Greco-Roman Period
Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, Ktav Publishing House, Hoboken, NJ, 1991.

Rabbinic tradition, in both its tannaitic and amoraic stages, preserved the contributions
of some two thousand named authorities and countless others over a period of almost a
millennium. For this reason, and because the systematic organization of theological tenets
was itself totally foreign to the rabbis of the Talmud, whose beliefs can only be
extrapolated from their various exegetical and legal traditions, any attempt to speak of the
theology or religion of the rabbis is futile. All we can do is to survey some of the ideas
that eventually constituted the consensus that emerged when the rabbinic period drew to a
close with the Islamization of the Near East. In the last stages of the editing and redaction
of the Talmuds and in the later aggadic literature, there emerged a general view on certain
issues that are prominently dealt with in the aggadic materials. While we cannot expect
all rabbis (let alone all Jews) to have subscribed to every one of these ideas, they can be
described, nonetheless, as the common aggadic heritage of most rabbinic Jews at the end
of the talmudic period and as the basis for the later development of medieval Jewish
philosophy and mysticism.

Basic to Rabbinic Judaism was the belief that the world was created by one God who
had existed from eternity and will exist forever. This God is omnipotent and omniscient.
He created the world by fiat and remains master of its affairs. He desires only that His
creatures observe His Torah, the instrument by which He reveals the divine will to His
people. To the rabbis, the Torah was the instruction that God revealed to Moses at Sinai
in both the written law and the oral law. The former is preserved in the Hebrew Bible, the
latter is expounded in rabbinic teachings. Together, and in creative tension, these two
corpora form the basis of Judaism. Following the way of the Torah ensures God’s people
entrance to and reward in the world-to-come. Non-Jews may also gain this reward, by
observing a few commandments, the Noachide laws, a sort of rabbinic equivalent of
natural law to which all humanity is subject. The option of proselytism, conversion to
Judaism, is open to the sincere non-Jew who wishes to identify fully with the Jewish
people and adopt its way of life.

The halakhah seeks to sanctify the Jew’s entire life and his relations both with God and
his fellow man. In it and through it one achieves perfection in both ritual matters and
ethical and moral concerns. In fact, for Judaism, there is no distinction between these
spheres- ritual, ethical, and moral matters are all presented as one all-encompassing and
indivisible entity. All guidance comes from the halakhah, which seeks to sanctify even
the most mundane of human activities with a view to infusing the divine into the life of

The study and teaching of the law is itself seen as a religious value. Through it, one not
only learns how to fulfill the divine will, but also participates in the ongoing handing
down of the tradition. The student of the Torah becomes a link in the unbroken chain
which connects the Jewish people to the revelation at Sinai.

The observance or nonobservance of the commandments (mitzvot) leads people either
to reward or to punishment, both in this life and the next. Although sometimes the
righteous appear to suffer in this world, reward is stored up for them in the next.
Similarly, although the wicked appear to prosper in this life, their success is only illusory.
In the next life they will receive their just punishment.

Yet the issue of reward and punishment extends well beyond the individual. The
community of Israel seeks to achieve a collective reward, the messianic era. At some time
in the future, it is believed, a series of events will transform the world and the people of
Israel, and a period of perfection will be ushered in. This era will begin with a series of
cataclysmic events, but ultimately peace will prevail. At the end of days, the people of
Israel will be free of foreign domination and will be ruled in its own land by a Davidic
king, a messiah who is but a mortal elevated to special wisdom, power, and
responsibility. When the messianic era dawns, the nations of the world will finally
recognize the truthfulness of the God of Israel, and this, in turn, will lead to the universal
participation of all peoples in the messianic age. All will obey the will of God and
worship at His mountain. The Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and the final
resurrection will bring all who lived righteously to the experience of eternal bliss.