Wednesday, April 18, 2007

National Character of Judaism

National Character of Judaism.


The striking feature of Judaism, however, is that, while containing the highest spiritual and ethical truths for humanity, it is bound up with the Jewish nation. The One and Only God, Yhwh, is Israel's God in particular (Sifre, Deut. 31); and the separation of Israel from the rest of the nations in order to distinguish it as God's people is the express purpose of the Torah (Lev. xx. 24, 26), and the characteristic trait of Judaism from the time of Ezra (Ezra vi. 21; Neh. x. 21) and of the Scribes or Pharisees (see Pharisees). This national distinctness or aloofness of the Jew has brought him all the hostility, persecutions, and bitter attacks of a surrounding world from the days of Haman (Esth. iii. 8) and of Apion in Alexandria down to the most recent times (see Anti-Semitism; Apion). Even such historians as Mommsen ("Rümische Gesch." 1885, v. 487), Ed. Meyer ("Gesch. des Alterthums," iii. 167-236), Harnack ("Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christenthums," 1902, p. 16), and Bousset ("Wesen der Religion des Judenthums," 1903, pp. 128-157) see in Judaism only a national religion, in Israel's God a national God. Nay, it may be affirmed without exaggeration that a just and unprejudiced estimate of Judaism is found nowhere in modern Christian writings (see Schreiner, l.c.). The fact of the matter is that Judaism, while representing the guardianship of the universal religious truths for humanity, surrounded the Jewish people, as the priestly people of the world's Only God, with laws and rites of a specific national character in order to keep these very truths forever intact and at the same time to invest the guardians of them with the sanctity of the world's priesthood. "The people of Israel have from the beginning sworn fidelity to God and have recognized Him as the world's Ruler" (Ber. 6a; Ḥag. 3a); therefore have they been called "the sons of God" (Deut. xiv. 1; Ab. iii. 13). Yet their especial sonship of God implies that they should be faithful to Him unto death, and by continued self-surrender and martyrdom should glorify His name before the world throughout the ages (Sifra, Emor, iv., on Lev. xxii. 32-33; comp. Ps. xliv. 18-23; Dan. iii.; II Macc. vii.; and Ḳiddush ha-Shem).

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