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eBook The Sages -- Their Concepts and Beliefs
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Published:  2006
Language:  English
Pages:   1084

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ISBN: 1-59045-869-9

About the Book -- The Sages -- Their Concepts and Beliefs

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"...an indespensable book for all those who are curious to know how the rabbis of the Talmud handled philosophical and theological issues. It has few peers."

--David Weiss Halivni

Based on an exhaustive study of the sources by means of philological-historical methods, the work presents a vivid picture of the religious and social thoughts of the Tanna'im and Amora'im, their absorption and rejection of extraneous concepts, their spiritual struggles and the goals they sought to achieve. The intellectual ferment marking this era crystallized principles that fashioned the Jewish national and religious image for generations.
The wisdom of the great Jewish teachers of antiquity is on display here like in no other book.Two indexes (one by topic, one by texts mentioned and both are hyperlinked to their relevant pages for ease of use)help the reader make use of the many obscurer texts that Urbach quotes, some of them virtually impossible to find in translation anywhere.
The sheer wealth of materialcollected in this volume is amazing. The book is well organized by 'doctrine' or belief, and Urbach does an excellent job of quoting the texts that he uses to come to his conclusions about what the Sages (Rabbis)believed, when and where they believed it, and how the belief changed over time.
The Sages is richly rewarding contribution to religious history and rabbinic thought and belief.

About the Book




Chapter I: The Study of the History of the Beliefs and Concepts of the Sages

The nature of the sources葉he methods of modern Jewish scholarship葉he studies of Christian scholars葉he apologetic approach柚oore's work葉he historical view of Yitzhak Baer有. Finkelstein's attempt裕almudic research. pp. 118

Chapter II: The Belief in One God

The monotheistic concept葉he recitation of the Shema‛ and the Decalogue the negation of idolatry楊ofer ba-訴qqar [one who denies the primary principle of faith]妖enial of Providence and the 薦picurean'庸aith and its meaning. pp. 1936

Chapter III: The Shekhina裕he Presence of God in the World

God's names and attributes擁mmanence and transcendentalism葉he Shekhina and wisdom葉he use of 全hekhina' in the Targums擁n Tannaitic literature the Shekhina as a separate light葉he wings of the Shekhina葉he 祖onfinement' of the Shekhina幼ausing the Shekhina to dwell in the Sanctuary葉he Shekhina, which accompanies the people in exile葉he departure of the Shekhina葉he orientation during prayer葉he Shekhina as hypostasis. pp. 3765

Chapter IV: Nearness and Distance涌mnipresent and Heaven

The use of Maqôm [善lace,' Omnipresent] in Tannaitic sources葉he Amoraic interpretation of this epithet葉he epithet 践eaven' in the Bible and in Tannaitic literature葉he interrelationship between the two epithets葉he views ascribing a foreign origin to the epithet Maqom and their rejection葉he disuse of the epithet Maqom and the disputation with the proponents of dualistic doctrines the epithet ha-Qodesh and Qadôsh Barûkh Hû葉he epithet 'Elyôn. pp. 6679

Chapter V: The Epithet Gôvura [Might] and the Power of God

The concept of the power of the Deity葉he power of the gods and fate in the Greek religion葉he power of God in the Bible葉he epithet Gevura in the Tannaitic sources葉he concept of dynamis葉he worship of images葉he worship of kings葉he might of the Holy One blessed be He葉he benediction Gôvûròt in the ‛Amida prayer葉he polemic against the worship of kings葉he destruction of the Temple and the emphasis on the Lord's might由evelation and Torah as an expression of His might葉he eschatological orientation in Paul's conception of Divine power葉he dependence of Gôvura on Torah and repentance. pp. 8096

Chapter VI: Magic and Miracle

The opposition to magic and sorcery耀orcery and idolatry猶hilo's approach and the Tannaitic conception葉he spread of magical practices among the common people葉he influence of the Sages葉he question of the legitimate miracles洋iracles in the Bible葉he miracles wrought by the early pietists and by Tannaim and Amoraim洋iracles as an expression of the Lord's might the religious significance of miracles洋iracles as a means of sanctifying God's name洋iracles and the law of recompense洋iracles and the law of nature miracles in the Halakha洋iracles in the Christian faith葉he difference between the miraculous tales in Rabbinic sources and the Evangelical stories葉he tendency to restraint discernible in the miracle stories葉he restriction of exaggerated eulogy in prayers. pp. 97123

Chapter VII: The Power of the Divine Name

Oaths and adjurations by the Divine Name葉he use of the Name in magical papyri葉he use and enunciation of the Ineffable Name in the Temple葉he corrupt teaching of the sectarians優ivine Names in amulets優ivine Names of twelve, forty-two, and seventy-two letters葉he secret and tradition of the Ineffable Name. pp. 124134

Chapter VIII: The Celestial Retinue

Angels in the Bible葉he exegetical methods of the Sages in interpreting Scriptural passages concerning angels葉he Guardian Angels of the Gentile peoples Metattron葉he assignment of tasks to angels in Tannaitic and Amoraic homilies and the avoidance of corporeal expressions葉he names of angels柚ichael and Gabriel柚ichael and Satan柚ichael and Samma'el葉he angels of the Revelation on Mount Sinai in the Tannaitic and Amoraic homilies悠srael's superiority over the angels葉he Jewish-Christian polemic and the abolition of angel's missions預ngels and individuals葉he status and pre-eminence of man柚oses' superiority over the angels葉he angels that accompany man Satan's angels, the destroying angels, and the problem of evil in the world parallels from the sources of the Persian religion葉he angels in apocalyptic literature擁ts influence on Rabbinic literature葉he serpent and Samma'el's rebellion葉he sons of God and the fall of the angels祐atan the prosecutor and his task in the episode of Adam and Eve憂acob's struggle葉he angel of Death and the demise of Moses葉he Celestial Retinue and the Celestial Bet Din葉he opposition to the worship of angels and to the recitation of prayers to angels. pp. 135183

Chapter IX: He Who Spoke and the World Came into Being

The work of creation容soteric teaching葉he approach of R. Ishmael and R. Akiba葉he order of creation and the dispute between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel幼reation in thought and the doctrine of Ideas rejection of the theory of creation from materia prima洋ythological dicta at the end of the Tannaitic period and the beginning of the Amoraic period anti-Gnostic polemic葉he Torah and the creation of the world葉he problem of the influence of Philo's thought葉he angels and the creation of the world the creation of light葉he sequence of times and worlds that preceded creation the world was created by an utterance葉he dogma that God created the world. pp. 184213

Chapter X: Man

Man as the goal of creation葉he body-nefesh relationship and the nature of the nefesh according to the Bible葉he creation of man in the image of God the three parts of man葉he separation of body from nefesh and the doctrine of recompense葉he creation of the body葉he difference between Adam and his descendants羊esidual myths and legends, whose objectionable element has been removed, in the Amoraic homilies由av's teaching and the Iranian myth the spirit of Adam葉he formation of the child洋an as a microcosm葉he pre-existence of the nefesh葉he treasure-house of souls葉he problem of the integration of the nefesh with the body擁s the embryo a living entity, or only 訴ts mother's thigh'?葉he tractate of the creation of the child and the Platonic myth葉he attitude to the body in the Hellenistic and Gnostic doctrines葉he Tannaitic and Amoraic attitude and the parallelism in Zarathustra's conception the dispute between the School of Hillel regarding the creation of man pp. 214254

Chapter XI: On Providence

Josephus' testimony concerning the concepts of the sects regarding fate and free will葉he Qumran Sect's doctrine of fate葉he term 善rovidence' and its meaning由. Akiba's teaching葉he opposition to the ancient doctrine of fate and Paul's teaching of grace羊eward and punishment in relation to Providence容mphasis on the principle of freedom of choice葉he integration of man's free will and the ways of Providence in the School of R. Ishmael唯en Azzai's doctrine regarding the reward of the precepts葉he restriction of reward to the world to come葉he restriction of free will to the first decision葉he influence of faith on astrology and its restriction葉he view of the last of the Amoraim預 complementary approach. pp. 255285

Chapter XII: The Written Law and the Oral Law

The term 禅orah' and its connotation裕orah and νόμος葉he term 前ral Law' and the unwritten law葉he antithesis between letter and spirit容xtreme allegorization and the anti-Paulinian polemic葉he removal of the Torah from dependence on supernatural forces裕orah and prophecy預bolition of the difference between the Written Law and the Oral Law. pp. 286314

Chapter XIII: The Commandments

1. Their Source and the Ways of their Observance
Torah and commandment羊evelation and 奏he autonomy of morality'葉he difference between ancient sources and later Midrashim葉heonomy and free will葉he authority of the Sages謡ays of keeping the commandments beyond the requirements of the law and the quality of lovingkindness熔ption and commandment幽illel's view. pp. 315342

2. The Number, Classification, and Evaluation of the Precepts
The number 613 precepts and its source葉he relative value of the precepts reward as a criterion様ight and grave sins葉he sanctifìcation and desecration of the Divine Name葉he place of the Ten Commandments. pp. 342365

3. The Reasons of the Precepts
The reasons for reward and the reason for adding the human factor葉he test the ritual-worship basis耀ymbolic reasons容ducational reasons洋easure for measure葉he reasons of the precepts as an explanation for changes and additions庸orgoing the discovery of reason熔pposition to exploring the reasons of the commandments葉he allegorization of the precepts in Hellenistic Judaism葉he joy of the commandment熔bserving precepts for their own sake and otherwise擁ntent and observance of the commandments. pp. 365399

Chapter XIV: Acceptance of the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. Love and Reverence

The reading of the Shema‛ and the recitation of 腺lessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom for ever and ever'葉he reason for saying it in a low voice the term 素ear of Heaven'葉he episode of the ‛Aqeda and the terms 詮ear' and 鼠ove'猶hilo's attitude to 詮ear of Heaven'庸ear out of love憂ob's worship of God憂ob's indictments in the Targumim擁n Tannaitic dicta擁n the book The Testament of Job輸braham and Job葉he ways of fear and love the teaching of R. Akiba庸ear and love in Amoraic dicta. pp. 400419

Chapter XV: Man's Accounting and the World's Accounting

1. Sin and Death Adam's sin and its consequences唯en-Sira's statements熔riginal sin according to Paul葉he views of the author of the Syriac Baruch and of Ezra IV葉he decree of death and the giving of the Torah妖eath on account of the Serpent death as punishment for the sins of the individual葉he death of the righteous the concept of death's power of atonement and its source. pp. 420436

2. Reward and Punishment
Acts of an individual and collective retribution葉he trial of souls after death and the judgement of man in his lifetime洋easure for measure幼risis to which 奏he doctrine of reward and punishment' is subject at times of religious persecution葉he view of R. Akiba. pp. 436444

3. The Reason for Suffering
全uffering is precious'耀uffering as punishment葉he suffering of love inviting suffering熔pposition to asceticism. pp. 444448

4. The Attribute of Justice and the Attribute of Mercy
The conception of the attribute of punishment and the attribute of good in Tan-naitic teaching葉he attribute of justice and the attribute of mercy as hypostases the names of God and His attributes猶hilo's view葉he popular conception the view of Rabban Gamaliel宥od's compassion as a reward for man's compassion葉he views of the Amoraim葉he struggle of the attribute of justice. pp. 448461

5. The Power of Repentance
然eward and punishment' and repentance羊epentance in the Bible and its appraisal by the Sages葉he nature of repentance由. Me'ir and Elisha b. Avuya容nlargement of the sphere and scope of repentance by the Amoraim specific days for repentance. pp. 462471

6. The two Inclinations
Repentance and the war of the inclinations葉he good inclination and the evil inclination葉he means for waging the struggle against the evil inclination葉he evil inclination identified with 双ther gods'葉he craving for idolatry耀exual desire葉he survival of the human species耀erving God with both inclinations the stratagems of the (evil) inclination葉he conquest and suppression of the (evil) inclination葉he stories of Amoraim concerning the testings of the Tan-naim葉he prayers for the subjugation of the (evil) inclination葉he attitude of the Sages to the problems of theodicy. pp. 471483

7. The Righteous and Wicked
Who is righteous?葉he dangers to which the righteous man is exposed葉he legend of the righteous葉he world exists through the merit of righteous men their number葉he birth of the righteous man揺is extraordinary image and qualities揺is influence on his environment葉he righteous man and his generation葉he decline of the generations葉he merit of the righteous and its effect葉he various views concerning the merit of the Patriarchs and the destiny of the nation預ncestral merit and the individual葉he doctrine of R. Akiba the opposition to ancestral merit and the deep-rooted belief in it葉he living bestow merit on the dead耀ons bestow merit on their fathers葉he atonement of the dead through the living. pp. 483511

8. Interpretation of Theodicy
The individual's accounting葉he contradictions in the doctrine of retribution
and the preservation of the principle of reward and punishment葉heodicean methods of interpreting harsh Scriptural episodes用ast events explained by later events葉he selling of Josephus and the martyred Sages卵What have you to do with the mysteries of the All-Merciful?' pp. 511523

Chapter XVI: The People of Israel and its Sages

1. Election and Reality
The idea of election in the Bible葉he derision of the Gentiles at the Jewish claim to election in times of oppression葉he Sages' replies to the sectarians the answer they gave to their own people葉he concept of election as a cosmic act葉he twofold election悠srael chose its God葉he choosing people became the chosen people葉he nation's destiny is determined by its attitude to its God since the acceptance of the Torah葉he implications of mutual suretyship. pp. 525541

2. Election and Proselytization
The function of spreading Israel's faith among the Gentiles葉he effect of the destruction of the Temple容xplanations of the Jewish people's dispersion the attitude to Christians and pagans葉he struggle on two fronts葉he laws governing the acceptance of proselytes葉he attitude to proselytes in the post-Hadrianic period葉he attitude of the Amoraim葉he strength of the consciousness of election擁ts expression in prayers and benedictions. pp. 541554

3. Indictment and Defense of the Congregation of Israel
The attitude to the episode of the golden calf葉he assessment of the work of the prophets among their people葉he function of reproof and defence. pp. 554564

4. The Status of the Sages in the Days of the Hasmoneans
The cessation of prophecy葉he Great Synagogue祐cribes and Sages唯en Sira's description憂ohanan the High Priest祐imeon b. Shetah祐hema‛ya and Avtalion. pp. 564576

5. Hillel's Character and Work
Hillel and the Sons of Bathyra葉he attitude to the Holy Spirit葉he enactments of Hillel揺is influence on the institutions of the Temple and Sanhedrin揺is attitude to the masses of the people葉he laws of purity and impurity葉he differences between the associations of the Pharisees and the Essenes and the Qumran Covenanters葉he changed meaning of the term ‛am ha-'ares and the consequences in the relationship between them and the haverîm [associates] Hillel's attributes and conduct. pp. 576593

6. The Regime of the Sages after the Destruction of the Temple
The School of Shammai and the School of Hillel葉he Zealots in the period of the Revolt葉he work of R. Johanan b. Zakkai葉he episode of ‛Aqaviah b. Mahalalel the dynasty of the Patriarchs of the House of Hillel葉he struggle for freedom of Halakhic decision葉he problem of the livelihood of the Sages the clash between ideals and reality. pp. 593603

7. The Struggle between Learning and Practice in the Creation of the Image of the Sage
The attitude of the Sages to rulership and the exercise of authority葉he extreme approach of R. Simeon b. Yohai and the attitude of his colleagues葉he relationship between Torah study and good works葉he assessment of Torah as the supreme value葉he reluctance to give Halakhic decisions and to act as judges and its causes葉he goal of wisdom is penitence and good deeds. pp. 603620

8. The Internal Relations in the Academies of the Sages
The desire to annoy傭etween praise and dispraise庸riction due to competition for distinguished disciples葉he discussions in the academies conducted in a free spirit葉he creation of class consciousness葉he exhortation to support the Sages羊ecognition of the dangers that beset the Sage葉he test of the Sage. pp. 620630

9. The Sages among their People
The dilemma of the relationship between themselves葉he dicta against the 'amme ha-'ares and their significance葉he question of pedigree葉he marriage factor羊ecognition of the virtues of simple folk預ction taken to draw them closer to the Torah and the commandments葉he responsibility for the integrity of the Congregation of Israel as a whole悠srael as one people葉he antithesis: Israel-the nations of the world. pp. 630648

Chapter XVII: On Redemption
The terminology connected with the concept of redemption葉he vision of the prophets of Israel葉he apocalyptic literature葉he belief in resurrection葉he belief in the redemption of the nation and the country in the pre-Destruction period葉he benediction for redemption葉he blessings of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement葉he conception of redemption in Sirach葉he portrayal of redemption in apocalyptic circles葉he Messianic document in The Psalms of Solomon and the antagonism to the Hasmoneans葉he destruction of the Temple and the change in the conception of redemption羊eligious-national redemption bears a restorative character羊edemption and repentance葉he dispute between R. Joshua and R. Eliezer, the revolt of Bar Kokhba由. Akiba's attitude to the revolt and the personality of Bar Kokhba揺is opponents葉he failure and its consequences葉he penetration of the Utopian-apocalyptic concept into the circles of the Sages羊ealistic concepts and calculators of the End the personality of the Messiah揺is pre-existence葉he Messiah's names the suffering Messiah柚essiah the son of Joseph and Messiah the son of David葉he negation of the image of a personal Messiah宥od is the Redeemer葉he absolute faith in redemption. pp. 649690

Notes 693
Bibliography 1011
General Index 1037
Index of Rabbinic Sources 1056
Index of Non-Rabbinical Sources 1074

An Excerpt from the Book -- The Sages -- Their Concepts and Beliefs

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The conventional 租octrine of reward and punishment' underwent a grave crisis in the period of Hadrian's religious persecution, which led to a change in Rabbinic thinking on theodicy. It was not the tribulation that came upon the righteous from a higher power that called for an explanation, nor the bitter outcry against the troubles that were equally the lot of the wicked and the righteous that demanded an answer, but the fact that the resolve to observe the commandments was itself the cause of death and suffering!

However, there is not wanting the stereotyped explanation that views the tortures and sufferings of the (ten) martyrs as punishment for miniscule transgressions: 糎hen R. Ishmael and R. Simeon went forth to execution, R. Simeon said to R. Ishmael: 溺aster, my heart is ill at ease, because I know not the cause of my execution.

Said R. Ishmael to R. Simeon 泥id it never happen that a man came to you for judgement, or to ask you a law, and you kept him waiting until you finished sipping your drink, or you tied your sandal, or put on your cloak? But the Torah declared 選f thou delay [usually rendered 疎fflict'] in any wise', and the principle applies irrespective of whether the delay is long or short. Thereupon he replied 溺aster, you have comforted me.'

Clearly this source was influenced by the Mishna cited earlier (p. 438) 禅he sword comes to the world on account of the delay of justice.' In a later source the Rabbis did not wish to attribute so grave a sin to Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel,and reacting to this explanation, R. Simeon said: 禅he attendant was instructed that whether I was sleeping or dining, no one should be prevented from entering.' R. Ishmael then raised another possibility: 蒼Perhaps when you were sitting and expounding on the Temple Mount and all the multitudes of Israel were sitting before you, you grew arrogant? He replied: 的shmael, my brother, a man must be prepared to accept his affliction.'

It seems, however, that these explanations do not emanate from the generation that suffered the persecution; at all events they did not satisfy R. Akiba. He and his colleagues were not required tocommit transgressions that made them liable to the death penalty, and concerning which it was ordained that 疎 man should let himself be killed rather than transgress'.

With regard to persecutive decrees of this nature it could be said that the people on whom they were imposed 層ere liable to death at the hands of heaven',77 and thusthey attained their punishment and atonement and share in the world to come. But R. Akiba and those of his colleagues傭ut not all ofthem78謡ho adopted his attitude observed the commandments demonstratively and in defiance of the ruling power.

前nce when R.Akiba was being tried before the wicked Tineius Rufus, the time arrived for reading the Shôma‛ and he began to recite it joyfully. Said he [T. Rufus]: 徹ld man, old man, either you are a magician or you bear pain with contumacy. R. Akiba answered him: 展oeto that man! I am neither a magician nor do I bear pain with contumacy; but all my life I have read this verse: 羨nd thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul [i. e. life] and with all thy might [i. e. wealth].' (Truly) I loved Him with all my heart, and I loved Him with all my wealth, but I was never called upon to face the ordeal of 層ith all my soul'. Now that I experience (the test of) 層ith all my soul', and the time for reading the Shôma‛has arrived, and I have not thrust it aside, therefore I am reciting the Shôma‛ with joy.' This acceptance of suffering is voided of its reason and significance, if it is explained as a punishment for any sin. Indeed it is told that

糎hen R. Akiba was killed at Caesarea, the news reached R. Judah b. Bava and R. Hananiah b. Teradion. They arose and girded their loins with sackloth and rent their garments and cried: 徹h, our brethren, hearken unto us! R. Akiba was not slain for robbery, or for not toiling in the Torah with all his strength. R. Akiba was slain only as a sign, as it is said "Thus shall Ezekiel be to you for a sign; according to all that. . . then ye will know thatI am the Lord God' (Ezekiel xxiv 24).'81 禅his doctrine of R. Akiba, which regards the acceptance of suffering with love as the highest goal of him that serves the Lord, performing the commandments in the spirit of 層ith all thy soul容ven though He takes thy soul', has no parallel except in the conduct and words of Socrates before his death; but the difference in the manner of their execution should be noted.

R. Akiba, and his disciples who followed in his footsteps, not only saved, by their acts, Israel's Torah and the observance of its precepts, but also radically transformed the evaluation of the relationship between the troubles and tribulations that befall the individual or the community, and sin and iniquity.


The change that occurred in R. Akiba's own outlook is reflected in a twofold tradition concerning R. Akiba's visit to the house of his teacher R. Eliezer, who was on his death bed. In one tradition it is stated. . .

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