Distinctive characteristics • Dialogical • Jewish history is “a continuing dialogue with God” rooted in a covenant • Both sides—people and God—participate • Often takes the form of argument in the Bible and rabbinic writings • The dialogue is grounded in each side’s obligations to covenant • Adaptive • Has changed, radically at times, to accommodate new cultures and new challenges while preserving essential tradition • Ortho-praxis (“right practice”) • Focus on keeping mitzvot (commandments) as expression of covenant • Doctrine can vary widely
“Passion for Meaning” • “The real impact of the ancient Jews, however, lies in the extent to which Western civilization took over their angle of vision on the deepest questions life poses” (Smith, 271).
Worldviews in Religion • Theism • “cosmos is a divine creation which reveals God’s glory” (55) • Essentially good, but may be marred by hostile forces (55) • Full of signs of God’s goodness and purpose (55), in both nature and history • God continuously guides and sustains the cosmos (55) • Animism; Polytheism • Cosmos is full of powers revealed through nature (56) • May be one High God above all others • Buddhism • No beginning point of cosmos; no creator • Cosmos is an impermanent, vast series of interconnected events (59) • Seeing the world as permanent is a barrier to enlightenment • Materialism (ex: Marx) • Life can be explained through material causes • Concept of God in an invention (60)
Ancient Israel: Historical setting • Developed in Mesopotamia ca. 3000 yrs ago • Tiny land, small group of people fighting for survival • Surrounded by powerful empires that rise and fall • Akkadia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, Rome • Yet incredibly influential in Western culture
Genesis 1:1-2:4 • Different view of God and world than in Enuma Elish, an ancient Babylonian myth • Jews exiled to Babylon 587-539 BCE • Enuma Elish • world created out of bodies of defeated gods • human beings are slaves to the winning gods • Genesis 1:
Key ideas • Monotheistic • Fundamental statement of belief: Shema Yisrael: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One” • Contrasts with other Ancient Near Eastern religions • Had multiple deities, consorts, were more like humans • Also had fertility gods and rituals; Creator might be hostile • In contrast, Israel’s God is different from humans • not male (no consort) • Always draws contrast (“Am I a man, that I should lie?”) • Calls humans to higher moral standards • But, cares deeply about people
Covenant • Central idea in Judaism • God is revealed in history • History has an end goal, is meaningful • Belief is lived out practically • Covenants in Judaism • God with Noah • God with Abraham (Gen 12, 15, 17) • Big one: God with Moses and Israel on Mt. Sinai (book of Exodus)
Exodus Story • Central narrative in Judaism • Paradigm: continues to interpret new experiences • Retold each year in the Seder meal of Passover • Remembers past, and interprets present circumstances as an ongoing story of God’s liberation of the oppressed • Story that establishes identity • Of God as liberator • Of Israel as a people of God • Of their covenantal relationship: each has obligations
Seder • Haggadah • Traditional story, blessings, songs, prayers • Yet flexible: many versions • Unites past, present, and future • Foods: symbols of Exodus story • Cup for Elijah • Roles for the kids
Seder, cont. • What makes this a ritual? • What makes it meaningful? • How does it disclose identity: • Of Jews (Settings, p. 134, 137) • Of God • What does it mean for Jews today?
Ongoing development: Rabbinic Judaism • Major crisis: destruction of Jerusalem Temple by Romans in 70 CE • Need new ways to practice religion in diaspora, without a geographic center, Temple, or priesthood • Rabbis present new adaptable model: study and prayer in the synagogue and at home • Focus on study • Torah: Hebrew Bible • Talmud (400-500 CE) includes: • Mishnah (200 CE): record of oral tradition by rabbis • Gemara: commentary on Mishnah • 613 mitzvot (commandments) • Focus on ritual and prayer in home and synagogue • Sabbath (shabbat), holidays, keeping mitzvot
Major change: Reform Judaism • Assumption: “Jewish law, halachah, is an historical collection of human responses to the divine.” (“Synagogues,” 100) • Redefined Judaism’s place in the modern world (101) • Develops in 1800s Germany • Time of Enlightenment • Belief in universality of truth, known through reason • Religion seen as valuable for teaching morals • Questioned religious authorities, scriptures • Legal changes • Emancipation laws give Jews citizenship • Many Jews see value in assimilating to European society • Adapted rabbinic Judaism to modern life • Focus on moral law and social justice • Traditions are adaptable • keeping kosher, observing Sabbath, studying Torah and Talmud critically
Movements of Judaism • Orthodox • About 10% of American Jews • Majority of Jews in Europe, Israel • Conservative • Started in 1913 in U.S. as a middle ground between Reform and Orthodox • About 40-43% of American Jews • Reform • About 35-40% of American Jews • Reconstructionist • Started in 1967 in U.S.