Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Character of Judaism

II. Character of Judaism:

Judaism has a twofold character: (1) universal, and (2) particular or national. The one pertains to its religious truths destined for the world; the other, to its national obligationsconnected with its priestly mission. Upon the former more stress is laid by the Prophets and by most of the sacred poets, by the Alexandrian propagandists and the Palestinian haggadists, as well as by the medieval philosophers and the modern Reform school; whereas the Mosaic law, the Halakah, and the Talmudic and cabalistic schools dwell almost exclusively upon the latter.


As a universal religion Judaism differs from all other religions in that it is not a creed or a system of beliefs upon the acceptance of which redemption or future salvation depends (see Articles of Faith). It is a system of human conduct, a law of righteousness which man should follow in order to live thereby (Lev. xviii. 5); that is, according to R. Meïr, the law of humanity, since "man" is spoken of and not Israel nor priest nor Levite (Sifra, Aḥare Mot; 'Ab. Zarah 3a; comp. Sanh. 59a, where the meaning of R. Meïr's words is altered). It is a law "for life and not for the depriving of man's life" (Sifra, l.c.). When, in answer to a heathen mocker, Hillel summed up the entire Law in the Golden Rule: "What is hateful to thee do not unto thy neighbor" (the Targumic translation of "Love thy neighbor as thyself"; Lev. xix. 18; Shab. 31b; see Ab. R. N., Recension B, xxvi., ed. Schechter, p. 53, where the answer is ascribed to R. Akiba instead; comp. Sifra, Ḳedoshim, iv.), he simply voiced the truth of which Abraham and Job are set up as types, and which is expressed by lawgiver (Deut. iv. 8) and prophet (Isa. i. 10-17, xxxiii. 15; Hos. vi. 6; Amos v. 21-24; Micah vi. 6-8; Zech. viii. 16-17), by the Psalmist (Ps. xv., xxiv., xxxiv. 13-15) and the Book of Wisdom, as well as by the Rabbis (Mek. 23b-24a). Whereas heathenism by its cults of Moloch and similar gods fostered cruelty, the Torah enjoined man "to walk in the ways of a righteous and merciful God, and be righteous and merciful like Him" (Deut. xi. 22; Sifre, Deut. 49; Mek., Beshallaḥ, Shirah); to love the stranger and protect the fatherless and the widow as He does (Deut. x. 17-20).

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