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- Judaism - 1/11 -
By ISRAEL ABRAHAMS, M.A.
READER IN TALMUDIC AND RABBINIC LITERATURE
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
The writer has attempted in this volume to take up a few of the most characteristic points in Jewish doctrine and practice, and to explain some of the various phases through which they have passed, since the first centuries of the Christian era.
The presentation is probably much less detached than is the case with other volumes in this series. But the difference was scarcely avoidable. The writer was not expounding a religious system which has no relation to his own life. On the contrary, the writer is himself a Jew, and thus is deeply concerned personally in the matters discussed in the book.
The reader must be warned to keep this fact in mind throughout. On the one hand, the book must suffer a loss of objectivity; but, on the other hand, there may be some compensating gain of intensity. The author trusts, at all events, that, though he has not written with indifference, he has escaped the pitfall of undue partiality.
I. THE LEGACY FROM THE PAST
II. RELIGION AS LAW
III. ARTICLES OF FAITH
IV. SOME CONCEPTS OF JUDAISM
V. SOME OBSERVANCES OF JUDAISM
VI. JEWISH MYSTICISM
VIII. THE SURVIVAL OF JUDAISM
SELECTED LIST OF BOOKS ON JUDAISM
THE LEGACY FROM THE PAST
The aim of this little book is to present in brief outline some of the leading conceptions of the religion familiar since the Christian Era under the name Judaism.
The word 'Judaism' occurs for the first time at about 100 B.C., in the Graeco-Jewish literature. In the second book of the Maccabees (ii. 21, viii. 1), 'Judaism' signifies the religion of the Jews as contrasted with Hellenism, the religion of the Greeks. In the New Testament (Gal. i. 13) the same word seems to denote the Pharisaic system as an antithesis to the Gentile Christianity. In Hebrew the corresponding noun never occurs in the Bible, and it is rare even in the Rabbinic books. When it does meet us, _Jahaduth_ implies the monotheism of the Jews as opposed to the polytheism of the heathen.
Thus the term 'Judaism' did not pass through quite the same transitions as did the name 'Jew.' Judaism appears from the first as a religion transcending tribal bounds. The 'Jew,' on the other hand, was originally a Judaean, a member of the Southern Confederacy called in the Bible Judah, and by the Greeks and Romans Judaea. Soon, however, 'Jew' came to include what had earlier been the Northern Confederacy of Israel as well, so that in the post-exilic period _Jehudi_ or 'Jew' means an adherent of Judaism without regard to local nationality.
Judaism, then, is here taken to represent that later development of the Religion of Israel which began with the reorganisation after the Babylonian Exile (444 B.C.), and was crystallised by the Roman Exile (during the first centuries of the Christian Era). The exact period which will be here seized as a starting-point is the moment when the people of Israel were losing, never so far to regain, their territorial association with Palestine, and were becoming (what they have ever since been) a community as distinct from a nation. They remained, it is true, a distinct race, and this is still in a sense true. Yet at various periods a number of proselytes have been admitted, and in other ways the purity of the race has been affected. At all events territorial nationality ceased from a date which may be roughly fixed at 135 A.D., when the last desperate revolt under Bar-Cochba failed, and Hadrian drew his Roman plough over the city of Jerusalem and the Temple area. A new city with a new name arose on the ruins. The ruins afterwards reasserted themselves, and Aelia Capitolina as a designation of Jerusalem is familiar only to archaeologists.
But though the name of Hadrian's new city has faded, the effect of its foundation remained. Aelia Capitolina, with its market-places and theatre, replaced the olden narrow-streeted town; a House of Venus reared its stately form in the north, and a Sanctuary to Jupiter covered, in the east, the site of the former Temple. Heathen colonists were introduced, and the Jew, who was to become in future centuries an alien everywhere, was made by Hadrian an alien in his fatherland. For the Roman Emperor denied to Jews the right of entry into Jerusalem. Thus Hadrian completed the work of Titus, and Judaism was divorced from its local habitation. More unreservedly than during the Babylonian Exile, Judaism in the Roman Exile perforce became the religion of a community and not of a state; and Israel for the first time constituted a Church. But it was a Church with no visible home. Christianity for several centuries was to have a centre at Rome, Islam at Mecca. But Judaism had and has no centre at all.
It will be obvious that the aim of the present book makes it both superfluous and inappropriate to discuss the vexed problems connected with the origins of the Religion of Israel, its aspects in primitive times, its passage through a national to an ethical monotheism, its expansion into the universalism of the second Isaiah. What concerns us here is merely the legacy which the Religion of Israel bequeathed to Judaism as we have defined it. This legacy and the manner in which it was treasured, enlarged, and administered will occupy us in the rest of this book.
But this much must be premised. If the Religion of Israel passed through the stages of totemism, animism, and polydemonism; if it was indebted to Canaanite, Kenite, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and other foreign influences; if it experienced a stage of monolatry or henotheism (in which Israel recognised one God, but did not think of that God as the only God of all men) before ethical monotheism of the universalistic type was reached; if, further, all these stages and the moral and religious ideas connected with each left a more or less clear mark in the sacred literature of Israel; then the legacy which Judaism received from its past was a syncretism of the whole of the religious experiences of Israel as interpreted in the light of Israel's latest, highest, most approved standards. Like the Bourbon, the Jew forgets nothing; but unlike the Bourbon, the Jew is always learning. The domestic stories of the Patriarchs were not rejected as unprofitable when Israel became deeply impregnated with the monogamous teachings of writers like the author of the last chapter of Proverbs; the character of David was idealised by the spiritual associations of the Psalter, parts of which tradition ascribed to him; the earthly life was etherialised and much of the sacred literature reinterpreted in the light of an added belief in immortality; God, in the early literature a tribal non-moral deity, was in the later literature a righteous ruler who with Amos and Hosea loved and demanded righteousness in man. Judaism took over as one indivisible body of sacred teachings both the early and the later literature in which these varying conceptions of God were enshrined; the Law was accepted as the guiding rule of life, the ritual of ceremony and sacrifice was treasured as a holy memory, and as a memory not contradictory of the prophetic exaltation of inward religion but as consistent with that exaltation, as interpreting it, as but another aspect of Micah's enunciation of the demands of God: 'What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?'
Judaism, in short, included for the Jew all that had gone before. But for St. Paul's attitude of hostility to the Law, but for the deep-seated conviction that the Pauline Christianity was a denial of the Jewish monotheism, the Jew might have accepted much of the teaching of Jesus as an integral part of Judaism. In the realm of ideas which he conceived as belonging to his tradition the Jew was not logical; he did not pick and choose; he absorbed the whole. In the Jewish theology of all ages we find the most obvious contradictions. There was no attempt at reconciliation of such contradictions; they were juxtaposed in a mechanical mixture, there was no chemical compound. The Jew was always a man of moods, and his religion responded to those varying phases of feeling and belief and action. Hence such varying judgments have been formed of him and his religion. If, after the mediaeval philosophy had attempted to systematise Judaism, the religion remained unsystematic, it is easy to understand that in the earlier centuries of the Christian Era contradictions between past and present, between different strata of religious thought, caused no trouble to the Jew so long as those contradictions could be fitted into his general scheme of life. Though he was the product of development, development was an idea foreign to his conception of the ways of God with man. And to this extent he was right. For though men's ideas of God change, God Himself is changeless. The Jew transferred the changelessness of God to men's changing ideas about him. With childlike naivete he accepted all, he adopted all, and he syncretised it all as best he could into the loose system on which Pharisaism grafted itself. The legacy of the past thus was the past.
One element in the legacy was negative. The Temple and the Sacrificial system were gone for ever. That this must have powerfully affected Judaism goes without saying. Synagogue replaced Temple, prayer assumed the function of sacrifice, penitence and not the blood of bulls supplied the ritual of atonement. Events had prepared the way for this change and had prevented it attaining the character of an upheaval. For synagogues had grown up all over the land soon after the fifth century B.C.; regular
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