An Introduction to Jewish Theology
Biblical and Rabbinic Concepts on God, the Torah, Life After Death, and More
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Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin, once noted that many Jews seemed convinced that since traditional Judaism is focused on Halachah, i.e., the practical observance of the commandments, any discussion about theology is superfluous. Some go as far as to say that traditional Judaism does not have a theology. The problem, of course, is that any discussion about God, the Torah, and the people of Israel immediately raises fundamental questions such as which God are we discussing, how was the Torah revealed, who are the people of Israel, etc. All these questions are the domain of theology, the study of religious beliefs. Perhaps part of the issue with the aforementioned assumptions is the lack of creeds or doctrinal statements along the lines of those embraced by Christiani-ty. Jewish theology is multifaceted and does not reflect the systematic nature of Christian thought. This fact does not diminish its depth, however.At first glance, the topics included in this volume may appear to be a series of disjointed and independent essays. These topics, in my opinion, cover recurring themes and questions that define much of Jewish theology. Any attempt to address Jewish theology comprehensively would require many volumes. This work is focused on a few key concepts only. It is intended for the beginner but hopefully contains sufficient information to also be of interest to the more advanced reader and prove the starting point towards greater study.Chapter one titled Creation, explores the differences between Mesopotamian worldviews and the Bible's notion of God's creation of the world. Judaism and in its earlier form, Israelite religion, did not arise in a vacuum. Similarities exist in the foundational stories of various neighboring cultures, but the differences found in the Torah reveal the heart of Jewish faith.The second chapter is titled Jewish Concepts Concerning God and briefly discusses ideas of God in biblical, rabbinic, and Kabbalistic thought. There are conflicting images of God in the Bible, and the developments in Jewish thought sought to address these differences. The third chapter is titled Who is a Jew? It addresses the age-old question of Jewish identity from the vantage point of classical rabbinic perspectives as well as from alternate points of view found in modern Jewish movements. The strengths and weaknesses of these different views are briefly discussed.The fourth chapter, Jewish Views of Afterlife, discusses the fascinating topic of life after death in biblical literature as well as in the later works written during the Second Temple Era, the rabbinic period, and into the medieval and modern periods.Chapter five titled Polarity in Jewish Thought delves into the subject of the Jewish alternative of descriptional theology to theological systems characterized by an emphasis on definition and classification. The next chapter, titled The Revelation at the Torah discusses the giving of the Torah at Sinai and covers the idea of the Torah as it is understood in traditional and non-traditional Jewish movements. A brief discus-sion on historical criticism is also included. In addition, the limits of prophetic revelation in the legislative pro-cess are also discussed.The subsequent chapter, The Land of Israel, surveys biblical and rabbinic perspectives on God's unique relationship to the Land of Israel. The last chapter titled Tikkun Olam address misconceptions regarding this prevalent but largely misunderstood idea. Tikkun Olam is often understood as a Jewish commitment to social justice. Its original meaning and the very different goals it envisions are deliberated.
Independently Published, 9781091657908, 198pp.
Publication Date: March 26, 2019