Many religions have authors who pen "systematic theologies," books that present the religions in a systematic manner from point A to Z. There are ups and downs with this approach, especially since it usually leads to a very biased presentation. I previously heard somewhere that Judaism does not generally approach theology in this manner. However, I believe there must be some presentations (things like basic text books for academy, etc.).

Does anyone know of a good "systematic theology" or something similar for someone wanting to understand Judaism in this manner?

P.S. - Please do not answer Talmud. I understand the importance and relevance of Talmud as an answer of sorts to this question, but I am looking for something closer to a one volume presentation.

  • Are you looking for a work that is meant to be complete, or just anything systematic? The latter has many more answers. – Y     e     z May 5 '14 at 18:51
  • @YEZ. To my understanding a complete handling would be too much to fit, although I would like to have that recommendation most. Complete and systematic would be amazing, – Yochanan Michael May 5 '14 at 18:55
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    To clarify - if it is not an attempt to be complete, you are still interested, or only in something that purports/attempts to be complete? Or at least complete enough to need no supliment. – Y     e     z May 5 '14 at 18:58
  • @YEZ. Broadly speaking I'd like to know of anything that meets even part of the criteria (ie. incomplete but systematized, or vice versa). However, if something meets all the criteria that would be even better. – Yochanan Michael May 5 '14 at 20:07
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    "'systematic theologies,' books that present the religions in a systematic manner": but Judaism isn't just theology. Do you seek a book that presents theology or religion? The latter would include, e.g., halacha. – msh210 May 6 '14 at 5:14

Derech Hashem of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzato is comprehensive, systematic, concise and suitable for all levels.

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    Apparently I am not included in 'all' levels. I find all is seforim apart from mesilas yeshorim very difficult. – preferred May 6 '14 at 9:09
  • @preferred it's a difficult subject. needs guidance from a LOR – ray May 6 '14 at 9:33
  • @preferred which books of his are you referring to? most of them are kabalistic works – ray May 6 '14 at 10:07
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    How can it (or any other book on the subject) be suitable for all levels, if the subject is difficult enough to need guidance from a LOR? – Tamir Evan May 6 '14 at 14:54
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    @TamirEvan he'll still get alot out of it. just will get much more with proper guidance. you can't expect to get a full comprehensive overview of judiasm with just reading one book by yourself. you need to go to yeshiva for at least one year for that or at least chumash and hashkafa courses in some community kollel. otherwise you'd be looking at everything from your secular perspective much of which interferes with proper understanding of jewish thought. i'm talking from personal experience. – ray May 6 '14 at 17:32

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan "Handbook of Jewish Thought" is organized, linear and comprehensive. I recommend it.


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    Since an upvote doesn't necessarily mean much, I'll add that this is the best book of systematic Jewish theology that I've seen as well (Derech Hashem and R. Bleich's "With Perfect Faith" are good in this genre too but are different kinds of books than what the question is looking for) – הנער הזה May 6 '14 at 14:23
  • @Matt thanks. For others who don't know these sefarim... Derech Hashem covers the kabbalistic spiritual aspects and With Perfect Faith the Intellectual rational foundations but R Kaplan covers the basics of both and much more. – Yoni May 6 '14 at 15:19
  • @Matt how is it different from derech H'? – ray May 6 '14 at 17:31
  • @Yoni Derech Hashem covers everything including the kabbalistic spiritual aspects. you make it sounds like it's only about the kabalistic aspects. – ray May 6 '14 at 17:38
  • @ray I meant kabbalistic and / or spiritual. Would you agree with that in general? – Yoni May 6 '14 at 18:19

Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim is such - an organized systematic approach to many facets of Jewish thought.

Rav Hirsch actually planned to write such a work - there was originally planned to be a companion to Horeb called Moriah, which, as Horeb systematically went through mitzvos, was going to go through Jewish philosophy. Professor Mordechai Breuer says that R' Hirsch retracted this idea because he realized it would be an impossible task to write something all-encompassing of a philosophy of infinite depth, and that this was the reason the Midrash is arranged verse by verse, not topic by topic, in order to not be presented as "everything there is to say on the matter." The Ramban similarly wrote his magnum opus as a commentary to Chumash as opposed to an organized philosophical treatise.

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    Ein eh-ster maggedes? (Why the downvote?) – Y     e     z May 6 '14 at 18:48
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    Sorry. Because, as much as I love reading the Moreh Nevuchim (I've read it several times in five translations), it's intentionally disorganized (or at least appears to be, Strauss' brilliant outline notwithstanding), and, as the Rambam himself states, not meant to present a comprehensive Jewish theology. It's very hard to call it systematic... it contains several bolts of lightening, not a flashlight. The comment about Rav Hirsch, (and Ramban, which I don't really agree with) while interesting, doesn't answer the question. Sorry, we can quibble about details but that's my feeling – הנער הזה May 7 '14 at 21:00
  • @Matt as he writes in the intro, it is all you need to know to understand maaseh merkava and maaseh Bereishis. So it is systematic in the information it chooses to give, and organized so that the first two chalakim lead to the third. But you have the right to feel however you want. I appreciate (and normally everyone does) the explanation. – Y     e     z May 8 '14 at 2:53

To add another to the list, Pele Yoetz is a relatively concise book that may fit into the category you describe. From the Wikipedia description:

The Pele Yoetz is a classical moral treatise and compilation of essential Jewish concepts which Rabbi Eliezer Papo (1785–1828) organized according to topics in the order of the Hebrew alphabet.

Hebrew versions can be found on HebrewBooks.org (vol. 1, vol. 2), and an English translation of independent sections can be found here.

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    Although it's not necessarily in a particular order. (Meaning, of course alphabetical is an order, but not a conceptually linked order) – Y     e     z May 6 '14 at 18:47
  • @YEZ True, it's sort of like a mini-encyclopedia. Anyway, I choose to interpret "from point A to Z" literally. :) – Fred May 8 '14 at 1:15

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