Jacob Neusner, Judaic Scholar Who Forged Interfaith Bonds, Dies at 84

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Jacob Neusner, a religious historian of enormous breadth and productivity and one of the world’s foremost scholars of Jewish rabbinical texts, died on Saturday at his home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was 84.

A spokesman for Bard College, where he taught for 20 years, confirmed his death, saying he had been treated for Parkinson’s disease for many years.

Professor Neusner (pronounced NOOSE-ner) gave new meaning to the adjective “prolific.” “A Life of Yohanan ben Zakkai,” his 1962 study of one of the most important Jewish sages, marked the beginning of an astonishingly productive scholarly career. Over the next half-century, he published more than 900 books devoted to history, source analysis, comparative religion and legal theory.

He also edited and translated, with others, nearly the entirety of the Jewish rabbinical texts. His editions of the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud run to more than 50 volumes. In “Jacob Neusner: An American Jewish Iconoclast,” the Judaic scholar Aaron W. Hughes called him “perhaps the most important American-born Jewish thinker this country has produced.”

Professor Neusner was instrumental in bringing the study of rabbinical texts into nonreligious educational institutions and treating them as historical, literary and social documents. In so doing he courted controversy by asserting that multiple Judaisms, arising from local conditions, coexisted in the period after the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. He put forth this thesis in “Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah” (1981), which the religious scholar Jonathan Z. Smith called “a Copernican revolution in rabbinical studies.” ...

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