Religious Studies and Rabbinics have overlapping yet distinct interests, subject matter, and methods. Religious Studies is committed to the study of religion writ large. It develops theories and methods intended to apply across religious traditions. Rabbinics, by contrast, is dedicated to a defined set of texts produced by the rabbinic movement of late antiquity.
Religious Studies and Rabbinics represents the first sustained effort to create a conversation between these two academic fields. In one trajectory of argument, the book shows what is gained when each field sees how the other engages the same questions: When did the concept of "religion" arise? How should a scholar’s normative commitments interact with their scholarship? The book argues that if scholars from Religious Studies and Rabbinics do not realize they are addressing the same problems, they will not benefit from each other’s solutions. A second line of argument brings research methods, theoretical claims, and data associated with one field into contact with those of the other. When Religious Studies categories such as "ritual" or "the sacred" are applied to data from Rabbinics and, conversely, when text-reading strategies distinctive to Rabbinics are employed for texts from other traditions, both Religious Studies and Rabbinics enlarge their scope. The chapters range across such themes as ritual failure; rabbinic conceptions of scripture, ethics, food, time, and everyday life; problems of definition and normativity in the study of religion; J.Z. Smith’s writings; and the preaching of the African-American Christian evangelical social justice activist John Perkins.
With chapters written by world-class theorists of Religious Studies and prominent text scholars of Rabbinics, the book provides a unique opportunity to expand the conceptual reach and scholarly audience of both Religious Studies and Jewish Studies.
About the Author
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander is Professor and Director of the Undergraduate Program in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.
Beth A. Berkowitz in Ingeborg Rennert Chair of Jewish Studies in the Religion Department at Barnard College.
Table of Contents
Introduction – Elizabeth Shanks Alexander
Part I: The History of Religion
1. Religious Studies, Past and Present – Randall Styers
2. Different Religions? Big and Little "Religion" in Rabbinics and Religious Studies – Beth A. Berkowitz
3. J.Z. Smith on the Study of Religion, Humanities and Human Nature – Kurtis R. Schaeffer
Part II: Managing Commitments
4. "A Cheerful Unease": Theology and Religious Studies – Paul Dafydd Jones
5. Reading Midrash as Theological Practice – Deborah Barer
6. Alexandria between Athens and Jerusalem: Religious Studies as a Humanistic Discipline – Charles Mathewes
Part III: Comparative Rubrics and Rabbinic Data
7. The Legal Language of Everyday Life in Rabbinic Religion – Chaya Halberstam
8. Time, Gender and Ritual in Rabbinic Sources – Sarit Kattan Gribetz
9. Ritual Failure, Ritual Success, and What Makes Ritual Meaningful in the Mishnah – Naftali S. Cohn
Part IV: Critical Reading
10.Thou Shalt Not Cook a Bird in its Mother’s Milk?: Theorizing the Evolution of a Rabbinic Regulation – Jordan D. Roseblum
11. Learning How to Read: How Rabbinics Aids in the Study of Contemporary Christian Scripture-Reading Practices
12. From the General to the Specific: A Genealogy of "Acts of Reciprocal Kindness" (Gemilut Hasidim) in Rabbinic Literature – Gregg E. Gardner