Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- Judaism - 3/11 -

goodness. That ideal was for man to revere, and, so far as in him lay, to imitate. 'As I am merciful, be thou merciful; because I am gracious, be thou gracious.' The 'Imitation of God' is a notion which constantly meets us in Rabbinic literature. It is based on the Scriptural text: 'Be ye holy, for I the Lord am holy.' 'God, the ideal of all morality, is the founder of man's moral nature.' This is Professor Lazarus' modern way of putting it. But in substance it is the Jewish conception through all the ages. And there is a second reason. The Jew would not have understood the possibility of any other expression of the Divine Will than the expression which Judaism enshrined. For though he held that the Law was something imposed from without, he identified this imposed Law with the law which his own moral nature posited. The Rabbis tell us that certain things in the written Law could have been reached by man without the Law. The Law was in large part a correspondence to man's moral nature. This Rabbinic idea Lazarus sums up in the epigram: 'Moral laws, then, are not laws because they are written; they are written because they are laws.' The moral principle is autonomous, but its archetype is God. The ultimate reason, like the highest aim of morality, should be in itself. The threat of punishment and the promise of reward are the psychologic means to secure the fulfilment of laws, never the reasons for the laws, nor the motives to action. It is easy and necessary sometimes to praise and justify eudemonism, but, as Lazarus adds, 'Not a state to be reached, not a good to be won, not an evil to be warded off, is the impelling force of morality, but itself furnishes the creative impulse, the supreme commanding authority' (_Ethics of Judaism_, I. chap, ii.). And so the Rabbi of the third century B.C., Antigonos of Socho, put it in the memorable saying: 'Be not like servants who minister to their master upon the condition of receiving a reward; but be like servants who minister to their master without the condition of receiving a reward; and let the Fear of heaven be upon you' (Aboth, i. 3).

Clearly the multiplication of rules obscures principles. The object of codification, to get at the full meaning of principles, is defeated by its own success. For it is always easier to follow rules than to apply principles. Virtues are more attainable than virtue, characteristics than character. And while it is false to assert that Judaism attached more importance to ritual than to religion, yet, the two being placed on one and the same plane, it is possible to find in co-existence ritual piety and moral baseness. Such a combination is ugly, and people do not stop to think whether the baseness would be more or less if the ritual piety were absent instead of present. But it is the fact that on the whole the Jewish codification of religion did not produce the evil results possible or even likely to accrue. The Jew was always distinguished for his domestic virtues, his purity of life, his sobriety, his charity, his devotion. These were the immediate consequence of his Law-abiding disposition and theory. Perhaps there was some lack of enthusiasm, something too much of the temperate. But the facts of life always brought their corrective. Martyrdom was the means by which the Jewish consciousness was kept at a glowing heat. And as the Jew was constantly called upon to die for his religion, the religion ennobled the life which was willingly surrendered for the religion. The Messianic Hope was vitalised by persecution. The Jew, devotee of practical ideals, became also a dreamer. His visions of God were ever present to remind him that the law which he codified was to him the Law of God.



It is often said that Judaism left belief free while it put conduct into fetters. Neither half of this assertion is strictly true. Belief was not free altogether; conduct was not altogether controlled. In the _Mishnah_ (Sanhedrin, x. 1) certain classes of unbelievers are pronounced portionless in the world to come. Among those excluded from Paradise are men who deny the resurrection of the dead, and men who refuse assent to the doctrine of the Divine origin of the Torah, or Scripture. Thus it cannot be said that belief was, in the Rabbinic system, perfectly free. Equally inaccurate is the assertion that conduct was entirely a matter of prescription. Not only were men praised for works of supererogation, performance of more than the Law required; not only were there important divergences in the practical rules of conduct formulated by the various Rabbis; but there was a whole class of actions described as 'matters given over to the heart,' delicate refinements of conduct which the law left untouched and were a concern exclusively of the feeling, the private judgment of the individual. The right of private judgment was passionately insisted on in matters of conduct, as when Rabbi Joshua refused to be guided as to his practical decisions by the Daughter of the Voice, the supernatural utterance from on high. The Law, he contended, is on earth, not in heaven; and man must be his own judge in applying the Law to his own life and time. And, the Talmud adds, God Himself announced that Rabbi Joshua was right.

Thus there was neither complete fluidity of doctrine nor complete rigidity of conduct. There was freedom of conduct within the law, and there was law within freedom of doctrine.

But Dr. Emil Hirsch puts the case fairly when he says: 'In the same sense as Christianity or Islam, Judaism cannot be credited with Articles of Faith. Many attempts have indeed been made at systematising and reducing to a fixed phraseology and sequence the contents of the Jewish religion. But these have always lacked the one essential element: authoritative sanction on the part of a supreme ecclesiastical body' (_Jewish Encyclopedia_, ii. 148).

Since the epoch of the Great Sanhedrin, there has been no central authority recognised throughout Jewry. The Jewish organisation has long been congregational. Since the fourth century there has been no body with any jurisdiction over the mass of Jews. At that date the Calendar was fixed by astronomical calculations. The Patriarch, in Babylon, thereby voluntarily abandoned the hold he had previously had over the scattered Jews, for it was no longer the fiat of the Patriarch that settled the dates of the Festivals. While there was something like a central authority, the Canon of Scripture had been fixed by Synods, but there is no record of any attempt to promulgate articles of faith. During the revolt against Hadrian an Assembly of Rabbis was held at Lydda. It was then decided that a Jew must yield his life rather than accept safety from the Roman power, if such conformity involved one of the three offences: idolatry, murder, and unchastity (including, incest and adultery). But while this decision throws a favourable light on the Rabbinic theory of life, it can in no sense be called a fixation of a creed. There were numerous synods in the Middle Ages, but they invariably dealt with practical morals or with the problems which arose from time to time in regard to the relations between Jews and their Christian neighbours. It is true that we occasionally read of excommunications for heresy. But in the case, for instance, of Spinoza, the Amsterdam Synagogue was much more anxious to dissociate itself from the heresies of Spinoza than to compel Spinoza to conform to the beliefs of the Synagogue. And though this power of excommunication might have been employed by the mediaeval Rabbis to enforce the acceptance of a creed, in point of fact no such step was ever taken.

Since the time of Moses Mendelssohn (1728-1786), the chief Jewish dogma has been that Judaism has no dogmas. In the sense assigned above this is clearly true. Dogmas imposed by an authority able and willing to enforce conformity and punish dissent are non-existent in Judaism. In olden times membership of the religion of Judaism was almost entirely a question of birth and race, not of confession. Proselytes were admitted by circumcision and baptism, and nothing beyond an acceptance of the Unity of God and the abjuration of idolatry is even now required by way of profession from a proselyte. At the same time the earliest passage put into the public liturgy was the Shema' (Deuteronomy vi. 4-9), in which the unity of God and the duty to love God are expressed. The Ten Commandments were also recited daily in the Temple. It is instructive to note the reason given for the subsequent removal of the Decalogue from the daily liturgy. It was feared that some might assume that the Decalogue comprised the whole of the binding law. Hence the prominent position given to them in the Temple service was no longer assigned to the Ten Commandments in the ritual of the Synagogue. In modern times, however, there is a growing practice of reading the Decalogue every Sabbath day.

What we do find in Pharisaic Judaism, and this is the real answer to Harnack (_supra_, p. 15), is an attempt to reduce the whole Law to certain fundamental principles. When a would-be proselyte accosted Hillel, in the reign of Herod, with the demand that the Rabbi should communicate the whole of Judaism while the questioner stood on one foot, Hillel made the famous reply: 'What thou hatest do unto no man; that is the whole Law, the rest is commentary.' This recalls another famous summarisation, that given by Jesus later on in the Gospel. A little more than a century later, Akiba said that the command to love one's neighbour is the fundamental principle of the Law. Ben Azzai chose for this distinction another sentence: 'This is the book of the generations of man,' implying the equality of all men in regard to the love borne by God for His creatures. Another Rabbi, Simlai (third century), has this remarkable saying: 'Six hundred and thirteen precepts were imparted unto Moses, three hundred and sixty-five negative (in correspondence with the days of the solar year), and two hundred and forty-eight positive (in correspondence with the number of a man's limbs). David came and established them as eleven, as it is written: A psalm of David--Lord who shall sojourn in Thy tent, who shall dwell in Thy holy mountain? (i) He that walketh uprightly and (ii) worketh righteousness and (iii) speaketh the truth in his heart. (iv) He that backbiteth not with his tongue, (v) nor doeth evil to his neighbour, (vi) nor taketh up a reproach against another; (vii) in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, (viii) but who honoureth them that fear the Lord. (ix) He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not; (x) He that putteth not out his money to usury, (xi) nor taketh a bribe against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. Thus David reduced the Law to eleven principles. Then came Micah and reduced them to three, as it is written: 'What doth the Lord require of thee but (i) to do justice, (ii) to love mercy, and (iii) to walk humbly with thy God? Then came Habbakuk and made the whole Law stand on one fundamental idea, 'The righteous man liveth by his faith' (Makkoth, 23 b).

This desire to find one or a few general fundamental passages on which the whole Scripture might be seen to base itself is, however, far removed from anything of the nature of the Christian Creeds or of the Mohammedan Kalimah. And when we remember that the Pharisees and Sadducees differed on questions of doctrine (such as the belief in immortality held by the former and rejected by the latter), it becomes clear that the absence of a formal declaration of faith must have been deliberate. The most that was done was to introduce into the Liturgy a paragraph in which the assembled worshippers declared their assent to the truth and permanent validity of the Word of God. After the Shema' (whose contents are summarised above), the assembled worshippers daily recited a passage in which they said (and still say): 'True and firm is this Thy word unto us for ever.... True is it that Thou art indeed our God ... and there is none beside Thee.'

After all, the difference between Pharisee and Sadducee was political rather than theological. It was not till Judaism came into contact, contact alike of attraction and repulsion, with other systems that a desire or a need for formulating Articles of Faith was felt. Philo, coming under the Hellenic spirit, was thus the first to make the attempt. In the last chapter of the tract on the Creation (_De Opifico_, lxi.), Philo enumerates what he terms the five most beautiful lessons, superior to all others. These are--(i) God is; (ii) God is One; (iii) the World was created (and is not eternal); (iv) the World is one, like unto God in

Judaism - 3/11

Previous Page     Next Page

  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8   10   11 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything