robert Alter offers a personal and passionate account of what he learned about the art of Bible translation over the two decades he spent completing his own English version of the Hebrew Bible. Alter's literary training gave him the advantage of seeing that a translation of the Bible can convey the text's meaning only by trying to capture the powerful and subtle literary style of the biblical Hebrew, something the modern English versions don't do justice to. The Bible's style, Alter writes, "is not some sort of aesthetic embellishment of the 'message' of Scripture but the vital medium through which the biblical vision of God, human nature, history, politics, society, and moral value is conveyed." And, as the translators of the King James Version knew, the authority of the Bible is inseparable from its literary authority. For these reasons, the Bible can be brought to life in English only by re-creating its literary virtuosity, and Alter discusses the principal aspects of style in the Hebrew Bible that any translator should try to reproduce: word choice, syntax, word play and sound play, rhythm, and dialogue. In the process, he provides an illuminating and accessible introduction to biblical style that also offers insights about the art of translation far beyond the Bible.
Stories of rape, murder, adultery, and conquest raise crucial issues in the Hebrew Bible, and their interpretation helps societies form their religious and moral beliefs. From the sacrifice of Isaac to the adultery of David, narratives of sin engender vivid analysis and debate, powering the myths that form the basis of the religious covenant, or the relationship between a people and their God.
Rereading these stories in their different forms and varying contexts, Alan F. Segal demonstrates the significance of sinning throughout history and today. Drawing on literary and historical theory, as well as research in the social sciences, he explores the motivation for creating sin stories, their prevalence in the Hebrew Bible, and their possible meaning to Israelite readers and listeners. After introducing the basics of his approach and outlining several hermeneutical concepts, Segal conducts seven linked studies of specific narratives, using character and text to clarify problematic terms such as "myth," "typology," and "orality." Following the reappearance and reinterpretation of these narratives in later compositions, he proves their lasting power in the mythology of Israel and the encapsulation of universal, perennially relevant themes. Segal ultimately positions the Hebrew Bible as a foundational moral text and a history book, offering uncommon insights into the dating of biblical events and the intentions of biblical authors.
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