Moses initiated Judaism about 1300 BC.
The religion and culture of the Jewish people. Jewish civilization includes historical, social, and political dimensions in addition to the religious. The word "Judaism" derives from the Greek Ioudaismos, a term first used in the intertestamental period by Greek speaking Jews to distinguish their religion from hellenism (see 2 Macc. 2:21; 8:1; 14:38). In the NT the word appears twice (Gal. 1:13 - 14) in reference to Paul's prior consuming devotion to Jewish faith and life.
Along the way Jewish religion took on new teachings and practices. But with the lengthy development of Judaism and its many changes it is incorrect to posit, as some have done, that Jewish history produced two separate religions: an OT religion of Israel and the postexilic religion of Judaism. Despite the shifting phases of its history, the essence of the religious teaching of Judaism has remained remarkably constant, firmly rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (OT). Judaism is a religion of ethical monotheism. For centuries many Jews have sought to distill its essential features from one biblical verse that calls Israel "to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic. 6:8).
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There was one thing Israel carried to Babylon and clung to dearly. It was the law, the Torah, for by it Israel was assured of its divine calling and mission. In the fifth century the "father of Judaism," Ezra the scribe, enacted religious reforms by appealing to the Torah. The priesthood was purified and mixed marriages dealt with as the principles of the law became applied to every detail of life. Gradually many Jews came to believe that here lay the only real proof of who was a true Jew: vigorous, unflinching obedience to the teachings of Torah.
Scribes became the priestly interpreters of the Torah, setting forth their own authoritative teachings. By the second century BC the Pharisees taught that the oral law carried the same authority as the law of Moses. Later Jesus denied that the traditions of men were equal in authority to the written law (Mark 7:1 - 23); in addition, Paul denied that man could be justified before God by perfect obedience to that law (Gal. 3).
The destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the scattering of thousands of Jews from the land brought a sudden demise to the priesthood. Johanan ben Zakkai, a Pharisee, was soon permitted by the Romans to open an academy at Jabneh. He took it upon himself to install rabbis as the keepers and legislators of Torah. By word of mouth the rabbis passed their teachings from generation to generation until the oral law (Mishnah) was written down about 200 AD, Rabbi Judah ha - Nasi its chief editor. By 500 AD the Talmud was completed with the issuing of the Gemara, a rabbinical commentary on the Mishnah. The Talmud contains more than 6,000 folio pages and references to more than 2,000 scholar - teachers. It became the basic document of rabbinic Judaism, and still holds a major place in shaping Jewish thought.
In the Mishnah (Abot 1:2) one sees the broad philosophy that governed the minds of the early rabbis:
"By three things is the world sustained:
This basic teaching is further underscored by the threefold function of the synagogue as a "house of study" (for learning of Torah), "house of prayer" (for worship of God), and "house of assembly" (for the care of community needs).
Contemporary Judaism often speaks of four foundational pillars of the Jewish faith, each interacting as a major force as part of the covenant: (1) The Torah, always a living law as the written Torah is understood in light of the oral Torah; (2) God, a unity (one), spiritual (not a body), and eternal; (3) The people (Israelites Jews), called into being by God as members of one family, a corporate personality, a community of faith; and (4) The land (known today as Eretz Yisrael), a bond going back to Abraham, the "father of the Hebrew people" (Gen. 17:7 - 8).
In its modern expression Judaism is also shaped by the following traditional beliefs:
(1) Man is pivotal in the universe. He sees himself as partner with God in the unending process of creation. In rabbinic thought, "God needs man as much as man needs God."
(2) Man is a responsible moral agent, fully accountable for his acts. He is free to shape his own destiny.
(3) Human progress is possible as man realizes the great potential within him. The nature of man is basically good, or neutral, free from the encumbrance of original sin. Thus man may be optimistic and hopeful about his future.
(4) "This - worldliness" is a distinguishing mark of Judaism. The Hebrew Scriptures focus more on earth and man than upon heaven and God. Hence, lengthy speculation about the afterlife and otherworldy realities has never occupied a major position in Jewish thought.
(5) All of life must be regarded as sacred. Man is to seek to imitate God in sanctifying his every action. Time must be imbued with the seeds of eternity.
(6) Man is to pursue peace, justice, and righteousness. Salvation is dependent upon the betterment of society through good deeds. Historically, Jews have seen the Messiah as God's anointed human representative (not a God - man) who would usher in a golden age of societal and spiritual redemption. Today, however, Reform Judaism teaches that the Messianic Age will appear when humankind collectively, by its acts, reaches a level of true enlightenment, peace, and justice.
M R Wilson
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
L Baeck, The Essence of Judaism; H Danby, The Mishnah; H Donin, To Be a Jew; E J, X; A Hertzberg, ed., Judaism; G F Moore, Judaism; M Steinberg, Basic Judaism; L Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life.
Several distinct approaches to Judaism presently exist.
There are currently around 1,500,000 Conservative Jews in the United States, worshipping in 762 Synagogues.
Hasidic Orthodox (Hasidism) opposes all changes or innovation in dress, speech and education. The German and western European is less severe, adopting some modern changes.
There are currently around 1,075,000 Orthodox Jews in the United States, worshipping in 800 Synagogues.
Mordecai Menahem Kaplan (1881-1983) was an American rabbi who founded Reconstructionism, a movement based on the view that Judaism is essentially a religious civilization.
Kaplan was born in Švenèionys, Lithuania. At the age of eight, he was brought to the United States. After studying at the College of the City of New York and at Columbia University, he was ordained (1902) at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he later became principal (1909) of the teachers institute, dean (1931), and dean emeritus (1947).
In 1916 he established the Jewish Center in New York City, where he served as rabbi until 1922. He then established the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, which became the core of Reconstructionism. The movement was defined in the Reconstructionist, a periodical he edited, that was dedicated to "the advancement of Judaism as a religious civilization, to the upbuilding of Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel] as the spiritual center of the Jewish People, and to the furtherance of universal freedom, justice, and peace." Among Kaplan's writings that define the movement are Judaism as a Civilization (1934) and The Religion of Ethical Nationhood (1970).
There are currently around 65,000 Reconstructionist Jews in the United States, worshipping in 100 Synagogues.
There are currently around 1,500,000 Reform Jews in the United States, worshipping in 896 Synagogues.
There are currently around 1,500 Karaite Jews in the United States, worshipping in two Synagogues.
There are also Liberal and Progressive wings of Judaism.
These numbers total approximately 4,140,000 Jews in the United States, although there are sources that give 6,015,000 as the total for North America (with around 70,000 in Canada.)
Judaism, the religion of the Jews, claims over 14 million adherents throughout the world. It is the oldest living religion in the Western world. Historically, Judaism served as the matrix for Christianity and Islam, the other two great monotheistic religions, which together with Judaism claim half the world's population as adherents.
The beliefs of Judaism have never been formulated in an official creed; Judaism stresses conduct rather than doctrinal correctness. Its adherents have a considerable measure of latitude in matters of belief, especially concerning the messianic future and immortality. Judaism is a this - world religion; its objective is a just and peaceful world order on earth. This hope is assured by the belief that God is the Lord of history as well as of nature.
The basic source of Jewish belief is the Hebrew Bible (called the "Old Testament" by Christians), especially its first five books, called the Torah or the Pentateuch. The Torah was traditionally regarded as the primary revelation of God and his law to humanity; it is considered as valid for all time. Its laws were clarified and elaborated in the oral Torah, or the tradition of the elders, and were eventually written down in the Mishnah and Talmud. Thus, Judaism did not stop developing after the Bible was completed. The traditional Jewish prayer book is an important result of this process of development, reflecting the basic beliefs of Judaism as well as changes in emphasis in response to changing conditions. During the Middle Ages, systematic codes of talmudic law were compiled. Jewish literature - legal, ethical, philosophic, mystical, and devotional - is virtually endless.
Individual practices still widely observed include the dietary laws (Kosher); rules concerning the marital relationship, daily prayer, and study; and the recital of many blessings, especially before and after meals. The Sabbath and festivals are observed both in the home and in the Synagogue, a unique institution for prayer and instruction that became the model for the church in Christianity and for the mosque in Islam. Traditionally observant Jews wear tefillin, or Phylacteries, on their forehead and left arm during morning prayers, and affix to their doorposts a mezuzah, a little box containing a parchment scroll inscribed with passages of the Torah that emphasize the unity of God, his providence, and the resulting duty of serving him. In accordance with biblical law, men wear a fringed shawl (tallith) during prayer. Covering the head is a widespread custom.
The Jewish religious calendar, of Babylonian origin, consists of 12 lunar months, amounting to about 354 days. Six times in a 19 year cycle a 13th month is added to adjust the calendar to the solar year. The day is reckoned from sunset to sunset.
The Sabbath, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, is observed by refraining from work and by attending a synagogue service. Friday evening is marked in the home by the lighting of a lamp or candles by the woman of the household, the recital of the kiddush (a ceremonial blessing affirming the sanctity of the day) over a cup of wine, and the blessing of children by parents. The end of the Sabbath is marked by parallel ceremonies called havdalah. Similar home ceremonies occur on the festivals.
The holidays prescribed in the Torah are the two "days of awe," Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and three joyous festivals, Passover, Shavuoth (Feast of Weeks), and the Feast of Tabernacles. Later additions are the festive occasions of Chanukah and Purim, and the fast of the Ninth of Av (Tishah be - Av), commemorating the destruction of the Temple.
On the 8th day after birth, male children are circumcised as a sign of the covenant with Abraham; the boy is named during the ceremony. Girls are named at a synagogue service. At the age of 13, a boy is deemed responsible for performing the commandments (Bar Mitzvah). To mark his new status, the bar mitzvah takes part in the Bible readings during a synagogue service. (The synagogue service is sometimes popularly referred to as the bar mitzvah.) A similar ceremony for girls (bat mitzvah) is a recent innovation. Somewhat older is the confirmation ceremony for both sexes introduced by Reform Judaism; it is usually a class observance on or near Shavuoth.
Judaism has characteristic, but not unparalleled, customs concerning marriage and death and mourning. The importance attached to recital of the Kaddish prayer by mourners dates from the Middle Ages. The prayer itself is much older and was originally recited as the conclusion of a sermon; it is related in thought and language to the "Lord's Prayer" of Christians. After the disasters during the First Crusade, the Jews of central and later eastern Europe introduced a memorial service on Yom Kippur and on other holidays; they also began to observe the anniversary of the death of parents.
Unparalleled in any other Near Eastern religion are Judaism's prohibition of images, observance of the Sabbath, dietary laws, legislation guaranteeing support of the poor as a matter of right, and protection of slaves and animals against cruelty. When a loose tribal confederation was replaced by a national state under Kings Saul and David a national Temple in Jerusalem helped unify the people spiritually. After the division of the kingdom following the death (c. 933) of Solomon, the northern kingdom of Israel also had national shrines.
This dramatized belief in one God and reduced the importance of sacrifice in the daily life of the worshiper. The gap left by the abolition of the local shrines was eventually filled by the establishment of the Synagogue, but there is no clear reference to this new institution until some four centuries later. The most mature and eloquent expression of prophetic ideals is found in the recorded speeches of the later prophets, beginning in the 8th century BC with the prophet Amos.
Returning exiles were leaders in the revival of the Palestinian center (now confined to the area of the former southern kingdom of Judah) and the building of the Second Temple. The high priests usually served as official representatives to the Persian government and to the succeeding empires. In the middle of the 5th century BC, the final form was given to the Torah - in the opinion of many scholars, a composite of laws, narratives, and poems dating from different periods, but with beginnings going back to Moses; and the people formally accepted the Torah as the rule for their life. Shortly thereafter the Samaritans broke away from the main body of Judaism; small numbers of this sect still survive.
During this period, prophecy waned and finally disappeared, but the writings of the great prophets were compiled and accepted as sacred literature. Other books were composed - notably, wisdom literature, such as Job - and many of them were eventually included in the Bible.
Some elements of Persian religion were incorporated into Judaism: a more elaborate doctrine of Angels; the figure of Satan; and a system of beliefs concerning the end of time, including a predetermined scheme of world history, a final judgment (Last Judgment), and the Resurrection of the dead. These ideas were expounded in many visionary documents called apocalypses; none of them was included in the Hebrew Bible except the Book of Daniel (Apocalypse Eschatology).
The Greek language and customs also affected Palestinian Jewry; the Jewish emphasis on study may be in part the result of Greek influence. But while many Jews were attracted to pagan customs and attitudes, the majority resisted these trends. The attempt of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV to impose the Greek religion by force aroused open rebellion led by the Maccabees, a Jewish priestly family. During the short period of Judean independence under the Maccabees (also called Hasmoneans) a movement of proselytizing began that was apparently not organized but was nevertheless energetic. Large numbers of persons, disillusioned with the old pagan cults, adopted Judaism formally or attached themselves unofficially to the synagogue.
The earliest Christians differed from other Jews chiefly in their belief that Jesus was the messiah. But under the leadership of Saint Paul and others, gentile Christianity soon became dominant, and the break between the two religions became complete. When the Roman Empire became officially Christian in the 4th century AD, the Jews became subject to many discriminatory laws, including a prohibition against seeking or even accepting converts.
In the 4th century, religious and legal leadership was assumed more and more by the Babylonian center of learning; and from the 5th century, the Babylonian Talmud was generally accepted as the authoritative source of law. Thereafter world leadership remained with the Babylonian scholars; the heads of the academies, called Gaonim ("excellencies"), provided information and advice on legal and other questions to the Diaspora communities. In the 8th century, the sect of Karaites broke away, rejecting tradition and rabbinic authority, and seeking to live by the letter of the biblical law. After four centuries of vigorous activity, the sect declined; today only remnants survive.
Although the first important Jewish philosopher was the Gaon Saadia in Baghdad (10th century), nearly all of his important successors were of Spanish origin, including the preeminent Maimonides. These philosophers were scholastics, like their Muslim and Christian contemporaries, drawing largely on the works of Aristotle and the Neoplatonists. Like Philo, they tended to explain difficult Bible passages as allegories. Their writings were welcomed by intellectuals trying to harmonize revealed religion with the new scientific learning. But the masses were not interested in them, and many of the orthodox leaders regarded the new doctrines as subversive. After the death of Maimonides, his admirers and detractors waged a bitter struggle in Christian Spain and the Provence. His last important successor, Chisdai Crescas (d. 1410), undertook a critique of Aristotle in the interest of simple faith.
More lasting and widespread was the influence of Kabbalah ("tradition"), a term that includes various mystical doctrines and practices. Mystical elements appear in the old apocalypses and in talmudic and gaonic literature. There were mystical movements in Europe as well, culminating in the 13th and 14th centuries in southern France and northern Spain. A wealth of kabbalistic writings was produced, including the Zohar ("splendor") of Moses de Leon (13th century).
There are many kabbalistic systems. In addition to true mystical experience, they contain mythological and magical elements, reinterpretations of biblical and talmudic passages and of prayers and commandments, Neoplatonic ideas, and messianic speculations. The tragedies that befell the Jews of Spain, culminating in the expulsion of 1492, called for stronger comfort than rational philosophies could offer. This was in some measure provided by Kabbalah, with its enthralling mysteries and increasing emphasis on messianism. The Jews of central and eastern Europe also cultivated Kabbalah. These communities were unsurpassed in talmudic learning; French scholars contributed much to biblical studies also. They introduced a number of legal changes to improve the status of women including a formal ban on polygamy.
The 17th century saw a revival of Jewish life in Palestine. An attempt to revitalize the legal system by creating a new Sanhedrin, or central court, was unsuccessful. But a 17th century mystical revival had a profound effect on Jewish thought and liturgy. The messianic speculations of this new Kabbalah, taught by Isaac Luria, and the massacres of Polish Jewry in 1648 formed an explosive combination; in 1665 a Turkish Jew, Sabbatai Zevi, proclaimed himself the messiah. There had been many such messianic claimants over the centuries, but they never achieved more than a local following; Sabbatai's announcement, however, shook world Jewry. Thousands of believers left their homes to join him in Palestine. When Sabbatai broke under threats and accepted Islam, there was widespread disillusionment and despair. Yet a substantial number of believers kept up an underground Sabbatean movement for over a century, finding kabbalistic justifications for their leader's apostasy and awaiting his triumphant return.
A more positive mystical movement arose in eastern Europe in the 18th century. It was founded by Baal Shem Tov and was known as Hasidism. Its leaders were versed in the mysteries of Kabbalah, but they addressed themselves to the unlearned masses, teaching them a simple and joyous faith and encouraging them to express their religious feelings in ecstatic song and dance. Initially opposed by the rabbinic leaders as heretical, Hasidism survived such attacks and is today regarded as representative of extreme Orthodoxy. The movement declined for a time because it fostered "the cult of personality" and encouraged superstition, but it seems to have regained vitality in some American cities and in Israel.
One response was Haskalah, the Hebrew word for "Enlightenment," which sought to bring modern knowledge and ideas to large numbers of Jews, using chiefly writings in modern Hebrew. Moses Mendelssohn made the pioneer effort in 18th century Berlin. His program - to combine modern education with strict Orthodox practice - was ineffective; his efforts led rather to assimilation, even to Christian baptism for worldly advancement. In Austrian Poland (Galicia), Haskalah was more fruitful, resulting in new efforts to study Jewish history and literature by modern critical methods ("the science of Judaism"), a trend continued with great success in Germany.
In Russia, the attempt at popular education, with the slogan "Be a Jew at home and a man elsewhere," was soon recognized as futile because of the government's viciously anti Jewish policies. In its place, a movement for Jewish nationalism arose - first expressed in secular literature in Hebrew - decades before the rise of political Zionism. Later a strong socialist movement developed in urban centers, and these Jewish socialists spoke in Yiddish, the folk language, rather than in Hebrew.
In the West, Enlightenment led to attempts at religious reconstruction, partly as a response to spreading indifference and apostasy that ghettoized Orthodoxy could not check. The first reforms were external, to provide a more decorous and attractive synagogue service, with portions of the service read in the language of the country, organ and choral music, and the revival of preaching. These changes aroused Orthodox opposition and sometimes government intervention. The Reformers had recourse to the newly developing "science of Judaism," showing that Judaism had always grown and changed. Eventually they developed a modernist theology, rejecting the literalist understanding of Scripture and the changeless authority of the halachah.
They upheld a doctrine of progressive revelation, equating the revelation of God with the education of the Jewish people and of all humanity. They rejected the traditional prayers that asked for a return to the land of Israel and the restoration of sacrifices. Instead of a personal messiah, they envisioned a messianic age of brotherhood and peace; and instead of bodily resurrection, they taught a purely spiritual immortality. They discarded many traditional observances as no longer meaningful, modified others, and introduced new ones, such as confirmation. They also affirmed the equality of women in religious matters. A second group of modernists held similar theoretical views, but retained traditional practice with only limited modifications; they became the spiritual fathers of Conservative Judaism in the United States.
All parties, including the Orthodox Jews in western countries, were perfervid in patriotism toward their several lands. All were deeply affected by 19th century liberalism - optimistic, universalistic, and convinced of the reality of progress. The modernist movements, starting in Germany, had only modest success in Europe, but expanded greatly in North America. They have since acquired followers in Latin America, South Africa, Australia, and Israel. The terms Reform, Liberal, Progressive, Conservative, and Reconstructionist are used in various countries with varying shades of meaning; all designate nonorthodox versions of Jewish religion.
New forms of Jewish community and synagogue organization, mostly on a voluntary basis, emerged in the 19th century. The old rabbinic academies (Yeshivoth) confined instruction to the Talmud and its commentaries. At this time modern rabbinical seminaries were established whose students were exposed to the whole range of Jewish history and lore and were required to obtain a university degree as well. Important works were written on Jewish theology, displaying Kantian and post - Kantian influences. Completely new were trends toward a secularist understanding of Jewish life, more or less completely rejecting religion and finding a substitute in nationalistic and cultural activities.
The prevailing liberal, optimistic mood gradually cooled as official oppression and widespread hatred continued in eastern Europe while Anti Semitism also flourished in the West. Jewish thinkers exhibited an increasing sense of the tragic element in human life, in the style of existentialism. The trend toward Jewish nationalism took concrete form in the movement of Zionism. Initially opposed by many religious leaders of all parties and by the Jewish socialists, Zionism was vindicated by the march of events, culminating in the Holocaust. World Jewry, despite many divisions and disagreements, is today united in concern and support for the State of Israel, which was established in 1948.
At present, because of political circumstances, rigid Orthodoxy is the only form of Judaism officially recognized in Israel, for example, in solemnizing marriages and in military chaplaincy. But a large part of the population is remote from formal religion, and the modernist versions have difficulty making their message heard.
A great exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union began in the 1970s and reached new heights in the early '90s. In the West, despite loss of members, mixed marriages, and a serious drop in the Jewish birthrate, religious institutions are flourishing. The number of synagogues and synagogue members increased dramatically after World War II. There has been a remarkable resurgence of Orthodoxy after a long period of decline, and modernist groups are placing greater emphasis on tradition and ceremony.
Bernard J Bamberger
J Agus, The Evolution of Jewish Thought (1959) and The Jewish Quest (1983); L Baeck, The Essence of Judaism (1948); B J Bamberger, The Story of Judaism (1971); J L Blau, Modern Varieties of Judaism (1966); B Blech, Understanding Judaism (1991); A A Cohen, The Natural and Supernatural Jew (1962); E L Fackenheim, What is Judaism? (1988); L Finkelstein, The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religions (1971); M Gilbert, ed., The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization (1991); N Glazer, American Judaism (1973); D Goldberg and J Rayner, The Jewish People (1987); J Goldin, The Jewish Expression (1970); A Heschel, God in Search of Man (1955); M Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew (1967) and, as ed., Ideas of Jewish History (1987); J Neusner, The Life of the Torah: Readings in the Jewish Religious Experience (1974) and The Way of the Torah (1988); D Silver and B Martin, A History of Judaism (1974); Z Sobel and B Beit - Hallahmi, eds., Tradition, Innovation, Conflict: Judaism in Contemporary Israel (1991); G Wigoder, Encyclopedia of Judaism (1989).
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