Bronze-level articleJudaism

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Judaism

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Judaism is the first Abrahamic religion. Due to their refusal over the centuries to accept Christianity and/or Islam, and their traditionally strong cultural coherence, Jews are frequently made the subject of numerous conspiracy theories and libels, as well as pogroms and genocides (by far the most notable being the Holocaust of World War II). All forms of Judaism have in common the Tanakh as their primary scriptures. The Tanakh is made up of the five books of Moses, or Torah ("the Law"), the books of the prophets, or Nevi'im ("the Prophets"), and the Ketuvim ("the Writings"). The overwhelming majority also base their practices on a substantial body of exegesis, Rabbinical tradition and commentary known as the Talmud.

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[edit] Jewish and Christian scriptures compared

The books of the Tanakh were (with some slight variation) adopted by Christians as the Old Testament of their Bible. The same books are accepted as legitimate by Protestants and Jews, but the Jews divide their Tanakh in to 24 books instead of 39, collapsing the twelve Minor Prophets (Habbakuk, etc.) in to one book, and Ezra and Nehemiah in to one book (and often both parts of Samuel and Kings in two books instead of four). The order is also much different, with Chronicles being placed at the end, lending a chronology that's self-contained - it ends with the Jews back in the Holy Land. The Christian arrangement ends with a bunch of "Messianic Double-Fulfillment Prophecies" (Isaiah and Daniel) supposedly foretelling the coming of Jesus and the New Testament, and Paul's Judas' betrayal of him. Jews do not accept the additional books (called the deuterocanon or apocrypha) that the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian Churches accept as scripture to a lesser or greater degree (1 and 2 Tobit, Wisdom of Solomon, Additions to Ruth and Daniel, Judith, 1, 2, 3 and 4 Maccabees, etc.)

[edit] Origins

Judaism arose several thousand years ago in the Middle East, descending apparently from the local polytheistic traditions of thirteen (not twelve) tribes of an ethnic group known as the Hebrews (traditionally, the ancient nations of Israel, Judah, Edom, Moab, and Ammon); these people may have had their origins in itinerant tribes known in Egyptian as "Habiru" in the ancient Middle East. The precise origin is lost to history, but is described with unknown accuracy in Biblical mythology (dealt with in depth at Wikipedia). According to the Book of Judith, Holofernes, when he inquired of the lineage of the Israelites, was told they were of Chaldean descent: Judith 5:6: This people are descended of the Chaldeans.[1] "Jewish" is a relatively modern term applied to the descendants of the Israelites or Hebrews, specifically those whose ancestry primarily traces to Judah, occupying the central regions of the areas now known as the state of Israel and the West Bank; the word "Jewish" itself is a specifically English spelling deriving from an earlier form of the French juif. Depending on sources, historical/archaeological records of the Jews appear approximately twelve hundred years before the Common Era with the disappearance of pig bones from area trash heaps.

The Jewish kingdoms in Canaan were often at war with neighboring kingdoms, leading to several periods of Exile and Return. After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, the modern Diaspora took place, scattering the Jewish population throughout the world, but especially into Europe (the Ashkenazi), Mesopotamia, and North Africa.

Judaism has gone through a great many developments since its early origins among Hebrew-speaking Canaanites during the Bronze Age, from being a (possibly polytheistic) form of the traditional Middle Eastern temple-state traditionally based around Jerusalem to a Monolatry,[2] to the modern variants of Rabbinical Judaism with no temple at all. From its early origins, Judaism began to take its modern shape with the earliest codification of the Torah (the Jewish law) in the reign of King Josiah of Judah (known to Biblical scholars as the Deuteronomic Reform), though it retained its priestly trappings until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Roman Empire c.70 CE. Modern Judaism derives from the legal codes of the Pharisees, a scholarly branch of the faith that was one of three major factions in first-century Judaism (the other significant ones were the Saducees, a faction that preferred emphasis on priestly functions, and Essenes, largely a monastic and ascetic tradition represented in the Bible by John the Baptist). The Pharisees were the ones whose philosophies survived the collapse of the Jewish state and the purge of the other branches; marginalized earlier was the Hellenistic tradition that attempted to combine the widening influence of the Greeks with Jewish tradition that resulted in the creation of the Septuagint, the Greek-language version of the Tanakh still used by the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches.[3]

Hungarian-British author Arthur Koestler wrote a book called The Thirteenth Tribe, which speculated that a great number of Ashkenazic Jews are descended not from ancient Hebrews, but from a Turkish tribe called the Khazars, who ruled in much of what is now southwest Russia and Georgia and converted to Judaism en masse. Anti-semites seized on this hypothesis as proof that modern Jews were not truly Jewish at all but usurpers, and that those who had Semitic ancestry came not from Judah but the Edomites of the Negev desert (these claims are circulated widely in the Arab world as part of anti-Israel propaganda). Modern genetic studies have largely disproved the Khazar hypothesis and supported Levantine ancestry for the vast majority of modern Jews, even going so far as to prove the existence of a Y-chromosomal Aaron (again, more at Wikipedia) who is a common ancestor of a great many Jews identified as being of priestly ancestry; this and similar genetic markers have been used to support some claims of widely distributed groups throughout Africa and western Asia to Jewish ancestry. In fact, despite the survival of the Khazar canard among anti-Jewish hate groups, modern descendents of the Khazars have yet to be positively identified. Oddly enough Koestler himself was Jewish and a non religious Zionist, he actually believed that his book would help end anti-Semitism. The Khazar argument was also used to save Karaite (non-Rabbinic) Jews in Eastern Europe from anti-Semitic persecution.

[edit] Modern denominations

The following describes the general divisions of Judaism as they're known in the United States; the exact terminology sometimes differs in other countries. One should keep under consideration is the fact that most Jews, regardless of the orthodoxy of their beliefs, tend to view other Jews as all belonging to the same religious identity, in contrast to many Christian sects which view themselves as separate from each other.

[edit] Orthodox Judaism

  • Orthodox: Orthodox Judaism consists of many different sects which have in common a more strict adherence to halakha. Most sects considered Orthodox support the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple, though not all are necessarily insistent on it being built on the Temple Mount (currently occupied by the Islamic Al-Aqsa mosque); as a result, Orthodox teachings preserve a special role for those identified as Kohanim (priests of the line of Aaron) and Levites (other members of the tribe of Levi). In modern society, Orthodox Judaism is often criticized for intolerance of more liberal Jews and for maintaining strict sex roles among its worshippers.
  • Chasidic: Chasidic (or Hasidic) sects are Orthodox sects that tend to have a charismatic leader. Also, followers tend to originate from one original European commmunity. Chasidim are particularly known for their distinctive appearance, including heavy beards, traditional clothing, and sidelocks (known as peyes in Yiddish), which derive from Biblical admonitions on how to dress and cut one's hair. Chasidim are the most openly proselytizing among Jews (although only to lapsed Jews, rather than to those of other religions), as well as the most messianic — the Lubavitcher sect, in particular, for many years promoted its own leader, the Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, as the Jewish moshiach until his death in the 1990s (and some Lubavitchers continue to believe that Schneerson is the moshiach, claiming he will return to earth in the future -- but, since they're not totally mad, they believe that the Moshiach is born into every generation, but only when he fulfils his destiny will he actually be the messiah).
  • Haredi: Essentially Jewish fundamentalists, the Haredi are extremely conservative in theology and lifestyle, and in Israel have been known to harass people who do not follow Haredic mores. Known also as "ultra-Orthodox", a term considered disrespectful by Jews. In Israel, Haredim control many aspects of civil and family law, leading to many culture clashes between the haredi religious authorities and the on average less orthodox population.

[edit] Liberal Judaism

Judaism has several more liberal sects (often describing themselves as movements), with varying degrees of adherence to halakha. Adherents of liberal Jewish sects generally are less strict about observance than many Orthodox, and generally more accepting of gender and class equality as well as Western moral ideals. A few on the fringe practice syncretist faiths with aspects of Buddhism or neopaganism or are outright atheist, treating Jewish practice as a cultural rather than religious observance. Many liberal Jewish congregations (mostly Reform and Reconstructionist, but also many but not all Conservative) permit female rabbis, and as a general rule tend to be more tolerant of homosexuality and intermarriage.

  • Conservative or Masorti: While often thought of as falling between Reform and Orthodox, Conservative Jews have unique practices of their own. They still maintain the use of halakha, but do not always require a specific role for Kohanim or Levites. They use more Hebrew in their liturgy than Reform Jews, but they do not resemble the strictly Orthodox in their practices (in particular, Conservative congregations do not enforce liturgical separation of the sexes). Unlike their Reform counterparts the Conservative Movement does believe that a Messiah or "redeemer" will come back and construct a Third Temple, but unlike their Orthodox counterparts, Conservative Jews do not believe the sacrificial cult will be restored in any form. The term Masorti (roughly, "traditionalist")[4] is becoming more popular due to the loaded meaning of the word "conservative" in English. Conservative Judaism has no connection with conservative Christianity and political conservatives.
  • Reform or Progressive: Originated in 19th century Germany as a "modernization" of Jewish traditions. Adherents often designed their synagogues and services (but not liturgy) to more closely follow those of their Christian neighbors. This is currently the most popular sect in the United States (of those Jews who affiliate with a synagogue). In the twentieth century a large influx of Jews from the more theologically conservative movements began to affiliate themselves with this movement, as a result many congregations adopted a "traditionalist" practice (e.g. the readdition of Hebrew to the service). Reform Jews do not hold that halakha applies literally to modern life and are somewhat disdained by more conservative Jews (comedian Jackie Mason included a chapter lambasting Reform Jews in his recent book Schmucks). Many do not keep strictly kosher except during high holidays such as Passover. Reform's eschatology is radically different from many other Jewish sects, since it holds that a Messiah will not come, resurrect the dead, restore the 12 Tribes to the land of Zion, build a Third Temple, and resume ritual sacrifices. Partially as a consequence, Reform had traditionally been anti-Zionist, however, since the founding of the modern state of Israel those sentiments are very rare amongst Reform Jews. In 1983 the Reform Movement adopted a very controversial doctrine often described as patralinial descent (more accurately bilinial descent) in determining the question of the identities of Jewish children born of intermarriages. Most Jewish congregations known as "Reform" fall under a larger umbrella known as "Progressive Judaism"; while a later coinage than Reform, Progressive is generally the term used by those who live in Israel and is the term used by the largest umbrella group of liberal congregations.
  • Reconstructionist: in some ways, a both more liberal and less theologically liberal than Reform. It was founded in the 1930s as an offshoot of the Conservative Movement. While often more flexible in theology (for example, many Reconstructionist congregations teach no specific model of God), Reconstructionist Judaism places a greater emphasis on Jewish tradition, though subordinating it to Western cultural norm.[5]
  • Humanist: a non-theistic Jewish movement which stresses Jewish ethics and traditions in the absence of a god.

[edit] Other Jewish sects

There are some Jewish sects that fall outside the accepted concept of orthodox vs. liberal.

  • Messianic: Messianic Judaism is a sect of Christianized Judaism which follows Jewish traditions and holidays, but accepts Jesus as the Messiah, and considers themselves the true inheritors of Jewish tradition, rather than other Jewish sects or Christianity. Some Chasidic Jews could be called "messianic" in that they sometimes believe the Messianic Age to be imminent, but Messianic Jews (sometimes called "Jews for Jesus", the name of a specific organization of Christianized Jews), because of their choice of Messiah, are considered apostate Jews or not real Jews by the vast bulk of mainline Judaism. [6]
  • Karaite: Karaism, once much more popular but now largely restricted to Israel and a few isolated congregations in the Middle East and North America, is a small movement of Jews who reject the Oral Law and follow only the Torah. Though traditionalist in practice, they are generally not accepted by mainline Judaism, especially the Orthodox.
  • Samaritanism: Its followers do not consider themselves Jewish per se, but trace their origins to those left behind in Israel and Judah after the Biblical exiles and later rejected by the returning Jews under Ezra. They are thought to number approximately 700, mostly in Israel, and use a form of the Torah similar to that used by Hellenistic Jews before the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty.
  • Dönmeh: A sect of Turkish crypto-Jews descended from the followers of 17th century would-be Messiah Sabbatai Zvi, the Dönmeh are outwardly integrated with the local Muslim population but still follow Jewish practices in private. Like the Messianic Jews, they are not recognized by mainstream Judaism, though other followers of Zvi (known as Sabbateans) are not so stigmatized.

[edit] Ethnic groups

The word "Jews" is used to refer to both practitioners of the religion of Judaism and people who are ethnically Jewish. The two usages are fundamentally intertwined (most ethnic Jews practice Judaism), but an ethnic Jew who converts to another religion may still be considered Jewish, as may someone who is not ethnically Jewish but converts to Judaism. There are several Jewish ethnic groups with different practices. There is no conflict between them beyond a friendly rivalry, and the occasional bit of racism.

  • Ashkenazim: Jews whose ancestry lies in Central or Eastern Europe. When people think of Jews, they usually think of Ashkenazic Jews. Nearly all Chasidim are Ashkenazic. The majority of American Jews are of Ashkenazi ethnicity.
  • Sephardim: Jews whose ancestry lies in Spain, Portugal, the Balkans, or outside Europe. They tend to be slightly more liberal than Ashkenazim, as Sephardic Jews were historically not subject to the same restrictions as Ashkenazim.
  • Mizrahim: Jews whose ancestry lies in the Middle East, including those who inhabited Israel/Palestine prior to the foundation of the state of Israel.
  • Bukharan: also called Binai Israel, from Central Asia, mostly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and numbering as much as 200,000 worldwide. A subset, the Chala people are more Islamic than Judaic theologically and by practice, but still identify as Jewish.
  • Beta Israel: Jews whose ancestry lies in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Ethiopia.
  • There are also numerous smaller Jewish ethnicities from smaller geographical areas, such as the Kaifeng Jews of China, the Mountain or Highland Jews of the Caucasus, the Cochin Jews of India, the Krimchak Jews of the Crimea, etc.

[edit] Holidays

Main article: Jewish holidays

Jewish holidays are observed according to the lunisolar Hebrew calendar, and so their dates move around in the Gregorian calendar from year to year. The Jewish New Year is called Rosh HaShanah. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is one of the least important holidays in Judaism, contrary to what Western popular culture thinks. It has nothing to do with Christmas, and many Jews oppose religious syncretism, whereby "Hanukkah bushes" ("Jewish" Christmas trees) and "Hanukkah Harry" (the "Jewish" Santa Claus) are mixed in with the traditional lighting of Hanukkah candles and the playing of dreidel.

Since the Christian holiday of Easter is based on the Jewish Passover, Easter is also a "moveable feast."

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Roitman, Adolfo D. JSTOR. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.
  2. Psalm 82 appears to be a remnant of this, in which their God deals the smackdown to unnamed other "gods".
  3. Finkelstein/Silberman, The Bible Unearthed. Writer Christopher Hitchens has put forth the idea that Hanukkah, the celebration of the Maccabean overthrow of Greek hegemony over Judah, actually represented a celebration of a step backwards for Judaism, an idea that remains more than a little controversial due to Hitchens' characteristic bomb-throwing style of argumentation.
  4. Masorti is cognate with "Masoretic", the common name for the received text of the Tanakh.
  5. Reconstructionist Judaism is not to be confused with Christian Reconstructionism, a super-extreme Dominionist stance advocating literal Biblical Law.
  6. Messianic Judaism
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