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Chapter 3

Chapter 3- Jewish Traditions.docx

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Department
Religious Studies
Course
RELS 131
Professor
Prof.
Semester
Winter

Description
Chapter 3- Jewish Traditions  Judaism sees human history as a reflection of the desires and demands of God  It was 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 with God that was sealed at Mount Sinai established a set of moral and ritual obligations A Ritual Initiation  The coming-of-age ritual is a regular part if every congregation’s weekly worship  Saturday is the day of rest, called the Sabbath o It is a day for prayer and public assembly in the synagogue, the Jewish house of worship and community meeting o The teenager reads 2 sections from the Hebrew Bible:  One from the Pentateuch  The five books of Moses  One from the second section, called the Prophets  The idea that adulthood begins at thirteen is based on an ancient concept of legal majority that has nothing to do with attaining adulthood in the modern world o The ceremony signifies arrival at the age of ritual and moral responsibility  When one turns 13, their presence may be counted towards the minyanthe quorum of ten necessary to begin group prayer  They may also be called to read aloud from the sacred scripture and recite blessings  The scripture from which the Bat or Bar Mitzvah reads in public for the first time is the Torah o In a broad sense the Torah can include the entire Hebrew Bible and all the commentaries on it, but here the term refers to the 5 books of Moses o In order to read it, the candidate must have learned both the ancient script (Hebrew) and the traditional melodies to which the words are chanted  The blessings recited by young people express the values of the community, and then the young person gives thanks for the scripture that has served a guide o The city of Jerusalem and the dynasty of David are mentioned, and finally the Sabbath itself is admired  Jews believe the only way there are different is that they have been given the special responsibility of studying and keeping the Torah  There are many different versions of the coming-of-age ritual o Some conduct it in their local language while others entirely in Hebrew o Some insist candidates prepare by studying traditional chants and Hebrew while others substitute essay-writing, social action and good works for traditional requirements  The most traditional synagogues insist only males can be called to the Torah, but they are a minority as most offer a similar ceremony for girls  Behind the Bar Mitzvah ritual has always been a rite of passage to maturity, but it has taken on a new significance both for the family and for the th community since the late 18 century, when Jews began to achieve legal rights, gain in affluence, and take part of the intellectual life of European societies  The ritual used to be a simple matter between the youth and the rabbi, but now it is always part of the Sabbath service and the whole congregation takes part in it Defining Judaism  In the course of its development Judaism gave rise to two other world religions; Christianity and Islam  Like Judaism, these religions trace their spiritual lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham  Judaism is the smallest of these three traditions, with a worldwide population just 1 to 2 per cent the size of its Christian and Muslim counterparts  It was with the Jewish people that monotheism-the belief in one god- originated  Christians and Muslims readily acknowledge their debt to the ideas and practices of ancient Judaism  Each of the Abrahamic faiths sees itself as continuing and fulfilling the mission of ancient Israel o Each lays claim to the historical pedigree that the Hebrew Bible gives to the people of the lord  It is possible to join the Jewish community through conversion, yet the tradition is far more commonly inherited than chosen, and for that reason it is frequently considered an “ethnic” religion  Some Jewish people identify themselves as Jews but do not take part in the Jewish tradition o They see themselves as members of a cultural community o Religion is a part of their culture, but not necessarily the defining part  The idea that Jews conthitute a genetic race, which was central to their persecution in the 20 century cannot be verified  Jews probably number just under 14 million worldwide today, with half living in Israel now  About half of all Jews are unaffiliated with any synagogue, and the other half span the range from liberal and unobservant to intensely traditional and deeply observant  In the USA and Canada there are three major groupings: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox  Jews believe that Gods 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  In addition Jews understand themselves to be bound by a subsequent covenant, delivered through the prophet Moses at Mount Sinai  God took the Israelite people out of Egypt and claimed them as his people, and they responded that the LORD would be their God  The promise was confirmed at Mount Sinai, where the Hebrews were commanded to follow a number of special rules that set them apart from all other people  Jews today consider themselves as God’s special people in the sense that they have been saved from slavery and elected to fulfill a special responsibility, to serve as God’s priests in the world Origins The Biblical Period  The history of Israel (recorded in the Torah) is the history of a people as they understand and follow a God who has chosen them to serve as his instrument  The liberal wing of Judaism accepts modern historical principles and reserved the right to question the historical accuracy of the biblical test, distinguishing between myth, legend, and history  The traditional wing of Judaism believes every word of the text to be literally true o They take the text to have been dictated to Moses and the various prophets by divine inspiration  The earliest known references to Israel in secular historical records date from the 13 century BCE Creation in Genesis  The first 11 chapters of Genesis describe the primeval history of the universe  In chapter 1, God creates heaven and earth, yet the text does not actually state that the universe was created from nothing o It says before creation everything was chaotic and primal waters covered the earth o God divided the light from the darkness and created different things on each of the first 6 days, and on the 7 day he rested, setting the pattern of a weekly Sabbath o The text describes the order of time as proceeding from evening to morning, so the Jews celebrate the Sabbath starting at sundown on Friday night and ending at sundown on Sunday  Chapter 2 of Genesis, however, states that God causes a mist to rise from the ground, out of which vegetation sprouts o He then creates the primal man, and plants a garden in Eden, where he places the man before creating the animals and Eve  Modern biblical scholars treat these textual inconsistencies as clues to the completion of the text instead of as problems for human understanding of God’s plan o They suggest that the 3 interpretations of the chaos before creation come from different sources, and that the contradiction was allowed to stand because the complier of the biblical text was reluctant to change any of them  The first chapter is ascribed to a priestly writer known as the P narrator, while the second chapter is believed to be a part of an ancient Hebrew epic compiled by the king’s court and Isaiah was written in the Persian period by a prophet who felt that further interpretation was needed  Genesis 1 offers an ordered view of creation o Everything is arranged according to the days of the week o There is also a priestly hierchy  First there is God, than the Sabbath (the period of rest built right into the universe), than there 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 take it to mean that humanity should never worship created objects like the sun, the moon, and the stats, that God created everything, and that there are not separate gods for the good and the bad The Primal Couple  Genesis 2 ends with God’s creation of man and woman  Adam is the Hebrew word for man in the sense of humanity, and Eve is derived from the word for living  Adam and Eve stand naked without shame, but Genesis 3 shows how easily this state can be reversed  The childlike nakedness of the couple is contrasted with the shrewdness of the serpent who presents them with the temptation to become like God by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil o The couple lacks moral sense, or the ability to make moral distinctions  It is Eve’s sharp intelligence that is her downfall, as she eats the fruit and Adam follows her lead, even though they know they are disobeying God  The shame and guilt they feel afterwards are 2 aspects of the knowledge of good and evil (moral capacity)  Pain and evil are the consequences of human disobedience and lack of moral discernment  The narrative gives us etiological stories, as they offer to explain the causes or reasons behind our current conditions o Why snakes crawl on the ground, why women have pain in childbirth etc.  According to later Jewish tradition, the transgression committed by the primal couple was not so great as to cast a permanent cloud over human nature  By contrast, Christians see it as the original sin, and insists that there is a deep and sinister relationship between sexuality, sin, death, and Satan  The positive benefits of the Adam and Eve story are that ever since, humans have the moral capacity to choose the good and to keep God’s laws The Israelite Narratives  The first 11 chapters of Genesis explain why God had to chose a specific people and establish a covenant with them to convey his ideas to the human race  In this series of narratives, humans repeatedly show how badly they govern themselves when left free to follow their own conscience  In the Hebrew version of the story of the flood, the motivation is moral o To punish the evil that humans have perpetrated and clear the way for a fresh start, God floods the earth, allowing only Noah and the ark to survive  Human judgement is no better after the flood than before it however, and when the king of Babylon attempts to approach God’s level by building a tower to heaven, God confounds the human language  There is no sign of hope that humanity can be redeemed until Genesis 12 o God choses Abraham to serve as an example of righteous life  Israelite culture could be considered anti-mythological to the extent that it rejects the various fertility cults and nature gods of its neighbours Abraham  The narratives of the patriarchs and matriarchs-the tribal ancestors of the Hebrews- mark the transition from the imaginative paradigms of myth to the detail of legend  Mesopotamian texts composed after 1800 BCE suggest that the stories of the patriarchs do contain some historically accurate threads  According to biblical account, Abram is told by God to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees, in southern Mesopotamia, and move first to Haran, in northern Mesopotamis and eventually to the land of Canaan Covenant  The covenant was the central organizing concept in the ancient Hebrews’ religion (covenant in Hebrew berith)  Covenant means much as what contract does  The purpose of life for those bound by the covenant is defined by the contractual relationship into which first Abraham, then Jacob and Moses and the people of Israel enter with God, as it specifies how Abraham and his descendants are to behave  God promised Abraham he could have the land of Canaan for their own, but both sides must live according to specific obligations  Abraham wanted some assurance that the divine promise would be fulfilled, and was told by God to bring various animals, and he cut them in two and laid each half over against the other and after the sun had gone down a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces o The flaming torch, which symbolized God, had passed through the animals to signify that God had sworn a sacred oath  God’s providence is expressed in the form of a treaty between two great chiefs: o Abraham: the ancestor of all the people of Israel o Yahweh: the God who promises to oversee the destiny of his descendants, provided they conform to the model of behaviour laid out in the covenant  The theme of obedience to God’s will is emphasized in Genesis 22 when God calls on Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering o At the last moment an angel interferes, telling him to spare his son and sacrifice an animal instead o This story helps justify the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, which was identified as Mount Moriah, the place where the sacrifice supposedly took place  The two other patriarchs- Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob- are similarly portrayed as making covenants with God, and these accounts parallel the ceremonial covenant making of the Hebrew kings who renewed the covenant  The rewards for faithful adherence are offspring and a homeland, but in addition Abraham himself is promised a long life and peaceful death  The ancient Hebrews understood ultimate rewards in concrete terms: an easy death after a long and comfortable life, with many descendants to carry on afterwards Moses and the Exodus  Exodus contains the dramatic account of Moses as a leader and lawgiver  The narratives place Moses at the head of a migration from the other centre of ancient Near Eastern civilization, Egypt  The descendants of Abraham are first sent to Egypt and then, after 400 years of oppression, are led home by Moses The Divine Name  Chapter 3 of the Exodus relates an encounter that Moses has with God during a visit to the wilderness before his people’s escape from Egypt  Moses has a vision of God as a flame in a bush that burns without being consumed  God then identifies himself as the God of the patriarchal lineage-Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and gives his personal name, represented in Hebrew by the four letters YHWH scholars write it as Yahweh o Suggested connotation with the Hebrew verb hayah to be  The name Jehovah is a variation on the same theme, formed by combining YHWH with the vowels from the word adonaya title similar to god The Exodus  The story begins with the Hebrews in Egypt, working on construction projects, and God tells Moses to request their release from the Egyptian pharaoh  When the pharaoh refuses, God sends plagues on the Egyptians but spares the Hebrews, enabling them to escape  They cross the Red Sea and reach the barren Sinai Peninsula  Their participation in this event is commemorated during the Passover festival  The legal foundations and the foundations of ritual life are laid during the wilderness period, when the children of Israel were wandering the desert  Moses’ brother Aaron becomes the archetypal priest  In the absence of a permanent temple, Hebrew worship is instituted in an elaborate tent called the Tabernacle o There is kept a chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which serves as a throne for God’s invisible presence o Two winged beasts are depicted on top, and God is sometimes imagined as riding between their wings The Israelite Kings  The Israelites proceed from nomadic to settled life in the land of Canaan under Moses’ successors, beginning with Joshua  The book of Joshua recounts victories over the Canaanites  The following book, Judges, suggests that it was no easy task to displace the Canaanites  At first the Israelites were only able to gain a few positions in the hill country for themselves, and for a time were even tempted to imitate the Canaanites in their worship of a fertility god  But Yahweh denounces the Canaanite religious practices of ritual prostitution and child sacrifice, and he demanded the Israelites reject them  The greatest Israelite threat came from the Philistines, who arrived on the coastal plain the same time the Israelites emerged from the desert  In this period the Israelites lived as a loose tribe confederation informally ruled by chieftains known as shofetim (judges) o Their leadership was charismatic o Described as chosen by God to save the Israelites from threats of foreign domination  In the 2 generations coming shortly after 1000 BCE kingship was a new institution, created to deal with the threats poised by the Canaanites and especially the Philistines  According to the stories narrated in 1 and 2 Samuel, God chooses first Saul, then David, and finally David’s successors  At first God is reluctant to appoint a king, but both the people and time seems to demand one  Ultimately God places the government squarely in the hands of a dynasty founded by the figure of David  God strengthens David’s hand to the point he is able to defeat Goliath, and unify the northern and southern tribes as a single Israelite people  David then captures Jerusalem and makes it his capital, often referred to as the City of David  David’s successor is Solomon his son, and Solomon takes on numerous construction projects, including a Temple to Yahweh on the Zion hill, on the uphill side of Jerusalem  When Solomon died, the kingdom broke up, as the northern tribes followed a usurper name Jeroboam, and made Samaria their capital and took the name Israel for themselves o Are often referred to as the Sons of Omri  The southern kingdom of Judah is usually known as the Sons of David  The northern kingdom continued for 2 centuries until they were overrun and dispersed by Assyrian invaders, after which they became known as the ten lost tribes  The southern tribes, which were centred on Jerusalem and used the name Judah, continued until 586 BCE, when the city was invaded by Babylon and its leaders were sent into exile The Five Books of Moses  The stories of Abraham and Jacob unify the northern and southern Israelite regions, as they all claim descent from these patriarchs  The idea of a family connection to Jacob originated among the ten Hebrew tribes in the northern kingdom, and Jacob’s alternate name, Israel, became the name of the people  The idea of a family connection to Abraham, who lived south of Jerusalem, served to bond the remaining two tribes in the southern kingdom of Judah  The kingdom was unified under David, and eventually, scribes living in the south incorporated all stories into a single narrative told from the perspective of the Davidic monarchy  The kingship was the power behind the collection of stories, so later generations would look back on the accomplishments of King David, followed by King Solomon  David was idealized for his military shrewdness as well as talented in music, so that the hymn collection of the Jerusalem Temple, the contents of the book of Psalms, came to be attributed to him  With the reign of Solomon, scribes saw the country establishing a reputation in the wider world  Solomon entered into marriages with foreign princesses, thereby cementing political alliance, and played host to a visiting queen from Sheba, so Solomon was portrayed as very wise  Solomon’s son Rehoboam made the decision to impose the Jerusalem government’s policies on the northern tribes, which led them to separate under Jeroboam, and the breach was never healed  Many ancient traditions were collected and transmitted by priests, with the clearest examples being in the books of Leviticus and Numbers o These traditions were also included in the five books of Moses, in the late monarchy and exile o The priestly writers were responsible for editing the books into the form we know today  All editorial voices-northern, southern, even priestly-put their individual stamps on the biblical account of the transmission of the law at Sinai  For the Orthodox community, it was at Sinai that the entire corpus of the 5 books was given, from the story of creation to the farewell address of Moses before he died at the threshold of the promised land  The Ten Commandments emphasize human social responsibilities, as does the Book of the Covenant, the extended law code that immediately follows the commandments  The priestly narratives, interested in the ritual and liturgical aspects of the covenant ceremony, portray Moses as an intermediary between God and the people  For centuries, tradition has ascribed the first five books of the bible to Moses, acting under divine inspiration  Faced with a discrepancy, a traditional commenter would typically ask what God intended the text to mean  Modern interpreters tend to ask who would have chosen to make a particular statement, and why o In this context discrepancies are seen not as challenges to faith but as clues for investigation Modern Theories of the Composition of the Bible  One of the first to suggest that the five books of Moses (Pentateuch) might be a composite creation was the 18 century French physician Jean Astruc, who called attention to differences in the names used to refer to God  In the 19 century a theory of four major blocks of material in the Pentateuch was articulated by the German scholar Julius Wellhausen  His theory is known as the Documentary Hypothesis, and is rejected by traditional Jews, Christians, and Muslims as it contains humanizing assumptions  Each source represents a perspective of a particular oral tradition, written down by a group of scribes  The school associated with the use of the name Yahweh is called the Yahwist, who emphasize southern localities and the role of Abraham, and is thought to have worked in the southern kingdom of Judea, before the division of kingdoms  The second source is called the Elohist, who wrote in the northern kingdom and emphasized northern local traditions o It refers to the sacred mountain as Horeb, not Sinai, and to the people displaced by the Israelites as Amorites rather than Canaanites o The covenant relationship is less nationalistic  In many places the two strands have been woven together, such as in the Garden of Eden story  According to Kings 22:8 a copy of the book of the law was found during the reign of Josiah, and on the authority of that book, altars elsewhere in the kingdom were suppressed and worship was centralized at the Jerusalem Temple  It is assumed that the book found was Deuteronomy, which is a sermon by Moses, but its vocabulary and concerns are those of Josiah’s days, when the prophet Jeremiah was active  Central to Deuteronomy is a rewards-and-punishments theology of national morality  The priestly source is thought to come from the period after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the exile of Judean leadership, as it offers a literary blueprint for the Temple’s restoration Israelite Society  Marriage was almost universal among Hebrews; men were allowed several wives if they could afford to support them; and children were highly prized (reward of faithful observance of the covenant)  Tilling the land and securing it from harm were men’s responsibilities, while the women raised the children and ran the household  A women without a husband or father or son to provide for her depended entirely on the protection provided by Yahweh’s laws  Women often played a part in the display of important themes, for example, the military victory of the judge Deborah over the Canaanites helps to illustrate God’s control over history o He choses the least likely characters as champions- women, lowly shepherds, inexperienced youths to show that he, not the individual, determines victory and defeat  When a special birth was to be announced, it is said that God would directly intervene to prepare the mother’s womb so that she can deliver the child who will benefit the people  The Hebrews put more emphasis on fairness than their more civilized neighbours  Incarceration was virtually unknown among the Israelites, as instead many laws allowed for penalties of monetary restitution instead of bodily mutilation  For crimes such as murder or adultery, however, Hebrew society demanded capital punishment, and it made no distinction of status  Slavery was less offensive in Hebrew society then elsewhere, as the Israelites were forbidden to enslave their debtors for any more than a fixed term  Hebrew slaves had to be let free at puberty in the case of a female slave, or at the next sabbatical year (when the fields lay empty) The Prophets  The prophets voices were as important as the voices of the priests and legal experts in the bible  Hebrew prophecy appears to have grown out of ancient Near Eastern traditions of spirit possession  Prophets present themselves as the intermediaries used by God to communicate with his people, and the words they deliver are understood to be God’s, not their own  The message the prophets delivered was always the same: that the people are not living up to God’s covenant and that they will soon be punished if they do not change their ways  In the eyes of the prophets, marriage contracts were also covenants, and they have stipulations and are enforced by oath  It was said that if people gave up their sinful relationship with the Canaanites’ goddesses and gods, their sexual rituals of fertility and child sacrifice, Yahweh would reconcile with them  Despite the prophets’ warnings the nation continued to drift toward ruin, and the literary prophets recorded the destruction of the northern and southern kingdoms The Babylonian Exile  The Exile marks the transition of the Hebrew tradition from the national cult of an ancient kingdom to the religious heritage of a widely dispersed people  Jewish life was now more urban than agricultural, so that many of the old agriculturally based laws and rituals needed to be rethought  In the absence of the Temple, the focus shifted away from formal worship towards congregational life, and the institution known as the synagogue was born, and Temple worship never regained its former importance, even after being rebuilt  Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the vernacular language, although Hebrew remained the language of ritual  The destruction of the Temple brought on a crisis of confidence, as Yahweh had not been worshipped in a single place for so long, and did the destruction of the Temple mean he had abandoned his people  As if in response, the prophet Ezekiel described the appearance in a storm
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