The Tal­mud: What It Is and What It Says

Jacob Neusner
  • Review
By – December 19, 2011

The Tal­mud is Pro­fes­sor Jacob Neusner’s attempt to intro­duce his lit­er­ary-his­tor­i­cal the­o­ries to frame the goals, objec­tives, and sig­nif­i­cance of the Tal­mud. If the read­er is famil­iar with the schol­ar­ly writ­ings of Chanokh Albeck, Y.N. Epstein, H.L. Strack, and many oth­er schol­ars who have toiled to expli­cate the Tal­mud and find pat­terns and clas­si­fi­ca­tions with­in var­i­ous frame­works, one can read­i­ly appre­ci­ate Neusner’s the­o­ries and either agree or dis­agree with them. If one is not a schol­ar, then Neusner’s pre­sen­ta­tion may be dif­fi­cult to follow. 

Many state­ments Neusner presents as obiter dic­ta can be chal­lenged. These mus­ings and rumi­na­tions are very inter­est­ing, but if they are to be tak­en seri­ous­ly and scru­ti­nized by the schol­ar­ly world, then the appro­pri­ate appa­ra­tus of foot­notes is required. 

There are a few gaffes that need to be cor­rect­ed and there are areas where many if not most schol­ars would dis­agree with Neusner’s con­clu­sions. There are, how­ev­er, two impor­tant redeem­ing qual­i­ties to this book. The pas­sion that Prof. Neusner clear­ly feels for the impor­tance of the Tal­mud to Jew­ish life is evi­dent through­out this book. The guid­ing prin­ci­ples of the Tal­mud are very clear­ly shown to be essen­tial for a cre­ative and vibrant Jew­ish future. The last chap­ter is a the­o­log­i­cal gem. How Does the Tal­mud Present God” is a very well writ­ten pré­cis of theod­i­cy and resurrection. 

As has so often been said, if one wants to know What is Tal­mud and what does it say” one must study it, not about it. 

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions