JudaismFR. JOHN HARDON, S.J.
Judaism is the oldest living religion of the Western world, and historically is the parent of Christianity and Islam, which together count one half the population of the human race.
The great schism
The pre-Christian phase of Judaism is not our concern, both because its vital elements have remained substantially unchanged and because, paradoxically, the Jewish people have greatly changed since the coming of Christ and our interest is in the religious cultures of the present day.
Not the least difficulty in speaking of Judaism is the question of terms. Etymologically there is no problem. The name "Jew" is derived from Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Later it came to apply to any one belonging to the Hebrew race, and finally to those who profess the religion of Judaism. The problem is whether Judaism is basically ethnic or religious, since there are many Jews who are not lineal descendants of Abraham and many others who may be so descended but do not profess the Judaic faith. Perhaps the best definition is to see Judaism as the mind and Jewry as the body of a permanent moral tradition, which has its roots in the Old Testament prophets and its hopes in a forthcoming Messias.
The great schism
Historians of the Jewish people trace their origins in the Christian era to the teaching and ministry of Paul of Tarsus. They charge him with having broken the bond that formerly united the chosen race. St. Paul, they explain, urged the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messias. "Be it known to you," he told them, "that through Him forgiveness of sin is proclaimed to you, and in Him everyone who believes is acquitted of all the things of which you could not be acquitted by the law of Moses."1
As explained by Jewish apologists, Paul used the terminology of Jeremias and Philo, and substituted circumcision of heart for circumcision of the flesh. By this formulation Paul laid the foundation for the final break of Christianity from the Jewish nation. In the company of Barnabas, he spoke out plainly. "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us."2
In less than a generation began a series of events that not only sealed the fate of Judaism but crystallized the form it was to assume for the centuries to come. In the year 70, the Roman armies under Titus besieged Jerusalem, destroyed it, and massacred or sold into slavery its inhabitants to the number of half a million. Eusebius relates how the Christians in the city, forewarned by their Master, were saved from the final catastrophe by escaping to Pella, east of the Jordan.
Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, the scattered remnants of the Jews founded two rabbinical schools in separate communities, one east of the Euphrates centered in ancient Babylonia or modern Iran, and the other at Jamnia, a dozen miles south of the Israeli port of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. It was at Jamnia that the rabbis held, about 100 A.D., a historic synod at which the canon of the Old Testament was redefined for the people.
The synod laid down four criteria to determine which books should be removed from the Jewish Scriptures as apocryphal. The book had to conform to the Pentateuch, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; it could not have been writ ten after the time of Esdras; and it had to be written in Hebrew and in Palestine. Since certain books used by the Jews of the Diaspora (dispersion) did not meet these requirements, they were rejected. Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremias were not of Palestinian origin, Ecclesiasticus and First Maccabees were written after the time of Esdras, Tobias along with parts of Daniel and Esther were composed originally in Aramaic and also probably outside of Palestine, the Book of Judith was probably written in Aramaic, Wisdom and Second Maccabees were written in Greek. After dropping these books from the Palestinian canon, the latter was closed, and once the contents were fixed the text was also agreed upon. In their own words, the rabbis "made a fence around it."
They also provided for a new translation into Greek to replace the Septuagint, made in the third century B.C., which the Gentile Christians had appropriated and were using for apologetic purposes, for example, to prove the virginal conception of Christ from the term parthenos (virgin) in Isaias 7:14. The Jewish translator, Aquila, rendered it neanis (young woman).
Under Hadrian, the Jews were stimulated to revolt by the Messianic pretensions of Bar-Cochba, "Son of the Star." According to Cassio Dio, they rebelled because the emperor gave orders for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, with the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus to be erected on the site of the ruined temple. Early in the revolt, the Jews held Jerusalem for a time, but after a bloody war that lasted three and a half years, they were all but annihilated on the fields of Bether (135 A.D.), a few miles from Jerusalem.
Characteristic of their power of resurgence, the scattered remnant had a flourishing community in Palestine by the year 165, when Rabbi Juda I succeeded Simon Ii (grandson of Gameliel de scribed in the Acts) as president of the Sanhedrin and patriarch of the West. His pioneer work on the Hebrew oral law, together with that of his confreres in Babylonia, became a kind of constitution that still unifies the religion of Israel.
Sources of tradition
If pre-Christian Judaism is unintelligible without the Old Testament, the Jewish faith since the coming of Christ is unexplainable without the Talmud, which is the principal repository of Judaic tradition. As a collective name, Talmud literally means "instruction" and comprehends two sets of writings: the third-century Mishnah, compiled by Rabbi Juda about 215 A.D., and the fourth to sixth centuries' Gemara, which has come down in two forms, the Babylonian in Eastern Aramaic and the Palestinian in Western Aramaic.
Mishnah has a double meaning, either "study by repetition" or "second" because considered second to the Pentateuch. It is a codification of Jewish laws, Halakoth, from the time of the Restoration until the end of the second century. Originally oral, the laws were later reduced to written form.
From the early third century the Mishnah supplanted the numerous earlier collections and so put an end to much controversy, notably between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. Rabbi Judah was a lineal descendant of Hillel, who upheld the liberal and lenient interpretation of the law and whose followers were conciliatory in all controversies. The Mishnah, therefore, is not an original work but a redaction of earlier material and it is written in the Hebrew typical of Jewish scholars at that time.
Each of the six divisions Seeds (laws on agriculture), Festivals and Women (marriage laws), Injuries (civil and criminal regulations), Holy Things (worship and ritual) and Purifications is divided into two parts or Tractates, which are further subdivided into chapters, and the chapters into paragraphs or precepts.
As a sectarian law-code, the Mishnah builds on the principle of precedent, giving the sayings of learned rabbis, in quotation or paraphrase, and often only a sentence in length. No effort is made to classify the statements beyond a general assembly or similar material under a single heading.
Most of the legislation is extremely minute. Thus, "an egg laid on a festival may be eaten on the same day. So say the school of Shammai; the school of Hillel, however, say it must not. The school of Shammai say that leaven the size of an olive and browned bread the size of a date are to be removed before the Passover; but the school of Hillel say that both must be removed when the size of an olive only."3 Then follow thirteen pages of commentary, pro and con, discussing the two opinions on the foregoing and the allied subject of burying wild game or fowl on festival days.
Among numerous prohibitions for dealing with heathen non Israelites are several referring to the latter's religious holidays. Thus "three days before the festival of the heathen it is forbidden to have any business with them. One must not lend them anything which can be useful to them, nor borrow such from them. And the same is the case with cash money, even to pay or to receive payment is forbidden. Rabbi Jehuda, however, maintains: To receive payment is allowed, because it is a displeasure to the payees. And he was answered: Although it is now a displeasure, it pleases them in the future."4 Again a long commentary of eleven pages evaluating the different interpretations.
Indicative of the high regard in which the Talmudic tradition was held, a Mishnah in the Treatise Sanhedrin, decrees that "the punishment of him who transgresses the decision of the Scribes is more rigorous than for that which is plainly written in the Scriptures."5 The example given is that of a person who claims, against the Scribes, that the Jewish phylactery (or leather case containing vellum strips with four passages, from Exodus and Deuteronomy) should have five strips instead of four. One explanation of this "strange passage" is that some Jewish Christians were adding a fifth text, from the prologue of St. John's Gospel.6
However not all the Mishnah is so rabbinical. The treatise Aboth, on the Fathers of the Synagogue, is a collection of wise epigrams and homely counsels that are very quotable. One statement follows another with no logical correlation.
Rabbi Tarphon was in the habit of saying, "The day is short, the work is great, the workmen are slothful, the reward is rich, the Master is urgent."7
Rabbi Ishmail said, "Be obedient to a superior, affable to a petitioner, and friendly to all mankind."8
Rabbi Jannai said, "It is beyond our power to explain either the prosperity of the wicked or the afflictions of the righteous."9
Rabbi Jacob used to say, "This world is only a vestibule of the world to come. So prepare yourself in the vestibule to be admitted into the banquet hall." He also said, "Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life of the world to come, though one hour of bliss in the future is better than a lifetime in this world."10
A great deal of Jewish tradition on the meaning of various aspects of religious ritual and practice prescribed by the Bible derives from the Gemara, whose lengthy interpretations form the quantitative bulk of the Talmud.
The treatise Pesachim (Passover) covers almost three hundred pages in a standard edition, divided into ten sections or sets of regulations: concerning the removal of leaven from the house on the eve of the Passover and the exact time when this must be accomplished; the time for eating leavened bread on the eve of the Passover; what material is to be used for making unleavened bread and bitter herbs; articles which cause transgression of the law prohibiting leaven to be seen or found in the house of an Israelite; work which may and such as must not be performed on the day preceding the festival of Passover; the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb; acts which supersede the due observance of the Sabbath; sacrifice of the paschal offering and what is to be done if one sacrifice is confounded with another; the roasting of the Paschal Lamb; the manner and procedure if the Paschal Lamb becomes defiled, which parts of the lamb are eaten; those obligated to eat the Paschal Sacrifice, where it is to be eaten, companies appointed to eat it, and the difference between the first and second passover; the second Passover, concerning cases where the Paschal sacrifice had become mixed; and regulations about the meal on the eve of the Passover and the four cups of wine to be drunk with the meal.
With rare exception, the Gemara expands on the Mishnah, clarifies obscurities, and offers as many as a dozen opinions on what the Mishnah states as a single prescription. According to the Mishnah, for example, the duty of eating bitter herbs on the Passover may be acquitted with lettuce, wild endive, bitter coriander, and horse radish, if fresh or dry, but not pickled or cooked in any way. On which the Gemara offers variant interpretations, including the general one that, "all herbs emitting white juice may serve to satisfy the duty of eating bitter herbs on the passover." In fact Rabbi Johann ben Berokah allowed even such as when cut should become a shade paler. "Anonymous teachers, however, say that all bitter herbs emit white juice, and become a shade paler when cut," so that any herb showing this quality may be used at the Passover meal.11
Commentators on the Talmud sometimes mistakenly leave the impression that no distinction is recognized between scriptural and rabbinical prescriptions, and certainly there has been enough to warrant this judgment in the case of some Jewish leaders. But the Talmud itself occasionally distinguishes between the two levels of obligation, as in the same context on the use of herbs and unleavened bread at the Paschal supper. The Hillel referred to was the contemporary of Christ, whose followers opposed the school of Shammai as the more liberal and tolerant interpreters of the Law.
Rabhina said, "Rabbi Mesharshia, the son of Rabbi Nathan told me, that so said Hillel, quoting a tradition: A man should not place the bitter herbs between unleavened cakes and eat them in that manner. Why not? Because the eating of unleavened cakes is a biblical commandment, while the eating of bitter herbs in this day is only a rabbinical ordinance. Now if the two be eaten together, the bitter herbs might destroy the taste of the cakes, and thus a rabbinical ordinance would supersede a biblical commandment. And even according to those who hold that one commandment cannot nullify another when both are fulfilled at the same time, such is only the case when both are biblical or both are rabbinical. But when one is a biblical and the other a rabbinical commandment, the rabbinical nullifies the other, and hence their joint fulfilment is not allowed."12
Other passages in the Talmud which place rabbinical tradition on the same level as the Bible should be read in the light of this more modest rabbinization.
The same treatise has a series of fours: types among men, temperaments, disciples and almsgivers.
There are four types of men: The ordinary one says, "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours." The queer one says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine." The saintly one says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours." The wicked one says, "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine."13Occasionally the title Rabbi is omitted from a sage's name, as with Elisha ben Abuya (born about 80 A.D.). Elisha had been a Talmudic scholar but eventually turned free-thinker. More often no author of a statement is given, but only the title, "Mishnah."
Gemara is the commentary on the Mishnah, and both are now included in the Talmud, with interpretation following rabbinic tradition. Jewish authorities in Babylonia organized those laws which had developed from the close of the Mishnah down to their own times; their commentaries together with the Mishnah received the name Babylonian Talmud. It represents the final codification of Jewish law. In Palestine the law was less well organized, mostly because of the unsettled conditions under the Roman Empire. What exists, however, has the name of Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud.
If the Mishnah is detailed, the Gemara is minute in the extreme. This is specially true of the Sabbath treatise, which discusses in a single chapter such varied items as permissible and forbidden oils and wicks for lamps on the Sabbath, legitimate balsams, whether broken vessels may be used for fuel, practical laws regarding egg shells and whether chairs may be dragged on the Sabbath, whether a light may be extinguished on the Sabbath either for fear of accident or to afford rest for the sick.
Tosephtha is still a further element in the Talmud, literally meaning "supplement," which corresponds roughly to the Mishnah in structure, but is shorter, drawn from ancient and more recent Judaic schools, and lacks the subtlety and precision of the standard Mishnah. Some scholars claim the Tosephtha represents the Palestine Mishnah, and that our Mishnah was reedited in Babylonia. Normally verbose, a sample exception is a triad of terms. "A prophet is called by ten different names. They are: ambassador, faithful, servant, messenger, seer, watchman, man of scrutiny, dreamer, prophet, and man of God. There are ten names for the Holy Spirit, namely, proverb, metaphor, riddle, words, saying, calling, commandment, prophecy, sacred speech and vision. Joy has ten different expressions: gladness, joy, rejoicing, joyfulness, pleasure, relish, satisfaction, complacency, delight and cheer."14
A Talmudic eccentricity is the penchant for numbers: three, four, six, seven and ten of anything. Rabbi Nathan's Tosephtha discusses, in sequence, the meaning of three crows, charitable men, scholars, kinds of sweat, advantages of an earthen vessel to which he adds six kinds of tears. Of charitable men, he says, "He who gives in charity may be blessed, but if he gives in the form of a loan it is still better; but he who gives one money to do business with, on the understanding that he shall pay him half the profits, is best of all."15
Running as a theme through the Mishnah, Gemara, and Tosephtha is the value of studying the Torah (Mosaic law), which is to be prized above wealth, honor and life itself; and the wickedness of profaning the Holy Name, for which "there is no repentance pending, and the Day of Atonement does not forgive." The precept of justice is repeated under a hundred forms, and always a respect for the wise men whose "thought concerning this world is: All that is in the world is of no importance to me, for this world is not mine. They are occupied in teaching others, and no one can see in their teaching anything wrong. Their questions are to the point and their answers according to the law."16
Targum is the Hebrew for "interpretation" and the name given to the Aramaic translations or paraphrases of the Old Testament, made when Hebrew had ceased to be the normal medium of speech among the Jews. They were the outcome of the explanatory oral matter which for a long time had been unofficially added to the Scripture readings in the worship of the synagogue. The Mishnah has extensive directions on how and how much of the Targum was to be given and forbade that it be written down. But this regulation very likely did not apply to private use or study, since Targumic literature seems to have existed from the first century after Christ. While the oldest extant Targums are not earlier than the fifth century, their theological content certainly goes back to Old Testament times.
Whatever else it is, the Talmud makes no pretense of being a code or catechism, laying down in summary categorical form what the Jewish obligations are. It is rather the record of a process, the actual process by means of which the Mosaic law is made clear. This explains the tensions it preserves: different views in conflict, argument advancing and receding, contradictions reconciled only by the subtlest dialectic, disparate subjects somehow unified by means of the association of religious ideas, and the succession of generations of Talmudic scholars seeking for new insights to meet new situations that are sanctioned by the old laws.
In spite of this variety and movement, however, the Talmud leaves the general impression of unbending rigidity, where the main concern is to preserve the ancient traditions. But that is only one phase of the Jewish religious literature.
Officially approved Targums were produced first in Babylon and later in Palestine, the most famous being the Targum of Onkelos on the Pentateuch, and the Targum of Jonathan on the
Prophets, both of which were in use in the third century after Christ. All of the books of the Old Testament had their Targums, with the exception of Ezra, Nehemias, and Daniel, which already contained large sections in Aramaic.
What is highly significant about the Targums is the degree of freedom they show in interpreting the Bible, by way of paraphrase, circumlocution, legendary additions and rhetorical digressions that point up the non-restrictive doctrinal content of Judaism, already in the first centuries after the "great schism." Otherwise than Christianity, its stress has not been on definite dogmatic teaching and still less on mandatory creeds. The Targums also help to explain the present status of the Jewish religion on its dogmatic side.
Midrashim are the rabbinical commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures. Technically the singular Midrash refers to the general study or explanation of the Old Testament, whereas the plural Midrashim are free interpretations made by the ancients, which were later collected into formal commentaries on the Bible.
Etymologically the term Midrash is the Hebrew for "investigation," and refers to the Jewish method of biblical exegesis which aimed at discovering in the sacred text a meaning deeper than the literal one, not unlike the "spiritual sense" in the Christian Bible. The unexpressed basis of the Midrashim was a belief that every detail of the text is important because it is all of divine origin. Two kinds of commentaries exist: Midrash Halacha which deal with the derivation of the Oral Law (Halacha) from the Scriptures; and Midrash Haggadah as an exposition of the non-legal parts of the sacred text for purposes of edification.
Midrashim are not really distinct from the Talmud, but rather make it up, from the viewpoint of rabbinical exegesis. Less conspicuous in the Mishnah, the Gemara and Tosephtha portions are filled with biblical quotations around which the Talmudic commentary revolves.
Not untypical of the Midrashic method is a Gemara from the Sabbath treatise.
Rabbi Elazar Hakappur said, "A man should always pray for deliverance from poverty, although if he himself will not eventually come to poverty, his children or his grandchildren will, as it is written (Deuteronomy 15: 11), 'There will not be wanting poor in the land where you dwell, therefore do I command you to open your hand to your needy and your brother.' The Hebrew term 'therefore' is Biglal and the school of Ishmael taught that Biglal is the equivalent of Galgal, meaning a 'wheel,' thus inferring, from that word, that poverty is like a wheel, always turning from one to the other."17Not only are the Midrashim indispensable evidence of the authentic Jewish mentality, but they serve as guideposts on the Judaic attitude towards Christianity, at least obliquely by their interpretation of classic Messianic passages in the prophetic books of the Old Law.
From Moses to Moses
Comparable to the Talmud in authority and in many respects more influential in shaping the mind of Judaism are the writings of the Rabbinic sage Moses ben (son of) Maimon, known commonly as Moses Maimonides.
It is no exaggeration to say that Maimonides stands next to the prophet Moses in the estimation of many Jews as their greatest religious leader and the man whose wisdom produced the Judaism of modern times, even as Moses had shaped the religion of Israel centuries before Christ. "From Moses unto Moses," it was said, "there was none like Moses," meaning that in the twenty-five hundred intervening years (and since), from the prophet Moses, no one has more clearly assessed the genius of his people or more accurately expressed its spirit than Maimonides.
For the Christian believer, Maimonides' importance is paramount because of his effect on St. Thomas Aquinas. While denying the assertion that without Maimonides there would have been no Aquinas, it can fairly be said that after Aristotle, the greatest non Christian influence on the Angelic Doctor was Moses Maimonides. Writing a century before Aquinas, he brought Judaism into harmony with Aristotelian philosophy. Like St. Thomas, Maimonides placed great emphasis on reason and knowledge. Knowledge for him was man's greatest perfection, which made him like to God. He thought faith should be built on a rational foundation, and in his opinion no one excelled Aristotle in earthly knowledge. Besides natural knowledge, which should not be cultivated for itself alone, Maimonides pointed out the necessity of revelation, partly for the instruction of the people and partly to serve as a criterion for the scholar. Between faith and knowledge there is no contradiction since both are derived from God. Thus in Maimonides, St. Thomas found many positions that belonged to the Christian tradition, which had affected Moslem and Jewish thought in Spain and North Africa since the patristic age.
Born at Cordova in Spain in 1135, Maimonides received a comprehensive education from his father, a learned Talmudist. During an anti-Jewish persecution by the Moslem Alhomades (1149), his family fled into exile and settled at Fez, the capital of Morocco, where he wrote the "Letter of Consolation" to strengthen his co religionists in their trials. He concluded with a prayer.
When misfortunes overtake us, and there is no king to order our affairs, and no adviser to guide us, and no place of safety where we can flee, and no army wherewith we may be protected, and no power even to speak, when we are deprived of every resource, and when every refuge is cut off and all our hopes are frustrated, there is no escape but to You. We call and You come to our aid, we cry and You answer, for You are our refuge.18When a purist Jewish writer charged that all Jews who compromised in the least with Islam, even externally, were apostates, Maimonides defended their action as licit because under duress, but had to flee Morocco on account of the religious antagonism he aroused. After a brief stay in Palestine, he settled at Fostat (Cairo) where he became the head of a flourishing Jewish community.
In 1168 he finished his commentary on the Mishnah known as the Luminary. But a mind as original as his could not be satisfied with mere comment. He often boldly differed from the Talmud and especially rapped at errors and superstitions. When commenting on the Mishnah passage which enumerates those unbelievers who are excluded from a share in the world to come, Maimonides stressed that Judaism is a religion at once exclusive because it embodies a set of revealed doctrines and inclusive because others than Jews, provided they believe in these truths, have assurance of salvation. His list of thirteen articles of faith are a synthesis of the Jewish religion and to this day are a convenient standard of orthodoxy. Within a century of his death, this precis of belief was employed as a theme for synagogue poems in all countries of Jewish habitation. Altogether some ninety poetic versions are to be counted, of which the most popular is the Yigdal, the liturgic verse which has been the inspiration of numerous musical creations.
In prose-form the articles are a condensation of the Old Testament and Talmud, and of ten centuries of Judaic faith.
I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, praised be He, is the Creator and Guide of all creation, and that He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
According to Maimonides only that person is a true Jew who recognizes the validity of these articles without analysis. Anyone who denies even one of them should have no part in the Jewish community.
Maimonides chose thirteen principles because, he said, God possesses thirteen fundamental attributes (shalot-esreh middot), by which the universe was created and continues under divine guidance. Consequently to question any of the articles would be, in effect, to deny God's basic attributes, through which alone the elements of the world have their being.
This elenchus of dogmas gave stability to historic Judaism as a way of life. Particularly the first five, on the existence and nature of God, helped to create modern Jewish theology. No such clear statements on the person of the Deity had been given in the Synagogue before. No doubt the divine attributes were in the Bible and Talmud, and in the rabbinical commentaries, but the average Jew was not equipped to make the necessary distinctions. Maimonides distinguished the essence from the accidentals, notably the unique character of the Torah in God's plan of communicating His truth to the world. Historically he was specially concerned to assure the eternal validity of the Judaic Law against two forces which derived from it: to insure its sufficiency in answer to the Christian claim that the Law must now be supplemented by the Gospel, and to safeguard its permanence against Islam which said the Koran replaces the writings of Moses.
About ten years after the "Luminary," Maimonides brought out his Mishneh Torah (Second Law) in Hebrew, a Talmudic code in fourteen parts arranged by subject matter. It consists of a classification of Jewish religious doctrines, their interpretation by the masters, and their moral and philosophical implications. Among its surprising features is the inclusion of non-Jewish authorities in support of Maimonides' judgments.
In 1190 appeared his principal Arabic treatise, the Guide for the Perplexed, which scholars in every tradition consider a part of world literature. Through the Guide not only Maimonides but Judaism entered the orbit of Christian and Islamic thought. The work of the "Egyptian Moses" was studied assiduously by Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, who quoted him often.
The purpose of the Guide was to achieve a working harmony between reason and revelation. Its three sections treat of the idea of God; the arguments for God's existence, His manifestations, the world of spirits, the creation of the world in time, and prophecy; and the interpretation of Ezechiel's vision, the problem of evil, the end of creation, divine providence and divine knowledge. Maimonides' aim was to achieve a synthesis of the data of Jewish revelation and the speculation of human reason found in Aristotle. With all his devotion to Aristotle, however, Maimonides was too much a believer not to differ with the man he called "the chief of philosophers" and from whom he imbibed many ideas. In so doing he became the stumbling block for generations of Jews to the present day some of whom admire Maimonides but speak of "the unsure weapon of naive faith" with which he faced the problems of existence, whereas others see in him the great exemplar of human wisdom acknowledging its own limitations.
The cardinal issue on which Maimonides opposed Aristotle was creation. He saw that by accepting the biblical dogma of creation out of nothing every problem of God's relation to the world is solved and the basic agreement of reason and faith established. God is then sovereign ruler of the Universe which He governs according to His will, and man is bound by the law of his own contingency to obey and love his Creator. But rejecting this doctrine in favor of the Greek philosopher's theory of the eternity of the world, a host of difficulties, not to say contradictions, face the intelligent believer, of which not least is how to reconcile God's absolute dominion with the existence of a universe co-eternal with God.
If we were to accept the eternity of the universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the universe is the result of fixed laws, that nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively. The allegorists among the Mohammedans have done this, and have thereby arrived at absurd conclusions.Maimonides' concern to safeguard the doctrine of creation is indispensable for a proper understanding of Judaism, in view of its later development, when men like Spinoza and Einstein could profess a pantheistic philosophy of life and yet be considered worthy, even outstanding, representatives of the Jewish religious culture.' A curious position in Maimonides, on which St. Thomas opposed him, was the belief that divine Providence is limited to intelligent beings, and among these to persons who cultivate the religious spirit. "Providence," he said, "watches over every rational being according to the amount of intellect which that being possesses. Those who are perfect in their perception of God, whose mind is never separated from Him, enjoy always the influence of Providence. But those who, perfect in their knowledge of God, turn their mind sometimes away from God, enjoy the presence of Divine Providence only when they meditate on God; when their thoughts are engaged in other matters Divine Providence departs from them."21 Needless to say, this concept of a withdrawing Providence was inconsistent with the rest of Maimonides' philosophy, as Aquinas was quick to point out.
In treating of the immortality of the soul, he quoted passages from the Bible, gave the opinions of Greek and Arabian writers, distinguished between the soul that is born in us and the intellect we later acquire, and ended by teaching that only the souls of the just are immortal. This doctrine of acquired or merited immortality became one of the most distinctive features of later Judaic thought. Moreover, when Maimonides spoke of resurrection after death, he excluded the body. "In the world-to-come, there is nothing corporeal, and no material substance; there are only souls of the righteous without bodies like the ministering angels."
The other published writings of Maimonides, mostly Arabic, include a famous treatise on Repentance which illustrates his perfectly orthodox Judaism. Among those who "have no portion in the World-to-Come, but are cut off and perish" are those "who deny the Torah, the resurrection from the dead or the coming of the Redeemer," along with "Heretics and Epicureans." In Maimonides' vocabulary, there are five classes of heretics, including the man "who says there is no God and the world has no ruler" and the one "who says that there is a ruling power but that it is rested in two or more persons."22 Among the three classes of Epicureans are those who claim that "the Creator changed one commandment for another, and that this Torah, although of divine origin, is now obsolete, as the Nazarenes and Moslems assert." Thus Christians, along with pagans and Moslems, are excluded from the way of salvation.
Jewish commentators, for all their admiration of Maimonides, are painfully conscious of the consequences of this principle. In theory, if he thought he had truth, every other view was false. Thus Maimonides, with his systematic mind, thrust men out of Judaism instead of keeping them in. They became Minim or heretics by reason of the boundary of religious belief which he established. This produced a reaction: among the plain men of Jewish faith who could not subscribe to dogmas which human reason had carved out of the Torah by using the tools of Hellenism; and among intellectuals who respected Maimonides as a scholar but challenged his authority to impose dogmatic creeds.
Mysticism and the Cabala
The main stream of Judaism has always had its competing or schismatic elements. Long before Christ there were Samaritans, the ancient "fundamentalists," worshipers of the letter of the Pentateuch, who still survive at Nabus in West Jordan. In the eighth century appeared the Karaites whose schism is indicated in their Hebrew name, "Sons of the text," and the motto of their leader Anan, "search the Scriptures." But these and like schismatic movements have practically died out, or been absorbed in the main body of Jewry. It was otherwise with the rise of Jewish mysticism, stabilized in the Cabalistic renascence of the thirteenth century.
Literally Cabala means "oral tradition" and implies the tradition of the mystical schools. It was a development of tendencies similar to Gnosticism, and reached the height of its influence in the later Middle Ages, although Cabalism is still active today, in a greatly modified form, as Hasidism.
It is difficult to trace the beginnings of Cabala, which is often the Hebrew equivalent for mysticism. According to the Cabalists, Moses on Mount Sinai and the prophets all received the Cabala. Actually we know that Ben Sira in the second century before Christ warned against preoccupation with "secret things," and the Jewish apocalyptic writings before and after Christ taught a good measure of Cabala. The Essenes, Alexandrian Jews, and the early rabbins who favored the Pythagorean theory of numbers were forerunners of classic Cabalism.
Two types of Jewish mysticism became early manifest: the speculative or theosophic, and the practical or theurgic. Practical mysticism stressed the wonder-working power of controlling nature through a knowledge of the names and functions of angels; speculative mysticism held that all things exist as a result of ten emanations which graduate from God to the universe and serve as mediators.
After centuries of extravagances, the two types were combined, if not fused, by the thirteenth century Spanish Jew, Moses de Leon in the Zohar, an esoteric commentary on the Pentateuch which became the sacred handbook of Jewish mysticism. The Zohar was historically a reaction against the rationalistic spirit of Maimonides. Yet in its effort to recapture "authentic Judaism" by re-emphasizing the spiritual, it went to the opposite extreme. It drew heavily on Persian and Hindu sources and seriously tried to read into the five books of Moses what the Hindu Upanishads read into the four Vedas. The result is a curious mixture of oriental stress on ecstatic union with God, and Judaic concern for the service of mankind.
On its speculative side, the most characteristic feature of classic Cabalism is the theory of the fulfilment of God. According to the Cabalists, the supreme and central mystery of religion is the Holy Union or "sacred marriage" between two aspects of the divine, the male with its creative dynamism and the female or receptive counterpart.
What is true of the deity is equally true of man. For Cabalism, neither God nor man reaches the totality of perfection except in the union of the two sexes. A layer of mythology, borrowed from Hinduism, was thus laid on the foundations of Judaism to the effect that perfection is possible only in the married state. In fact, the Cabala was the first system in the West to develop a mystical metaphysics of the sexual act, which bears more than superficial resemblance to the later theories of Sigmund Freud (1856-1940), Austrian Jew and founder of the theory of sexual psychoanalysis.
More serious, however, than its overstress on marriage, Cabalism shifted the whole center of Judaism from God to man. Its root conception represented God as being in need of man, and depending on man for the maintenance or restoration of His divinity. Where the Pentateuch says, "Be holy as I your Lord am holy," and the trend of valid Jewish tradition teaches that God is Master of creation, the Cabala replaces the biblical theme with an esoteric but none the less emphatic pantheism, wherein the future destiny of God is bound up with the perfection of human society, mediated, as the Cabalist Isaac Luria explained, through the Jewish people.
Modern Judaism is unsympathetic with Cabalistic meanderings in the realm of numbers, or invoking the names of angels by way of incantation. Yet compromises have been made with its theory on the fulfilment of God and the need which the Deity has of man, although this has been against the main body of Judaic thought. Most Jewish writers tell the faithful to repudiate Cabalism as a form of idolatry; others are not so intransigent.
Orthodoxy in doctrine and ritual
Modern Judaism is commonly divided into three types: the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative, each professing to be truly Jewish and yet differing as much and more from the others than Catholics, Protestants and the Eastern Churches differ from one another.
Historically Orthodox Jews are the oldest, reaching back to the synagogues in Palestine and Babylonia in the first century, and theologically they are most conservative. The term "Orthodox" was first applied to them in connection with the Sanhedrin convened by Napolean. Later on Reform Jews stressed the fact that Orthodox Jews follow the Bible, Talmud and the teachings of Maimonides, whereas the Orthodox themselves insist that their religion is Judaism proper, has been for thirty centuries and is today the faith of most Jewish people throughout the world. They prefer to speak of themselves simply as Jews, without qualification, or of their tradition as Torah True Judaism, because of their adherence to the Law of Moses as the word of God.
Existence and nature of God
Orthodox Jews follow the articles of Maimonides fairly closely and their theology, with minor reservations, is substantially Maimonidean. They believe in one God, creator of heaven and earth, whose providence extends to all creation. In general, theories of evolution and other hypotheses of modern science on the origin of the world are considered heretical. The stress on divine unity excludes not only all forms of polytheism but also Manichaean dualism and the Christian Trinity of persons in God. All positive attributes in God are also excluded, at least on principle, according to Maimonides' dictum that "Anything predicated of God is totally different from our attributes; no definition can comprehend both." Divine unity is also defined to exclude all mediators.
Corollary with God's existence and unity is the belief that He is without form, without family, without history. He is beyond time because He was never born and will never die, and beyond space because He is not material.
God is said to have revealed Himself in what is now the Bible, which consists of twenty-four books divided into three sections: Torah or the five books of Moses; Nebiim or the prophets; and Kethubim or sacred writings, such as the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Job.
Messianism and eschatology
One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism and perhaps the secret of its deathless optimism is the belief in a coming Messias. This is normally coupled among Orthodox Jews with the actual, physical liberation of Israel from persecution and humiliation, its return to its native homeland, the restoration of the house of David, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and the recognition by all nations of Israel's destiny as the chosen people. The classic Messianic text quoted in their literature is Micheas, who foretold how, "out of Sion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem; and He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide concerning mighty nations afar off."23 In the morning service of the synagogue, the people are reminded that the Lord "will send our Anointed at the end of days, to redeem them that wait for the end His salvation."24
Among the principles of the faith, following the sequence of Maimonides, is the twelfth which reads, "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messias, and, though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming."25 Repeatedly the formulas of invocation, for private recitation or the liturgy, contain Messianic aspirations. Three times a day in the Shmone Esreh, the people pray, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God and God of our Fathers, who rememberest the pious deeds of the patriarchs, and in love wilt bring a redeemer to their children's children for Thy name's sake."26
One aspect of the Messianic hope finds frequent expression in prayer, the desire to see Sion reestablished, with the temple and sacrifices as of old.
On account of our sins we were exiled from our land, and removed far from our country, and we are unable to go up in order to appear and prostrate ourselves before thee, and to fulfil our obligations in thy chosen house, that great and holy temple which was called by thy name, because of the hand that hath been stretched out against thy sanctuary. May it be thy will, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, merciful King, that thou mayest again in thine abundant compassion have mercy upon us and upon thy sanctuary, and mayest speedily rebuild it and magnify its glory.
While the hopes of a future Messias are strong, there is no evidence that his character ever rises above the human. No doubt there are mystical speculations about the origin and superhuman powers ascribed to him by the ancients, and still found in scattered Jewish writings. But these are exceptional. The rule is to consider the Messias a mortal human being, differing from others only in being wiser and more resplendent than they. His principal role, for the Orthodox, will be to restore the Jewish people to their godly inheritance, and through them to unite all men in allegiance to the God of Israel.
Along with Messianism is the belief in an after-life of happiness or misery, depending on one's conduct before death. However opinion varies on the precise nature of this reward and punishment. The strongest rabbinical position says that Gehenna will not last forever except for a limited type of sinner, e.g., adulterers and slanderers. All others will be delivered from the pains after a short time of purgation, which some fix at twelve months.
Faith in bodily resurrection is still professed by the Orthodox. It is clearly expressed in the Morning Benediction, derived from the Talmudic treatise Berakoth.
O my God, the soul which Thou gavest me is pure; Thou didst create it, Thou didst form it, Thou didst breathe it into me; and Thou dost keep it within me, and Thou wilt take it from me, but wilt restore it unto me hereafter. As long as the soul is within me, 1 will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord my God, and God of my fathers, Sovereign of all works, Lord of all souls. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who restorest souls unto dead bodies.28
The principle behind this faith is simple enough. Just as the soul is believed to leave the body at death, so the soul, after having left the body in death, will return to "those that sleep in the dust" at the time of the great reawakening.
The variety of services required or commended for practice is extensive. They are not only outward forms of piety but professions of faith that touch the essence of Judaism, whose devotion to ritual is founded on the minute prescriptions in the Pentateuch.
In the rite of circumcision, participate the father of the child, the mohel who performs the ritual, a sandek or godfather, and a congregation whenever possible. The eighth day is prescribed, even if it falls on the Sabbath. While performing the rite the mohel recites the essential invocation, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments, and hast enjoined us to perform the commandment of circumcision." To which the father responds in the same words, except for the concluding phrase, ". . . and hast commanded us to make our sons enter into the covenant of Abraham our father."29 Commentators are careful to point out that circumcision, unlike Baptism, is not a sacrament which gives the Jew his religious character. Every child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew or Jewess. However the exact nature of circumcision as a liturgical rite is disputed.
On the thirtieth day after the birth of the mother's first child, if it is a son, the ceremony of "Redemption of the First-born" takes place. The Cohen (descendant of the Aaronic priesthood) places his hand on the head of the child, and pronounces the following Benediction: "God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh. The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord turn His face unto thee and give thee peace. For length of days, and years of life and peace shall they add to thee. The Lord shall guard thee from all evil. He shall guard thy soul. Amen."30
A Jewish boy reaches his religious maturity at the age of thirteen, when he becomes a Bar Mitzvah, literally, "son of command" or "man of duty." A Jewish girl becomes religiously mature at twelve. The Bar Mitzvah ceremony is performed at the synagogue on a Sabbath during morning services. For the first time the boy is given a place with the other men of the congregation in the prayers, the week's readings from the Bible and the prescribed benedictions. Readers are normally chosen from the boy's family. The Bar Mitzvah himself chants the whole chapter from the Prophets and recites all the benedictions. At the end his father publicly thanks God for delivering him from the burden of his son's sins, saying, "Blessed be He who has absolved me." In some synagogues the boy gives a sermon or homily and conducts the service for the occasion. Preparation for the Bar Mitzvah often requires four years of previous study in the reading of Hebrew and a knowledge of Jewish laws and practices.
Marriage in Hebrew is called Kiddushin, "sanctification," and the persons married are considered to have entered a sacred state. In strictest Orthodox practice, rarely observed today, the bride must shave her head and wear a wig in order not to be attractive to other men. More commonly she undergoes a ritual purification on the eve of the wedding. Both bride and groom come to the wedding after prescribed fasting. The groom places the ring on the fore finger of the bride's right hand and says, "Behold thou art consecrated unto me, according to the law of Moses and of Israel."
This ceremony takes place in the presence of a Minyan, a religious quorum of ten Jews, under a Huppah or canopy, which symbolizes the new home to which the groom is taking his bride. It is not valid unless the groom, in the presence of two witnesses, has agreed to the Ketubah (marriage contract) in which he agrees to provide for his wife and assures her of a definite minimum sum as an obligation on his estate, including a stipulation to support the wife in case of divorce. The practice was begun to protect the wife who in old Jewish law could be divorced without her consent.
Seven blessings are recited during the wedding ceremonial and after the meal. The breaking of a glass before the benediction symbolizes the destruction of the temple and the social responsibility of the new couple to share in the trials of their people.
Jewish law excommunicates polygamists. However, while commending the ideal of retaining the wife of one's youth, it does not consider marriage a contract binding unto death. When marital difficulties arise, the rabbis may grant a bill of divorce, Get, whose conditions differ according to circumstances but generally favor the husband since tradition considers the husband very much the master.
The Kaddish is recited for the first time at the fresh grave of a person just deceased. It is a holy pledge, not for the dead but of the living, in which the mourner and congregation alternate in a series of invocations of God, concluding with the prayer, "May He who maketh peace in His high places, make peace for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen."
Mourners are to rend their garments as a sign of their loss, which they should do standing. Seven days of mourning, Shivah, follow and for thirty days the hair is to be allowed to grow without cutting it. For eleven months the children are to daily recite the Kaddish over their parents, and for a year avoid places of amusement or festivity. Anniversaries of death call for a recitation of the Kaddish and prayerful meditation.
It is also customary to make mention of the souls of departed parents and relations on the Day of Atonement, and the last days of the Three Festivals, expressing sentiments that suggest suffrages for the faithful departed. Thus: "May God remember the soul of my honored mother N.N. who has gone to her repose. For that I now solemnly offer charity for her sake. In reward of this, may her soul enjoy eternal life, with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, and the rest of the righteous men and women that are in Paradise; and let us say, Amen."31
Religious practices in the home begin with the symbolic sign, Mezuzah, affixed to the door of every residence as a sign of trust in God and promise to walk in His ways. Inside the Mezuzah case is a parchment inscribed with passages of the Torah which emphasize the unity of God, His providence, and the resulting duty of serving Him. The pious touch the Mezuzah at "Shaddai" as they pass through the door, and recite the prayer, "May God keep my going out and my coming in, from now on and ever more."
The male in the family recites his morning prayers while wearing a shawl or Talith, much like the stole worn by Catholic priests, but fringed at each corner with a tassel of the same material as the talith. After prayers he puts on the arba kanfoth (four corners), which is a kind of fringed scapular worn all day under the outer garments, in fulfilment of the precept to "encircle ourselves with fringes." Young sons of the family also wear the scapular.
While reciting morning prayers, the Jew wears phylacteries on his forehead and left arm. Called tefillin (prayers) in Hebrew, the phylacteries are worn every day during morning prayers except on holidays and the Sabbath. They consist of long leather straps, made from the skin of a kosher animal and dyed black. On the straps is a small case, one for the forehead and another for the arm, in which are contained four Scripture passages from the Torah, namely, Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21. The head phylactery is tied behind the head into a knot in the form of yod. On the sides of the box appears the letter shin. Together these letters form the word Shaddai, "Almighty," one of the names of God. Phylacteries are to be worn by all men from the time of their bar mitzvah.
The liturgical preference given to men is reflected in the morning service invocations recited by men and women together, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has not made me a heathen;" and by the men alone, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a woman"; and by the women alone, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast made me according to Thy will."32
The Jews distinguish two sets of observances on the Sabbath (rest), those at home or outside the synagogue and those in the synagogue proper. The Sabbath begins on Friday night when the woman of the house lights the traditional candles, before the Kiddush or ceremony of sanctification. It ends at sundown on Saturday, and is followed by a ceremony of candle, wine and spices, called Havdalah (separating), which marks the distinction between the day of the Lord and the six working days.
No manual labor is done on the Sabbath. An observant Jew will not travel, use the phone, write, touch money, or kindle a fire. Depending on custom and circumstances, he is to withdraw completely from business and trade interests and devote himself to family, friends and religion. The negative side, therefore, is abstention from work; but positively, the observance of the Sabbath and festival days is intended to intensify family life, give unworried minds a chance to study religious history and literature, and, above all, insure a periodic concentration on prayer and the things of the spirit.
Sabbath day services in the synagogue cover a large portion of the standard prayer manuals. Formerly all the prayers and hymns were in Hebrew, but of late even the Orthodox permit at least some recitation and chant in the vernacular, and prayer books usually have Hebrew on one side and vernacular on the opposite page. There are, in general, five functions to the synagogue service, whether on the Sabbath or festival days: readings from the Scripture or the Talmud; prayers which may be individual or communal, invocatory or meditative; chants of different kinds; preaching a sermon or giving a commentary on some sacred text; and a variety of ritual practices that are part of Jewish tradition and correspond to the prayers and hymns, but unlike the Christian sacraments have no intrinsic sanctifying efficacy.
The most important part of the public and private prayers of the Jew is the Shema, which every Jewish child knows before he attends synagogue. Originally the Shema consisted of only one verse, Deuteronomy 6-4, which says, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One," but the regular Shema in the liturgy consists of three portions: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. In the first portion, the faithful are commanded to love God with their heart, soul and might; to remember all His commandments and instruct their children accordingly; to recite the words of God when retiring or rising; to bind these words on their head and arm, and inscribe them on the doorposts and city gates. In the second part is a promise of reward for keeping these laws and of punishment for transgression, with a repetition of the first part. The third section contains the law regarding the zizit or fringes on the arba kanfoth and talith, as a reminder to keep all the divine precepts, as a warning against the evil inclinations of the heart, and in remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt. Josephus is witness to the fact that Moses ordered the Shema to be recited twice a day, as a divine command.
Next in importance is the Amida or Shmone Esreh, which is a collection of blessings at the morning (Shaharit) afternoon (Minhah) and evening (Arbit) services, as well as of the additional, Musaf, service on Sabbath and holy days. Literally, the name means "eighteen," though in reality, as recited in the synagogue, there are nineteen benedictions. It is often simply called Tefilah (prayer), as the prayer par excellence of Judaism. There are three blessings of praise (Shebahim), thirteen of petition (Bakhoshot), and three of thanksgiving (Hodaot).
Ten of the nineteen benedictions are explicitly Messianic, the others by implication. "Mindful of the patriarchs' love for Thee, Thou wilt in Thy love bring a redeemer to their children's children for the sake of Thy name.... Look upon our affliction and fight our battle and redeem us speedily for the sake of Thy name.... Blow the great trumpet for our liberation, and lift a banner to gather our exiles, and gather us into one body from the four corners of the earth.... To Jerusalem Thy city return Thou in mercy and dwell in her midst as Thou hast spoken, and build her speedily in our days as an everlasting structure and soon establish there the throne of David.... The seed of David Thy servant cause Thou to sprout up, and his horn do Thou lift up through Thy victorious salvation."
Each of the benedictions has a specified name, including a short one, called Goel (Redeemer), which addresses God as "Lord, the Redeemer of Israel," and bids Him come to save His people. In practice, the Amida is first prayed silently by the congregation and then repeated by the reader aloud. Great devotion is recommended in the recitation and interruptions are to be absolutely avoided. Depending on the type of Judaism, and the ritual customs, the Amida has many variants, which, though not substantial, stress or deemphasize one or another aspect. Elaborate rubrics explain when which benedictions are to be said, and with what external ritual.
A dramatic part of the Sabbath (and feast day) service is taking out the Torah for reading to the congregation. Seven men are called to the leader's platform to recite the blessing, "Bless the Lord who is to be blessed . . ." to which the congregation answers. After a section is read, another blessing, until the final invocation by the minister. The Torah is kept in a receptacle called the Ark (Aron Hakodesh), which is placed in the wall toward which the congregation and its leader, either the hazan (cantor) or rabbi, turn when they pray. Steps lead up to the Ark, much as the altar steps lead up to the tabernacle in a Catholic church. Above the Ark are two tablets, with abbreviations of the first two words for each of the Ten Commandments, five on each tablet. An embroidered velvet curtain covers the Ark; and the Ner Tamid hangs before it, namely, a lamp always kept burning to signify that light from the Torah must ever illumine the world. Light also comes from two large menorahs, or seven-branch candelabra, whose construction is minutely described in Exodus.
The Torah used for the liturgy is written in Hebrew on a scroll of parchment, rolled on pivots made of wood, ivory or silver. This sefer (book) Torah is wrapped in linen, silk or velvet; with another cover placed over it, usually of velvet, and like the curtains of the Ark, decorated with Hebrew letters embroidered with gold. The Magen David (Shield of David), two triangles forming a star, is often part of these decorations.
Fasts and festivals
There are twelve principal and several minor fasts and festivals in the Jewish year, some of biblical origin and others introduced since the Christian era. The Jewish calendar is based upon the moon, with each month having twenty-nine or thirty days. Although the new moon always shows that a new month has begun, the twelve lunar months do not add up to 365 days. So every few years the Jewish calendar has a leap year and a whole month is added, to catch up with the civil calendar.
The first day of each month is a half holiday, the Rosh Hodesh or New Moon, with several ritual blessings to be pronounced on "Seeing the New Moon," one of which is to be said seven times: "As we attempt to leap towards thee, but cannot touch thee, so may those who attempt to injure us, be unable to reach us."33
Several names are given to the Jewish New Year: Rosh Hashanah or Head of the Year, Yom Hazikaron or Remembrance Day, and Yom Hadin or Day of Judgment. Its function, therefore, is to serve as a day of recollection of the past, to judge one's conduct and ask God for mercy on the sins committed in the preceding year. A Messianic tone runs through the synagogue prayers for the feast, asking the Lord "When wilt Thou reign in Sion? Speedily, even in our days, do Thou dwell there, and for ever." Two days after the New Year is the Fast of Gedalyah, which recalls the murder of Gedalyah, governor of Jerusalem and protector of Jeremiah the prophet.
After Ten Days comes the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, on which the Jews are to make their peace with God and man. There is a strict fast from sunset to sunset, and self-affliction for sin. The faithful are reminded to make peace with man before they can approach God for pardon. They must undo every wrong, and restore anything of which they may have unlawfully deprived their fellowman. Symbolic of their struggles are the two he-goats which the ancient law prescribed for sacrifice. One was to be offered to God as representing the forces in man which are dedicated to the performance of God-given duties; the other was driven into the wilderness, a scapegoat, to carry away the sins of Israel into the unknown as a sign of expiation.
Since the Jews have no animal sacrifices today a number of substitutes have been devised, of which the nearest to the ancient practice is the Kaporoth (atonement) in which a fowl is killed, a rooster for a man and a hen for a woman. Such act of reparation can be made either for oneself or someone else. The prayer prescribed for a woman, atoning for herself, says, "This is my change, and is my compensation, this is my redemption. This chicken is going to be killed, while I shall be admitted and allowed a good, happy and peaceful life."34
The feast of Tabernacles, Succoth, occurs in the same month and primarily has historical associations. Lasting eight days, it recalls the trust of the ancient Israelites in God's protection, although they dwelt only in huts, whence the name Succoth. In Palestine this is the harvest festival, so that its second significance is gratitude to God for His goodness. The most colorful part of the week-long celebration is the closing ceremony when the whole congregation makes seven solemn circuits bearing a cluster of palm, citron, myrtle and willow, to signify the cooperative spirit which Judaism seeks to develop the palm represents beauty and usefulness, the willow neither, the myrtle and citron each has one of these qualities. By combining these elements Judaism, as all humanity, advances the cause of civilization and finds its way to God. Closing the month of Tishri is one more feast, the "Rejoicing of the Law," called Simhath Torah, when the reading of the Torah is completed and begun anew.
Corresponding to the civil month of December is the Jewish Kislev, when the Hannukah (dedication) is celebrated to commemorate the fight for freedom which the Maccabees won over the Syrian tyrant. Recalling the story of the crude oil which burned for eight days beyond its measure, a new candle is lighted successively on each of eight days, with accompanying prayers. A month later is the fast of Tebet, to mourn over the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
The feast of Lots, Purim, occurs in the middle of the month Adar (corresponding to March) to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from the Persians, under Mordechai, described in the Book of Esther. Purim is the holiday on which the Jews celebrate "a great redemption." In modern Israel, the feast is no less the hope of deliverance than the joy of a free nation. At Tel-Aviv the streets which carry the names of some Jewish personalities are decorated, and quotations from the Megillah (scroll of Esther) are appended to the street names. Purim is preceded by a day's fast.
In the following month of Nisan (normally April), begins the Jewish (ecclesiastical) year with its celebration of the sacred Passover, Pesah, "because the Lord passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians."35 On this festival the Jews partake of no leaven, Hametz, which should not even be found on the premises of their houses. They recall the hurried exodus of their ancestors, who left Egypt while having time to bake only unleavened cakes, matzot, for the journey. The eve of the first and second days of the Passover are Seder (order) nights, devoted to reading the story of the liberation from Egyptian bondage.
Numerous ritual customs dating from centuries back are prescribed: three matzots representing a division of the Jewish people, Cohen, Levi and Israel; the lamb bone symbolic of the sacrificial lamb; a roasted egg typifying hope and resurrection; parsley and radish root symbolic of spring; dipping the parsley in salt water to recall the tears shed in slavery; the sweetened sauce (Haroseth) whose red color represents the bricks made under Egyptian tyranny.
Fifty days after the Passover occurs the Shabuoth, anticipated by a "count down" called the Counting of Omer. The Shabuoth recalls the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, when the people are reminded they accepted the charge of becoming a nation of priests and a holy nation. On the second day of the Shabuoth (as also on Yom Kippur and the last day of the Pesach) a memorial service is held for the dead. An ancient tradition recommends the distribution of gifts to the poor on the eve of all Jewish holy days.
Before the end of the religious year, there are two periods of fasting, during the civil months of July and August, called Tammuz and Av. They commemorate the first and second destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, and its burning to the ground. During these weeks of mourning no marriages are blessed nor other joyous festivities celebrated.
Few practices of the Jews are more misunderstood than the laws of Kashruth which they have obeyed since ancient times, and which demand of the Orthodox the greatest possible sacrifice.
As a general rule, the Torah states that the purpose of these laws is sanctification. Jewish writers over the years, notably, Maimonides, have speculated which among the regulations are major and which minor, and for both, why they are prescribed. In fact, the dietary customs of strict Judaism were the main source of tension and finally of separation from Orthodox Jewry.
There are six principal regulations, or legal restrictions, covering the Jewish diet. First is the prescription to eat only such animals as have been killed by Shehitah, which requires that the animal be killed instantly. A delay of even one moment makes the beast unfit for food. It must also be thoroughly drained of blood. Fish are not subject to this law. Trephah (torn) refers to all forbidden food, while Kasher (also Kosher) means what is "right" or permitted.
Blood is absolutely forbidden, except in the case of fish, following the prohibition in Deuteronomy that, since blood is life, "thou shalt not eat the life with the flesh."36 Regarding cattle or beasts the law says, "Whatsoever parts the hoof, and is wholly cloven footed, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that you may eat." Among other forbidden animals, the camel, the hare, and swine, are excluded in Scripture by name.37 While a number of birds are traditionally considered Kasher, all birds of prey are forbidden. Fish that have fins and scales are permitted, but snails, lobsters, crabs and "every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth" should not be eaten.38
Finally all mixture of meat and milk, Bassar Behalav, is for bidden, although the flesh of fish is not considered meat in this combination. The Scripture source for the law is the prohibition of seething a kid in its mother's milk, which the rabbis explain contains three injunctions: not to cook meat and milk (or their products) together, not to eat such a mixture at the same meal, and not derive any benefit from such a mixture. The dietary laws even require that no dishes used for meat touch any used for dairy foods.
Orthodox commentators observe that the Jew who faithfully keeps Kashruth has to think of his religious and communal allegiance on the occasion of every meal, wherever his lot may be cast at the time; and on every occasion, his observance of the law is a renewed acknowledgment of his ancestry and a profession of his Jewish faith.
Liberalism and reform
Adaptation of Judaism to prevalent conditions and liberalization of its faith and practice were familiar since the beginning of the Christian era, and before that among the Sadducees who favored Hellenizing tendencies, repudiated oral tradition and, among other doctrines, denied retribution in an after-life, resurrection of the body and the existence of angelic spirits.
The high-water mark of rationalization in the early Middle Ages occurred under Maimonides, whose principles of reform were less radical than might seem at first glance, since the basic dogmas he proposed are still professed by Orthodox Jews. More sweeping were the liberal ideas of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the German scholar who claimed that "Judaism knows nothing of a revealed religion in the sense in which it is taken by Christians. Judaism boasts of no exclusive revelation of immutable truths indispensable to salvation; of no revealed religion in the sense in which that term is usually taken." Instead of being exclusive, to the Jewish people, all its essentials are "the universal religion of mankind and not Judaism."39 His Judaism, therefore, is a compound of theistic universalism, recognition of a historic community, and acceptance of its special way of life but no more.
With the emergence of Jews from the European ghetto and their entrance into the mainstream of social life, the theoretical ideas of Mendelssohn and other reformers began to take practical shape along clearly divergent lines.
At one extreme remained the Orthodox who still form the majority of world Judaism. Emancipation in Europe found them unprepared. Not until near the end of the last century were seminaries and schools established to train the rising generation in the delicate task of preserving the full heritage of Judaic ideals in modern society. Samson Hirsch, Israel Hildesheimer and Meir Jung were among the pioneers in Germany, with comparable developments in England, Holland and France. In the United States they organized Yeshiva University and the Rabbinical Council of America. Yet they are the first to admit that while standing unequivocally for the principle of authority of the Torah and for Judaism as a revealed religion, Orthodox congregations, in America at least, suffer from many disabilities which their more liberal co-religionists are spared. Their great contribution to the future of Judaism was the religious faith they brought to the Zionist movement which helped create the independent state of Israel.
At the other extreme, and opposed to Orthodoxy, is Reform Judaism, also called Progressive or Liberal, which began in Germany as heir of Mendelssohn and emigrated to America through men like Isaac Wise and Kaufman Kohler, fresh from their conflict with Orthodox Jewry on the continent. There was a difference, however. Whereas the Reform movement in Europe was in most cities forced to make a tenuous peace with Conservatives so as not to break up the Jewish community, American Reformers became leaders of independent congregations, entirely free to reduce principles to action.
Two factors played heavily into their hands. The theoretical negation of the value of ritual observances found a ready echo in the general tendency of Jewish immigrants to drop all cultural obstacles in their climb to material success, and the prospect of acceptance in the American community seemed too great a blessing to count the cost, even if this meant transformation of their distinctive heritage. By 1885 the movement reached sufficient maturity to draft a strong manifesto which declared that in the Mosaic legislation "we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization." This was revolutionary doctrine especially when coupled with the declaration that, "We reject as ideas not rooted in Judaism the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden, Hell and Paradise, as abodes of everlasting punishment and reward.40
The Pittsburgh Platform, as it came to be called, was not meant to be a creed but a set of guiding norms. But even so, for many rabbis the Reform movement had gone too far. It denied the nationhood of Israel and said that Jews were members of a religious sect, with no aspirations for the restoration of Palestine as the national home of Israel. The authority and binding power of traditional Jewish law were surrendered. Basic observances were dropped and a new liturgy was projected all of which gave expression to existing practices.
Aroused by this break with historic Judaism a group of English speaking rabbis decided to establish a theological seminary of their own. In opposition to the Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati) created by the Reform, they began in 1887 the Jewish Theological Seminary (New York), with Solomon Schechter of Cambridge University as president. Within a few decades, Jewish Theological became the spiritual fountain head of the third alignment in American Jewry Conservative Judaism.
Its basic philosophy is that Judaism is not a static, revealed religion but the growing religious culture and civilization of the Jewish people. Thus its first stress is on the evolving character of Judaism. Apologists point out that Judaism has always been dynamic, by adapting itself to new ideas and new situations. Moses, the prophets, Maimonides each saved his people by adjusting their principles to the times. The Talmud itself is a massive reinterpretation of the Torah to meet the problems of the age.
Conservative Judaism seeks to steer a middle course between Orthodoxy and the Reform. The latter saw the practical impossibility of keeping the Jewish code under modern conditions and made the mistake of abrogating the law itself. Orthodoxy unrealistically tries to keep the structure unchanged, while denying that Judaism may ever undergo development. Conservatism believes that the best in Judaic traditions can be retained, while adjusting their application to current needs. The Jewish religion, it holds, has far more flexibility than the Orthodox would allow, and more stability than the Reform movement believes.
On the difficult question of which is more true to authentic Judaism, a prominent Jewish historian, Salo W. Baron; felt that Orthodoxy and Reform are a "deviation from historical Judaism," since both have abandoned "Judaism's self rejuvenating" vitality. Only Conservatism maintains "the general validity of Jewish law" and combines it with "the freedom of personal interpretation of the Jewish past and creed."
Reform Judaism has meantime reassessed its position. In 1937 it issued a revised platform which deserves to be quoted at length as a contrast to the image of Orthodoxy fixed in the popular mind. Recalling that only a minority follow the strict Orthodox tradition, of American Jews with somewhat higher ratios in other countries, the sentiments of the other extreme should be known, at the risk of conceiving Judaism as a monolith whose beliefs are circumscribed by the Torah or whose practices are covered by the 613 precepts set down in the Talmud.
Protesting they have no intention of setting down a fixed creed, the Reform rabbis defined Judaism as "the historical experience of the Jewish people." Its message grew out of Jewish life, indeed, but is actually universal and aims at the union and perfection of mankind under the sovereignty of God. Above all the principle of progressive development in religion must be recognized, whereby ancient ideals are consciously applied to existing cultural and social patterns.
The heart of Judaism, in Reform terms, and its main contribution to religion, is "the doctrine of the One, living God, who rules the world through law and love. In Him all existence has its creative source and mankind its ideal of conduct. Though transcending time and space, He is the indwelling Presence of the world." This last declaration aims to balance the notion of divine transcendence stressed by the Orthodox and offer scope within Judaism for disciples of Spinoza and Kant, who remain Jews while urging, as did Einstein, that "In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up the source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests."41
Coming to grips with the core problem of assimilation, spokesmen for the Reform rest their case on a concept of revelation which is at once natural and developmental, and not limited to Jews except by the accident of superior intellect.
God reveals himself not only in the majesty, beauty and orderliness of nature, but also in the vision and moral striving of the human spirit. Revelation is a continuous process, confined to no one group and to no one age. Yet the people of Israel, through its prophets and sages, achieved unique insight in the realms of religious truth.
Correspondingly the hope in a personal Messias from the loins of David is modified, yet less forthrightly than half a century earlier, before the Nazi concentration camps had taken their millions of victims. When Zionism was still only a vague dream, the advocates of Reform declared, "We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state." Now they concede that "in the rehabilitation of Palestine we behold the promise of renewed life for many of our brethren." But the real aim of Judaism is more expansive. "We regard it as our historic task to cooperate with all men in the establishment of the Kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, justice, truth and peace on earth. This is our Messianic goal."43
Friendly Reform critics have said these sentiments are more notable for their adroitness in avoiding a catastrophic clash on the issue of nationalism than for lucidity, logic or forthrightness. Nevertheless they illustrate the spirit of Judaic liberalism in adapting itself not only to the pressure of alien powers which demand compromise as the price of survival, but also to dominant elements within Judaism that invite cooperation from all adherents of the Jewish faith in the interests of the common good.
Jewish writers who reflect on the vast changes that have taken place in the last generations see a religious dimension in the fact that Judaism has polarized in two centers, Israel and America. They find here the two classical foci of Jewish life the Diaspora and the homeland. For the present they seem to be in flux, but in time are expected to prove the mysterious adaptability of Judaism to every contingency, now to its new role of a minority religion, mainly in America, and a national state in the land of the Bible.
The chosen people
Any estimate of Judaism would be incomplete that did not take into account the belief in its own destiny as the Chosen People. Its origins are bound up with the initial covenant that God made with Abraham, as with the head of a family, so that the Jewish people ever since are conceived as the ever-growing number of descendants of the "father of all the faithful." When a convert to Judaism is received, the ritual prescribes that he be adopted into the family of Abraham; and all the liturgical prayers of the people emphasize their participation in the special blessings of a gens electa, with whom God first made a testament under Abraham and later widened it under Moses.
Their election by God binds the Jewish people to their part of the covenant. He led them out of slavery in Egypt, and worked marvelous signs in their favor; they are to hear His voice and re main faithful to His commandments. Time and again they failed in obedience and were punished for their infidelity, and though God will judge them by stricter standards than other nations, they will never be utterly rejected or abandoned. They will always be His people, and He will be their God.
Until modern times the nature of God's election and of Judaism as His "chosen one" was closely akin to the biblical notion that appears in the Torah and that centuries of reflection had crystallized in the Talmud. But as Judaism developed under its newly emancipated condition since the early eighteen hundreds, the concept of its status as a Chosen People was variously interpreted, depending on the religious philosophy which the interpreters professed and determined by their nearness or distance to or from the ideal set forth by Maimonides in the twelfth century. Exhorting the Yemenite Jewry to withstand persecution, he told them, "Know, you are born in this covenant and raised in this belief, that the stupendous occurrence, the truth of which is testified by the most trusty of witnesses, stands in very deed alone in the annals of mankind. For a whole people heard the word of God and saw the glory of the Divinity. From this lasting memory we must draw our power to strengthen our faith even in a period of persecution and affliction such as the present one."44
There are now two main approaches in Jewish thought to the idea of a covenant and to Israel's role as a chosen race among nations. One approach is naturalistic, where the version of religion without revelation is dominant and God Himself is represented as the sum of a man's highest ideals; the other is frankly revelational, admitting a divine intervention in favor of His people and through them to the rest of the world.
Sigmund Freud typifies the Jewish naturalist whose personal religious convictions were far removed from orthodoxy, and yet who maintained a passionate devotion to his people and was inspired to heroic efforts in the advancement of what he considered the mission of Judaism to mankind.
Freud viewed himself as "little an adherent of the Jewish religion as of any other." He had no attraction for a Judaism that involved theological beliefs distinct from Christianity. On his seventieth birthday, he wrote an address to the Society of B'nai B'rith in which he confessed that "what bound me to Jewry was, I am ashamed to admit, neither faith nor national pride, for I have always been an unbeliever and was brought up without any religion though not without a respect for what are called the 'ethical' standards of human civilization."45
Yet in spite of his irreligion, Freud was intensely Jewish and led most of his life in mainly Jewish society. His friends and patients were largely Jewish; his private culture, down to certain details of family sentiment, exemplified a Jewishness that friendly biographers say was more binding than religious orthodoxy. With all his distaste for Judaism as a faith, and for Jewish ceremonies and customs, he acknowledged himself to be a psychological Jew. By this he meant that he found in the perennial Jewish character, rather than in belief, the source of his personal integrity, moral courage, intelligence, and, above all, his defensive attitude toward the world.
More than once he linked his own work and that of his contemporaries with the fact that he and they were Jewish. This was the source of their moral stamina. Ethnic pride gave him the strength to project his desire for that unhampered critical utterance which, as he explained, is the religion not of the Jew integrated into his own community but of the "infidel Jew," who stands on the edge of an alien culture and perpetually arrayed against it.46 It was hardly coincidental, he felt, "that the first advocate of psychoanalysis was a Jew. To profess belief in this new theory called for a certain degree of readiness to accept a position of solitary opposition, a position with which no one is more familiar than a Jew."47 In his image, this minority may at times shrink to a group of one, like Moses or himself as the solitary opponent of organized error.
In Freud's vocabulary, this opposition to organized error was near the heart of what he considered the mission of the Jews as a Chosen People. In the same address to the B'nai B'rith, after admitting his laxity on the religious side of Judaism, he made a profession of faith in those "other things" which bound him to his nation.
Plenty of other things remained over to make the attraction of Jewry and Jews irresistible many obscure emotional forces, which were the more powerful the less they could be expressed in words, as well as a clear consciousness of inner identity, the safe privacy of a common mental construction. And beyond this there was a perception that it was to my Jewish nature alone that I owed two characteristics that had become indispensable to me in the difficult course of my life. Because I was a Jew I found myself free from many prejudices which restricted others in the use of their intellect; and as a Jew I was prepared to join the Opposition and to do without agreement with the "compact majority."48
He returns to the same theme in other writings, as in the short Autobiography, where he looks back at the conflict he early experienced as a medical student by reason of his race. "At an early age I was made familiar with the fate of being in the Opposition and of being put under the ban of the 'compact majority.'"49
In terms of the Judaic mission, therefore, Freud believed it was the role of his people, even as had been the function of the ancient prophets, to stand up for what they believed to be redemptive convictions, teaching an unlistening world the truths they needed to be delivered, in Freudian language, from their illusions. One of the paradoxes of this naturalism is that the illusion from which the "compact majority" were to be freed was that of religion. "A psychologist," Freud wrote, "strives to review the development of mankind in accord with what insight he has won from studying the mental processes of the individual during his development from childhood to manhood. In this connection the idea forces itself upon him that religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis, and he is optimistic enough to assume that mankind will overcome this neurotic phase, just as so many children grow out of their similar neuroses."50
Needless to say the Freudian concept of Judaism is repudiated by all believing Jews, notwithstanding Freud's own claim that "I have always had a strong feeling of solidarity with my fellow people, and have always encouraged it in my children as well. We have all remained in the Jewish denomination."51
On a higher level, but still within the scope of naturalism, is another idea of the Covenant propounded with marked fervor among the Reform groups in the United States. The American Mordechai Kaplan complains that "the apologists for the doctrine of Israel's election do not take the trouble to think through to a conclusion the role of religion in human civilization." They too easily assume that "religion was supernaturally revealed truth," and then argue that when such truth was communicated only by one's own people, these people had been chosen by God. "But when one abandons the idea of supernatural revelation, what becomes of religion?" It is found to be the organized quest of a people for salvation, and on the part of the Jews it is a composite of their saints and heroes, customs and folkways, sacred literature and common symbols which have been hallowed by their relation to the Judaic search for the goal of human destiny. Yet, while the Jews are not a chosen people in the traditional sense, they have a duty to help others find a conception of God that imposes on its adherents loyalty to a universally valid code of ethics. "It is only in that sense that the Jewish religion is universal."52
The classic interpretation of Israel's covenant begins with the premise that God has communicated a special revelation to the Jews. They are its predestined custodians, to whom Yahweh entrusted the prophetic wisdom that He wants finally to be shared by all nations. It was a clear vision of this fact which inaugurated the neo-orthodox movement in modern Judaism, as expressed in a famous letter of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), one of the founders of modern Jewish orthodoxy.
Because men had eliminated God from life, nay, even from nature and found the basis of life in possessions and its aim in enjoyment, deeming life the product of the multitude of human desires, just as they looked upon nature as the product of a multitude of gods, therefore it became necessary that a people be introduced into the ranks of the nations which, through its history and life, should declare God the only creative cause of existence, fulfilment of His will the only aim of life; and which should bear the revelation of His will, rejuvenated and renewed for its sake, unto all parts of the world as the motive and incentive of its coherence.
Hirsch declared that "the proclaiming of these great truths was to be the chief, if not the sole, life-task of this people." Has Israel any other function, he asked, than to teach all the races of man to recognize and worship the Only-One as their God; and should not Israel's unceasing duty be to proclaim through the example of its life and teaching the universal Lord and Sovereign of creation.
The same sentiments were echoed in the greatest spiritual representative of classical Judaism in the twentieth century, the chief rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), whose mysticism was a reaffirmation of the teaching of the prophets. All the world, he taught, is waiting for the Light of Israel radiating from Him whose name is to be praised. "This people was fashioned by God to speak of His glory; it was granted the heritage of the blessing of Abraham so that it might disseminate the knowledge of God and it was commanded to live its life apart from the nations of the world. God chose it to cleanse the whole world of all impurity and darkness; this people is endowed with a hidden treasure, with the Torah, the means by which the Heaven and the Earth were created."54
Too often the Light of Israel is taken for a utopian dream, or some abstract morality, or merely a pious wish and noble vision. This is a mistake. "It does not wash its hands of the material world and all its values, abandoning the flesh, and society and government to wallow in their impurity, and forsaking the forces of nature, which fell in the Fall of Man, to remain in their low estate. It is, rather, a raising of all of life" to something of its pristine vigor and integrity.55
Rabbi Kook was realist enough to sense what he called a grave error, which is insensitive to the distinctive unity of the Jewish spirit and imagines that the Divine stuff that characterizes Israel is like the spiritual content of other national civilizations. "This error is the source of the attempt to sever the national from the religious element of Judaism. Such division would falsify both our nationalism and our religion, for every element of thought, emotion, and idealism that is present in the Jewish people belongs to an indivisible unity, and all together make up its specific character."56 The Zionist movement was based on these two component elements of Judaism.
In pluralist countries like the United States, the same ideals have been presented but with an accent on the need for tolerance towards the non-Jewish religions. An ardent defender of the Torah, Yehudah Halevi, "who scorned the annual task of modern rabbis and Jewish pulpiteers to bring Judaism into fictitious harmony with fictitious modern culture," is cited as authority that "Christianity and Mohammedanism are cooperating with the Jew in the task of bringing near the time of the Messiah."57
But the task is not an easy one. Judaism which is faithful to its mission has to keep ever conscious of its inward responsibility as the people of God and simultaneously of the outward duty to communicate the divine message to others. "Neither to become assimilated with the other nations nor yet to be isolated from them completely, but rather to live with them in constant exchange of thought and act, in order to fulfil its own mission by teaching the supremacy of God that seems to be the historical function of Israel."58
Evidently the interior spirit must be deep to insure preservation of those religious principles on which Judaism is built; and at the same time the desire to share this divine treasure must be strong, if both the centripetal and centrifugal purposes of God's plan are to be active. Between the two, the more difficult to maintain is interior fidelity to the Law.
The conscious and unconscious striving towards this ideal is the meaning of all Jewish history. To perpetuate ourselves in spite of the tremendous forces making for the disintegration of the Jewish type, we need the consolidating, strengthening, vitalizing influence of the Jewish environment. Such environment is created by the life in the Law. Only there pulsates the spirit of Judaism, only thence emanates that intensive permeation with our historical ideals, which enable us to continue not only our national existence, but also our contribution to the common treasury of man.59
If the Jewish people are ever to make the impact on the world, for which they have been destined by the Creator, it cannot come from an amorphous compromise with the less than divine principles of the world about them. "From the colorless abode of assimilation we have no message for the world," and the sad history of opposition which they have met only reinforces the conclusion. No doubt there is a "Jewish question," but "if we are earnest about the Jewish question, we realize that its solution lies with us. Anti-Semitism, intolerance, are Gentile problems. Ours is the task to raise Jewry to the heights of Judaism," which is religious in essence and apostolic in aim.
The strongest message of Judaism for our day is the all-embracing character of religion. Judaism must remain the single upward-surging force every day of the year, every hour of the day. It brooks no pigeon holing of religion, no reduction of its scope, no confinement of its message. Its function must be as catholic as its eschatology. Torah true Judaism is the Judaism which insists in theory on the necessity of religion to embrace synagogue, home and life, and which provides in practice guidance for every action, addressing the bride at home, the employer at his office, the youngster in school, the judge, the priest.60
A new dimension has been added to the classic form of Israel based on the Torah through the writings and influence of Martin Buber, commonly recognized as the outstanding Jewish religious thinker of modern times. He was a native of Vienna, where he took his doctor's degree in 1900, and played an active part in the Zionist movement, which he had joined two years before. From 1906 onwards he devoted himself chiefly to religious studies. These led him to occupation with Hasidism, whence he derived many of his ideas, e.g., those on a kind of activist mysticism and the sanctification of daily life. From 1916 to 1924 he was editor of Der Jude, the principal periodical of German-speaking Jewry. In 1923 be received a call to Frankfurt University, where he lectured on Jewish theology and ethics. In 1926 he started a periodical Die Kreatur, with Catholic and Protestant collaborators. After the advent of Adolph Hitler he became professor at the University of Jerusalem.
Outside of Judaism, Buber is best known for his treatise Ich und Du (1923), in which he studies the relationship between man and things, called by him the "I-It" relationship, in contrast to the relation between persons, i.e., between man and man and between man and God, called the "I-Thou" relationship. But his contribution to the religion of his own people has been equally if not more significant.
Buber applies the existential approach to the Bible, which he sees as essentially a dialogue between "the 'I' of the speaking God and the 'Thou' of the hearing Israel." For all its variety and detail, the Bible "is really one book, for one basic theme unites all the stories and songs, sayings and prophecies, contained within it. The theme of the Bible is the encounter between a group of people and the Lord of the world in the course of history."61 Its basic doctrine is that our life is a dialogue between the above and the below, which approximates the dialogue relation that Buber finds to be the underlying reality in human existence and becomes the very foundation of biblical faith. Unlike the realm of philosophy, however, where God is man's Eternal Thou corresponding to the human I, in the Bible God is the I, and man the Thou whom He addresses. In other words, it is God who speaks first and man responds with all the vitality of his God-inspired nature.
As might be expected from these postulates, Buber has no sympathy with the static notion of Israel as a social entity, fixed once and for all by ethnic ties and bound together by a common belief in God. Certainly this is a familiar image outside of Judaism, but it is not the actual Chosen People, "not that which the prophet who harangues the people sees assembled around him. The religious character of the people consists emphatically in that something different intended for it from what it is now, that it is destined for something different that it should become a true people, the 'People of God.' Precisely in the religion of Israel it is impossible to make an idol of the people as a whole, for the religious attitude of the community is inherently critical and postulative. Who ever ascribes to the nation or to the community the attributes of the absolute and of self-sufficiency betrays the religion of Israel."62
But, then, what does it mean to become a People of God, if a common belief in God and service to His name are not the constitutive elements? It means that men have engaged in personal encounter with Yahweh, have listened to Him speak in the depths of their soul, and responded not merely with faith expressed in community worship but with affection for their fellowman who is in the image of God.
Becoming a people of God means that the attributes of God revealed to it, justice and love, are to be made effective in its own. life in the lives of its members with one another; justice materialized in the indirect mutual relationships off these individuals; love in their direct mutual relationships rooted in their personal existence. Of the two, however, love is the higher; the transcending principle. This becomes unequivocally clear from the fact that mam cannot be just to God; he can, however, and should, love God. And it is the love of God which transfers itself to man. "God loves the strangers" we are told, "so you too shall love him." The man who loves God loves also him whom God loves.63
Becoming a people of God means that the attributes of God revealed to it, justice and love, are to be made effective in its own life, in the lives of its members with one another; justice materialized in the indirect mutual relationships of these individuals; love in their direct mutual relationships rooted in their personal existence. Of the two, however, love is the higher, the transcending principle. This becomes unequivocally clear from the fact that man cannot be just to God; he can, however, and should, love God. And it is the love of God which transfers itself to man. "God loves the stranger," we are told, "so you too shall love him." The man who loves God loves also him whom God loves."
Accordingly what makes Israel a chosen race is not its national consciousness, even when that is rooted in the acknowledgment of the one true God. It is the divine commission to go beyond itself in spiritual philanthropy, and in the generous responsiveness of the people to this mandate. "I am setting up," Buber explained, "Hebrew humanism in opposition to that Jewish nationalism which regards Israel as a nation like unto other nations, and recognizes no task for Israel save that of preserving and asserting itself." Unlike other communities, "in the historical hour in which its tribes grew together to form a people, it became the carrier of a revelation.64 That hallmark of Judaic identity remains unchanged to the present day.
Buber's lifelong friendship with Christians made him acutely aware that they, too, considered themselves chosen by God, with a mission not unlike that of the Jews and founded, like theirs, on God's selective communication to man. In a memorable conference to Christian missionaries he brought out "the two foci of the Jewish soul," which he identified as "first the immediate relationship to the Existent One, and second, the power of atonement in an unatoned world." On these two elements rests the ultimate division between Judaism and Christianity.
As regards the first element, the Jews believe in "the non-incarnation of God who reveals Himself to the 'flesh' and is present to it in a mutual relationship." In contrast with Christians who also profess the unity of God, "we do not unite ourselves with Him. The God in whom we believe, to whom we are pledged, does not unite with human substance on earth." But the very fact that they do not conceive themselves being united with God urges them the more ardently "to demand that the world shall be perfected under the kingship of the Mighty One."
Similarly, the Jews look upon the world as yet unredeemed and therefore that salvation is still to be accomplished. "No savior with whom a new redeemed history began has appeared to us at any definite point in history. Because we have not been stilled by anything which has happened, we are wholly directed toward the coming of that which is to come."65
Thus on both counts, Christians and Jews seem to be utterly divided, and how often only their division has been stressed. Nevertheless they have much in common and not the least of Buber's contributions to Judaic literature has been to clarify the relationship of these two Chosen Peoples, and to offer the hope for their fruitful cooperation. "What have you and we in common," he asks of Christians. If we take the question literally, he answers, "a book and an expectation." The book is the revealed word of God, the expectation is the advent of the Messias.
To you, the book is a forecourt; to us, it is the sanctuary. But in this place, we can dwell together, and together listen to the voice that speaks here. That means that we can work together to evoke the buried speech of that voice; together, we can redeem the imprisoned living word.
When compared pre-messianically, the destinies of Judaism and Christianity are divided. To the Christian, the Jew is the incomprehensibly obdurate man, who declines to admit what has happened; whereas to the Jew, the Christian is the incomprehensibly daring man, who affirms that the redemption has been accomplished in a world that is still unredeemed. While "this is a gulf which no human power can bridge," it should not prevent the common watch for a unity to come from God for Christians and Jews.
Buber encourages both sides to hold inviolably fast to their respective faiths, "that is to our own deepest relationship to truth," and to show a religious respect for the true faith of the other. Existentialist fashion, he concludes that "whenever we both, Christian and Jew, care more for God Himself than for our images, we are united in the feeling that our Father's house is differently constructed than all our human models take it to be."67 While this kind of relativism is hard to reconcile with the absolutes of Christianity, it is symbolic of a heartening spirit in modern Judaism, whose ranking spokesman tells his people to "meet the world with the fullness of your being, and you shall meet God," on the premise that the world outside of Judaism also has the revelation of God.
William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, New York, Doubleday, 1957. Modern classic on the historical process of religion before Jewish times, under the Mosaic covenant, and into Christian times.*
Father John A. Hardon. "Judaism." Chapter 11 in Religions of the World (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1963), 235-282.
This chapter is reprinted with permission from Inter Mirifica.
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (1914-2000) was a tireless apostle of the Catholic faith. The author of over twenty-five books including The Catholic Catechism, Modern Catholic Dictionary, Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Pocket Catholic Catechism, Q & A Catholic Catechism, Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan and many other Catholic books and hundreds of articles, Father Hardon was a close associate and advisor of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Order Father Hardon's home study courses here.
© 2003 Inter Mirifica
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.