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OVERVIEW OF JUDAISM, JEWISH RELIGION
Overview of Judaism, Jewish ReligionJudaism doesn't easily fit into common Western categories such as religion, race, ethnicity, or culture. Following is a brief history of Jewish beliefs, history and culture.
It is important to understand Judaism in terms of its 4,000-year Jewish history. During this stretch of time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic self-government, theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile; they have been in contact, and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism.
Judaism is based on strict unitarian monotheism, the belief in one God. The prayer par excellence in terms of defining God is the Shema Yisrael, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One", also translated as "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is unique/alone."
God is conceived of as eternal, the creator of the universe, and the source of morality. God has the power to intervene in the world. The term God thus corresponds to an actual ontological reality, and is not merely a projection of the human psyche. Maimonides describes God in this fashion: "There is a Being, perfect in every possible way, who is the ultimate cause of all existence. All existence depends on God and is derived from God."
The Hebrew Bible and classical rabbinic literature affirm theism and reject deism. However, in the writings of medieval Jewish philosophers, influenced by neo-Aristotelian philosophy, one finds what can be termed deistic tendencies. These views still exist in Judaism today.
God is OneThe idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical for Jews to hold; it is considered akin to polytheism. Interestingly, while Jews hold that such conceptions of God are incorrect, they generally are of the opinion that gentiles that hold such beliefs are not held culpable.
God is all-powerfulMost rabbinic works present God as having the properties of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence (being all good). This is still the primary ways that most Orthodox and many non-Orthodox Jews view God.
The issue of theodicy was raised again, especially after the extreme horrors of the Holocaust and several theological responses surfaced. These are discussed in a separate entry on Holocaust theology. The central questions they address are whether and how God is all powerful and all good, given the existence of evil in the world, particularly the Holocaust.
God is personal, and cares about humanityHarold Kushner, a Conservative rabbi, writes that "God shows His love for us by reaching down to bridge the immense gap between Him and us. God shows His love for us by inviting us to enter into a Covenant (brit) with Him, and by sharing with us His Torah". Hasidism seems to endorse this view to some degree. On the other hand, Maimonides and most other medieval Jewish philosophers rejected the idea of a personal God.
Judaism - Jewish Holy BooksThe Tanakh and the Talmud are the main holy books in Judaism. The Tanakh contains the Written Torah, the writings of the major prophets, and the writings of the minor prophets. The Talmud contains Judaism's oral law.
Click for more resources: Jewish Book Shelf
Judaism - Jewish Religion and IsraelIsrael chosen for a purpose - God chose the Jewish people to be in a unique covenant with God; the description of this covenant is the Torah itself. Contrary to popular belief, Jewish people do not simply say that "God chose the Jews." This claim, by itself, exists nowhere in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) or the Siddur (the Jewish prayer book). Such a claim could imply that God loves only the Jewish people, that only Jews can be close to God, and that only Jews can have a heavenly reward. The actual claim made is that the Jews were chosen for a specific mission; to be a light unto the nations, and to have a covenant with God as described in the Torah. Reconstructionist Judaism rejects also this variant of chosenness as morally defunct.
Judaism - The Rabbinical View of Jewish HistoryAccording to religious Jews, the Biblical patriarch Abraham was the first Jew. Rabbinic literature records that he was the first to take on the world and proclaim the folly of idolatry. As a result, God promised he would have children, starting with Isaac, who would carry on his work and inherit the land of Israel (then called Canaan) after having been exiled and redeemed. According to the Bible, God gave Isaac's son Jacob the name Israel, meaning "he who struggles with God", and dedicated his descendants to be his nation.
God sent Jacob and his children to Egypt; after they eventually became enslaved, God sent Moses to redeem the Israelites from slavery. After the Exodus from Egypt, God led them to Mount Sinai and give them the Torah, and eventually brought them to the Land of Israel.
God set aside the descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother, to be a priestly class within the Israelite community. They first officiated in the tabernacle (a portable house of worship), and later their descendants officiated in the Temple in Jerusalem
Once they had settled, the tent was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years during which time God provided great men, and occasionally women, to rally the nation after he sent enemies to attack them. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the temple in Shiloh.
The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they had reached the point where they needed a permanent king like other nations had. God knew this was not best for the Jews, but acceded to this request and had Samuel appoint Saul, a great but very humble man, to be their king. When the people pressured Saul into going against a command conveyed to him by Samuel, God told Samuel to appoint David in his stead.
Once David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple. As a reward, God promised David that he would allow his son to build the temple and the throne would never depart from his children. David's son Solomon built the first permanent temple according to God's will, in Jerusalem.
After Solomon's death, the kingdom was split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Israel had a variety of kings, but after a few hundred years, because of the rampant idolatry God allowed Assyria to conquer Israel and exile its people. The kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem and contained the temple, remained under the rulership of the house of David. However, idolatry increased to the point that God allowed Babylon to conquer it, destroy the temple which had stood for 410 years and exile its people to Babylon, with the promise that they would be redeemed after seventy years.
After seventy years the people were allowed back into Israel under the leadership of Ezra, and the temple was rebuilt. This second temple stood for 420 years after which it was destroyed by the Roman general (later emperor) Titus. This is the state in which it is to remain until a descendant of David arises to restore the glory of Israel (the current existence of the Islamic Dome of the Rock doesn't matter to the Rabbinical view).
The Torah given on Mount Sinai was summarized in the five books of Moses and together with the books of the prophets is called the Written Torah. The details which are called the Oral Torah were to remain unwritten. However as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, they were recorded in the Mishna, and the Talmud, as well as other holy books.
Judaism does not easily fit into common Western categories, such as religion, race, ethnicity, or culture. This is because Jews understand Judaism in terms of its 4,000-year history. During this stretch of time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic self-government, theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile; they have been in contact, and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism. Thus, Daniel Boyarin has argued that "Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension."
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