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- Judaism - 2/11 -


services of prayer with instruction in the Scriptures had been established long before the Christian Era; the inward atonement had been preferred to, or at least associated with, the outward rite before the outward rite was torn away. It may be that, as Professor Burkitt has suggested, the awful experiences of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple produced within Pharisaism a moral reformation which drove the Jew within and thus spiritualised Judaism. For undoubtedly the Pharisee of the Gospels is by no means the Pharisee as we meet him in the Jewish books. There was always a latent power and tendency in Judaism towards inward religion; and it may be that this power was intensified, this tendency encouraged, by the loss of Temple and its Sacrificial rites.

But though the Temple had gone the Covenant remained. Not so much in name as in essence. We do not hear much of the Covenant in the Rabbinic books, but its spirit pervades Judaism. Of all the legacy of the past the Covenant was the most inspiring element. Beginning with Abraham, the Covenant established a special relation between God and Abraham's seed. 'I have known him, that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord to do righteousness and judgment' (Gen. xviii. 19). Of this Covenant, the outward sign was the rite of circumcision. Renewed with Moses, and followed in traditional opinion by the Ten Commandments, the Sinaitic Covenant was a further link in the bond between God and His people. Of this Mosaic Covenant the outward sign was the Sabbath. It is of no moment for our present argument whether Abraham and Moses were historical persons or figments of tradition. A Gamaliel would have as little doubted their reality as would a St. Paul. And whatever Criticism may be doing with Abraham, it is coming more and more to see that behind the eighth-century prophets there must have towered the figure of a, if not of the traditional, Moses; behind the prophets a, if not the, Law. Be that as it may, to the Jew of the Christian Era, Abraham and Moses were real and the Covenant unalterable. By the syncretism which has been already described Jeremiah's New Covenant was not regarded as new. Nor was it new; it represented a change of stress, not of contents. When he said (Jer. xxxi. 33), 'This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it,' Jeremiah, it has been held, was making Christianity possible. But he was also making Judaism possible. Here and nowhere else is to be found the principle which enabled Judaism to survive the loss of Temple and nationality. And the New Covenant was in no sense inconsistent with the Old. For not only does Jeremiah proceed to add in the self-same verse, 'I will be their God, and they will be my people,' but the New Covenant is specifically made with the house of Judah and of Israel, and it is associated with the permanence of the seed of Israel as a separate people and with the Divine rebuilding of Jerusalem. The Jew had no thought of analysing these verses into the words of the true Jeremiah and those of his editors. The point is that over and above, in complementary explanation of, the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants with their external signs, over and above the Call of the Patriarch and the Theophany of Sinai, was the Jeremian Covenant written in Israel's heart.

The Covenant conferred a distinction and imposed a duty. It was a bond between a gracious God and a grateful Israel. It dignified history, for it interpreted history in terms of providence and purpose; it transfigured virtue by making virtue service; it was the salt of life, for how could present degradation demoralise, seeing that God was in it, to fulfil His part of the bond, to hold Israel as His jewel, though Rome might despise? The Covenant made the Jew self-confident and arrogant, but these very faults were needed to save him. It was his only defence against the world's scorn. He forgot that the correlative of the Covenant was Isaiah's 'Covenant-People'--missionary to the Gentiles and the World. He relegated his world-mission (which Christianity and Islam in part gloriously fulfilled) to a dim Messianic future, and was content if in his own present he remained faithful to his mission to himself.

Above all, the legacy from the past came to Judaism hallowed and humanised by all the experience of redemption and suffering which had marked Israel's course in ages past, and was to mark his course in ages to come. The Exodus, the Exile, the Maccabean heroism, the Roman catastrophe; Prophet, Wise Man, Priest and Scribe,--all had left their trace. Judaism was a religion based on a book and on a tradition; but it was also a religion based on a unique experience. The book might be misread, the tradition encumbered, but the experience was eternally clear and inspiring. It shone through the Roman Diaspora as it afterwards illuminated the Roman Ghetto, making the present tolerable by the memory of the past and the hope of the future.

CHAPTER II

RELIGION AS LAW

The feature of Judaism which first attracts an outsider's attention, and which claims a front place in this survey, is its 'Nomism' or 'Legalism.' Life was placed under the control of Law. Not only morality, but religion also, was codified. 'Nomism,' it has been truly said, 'has always formed a fundamental trait of Judaism, one of whose chief aims has ever been to mould life in all its varying relations according to the Law, and to make obedience to the commandments a necessity and a custom' (Lauterbach, _Jewish Encyclopedia_, ix. 326). Only the latest development of Judaism is away from this direction. Individualism is nowadays replacing the olden solidarity. Thus, at the Central Conference of American Rabbis, held in July 1906 at Indianapolis, a project to formulate a system of laws for modern use was promptly rejected. The chief modern problem in Jewish life is just this: To what extent, and in what manner, can Judaism still place itself under the reign of Law?

But for many centuries, certainly up to the French Revolution, Religion as Law was the dominant conception in Judaism. Before examining the validity of this conception a word is necessary as to the mode in which it expressed itself. Conduct, social and individual, moral and ritual, was regulated in the minutest details. As the Dayan M. Hyamson has said, the maxim _De minimis non curat lex_ was not applicable to the Jewish Law. This Law was a system of opinion and of practice and of feeling in which the great principles of morality, the deepest concerns of spiritual religion, the genuinely essential requirements of ritual, all found a prominent place. To assert that Pharisaism included the small and excluded the great, that it enforced rules and forgot principles, that it exalted the letter and neglected the spirit, is a palpable libel. Pharisaism was founded on God. On this foundation was erected a structure which embraced the eternal principles of religion. But the system, it must be added, went far beyond this. It held that there was a right and a wrong way of doing things in themselves trivial. Prescription ruled in a stupendous array of matters which other systems deliberately left to the fancy, the judgment, the conscience of the individual. Law seized upon the whole life, both in its inward experiences and outward manifestations. Harnack characterises the system harshly enough. Christianity did not add to Judaism, it subtracted. Expanding a famous epigram of Wellhausen's, Harnack admits that everything taught in the Gospels 'was also to be found in the Prophets, and even in the Jewish tradition of their time. The Pharisees themselves were in possession of it; but, unfortunately, they were in possession of much else besides. With them it was weighted, darkened, distorted, rendered ineffective and deprived of its force by a thousand things which they also held to be religious, and every whit as important as mercy and judgment. They reduced everything into one fabric; the good and holy was only one woof in a broad earthly warp' (_What is Christianity?_ p. 47). It is necessary to qualify this judgment, but it does bring out the all-pervadingness of Law in Judaism. 'And thou shalt speak of them when thou sittest in thine house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up' (Deut. vi. 7). The Word of God was to occupy the Jew's thoughts constantly; in his daily employment and during his manifold activities; when at work and when at rest. And as a correlative, the Law must direct this complex life, the Code must authorise action or forbid it, must turn the thoughts and emotions in one direction and divert them from another.

Nothing in the history of religions can be cited as a complete parallel to this. But incomplete parallels abound. A very large portion of all men's lives is regulated from without: by the Bible and other sacred books; by the institutions and rites of religion; by the law of the land; by the imposed rules of accepted guides, poets, philosophers, physicians; and above all by social conventions, current fashions, and popular maxims. Only in the rarest case is an exceptional man the monstrosity which, we are told, every Israelite was in the epoch of the Judges--a law unto himself.

But in Judaism, until the period of modern reform, this fact of human life was not merely an unconscious truism, it was consciously admitted. And it was realised in a Code.

Or rather in a series of Codes. First came the _Mishnah_, a Code compiled at about the year 200 A.D., but the result of a Pharisaic activity extending over more than two centuries. While Christianity was producing the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament--the work in large part of Jews, or of men born in the circle of Judaism--Judaism in its other manifestation was working at the Code known as the _Mishnah_. This word means 'repetition,' or 'teaching by repetition'; it was an oral tradition reduced to writing long after much of its contents had been sifted in the discussions of the schools. In part earlier and in part later than the _Mishnah_ was the _Midrash_ ('inquiry,' 'interpretation'), not a Code, but a two-fold exposition of Scripture; homiletic with copious use of parable, and legalistic with an eye to the regulation of conduct. Then came the _Talmud_ in two recensions, the Palestinian and the Babylonian, the latter completed about 500 A.D. For some centuries afterwards the Geonim (heads of the Rabbinical Universities in Persia) continued to analyse and define the legal prescriptions and ritual of Judaism, adding and changing in accord with the needs of the day; for Tradition was a living, fluid thing. Then in the eleventh century Isaac of Fez (Alfasi) formulated a guide to Talmudic Law, and about a hundred years later (1180) Maimonides produced his _Strong Hand_, a Code of law and custom which influenced Jewish life ever after. Other codifications were made; but finally, in the sixteenth century, Joseph Caro (mystic and legalist) compiled the _Table Prepared_ (_Shulchan Aruch_), which, with masterly skill, collected the whole of the traditional law, arranged it under convenient heads in chapters and paragraphs, and carried down to our own day the Rabbinic conception of life. Under this Code, with more or less relaxation, the great bulk of Jews still live. But the revolt against it, or emancipation from it, is progressing every year, for the olden Jewish conception of religion and the old Jewish theory of life are, as hinted above, becoming seriously undermined.

Now in what precedes there has been some intentional ambiguity in the use of the word Law. Much of the misunderstanding of Judaism has arisen from this ambiguity. 'Law' is in no adequate sense what the Jews themselves understood by the nomism of their religion. In modern times Law and Religion tend more and more to separate, and to speak of Judaism as Law _eo ipso_ implies a divorce of Judaism from Religion. The old antithesis between letter and spirit is but a phase of the same criticism. Law must specify, and the lawyer interprets Acts of Parliament by their letter; he refuses to be guided by the motives of the Act, he is concerned with what the Act distinctly formulates in set terms. In this sense Judaism never was a Legal Religion. It did most assiduously seek to get to the underlying motives of the written laws, and all the expansions of the Law were based on a desire more fully to realise the meaning and intention of the written Code. In other words, the Law was looked upon as the expression of the Will of God. Man was to yield to that Will for two reasons. First, because God is the perfect ideal of


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