jewish history paper
Volume of 5 pages (1375 words)
Assignment type : Term paper
Introduction to Jewish History and Civilization
In your first paper, I am asking you to demonstrate your understanding of the nature and activities of early rabbinic Judaism. How did early rabbinic Judaism define itself or position itself with regard to the traditions that the rabbis inherited? With regard to the early rabbis, what was their sense of their own authority, and what did they do with that authority? What were the objections to early rabbinic authority and the rulings that came out of the evolving rabbinic tradition?
You will demonstrate your understanding by writing an imagined dialogue/argument/debate between an “early rabbi” and an opponent—someone who does not accept rabbinic authority. Imagine this argument taking place sometime in the generation after the destruction of the 2nd Temple (so NO Sadducees in your paper!). You may write your paper as a dialogue (as in a scene from a play) or in narrative form (as in a short story).
Caution: Be careful NOT to introduce elements from the modern world into your imagined scene. Stick to what you know about the ancient world from this course, and to careful textual analysis.
(a)Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. (b) They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples and make a [protective] fence for the Torah.
Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Exodus 31: 12-17: 12 The Lord said to Moses: 13 You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.14 You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” (New Revised Standard Version)
Mishnah, Tractate Shabbat, Chapter 1 mishnah 3:
The tailor may not go out with his needle close to nightfall [before Shabbat], [for] perhaps he will forget and go out [on Shabbat]; and neither [may] the scribe [go out] with his quill. *
* the implied context/implication for the above Mishnah is that the rabbis ruled that both sewing and writing are forbidden on Shabbat. Carrying things outside the house is also forbidden on Shabbat, according to rabbinic ruling.
In developing your imagined argument, you may find it useful to consider the following questions:
1) Based on Tractate Avot, mishnah 1a, from where or what does rabbinic Judaism derive/claim its authority? Who is the most important authority? Would this sense of authority have been universally accepted or agreed to? 2) Compare the role that Avot mishna 1a (the first sentence) gives to Moses and the other figures/groups named vs. the roles given to the rabbis in 1b (the second sentence). 3) Is there a tension between the implications of the claim in Avot mishna 1a and the roles given to the rabbis in 1b? 4) What do the three “things” they said in Avot 1b suggest about the tasks early rabbinic Judaism was undertaking? How did the earliest rabbis view their “job”? 5) What might be said about the relative authority of the Mishna vs the biblical texts? 6) What might you say about the historical accuracy of the claims in Tractate Avot, and what does that accuracy or lack thereof suggest about the purposes and strategies of rabbinic Judaism? 7) What are the important ways in which the passage from Tractate Shabbat departs from the Torah text? How do those departures relate to the maxims in Tractate Avot 1b? 8) Why does all of this matter? Why did it matter to the early rabbis? Why would it have mattered to their opponents?
NOTE: You do not have to incorporate responses to all of the above 8 issues in your essay (although strong essays will definitely answer #8), and you certainly don’t need to incorporate them in this order; I provide them to help you think about how to interpret the beginning to Tractate Avot in light of the Torah texts about Shabbat and the Mishnah text about Shabbat–and what all this suggests about the agenda and strategies of early rabbinic Judaism.
Your paper should be 4-5 pages in length (Times New Roman 12). If you spill over onto the sixth page, don’t sweat it. If you barely make the fourth page, you probably have left out something important. This is an opportunity for you to develop and demonstrate your understanding of key ideas. Scholars have written entire books about the issues raised in this assignment, but from you I am expecting a condensed argument that nevertheless uses specific examples to support its claims. If necessary, for the purposes of this paper you may assume that the characters in your argument know the history of ancient Israel, even if in real life they might not have (beyond the history the Hebrew bible provides, that is), and you may make reference to historical events of the time.
You may use anything you have learned from Trepp, MyJewishLearning.com, Scheindlin, or class to inform the imaginary debate you develop. If you need to elaborate on why a character makes a specific claim or argument—if, in other words, you want to add some information in your own voice–do so in a footnote, citing where appropriate. You do not need to turn to additional secondary sources to write this essay, nor do I want you to do so. Really, you can do this on your own. The point is for you to weave what you have learned so far into this imaginary debate, so as to reflect a close reading of these texts as they relate to each other. If you must (sigh…) turn to other sources, be sure to cite them appropriately. AND DON’T USE WIKIPEDIA! But really, please, I am looking for your own reading and analysis. Relying on other sources too much may weaken your grade on this paper.
You don’t need to quote the entire source texts above in your paper. Just quote the parts you need, as your argument requires.
Think of your audience for your “imaginary debate” as a fellow student—smart, a religious studies major perhaps—but one who knows relatively little about Judaism or its development, so the debate you sketch out will have to provide context. Although your personal religious beliefs are important, this paper is not the appropriate place to expound upon them. Keep your focus on the early religion of Israel, its scriptures, and the development of rabbinic Judaism.
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