Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Its Attitude Toward Proselytism

Its Attitude Toward Proselytism.

On the contrary, Judaism waits for "the righteous nation that keeps the faith" (Isa. xxvi. 2), and opens wide "its gates that the righteous from among the heathen world may enter" (Ps. cxviii. 20; Sifra, Aḥare Mot, xiii.), calling the Gentiles that serve God in righteousness "priests of the Lord" ("Otiot de-R. Akiba," letter "Zayin"). It declares that the Holy Spirit may rest upon the righteous heathen as well as upon the Jew (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. ix.). It pays due homage to the wise among the heathen (Ber. 58a; Soṭah 35b; Bek. 8b; Gen. R. lxv.). It recognizes the existence of prophets among the heathen (B. B. 15b: "Fifteen prophets God sent to the heathen world up to the time of Moses: Balaam and his father, Job and his four friends," etc.; comp. Lev. R. i. 12, ii. 8; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xxvi.; ib. Zuṭa xi., etc.). The assertion made by Max Müller, Kuenen, and others, that Judaism is not a missionary religion, rests on insufficient knowledge. There existed an extensive proselyte propaganda literature, especially in Alexandria (see Didache; Propaganda); and, according to the Midrash, "the heathen world is saved by the merit of the one proselyte who is annually won" (Gen. R. xxviii.; comp. Matt. xxiii. 15; Jellinek, "B. H." vi., Introduction, xlvi.). Abraham and Sarah are represented as devoting their lives to making proselytes (Gen. R. xxxix.); and as the Psalmist accords to the proselytes—"those that fear God"—a special place (Ps. cxv. 11), so does the daily prayer of the Jew in the "Shemoneh 'Esreh" contain a special blessing for the proselytes ("Gere ha-Ẓedeḳ"). Only in later centuries, when the Church interfered through apostates and by edicts, was the proselyte declared to be a plague instead of a desired accession to the house of Israel (Isa. xiv. 1); the ancient Halakah endeavored to encourage the heathen to come under the wings of the Shekinah (Yeb. 47a, b; Mas. Gerim; Lev. R. ii.). In order to facilitate the admission of Gentiles, Judaism created two classes: (1) "proselytes of righteousness," who had to bring the "sacrifices of righteousness" while submitting to the Abrahamic rite in order to become full members of the house of Israel; and (2) "proselytes of the gate" ("gere toshab"), who accepted only the seven Noachian laws (ten and thirty are also mentioned) of humanity. Occasionally the necessity of undergoing circumcision is made a matter of controversy also in the case of the full proselyte (see Circumcision). But proselytism as a system of obtaining large numbers is deprecated by Judaism.

However, the Messianic age is regarded as the one when "the fulness of the heathen world" will join Judaism (Isa. xiv. 1; Zech. viii. 23; 'Ab. Zarah 3a). Especially characteristic of the cosmopolitan spirit of Judaism is the fact that the seventy bullocks brought as sacrifice during the Sukkot festival at the Temple were taken to be peace-offerings on behalf of the supposed seventy nations representing the heathen world (Suk. 55b), a view shared by Philo ("De Monarchia," ii. 6; idem, "De Septenario," p. 26; see Treitel in "Monatsschrift," 1903, pp. 493-495). Throughout the entire ethical literature of the Jews, from Tanna debe Eliyahu R. down to the various Ethical Wills of the Rabbis, there is voiced regarding the non-Jewish world a broadly human spirit which stands in strange contrast to the narrowness with which Judaism is viewed by Christian writers, even those of high rank (see Zunz, "Z. G." pp. 122-157). The same cosmopolitan attitude was taken by Judaism whenever its representativeswere called upon to act as intermediaries between Moslem and Christian; and the parable of the three rings, put by Lessing into the mouth of Nathan der Weise, was actually of Jewish origin (see Wünsche in "Lessing-Mendelssohn Gedenkbuch," 1879, pp. 329 et seq.).

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