Jacob Neusner

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Religion as a Social System
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Religion as a Social System

From the December 1992 issue of Chronicles.

To study any vital religion is to address, as a matter of hypothesis, a striking example of how people explain to themselves who they are as a social entity. Religion as a powerful

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Who’s Afraid of History?

LA’s Conservative Rabbi David J. Wolpe chose Passover to surrender the claim that “positive-historical Judaism” (a.k.a.. Conservative Judaism) builds the Judaic religion on established facts of history. History proves the Exodus never happened, he proclaimed on Passover, with perfect unfaith

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Gift of Finest . . . Rice?

As a rabbi once accused of being “too soft on the Catholic Church”—liking Catholicism too much to make that particular Lutheran comfortable—I read with special sensitivity the report on a young girl and her family who left the Catholic Church

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Post-Zionism and America

Contemporary debates on the nature of American nationality—are we a people possessed of a shared tradition and culture, or are we simply a mosaic of ethnic groups that function in a common system?—find their counterpart in contemporary Israel. The legitimacy

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Lehayyim—”To Life,” Not Abortion

Since many Jewish institutions and individuals speaking “as Jews” (or so they say) favor unrestricted abortion, pro-life people often assume that Judaism does, too. But when we distinguish the personal opinions of individuals from the doctrines of a faith set

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Rabbis, But No Torah

When the religion of Judaism speaks in its contemporary modulations—whether Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or integrationist-Orthodoxy—we should hear many voices. But instead we hear one: the voice of left-liberal politics. With the exception of self-segregated Orthodoxy, most (though, happily, not all)

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Since I’m Jewish, This Must Be Judaism

When religion becomes a matter of personal opinion, culture—which by definition is public and corporate—no longer defines what is eternally at stake in man’s relationship to God. Ethics and morality give way to impulse and whim, and sentimentality rides. Private

The Past as Prologue
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The Past as Prologue

David Vital describes his work as a political history, whose subject is the exercise of legitimate violence. He recounts how the Jews of Europe addressed the political crisis that overtook them between the end of the ancien regime in 1789

Man in Search of God
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Man in Search of God

A compelling personal narrative about his inner life serves as the occasion for David Klinghoffer to engage in a dialogue with Judaism. His story, weaving the personal with the public, carries him from adoption by a Reform Jewish couple in

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Exile, Real and Imagined

Holy Israel, the supernatural community that, in the theology of Judaism, takes shape at Sinai in accepting the Torah and so lives in God’s kingdom in the here and now, tells the story of its exile in the setting of

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Religion or Ethnicity?

When people in the academy study “Judaism,” they tend to pursue the history of the ethnic group, the Jews, rather than describe, analyze, and interpret the religion, Judaism. In the realm of high culture, the Judaic religious tradition, beginning with

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Holocaust Memorial Statue

A Holocaust memorial statue has been proposed by a local Jewish interior decorator here in St. Petersburg. The 80-foot statue would be situated in one of the parks that line Tampa Bay, in downtown St. Pete. The decorator has already

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The Vacuity of Jewish Secularism

For nearly the whole of its history, “Israel” defined itself as a religious community, the community of Judaism. To be an Israelite meant to know God through the Torah and to accept the dominion of God’s laws set forth therein.

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The Politics of Reform

The Day of Atonement by its very advent at sunset on the eve of the tenth of the lunar month of Tishré atones for sin and involves repentance—regret for sin, resolution not to repeat it—prayer, and fasting. Not the rites

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Old Testament, Yes; New Testament, No

U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich here in Tampa ruled in January that it is all right to teach the Old Testament but not the New Testament in public high schools. Concerned that the state not sponsor religion, Judge Kovachevich

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Money, Money, Money

American Jews (like other organized subgroups in American society) do some things superbly well and fail at others. Where we are strong, there is our weakness. When I consider the mistakes we American Jews make, these simple truths explain much.

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The Yale Experience

Leave it to Yale to hoist itself by its own snoot—the snootiest college in the country has finally given itself its own comeuppance. Yale has declared promiscuity, or at least exposure to aggressively promoted public promiscuity, to form an integral

Jews Without Judaism
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Jews Without Judaism

Certainly no confusion of the ethnic with the religious presents more anomalies than the mixture of ethnic Jewishness and religious Judaism that American Jews have concocted for themselves. But the brew is fresh, not vintaged. For nearly the entire history

The Future of the Jews
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The Future of the Jews

        “A people still, whose common ties are gone; who,
mixed with every race, are lost in none.”

—George Crabbe

That Americans of different ethnic or religious origins intermarry surprises no one—half of Japanese-Americans, more than half of all Catholics, nearly

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Continental Judaism, R.I.P.

Religions may explode in human history—Christianity conquering Rome in scarcely 300 years, Islam the Mediterranean basin in scarcely a century. But they die only here and there, only now and then, and renew themselves in times and circumstances none can

A Bronx Collage
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A Bronx Collage

Forty years ago in Commentary, Ruth Gay created the American Jewish essay as an art form of dignity and eloquence, and in this wonderful book she brings her life’s work to its glorious climax in a sustained statement of

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Christmas, That Winter Festival

When the Supreme Court declared Christmas a secular occasion, to be celebrated for its lowest-common-denominator cultural value in the public schools, I expected serious Christians to protest. Here a powerful public body officially secularized what for the history of Christianity

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Jews on Abortion

“Mommy let me live!” screams the tasteless headline of a pro-life ad, complete with scary pictures of a baby’s diary; “May 1; Today my parents gave me the gift of life. . . . One week has passed and look,

Haters and Self-Haters
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Haters and Self-Haters

Eloquent and courageous, Edward Alexander takes the theme of anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism and transforms a mere topical debate into profound reflections on the meanings of self-hatred and bigotry; on Jews’ hatred of themselves and on Gentile anti-Semitism in its most

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Our Free, Christian Land

St. Petersburg—A while back, synagogue members and civil rights groups picketed the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, when the Coral Ridge Ministries held a conference on “Reclaiming America for Christ.” The local newspaper reported, “Thousands of Christian

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State-Sponsored Prayer

For practicing Christians, Judaists, and Muslims, what is at stake in state-sponsored prayer in public schools is whether the particularities that make us what we are make a difference. Constitutional issues aside, there are strong theological arguments against legislating prayer

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The Goyim Aren’t Always Wrong

A small people with a distinctive religion, the Jews throughout history have tried to avoid imitating the Gentiles (that is, everybody else), lest assimilation destroy the faith and the group that embodies it. In fact, Scripture’s passionate denunciation of idolatry

The Latest Jewish Ghetto
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The Latest Jewish Ghetto

Long before ethnicity became the focus of studying neglected groups and cultures—the black, Judaic, Chicano, and feminist counterpart to “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”—leading intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir, in feminist studies; Harry A. Wolfson, in

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Prior Reflections

When Chronicles talks, people listen—at least in New Zealand. I have had my allotted 15 minutes of total fame, all because of a couple of paragraphs snatched by the Kiwi press out of a little piece of mine (Letter From

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Sorting Out Jew-Haters

“The Jews” stand in people’s minds for so many things that you can find their despisers in places where there are not many Jews around to hate—or even enough to attract much attention to begin with. Take, for example, that

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Ghettoizing Jews, Hijacking Judaism

Imagine what kind of organization would adopt the following resolutions: to oppose state and local referenda and statutes restricting the civil rights of gays; to support the use of fetal tissue for the purpose of life-saving or life-enhancing(!) research; to

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Postcommunist Judaism

After two days of intensive sight-seeing in St. Petersburg, Russia, not so much a city as a cemetery holding the remains of what was once a city, I returned to Finland and turned on the St. Petersburg TV channel that

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Academic Charlatanism

Academic charlatanism these days includes not only defenses of plagiarism and violent campaigns of intimidation against proscribed opinion. These symptoms of the bankruptcy of humanistic learning worry some and find celebration among others. But who on either side of the

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Meddling in World Affairs

Wilsonian meddling in world affairs produces a corollary that other nations must abhor. American citizens not only take an active and sympathetic interest in the welfare of the “old country”—whether England or Poland or Haiti—they also insist on instructing the

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Academic Snobbery

“Different strokes for different folks” means, in academic language, “We have our own culture, so bug off.” Europeans tell this to Americans who are curious about native habits. I remember that while teaching at Frankfurt University in 1991 I commented

Sixteen Hundred Years
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Sixteen Hundred Years

When a civilization nearly two millennia in the building comes to an end, common decency requires that the world take note of its passing. For if ordinary people, born only to die in much less than a century, deserve a

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Trends to Come

The American Academy of Religion should change its name to the American Unacademy of Ethno-Religio-Secular Fashions, if its call for papers for its annual meeting in Washington this autumn is any indication of trends to come. None of the classics,

Who Needs the Historical Jesus?
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Who Needs the Historical Jesus?

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
—Hebrews 13:8

I have never heard of a book about “the historical Moses,” and while philosophers study the thought of Sophocles and Plato, few bother to tell us what the historical Sophocles

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An Issue of Economics

Regarding immigration, those like me who see it as an issue of economics and not of culture and who maintain that the American system has succeeded, and continues to succeed, in turning anyone in the world into an American owe

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Religion as a Social System

To study any vital religion is to address, as a matter of hypothesis, a striking example of how people explain to themselves who they are as a social entity. Religion as a powerful force in human culture is realized in

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Who Will Make a Difference?

As the academic year commences, students wonder which professors will make a difference, and which won’t. Here is the story of a professor who made a difference-someone who believed that education is for the courageous, that striving to surpass ourselves

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The Dead Sea Scrolls Controversy

The Dead Sea Scrolls controversy is not—as some have argued—about Christianity fearing for its life in the face of new and dreadful facts. The claim that the Scrolls contain information that calls into question Christian verities is pure poppycock. So

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Academic Apathy Beyond the Rhine

We’re not supposed to like Germans or Germany, but I do—a lot. I found out just how much when, coming back to Frankfurt after a week of lecturing in Madrid, I found myself glad to be “home,” and happy to

Can Humanity Forget What It Knows?
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Can Humanity Forget What It Knows?

Civilization hangs suspended, from generation to generation, by the gossamer strand of memory. If only one cohort of mothers and fathers fails to convey to its children what it has learned from its parents, then the great chain of learning

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Issues at Stake

When NEA Chairman Frohnmayer announced last September that the funds Congress left to the NEA after taking out a big chunk for the state arts agencies would from now on be spent on strengthening arts in education, international projects, expanding

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NEA’s Future

The NEA’s future has now been decided, the decision is by consensus, and the conservative position has prevailed. Chairman John Frohnmayer said so in a little-noticed appearance at the Newsmakers Breakfast at the National Press Club last September 17. Here

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A Pest-House

No major city in this country concedes that its major hospital is a pest-house, or that its museums display junk, or that its symphony orchestra squeaks. Nor are cities satisfied with inadequate schools. In medicine, the arts and music, politics

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A Series of One-Termers

The IAS’s directorship today resembles the Presidency from Kennedy to Carter—a series of one-termers. Three directors have come and gone in not 13 years, with directors having left the job, dropped the job, or been driven from the job. Now

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The NEA Is Broken

The NEA is broken, so lets fix it. What has gone wrong in the debate over the National Endowment for the Arts is that the extremes have crowded out the middle, and the NEA, like the NEH, should be