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University of Toronto Scarborough
David Perley

World Religion Notes Chapter 3: Jewish Traditions Judaism is quintessentially a historical religion. It sees human history as a reflection of the desires and demands of God, and it understands itself to have been founded more than 3,200 years ago at Mount Sinai When a divine revelation was delivered through Moses to the people of Israel The covenant, or agreement, with God that was sealed at Mount Sinai established a set of moral and ritual obligations that continue to govern Judaism today A Ritual Tradition Those obligations are reaffirmed every Saturday in the rituals that mark the coming of age of thirteen year olds Bar Mitzvah: Son of the commandments; the title given to a thirteen year old boy when he is initiated into adult ritual responsibilities, some branches of Judaism also celebrate a Bat Mitzvah for girls The coming of-age ritual is a regular part of every congregations weekly worship. Saturday for the Jews is the day of rest called the Sabbath It is a day for the prayer and public assembly in the synagogue, the Jewish house of worship and community meeting The teenager reads two selections from the Hebrew Bible: one from the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses, which make up the first section of the bible) and one from the second section called the Prophets Ceremony signifies is the arrival of age of ritual and moral responsibility. Thus the young persons presence may be counted towards the minyan, the quorum of ten necessary to begin group prayer, and he/she may be asked to read aloud from the sacred scripture and recite the blessings The scripture from which Bat or Bar Mitzvah reads in public for the first time is the Torah Torah is written in ancient Hebrew, to read it, the candidate must have learned both the ancient script in which the text is written and the traditional melodies to which the words are chanted. Defining Judaism They trace their spiritual lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham The monotheism the belief in one God- originated Some Jews say yes to their ethnic identity but no to the religion Rather they see themselves as members of a cultural community with distinctive literary and artistic traditions In the United States and Canada, there are three major groupings: Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. To understand Judaism, it is important to note that for the most part the divisions reflect differences in ritual practice rather than belief or doctrine. The exact divisions depend on the history of Judaism in each specific country. By contrast, in Christianity differences in belief and doctrine used to be the defining issues separating one denomination from another Jews believe that God expects all human beings to follow the same fundamental moral code, which was revealed in a covenant given to Noah after the primeval flood and is accessible to the entire human race through reason Origins The Biblical Period The Hebrew Bible, is sacred scripture for Christians and Muslims as well. Its interpretation differ not only vis--vis the other communities but within Judaism The liberal wing of Judaism accepts modern historical principles and reserves the right to question the historical accuracy of the biblical text, just as some modern Christian and Muslim scholars do, distinguishing between myth, legend, and history. On the other hand, the traditional wing of Judaism believes every word in the text to be literally true. Hapiru(possibly Hebrews?) but meaning migratory people tribe Covenant in Genesis The first eleven chapters of Genesis describe primeval history of the universe. In chapter 1, God creates heaven and earth. Interestingly, the text does not actually state that the universe was created from nothing. What it says is that before creation, everything wa chaotic and primal waters covered the earth. God divided the light from the darkness and created different thingso n each of the first six days, in a process that culminated in the creation of humanity, male and female. Then on the seventh day, God rested, setting the pattern of a weekly Sabbath. Because the text describes the order of time as proceeding from evening to morning, Jews celebrate Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night Genesis 1 offers an ordered view of creation. Everything is arranged according to the days of the week. But there is also a priestly hierarchy. First is God, the creator, who creates by means of his word. Second is the Sabbath, the period of rest built right into the universe. And third is humanity, male and female, created at the last moment before the Sabbath in the image and likeness of God The earliest interpretations of the creation story within the Bible itself take it to mean that humanity should never worship created objects like the sun, the moon, and the stars, that God created everything, and that there are not separate gods for the good and the bad Primal Couple Genesis 2 ends with Gods creation of man and woman. Adam is the Hebrew word for man in the sense of humanity, but here it appears as the proper name of the individual created as well. Thus Adam has connotations similar to those of Everyman in English. Eve, according to the biblical text and most interpreters, is derived from the word for living In Genesis 2 Adam and Eve stand naked without shame, in a state of perfect innocence, peace and harmony. Genesis 3 shows how easily this state can be reversed. In a play on words, the childlike nakedness( in Hebrew, arom) of the primal couple is contrasted with the shrewdness(arum) of the serpent who presents them with the temptation to become like God by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam is unwary and trusting and speaks in very simple sentences; Eve curious and evidently intelligent, speaking in complex sentences that show her thinking through problems. In fact, the couple do not lack understanding or intelligence before they eat the forbidden fruit: what they lack is moral sense, or ability to make moral distinctions. After all, the tree is not the tree of knowledge; it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil Indeed, it is Eves sharp intelligence that appears to lead her downfall. Easily tempted by the serpent, she eats the fruit and Adam follows her lead without protest, even though both understand that theyre disobeying a direct order from God The shame and guilt they experience afterwards are two aspects of the knowledge of good and evil- that is, the moral capacity- acquired by eating the forbidden fruit The Eden story explains the conditions of human life through narrative rather than philosophical argument Thus pain and evil are the consequences of human disobedience and lack of moral discernment. Even though Adam and Eve have been banished from the paradise that was the immediate presence of God, he continues to show his loving care while expelling them Such stories are called etiological for they offer to explain the causes or reasons behind our present circumstances Christian interpretation sees their disobedience as the original sin and insists that there is a deep and sinister relationship between sexuality, sin, death, and Satan. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that not all the consequences of the Adam and Eve story were negative for humans. Among the positive benefits is the fact that humans ever since have had the moral capacity to choose the good and to keep Gods laws. Making the correct choices is one of the Bibles major themes The Israelite Narratives God chooses Abraham chooses Abraham to serve as an example of righteous life. Thus, the primeval history is a prologue to the major action of the Hebrew Bible, which is the story of the people of Israel in their relationship to God Throughout the Bible, the Israelites maintain that there is only one God, and that forces of nature are under his control Abraham The narratives of the patriarchs and matriarchs- the tribal ancestors of the Hebrews From the perspective of the 21 century, the Jews are ancient people, but the Hebrews of Abrahams time saw themselves as a people of newly born through the specific command of their God. Even so, by the beginning of the Common Era the Jews history as a people was long and eventful enough for the Romans to recognize them as an ancient people and to respect the legitimacy of their religion Covenant The central organizing concept in the ancient Hebrews religion was the covenant (in Hebrew berith). A theological term, covenant means much the same thing that contract does today. The purpose of life for those bound by the covenant is defined by the special contractual relationship into which first Abraham, then Jacob, then Moses and the people of Israel, enter with God, since the covenant specifies exactly how God desires Abrahams descendants to behave. God promises Abraham that he and his descendants will have the land of Canaan for their own- but the land is not a free gift. Both sides must live according to specific obligations The flaming torch, signifyi
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