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.