“”You are not practicing Judaism if you celebrate Christmas.
“”Now I know I haven't been the best Jew, but I did rent Fiddler on the Roof, and I will watch it!
|—Homer Simpson in Homer's Triple Bypass, the 11th episode in season 4 of The Simpsons|
Judaism is the first Abrahamic religion comprising the collective religious, cultural, and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people, also sometimes called Israelites. Due to their overwhelming refusal over the centuries to convert to either of the other two Abrahamic faiths — Christianity 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 Teaching"), the books of the prophets, or Nevi'im ("the Prophets"), and the K'tuvim ("the Writings"). The great majority also base their practices on a substantial body of exegesis, Rabbinical tradition and commentary known as the Talmud.
Not all Jews practice Judaism as a religion: cultural Judaism is the following of Jewish traditions, diet, festivals, etc, without religious belief, and Jewish atheism also has a significant tradition. Followers of Judaism and ethnic Jews have been subject to different forms of antisemitism. Many conspiracy theories are inherently antisemitic. The general feature of these theories is that Jews are not seen as individuals divided into groups, but as one, homogeneous, conspiring whole. In modern times, the success of Zionism, a political movement that was successful in the establishment of the secular Jewish state of Israel in the region of Israel/Judea/Palestine/whatever you call it, adds to the mix of theories. Not every Jew is an active Zionist, and not everyone living within the current state of Israel is a Zionist Jew. Zionism, or ideological support of the state of Israel, is also common among different denominations of Christianity. Nevertheless, some Christian extremists and conspiracy theorists see an enemy in the Zionists or Jews in general, for example the Ku Klux Klan. Nuttier people incorporate an International Conspiracy involving the Illuminati.
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 (Habakkuk, 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.)
In addition to these differences in religious text, there are several major theological differences between Christianity and Judaism. Judaism, unlike Christianity, focuses more on this life than the afterlife, which is hardly mentioned in their scriptures and highly debatable. For Jews, behavior is also more important than faith. Satan never rebelled against YHWH but was created for the purpose of tempting people — usually Satan is more a symbol than an actual being. Most Jews do not believe in Satan at all, nor do they believe in Hell. It would be blasphemous and a violation of monotheism to regard him as a rival to YHWH, as Satan is in some forms of Christianity. Judaism also rejects the concept of original sin. The Trinity as accepted in one version or another by almost all Christian sects is considered by Jews to be a severe misconstrual of the true, unitary, nature of God.
Judaism arose several thousand years ago in the Middle East, descending apparently from the local polytheistic traditions of twelve (technically thirteen, one of the tribes was in fact a combination of two tribes that held common descent) 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. "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 1200 years BCE 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 and Sephardi), Mesopotamia, Central Asia, 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, 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 1st century CE 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.
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 be of Jewish ancestry. In fact, despite the survival of the Khazar canard among anti-Jewish hate groups, modern descendants 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.
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 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.
- Orthodox: Orthodox Judaism consists of many different sects which have in common a more strict adherence to halakha. Most sects considered Orthodox look forward to the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple on the Temple Mount (currently occupied by the Islamic Al-Aqsa Mosque) in messianic times; 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 gender roles among its worshippers.
- Modern Orthodox: Orthodox Jews who believe that one can embrace and find value in the wider culture while maintaining strict adherence to halachah. This is in contrast to the Ultra-Orthodox, who generally believe that there is little of value in the wider culture and seek to create insular communities protected from what they view as the perverse influences of the outside world.
- Chasidic: Chasidic (or Hasidic) sects are Orthodox sects that tend to have a charismatic leader. Each sect to originated from one original European community, and typically bears the name of the city or town in which it originated. 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. Lubavitch 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 — for many years Lubavitchers promoted their 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 fulfills his destiny will he actually be the messiah). Most Chassidic sects (and there are many) tend be isolationist and insular to greater or lesser degrees. The most extreme examples of insularity are the shtetles (small Jewish towns) of New Square and Kiryas Yoel in upstate New York, populated by members of the Skvere and Satmar sects, respectively.
- 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. They are also known as "ultra-Orthodox", a term they consider disrespectful. In Israel, Haredim control many aspects of civil and family law, leading to many culture clashes between the Haredi religious authorities and the generally less orthodox population. Some Haredi reject the Israeli state as too secular or in its entirety as blasphemy, because - in their view - only the Messiah can declare a new Jewish state. Neturei Karta is a Haredi group that frequently demonstrates against Israel and was in attendance at Ahmadinejad's "Holocaust conference". As can be expected, they are shunned by virtually all other Jewish groups.
"Haredi" is more an Israeli term than an American one. The equivalent community in the United States is usually referred to as "Yeshivish," a reference to the yeshivos (religious schools of higher study) in which men spend part or all of their adult lives, and whose deans function as community leaders.
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 system will be restored in any form. The term Masorti (roughly, "traditionalist")[note 1] is becoming more popular in Israel, perhaps in part due to the loaded meaning of the word "conservative" in English. Conservative Judaism, however, has no connection with conservative Christianity and political conservatives. The term Masorti is used exclusively in Israel, but conservative Judaism is much less popular there than in the United States, with the vast majority of Jews either being Orthodox or fully secular.
- 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 20th 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 patrilineal descent (more accurately bilineal 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 some other places, like Ireland) and is the term used by the largest umbrella group of liberal congregations.
- Reconstructionist: in some ways, both more 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 that God is not a conscious being able to communicate with humans, but a symbolic entity representing the drives for self-improvement and moral fulfillment and stating that the Torah was a product of the Jewish people's social and cultural development), Reconstructionist Judaism places a greater emphasis on Jewish tradition, though it does so in the sense of a cultural tradition than that of a religion and subordinates it to secular morality. It also puts a greater emphasis on social justice.[note 2]
- Humanist: a non-theistic Jewish movement which stresses Jewish ethics and traditions in the absence of a god.
- Secular: Very common in Israel, secular Jews identify as Jewish culturally but not religiously, not even qualifying as reform in terms of their religious practices. They consider themselves Jewish in the same way others would consider themselves American or French. They are drawn to Israel because of this cultural connection, rather than a spiritual connection. A sizable portion of Israeli Jews consider themselves secular, but the concept is virtually unheard-of in other countries.
- Jewish Atheism partially overlapping with secular Judaism, it is entirely possible for a Jew to not believe in god and still consider himself culturally Jewish and even keep to some mitzvot as culturally important and significant. Interestingly, some Zionists have also been Atheists. Perhaps the best known Jewish Atheist in history was Theodor Herzl, the Founder of Modern Zionism, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general in chief during the war of 1967, David Ben Gurion, the first President of Israel, and Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel.
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 (Or Judaized Christianity?) 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 also 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 Jewish converts to Christianity), because of their choice of Messiah, are considered apostate Jews or not real Jews by the vast bulk of mainline Judaism. Many Jews consider Messianic Judaism to be less Christianized Judaism than Christianity with some of the trappings of Judaism and Jewish culture superimposed, the better to proselytize to unwitting Jews. It is generally not considered Judaism at all, much less a sect of Judaism.
- 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 Tanakh. At one point they were 40% of the Jewish population, although they have dwindled. The relationship between Rabbinic Judaism and Karaism has sometimes been fractured.
- 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. A longstanding antisemitic conspiracy theory in Turkey alleges that "Dönmeh" (real or imagined) are responsible for all ills that have befallen Turkey and that they secretly control everything.
- Jewish Renewal: Jewish Renewal is a movement endeavoring to reinvigorate modern Judaism with Kabbalistic, Hasidic, and musical practices. Specifically, it seeks to reintroduce the "ancient Judaic traditions of mysticism and meditation, gender equality and ecstatic prayer" to synagogue services. In other words, a New Age approach to Judaism.
Relative numbers in US
A 2003 Harris survey in the US found that Jews who are members of a synagogue break down thus:
- Reform 38%
- Conservative 33%
- Orthodox 22%
- Reconstructionist 2%
- Other 5%
The main divisions in the UK are:
- Haredi - 18% of synagogue members
- Modern Orthodox (aka Central Orthodox) - 52% (fallen from 66% in 1990)
- Masorti (Conservative in the US) - 3%
- Movement for Reform Judaism - 19%
- Liberal Judaism - 8%
- Sephardi/Mizrachi - 3%
- Other (including informal and non-denominational groups) - figure not given
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 (since ethnic Jews often 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, like how everyone's the same religion but still feuds in Lord of the Rings.
- 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 overwhelming majority of American Jews, slightly under half of Israeli Jews, and 80% of all Jews are of Ashkenazi ethnicity. At one time split further into "German" (Western European) and "Russian" (Eastern European) Jews, and the Russian further split into "Litvuk" (Lithuanian) and "Galatzianer" (Polish/Ukrainian, named for the historical region known as Halych/Galicia/Galiezen which straddles the border of said countries) but no one really cares about these distinctions anymore.
- Sephardim: Jews whose ancestry lies in Spain, Portugal, from which they were expelled in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They later settled in areas including the Balkans, the Netherlands, Latin America, and the Middle East. They tend to be slightly more liberal than Ashkenazim, as Sephardic Jews were historically not subject to the same restrictions as Ashkenazim. They do get annoyed when Ashkenazim assume all non-Ashkenazim are Sephardim, even though it's partially true (see below). Like Ashkenazim with Yiddish, Sephardim originally spoke Spanish derived "Ladino", but the Nazis and cultural assimilation have caused this language to nearly die out with only a few elderly speakers remaining today. In the Middle Ages the vast majority of Jews worldwide were Sephardim and during the American Revolution almost all American Jews (as well as the oldest congregations) were Sephardim.
- Mizrahim: Jews whose ancestry lies in the Middle East, including those who inhabited Israel/Palestine prior to the foundation of the state of Israel. Became culturally Sephardic starting when the Jews were ethnically cleansed from Spain in 1492 (when Columbus sailed... nevermind) and migrated to the Ottoman Empire and mixed with the local Jews. A 19th century plague in Baghdad killed the last of the Mizrahi Rabbis, and some Sephardi Rabbis were invited in to replace them. Today Mizrahi Jews follow the Sephardi minhag (rite), making the distinction between them mainly historical and ethnic instead of religious, whereas Ashkenazim follow their own rites. The majority of Mizrahi Jews left their home countries for various reasons after the founding of Israel.
- Bukharian: Also called Binai Israel, from Central Asia, mostly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and numbering as much as 200,000 worldwide. They arrived around 500 BCE during the Neo-Babylonian period, and so "missed out" on several events in Judaism, notably Channuka. A subset, the Chala people, are more Islamic than Judaic theologically and by practice, but still identify as Jewish. In the 18th century, a Sephardi Rabbi 'discovered' them and they also became somewhat culturally Sephardic. Now with Channuka.
- Beta Israel: Jews whose ancestry lies in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Ethiopia. There was a controversy regarding their ethnic and religious Jewishness in the past, but since Israel flew out the majority of them during political turmoil and famine in Ethiopia, their Jewishness is mostly questioned by racists who want to keep Israel "white". However, differences in theology and Hebrew proficiency are notable.
- 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, Persian Jews, Bukharan Jews in Central Asia, etc.
- 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
Jon Lovitz "Hanukkah Harry" are mixed in with the traditional lighting of Hanukkah candles, the getting bloated on latkes, and the playing of dreidel (gambling for chocolate).
- Masorti is cognate with "Masoretic", the common name for the received text of the Tanakh.
- Reconstructionist Judaism is not to be confused with Christian Reconstructionism, a super-extreme Dominionist stance advocating literal Biblical Law.
- See the Wikipedia article on Cultural Judaism.
- See the Wikipedia article on Jewish atheism.
- Jewish faith and God
- The Jewish view of Satan
- Original Sin
- Roitman, Adolfo D. JSTOR. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.
- Psalm 82 appears to be a remnant of this, in which their God deals the smackdown to unnamed other "gods", like his ex wife Asherah.
- 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.
- "Who is a Reconstructionist Jew?". Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.
- "He [Chaim Maccoby] spoke out ever more vehemently against Herzl, the self-confessed atheist, and his followers, refusing to preach at one federation synagogue because it dared to host a branch of the Zionist Federation." Geoffrey Alderman, 'Maccoby, Chaim Zundel (1858–1916)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 (accessed May 2, 2008).
- David S. New (2013). Holy War. McFarland. ISBN 9781476603919. Herzl, for example, was an atheist.
- Giulio Meotti (2011). A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism. p. 147. Template:ISBN. "Even atheist and socialist Israelis like David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir were marked by the stories and legends of King David and the prophets. In other words, their lives had been shaped by Hebron."
- Messianic Judaism
- Karaism in Rabbinic Jewish opinion
- See the Wikipedia article on American Jews.
- Branches of Judaism, Religion Media Centre, April 18, 2018
- For your viewing pleasure