People of the Book: Canon, Meaning, and Authority

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9780674661127: People of the Book: Canon, Meaning, and Authority
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While Scripture is at the center of many religions, among them Islam and Christianity, this book inquires into the function, development, and implications of the centrality of text upon the Jewish community, and by extension on the larger question of canonization and the text-centered community. It is a commonplace to note how the landless and scattered Jewish communities have, from the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. until the founding of modern Israel in 1948, cleaved to the text and derived their identity from it. But the story is far more complex. The shift from the Bible to the Torah, from biblical religion to rabbinic Judaism mediated by the Sages, and the sealing of the canon together with its continuing interpretive work demanded from the community, amount to what could be called an unparalleled obsession with textuality. Halbertal gives us insights into the history of this obsession, in a philosophically sophisticated yet straightforward narrative.

People of the Book offers the best introduction available to Jewish hermeneutics, a book capable of conveying the importance of the tradition to a wide audience of both academic and general readers. Halbertal provides a panoramic survey of Jewish attitudes toward Scripture, provocatively organized around problems of normative and formative authority, with an emphasis on the changing status and functions of Mishnah, Talmud, and Kabbalah. With a gift for weaving complex issues of interpretation into his own plot, he animates ancient texts by assigning them roles in his own highly persuasive narrative.

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About the Author:

Moshe Halbertal teaches Jewish Thought and Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Review:

Halbertal offers a sophisticated analysis of the development of Jewish text-centered cultures. His work is an important study for the history of interpretation within Judaism, though its significance as a model of how text-centered religions think extends even beyond Judaism...The work would make an excellent classroom introduction to the nature of the role that canonization plays in religions whose experience of the divine is mediated by the interpretation of sacred texts. This book is best suited to the philosophically sophisticated lay reader and to students or scholars of the sociology of religion. It should certainly be included among the holdings of all general, theological, and religious studies research libraries. (Robert H. O'Connell Library Journal)

At once an introduction to Jewish hermeneutics, a reflection of canonicity, and a survey of Jewish politics of interpretation, this volume is lucidly composed and amply documented...This work is especially significant for its balanced and nuanced consideration of the "canonization of controversy" in Jewish thought. Particularly successful is Halbertal's use of his preferred expository device, the extended interpretation of selected controversies. Such closes analyses as, for example, those on R. Yair Bakhrakh and on the Maimonidean controversy are especially interesting. His probing review of philosophical and Kabbalistic challengers to Talmudism and his reflections on the Zionist turn from Talmud toward the Bible are careful and informative, yet also provocative. A desirable addition to undergraduate and graduate libraries. (Steven M. Wasserstrom Religious Studies Review)

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