What Counts as a Jewish Text?

Some case studies to help us decide.

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There are, of course, no hard and fast rules to determine whether a text is Jewish. As we have seen, it is not necessarily the content of the material that determines Jewishness, but how later interpreters respond to the material. Like human beings, texts have a life, and sometimes like human beings, they can convert from outside Judaism to Jewish, or vice-versa. Texts are Jewish when a community of Jews perceives that the text speaks about the Jewish experience.

I write "a community of Jews" because in determining whether a text is Jewish, the question must ultimately be considered from a communal perspective. I spent a year working at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York, the world's largest gay and lesbian synagogue. Were the drashot (teachings) that the Rabbi gave about acceptance of sexual orientation, Jewish texts? For that community they were, but for the Orthodox community they might not be. This is part of the dynamism of Judaism, that there is no central dogma, and as such there will always be disagreements about the outlines of the Jewish canon.

The ultimate arbiter of these disagreements is history itself.

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Rabbi Dan Judson

Rabbi Dan Judson is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth David in Canton, MA. He is the co-author of two books, The Rituals and Practices of a Jewish Life:  A Handbook for Personal Spiritual Renewal (Jewish Lights Press, 2002) and Meeting at the Well:  A Jewish Spiritual Guide to Being Engaged (UAHC Press, 2002).