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Jewish Traditions

Jewish Traditions

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Jewish Traditions

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  1. Jewish Traditions Jeffrey L. Richey, Ph.D. REL 117Introduction to World Religions Berea College Spring 2005

  2. WHO IS A JEW? • Jew = from Hebrew Yehudi (descendants of Judah, son of Biblical patriarch Jacob/Israel); originally ethnic, not religious, label • Since 6th century BCE, denotes person who is a physical and/or spiritual descendant of Jacob/Israel, either by having a Jewish mother or converting to Judaism

  3. ANCIENT ROOTS OF JUDAISM • Kingdom of Israel (1020-722 BCE) traces its history back to Abraham, Hebrew native of Ur (southern Iraq) who settled in Canaan (Israel/Palestine), c. 1950 BCE • Abraham inaugurates tradition of covenant (contractual/love relationship) between Jews and Yahweh (“I am”) -- supreme, exclusive, male deity • Tanakh (Hebrew Bible or “Old Testament”) preserves oral traditions concerning Yahweh and his covenants with Israel

  4. ISRAELITE TRADITIONS (1600-722 BCE) • Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (renamed Israel as sign of covenant with Yahweh) = ancestor of Hebrews who relocate to Egypt (c. 1600 BCE), where they become enslaved by ruling class • Hebrew leader Moses organizes “exodus” (departure) from Egypt) and makes new covenant with Yahweh (c. 1280 BCE) • David, descendant of Israel, becomes king of independent Hebrew state (c. 1000 BCE) • David’s son and successor, Solomon, builds Temple in Jerusalem (c. 950 BCE), which becomes sacred center of Israelite religion and primary point of communion between Israelite priests and Yahweh in temple ritual

  5. Kingdom of Israel splits into two (922 BCE): Israel (northern half) Judah (southern half) Israel is conquered by Assyrian Empire (722 BCE) Judah is conquered by Babylonian Empire (586 BCE) Temple is destroyed Babylonians capture many survivors and resettle them in Babylon as “exiles” (586-539 BCE) Prophets (Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah) interpret disasters as Yahweh’s punishment for violating covenant Prophetic writings predict appearance of Messiah (“Anointed One”), human being chosen by Yahweh to restore the kingdom of Israel and reconcile the Hebrews to Yahweh through new covenant Prophets question centrality of Temple in Hebrew relationship with Yahweh CONQUEST AND EXILE (722-539 BCE)

  6. POST-EXILIC TRADITIONS(539 BCE-70 CE) • Persians conquer Babylon in 539 BCE and orchestrate return of Hebrew exiles to Palestine, where new kingdom and Second Temple are established • Resumption of foreign rule (Greeks, Romans) after 332 BCE leads to religious change: • Decreased emphasis on Temple and priesthood • Increased emphasis on local religious assemblies (synagogues) and teacher-prayer leaders (rabbis) • Preservation of oral tradition in written form (Tanakh), including Greek version (Septuagint)

  7. DESTRUCTION AND DIASPORA • Jewish rebellions against Roman rule lead to destruction of Second Temple (70 CE) and massive dispersion (diaspora) of Jews throughout Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia • Post-Temple Judaism based on: • Torah (combination of Tanakh and Talmud, record of post-exilic rabbinical commentaries) • Synagogue worship • Preservation of distinct ethnic and religious identity through maintenance of tradition and refusal to assimilate or intermarry • Jews frequently oppressed and/or massacred in diaspora settings • No independent Jewish state after 70 CE until creation of Israel in 1948

  8. “THE WHOLE TORAH WHILE STANDING ON ONE FOOT” • A Gentile (non-Jew) asked Rabbi Hillel (1st century BCE) to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot • Hillel’s answer: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor [Leviticus 19:18]. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” • All forms of Judaism share belief in Yahweh – the one, true, eternal, and just deity who expects human greatness • Varieties of Judaism differ on how to interpret and practice Jewish traditions

  9. Yahweh has given human beings two basic drives: Yetzer hatov (impulse toward good -- selflessness) Yetzer hara’ (impulse toward evil -- selfishness) Use yezter hara’ wisely by channeling it toward constructive ends: marriage, family, career, prosperity Use yezter hatov to curb excess self-interest and build up community and personal relationship with Yahweh Yahweh provides mitzvot (commandments) and Halakhah (code for living) in Torah to save Jews from sin Yahweh provides conscience to save all other peoples Those who repent of their sins (alienation from Yahweh through domination of yezter hara’) will be forgiven and reunited with Yahweh after death Those who fail to repent of their sins will be punished by Yahweh after death TRADITIONAL JEWISH GOALS FOR LIVING