Diversity against legal authority

Hans Hofmann, Memoria in Aeternum, 1962


Commentary on the book “Diversity and Rabbinization”.

"It is not to be expected that the German princes will simply surrender their peoples to the famous lawmaking of the representative jurists, or juristic Brahmins, who eternalize their Sanskrit, rule everywhere all silent and still, suck the people's marrow dry, and would like to mark themselves out as the teachers of laws and morals, like the Rabbis of the Jews” (Von beruf Savigny)

The present text finds its context from the observation of the cover itself of the work in question. Around the XNUMXth century AD. C., there was a pertinent questioning about what was understood by ancient Judaism, since the god Helios was present in the mosaics of a synagogue. The immediate question that arises is: what would a god of Greek mythology be doing in a temple located on the Sea of ​​Galilee, in Hammat Tiberias?

It is not simply an image resembling the god Helios, but actually is a representation of the deity on the floor of the synagogue, sometimes personified with a halo and with rays emanating from his face, at other times, sitting in his chariot, and , finally, arranged in an abstract way like the Sun.

From that perspective, then what would be the point of having idols and pagan gods in a synagogue? The answer is immediately revealed: diversity.

It is observed in the following passage of the work Diversity and Rabbinization: Jewish Texts and Societies between 400 and 1000 CE"the rabbis were a small, sheltered community and had little influence on the majority of Jews, who practiced a Hellenistic, 'mystic' form of Judaism”. This “mystical form of Judaism” was a mass phenomenon, in contrast to the rabbis: “study of magical texts revealed the existence of a paganized Judaism that was in no way marginal".

So how did the rabbinization process come about? Now, McDowell, Naiweld and Ben Ezra point out the following in the introduction to the work: “in 'The Rabbinization Tractates and the Propagation of Rabbinic Ideology in the Late Talmudic Period'. He identifies two interrelated aspects of rabbinization: first, the rabbinization of the past, including the biblical past, and, second, the acceptance of rabbinic institutions as normative. texts teach Jews how to think like rabbis. […] Naiweld begins with two examples, the extracanonical Talmudic tractate Kallah and the Sar ha-Torah section of Hekhalot Rabbati. Naiweld sees both texts as ideological tools intended to promote rabbinic thinking outside the academy".

If there was such popular mystical experience as different from rabbinic authority, why is everything seen as rabbinic law? In Iran, in the face of the height of Talmudic law, the rabbis themselves were assimilated and acted according to their own beliefs, as follows in the transposed evidence of the aforementioned work: “The quest for non-rabbinic Judaism has also been conducted from within the Babylonian Talmud, as scholars have explored inwardly focused polemic. This has been said to reflect rabbinic anxiety towards non-rabbinic elements of Babylonian Jewish society. Yaakov Elman, addressing “intellectual theological engagement,” isolated a number of sources that relate to opponents of Rava, who were based in Mehoza. Some are described as “the sharp-witted ones of Mehoza" (b. Ber. 59b). Rava challenges the foolish people (hanei enashei/sheʾar enashi) who rise before a Torah scroll, but not before rabbinic scholars (b. Mak. 22b). An example of those who have no place in the world to eat includes the household of one Benjamin the Doctor who asks: “What use are the rabbis for us? They never permitted the raven…” (b. Sanh. 99b–100a).

Finally, there is certainly a metamorphosis in the case in evidence that would be perfectly appreciated by the followers of the Warburg School, such as Erwin Panofsky, due to the survival and continuity of the forms, which are not exhausted in their context.

*Ari Marcelo Solon is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among others, of books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the development of justice (Prisms).


Gavin McDowell, Ron Naiweld and Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra. Diversity and Rabbinization: Jewish Texts and Societies between 400 and 1000 CE. London, Open Book Publishers, 2021. 448 pages.

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