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Judaism(jo͞o`dəĭz'əm, jo͞o`dē–), the religious beliefs and practices and the way of life of the JewsJews
[from Judah], traditionally, descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, whose tribe, with that of his half-brother Benjamin, made up the kingdom of Judah; historically, members of the worldwide community of adherents to Judaism.
..... Click the link for more information. . The term itself was first used by Hellenized Jews to describe their religious practice, but it is of predominantly modern usage; it is not used in the Bible or in Rabbinic literature and only rarely in the literature of the medieval period. The word TorahTorah
[Heb.,=teachings or learning], Hebrew name for the five books of Moses—the Law of Moses or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. The Torah is believed by Orthodox Jews to have been handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai and transmitted by him to the Jews.
..... Click the link for more information. is employed when referring to the divinely revealed teachings of Jewish law and belief. Judaism is used more broadly, including also the totality of human interpretation and practice. Thus, one may speak of "secular Judaism," referring to an adherence to values expressed by Judaism but removed from any religious context. The most important holy days in Judaism are the weekly SabbathSabbath
[Heb.,=repose], in Judaism, last day of the week (Saturday), observed as a rest day for the twenty-five hours commencing with sundown on Friday. In the biblical account of creation (Gen. 1) the seventh day is set as a Sabbath to mark God's rest after his work.
..... Click the link for more information. , the major holidays of Rosh ha-ShanahRosh ha-Shanah
[Heb.,=head of the year], the Jewish New Year, also known as the Feast of the Trumpets. It is observed on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri, occurring usually in September.
..... Click the link for more information. , Yom KippurYom Kippur
[Heb.,=day of atonement], in Judaism, the most sacred holy day, falling on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishri (usually late September or early October). It is a day of fasting and prayer for forgiveness for sins committed during the year.
..... Click the link for more information. , Sukkoth (see Tabernacles, Feast ofTabernacles, Feast of,
one of the oldest and most joyous of Jewish holidays, called in the Bible the Feast of Ingathering and today often called by its Hebrew name, Sukkoth [Heb.,=booth].
..... Click the link for more information. ), Simhat Torah, PassoverPassover,
in Judaism, one of the most important and elaborate of religious festivals. Its celebration begins on the evening of the 14th of Nisan (first month of the religious calendar, corresponding to March–April) and lasts seven days in Israel, eight days in the Diaspora
..... Click the link for more information. , and ShavuotShavuot
[Heb.,=weeks], Jewish feast celebrated on the 6th of the month of Sivan (usually some time in May) in Israel and on the sixth and seventh days in the Diaspora. Originally an agricultural festival celebrating the end of the winter grain harvest (which began at Passover),
..... Click the link for more information. , and the minor holidays of HanukkahHanukkah
, in Judaism, the Festival of Lights, the Feast of Consecration, or the Feast of the Maccabees; also transliterated Chanukah. According to tradition, it was instituted by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers in 165 B.C.
..... Click the link for more information. , PurimPurim
[Heb.,=lots], Jewish festival celebrated on the 14th of Adar, the twelfth month in the Jewish calendar (Feb.–March). During leap years it is celebrated in Adar II. According to the book of Esther (Esther 3.7; 9.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Tisha B'Av.
The Early Period
The history of Judaism predates the period to which the term itself actually refers, in that Judaism formally applies to the post-Second Temple period, while its antecedents are to be found in the biblical "religion of Israel." The Bible is no longer considered a homogeneous work; the many traditions represented in it demonstrate variance and growth. While the historicity of the patriarchs' existence and of MosesMoses
, Hebrew lawgiver, probably b. Egypt. The prototype of the prophets, he led his people in the 13th cent. B.C. out of bondage in Egypt to the edge of Canaan. The narrative in the Bible is the chief source of information on his life.
..... Click the link for more information. as the giver of all laws is under question, certain dominant themes can be seen developing in this early period that have importance for later Judaism.
Central to these themes is the notion of monotheism, which most scholars believe to have been the outgrowth of a process that began with polytheism, progressed to henotheism (the worship of one god without denying the existence of others), and ended in the belief in a single Lord of the universe, uniquely different from all His creatures. He is compassionate toward His creation, and in turn humans are to love and fear (i.e., stand in awe of) Him. Because God is holy, He demands that His people be holy, righteous, and just, a kingdom of priests to assist in the fulfillment of His designs for humankind and the world.
Israel's chosenness consists of this special designation and the task that accompanies it. God promises the land of Canaan to Israel as their homeland, the place in which the Temple will be built and sacrificial worship of God carried out. The holy days were the Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth; and circumcision, dietary laws, and laws pertaining to dress, agriculture, and social justice characterized the structure of the biblical religion. Three types of leaders existed during this period: the priest (kohen), who officiated in the Temple and executed the laws; the prophet (navi), to whom was revealed God's messages to His people; and the sage (hacham), who taught practical wisdom and proper behavior. There was developing already in this early period a belief in the ultimate coming of God's kingdom on earth, a time of peace and justice. To this was added, after the destruction (586 B.C.) of the First Temple and the Babylonian captivity (which many saw as the consequence of idolatry and which may have been responsible for the final stage of the development from polytheism to monotheism), the expectation of national restoration under the leadership of a descendant of the Davidic house, the MessiahMessiah
[Heb.,=anointed], in Judaism, a man who would be sent by God to restore Israel and reign righteously for all humanity. The idea developed among the Jews especially in their adversity, and such a conception is clearly indicated in Isaiah 9.
..... Click the link for more information. .
The Postexilic Period
It was after the Babylonian captivity (not later than the 5th cent. B.C.) that a compilation of earlier texts and oral traditions was made, forming the canon of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Subsequently 34 other books were added to form the Hebrew Bible or Old TestamentOld Testament,
Christian name for the Hebrew Bible, which serves as the first division of the Christian Bible (see New Testament). The designations "Old" and "New" seem to have been adopted after c.A.D.
..... Click the link for more information. , though the canon was not finalized until perhaps as late as the 2d cent. A.D. The Torah was traditionally attributed to Moses, and study of the Torah was accompanied by expositions and explanations in which the Oral Law, as distinct from the Written Law (the Torah text), is rooted. While it is widely held that the PhariseesPharisees
, one of the two great Jewish religious and political parties of the second commonwealth. Their opponents were the Sadducees, and it appears that the Sadducees gave them their name, perushim, Hebrew for "separatists" or "deviants.
..... Click the link for more information. further developed the Oral Law, in opposition to the literalness of the SadduceesSadducees
, sect of Jews formed around the time of the Hasmonean revolt (c.200 B.C.). Little is known concerning their beliefs, but according to Josephus Flavius, they upheld only the authority of the written law, and not the oral tradition held by the Pharisees.
..... Click the link for more information. , it is inconceivable that the latter group could have administered the biblical laws without reinterpreting them in accordance with a changing world, or in the face of a lack of specificity in the text.
The Babylonian exile had exposed the Israelites to new ideas, and it is to that period that the notions of identifiable angels (such as Michael and Raphael), of the personification of evil (Satan), and of the resurrection of the dead can probably be traced. The conquests of Alexander the Great once again brought the Jews into contact with new ideas, most significantly that of the immortality of the soul. Conflict arose within the community of Israel concerning the level of Hellenization acceptable, out of which came the revolt of the MaccabeesMaccabees
, Jewish family of the 2d and 1st cent. B.C. that brought about a restoration of Jewish political and religious life. They are also called Hasmoneans or Asmoneans after their ancestor, Hashmon.
..... Click the link for more information. against the Seleucid rulers of Syria and their Judean sympathizers. The resulting martyrdom of many gave added impetus to the belief in collective resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul after the body's death. These concepts were wed in such a way that while the body awaited its resurrection, the soul was seen as living on in another realm. This new development in no way supplanted the earlier notion of earthly reward; life on earth, however, was viewed by many as preparatory for the next.
As the conditions of life deteriorated, apocalyptic beliefs grew—national catastrophe and the messianic kingdom were seen as imminent events. Some groups (see EssenesEssenes
, members of a small Jewish religious order, originating in the 2d cent. B.C. The chief sources of information about the Essenes are Pliny the Elder, Philo's Quod omnius probus liber, Josephus' Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews,
..... Click the link for more information. ; QumranQumran
, ancient village on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It is famous for its caves, in some of which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Archaeological work at Qumran has yielded a profile of its history.
..... Click the link for more information. ) fled into the desert to lead righteous lives in anticipation, while others followed claimants to the mantle of Messiah (most notably Jesus). Out of these numerous ingredients came both Christianity and classical, or rabbinic, Judaism.
After the Destruction of the Second Temple
Developing over a period of five centuries (until c.A.D. 500), rabbinic Judaism completed the process already underway, which saw the replacement of the Temple by the synagoguesynagogue
[Gr.,=assembly], in Judaism, a place of assembly for worship, education, and communal affairs. The origins of the institution are unclear. One tradition dates it to the Babylonian exile of the 6th cent. B.C.
..... Click the link for more information. (the Second Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70), of the priest by the rabbirabbi
[Heb.,=my master; my teacher], the title of a Jewish spiritual leader. The role of the rabbi has undergone a number of transformations. In the Talmudic period, rabbis were primarily teachers and interpreters of the Torah.
..... Click the link for more information. , and of the sacrificial ceremony by the prayer service and study. Basic to these changes was the redaction and codification of the Oral Law (see MishnaMishna
, in Judaism, codified collection of Oral Law—legal interpretations of portions of the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and other legal material. Together with the Gemara, or Amoraic commentary on the Mishna, it comprises the Talmud.
..... Click the link for more information. ; TalmudTalmud
[Aramaic from Heb.,=learning], in Judaism, vast compilation of the Oral Law with rabbinical elucidations, elaborations, and commentaries, in contradistinction to the Scriptures or Written Laws. The Talmud is the accepted authority for Orthodox Jews everywhere.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and the MidrashMidrash
[Heb.,=to examine, to investigate], verse by verse interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures, consisting of homily and exegesis, by Jewish teachers since about 400 B.C.
..... Click the link for more information. , which, as outgrowths of the biblical religion, centered on the relationships between God, His Torah, and His people, Israel. Emphasis was placed upon study of the Torah (in its broadest sense) as the most important religious act, leading to an understanding of the proper way of life; upon the growing need for national restoration in the face of continued Exile from the Promised Land; and upon the function of this world as preparatory for the World to Come (Olam ha-Bah), while not devaluing the importance of life in this world.
Daily life was sanctified by the emphasis in Jewish law (halakahhalakah
[Heb.,=law], in Judaism, the body of law regulating all aspects of life, including religious ritual, familial and personal status, civil relations, criminal law, and relations with non-Jews.
..... Click the link for more information. ) on the ritual fitness of foods (kashrut), the recitation of blessings for a variety of mundane acts, and the daily, weekly, monthly and annual cycles of prayer. Rites for the personal life cycle came to include circumcision of male infants at the age of eight days, signifying their induction into the covenant between God and Israel; the recognition of thirteen years as the age of majority for religious responsibilities (see Bar MitzvahBar Mitzvah
[Aramaic,=son of the Commandment], Jewish ceremony in which the young male is initiated into the religious community, according to tradition at the age of 13 years and a day.
..... Click the link for more information. ); marriage; and funeral rites. During the medieval period, these trends continued and were basic to the several important codifications of the legal material and to the many biblical and Talmudic commentaries that were composed at this time (most notably by RashiRashi
, 1040–1105, Jewish exegete, grammarian, and legal authority, b. Troyes, France. The name he is known by is an acronym of Rabbi Solomon bar Isaac. He studied in Worms and Mainz, returning to Troyes c.1065.
..... Click the link for more information. and MaimonidesMaimonides
or Moses ben Maimon
, 1135–1204, Jewish scholar, physician, and philosopher, the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, b. Córdoba, Spain, d. Cairo.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
The Middle Ages
[Heb.,=reception], esoteric system of interpretation of the Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from Abraham.
..... Click the link for more information. flowered during the Middle Ages, combining older trends in Jewish mysticism with Neoplatonism and other ideas. The kabbalists retained the idea that the totality of God's nature is ultimately beyond human grasp ("Ein Sof" [Heb., literally,=without end] as the "Nothing"), yet, in keeping with tradition, held to a vision of a personal God who exists as the active, creative, and sustaining force within the cosmos ("Ein Sof" as the "Everything"). Spain was a major center of kabbalistic thought, which after the expulsions and forced conversion in 1492, spread and became more central to Jewish life in the Mediterranean world. Palestine then became the center of kabbalism, especially as it was developed by Isaac LuriaLuria or Loria, Isaac ben Solomon
, 1534–72, Jewish kabbalist, surnamed Ashkenazi, called Ari [lion] by his followers, b. Jerusalem. In his 20s he spent seven years in seclusion, intensely studying the kabbalah.
..... Click the link for more information. and others.
A Jewish philosophy developed in answer to the questions raised by the exposure to Greek thought as distilled through the Islamic natural philosophy and metaphysics. Central to these issues was the conflict between reason and revelation: whether revelation was necessary if all could be ascertained through reason, or whether reason was imperfect and revelation was God's assisting humans to know the truth. Maimonides argued that one can say nothing positive about the personal nature of God, which is beyond human comprehension; one can only indicate what He is not (thus, the statement that God is wise says only that God is not ignorant, not how wise He actually is).
While the Jewish Middle Ages is usually defined by scholars as extending at least into the 18th cent., there was a Jewish counterpart to the general European Renaissance of the 15th and 16th cent., and figures such as Judah AbravanelAbravanel or Abarbanel, Judah,
c.1460–c.1523, Jewish philosopher, physician, and poet, son of Isaac Abravanel, b. Lisbon; he is also known as Leone Ebreo.
..... Click the link for more information. were influenced by contemporary European philosophic currents. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 led to the Jews of N Italy, S France, and the Levant coming under Sephardic influence (see SephardimSephardim
, one of the two major geographic divisions of the Jewish people, consisting of those Jews whose forebears in the Middle Ages resided in the Iberian Peninsula, as distinguished from those who lived in Germanic lands, who came to be known as the Ashkenazim (see
..... Click the link for more information. ), and these events provoked much messianic and kabbalist speculation, culminating in the spectacular career of the self-proclaimed Messiah, Sabbatai ZeviSabbatai Zevi
, 1626–76, Jewish mystic and pseudo-Messiah, founder of the Sabbatean sect, b. Smyrna. After a period of study of Lurianic kabbalah (see Luria, Isaac ben Solomon), he became deeply influenced by its ideas of imminent national redemption.
..... Click the link for more information. .
The Amsterdam community of Marranos (those Jews forced by the Inquisition to adopt Christianity, but who continued to practice Judaism in secret, and many of whom later emigrated and returned to the Jewish fold) often provided a liberalizing influence on Orthodox Judaism, most significantly in the person of Baruch SpinozaSpinoza, Baruch or Benedict
, 1632–77, Dutch philosopher, b. Amsterdam. Spinoza's Life
He belonged to the community of Jews from Spain and Portugal who had fled the Inquisition.
..... Click the link for more information. , a Jew excommunicated for his unsparing critique of Rabbinic Judaism. The reaction to Sabbatianism and philosophical liberalism caused a hardening of rabbinic orthodoxy, but the Jewish world of the 18th cent. remained turbulent. It produced both the great traditionalist rabbinic figure Elijah ben SolomonElijah ben Solomon,
1720–97, Jewish scholar, called the Gaon of Vilna, b. Lithuania. A leading Jewish scholar of his time, he opposed the spread of Hasidism in Lithuania and Poland because he feared that the creation of these new groups would weaken the Jewish community.
..... Click the link for more information. and the untraditional figures of Baal-Shem-TovBaal-Shem-Tov
, c.1698–1760, Jewish founder of modern Hasidism, b. Ukraine. His life is the subject of many tales that circulated even before his death. Originally named Israel ben Eliezer, he is said to have been born of elderly, poor parents and to have been orphaned at
..... Click the link for more information. , the founder of HasidismHasidism
[Heb.,=the pious], Jewish religious movement founded in Poland in the 18th cent. by Baal-Shem-Tov. Its name derives from Hasidim. Hasidism, which stressed the mercy of God and encouraged joyous religious expression through music and dance, spread
..... Click the link for more information. (which Elijah himself fought against), and Moses MendelssohnMendelssohn, Moses
, 1729–86, German-Jewish philosopher; grandfather of Felix Mendelssohn. He was a leader in the movement for cultural assimilation. In 1743 he went to Berlin, where he studied and worked, becoming (1750) a partner in a silk merchant's firm.
..... Click the link for more information. , the spiritual progenitor of later reformers whom Elijah's spiritual descendants repeatedly condemned.
The Reform Movement and Zionism
The emancipation of European Jews in the early decades of the 19th cent. brought with it the problem of maintaining claims of distinctiveness, of being "chosen," and at the same time wishing to participate in the general society. First dealt with by the Reform leaders of Germany (most notably Abraham GeigerGeiger, Abraham
, 1810–74, German rabbi, Semitic scholar and Orientalist, theologian, and foremost exponent of the Reform movement in Judaism. When he received his doctorate (1833) from the Univ. of Bonn, he was already a rabbi in Wiesbaden.
..... Click the link for more information. ), this problem was met directly in Eastern Europe, giving rise to the HaskalahHaskalah
, [Heb.,=enlightenment] Jewish movement in Europe active from the 1770s to the 1880s. Beginning in Germany in the circle of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and spreading to Galicia and Russia, the Haskalah called for increased secularization of Jewish
..... Click the link for more information. movement, whose members (e.g., Nachman KrochmalKrochmal, Nachman
, 1785–1840, Jewish secular historian and writer, b. Galicia. He was a leader in the movement of the Jewish enlightenment and a pioneer of modern Jewish scholarship.
..... Click the link for more information. ) sought to revitalize Jewish life by recreating it along the lines of the best in European culture.
In the late 19th cent., ZionismZionism,
modern political movement for reconstituting a Jewish national state in Palestine. Early Years
The rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. promised a return to the Holy Land. This again created problems for the traditionalists whose religious ideas were rooted in the Diaspora, and many of whom opposed any movement to build a secular Jewish state in the Holy Land. Eventually, an Orthodox wing of Zionism did emerge. For many Jews still unanswered is the question of whether a full Jewish life is possible in exile, or whether residing in Zion is essential. Theologically, Zionism posed the problem of whether Jews can work for the messianic return or whether this would be counter to another traditional belief that saw humanity awaiting the divine intervention.
Ultimately, it was the halakah (the law) that divided Judaism in the 19th cent. The Orthodox hold both the written law (Scriptures) and the oral laws (commentaries on the legal portions of the Scriptures) as authoritative, derived from God, while the Reform do not see them as authoritative in any absolute sense, but binding only in their ethical content. While Orthodox Jews maintain the traditional practices, Reform Jews perform only those rituals that they believe can promote and enhance a Jewish, God-oriented life. In 1999, however, leaders of American Reform Judaism reversed century-old teachings by encouraging but not enforcing the observance of many traditional rituals. The "historical school," or Conservative movement, attempts to formulate a middle position between Orthodox and Reform, maintaining most of the traditional rituals but recognizing the need to make changes in accordance with overriding contemporary considerations. Conservative Jews believe that the history of Judaism proves their basic assumptions: that tradition and change have always gone hand in hand and that what is central to Judaism and has remained constant throughout the centuries is the people of Israel (and their needs), not the fundamentalism of Orthodoxy nor what they consider the abandonment of traditions by Reform. The related Reconstructionist movement of Mordechai M. KaplanKaplan, Mordecai Menahem
, 1881–1983, American rabbi, educator, and philosopher, b. Lithuania, grad. College of the City of New York, 1900, M.A. Columbia Univ., 1902. He came to the United States when he was eight years old.
..... Click the link for more information. holds Judaism to be a human-centered rather than a God-centered religious civilization.
Also part of contemporary Judaism are the several Sephardic traditions maintained in Israel, France, Canada, and the United States by immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa and by European Sephardim in Europe and the Americas; the several Hasidic groups in Israel and the United States; the religious and secular Zionists in Israel and the Diaspora; the unorganized secular Jews, who maintain an atheist's or agnostic's adherence to Jewish values and culture; and those unorganized Jews who seek a religious life outside the synagogue. These many positions represent the most recent attempts at defining the "essence of Judaism," a process that has been continuous throughout the ages, variously emphasizing one of the three major components of Judaism (God, Torah, Israel) over the remaining two.
See J. L. Blau, Modern Varieties of Judaism (1966), M. M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (2d ed. 1957, repr. 1967), J. Neusner, There We Sat Down (1972) and Judaism: An Introduction (2002), R. Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought (1980), A. Eisen, The Chosen People in America (1983), M. A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement (1988), G. Robinson, Essential Judaism (2000), and M. Brenner, A Short History of the Jews (tr. 2010); J. R. Baskin and K. Seeskin, ed., The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture (2010).
Judaismthe oldest of the three most widespread monotheistic world religions. Initially the religion of a nomadic tribe, the ancient Hebrews, around 1000 BC Judaism emerged as a religion different from those of surrounding tribes, marked off by belief in a single omnipotent God. Weber's explanation for the rise of Judaism is that it came about as a response to the political weakness of the Hebrews compared with surrounding powers. The concept of the Jews as the ‘chosen people’ of such an all-powerful God, a God who also punished his people for their moral shortcomings, arose as an ‘explanation’ for that political weakness. Over the years, Judaism survived as an autonomous religion despite the fact that for most of the time there was no Jewish state.
Judaism(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
Some say Judaism began when a man named Abraham (see Abraham) heard the voice of God calling him to a new land where his descendants would someday be as numerous as the stars of the sky and the grains of sand on the beach.
Those of a more worldly bent are apt to think it all began when a sheep-herding nomad arrived in Canaan with a new idea and a new God whose followers constituted a great nation and one of the world's major religions. For a brief time, about one thousand years before the most famous descendent of Abraham was born in a Bethlehem stable, this religion and people attained wealth and unified power rarely again seen in what later generations would call the Holy Land.
Others claim it all started when the descendants of Abraham, by now slaves in Egypt, huddled in their homes one night, dressed for a quick flight into the desert. They ate a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs while they listened for the sounds of death coming from the homes of their Egyptian neighbors.
Or perhaps it really started when Moses, the great liberator, came down from Mount Sinai bearing tablets of stone containing directions on how to live a decent and moral life. Or when "Joshua commanded the children to shout, and the walls came tumbling down." Or when Solomon built a temple. Or when the people, slaves again but this time in Persia, experienced real monotheism for the first time.
Some students of history say it is simply the result of religion evolving from worship in the desert to worship in the city—the Canaanite Gods morphing into the universal Yahveh.
However it happened, and whatever or whomever was behind it, Judaism has shaped the world in a way no other religion has done. Together with its child, Christianity, and its brother, Islam, it forms the principle known as monotheism. This is the hallmark of Judaism. Underneath all the rituals and ceremonies, underneath the patriotism and vision, underneath the law, the religious and political squabbles, and all the history, lies the one, essential, and inescapable fact of Judaism: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One."
Through eras of hardship and triumph, through the persecution of the Inquisition (see Inquisition) and the horror of the Nazi death camps, whether residing in Israel or declaring, "Next year in Jerusalem!" the descendants of Abraham have remembered the vow and the promise:
I will make you into a great nation And I will bless you.
I will make your name great And you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you And whoever curses you I will curse.
And all peoples on earth Will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3)
The central point of Judaism is this: the Hebrew people felt called by God to be a unique people with a divine contract (see Covenant) and promise. This covenant earned them the nickname, sometimes used in a derogatory manner, "God's Chosen People." Their religion did not consist of striving for and attaining this position. Although education, teaching, and philosophy were important, they were not a means to an end.
The belief handed down from generation to generation was that they were Jews because they were born Jewish, children of the covenant. They were God's people because they were born to be God's people. All the rest came later.
Their story is told first and most importantly in the scriptures, the holy books called Tanakh, an acronym formed from the first letters of their three main sections or divisions—Torah (the five books of Moses), Nev'im (Prophets), and Kethurim (Writings). (Christians, breaking off from Judaism after the death of Christ, also used the Hebrew scriptures, eventually naming their version the Old Testament.)
But over the years the many interpretations, teachings, practices, and customs of Jewish life and religion became codified and written down in the great library of books known as Talmud. Talmudic scholars sought to adapt Judaism to their current times without sacrificing principle, an undertaking that kept the people united even while they were persecuted and driven from their homes time and again. Often criticized for interpreting the letter of the law while sacrificing its spirit, the scholars took the long view, realizing that over the centuries the sustaining power and discipline of the law was the force that protected their people. It was a hedge around them, a fence that served to keep the covenant people within the bounds of the promise while keeping their enemies at bay.
The sign of the covenant was chosen by Yahveh himself: "You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and you... any uncircumcised male who has not been circumcised in the flesh will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:11, 14).
Even when it was inconvenient or dangerous to do so, most Jewish parents made sure their sons were circumcised on the eighth day of their life. During times of persecution, it might have meant their death if discovered, but death within the covenant of Yahveh was to be desired over life outside the promise.
If the Hebrew people came from Abraham, the Hebrew religion came through Moses. In the desert wilderness journey following their escape from Egypt (see Ark of the Covenant; Judaism, Development of), they received the law, both the Ten Commandments and the written law that filled page after page of the book of Leviticus. In the wilderness the religion was hammered out. Sacrifice began, the "burnt offering" of a lamb or other animal, recalling the day God provided a substitute for Abraham's son (Genesis 22). The plans for the Tabernacle (see Tabernacle in the Wilderness), later translated grandly into Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, were spelled out in detail. The priesthood was instituted.
When the Jews settled in Canaan, they were prepared and ready to "sing a new song unto the Lord." It was a song never heard before. They are singing it still.
a religion that arose in Palestine during the first millennium B.C.; it is practiced among Jews. (There are no reliable statistical data on the number of practicing Jews; the majority live in Israel and the USA.)
According to biblical legend, certain Western Semitic (Hebrew) nomadic tribes fled from the Egyptian pharaoh into the desert in the 13th century B.C. At the time of their invasion of Palestine they were united by the common worship of Yahweh, a god of the tribal federation. The tribal federation, which took the name of Israel (“god strives”), took final shape by the 11th century B.C. The worship of Yahweh (the pronunciation of his name later became taboo and was replaced by the word “Lord”) did not exclude the worship of other deities, both of the Hebrews’ own tribes and of the local Canaanites. There were no images made of Yahweh and no temples built to him; a tabernacle, or tent, with a coffer, or ark, inside, devoted to Yahweh, was considered the earthly dwelling-place of the god, who was invisibly present throughout the world. The official rites were performed by a special tribal group, or caste, called Levites. After the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel and Judah in the late 11th century B.C., King Solomon (King David’s son) built a temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem. The worship of Yahweh thus became the basis of the official ideology of the state, which defended the interests of the slaveholders. When the kingdom was divided in the tenth century B.C. into the northern Kingdom of Israel proper and the southern Kingdom of Judah, centered on Jerusalem, the Temple retained its importance primarily for the southern kingdom; the northern kingdom had temples of its own. But even the southern kingdom officially retained other places of worship, both of Yahweh and of other gods.
The prophetic movement, which arose in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C., played the most important role in the gradual development of Judaism into a dogmatic religion. Sermons of the prophets were recorded beginning in the eighth century B.C. In the beginning the prophets did not insist on the universality of Yahweh but declared him a “jealous god” who did not permit his “chosen people” to worship other gods. There arose the concept of the “covenant,” or “testament,” between the tribes of Israel and Yahweh, according to which the former allegedly pledged not to worship other gods and to carry out Yahweh’s wishes while Yahweh promised to give them authority over Palestine. Circumcision was declared the external sign of the covenant; actually circumcision was a rite practiced by many other peoples of the ancient East and a survival of the initiation rite that accepted a boy into the community of warriors. Some prophets protested against various manifestations of social injustice while continuing to defend the slaveholder ideology, which was universal at the time.
The destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrian siege in 700 B.C. were used by the prophets to spread their ideas among the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah.
The books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, which were ascribed to Moses, who, according to legend, led the Israelites during their nomadic period, were essentially composed in the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries B.C. These books expounded the mythical past of the Israelites, in addition to their legal and ethical norms, in the spirit of the concepts of the covenant and the jealous god; the rituals and many elements of the mythological world view were taken from earlier religious traditions. The books interpreting the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah from the point of view of the fulfillment or nonfulfillment of Yahweh’s conditions by the kings and the population also date from the eigthth, seventh, and sixth centuries B.C. By the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. the prophets already began to deny the existence of other gods except Yahweh, but there is evidence that the population continued to worship other gods as late as the fifth century B.C. A manuscript of Deuteronomy, which sums up the teachings of the prophets, was “discovered” when King Josiah rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem in 622 B.C. In the early fourth century B.C., Deuteronomy, together with the other four books of Moses, became known as the Pentateuch, or Torah (Law), the part of the Holy Scripture, or Bible, most revered in Judaism. Subsequently all social ills that befell the ethnic groups practicing the Judaic religion were explained by deviations from the letter of the Torah. This made for the dogmatic character of Judaism and the great importance attached to the literally exact fulfillment of the rituals prescribed by the Torah.
In 587 B.C. the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II resettled a large part of the Judahites in Babylonia and the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. Among the resettled Judahites the prophet Ezekiel preached the restoration of Israel, but this time as a theocratic state with a new Temple in Jerusalem as its center. The state was to be founded by a descendant of King David, or the Messiah. The Iranian religion influenced the development of Judaism during the period of Babylonian captivity.
Under the Persian dynasty of the Achaemenids the Judahites were returned to Jerusalem, which had become a self-governing Temple city (sixth and fifth centuries B.C.), and a new “Second Temple” of Yahweh was built. But the leaders of the new religious community, Ezra and Nehemiah, did not accept into this community the Judahites who had not gone into captivity and the Israelites who had remained in Palestine, under the pretext that they had mixed with people who worshipped other gods. The rejected groups created a separate community, the Samaritans, who live in Palestine to this day. After Ezra, the isolation of the practicing Jews—under the pretext that they are the chosen people—became one of the most important dogmas of Judaism; later, however, circumcision and the fulfillment of the demands of the Torah were recognized as sufficient conditions for entering into the covenant with god, regardless of the convert’s origin.
In the third and second centuries B.C., a large number of Judahites were resettled by their Hellenic conquerors in Egypt, Syria, and Armenia. Judah itself, the site of a bitter class struggle, saw the rise of various currents within Judaism—for example, the Essenes, who condemned the official orientation of Judaism (the Pharisees) and preached asceticism and primitive social equality. Christianity too was originally a Judaic sect and only later became a separate religion, distinct from Judaism. However, the Christian Bible incorporated the Judaic holy books in their entirety (the Old Testament, or the ancient covenant, as distinct from the New Testament, or the Gospel).
The canon of the Holy Scriptures of Judaism was definitively established in about 100 B.C. The canon included the Torah, the Prophets (written records of religious and political speeches and historical books of a prophetic nature), and the Writings (books of a different nature recognized as conforming to the dogmas of Judaism, including the books of Ruth, Esther, and Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs). When the written canon was introduced, literacy became mandatory for all males of the Judaic religious community; this rule was retained throughout the Middle Ages.
After two uprisings against Roman rule (the Jewish War of A.D. 66–73 and the Bar Kochba uprising of A.D. 132–135), the Jews were banished from Jerusalem.
The most important ritual innovation of the Diaspora was the replacement of worship in the Temple, which, according to dogma, could be done only in Jerusalem, by prayer assemblies in synagogues under the leadership of rabbis, or teachers of the religious law, instead of priests; the rabbis also usually governed the civil and legal life of the members of the religious community. The religious teachings of Judaism were further elaborated by commentaries on the Bible (the Mishnah; completed by the third century A.D.) and the Gemara, a collection of legal (halakah) and folkloric (agadah) interpretations of biblical texts, often incredibly lapidary, nebulous in form, subjective, and contradictory; the Gemara and the Mishnah together form the Talmud (completed by the fifth century A.D.). The development of the religious and philosophical foundation of Judaism (especially monotheism) was influenced by Hellenistic idealist philosophy and early medieval (including Arabic) Neoplatonism and Aris-totelianism. In the 12th century Maimonides generalized the teachings of early medieval Judaism: the unity of an incorporeal and eternal god who is the creator of all things and who has revealed to man through Moses and the prophets the eternity of the Torah, the expectation of the Messiah, retribution after death for one’s deeds, and resurrection of the dead.
Jews who lived in areas dominated by other dogmatic religions were subjected to legal restrictions and sometimes even to the cruelest persecution; this was true especially in the Christian countries, since Christianity blamed the Jewish religious community of the first century A.D. for the death of Jesus. At the same time the dogma of Judaism, which called for isolation of the Jews from those of other religions, made it easier for the authorities of the Christian states to create Jewish ghettos. Despite the artificial seclusion of adherents of Judaism, several medieval kingdoms, in an attempt to escape the political influence of the great Christian powers, adopted the religion (for example, the Khazar kingdom in the Volga region in the late eighth and early ninth centuries). The Karaite sect, which arose during the eighth century in Iraq, Syria, and Palestine, rejected the rabbinate and all rabbinical commentaries on the Bible. Mystical teachings spread among Jews, such as cabala, of which the most important work was the Zohar of Moses de Léon in the 13th century. The cabala also influenced later religious and philosophical Judaic literature, such as Joseph Caro’s Shulkhan Arukh in the 16th century, a code of ethics that regulated the life of believers down to the smallest detail.
In the 17th century a movement arose around the mystic and adventurer Sabbatai Zebi of Turkey, who had declared himself the Messiah; his movement found numerous followers among Jews of many countries, who mistakenly sought in Zebi’s teachings salvation from social oppression. The collapse of this movement and deterioration in the conditions of the Jews both in the ghettos of Europe and in Asia and Africa produced, on the one hand, still greater isolation from other peoples, and, on the other hand, Hasidism, a movement founded by the Ba’al Shem Tov in the middle of the 18th century that rejected the authority of the rabbis and preached the personal communion of the believer with god through the most pious, or zaddikim. Both movements contributed to the deprivation of civil rights of the Jews and their alienation from general democratic movements.
In the second half of the 19th century a movement for the reform of Judaism arose among Jews in Germany, the USA, and other countries. The reformers wanted to bring Judaism closer to Protestantism, in an attempt to adapt Judaism to the established bourgeois system and to place it in the service of capitalism. According to the reformers, messianism, the expectation of the restoration of the Temple, and the creation of a theocratic state in Jerusalem should be understood figuratively, as a future realization of the ethical ideals of mankind that are supposedly contained in Judaism. However, orthodox Judaism remained the dominant current among Jews, especially in the USA and in Eastern Europe.
Judaism does not recognize temples and has no ecclesiastical hierarchy; synagogues are maintained by contributions from believers (capitalists make large contributions to their maintenance). The Synagogue Council of America in the USA manages several educational institutions.
Judaism is the official religion of the state of Israel. The synagogues, like the organizations of other religions, are financed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs; the rabbinate has judicial functions in family matters, marriage, and other affairs concerning Jews.
The major holidays of Judaism are the Sabbath, when all work is prohibited, including the cooking of food and traveling; the tenth day after the lunar New Year (the day of purification, or Yom Kippur), a time of fasting and atonement; Pesach, or Passover, in the spring; Pentecost; the Festival of Booths in the fall, followed in seven or eight days by a holiday of “rejoicing in the Torah.” At the age of 13 a boy professing Judaism passes through the rite of bar mitzvah, which introduces him into the community of believers; at that time he must show his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and make an appropriate speech in Hebrew. The life of people practicing Judaism is burdened by a multiplicity of archaic restrictions, rituals, and dietary taboos.
Judaism, as a religion, as well as Talmudic ritualism, prevents the Jewish working masses from understanding the true causes of social oppression. Judaism, like other religions, has always been a tool in the hands of the ruling and exploiting classes for the spiritual oppression of the working masses. Judaism has been taken over by Zionism, which is at present the official ideology of the state of Israel. Attempting to win over the masses of working Jews and to divert them from the world revolutionary labor and national liberation movements as well as to justify Israel’s expansionist policies, Zionism began to use the tenets of Judaism for its political aims (for example, messianism, which proposes the creation of a new, “ideal” Israel, with Jerusalem as its center, that would include the whole of Palestine). Since the second quarter of the 20th century Zionism has found support among the most reactionary Jews, especially in the USA. In its chauvinist and annexationist policy Zionism makes use of the Judaic dogma that the Jews are god’s chosen people and employs Judaism to substantiate the concept of a “worldwide Jewish nation” and other reactionary positions.
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Judaism has a rich tradition of dream interpretation. The interest of Jews in dreams was particularly stimulated during their captivity in Babylon, where dream divination was a widespread practice. The Jews, like other peoples in this region, distinguished between good and evil dreams.
The Babylonian Talmud, the largest collection of Jewish sacred writings, is full of references to dreams, rules for interpreting dreams, and means of avoiding evil dreams. The Berakhot section of the Babylonian Talmud contains a number of rabbinic stories, teachings, and reflections on dream interpretation. One common theme is that dream interpretation represents an important but very difficult and complex matter, since dreams are always enigmatic. Thus, interpreters must be very careful to distinguish meaningful and revelatory dreams from worthless ones (“just as there is no wheat without straw, so there is no dream without worthless things”).
Several Jewish prophets gave warnings against false dreams and false interpreters, recognizing that religious heresy might arise from bad interpretation. Rabbinic Judaism laid considerable emphasis on interpretation. According to the rabbis, a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not read, and without conscious elaboration, a dream’s meaning is lost. Many dreams are linked to Jewish Scripture, relating words in dreams to important passages from the Torah.
The Jews had become worshipers of the one God rather than of many special gods, and this idea was reflected in their view of dreams. God alone could be the source of the divine revelations that came in dreams. And, since He was the God of the Jews, they believed He usually spoke clearly to them. In some cases, when the wishes of Jehovah are communicated by an angelic messenger, it is hard to distinguish between dreams and waking visions. In other cases, the dreamer hears the voice of God, or may like Solomon in Gideon, see the Lord himself.
Almost all symbolic dreams in the Old Testament are dreamed by Gentiles. Important examples are the enigmatic messages sent to non-Jews, such as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, that only Jews were able to interpret (in these cases, Joseph and Daniel, respectively). Although the Jews had begun to give special emphasis to dream theory, they continued to classify dreams in much the same way as the peoples in neighboring territories.