Monday, August 18, 2008

JACOB NEUSNER is interviewed by the Jerusalem Post:
'A utopian document, a utopian law'

In the world of Jewish studies, Prof. Jacob Neusner needs no introduction. The 75-year-old scholar of Talmud and rabbinic literature has written, edited or translated more than 900 books (though he doesn't want you to read them all), making him among the most active and prolific authors alive.

"But I have a limited repertoire," he says with a smile, an expertise which extends across a millennium and through dozens of difficult, tightly-written works that are the record of the rabbinic love affair with the Torah.

For Neusner, the study of rabbinic literature has been a kind of love affair in itself, and as with all true loves, he remembers clearly when it began. He sat down to study his first passage of Talmud just after Succot in October of 1954, at the age of 22. It was the eighth chapter of Baba Kama, "Hahovel," he recalls almost 54 years later.

"I was an American history major," and had always been a bit bored with the subject. "When I started studying Talmud, I finally came across something endlessly interesting. I had never met anything so challenging. It was like mathematics, only 1,000 times more complex. I was never bored again."

Now, struggling through the latest work, Sifrei Zuta Bamidbar, "a very strange text," he is a happy man. "Every line is a challenge, the challenge of reconstructing the thought processes of the rabbis."

The interview itself asks "Who were the rabbinic Sages? What can we know about their world? What can they tell us about Jewish life today?" At lot of it involves What-would-the-sages-do? sorts of questions.