Judaism

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Author: Louis Jacobs
Editors: Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik
Date: 2007
Encyclopaedia Judaica
From: Encyclopaedia Judaica(Vol. 11. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 10
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1330L

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JUDAISM

JUDAISM, the religion, philosophy, and way of life of the Jews.

DEFINITION

The term Judaism is first found among the Greek-speaking Jews of the first century C.E. (Judaismes, see II Macc. 2:21; 8:1; 14:38; Gal. 1:13–14). Its Hebrew equivalent, Yahadut, found only occasionally in medieval literature (e.g., Ibn Ezra to Deut. 21:13), but used frequently in modern times, has parallels neither in the Bible (but see Esth . 8:17, mityahadim, "became Jews") nor in the rabbinic literature. (The term dat Yehudit, found in Ket. 7:6, means no more than the Jewish law, custom, or practice in a particular instance, e.g., that a married woman should not spin or have her head uncovered in the street.)

The Term "Torah"

The term generally used in the classical sources for the whole body of Jewish teaching is *Torah , "doctrine," "teaching." Thus the Talmud (Shab. 31a) tells the story of a heathen who wished to be converted to the Jewish faith but only on the understanding that he would be taught the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel accepted him and, in response to his request, replied: "That which is hateful unto thee do not do unto thy neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study." Presumably if the Greek-speaking Jews had told the story they would have made the prospective convert demand to be taught Judaism while standing on one leg.

Modern Distinctions Between "Judaism" and "Torah"

In modern usage the terms "Judaism" and "Torah" are virtually interchangeable, but the former has on the whole a more humanistic nuance while "Torah" calls attention to the divine, revelatory aspects. The term "secular Judaism" – used to describe the philosophy of Jews who accept specific Jewish values but who reject the Jewish religion – is not, therefore, self-contradictory as the term "secular Torah" would be. (In modern Hebrew, however, the word torah is also used for "doctrine" or "theory" (e.g., "the Marxist theory"), and in this sense itPage 512  |  Top of Article would also be logically possible to speak of a secular torah. In English transliteration the two meanings might be distinguished by using a capital T for the one and a small t for the other, but this is not possible in Hebrew which knows of no distinction between small and capital letters.)

A further difference in nuance, stemming from the first, is that "Torah" refers to the eternal, static elements in Jewish life and thought while "Judaism" refers to the more creative, dynamic elements as manifested in the varied civilizations and cultures of the Jews at the different stages of their history, such as Hellenistic Judaism, rabbinic Judaism, medieval Judaism, and, from the 19th century, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. (The term Yidishkeyt is the Yiddish equivalent of "Judaism" but has a less universalistic connotation and refers more specifically to the folk elements of the faith.)

It is usually considered to be anachronistic to refer to the biblical religion (the "religion of Israel") as "Judaism," both because there were no Jews (i.e., "those belonging to the tribe of Judah") in the formative period of the Bible, and because there are distinctive features which mark off later Judaism from the earlier forms, ideas, and worship. For all that, most Jews would recognize sufficient continuity to reject as unwarranted the description of Judaism as a completely different religion from the biblical.

THE ESSENCE OF JUDAISM

The Hebrew writer *Aḥad Ha-Am (Al Parashat Derakhim, 4 (Berlin ed. 1924), 42) observed that if Hillel's convert (see above) had come to him demanding to be taught the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg, he would have replied: "'Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness' (Ex. 20:4). This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary," i.e., that the essence of Judaism consists in the elevation of the ideal above all material or physical forms or conceptions.

Aḥad Ha-Am's was only one of the latest attempts at discovering the essence of Judaism, its main idea or ideas, its particular viewpoint, wherein it differs from other religions and philosophies. This is an extremely difficult – some would say impossible – task, since the differing civilizations, Egyptian, Canaanite, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Christian, Muslim, with which Jews came into contact, have made their influence felt on Jews and through them on Judaism itself. It is precarious to think of Judaism in monolithic terms. Developed and adapted to changing circumstances throughout its long history, it naturally contains varying emphases as well as outright contradictions. Belief in the transmigration of souls, for example, was strongly upheld by some Jewish teachers and vehemently rejected by others. Yet the quest has rarely ceased for certain distinctive viewpoints which make Judaism what it is. Some of these must here be mentioned.

Talmudic Attempts to State Essence

In a talmudic passage (Mak. 23b–24a) it is said that God gave to Moses 613 precepts, but that later seers and prophets reduced these to certain basic principles: David to eleven (Ps. 15); Isaiah to six (Isa. 33:15–16); Micah to three (Micah 6:8); Isaiah, again, to two (Isa. 56:1); and, finally, Habakkuk to one: "The righteous shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4). This would make trust in God Judaism's guiding principle.

In another passage the second-century rabbis ruled at the council of Lydda that, although the other precepts of the Torah can be set aside in order to save life, martyrdom is demanded when life can only be saved by committing murder, by worshiping idols, or by offending against the laws governing forbiddden sexual relations (e.g., those against adultery and incest). The historian Heinrich Graetz (in JQR, 1 (1889), 4–13) deduces from this ruling that there are two elements in the essence of Judaism: the ethical and the religious. The ethical includes in its positive side, love of mankind, benevolence, humility, justice, holiness in thought and deed, and in its negative aspects, care against unchastity, subdual of selfishness and the beast in man. The religious element includes the prohibition of worshiping a transient being as God and insists that all idolatry is vain and must be rejected entirely. The positive side is to regard the highest Being as one and unique, to worship it as the Godhead and as the essence of all ethical perfections.

Maimonides' 13 Principles

In the 12th century, *Maimonides (commentary to the Mishnah, on Sanh., ch. Ḥelek (10)) drew up 13 principles of the Jewish faith. These are:

(1) Belief in the existence of God;

(2) Belief in God's unity;

(3) Belief that God is incorporeal;

(4) Belief that God is eternal;

(5) Belief that God alone is to be worshiped;

(6) Belief in prophecy;

(7) Belief that Moses is the greatest of the prophets;

(8) Belief that the Torah is divine;

(9) Belief that the Torah in unchanging;

(10) Belief that God knows the thoughts and deeds of men;

(11) Belief that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked;

(12) Belief in the coming of the *Messiah ;

(13) Belief in the *resurrection of the dead.

A close examination of Maimonides' thought reveals that his principles are far more in the nature of direct response to the particular challenges that Judaism had to face in his day than conclusions arrived at by abstract investigation into the main ideas of Judaism. The third principle, for instance, is clearly directed against cruder notions of deity which were popular among some talmudists in Maimonides' day. (Maimonides' contemporary critic, *Abraham b. David of Posquières, while believing with Maimonides that God is incorporeal, refuses to treat a belief in God's corporeality as heretical since, he says, many great and good Jews do entertain such a notion because they are misled by a literal understanding of thePage 513  |  Top of Article anthropomorphic passages in Scripture and the rabbinic literature; see Maim . Yad, Teshuvah, 3:7). The seventh principle seems to be aimed against the Christian claims for Jesus and the Muslim claims for Muhammad. The ninth principle similarly serves as a rejection of the Christian and Muslim claim that Judaism had been superseded (see S. Schechter , Studies in Judaism, 1 (1896), 147–81).

Reactions to Maimonides

Joseph *Albo (Sefer ha-Ikkarim, 1:26) reduces Maimonides' principles to three basic ones – (1) Belief in God; (2) Belief that the Torah is divine; (3) Belief in reward and punishment – while Isaac *Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, Gate 55) reduces them to (1) Belief in creatio ex nihilo; (2) Belief that the Torah is divine; (3) Belief in the hereafter. On the other hand Isaac *Abrabanel (Rosh Amanah, 23) is out of sympathy with the whole enterprise of trying to discover the basic principles of Judaism, in that it implies that some parts of the Torah are less significant than others. Similarly, the 16th-century teacher *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra writes: "I do not agree that it is right to make any part of the perfect Torah into a 'principle' since the whole Torah is a principle from the mouth of the Almighty. Our sages say that whoever states that the whole of the Torah is from heaven with the exception of one verse is a heretic. Consequently, each precept is a principle and a basic idea. Even a light precept has a secret reason beyond our understanding. How, then, dare we suggest that this is inessential and that fundamental?" (Radbaz, Resp. no. 344; see also *Articles of Faith ).

Modern Trends

In modern times two new factors have been operative in the search for the essence of Judaism, one making the task more difficult, the other more urgent. The first is the rise of the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement in the 19th century. This had as its aim the objective historical investigation into the sources and history of Judaism. Its practitioners succeeded in demonstrating the complexity of Jewish thought and the fact that it developed in response to outside stimuli, so that there could no longer be any question of seeing Judaism as a self-contained unchanging entity consistent in all its parts. The second new factor was the emancipation of the Jew and his emergence into Western society, calling for a fresh adaptation of Judaism so as to make it viable and relevant in the new situation. The historical movement had demonstrated the developing nature of Judaism and seemed, therefore, to offer encouragement to those thinkers who wished to develop the faith further in accord with the new ideals and challenges. Yet this very demonstration made it far more difficult to detect that which is permanent in Judaism when so much is seen to be fluid and subject to change. Among modern thinkers, Leo *Baeck was so convinced that the quest was not futile that his book carries the revealing title, The Essence of Judaism (19482). Acknowledging the rich variety of forms and differing phenomena in Judaism's history, Baeck still feels able to declare: "The essence is characterized by what has been gained and preserved. And such constancy, such essence, Judaism possesses despite its many varieties and the shifting phases of its long career. In virtue of that essence they all have something in common, a unity of thought and feeling, and an inward bond."

The Concept of "Normative Judaism"

Jewish thinkers who hold that an essence of Judaism can be perceived tend to speak of "normative Judaism," with the implication that at the heart of the Jewish faith there is a hard, imperishable core, to be externally preserved, together with numerous peripheral ideas, expressed, to be sure, by great Jewish thinkers in different ages but not really essential to the faith, which could be dismissed if necessary as deviations.

Unfortunately for this line of thinking, no criteria are available for distinguishing the essential from the ephemeral, so that a strong element of subjectivity is present in this whole approach. Almost invariably the process ends in a particular thinker's embracing ideas he holds to be true and valuable, discovering these reflected in the tradition and hence belonging to the "normative," while rejecting ideas he holds to be harmful or valueless as peripheral to Judaism, even though they are found in the tradition. Nor is the statistical approach helpful. An idea occurring very frequently in the traditional sources may be rejected by some thinkers on the grounds that it is untrue or irrelevant, while one hardly mentioned in the sources may assume fresh significance in a new situation, to say nothing of the difficulties in deciding which sources are to be considered the more authoritative. The absurdities which can result from the "normative Judaism" approach can be seen when, for example, contemporary thinkers with a dislike for asceticism, who wish at the same time to speak in the name of Judaism, virtually read out of the faith ascetics such as *Bahya ibn Paquda and Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto (see, for instance, Abba Hillel Silver , Where Judaism Differed (1957), 182–223).

Recognition of Constant Ideas

However, if due caution is exercised and no exaggerated are claims made, the idea of a normative Judaism is not without value in that it calls attention to the undeniable fact that for all the variety of moods in Judaism's history there does emerge among the faithful a kind of consensus on the main issues. It has always been recognized, for instance, after the rise of Christianity and Islam, that these two religions are incompatible with Judaism and that no Jew can consistently embrace them while remaining an adherent of Judaism. The same applies to the Far Eastern religions. This, of course, is very different from affirming that there are no points of contact between Judaism and other faiths, or no common concerns. Nor has the idea of a Judaism divorced from the peoplehood of Israel ever made much headway, even in circles in which the doctrine of Israel's chosenness is a source of embarrassment. Nor does Jewish history know of a Torah-less Judaism, even though the interpretations of what is meant by Torah differ widely. ThePage 514  |  Top of Article most important work of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, speaks of three grades or stages bound one to the other – God, the Torah, and Israel (Zohar, Lev. 73a–b). Historically considered, it is true that Judaism is an amalgam of three ideas – belief in God, God's revelation of the Torah to Israel, and Israel as the people which lives by the Torah in obedience to God. The interpretation of these ideas has varied from age to age, but the ideas themselves have remained constant.

The Development of Judaism

THE BIBLICAL PERIOD

Any account of the development of Judaism must begin with the Bible as the record of those ideas, practices, and institutions which became prominent in the faith. With regard to the biblical record, as with regard to Judaism itself, the monolithic view has yielded among modern scholars to that of development and change, so that it is unsatisfactory to speak of the faith of the Bible, as if the Bible were a unit rather than a collection of books produced over a period of many hundreds of years and stemming from diverse circles with divergent views. The opinions of biblical criticism are frequently at variance with the traditional viewpoint on such questions as to whether the biblical accounts of the lives of the patriarchs are factually accurate, or whether all the legislation attributed to Moses really goes back to the great lawgiver or was fathered by him. Nevertheless, it is possible to trace certain key ideas, which eventually assumed importance in the Bible and which were influential in shaping Judaism.

MONOTHEISM

The usual description of the biblical faith is ethical *monotheism . Whether, as a minority of scholars suggest (e.g. Y. Kaufmann), monotheism erupted spontaneously among the people in ancient Israel or whether, as the majority would have it, there can be traced a gradual progress from polytheism through henotheism to complete monotheism (see the survey and critique by H.H. Rowley, From Moses to Qumran (1963), 35–63), the doctrine that there is one God, Lord of the universe, is clearly taught in a large number of biblical passages (e.g., Gen. 1:1–2:3; 5:1–2; 6:1–7; 9:1–8; 11:1–9; 14:18–22; Ex. 19:5; 20:1–14; Deut. 4:15–19; 5:6–8; 10:14; 32:8; I Kings 8:27; Isa. 2:1–4; 11; 45:5–8; 66:1–2; Jer. 32:17–19; Amos 5:8; Jonah 1:9; Micah 1:2; Hab. 3:3; Zech. 8:20–23; 14:9; Mal. 1:11; Ps. 8:2–4; 33:8–11; 47:6–9; 67:2–5; 86:9; 90:1–4; 96:5; 104; 113:4–6; 115:16; 136; 139:7–18; 145; 148; Job 38; 39; 40). What later became Israel's declaration of faith – the *Shema – is found in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." The probable meaning of eḥad ("one") in this verse is not only "not many" but also "unique." God is transcendent and different from all His creatures (S.R. Driver, ICC, Deuteronomy (18962) 89–91). From the critical standpoint these passages are comparatively late, but they are present in the Bible and were consequently adopted by Judaism.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ONE GOD

This one God is holy (Lev. 19:2; Isa. 6:3) and demands holiness (Ex. 22:30; Lev. 19:2), righteousness, and justice from His people (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 23:2; Deut. 16:18–20) and from all mankind (Gen. 6:13; Amos 1; 2:1–3). He has compassion over all His creatures (Ps. 145:9), and man can respond to His love in love and fear of Him (Deut. 6:5; 10:20). This God, Lord of all the earth, has chosen the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to serve as a "nation of priests" (Ex. 19:6) and to assist in the fulfillment of His purposes (Isa. 43:10; Zech. 8:23). It is incorrect to see the biblical idea of Israel's choice in terms of the relationship between the god of a tribe and the tribe: a tribal god cannot choose; his destiny is bound up with that of his people. When the tribe is vanquished he, too, suffers defeat. In the biblical record it is the God of all the earth who chooses Israel (Heinemann, in Sinai, 16 (1944/45), 17–30). God has given Israel the holy land as its place of abode (Gen. 28:13; 50:24; Ex. 6:8; Deut. 26:15). The special place in which God is to be worshiped by the sacrifices is the *Temple (Deut. 12:11–14; I Kings 8).

CEREMONIAL AND ETHICAL LAWS

Prominent among the ceremonial laws are the observance of the *Sabbath (Ex. 20:8–11; 31:12–17; Lev. 25:1ff.; Deut. 5:12–15), the *New Moon feast (Num. 28:11–15; Amos 8:5; Hos. 2:13; Isa. 1:14; II Kings 4:23), and the celebration of the festivals of *Passover (Ex. 12:14–20; 23:15; Lev. 23:5–8; Deut. 16:1–8), *Shavuot (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:15–21), and *Sukkot (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:33–43). Males were to be circumcised (see *Circumcision ) as a sign of the covenant made with Abraham (Gen. 17:9–27; 34:13–15; Josh. 5:2–8). The *dietary laws (Lev. 11:1–23; Deut. 14:3–21) were to be observed, as well as laws governing dress (Deut. 22:11; Num. 15:37:41; Lev. 19:27) and agriculture (Lev. 19:9–10; 23:22; Num. 18:8–32). Numerous are the laws governing human relationships and social justice (Ex. 21; 22; 23:1–9; Lev. 19; Deut. 22; 23; 24; 25).

SPIRITUAL LEADERS

The spiritual leaders of the people were of different kinds: the *priest (kohen) who served in the Temple and was the custodian of the law (Lev. 21; 22:1–25; Deut. 17:8–13); the prophet (navi) who brought a particular message from God to the people (Deut. 18:18; I Sam. 9:9); and the sage (ḥakham), the teacher of worldly wisdom and good conduct (Jer. 9:22; Eccles. 7:4–5).

MESSIANIC BELIEFS

The belief became more and more pronounced that a day would eventually dawn when God's kingdom would be established over all the earth and war would be banished (Isa. 2:1–4; 11:1–10; Micah 4:1–4; Zech. 14:9). After the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people to Babylon, this hope became associated with that of national restoration under a Davidic ruler, later called the *Messiah , and the resurrection of the dead (Dan. 12:2).

UNIVERSALISM AND PARTICULARISM

Israel, it was taught, had been chosen to be a light unto the nations (Isa. 42:6; 49:6) and to be God's special treasure (Ex. 19:5). But both universalism and particularism are found in the Bible, with all the tensions inseparable from belief in God as Father and King of all men and belief in His special concern with Israel. This people were to lead lives of absolute faithfulnessPage 515  |  Top of Article to God. The greatest sin they could, and did, commit was idolatry.

There are many prayers in the Bible but these are private and individualistic. Communal prayer was a later development (see *Prayer ).

The Pre-Rabbinic Age

The period after the return from Babylon is shrouded in obscurity, but some of the main lines of development can be traced. Not later than the fifth century B.C.E. the Pentateuch had become the Torah, sacred Scripture, with the prophetic books and the books of the Hagiographa being added later on as holy writ. The process of canonization of the biblical books, other than the Pentateuch, was a lengthy one, the full acceptance of all 24 books which constitute the Hebrew Bible, taking place as late as the second century C.E. (see *Bible : Canon).

THE RISE OF ORAL TRADITION

The concept of Torah was, of course, known in the earlier biblical period, but there it referred to groups of laws taught by the priests (Lev. 6:2, 7; 7:11, 37; 13:59; 14:2; 15:32; Num. 5:29–30; 6:13, 21) or to general "teaching" or "doctrine" (Isa. 2:3). In this period, for the first time, the new idea of the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch) as a sacred text came to the fore. The regular reading of the Torah in assembly began at this period. Out of these assemblies the synagogue and the whole system of public worship evolved. The reading of the Torah was accompanied by its exposition and its application to new situations (see Reading of the *Torah ). It is commonly assumed that the notion of an Oral Law, as distinct from the Written Law, was the invention of the *Pharisees in their determination to make Judaism viable by freeing it from the bonds of a text written down in former ages. It is said, further, that the *Sadducees rejected the whole notion of an Oral Law. While it is undoubtedly true that the full development of the Oral Law idea was the work of the Pharisees, the issue must not be oversimplified. The Sadducees, too, must have had some traditions of Torah interpretation, if only because the literal reading of the Torah text cries out for further amplification. Buying and selling, for instance, are referred to in the Torah, but no indications are given there as to how the transfer of property is to be effected. There are references in the Torah to keeping the Sabbath, but hardly any indication of what is involved in Sabbath work (see *Sabbath ).

PERSIAN AND GREEK INFLUENCES

The two civilizations with which the Jews came into contact at this period, first the Persian then the Greek, made their influence felt on Jewish beliefs. Under Babylonian and Persian influence there came into Jewish life and thought the notion of angels as identifiable, sentient, but not necessarily corporeal beings, each with his own name: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and so forth (see *Angels and Angelology ). The personification of the evil in the universe as Satan probably owes much to Persia, as do the beliefs in demons and the resurrection of the dead. It was probably under Greek influence that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came into Judaism. The doctrine of the resurrection also established itself, possibly at the time of the *Hasmoneans when young men were dying for their religion, so that the older solutions to the problem of suffering, in terms of worldly recompense, became increasingly untenable. There are no doubt indications of this belief in the earlier period, but it had not at that time obtained a complete foothold in the faith. Basically, the two beliefs of resurrection and the soul's *immortality are contradictory. The one refers to a collective resurrection at the end of days, i.e., that the dead sleeping in the earth will arise from the grave, while the other refers to the state of the soul after the death of the body. When both ideas became incorporated into Judaism it was held that, when the individual died, his soul still lived on in another realm (this gave rise to all the beliefs regarding heaven and hell), while his body lay in the grave to await the physical resurrection of all the dead here on earth (see also *Garden of Eden , and *Netherworld ). However, the pronounced this-wordly emphasis of the early biblical period was not abandoned completely. This life was still held to be good in itself as a gift from God. But the thought took shape that, in addition, this life was a kind of school, a time of preparation for eternal life.

ESCHATOLOGICAL ELEMENTS

Toward the end of the Second Temple period, when ominous clouds of complete national catastrophe began to gather, the eschatological note was sounded particularly loudly. Speculations were rife regarding the end of days and hope for a new era to be ushered in by direct divine intervention. The doctrine of the Messiah and the messianic age, heralded by the prophets, was seen as a hope shortly to be realized. Some groups of Jews fled into the desert, there to await the coming of the Messiah, as is evidenced by the sect of *Qumran (held by most scholars to be identical with the *Essenes ).

CHALLENGES FROM OTHER RELIGIONS

From the time of Judaism's contact with Zoroastrianism, faith in the unity of God had to be defended against dualistic theories that there were two gods, one of light and goodness, the other of darkness and evil. With the rise of Christianity the challenge came from the doctrines of the incarnation and the trinity. These challenges took the place of the polytheism and idolatry of the earlier biblical period, though, of course, idolatry continued to exist in the form of the Greek and Roman gods, and made polemics and legislation against avodah zarah ("strange worship") all but academic.

The Rabbinic Period

Rabbinic Judaism, the heir to all these tendencies, emerged at the beginning of the present era and lasted until the year 500, but many of the ideas put forward by the great rabbis had their origin in an earlier age. In the rabbinic literature there is a fairly consistent treatment of the three ideas of God, Torah, and Israel, with much debate among the rabbis on this or that detail.

PARTICULARISTIC TENDENCIES

With regard to the doctrine of Jewish peoplehood, the greater the degradation andPage 516  |  Top of Article the more intense the feelings of national rejection, the stronger became the need for national consolation and the assurance that God still cared. All the poignancy of Israel's hope against hope is expressed in the typically rabbinic, imaginary dialogue between God and Israel, in which Israel complains that she has been forgotten by God, and God replies "My daughter, 12 constellations have I created in the firmament, and for each constellation I have created 30 hosts, and for each host I have created 30 legions, and for each legion I have created 30 cohorts, and for each cohort I have created 30 maniples, and for each maniple I have created 30 camps, and to each camp I have attached 365 thousands of myriads of stars, corresponding to the days of the solar year, and all of them I have created only for thy sake, and thou sayest that I have forgotten thee" (Ber. 32b). It can hardly be accidental that the groupings are taken from the divisions of the Roman army. The universalistic tendencies in Judaism are apt to become obscured by the particular in this period. Nevertheless, conversion to Judaism is possible. The biblical ger ("sojourner") had long been interpreted to mean a *proselyte to the Jewish faith, and the equal rights demanded in the Bible for the ger are applied. "Our rabbis taught: If at the present time a man wishes to become a convert, he is to be addressed as follows: 'What reason have you for wishing to become a convert; do you not know that Israel at the present time is persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed, and overcome by afflictions?' If he replies 'I know and yet am unworthy,' he is accepted forthwith and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments" (Yev. 47a).

DOMINANT VALUE OF TORAH STUDY

The study of the Torah is now the supreme religious duty, the closest approach to God, the Pharisaic form of the beatific vision (R. Travers Herford, The Ethics of the Talmud, Sayings of the Fathers (1962), 15). Typical is the saying in the Mishnah (Pe'ah 1:1): "These are the things whose fruits a man enjoys in this world while the capital is laid up for him in the world to come: honoring father and mother, deeds of lovingkindness, making peace between a man and his fellow; but the study of the Torah is equal to them all." When a rabbi took an unduly long time over his prayers it was not considered incongruous for his colleague to rebuke him: "They neglect eternal life [Torah study] and engage in temporal existence [prayer]" (Shab. 10a). Only such devotion to Torah study can explain the remarkable ruling in the Mishnah (BM 2:11): "If a man is called upon to seek the lost property of his father and that of his teacher, his teacher's comes first – for his father only brought him into this world but his teacher, that taught him wisdom, brings him into the world to come; but if his father was also a sage, his father's comes first. If his father and his teacher each bore a burden, he must first relieve his teacher and afterward his father. If his father and his teacher were taken captive, he must first ransom his teacher and afterward his father; but if his father was also a sage he must first ransom his father and afterward ransom his teacher." The reference to wisdom in this passage comes at the end of a long process in which wisdom no longer means, as it does in the Bible, worldly knowledge and practical philosophy but the wisdom of the Torah. Moreover, Torah is no longer the province of the priest but the heritage of all the people.

ANTHROPOMORPHISM

Anthropomorphic descriptions of God abound in the rabbinic literature but, when excessively bold, are generally qualified by the term kivyakhol ("as it were"). The two most popular names for God in this literature are Ribbono shel olam ("Lord of the universe"), used in direct speech, and ha-Kadosh barukh Hu ("the Holy One, blessed be He"), used in indirect speech.

THIS WORLD AND THE WORLD TO COME

The idea of this life as a preparation for eternal bliss in the hereafter looms very large in rabbinic thinking, yet the value of this life as good in itself is not overshadowed. The second-century teacher, R. Jacob, said: "Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the whole life of the world to come; but better is one hour of bliss in the world to come than the whole life of this world" (Avot 4:17). The same teacher said (Avot 4:16): "This world is like a vestibule before the world to come: prepare thyself in the vestibule that thou mayest enter the banqueting hall." In the same vein is the saying that this world is like the eve of Sabbath and the world to come like the Sabbath. Only one who prepares adequately on the eve of the Sabbath can enjoy the delights of the Sabbath (Av. Zar. 3a). Bliss in the hereafter is not limited to Jews. The view of R. Joshua, against that of R. Eliezer, was adopted that the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come (Tosef., Sanh. 13:2).

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages Judaism was confronted with the challenge of Greek philosophy in its Arabic garb. The Jews mainly affected were those of Spain and Islamic lands. The French and German Jews were more remote from the new trends, and their work is chiefly a continuation of the rabbinic modes of thinking. The impact of Greek thought demanded both a more systematic presentation of the truths of the faith and a fresh consideration of what these were in the light of the new ideas. A good deal of the conflict was in the realm of particularism. There is definite hostility in much of Greek thought to the notion of truths capable of being perceived only by a special group. Truth is universal and for all men. There is a marked tendency in medieval Jewish thought to play down Jewish particularism. This is not to say that Judaism was held to be only relatively true, but that the doctrine of Israel's chosenness had become especially difficult to comprehend philosophically. The greatest thinker of this period, Maimonides, hardly touches on the question of the chosen people and, significantly enough, does not number the doctrine among his principles of the faith. For most of the thinkers of this age a burning problem was the relationship between reason and revelation. What need is there for a special revelation of the truth if truth is universal and can be attained by man's unaided reason?

Page 517  |  Top of Article

In rabbinic times, wisdom is synonymous with Torah. The tendency in medieval thought is to give wisdom its head but to incorporate this, too, under the heading of Torah. Greek physics and metaphysics thus not only become legitimate fields of study for the Jew but part of the Torah (Maim. Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 2:5).

LAW CODES AND BIBLICAL EXEGESIS

The great codes of Jewish law were compiled in this period, partly in response to the new demand for great systemization, partly because the laws were scattered through the voluminous talmudic literature and required to be brought together, so that the posekim could easily find the sources of their decisions. A further aim was to render decisions in cases of doubt.

In addition to the incorporation of secular learning into Torah, the scope of Torah studies proper was widened considerably. The *Karaites were responsible for a new flowering of biblical scholarship. The *Kabbalah was born, its devotees engaging in theosophical reflection on the biblical texts. According to the Kabbalah every detail of the precepts mirrored the supernal mysteries, and the performance of the precepts consequently had the power of influencing the higher worlds. In the writings of the later kabbalists, Judaism becomes a mystery religion, its magical powers known only to the mystical adepts.

THEOLOGICAL SPECULATIONS

Under the impact of Greek thought the emphasis in medieval Jewish thinking among the philosophers is on the impersonal aspects of the Deity. Not only is anthropomorphism rejected but the whole question of the divine attributes – of what can and cannot be said about God – receives the closest scrutiny. Baḥya ibn Paquda (Duties of the Heart, Sha'ar ha-Yiḥud, 10) and Maimonides (Guide, 1:31–60) allow only negative attributes to be used of the Deity; to say that God is wise is to say no more than that He is not ignorant. It is not to say anything about the reality of the divine nature in itself which must always remain utterly incomprehensible. In reaction to the philosophers' depersonalization of the Deity, the kabbalists, evidently under Gnostic influence, developed the doctrine of the Sefirot, the ten divine emanations by which the world is governed, though among the kabbalists, too, in the doctrine of Ein Sof ("the Limitless"), God as He is in Himself – the Neoplatonic idea of deus absconditus – is preserved. Indeed, from one point of view, the Kabbalah is more radical than the philosophers in that it negates all language from Ein Sof. The utterly impersonal ground is not mentioned in the Bible. Of it nothing can be said at all. No name can be given it except the negative one of "Nothing" (because of it, nothing can be postulated). By thus affirming both the impersonal ground and the dynamic life of the Sefirot, the kabbalists endeavor to satisfy the philosophical mind while catering to the popular need for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Period of Transition

The 18th century was a period of great ferment in Jewish life, the old world dying, the new not yet coming to birth. The pioneer Jewish historian *Zunz correctly sees the Jewish Middle Ages as lasting until the end of this century. The repercussions following on the adventures of the pseudo-messiah *Shabbetai Ẓevi caused Jewish leaders to retreat into the past. There was a fear of new tendencies in Jewish thought and a pronounced suspicion of mystical fervor. Yet revivalist tendencies were in the air, and not only among Jews. The century which saw the phenomenal successes of a Wesley in England, and movements addicted to what Father Ronald Knox calls "enthusiasm" in America and the European continent, also witnessed the rise of *Ḥasidism . The three towering Jewish figures of this age each represented a prominent trend important at the time and influential for the future. R. *Elijah b. Solomon , the Gaon of Vilna (1720–97), "the last great theologian of classical Rabbinism" (L. Ginzberg, Students, Scholars and Saints (1928), 125), spent his days and nights shut up in his study with drawn shutters and setting standards of utter devotion to Torah study in the classical sense as man's noblest pursuit. In the 16th century, Poland had become a home of Torah. The complete devotion there to talmudic studies on the part of so many was unparalleled. The Gaon was an outstanding but not untypical product of this type of hermit-like dedication. The old teaching (Avot 6:4), "This is the way of the Torah. Thou shalt eat bread with salt and thou shalt drink water by measure, and on the ground shalt thou sleep and thou shalt lead a life of suffering the while thou toilest in the Torah," became, in large measure through the Gaon's influence, the pattern for many thousands of talmudists in Russia, Poland, and Lithuania.

ḤASIDISM

It is extremely difficult to disentangle fact from legend in studying the life and work of R. *Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (d. c. 1760), but Ḥasidism, the movement he founded – with its message that simple faith is superior to scholasticism untouched with fervor, that joy is to be invoked in God's service, and that there are "holy sparks" in all things to be redeemed by a life of sanctity – spread so rapidly, despite the most powerful opposition of established rabbinic authorities, that by the end of the 18th century it had won over to its side numerous Jewish communities in Galicia, the Ukraine, Poland, and Belorussia.

MENDELSSOHN AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Moses *Mendelssohn (1729–86) is rightly looked upon as the pioneer in bringing the Jewish people face to face with the modern world. Religious truth, taught Mendelssohn, was universal and could be attained by the exercise of the free human reason. No special revelation was required. The Torah, for Mendelssohn, is not revealed religion but revealed legislation. The eternal truths that there is a God, that He is good, and that man's soul is immortal are revealed in all places and at all times. Mendelssohn, thus speaking as a child of the Enlightenment, succeeded in paving the way for those Jews – and they were many – who wished to eat of its fruits. But Mendelssohn was not able to explain adequately why a special revelation to Israel was necessary if the basic truths were attainable by all men.Page 518  |  Top of Article What was the purpose of this special revealed legislation and, if it had value, why was this confined to a special group? He speaks of "a special favor" for "very special reasons," but nowhere states what these reasons were (M.A. Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew (1967), 37). Moreover his advice to his fellow Jews to comply with the customs and civil constitutions of the countries in which they lived while, at the same time, being constant to the faith of their forefathers, was easier said than done. Nevertheless no modern Jew is immune from Mendelssohn's influence, and, by the same token, opponents of any kind of modernism in the Jewish camp have laid all the ills of subsequent Jewish faithlessness at Mendelssohn's door.

With the possible exception of the Oriental communities, every Jew in the post-emancipation era, insofar as he strove to remain Jewishly committed, was a disciple of the Gaon, or the Ba'al Shem Tov, or Mendelssohn, with many Jews disciples of more than one of these great figures at the same time.

The Emancipation

The entrance of the Jew into Western society at the beginning of the 19th century presented Judaism with a direct confrontation with modern thought, without the long period of preparation and adjustment that had been available to Christendom since the Renaissance. On the practical side there were the problems connected with the new social conditions. How, for example, were Jews to participate in life in a non-Jewish environment without surrendering their distinctiveness and the claims of their ancient past? How were they to avoid being dubbed antisocial or outlandish? How were they to earn a living if they refused to work on the Sabbath? How were they to mix freely with their neighbors and keep the dietary laws? On the intellectual plane fresh challenges were being presented to the ancient faith by the new scientific viewpoints, by modern philosophy, by art, music, and literature, cultivated independently of any dogmatic considerations, and later, by the historical investigations into the Bible and Jewish origins. It was in Germany that Judaism had to bear the brunt of the new thinking, though, as evidenced by the emergence of a Russian *Haskalah movement, other Jewries were not unaffected by the revolutionary trends.

THEOLOGICAL CHALLENGES

It is not surprising that atheism and agnosticism had their unprecedented appeal for some Jews, and Christianity in one form or another for others. But among the faithful, traditional theism remained the accepted philosophy of life until more recent years, when a number of Jewish thinkers began to explore the possibility of a radical reinterpretation of theism in naturalistic terms. The main tensions, however, in post-emancipation Judaism centered on the ideas of Torah and Israel rather than God.

THE NATIONALISTIC QUESTION

With regard to Jewish peoplehood, the *Zionist movement at the end of the century posed in acute form a problem which had agitated Jewish minds from the beginning of the century – the role of nationalism in Judaism. Were the Jews merely adherents of a common religion – as it was put, Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen of the Mosaic persuasion – or were they a nation? Was Judaism dependent for its fullest realization on residence in the Holy Land, or was it desirable that Jews be dispersed in many lands to further there the "mission of Israel" in bringing God to mankind in the purest form of teaching? These questions were being asked, and the replies varied considerably. The early Reformers deleted from the prayer book all references to national restoration. Exile was not seen as an evil to be redressed but as an essential step in the fulfillment of the divine purpose (see *Reform Judaism ). The Reformers were not alone in their opposition to a nationalistic interpretation of Judaism. When political Zionism became a practical policy for Jews, many of the Orthodox opposed it as a denial of Jewish messianism according to which, it was believed, the redemption would come through direct divine intervention, not at the hands of men. There were not lacking, however, religious leaders who advocated a form of religious Zionism, claiming that, as in other spheres, the divine blessing follows on prior human effort.

With the actual establishment of the State of Israel the older attitudes became academic. With the exception of the fringe groups of the *Neturei Karta (Orthodox) and the *American Council for Judaism (Reform), the majority of Jews now accept the special role the new state has to play as a spiritual center (over and above the haven of refuge it provides), while generally acknowledging that to uncover the full implications of this concept requires a good deal of fresh thinking. Some Orthodox thinkers have taken refuge in the notion of the establishment of the State of Israel as atḥalta di-ge'ullah ("the beginning of the redemption"), i.e., that while complete redemption is at the hands of God through the Messiah, the present life of the State still has messianic overtones and belongs in a realm far removed from the secular. Some see this as an unsuccessful attempt literally to have the best of both worlds.

THE QUESTION OF HALAKHAH

The great divide between Orthodoxy and Reform was on the question of Jewish law (halakhah). According to the Orthodox position, the traditional doctrine of Torah min ha-Shamayim ("the Torah is from Heaven") means that both the Written and the Oral Laws were communicated by God to Moses and that, therefore, all the Pentateuchal laws, in their interpretation as found in the rabbinic literature, are binding upon Jews by divine fiat. The Sabbath, for instance, is to be kept in the manner set forth in detail in the Talmud; the dietary laws are to be observed in all their minutiae. On this view nothing in the law is trivial or unworthy or out-of-date, since every law is a direct command of God for all time. Reform Judaism rejects the idea of a permanently binding religious law. In the Reform view, the moral law alone is eternally valid, together with those religious ceremonies which are still capable of inspiring contemporary Jews to appreciate the beauty, dignity, and supreme worth of a God-orientated life. A middle of the road position was advocated by the followers of the historical school in GermanyPage 519  |  Top of Article and later by the *Conservative movement in the United States. In this view, Reform is in error in rejecting the halakhah, but Orthodoxy is also mistaken in wedding adherence to halakhah to a fundamentalism which recognizes no change or development in Jewish law.

Contemporary Judaism

There are a number of groupings in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Reform has made little headway among Sephardi or Oriental Jews, and the majority of these, if religious, are at least Orthodox, with many of their own rites and customs.

ORTHODOXY OF THE LITHUANIAN PATTERN

Among the Ashkenazim, possibly the most prominent Orthodox group is that represented by the yeshivot of the Lithuanian pattern and the rabbis educated in these institutions, most of them in Israel and the U.S. The main emphasis here is on Torah study, to the virtual exclusion of all else, and the carrying out of the detailed practical observances. In this group the stress is on intellectual comprehension, particularly of the difficult logic and reasoning of the Talmud, the most admired figure being the lamdan, the man proficient in these studies. Religious feeling and ethical content is provided by the *Musar movement, which succeeded in capturing the Lithuanian yeshivot at the end of the last century. Secular learning is either entirely frowned upon or treated as necessary for earning a living, and little more.

NEO-ORTHODOXY

Neo-Orthodoxy (not generally called by this name) has a far more positive attitude to secular learning, with a particular fondness for the physical sciences. In this group are the followers of the Samson Raphael *Hirsch school, which aims at combining Torah (i.e., strict adherence to halakhah) with derekh ereẓ ("the way of the earth," in this context, the values of Western civilization). In this group, too, are the majority of Orthodox synagogues in the U.S. (the rabbis mainly alumni of *Yeshiva University ) and Great Britain (the rabbis mainly alumni of *Jews College ).

ḤASIDISM

The Ḥasidim still owe their allegiance to various dynasties of rabbis. Ḥasidism is emotional and mystical. Most of the Hasidim wear a special garb, consisting of a girdle for prayer, a long black coat, and fur hat. Beards are generally worn long and earlocks (pe'ot) cultivated. Ritual immersion plays an important part in ḥasidic life. The best-known ḥasidic rabbis with large followings today are the Lubavitcher and the Satmarer in New York, and the Gerer, Viznitzer, and Belzer in Israel. Neo-Ḥasidism, as presented in the writings of Martin Buber, is not a movement but a mood of sympathy with some of the ḥasidic values as relevant to the spiritual predicament of Western man.

The two major world groupings of Orthodoxy, embracing members of all preceding groups, are the Zionist *Mizrachi movement and the more right-wing *Agudat Israel .

CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM

This movement is especially strong in the U.S., with its teaching center at the *Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. It is organized in the *United Synagogue of America and has sympathizers in other parts of the Jewish world. It has been said that, while contemporary Reform stresses the God idea and contemporary Orthodoxy the idea of Torah, Conservative Judaism stresses that of Israel (i.e., Jewish peoplehood). This is too much of a generalization, but it is true that an important plank in the Conservative platform is the unity of the Jewish people amid its diversity.

REFORM JUDAISM

This movement is strong in the U.S., with its teaching headquarters at the *Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, but with followers in other parts of the Jewish world. Reform congregations are loosely organized in the World Union of Progressive Synagogues. (The term "Traditional Judaism" is used, nowadays, to denote either Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. The term "Torah-true Judaism" is used by some of the Orthodox as a synonym for Orthodoxy in order to avoid the possible pejorative implications of the latter term as suggesting reaction or obscurantism. "Liberal Judaism" is the term used in Great Britain for the Reform position, though there are in Great Britain both Liberal and Reform congregations, with the Liberals more to the left.)

There are very few Reform or Conservative congregations in the State of Israel. Orthodoxy is the official religious position in Israel, with the majority of the rabbis belonging to the old school of talmudic jurists. Here and there in recent years a number of small groups have emerged with the aim of seeking a religiously orientated outlook, but one not necessarily Orthodox.

THE INFLUENCE OF JUDAISM

Judaism's main influence on civilization has been in the sphere of religion. This influence has been especially felt by the daughter religions, Christianity and Islam. The institutions of church and mosque are direct descendants of the synagogue, with many of their forms of worship adapted from the mother faith. Words like amen and Hallelujah have become part of the religious vocabulary of a large portion of mankind. The Church uses the Bible in its worship. The Sabbath, the Psalms, the prophetic readings, the weekly sermon, are, through Judaism, the common heritage of the Christian world. The language of the Bible has helped to mold the tongues of the Western world, so that the peoples of Great Britain and the U.S., France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, speak without incongruity in the idioms of ancient Judea. The prophetic vision of a world at peace is still a potent force in human affairs despite the war-blackened pages of human history. Judaism's insistence on justice and righteousness, and the brotherhood of man founded on the Fatherhood of God, has been, in part at least, responsible for the emergence of Western democratic patterns and social reforms.

The rise of modern science was due to a number of factors, prominent among them the Greek element in Western thought. But Judaism's teachings regarding the unity of nature as the creation of the one God are not to be underestimated inPage 520  |  Top of Article their effects on early scientific thought. It is doubtful whether science could have emerged in its full boldness and confidence against a polytheistic backcloth in which each god is allotted only a portion of the world.

The concrete nature of Jewish thought, its concern with the deed, its practical application of lofty ideals, has been responsible, perhaps more than any other factor, for the emergence of ideas connected with social justice. Individual Jews have stood on both sides of the debate on the major social issues. "Yet the determination not to abandon Justice to the realm of the abstract is independent of the machinery suggested for its establishment, and in so far as any movement sets before itself the task of bringing the good things of life within the reach of the masses, it is carrying on the work of the prophets" (L. Roth, in: E.R. Bevan and C. Singer (eds.) The Legacy of Israel (19282), 468).

In speaking of the influence of Judaism it is sometimes customary to refer to the contributions made by individual Jews, but this is a highly questionable procedure. Adapting a maxim of Rabbi *Kook , it can be argued that these are the contributions of Jews who were great rather than of great Jews. It is certainly a moot point to what extent the thought of a *Spinoza , a *Marx , a *Bergson , an *Einstein , or a *Freud , was nurtured by his Jewish background. Yet it would seem that some of Judaism's influence is to be detected even here in a roundabout way. It can be argued, not unconvincingly, that something of Judaism's spirit contrives to live even in the souls of those of her children who have abandoned her.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

J.B. Agus, The Evolution of Jewish Thought (1959); Baron, Social2; I. Epstein, Judaism, A Historical Presentation (1959); M. Friedlaender, The Jewish Religion (19133); A. Hertzberg (ed.), Judaism (1961); M. Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life (19584); M.M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (19572); K. Kohler, Jewish Theology (1918); Loewe, in ERE, 7 (1914), 581–609; G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 2 vols. (1927); L. Roth, Judaism, A Portrait (1960); M. Steinberg, Basic Judaism (1947); Werblowsky, in: The Concise Encyclopedia of Living Faiths (1959), 23–50; L. Baeck, The Essence of Judaism (1961); M. Buber, On Judaism (1967). ADDITIONAL BIBLIOGRAPHY: R.S. Frank and W. Wollheim, The Book of Jewish Books: a Reader's Guide to Judaism (1986); C. Cutter and M.F. Oppenheim, Judaica Reference Sources: a Selective, Annotated Bibliographic Guide (19932); R.P. Bulka, The Coming Cataclysm: the Orthodox-Reform Rift and the Future of the Jewish People (1984); D. Cohn-Sherbok, Dictionary of Judaica (1992); M.L. Raphael, Profiles in American Judaism: the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Traditions in Historical Perspective (1984); G.S. Rosenthal, Contemporary Judaism: Patterns of Survival (1985); J.J. Schacter (ed.), Jewish Tradition and the Non-traditional Jew (1992); J. Wertheimer, A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America (1993).

[Louis Jacobs]

Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Jacobs, Louis. "Judaism." Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 2nd ed., vol. 11, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, pp. 511-520. Gale Ebooks, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX2587510449%2FGVRL%3Fu%3Dimcpl1111%26sid%3DGVRL%26xid%3D64cacf14. Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2587510449

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