Neusner’s Theology of the Oral Torah, Chapter 14

The following post contains my notes on Jacob Neusner’s The Theology of the Oral Torah: Revealing the Justice of God (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999), Part IV, Restoring World Order, Chapter 14, Restoring the Public Order: The World to Come. The former installments are: Introduction and Chapter 1, Chapters 2 and 3, Chapters 4 and 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, and Chapter 13. This Chapter 14, on the World to Come, is the last chapter proper in Neusner’s book. There follows an Epilogue, on which I will also prepare notes. I will also be posting some reflections on the book as a whole, showing its value as an introduction to the thought of the sages as found in the Oral Torah.

Neusner begins (p. 599):

For us it is not easy to imagine a thought-world in which patterns, rather than sequences of events treated as cause and effect, are asked to organize experience. Yet the theology of the Oral Torah sets forth a thought world in which what is at stake are not beginnings and endings in an ordinal or (other) temporal sense. At issue, rather, are balances and proportions, the match of this to that, start to finish, Eden and world to come. True, that mode of thought is not commonplace outside the rule-seeking sciences of nature and society. These worlds of intellect do not tell the teleologically framed story of a molecule or the history of a law of economics but seek to formulate in abstract terms the concrete facts of molecules and enduring rules of economics that describe secular facts whatever the temporal context. But, I think it is now clear, that is precisely how the sages think, which is to say, in the manner of the natural philosophers of antiquity in general, as I pointed out in chapter 1. And they have in mind, as I said, paradigms of relationship.

This philosophy and worldview of the sages can also be taken to explain precisely why we find relatively little narrative in the documents of the Oral Torah, and no large scale histories (whether primary or secondary) of the sort produced by their contemporaries in Christian circles. God’s justice in the world is expressed in balance, as we have learned, and as the primary goal of the Oral Torah itself is the expression of and effecting of God’s justice in the world in Israel, and not focusing on the imbalances abounding in history, the theoretically rigorous systematization of themes coheres and we are presented not with an outline of history, from Eden to the world to come, bu the demonstration of their philosophy of God’s justice. The temporal aspect is secondary. As the world to come is a nececcary component of God’s justice, it is discussed, not because of an apocalyptic interest in eschatology, or a tidying-up of history. For the sages, history itself is irrelevant in the Oral Torah—there is only justice.

In this final, eternally-lasting period in God’s plan for the implementation of His justice, the sages describe an overturning of man-God relations, and the full implementation of God’s intention for man: the restoration of proper relations (p. 599). The temporal contexts of these relations has always been irrelevant. As Neusner says, “The restorationist character of the theology of the Oral Torah explains what the sages mean. That theology, by reason of the modes of thought that define its logic of making connections and drawing conclusions, requires that endings match beginnings, the relationships of God and man at the one point matching those of the other” (p. 600). So we see here the chiastic structure inherent in Hebrew literature writ large, the pattern of the language itself reflected in this greater, systematized inclusio.

The world to come concludes the eschatological series that is comprised by sequenced paradigms that cover past, present, Israel’s collective repentance, the age (days) of the Messiah, days of the war of Gog and Magog, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and onward to the last things at the world to come. If resurrection concerns the individual Israelite, with some further implications for the whole of Israel, the world to come that follows encompasses all Israel. The one embodies salvation for the private person, the other, redemption for the entire holy people, now at the end encompassing all of mankind within Israel. But what, exactly, when sages set forth their theological eschatology, do they mean by ‘olam habba, the world or the age that is coming? The world or the age to come (the Hebrew, ‘olam, may sustain either the locative, world, or the temporal-ordinal, age) completes, and necessarily forms the final chapter, of the theology of the Oral Torah. The age that is coming will find Adam’s successor in Eden’s replacement, that is, resurrected, judged and justified Israel — comprising nearly all Israelites who ever lived — now eternally rooted in the Land of Israel.

Neusner summarizes the tale of the world to come with, “When Israel returns to God, God will restore their fortunes in the model of Adam and Eve in Eden” (p. 601). Drawing on paradigmatic thinking, Scriptural patterns of “endings that are beginnings” are adduced: first, the Exodus, Israel’s liberation from Egypt; and second, the return of Adam to Eden in the form of Israel’s return to Zion. Subsidiary to the second is the theme of Gehenna for all those who deny life and thereby are denied life. Gehenna is the opposite of the Garden of Eden, and is the inheritance of those whose deeds are predominantly transgressions, just as those whose deeds are predominantly good inherit the Garden of Eden, that is, the world to come (Yerushalmi Peah 1.1 XXXII.1)(p. 602).

Lamentations Rabbati CXLIII:I.1-4 —— Restoration/return is reciprocal: as Israel repents/returns (shuv) to God, so God restores (heshiv) them. Again, justice is expressed in balance, complementarity, and equivalent reciprocity. Renewal is linked back to beginnings, to days of old (qedem): to Adam (Gen 3.24), to the days of proper sacrifices in Jerusalem (Mal 3.4), to Moses (Isa 63.11), and Solomon, and Noah (Isa 54.9), and Abel, from the time before idolatry. All these are exclusionary in precisely the context of return/renewal, maintaining a separation from the gentiles (=idolators, deniers of God and of life). With the references above, we find the paradigm of oppression, repentance, and reconciliation, with all combined in the Exodus. All salvations, all repentances, all reconciliations conform to a single paradigm, a single pattern (p. 604). This is the case because God’s justice demands repentance to precede salvation always—the recurring pattern is that of God’s justice in action, made explicit and identified in the Oral Torah.

Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:5 1:7——Expressions of the pattern become increasingly intense, and thereby become the primary exemplars, while the older are not forgotten.

Lamentations Rabbati CXXII:I.1——The pattern is recognized and explicitly formulated: oppression is the cause of salvation, not prophecy, for the former leads the people to repentance. Even so, the prophecies are true, and they prophesy redemption, so the people know it will come.

Again, Neusner covers the necessary ground to emphasize that this is not an historical, typological, or cyclical eschatology, or even an eschatology proper, but rather a paradigmatic teleology: “the last, the final realization of recapitulation of the ever-present and enduring paradigm(s)” becomes “the model of things that applies at the last, from on, for eternity” (p. 607). Events are important only inasmuch as they are exemplary of the paradigm, expressing its pattern. Neusner provides an important note here regarding the sages’ use of Scriptural data (p. 607, n. 1):

When we consider the longer list of paradigms that we have examined in these pages, we notice a number of paradigms that do not serve in the teleological context, not to mention exemplary figures that are given no assignment in that setting. In manipulating the persons and events of Scripture as components of a paradigm, the sages clearly choose those appropriate for a given purpose; symbolic speech, then, goes forward as much through choices of paradigmatic media as through the forrmulation of propositions illustrated or embodied in those paradigms, that is to say, through silences as much as through statements.

There is thus still an undeniable art to the sages’ work, in addition to an impressive philosophy.

Pesiqta de Rab Kahana VII:XI.2-3——As of old with Egypt, so in the end with Rome. A series of correspondences is presented, drawing especially on Isaiah 34, laying the future fall of Rome (Edom) in parallel with the plagues of Egypt before Israel’s liberation. Thus, as Neusner writes, “the redemption that is coming replicates the redemption that is past in a world that conforms to enduring paradigms” (p. 609).

Yerushalmi Pesahim 10:1 11:3——The Passover Seder’s four cups, a ritual pattern repeated throughout the ages, are recognized as part of the pattern/paradigm of redemption expressed in the Exodus, just as the Seder itself is a ritual paradigm of the Exodus and the redemption it expresses. In Exodus 6.6-7, God states His four acts of coming redemption, “I will take out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take.” Thus one cup for each verb of redemption. Also, in another redemption, that of Joseph, Pharaoh’s cup is mentioned four times (Genesis 40.11, 13). Then, too, release from each of the four kingdoms (Daniel, passim) that have oppressed Israel correspond to the four cups. There are also the four cups of wrath from God by which the nations will be punished, mentioned in Jeremiah 25.15 and 51.6-7, and Psalms 11.6 and 75.9, and four cups of consolation for Israel in Psalms 16.5, 23.5, and 116.13 (the last containing “cup of deliverances,” a plural deliverances, so construed as plural cups, two in number).

Bavli Megillah 4:4/I.10/29A——Wherever Israel was exiled, the Divine Presence was with them, and always will be with them in exile. God redeems the Israelit and Irael, whether past, present, or future. This paradigm is the description of a relationship, which is a thing independent of temporal and circumstantial ties. That is, a relationship is independent of all other factors beyond the two parties involved. A relationship is, in itself, a paradigm of behavior between two parties.

Bavli Pesahim 10.5-6 II.6/117A——”Who recited this Hallel [Psalms 113-118]?” Moses and Israel; Joshua and Israel; Deborah and Barak; Hezekiah; Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; Moredecai and Esther—all said it in their various troubles, and the prophets say that Israelites should say it in every adversity and also after being redeemed from it. As Israel, so the Israelite.

Bavli Pesahim 10.5-6 II.12, 14/118A——The pattern persists. The Hallel psalms contain “the exodus from Egypt, dividing the Sea, giving of the Torah, resurrection of the dead, and the anguish of the Messiah.” It also refers to “the deliverance of the souls of the righteous from Gehenna.” As Neusner says, “Salvation of the individual, redemption of the whole people—each takes many forms but elicits only a single response to what is, in the end, a uniform relationship, the encounter with God’s love. And to that love, time and change, history and destiny, are monumentally irrelevant, as much as are intentionality and teleology to the laws of gravity” (p. 614).

This is a critically important distinction. Even the word Torah in its etymologically-derived sense connotes a relationship, as torah is instruction, from yarah, to instruct or teach. It is a mistake to view Torah, as it often is, merely as law, a code of conduct independent of didactic and ethical meaning promulgated by the faceless forces of society. Torah is Instruction, the Instruction of a loving Creator for His creation. Torah is instruction that leads to life, in cotrast to the numerous other ways that lead to death. Again, the Two Ways.

To continue, Neusner describes the world to come as “the age when man loves God and accepts his dominion and completes the work of repentance and atonement for acts of rebellion” (p. 615). This describes the world to come at the personal level, that of the Israelite, but there is also the corporate level of reconciliation, that of Israel. The former is salvation, and the latter redemption. These are not mere internaly intangibilities depicted by the sages as the reality of the world to come. Three aspects of the sages depiction of Israel and the world to come clarify the situation:
1.) Though a transcendant, holy people, Israel is depicted in Oral Torah as in a world of physical trasnations and relationships thorughout. As Israel is comprised of only those who know God in Torah and thereby enter eternal life through this relationship, we see the continuation of that relationship, Israel-Torah-God, in the world to come perfected, not abolished. The people will finally be following Torah perfectly.
2.) The sages’ work is focused on Torah, presenting “the world’s embodiment of the locus of God’s rule” (p. 616) in the midst of other political entities, precisely as a real political entity itself. In the end, Rome will be replaced by Israel. No subject in Oral Torah is inapplicable to Israel here and now. These are not merely interior maxims designed for the benefit of a debating society. This is real life.
3.) In speaking of the world to come, the sages describe a real world that is shared and public, not an inwardly-focused and private “world.” This is the concrete world, ruled by the God who rewards and punishes. It is a real God who interacts with real people in real acts in real, public, objective life in the real world. Neusner says, “Any representation of the sages as thinker in a merely spiritual realm misses the very heart of their program for holy Israel. In abstract language, the sages maintain that a substantive change in the life of this world will match and correspond to the change in the condition of Israel in relationship to God” (p. 616). What is real now will always be real. Particularly when thinking of the eternal, things that will not and cannot fade away can be said to be the only real things. Eternal life is the only true life. And it is only a relationship with God in Torah that this true life, real life, is established. The real and permanent are found in the way of life. The false and temporary are found in the way of death.

Bavli Sanhedrin 11.1-2 I.25/91B——At resurrection, people will come to life as they were before they died. They’ll be real people, even to the point of needing to bathe.

Neusner describes the relationship between paradigmatic thinking and reality:

Paradigmatic thinking transforms the concrete into evocative symbol, the unique into the exemplary. But the sages’ mode of paradigmatic thinking insists upon the here-and-now quality of relationships and events, the actuality of transactions with God as much as with man. And why think otherwise, when, after all, Scripture is clear and rich in instances. Both in the Written and in the Oral Torah God and man correspond, and man is in God’s image, after God’s likeness. So a theology that does not “spiritualize,” that is, that does not represent as intangible God in heaven any more than man on earth, will insist upon the material and physical character of resurrection and the life of the Garden of Eden that is the world to come. That theology will have no motive to treat the transformation of relationships represented by the resurrection of the dead and the judgment and the world or age to come as other than consubstantial with the experienced world of the moment—if marvellously different (p. 617).

This is only what we should expect if we have been paying any attention at all through this book.

Sifré to Deuteronomy CCCXLIII:VII.1——Pradigmatic thinking organized Israel’s experience through aspects of relationship with God, not primarily historically. Israel’s epochs become a mix of place and occurrences and times: Egypt; giving of the Torah; days of Gog and Magog; time of the Messiah. Four epiphanies of God express relationship: as He was with Israel in Egypt and Sinai, so He will be with Israel in the final war and at the coming of the Messiah. Neusner says, “And, it goes without saying, in the age or world to come, the final epiphany will find God and Israel at one, as we shall see, celebrating the beneficence of God, studying the Torah, enjoying dance and song and feasting, for all eternity (p. 618).”

Neusner now moves on to investigate the events of the advent of the world to come, having thoroughly covered the complementary and restorational philosophical description of this time. As seen in chapter 13, describing personal resurrection and judgment, a sequence of events or period is posited: days of the Messiah; resurrection and judgment; world to come.

The Messiah comes primarily to restore Israel to the Land (Genesis Rabbah XCVIII:IX.2; Song of Songs Rabbah LII:II.1 ff). He will oversee the resurrection, and then, as seen in the last chapter, he fades from the scene, his assigned tasks accomplished.

Genesis Rabbah XCVIII:II.7——Restoration, the final war, the days of the Messiah, and the resurrection and judgment lead to the age/world to come, in which the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem.

Leviticus Rabbah IX:VII.1——And in that new Temple all but the thanksgiving offering and prayers of thanksgiving will cease. Sin will, after all, be gone.

Pesiqta de Rab Kahana XXI:V.2——The world to come will be illuminated by the light of God.

Bavli Baba Batra 5:1A-D IV.28-29, 33, 35/75A——God will provide a joyous banquet for the righteous (who include especially and explicitly the disciples of the sages), in which they will feast on the meat of Leviathan. From Leviathan’s skin God will make tabernacles to shade the righteous. All that is left wil be spread over the walls of Jerusalem, and the glow from it will illuminate the whole world.

Bavli Baba Batra 5.1A-D IV.38-41/75A——The righteous will be called by God’s name, as the Messiah and Jerusalem are. Neusner expands on this wondrous depiction:

The righteous, the Messiah, and Jerusalem now form a single category of complements, united by the common trait that all will be called “holy” as God is now called holy. The model of anticipation then reaches a daring position, which is that, in time to come, the righteous, the Messiah, and Jerusalem all enter into the category of God himself. That explains why the righteous will have a banquet that God will make for them, why God will make a tabernacle for the righteous much as Moses made a tabernacle for the Lord in the wilderness, and why Jerusalem will enlighten the world (p. 624).

Yerushalmi Megillah 2:4 1:3——God Himself will lead the righteous in dancing. As Neusner says, “The age of restoration, the world to come, affords to the righteous the joys that Adam missed the first time around, beginning with the pleasure of loving God” (p. 624). So, we see life for the righteous will be, at last, eternally joyous in the world to come, as life was intended to be from the beginning.

Now Neusner returns to touch on the theme of justic, recalling for us the necessity of the world to come for God’s justice to be effected (see especially chapters 5 and 13). The world to come is where/when virtue is rewarded:

Acts of loving kindness bear their own reward, and for certain actions of that kind, there is no limit to the reward in both this world and the next. Transgressions also bear their punishments, if not here, then there. These are familiar ideas, predictable in a system of stasis and balance” (p. 625).

Bavli Sanhedrin 11:1-2 III.5/100A——Suffering for Torah in this world brings greater recompense in the world to come, even to the reward of 310 worlds (the numerical value of “substance” in Proverbs 8.21).

How do commensurability and balance play out between one’s life now and eternal life in the world to come? The righteous define themselves by their deeds now, in this life, and receive recompense, a reward for that definition as righteous, in the world to come.

Tosefta Hullin 10:16——Commandments in the Torah habitually also include the promise of resurrection (e.g., “…that you may have a long life” in Deuteronomy 22.7).

Recalling the discussion in chapter 7 (specifically regarding acts of zekhut), Neusner touches on the sages’ discussion of acts in this life that prompt both immediate benefit and superabundant recompense in the world to come. Such deeds thus bear effect without regard for time itself; they are transtemporal acts of eternity, slipping the leash of temporality in the matter of reward.

Mishnah Peah 1:1——Deeds which benefit in this world, but with their principal reward in the world to come are: honouring mother and father; righteous deeds; making peace; and, best of all, study of Torah.

Mishnah Peah 1.2-3——Likewise, there are transgressions punished partly in this world, with the principal punishment in the world to come: idolatry, incest, murder, and, worst of them all, gossip. (As described above, acts of zekhut create principal in the world to come, but bear interest in this world.) A transgression creates principal (eternal punishment in the world to come) but bears no interest in this world (that is, there is no punishment in this world). A transgression which causes other transgressions brings penalty in this world, but not one that doesn’t. In both sides of the moral equation, the righteous and the wicked, we therefore see that one’s eternal fate is determined by one’s conduct in this world.

Regarding Israel’s wicked in the world to come, Neusner writes:

Only a handful of the wicked are totally eliminated and do not stand in judgment. For the others, they may enjoy resurrection, with the rest of Israel, and they may even endure in judgment. But that is not the end of the story. If a good deed serves now and also in the world to come, a transgression beings punishment in the world to come but no advantage in this world. So the world to come involves penance for the wicked, who get eternal life but do not enjoy it the way the righteous do (p. 629).

Yerushalmi Peah 1:1 XXIX——One’s intentions are converted to deeds by God, and tallied along with one’s other deeds. But, being merciful, God does not convert the wicked intentions to wicked deeds, but apparently to ignored deeds (see Psalm 66.18).

Yerushalmi Peah 1:1 XXXII——”He who performs mostly good deeds inherits the Garden of Eden, but he who performs mostly transgressions inherits Gehenna.” If the acts are balanced, God removes the transgressions, in His mercy. God will even provide good deeds if a person has none.

Neusner continues:

So much for Israelites and for all Israel. As we realize full well, gentiles with their idolatry simply will cease to exist; some will perish, just as Israelites will perish, just as the Generation of the Flood, the Generation of the Dispersion, the Men of Sodom, and certain Israelites will perish. But some—a great many—will give up idolatry and become part of Israel. The gentiles as such are not subject to redemption; they have no choice at the advent of the world to come but to accept God or become extinct. But that is not the precise formulation that the system as I see it will set forth. Rather, the correct language is not, the gentiles will cease to exist, but rather, the category, “gentiles with their idolatry,” will cease to function. Idolatry having come to an end, God having been recognized by all manking, everyone will enter the category, “Israel” (p. 631).

This follows the distinction made throughout the Oral Torah as described throughout Neusner’s book. There are two categories in humanity, those who obey God and those who do not. The latter are described consistently as “the nations” or “gentiles” and their chief positive characteristic is idolatry, their chief negative characteristic being disobeying God. The category is mirrored in Israel, possessing Torah which leads to God, whose positive characteristic is obedience, and whose negative characteristic is difference from the nations. Torah is the way of life, and only those who follow along that way will live, as plain a situation as only those who breathe will live. Those who do so are called Israel. Those who do not are called gentiles, and will die. In the end, nearly everyone will obey God, but for some few stubborn and entirely wicked people from both Israel and the gentiles in this world.

Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael LXVII:I.31——Following the logic relating to redeeming Holy Things, the conclusion is that the nations of the world are not subject to redemption. Only Israel is redeemed.

Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael XLIV:I.1——”The scourge with which the Israelites are smitten in the end will smite others.” That is, before the advent of the world to come, roles will be reversed. Israel will have the power to oppress the nations.

Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael XXXIII:I.1——As after the crossing of the Sea, when the Egyptians and the nations all praised God, so in the age to come the nations will renounce their idolatry and worship the only God, becoming Israel as well.

Nearing the end, now, Neusner summarizes in the following two paragraphs the program discerned out of the documents of the Oral Torah:

A great intellectual construction responds in a simple way to a fundamental question. We have spent fourteen long chapters spelling out the answer, now let me articulate the question, though I should claim it has been asked on every page of this book. The urgent question, given a self-evidently valid answer, is how long, O Lord? The question embodies three parts: what are we to make of Israel, if God is just, and what will be with Israel, since God is just? and how do we know? The dialectics formed by the confrontation of God, Torah, and Israel therefore comes to expression in a system aimed at revealing God’s justice, by the criteria of the Torah, for those who know God in the Torah, that is, Israel.

The theology of the Oral Torah accordingly reaches its climactic statement as it turns from the transcendent situation of Israel in the age to come to Israel at this time, and there finds grounds for sublime hope. The theology contains the promise that while now Israel grieves, but in the end of days God will give them grounds for rejoicing, and that will be in a measure commensurate to the loyalty and patience of shown in the interim. How do we know, and how long? The perfect justice of the one God comes to realization in the promises that have been kept, surety and guarantee of the promises that will be kept (p. 634).

Tosefta Kippurim 2:7——It is right to mourn in this world, but also to rejoice, for God will keep His promises, as He has kept all them in the past.

Tosefta Sotah 15:11——Though mourning is appropriate, it should not be excessive. Those who mourn now will rejoice in the world to come. The one should not overcome the other.

Lamentations Rabbati CXL:I.1-2 (quoted in full)——
1. A. “for Mount Zion which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it:”
B. Rabban Gamaliel, R. Joshua, R. Eleazar b. Azariah, and R. Aqiba went to Rome. They heard the din of the city of Rome from a distance of a hundred and twenty miles.
C. They all begin to cry, but R. Aqiba began to laugh.
D. They said to him, “Aqiba, we are crying and you laugh?”
E. He said to them, “Why are you crying?”
F. They said to him, “Should we not cry, that idolators and those who sacrifice to idols and bow down to images live securely and prosperously, while the footstool of our God has been burned down by fire and become a dwelling place for the beasts of the field? So shouldn’t we cry?”
G. He said to them, “That is precisely the reason that I was laughing. For if those who outrage him he treats in such a way, those who do his will all the more so!”
2. A. There was the further case of when they were going up to Jerusalem. When they came to the Mount of Olives they tore their clothing. When they came to the Temple mount and a fox came out of the house of the Holy of Holies, they began to cry. But R. Aqiba began to laugh.
B. “Aqiba, you are always surprising us. Now we are crying and you laugh?”
C. He said to them, “Why are you crying?”
D. They said to him, “Should we not cry, that from the place of which it is written, ‘And the ordinary person that comes near shall be put to death’ (Num. 1:51) a fox comes out? So the verse of Scripture is carried out: ‘for Mount Zion which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it.'”
E. He said to them, “That is precisely the reason that I was laughing. For Scripture says, ‘And I will take for myself faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah’ (Isa. 8:2).
F. “Now what is the relationship between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah lived in the time of the first temple, Zechariah in the time of the second!
G. “But Uriah said, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps’ (Jer. 26:18).
H. “And Zechariah said, ‘There shall yet be old men and old women sitting in the piazzas of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for old age’ (Zech. 8:4).
I. “And further: ‘And the piazzas of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the piazzas thereof’ (Zech. 8:5).
J. “Said the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Now lo, I have these two witnesses. So if the words of Uriah are carried out, the words of Zechariah will be carried out, while if the words of Uriah prove false, then the words of Zechariah will not be true either.’
K. “I was laughing with pleasure because the words of Uriah have been carried out, and that means that the words of Zechariah in the future will be carried out.”
L. They said to him, “Aqiba, you have given us consolation. May you be comforted among those who are comforted.”

Neusner closes the chapter with this comment on the above passage:

And that is exactly what the sages intended, to console and hearten Israel, for God’s sake. That has remained the task of sages in age succeeding age. Bearing this compelling theology of one, just God to account for all things, through the ages the sages have sustained Israel with a sufficiency of reasoned hope. And they still do, even — I should say, especially — in the aftermath of the Holocaust (p. 638).

There is only an Epilogue left to examine in Neusner’s The Theology of the Oral Torah: Revealing the Justice of God. I’ll be taking that up next. I hope these notes are found useful. Thank you for reading.


  1. Science is still quite concerned that theories and equations be elegant; and elegance is regarded as an important indication of truth. If an explanation isn’t elegant but is true, this is regarded as an important indication that there’s more to the story — and that added explanation will make it elegant.

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