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Judaism: Tradition and Change. 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

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Judaism: Tradition and Change

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distinctive characteristics
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
ancient israel historical setting
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
key ideas
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
  • 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
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
  • 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
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
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
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
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.