What is Good, and What God Demands

Normative Structures in Tannaitic Literature


The normative rhetoric of tannaitic literature (the earliest extant corpus of rabbinic Judaism) is predominantly deontological. Prior scholarship on rabbinic supererogation, and on points of contact with Greco-Roman virtue discourse, has identified non-deontological aspects of tannaitic normativity. However, these two frameworks overlook precisely the productive intersection of deontological with non-deontological, the first because supererogation defines itself against obligation, and the second because the Greco-Roman comparate discourages serious treatment of law-like elements. This book addresses ways in which alternative normative forms entwine with the core deontological rhetoric of tannaitic literature. This perspective exposes, inter alia, echoes of the post-biblical wisdom tradition in tannaitic law, the rich polyvalence of the category mitzvah, and telling differences between the schools of Akiva and Ishmael.

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Tzvi Novick, Ph.D. (2008) in Religious Studies, Yale University, occupies the Jordan Kapson Chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He has published on a wide variety of topics in rabbinic and Second Temple literature.
Scholars of rabbinic literature, Jewish studies, and Second Temple literature, and all those interested in law and ethics, and especially in the rhetoric and religious dimensions thereof.