Thursday, April 19, 2007



The religion of the Jewish people (II Macc. ii. 21, viii. 1, xiv. 38; Gal. i. 13 = , Esth. R. iii. 7; comp. , Esth. viii. 17); their system of beliefs and doctrines, rites and customs, as presented in their sacred literature and developed under the influence of the various civilizations with which they have come in contact, widening out into a world-religion affecting many nations and creeds. In reality the name "Judaism" should refer only to the religion of the people of Judea, that is, of the tribe of Judah, the name "Yehudi" (hence "Judean," "Jew") originally designating a member of that tribe. In the course of time, however, the term "Judaism" was applied to the entire Jewish history.


A clear and concise definition of Judaism is very difficult to give, for the reason that it is not a religion pure and simple based upon accepted creeds, like Christianity or Buddhism, but is one inseparably connected with the Jewish nation as the depository and guardian of the truths held by it for mankind. Furthermore, it is as a law, or system of laws, given by God on Sinai that Judaism is chiefly represented in Scripture and tradition, the religious doctrines being only implicitly or occasionally stated; wherefore it is frequently asserted that Judaism is a theocracy (Josephus, "Contra Ap." ii. 16), a religious legislation for the Jewish people, but not a religion. The fact is that Judaism is too large and comprehensive a force in history to be defined by a single term or encompassed from one point of view.

Extending over thirty-five centuries of history and over well-nigh all the lands of the civilized globe, Judaism could not always retain the same form and character. Judaism in its formative period, that is, in the patriarchal and prophetic times, differed from exilic and post-exilic Judaism; and rabbinic or pharisaic Judaism again presents a phase quite different from Mosaic Judaism, to which the Sadducees, and afterward to some extent the Karaites, persistently clung. Similarly Judaism in the Diaspora, or Hellenistic Judaism, showed great divergences from that of Palestine. So, too, the mysticism of the Orient produced in Germany and France a different form of Judaism from that inculcated by the Arabic philosophy cultivated by the Jews of Spain. Again, many Jews of modern times more or less systematically discard that form of Judaism fixed by the codes and the casuistry of the Middle Ages, and incline toward a Judaism which they hold more in harmony with the requirements of an age of broader culture and larger aims. Far from having become 1900 years ago a stagnant or dried-up religion, as Christian theology declares, Judaism has ever remained "a river of God full of living waters," which, while running within the river-bed of a single nation, has continued to feed anew the great streams of human civilization. In this light Judaism is presented in the following columns as a historic power varying in various epochs. It is first necessary to state what are the main principles of Judaism in contradistinction to all other religions.

I. The Essence of Judaism:
Unity of God.

Judaism is above all the religion of pure monotheism, the proclamation, propagation, and preservation of which have been the life-purpose and task of the Jewish people. "God is One, and so should Israel be of all nations the one vouching for His pure worship" (Josephus, "Ant." iv. 8, § 5; Ber. 6a, with reference to I Chron. xvii. 20, 21; Deut. vi. 4, xxvi. 17-18; Sifre, Deut. 31; and Sabbath afternoon liturgy: "Attah eḥad"). Judaism is not the mere profession of belief in the unity of God which each Jew is enjoined to make every morning and evening by reciting the nullShema' ("Ant." iv. 8, § 13; Sifre, Deut. 34; Ber. i. 1 et seq., ii.). It is the guardianship of the pure monotheistic faith; and this implied the intellectual and spiritual elaboration as well as the defense of the same throughout the centuries against all powers and systems of paganism or semipaganism, and amidst all the struggles and sufferings which such an unyielding and uncompromising attitude of a small minority entailed (see Jew. Encyc. vol. vi., s.v. God).

Judaism did not begin as an abstract or absolute monotheism arrived at by philosophical speculation and dogmatic in its character. Its God was not selected out of many, and invested with certain attributes to suit the requirements of an age or of a class of thinkers. Judaism at the very outset was a declaration of war against all other gods (Ex. xx. 3). Yhwh, its Only One, from Sinai, spoke at the very birth-hour of Israel, His first-born, the words: "Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord" (Ex. xii. 12); and to Babylon went forth His word: "The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens." "They are vanity, the work of error" (Jer. x. 10, 15). "All the gods of the nations are things of nought ["elilim"; A. V. "idols"]: but the Lord made the heavens" (Ps. xcvi. 5). The contrast between the living God and everlasting King, the only true God, and the idols worshiped by brutish man (Isa. xliv. 9-19; Jer. x. 8-15; Ps. cxxxv. 16-18) was too striking to allow Judaism to regard heathenism and all its folly otherwise than with sarcastic contempt; while the heathen, on their side, were at a loss to comprehend the Jew worshiping an unseen God and without any images (Tacitus, "Historiæ," ii. 5, 9; Juvenal, xiv. 97). But idolatry, as well as idolaters, was consigned to relentless extermination by Judaism, not so much on account of its intrinsic error as because of the abominable rites connected with it, which led to the degradation and moral depravity of man (Ex. xx. 5; xxiii. 24, 33; Lev. xviii. 24-30; Deut. iv. 24, vii. 2-5, 23; ix. 3; xiv. 16; xx. 17-18). From the days of Moses (Num. xxv. 1) down to the time of Philo and the rabbinic schools (Philo, "De Humanitate"; Döllinger, "Heidenthum und Judenthum," 1857, pp. 682 et seq., 700-718; see also Jubilees, Book of; Sibyllines), pagan cults were steeped in vice and cruelty, rendering them "an abomination" unto "Israel's God, who hateth lewdness" (Sanh. 106a), wherefore rigid intolerancetoward every form or snare of idolatry became the characteristic feature of the rabbinical law (ib. vii. 6 et seq., x. 4; Maimonides, "Yad," 'Akkum, ii-vii.; ib. Melakim, vi. 4; see Worship, Idol-, Judaism brooks no compromise with polytheism or idolatrous heathenism. Indeed, it enjoins the Jew to give up his life rather than to act disloyally toward his pure monotheistic faith (Dan. iii.; I Macc. i. 63; II Mace. vii.; Sanh. 74a). As soon as the Jewish people were scattered among other nations, and thereby found the opportunity of drawing comparisons between other beliefs and their own, it was inevitable that they should be so impressed with the superiority of their faith as to look forward with perfect confidence to its ultimate triumph, like Abraham, conscious of their mission to proclaim the only God everywhere and to establish His kingdom throughout the earth (Isa. ii. 2, xv., xlvi., xlix.; Zech. viii. 23; Gen. R. xxxix.; see also Polemics and Polemical Literature); and this hope for the final victory of pure monotheistic truth over all pagan error found powerful utterance in the daily prayer of the Jew (see 'Alenu), and especially in the solemn New-Year liturgy (see Liturgy).

Universality of God.

However tribal or exclusive the idea of the God of Israel may have been originally, Judaism boldly assumes that its God was the God of man from the very beginning; the Creator of heaven and earth, and the Ruler of the world from eternity to eternity, who brought the Flood upon a wicked generation of men, and who established the earth in righteousness and justice (Gen. i.-x.). In the light of this presentation of facts, idolatry or the worship of other gods is but a rebellious breaking away from the Most High, the King of the Nations, the universal God, besides whom there is no other (Deut. v. 39; Jer. x. 7), and to whom alone all knees must bend in humble adoration (Isa. xlv. 23, lxvi. 23). Judaism, accordingly, has for its sole object the restoration of the pure worship of God throughout the earth (Zech. xiv. 9); the Sinaitic covenant, which rendered Israel "a kingdom of priests among the nations"—itself only a renewal of the covenant made with Abraham and his descendants for all time—having been concluded for the sole purpose of giving back to mankind its God of old, the God of the Noachian covenant, which included all men (Gen. ix. 17, xviii. 18-19; Ex. xix. 3-6; Isa. xlix. 6-8). Surely there is nothing clannish in the God of the Prophets and the Psalmist, who judges all men and nations alike with justice and righteousness (Amos i.-ii., ix. 7; Jer. xxvi.; Ezek. xl.; Ps. xcvi. 13, xcviii. 9; and elsewhere). Judaism's God has through the prophetic, world-wide view become the God of history, and through the Psalms and the prayers of the Ḥasidim the God of the human heart, "the Father," and the "Lover of souls" (Isa. lxiii. 16; see Wisdom, xi. 26, and Abba). Far from departing from this standpoint, Judaism in the time of the Synagogue took the decisive forward step of declaring the Holy Name (see Adonai) ineffable, so as to allow the God of Israel to be known only as "the Lord God." Henceforth without any definite name He stood forth as the world's God without peer.

Spirituality of God.

Judaism at all times protested most emphatically against any infringement of its pure monotheistic doctrine, whether by the dualism of the Gnostic (Sanh. 38a; Gen. R. i.; Eccl. R. iv. 8) or by the Trinitarianism of the Church (see Jew. Encyc. iv. 54, s.v. Christianity), never allowing such attributes as justice and pardoning love to divide the Godhead into different powers or personalities. Indeed, every contact with other systems of thought or belief served only to put Judaism on its guard lest the spirituality of God be marred by ascribing to Him human forms. Yet, far from being too transcendental, too remote from mortal man in his need (as Weber, "Jüdische Theologie," 1897, pp. 157 et seq., asserts), Judaism's God "is ever near, nearer than any other help or sympathy can be" (Yer. Ber. ix. 13a); "His very greatness consists in His condescension to man" (Meg. 31a; Lev. R. i., with reference to Ps. cxiii. 6). In fact, "God appears to each according to his capacity or temporary need" (Mek., Beshallaḥ, Shirah, iv.; see Schechter in "J. Q. R." vi. 417-427).

Judaism affirms that God is a spirit, above all limitations of form, the Absolute Being who calls Himself "I am who I am" ("Eheyeh asher Eheyeh"; Ex. iii. 14), the Source of all existence, above all things, independent of all conditions, and without any physical quality. Far, however, from excluding less philosophical views of the Deity, so ardent a Jew as R. Abraham b. David of Posquières contends against Maimonides that he who holds human conceptions of God, such as the cabalists did, is no less a Jew than he who insists on His absolute incorporeality (Haggahot to "Yad," Teshubah, iii. 7). Indeed, the daily prayers of the Jew, from "Adon 'Olam" to the "Shir ha-Yiḥud" of Samuel b. Kalonymus, show a wide range of thought, here of rationalistic and there of mystic character, combining in a singular manner transcendentalism and immanence or pantheism as in no other faith. While the ideas of the various ages and civilizations have thus ever expanded and deepened the conception of God, the principle of unity was ever jealously guarded lest "His glory be given to another" (Isa. xlii. 8; see God).

Ethical Monotheism.

But the most characteristic and essential distinction of Judaism from every other system of belief and thought consists in its ethical monotheism. Not sacrifice, but righteous conduct, is what God desires (Isa. i. 12-17; Amos v. 21-24; Hos. vi. 6; Micah vi. 6-8; Jer. vii. 22; Ps. xl. 7 [A. V. 6], 1. 8-13); the whole sacrificial cult being intended only for the spiritual need of man (Pesiḳ. vi. 57, 62; Num. R. xxi.; Lev. R. ii.). Religion's only object is to induce man to walk in the ways of God and to do right (Gen. xix. 19; Deut. x. 12), God Himself being the God of righteousness and holiness, the ideal of moral perfection (Ex. xx. 5-6, xxxiv. 7; Lev. xix. 1; Deut. vii. 9-10). While the pagan gods were "products of fear," it was precisely "the fear of God" which produced in Judaism the conscience, the knowledge of a God within, thus preventing man from sin (Gen. xlii. 18; Ex. xx. 20; Deut. x. 12; Job i. 1). Consequently thehistory of mankind from the beginning appeared as the work of a moral Ruler of the world, of "the King of the nations of whom all are in awe" (Jer. x. 7; Ps. lxv. 13, xcvi. 10; Dan. ii. 21), in whom power and justice, love and truth are united (Ps. lxxxix. 15 [A. V. 14]). As He spoke to Israel, "Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. xix. 1, Hebr.), so "He said unto man, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job xxviii. 28; comp. Micah vi. 8; Isa. xxxiii. 15; Ps. xv., xxiv. 4: "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"). Quite characteristic of rabbinical Judaism is the fact that the names used for God are chiefly taken from His ethical attributes: "The world's Righteous One" ("Zaddiḳo shel 'olam," Gen. R. xlix.; Yoma 37a); "The Merciful One" ("Raḥmana"); and most frequently "The Holy One, blessed be He!" ("ha-Ḳadosh baruk hu"). Before Cain killed his brother, he said: "There is no divine judgment and no Judge" (Targ. Yer. to Gen. iv. 8). "The first question put to man at the Last Judgment will be: 'Didst thou deal honestly with thy fellow man?'" (Shab. 31a; see God).

Unity of the Cosmos.


The unity of the world is a corollary of the unity of God. The many gods of heathendom divided the world into many parts and domains, and made it appear as the battle-ground of hostile powers. The One God of the Bible renders earth and heaven, light and darkness, life and death one—a universe ruled by everlasting wisdom and goodness, the work of one great Designer and Ruler who foresees in the beginning what will be in the end, who arranges everything according to His sublime purpose (Gen. i. 1-31; Isa. xlv. 5-7, xlvi. 9-10, lv. 8-9; Ps. civ. 24; Prov. iii. 19, 20; Job xxviii. 24-27, xxxviii.). Therefore God's covenant with the world which He created makes night and day and the seasons of the year maintain their order. He has given earth and heaven and everything therein their laws which they can not transgress (Gen. viii. 22; Jer. xxxiii. 20; Job xxxviii. 33; Ps. civ. 9, cxlviii. 6). At the same time God is ever present in the world watching and sustaining everything (Isa. xl. 28, xli. 4; Ps. civ. 27-30, cxxxix. 16, cxlv. 15-16; see Providence). Every single act of God is part of His wondrous work (Job v. 9, xxxviii.; Ps. lxxvii. 15 [A. V. 14], xcvi. 3). Accordingly all miracles are manifestations of His omnipotence (Gen. xviii. 14; Ex. ix. 16; Num. xvi. 30). The grand conception of an all-controlling Power and Wisdom creating order everywhere, and working after one great design, attainable only upon the basis of Jewish monotheism, finally paved the way for the idea of an empire of law in nature. How far this unity and immutability of the laws of nature, fixed by the will of the Creator, are compatible with miracle is a question the difficulty of which was felt by the rabbis of the Mishnah (Ab. v. 6; and Gen. R. v.). "God at Creation fixed the conditions for certain creatures under which they should change their nature" (the passage was misunderstood by Weber, l.c. p. 202, as well as by the medieval Jewish philosophers; see Miracles).

No Power of Evil.

At any rate, Judaism, while insisting upon the unity of God and His government of the world, recognizes alongside of God no principle of evil in creation. God has no counterpart either in the powers of darkness, as the deities of Egypt and Babylon had, or in the power of evil, such as Ahriman in the Zoroastrian religion is, whose demoniacal nature was transferred by the Gnostic and Christian systems to Satan. In the Jewish Scriptures Satan has his place among the angels of heaven, and is bound to execute the will of God, his master (Job i. 7); and though sin and death are occasionally ascribed to him (see Satan), he can seduce and harm only as far as God permits him, and in the end must work for good (B. B. 16a). "God is the Creator of light and darkness, the Maker of peace and of evil" (Isa. xlv. 7). Everything He made was found by Him to be very good (Gen. i. 31); "also death," says R. Meïr (Gen. R. ix.). "What the Merciful does is for the good" (Ber. 60b). Whatever evil befalls man has disciplinary value: it is intended for his higher welfare (Deut. viii. 5; Ps. xciv. 12; Ta'an. 21a: "Gam zu leṭobah").

Because the Lord saw that the world could not stand to be measured by strict justice, He mingled the quality of mercy with that of justice and created the world with both (Gen. R. xii.). In striking contrast to the pessimistic doctrine that the world is the product of mere chance and full of evil, the Midrash boldly states that the world was (or is) a process of selection and evolution: "God created worlds after worlds until He said, 'This at last pleases Me'" (Gen. R. ix.; see Optimism).

Man as the Son of God.


Next to God's unity the most essential and characteristic doctrine of Judaism is that concerning God's relation to man. Heathenism degraded man by making him kneel before brutes and the works of his hand: Judaism declared man to be made in the image of God, the crown and culmination of God's creation, the appointed ruler of the earth, and vicegerent of God (Gen. i. 26, 28). In him as the end of Creation the earthly and the divine are singularly blended. This is the obvious meaning of the childlike Paradise story (Gen. ii.-iii.). The idea is summed up in the Psalmist's words: "Thou hast made him a little lower than godly beings [A. V. "angels"]" ("Elohim"; Ps. viii. 6 [A. V. 5]); "Thou hast made him ruler over the work of Thine hand" (ib. verse 7 [6]). This twofold nature of man, half animal, half deity, is frequently alluded to in Job (iv. 17-19, vii. 17, x. 9-12, xxv., xxxii. 8). The original meaning of "The Lord made man in the image of Elohim" is somewhat doubtful, though clearly some kind of "godly beings" is intended (Gen. i. 27, v. 1); the old translators have "angels"; see Book of Jubilees, xv. 27, and Mek., Beshallaḥ, vi.; Ex. R. xxx. 11, xxxii. 1; Gen. R. viii.; and Targ. Yer. to Gen. i. 27; Symmachus and Saadia translate: "God created him in a noble, upright stature" (see Geiger, "Urschrift," pp. 323, 324, 328). However this may be, R. Akiba, as spokesman for Judaism, takes it to signify that man is born free likeGod, able to choose between good and evil (Mek., l.c.). According to others (see Naḥmanides and Ibn Ezra, ad loc.), it is his intelligence which renders him "the image and likeness of God" (Gen. ii. 7; Isa. xlii. 5; Ps. civ. 29; Prov. xx. 27; Job xxxii. 8; Eccl. xii. 7). At any rate, it is the affinity of the human soul to God which is expressed in the words "image of God." The Rabbis say, "He is made for two worlds: the world that now is, and the world to come" (Gen. R. viii.; Tan., Emor, ed. Buber, p. 21).

The body makes man cherish sensual desires, and thus incline to sin (Gen. vi. 3-5, viii. 21; see Yeẓer Hara'); but it by no means forces him to commit sin. Judaism refutes the idea of an inherent impurity in the flesh or in matter as opposed to the spirit. Nor does Judaism accept the doctrine of original sin. The Paradise story (Gen. iii.) asserts in parabolic form man's original state of innocence (see Original Sin). "The soul that Thou hast given me is pure, Thou hast created it, Thou hast fashioned it, and Thou hast breathed it into me, and Thou preservest it within me, and at the appointed time Thou wilt take it from me to return it within me in the future." These are the words recited by the Jew every morning in his prayer (Ber. 60b). The belief of some, borrowed from Plato, that the body is "a prison-house of the soul" (Wisdom, ix. 15; Josephus, "B. J." ii. 8, § 11), never took root in Judaism, though the idea that Adam's sin brought death into the world (Wisdom, i. 13-16, ii. 21-24) is occasionally voiced by the Rabbis (see Death). Judaism knows of no "law of sin in the body" of which Paul speaks (Rom. vii. 23-25). Some commentators have found the doctrine of original sin in Ps. li. 7 (see Ibn Ezra and Delitzsch, ad loc.); but the view receives in general no support from rabbinical literature (see Lev. R. xiv. 5), though R. Johanan speaks of "the poison of the serpent" ('Ab. Zarah 22b; comp. Shab. 55b; Naḥmanides on Num. xix. 2; Zohar i. 52; Eccl. R. vii. 13).

Man's Freedom of Will.

The fundamental principle of Judaism (see Maimonides, "Moreh," iii. 17) is that man is free; that is to say, the choice between good and evil has been left to man as a participant of God's spirit. "Sin lieth at the door, and unto thee shall be its desire; but thou shalt rule over it" (Gen. iv. 7, Hebr.) says God to Cain; and herein is laid down for all time the law of man's freedom of will. Accordingly Moses says in the name of God: "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; . . . therefore choose life" (Deut. xxx. 15, 19); and Ben Sira, commenting upon this, says: "God hath made man from the beginning and left him in the hand of his counsel. . . . He hath set fire and water before thee; thou mayest stretch forth thy hand unto whichsoever thou wilt. Before man is life and death; and whichsoever he liketh, it shall be given him" (Ecclus. [Sirach] xv. 14-17). Similarly R. Akiba declares: "All is foreseen; but the mastery [that is, free will] is granted" (Ab. iii. 15). Another rabbinical saying is, "Everything is determined by Heaven save the fear of Heaven" (Ber. 33b). Freedom of will constitutes man's responsibility; and his heavenly prerogative would be impaired were there an inheritance of sin. "Every man shall be put to death for his own sin," says the Law (Deut. xxiv. 16). It is the principle for which the prophet Ezekiel fought (Ezek. xviii. 20). Accordingly the Rabbis say: "The wicked are under the power of their hearts; the righteous have their hearts in their power" (Gen. R. lxvii.). Also, "Man is constantly led along the way he wishes to go. If he wishes to pollute himself by sin, the gates of sin will be opened for him; if he strives for purity, the gates of purity will be opened to him" (Yoma 38a; Mak. 10b; Nid. 30b). Regarding the difficulty of reconciling free will with divine omniscience, see Free Will. Notwithstanding man's propensity to sin, caused by the Yeẓer Ha-Ra', "the leaven in the lump" (Ber. 17a; comp. I Cor. v. 7), and the universal experience of sinfulness (Eccl. vii. 20; Ex. R. xxxi.), rabbinical Judaism denies that sin is inherited from parents, pointing to Abraham the son of Terah, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, and others as instances to the contrary (Tan., Ḥuḳḳat, ed. Buber, p. 4, with reference to Job xiv. 4), and insists on the possibility of sinlessness as manifested by various saints (Shab. 55b; Yoma 22b; Eccl. R. i. 8, iii. 2).

Sin and Repentance.

Sin, according to Jewish teaching, is simply erring from the right path, owing chiefly to the weakness of human nature (Num. xv. 26; I Kings viii. 46; Ps. xix. 13, lxxviii. 39, ciii. 14; Job iv. 17-21); only in the really wicked it is insolent rebellion against God and His order ("pesha'" or "resha'"; Isa. lvii. 20; Ps. i. 4-6, xxxvi. 2; and elsewhere). And there is no sin too great to be atoned for by repentance and reparation (Ezek. xviii. 23; Yer. Peah i. 16b; Ḳid. 40b). The whole conception, then, of mankind's depravity by sin has no place in Judaism, which holds forth the reintegrating power of repentance to Gentiles and Jews, to the ordinary and the most corrupt sinners alike (Pes. 119a; R. H. 17b; Sanh. 103a, 108a; Yoma 86a, b). "Before God created the world, He created repentance for man as one of his prerequisites" (Pes. 54a; Gen. R. xxi., xxii.; see Repentance; Sin).

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