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North American Studies
Martin Morris

Overview In a neighbourhood in Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox Jews close off the streets to traffic every Friday in strict observance of the Sabbath. The majority of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, however, consider themselves ethnic rather than religious Jews, and they disregard the Sabbath along with most religious rules. At an Orthodox synagogue in Montreal, tradition dictates that male and female worshippers must be segregated, and the rabbi is necessarily male. In Toronto, at a Reform synagogue, men and women sit together for services led by a female rabbi. And although the Conservative movement has been ordaining women for more than two decades, some Conservative synagogues still choose to separate their congregations by gender. There is indeed great diversity in Judaism today. In this chapter, we shall try to understand that diversity, and the unity that underlies it, by tracing the historical origins of Judaism and the transformations associated with modernization. Judaism is the smallest of the great world religions, accounting for less than one-half of 1 percent of the world’s people. Yet that small population is dispersed around the globe. Today approximately 80 percent of the world’s Jews make their homes in either the United States, where more than 200,000 Jews found refuge during the Holocaust, or Israel, founded in 1948 as a homeland where Jews would be safe from persecution. But Jewish communities still exist across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, including India and China. Canada – which shamefully closed its doors to all but 5,000 Jewish refugees during the Nazi era – now has the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world. Over the millennia Judaism has meant different things to different people. For a significant number of Jews today Judaism is more an ethnic than a religious identity. Yet secular perspectives, as we shall see, have had profound effects on the religion. We will find great diversity among the Jewish people, and yet we shall look for a common thread. Jews take as the highest reality the God of creation and history, who revealed himself to Moses at Mount Sinai. Indeed, the monotheism of both Christianity and Islam is rooted in this most ancient of the three traditions. Christianity and Islam also follow Judaism in believing that the ideal of life is to live in harmony with the will of a God who demands justice and compassion, and that sin consists in the failure to do so. In Judaism, one overcomes the problem of sin and realizes the ideal through the study and practice of God’s teachings or revelation. The Christian concept of original sin – the idea that the sin of the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, was inherited by all their descendants – does not exist in Judaism. Rather, each and every human being is free to choose good or evil because each of us stands before God in the same relationship that Adam and Eve did. However, in creating the people Israel, God gave them a gift to tip the balance between good and evil in favour of good. This was the dual Torah, the sacred teachings, both oral and written, concerning God’s revelation to his people. In giving the people Israel to Torah, God established a covenant (a binding agreement) with them, making them a holy people and reminding them: ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people, I will guide and protect you and you will obey my commandments.’ According to the story of Torah, God set before Israel the choice between life and death and made it possible for the people to choose life by choosing ‘to walk in the way of God’. This could be accomplished by following 613 mitzvot – commandments requiring deeds of loving- kindness through which the people would embody in their lives the justice and mercy of God as a model for all the world. Not all Jews would agree with this summary sketch of the religious worldview of Judaism, however,. In the remainder of this chapter we shall try to understand both the unity and the diversity of Judaism as a religious tradition and the profound impact that modernity has had on its development. We will begin by discussing how the encounter with modernity gave rise to an ultra-Orthodox form of Judaism that did not exist before the twentieth century. We then go back to the historical beginnings of Judaism and trace its history, to understand the sources of the diverse threads of contemporary Judaism and the ongoing struggle to define its future. Because our goal is to understand Judaism’s encounter with modernity, we shall focus primarily on the aspects that reveal the diversity of Judaism today and show how that diversity developed. Encounter with Modernity: Modern Judaism and the Challenge of Ultra- Orthodoxy Premodern Rabbinic Judaism, as we shall see, was a world unto itself, embracing every aspect of life and offering safe haven from a gentile (non-Jewish) world that severely restricted the role of Jews in society. The modern world, by contrast, seems to offer Jews the possibility of sharing in its citizenship. Thus all modern forms of Judaism draw a line between the secular and the religious, to all Jews to participate in both worlds. At the same time, every modern form of Judaism tries to preserve an essential core of Judaism. For Reform Jews the centre of Judaism is its ethics; other dimensions, such as ritual practices and belief in supernatural phenomena, are negotiable. For Conservative Jews the rituals are not negotiable, but supernatural belief are. For Orthodox Jews neither I negotiable, but it is still permissible for Jews to live some parts of life (education, employment, etc.) in the secular world. Ultra-Orthodox seek to create a Jewish way of life, totally separate not only from the gentile world but from modernizing forms of Judaism. They accomplish this by segregating themselves: creating Jewish communities where every aspect of life is governed by supernatural belief and traditional ritual. The ultra-Orthodox seek to recapture, as far as possible, the way of premodern Jews. And they hope to see the day (at least in Israel) when modern forms of Judaism will disappear and their own community will be the model for the whole of society. The goal of deprivatizing Judaism, so that its religious vision can shape public life, sets ultra- Orthodox Judaism apart from other modern forms of Judaism. At the same time, ultra- Orthodoxy rejects pluralism, a key characteristic of what some call “postmodernity”. Because they fear that pluralism leads to religious and ethical relativism, ultra-Orthodox Jews (like Christian fundamentalists) insist there is only one truth, one way of life, to which all Jews must return if their sense of a higher purpose in life is not to be lost in a sea of relativism. For the ultra-Orthodox there cannot be many ways to keep the covenant – only one way. And that one way is all-encompassing. It does not permit a Jew to parcel out his or her life into separate secular and religious portions. Nor does it permit men and women to refine their gender roles in new and ‘liberating’ ways. Such redefinitions, they argue, will inevitably lead to moral chaos and the collapse of the family. Although only a minority of the world’s Jewish population has opted for ultra- Orthodoxy, this way of being Jewish challenges Jews the world over to examine the implications of their modern spiritual and political belief: can one be both modern and Jewish, and remain the true Israel called forth by Torah? The Conflict over Public Life: Religion and Politics in the State of Israel The conflict created by ultra-Orthodoxy is most obvious in the state of Israel, where public life was shaped initially by secular Jews with a non-religious socialist – Zionist worldview (about which we will say more later). In the 1990s, 80 percent of Israelis were secular. However, especially since the mid-1970s, a variety of ultra-Orthodox political parties have emerged and sought to undo the secular state and place the public order under the religious commandments of the premodern Talmudic tradition, the halakhah. Although different ultra-Orthodox groups also disagree among themselves, they share the desire to make the public life of the secular state of Israel more religiously observant. They insist, for example, that all businesses be closed on the Sabbath, and they succeeded in having the legislature, the Knesset, pass a law requiring that all marriages be performed by Orthodox rabbis. In the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox, their secular, Reform, and Conservative brethren are not really Jews, and Orthodox Jews are not orthodox enough. All non-ultra-Orthodox Jews are urged to repent and return (teshuvah) to the true Judaism. Consequently both Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews have campaigned to amend a piece of legislation passed in 1950, two years after Israel achieved statehood. Under this legislation, called the law of return, all post-Holocaust Jews have the right to call Israel their homeland, and anyone born of a Jewish mother has only to apply for Israeli citizenship to receive it. Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox partisans have repeatedly tried to have the law modified to prevent the granting of citizenship to anyone who has not undergone Orthodox conversion. Ultra-Orthodox Minorities: The Gush Emunim and the Neturei Karta Religious political movements and religious parties in Israel are too diverse and complex to fully account for here, but we can understand something of the dynamics of their role in Israeli society by looking at a few representative groups. The spectrum extends from anti-Zionists such as the Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City, founded in 1938) at one extreme to religious Zionists like the Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful, founded in 1974) at the other. In between stand various compromise movements, like the Agudat Yisrael (Federation of Israel, founded in 1912). The Neturei Karta, in their wide-brimmed hats and long black coats, emulate a centuries-ole way of life that comes out of the traditions of the eastern European Haredim, ‘those of true piety’. The Gush Emunim, by contrast, while rigorously ultra- Orthodox in their observance of Jewish law (halakhah), have adopted a more modern style of dress (jeans, short-sleeved shirts, and skullcaps for the men) that clearly distinguishes them from the Haredim and points to their identification with the secular Zionists who founded the state of Israel, whom they see as their counterparts. The Neturei Karta, and most of the ultra-Orthodox movements, have their roots in a strand of vigorously anti-Zionist eastern European Orthodoxy,, which, unlike most of western European Orthodoxy, made no compromise with modernity. It is because they seek to preserve the way of life of premodern eastern European Judaism that the Haredim refuse to permit secular education ad modern dress. Unlike Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews, the ultra-Orthodox Haredim will not live in communities with gentile neighbours and refuse to mix with modern Jews who do not share their views. Rather,, they live in ghetto-like communities typically led by a rabbi revered for his piety and Talmudic skill – communities where the faith is untarnished by the compromises that ‘modern’ Jews regard as unavoidable. Certain that only the coming of the messiah in God’s own time can bring about a true Jewish Polity, the Haredim reject the state of Israel as secular and profane. In this they reflect the traditional attitude of Rabbinic Judaism, which from the time of the Romans rejected political and Zionist messianic Judaism. At the other extreme of ultra-Orthodoxy, this rejection itself is rejected. The Gush Emunim, for example, do not accept the Jewish state in its secular form, but have firmly endorsed the emergence of the secular state as in accordance with the divine will, a step on the way to a genuine (halakhah-based) Jewish state. Whereas the Neturei Karta reject secular Zionist together, the Gush Emunim seek to transform it – to put it on the correct path by making public life in Israel conform to halakhah. Thus we see how difficult it is for ultra-Orthodoxy to keep historical change out of Judaism: even ultra-Orthodoxy finds itself developing modern forms. Although religious Jews make up only about 20 percent of Israel’s population, and most of them are anti-Zionist, the various political parties that represent them have managed to play a significant role in Israeli public life because typically neither of the major secular parties – Labor and Likud – is able to secure enough votes to form a majority government. In order to govern, each has been forced to enter into a coalition with at least some of the religious parties, which as a consequence have exercised a bargaining power out of all proportion to the votes they receive. While some ultra-Orthodox, like the Neturei Karta, reject both the secular state and ultra-Orthodox religious Zionist movements, others, like the Gush Emunim, have sought to force secular Israel society to conform to their political and religious vision of Jewish life. Still others, both religious Zionists like the members of the Mizrahi (Spiritual Center) party and those opposed in principle to religious Zionism, such as Agudat Yisrael, have been more moderate, willing to work with the secular state of Israel to find constructive compromises. Ultra-Orthodoxy as a Type of Fundamentalism The ascendancy of ultra-Orthodoxy is a part of larger religious resurgence that has been going on around the globe since the mid-1970s. The late 1960s and early 1970s were a period of radical cultural disruption in Western urban secular societies, when the children of the generation that experienced World War II rejected what they often described as the emptiness of modern culture. Many of these young people turned to religious movements in hope of recovering a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Indeed, the less modern and secular the movement, the more attractive it appeared. One form that this religious resurgence took was distinctively fundamentalist. What all religious fundamentalist movements have in common is a desire to return to the foundations of belief and action that existed in their respective traditions prior to the coming of modernity. For these movements, the tendency of modern society to see truth and values as relative is the logical outcome of modernity. The weakness, if not absence, of standards and norms seems to them to prove the decadence of the modern world. Much of the new strength of ultra-Orthodoxy is due to the numbers of new adherents it has found among former secular Jews and modern religious Jew whose dissatisfaction with life made them receptive to the ultra-Orthodox message. These Jews have made a leap of faith out of a world that either did not ask them to give their heart to anything (pure secularism) or asked them to give only a part of their heart (modern religious Judaism). They have chosen a form of Judaism that promises to bring order and meaning to the whole of life, not just a part of it, and that requires a full-time commitment, not just a part-time commitment. They have sought to return to the fundamentals of the Judaism of the dual Torah – that is, premodern Rabbinic Judaism. The ‘fundamentalist’ movements challenge modern forms of Judaism by refusing to reduce being Jewish to historical heritage, morality, and ethnicity. Ultra-Orthodox Jews attempt to recover what they believe has been lost to modern Judaism, namely, the centrality of God (as a living force), Torah (as divine revelation), and Israel (as an eternal people). Ultra-Orthodox wish to revert to what they imagine was a time when there was one truth and one way. For them, total immersion in a permodern way of life represents a definitive break with the decadence of Western civilization. Yet the self-consciousness of their immersion experience has no parallel in the premodern tradition of Rabbinic Judaism. These ‘new’ Jews have chosen to engage in an experiment, and in this sense their version of Judaism is no less a modern/postmodern phenomenon than any of the forms they reject. They, like all other religious persons of the modern era, have no choice but to choose. Their choice is between withdrawal from and involvement with the modern world, either back to what they consider the ‘one way’ of premodern Judaism or forward into pluralism. To understand the implications of the choice, we must return to the beginnings of premodern Judaism in the biblical period and work our way forward. Premodern Judaism: The Formative Era The Biblical Roots of Judaism As we noted in Chapter 1, Judaism, along with Christianity and Islam, is shaped by the myth of history. Indeed, the myth of history begins with Judaism. Judaism finds its roots in the story of the God who made promises to Abraham and his descendants that were fulfilled centuries later when this God sent Moses to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt and lead them into the ‘land of promise’ – the land of Canaan. From these beginnings the story blossomed to tell of the God who acts in time (i.e., in history) and leads his people on a journey through time toward a day of final resurrection in which all injustice, suffering, and death will be overcome. All religious traditions pass on their vision of reality through stories. But story plays a unique role in Jewish religion. All the great religions of the world have used metaphors from the natural world to explain religious experience (in India, for instance, the wheel of death and rebirth is explained in terms of the cycles of nature). Analogies from nature are not absent from Judaism, but there is a clear shift of emphasis from nature to history. That is, if you want to understand who the God of Israel is, you do not look primarily to nature but rather to the history of the people Israel’s journey through time. Indeed, for Judaism God is the divine storyteller, and the unfolding of creation in history is God’s story. In the beginning God said, ‘Let there be light’, and the story began. And the unfolding story will continue to play out in history until God brings it – after many trials and tribulations – to a happy conclusion at the end of time, when the deed will be raised to enjoy a new heaven and a new earth. The Stories Begins The story of the past, as it was imagined by the people Israel, proceeds from the creation of the first man and women, Adam and Eve, to the near annihilation of humanity as related in the story of Noah and the flood. Then comes the division of humans into many language groups at the tower of Babel, and God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 15). The story moves on to the migration of the family of Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph into Egypt at a time of famine. It relates how the tribes of Israel, Abraham’s descendants, became enslaved in Egypt and how God sent Moses to deliver them from slavery. In the story of the Exodus, God assists Moses by sending down ten plagues on the Egyptians and then parting the waters of the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to escape to the land God gives them, in keeping with a promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21). According to this story, on the way to the land of promise God brought the people to Mount Sinai, gave the Torah to Moses, and formed a covenant with the people. As described in the book of Exodus, this is a climactic moment in a powerful and dramatic story about the journey that created a holy people – the people Israel. In fact, the Hebrew word for holy (qadosh) suggests that to be holy is to be ‘set apart’. So Israel was chosen out of all the nations and set apart to be God’s people. The story goes on to tell how the tribes of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years, entering the land of promise, under the leadership of Joshua, only after the death of Moses. For the next two hundred years they lived on the land as a loose confederation under military leaders called ‘judge’. However, as threats of conquest from their neighbours became more frequent, many among the tribes began to demand to have a king like other nations, with a standing army to protect Israel. Some argued that there could be only one king over Israel – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But God, according to the story, agreed to allow the people to have a king. And so Saul, chosen by God, was anointed with oil by a prophet, as a sign that the first king over Israel had been selected not by the people but by God. Indeed, the concept of messiah (mashiah) has its beginnings here, for ‘messiah’ means ‘anointed one’, and it was understood that the one so anointed had been chosen to rule over the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Israel. Saul, however, proved to be a weak king, for he lacked independent authority and had to depend on the cooperation of the tribes, which could be uncertain. It was David, the second king, who established Israel as a nation. Under David and later his son Solomon, Israel claimed, for a brief time, to be the greatest nation in the Middle East. Stories were told of David’s rise to power – how even as a young boy he had saved the tribes by slaying the Philistine giant Goliath. Indeed, Saul, who had virtually adopted David as a member of the royal family, soon became jealous and turned on him. Forced to flee and fearing for his life, David became a Robin Hood figure, leading a private army of loyal followers. When Saul died in battle against the Philistines, David was proclaimed by the people and anointed as their king. Later, the northern tribes, called Israel, visited David and asked him to be their king, too. Soon he would consolidate the monarchy, becoming known as the king of all Israel and Judah. David used his army to capture Jebus, a Canaanite city, renaming it Jerusalem, or ‘God’s peace’. Because Jerusalem had not belonged to any of the tribes, it gave David a neutral vantage point from which to rule over both Israel and Judah. David made his capital a holy city by bringing to it a sacred object, the gold-covered chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the stone tablets inscribed with the commandments given at Mount Sinai. Indeed, it was during David’s reign that God is said to have promised David that his heirs would rule Israel into the far distant future (2 Samuel 7:16). After David’s death his son Solomon succeeded him to the throne, and Israel was at the height of its power. It was Solomon who built the first temple so that God could dwell in a splendour greater than that of any of the gods of the other nations. However, after the time of Solomon there was quarrelling about the succession to the throne, and for over two centuries Israel, in the north, had one king and Judah, in the south, had another. Soon prophets like Amos and Hosea arose in Israel. The biblical prophets were revered persons believed to know God’s will. They reminded the people that since abandoning their nomadic life to become farmers and city dwellers, they had been drifting further and further from the tribal values of the covenant made at Sinai. In the cities the people acted as if they were strangers to each other, and the rich mistreated the poor. The prophets warned that God would punish those who offered sacrifices in the temple while acting unjustly as citizens and neighbours. What God wants most of all, the pious believed, is the sacrifice of a pure heart committed to deeds of justice and compassion. The Story Continues with the Prophets It is with the prophets that Jewish monotheism become fully formed. For in the tribal days of the time of Moses, Israel’s commitment had been ‘henotheistic’ – that is, to one God above all others. Thus the commandment ‘I am the Lord your God… you shall have no others beside me’, did not mean that there were no other gods, only that Israel was forbidden to follow them. God was their tribal God. But after Israel was established as a great nation in the time of David, the prophets forced Israel to see that they did not own God, nor could they renege on the covenant once in the land of promise – that what the covenant conferred was not so much a set of privileges as a set or responsibilities according to the prophets, Israel’s God was the God of all the nations and he would use the other nations, if necessary, to punish Israel for any failure to keep the covenant. Instructed by the prophets, Israel began to think of God in the manner described in the book of Genesis – as the creator of all things and all peoples. From the eighth century BCE forward, Israel would become progressively convinced that having ‘no other gods’ required more than loyalty to a tribal deity. It required affirming that there were no other gods. Out of the prophetic experience came the pure and simple creed of Judaism, the Shema: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4). This confession is completed by reminding the people to love this God with all their heart, soul, and strength; to pray the Shema on arising and retiring; and to bind the words on their hands, foreheads, and doorposts to ensure that the awareness of the one true God might permeate their every thought and action. The prophets warned the people that if they did not return to the covenant, the God of Israel, Lord of all creation and history, would punish them. And that is exactly how the misfortunes of Israel and Judah came to be interpreted. For in 721 BCE the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel and carried its inhabitants off into slavery. In 621 BCE, Judah’s King Josiah is said to have discovered in the temple what he believed to be the long-lost book of the law (the biblical book of Deuteronomy). These writings echoed the teachings of the prophets about the need to practice justice to please God. On this basis Josiah initiated a reform that included a renewal of the covenant and designated the temple in Jerusalem as the only proper site for sacrifices. However, according to the biblical story, the reforms were not observed conscientiously, and God again allowed the people to be punished. In 586 BCE the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians and their territories, destroyed the temple Solomon had built, and carried off the inhabitants of the southern king dome of Judah into exile and slavery. As the time of the Babylonian exile approached, another generation of prophets arose – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah – spanning the time of exile and eventual return. These prophets asserted that God was indeed punishing Israel for its failure to keep the covenant, but added that the punishment would be temporary (to teach them a lesson). As it happened, the Persians soon conquered the Babylonians, and after only 50 years, in 538 BCE, the Israelites were permitted to return to the land. This turn of events was attributed to the benevolent policy of the Persian king, Cyrus. That a pagan king should so favour the Israelites was seen as miraculous, and Cyrus was declared a messiah, that is, one anointed by God to carry out God’s will to return his people to their land (Isaiah 45:1-13). Cyrus himself was not aware of his role in the destiny of Israel. Thus we see that even in the biblical period, Judaism was capable of finding religious significance in secular political events. The Story Becomes One of Exile and Return When the first wave of exiles returned to the land (520-515 BCE), the leadership was weak and the people lacked a clear direction. It was not until Ezra, a priest, and Nehemiah, a gifted layman, led a second wave of exiles back to the land of Israel in 458 BCE that a clear pattern for a postexilic Judaism appeared. These leaders demanded repentance: the people had married citizens of other nations and sacrificed to other gods, and now they must rededicate themselves to the covenant and repurify themselves as a holy people be separating themselves from their neighbours. It is with this priestly reform that Judaism adopted the experience of exile and return as the normative pattern through which all its future experiences would be interpreted. In this sense, the experiences of exile and return gave birth to Judaism. In the fourth century BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the ancient world, and after his death in 323 BCE his empire was divided among his generals. For over a century the Ptolemies ruled over Israel (301-198 BCE). They were replace by the Seleucid (198-167 BCE), who began a policy of enforced Hellenization, requiring all their conquered peoples to adopt Greek customs and beliefs, including veneration of many gods. The Jews, who refused to abandon their worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were severely persecuted for their non-compliance. Thus in the middle of the second century BCE, Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers led a revolt against the cruel Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes IV. This effort, the Maccabean revolt, was successful in bringing about a status of semi-independence, which lasted into the first century CE. However, in a bid to resist new efforts at control by the Seleucids, the Jews in 63 BCE invited the Romans to protect them. After the Exile, the temple was rebuilt on a modest scale and then later, between 20 BCE and 60 CE under the domination of Rome, the second temple was rebuilt on a grander scale. The Historical Roots of Diversity In the centuries after Alexander, there grew up considerable diversity within Judaism, leading to several first-century Jewish movements – the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Hellenists, the Samaritans, the Zealots, the Essenes, and the Nazarenes – all of which were engaged in ongoing debate. Today we would be tempted to say the debate was about the right way to be Jewish, but the idea of Judaism as a religion did not yet exist. Rather, the partisans of the first century were debating how one must live to be the ‘true Israel’, or people of God. To understand this debate it is important to remember that at the beginning of the first century there was no official Bible and no set of practices and commitments accepted as normative by all Jews. It was only at the end of the first century that the Tanak, or Bible of Judaism as we have it today, came into existence, along with Rabbinic Judaism as the normative pattern of Judaism for the next eighteen hundred years. More needs to be said about these movements. The Sadducees came from the wealthy upper class, were associated with the temple tradition that was exclusive to Jerusalem, and saw their task as keeping peace with Rome. They accepted only the five books of Moses as sacred scripture and insisted on literal adherence to the written Torah. The Pharisees were teachers associated with the synagogues (houses of study and prayer) found in every city and village; they accepted not only the books of Moses but the historical and wisdom writings and those of the prophets. Both the Jewish Bible (Tanak) and the Christian Old Testament are largely derived from the Pharisees’ selection of scriptural materials. The Pharisees taught that God revealed himself in the written Torah and through oral traditions that accompanied the giving of the Torah to Moses. Moreover, they insisted that the written word could not be properly interpreted without the oral traditions. In these teachings the Pharisees offered a precursor to the later Rabbinic doctrine of God’s revelation through the dual Torah, the oral and the written. Politically, the Pharisees were neither cozy with, nor openly hostile to, the Romans. Jews who were dispersed in the Roman Empire (i.e., outside the protectorate of Palestine) were known as the Jews of the Diaspora. The leaders of their synagogues were Hellenistic Jews who used a Greek translation of scriptures that closely corresponded to the Hebrew scriptures of the Pharisees, with some important exceptions. The Hellenists were the great missionaries of Judaism, who used Greek philosophy to explain the meaning of the biblical stories. They were anxious to promote Judaism as a religion that had a place for gentiles, and they adapted Judaism to Greek customs whenever feasible. They successfully encouraged large numbers of gentiles to come and worship the one true God of Israel. Finally, there were sectarian movements like the Zealots, the Samaritans, the Essenes, and the Nazarenes (the followers of Jesus of Nazareth). Some, like the Zealots and Essenes, were openly hostile to the gentile world, whereas the Nazarenes, like the Hellenists, were very positive toward gentiles and sought their conversion. Adherents of these movements tended to take an apocalyptic view, believing that God would bring the world to an end soon, and so would send a messiah to judge all human beings and reward the faithful. In the first century there was no single clear definition of ‘messiah’. A wide variety of speculations emerged; each sectarian group had its own ideas. Most were expecting a spiritual leader, but some, primarily the Zealots, looked for a military leader able to overthrow the Romans, whose rule in Palestine had become oppressive. What was typical of these sectarian movements was a strong distrust of the Sadducees, who were viewed as having sold out to the Romans. The Zealots, the most hostile of all, had nothing but contempt for the Sadducees and chose to directly oppose them. If the Sadducees urged ‘don’t rock the boat’, the Zealots were committed to rocking the boat as often as possible. To this end, they staged random guerrilla attacks against the Roman legions. In the second century a Zealot, Simon bar Kokhba, claimed the title of messiah and was executed by the Romans. Finally, at least some of the sectarian groups practised baptismal rites, that is, ritual immersion and purification. Ritual immersion was already a requirement for any gentile convert to Judaism (along with circumcision of males). From the first century on, however, some groups insisted that not only gentile converts were to be immersed and purified, but also Jews, if they had strayed from the true path of Judaism as understood by the particular sectarian movement. Exodus and Exile: Story, History, and Modernity The difference between premodern and modern is the difference between sacred story, or scripture, and secular story, or history. Fundamentalists fear the incursion of time and history into their sacred story, whereas modernists welcome it. The biblical writings as we have them are organized to tell a story of God’s saving journey with his people. It is, as we have noted, the story of the God who acts in time and leads his people through time toward a final fulfillment. This is a grand story that answers questions of origin and destiny for the Jews as a religious people: where do we come from? Where are we going? When modern historians read this story, they ask different questions. Primarily they want to know if things really happened as described in the sacred texts. They try to find out by comparing the stories with what else is known about the past through ancient writings, and through archaeological artifacts. When historians began to read the biblical stories critically, they believed they could identify different layers of historical development in the scriptural writings. It is on this basis that they identified four major layers of historical materials: J&E (Jahwist and Elohist, from two different Hebrew names from God) from the period of the monarchy of David and Solomon (c. 1000 BCE), D (Deuteronomic, c, 621 BCE) associated with the prophetically rooted reforms of King Josiah, and P (priestly, c. 458 BCE) associated with the priestly reforms of Ezra and his administrative successor, Nehemiah. Today biblical scholars do not think that the historical materials can be sorted out quite that neatly, but the recognition of historical layers remains essential to the historical study of biblical writings. The earliest stories (J&E) seem to have been written down in the courts of David and Solomon to tell the story of how God chose Israel, from humble beginnings, to become a great kingdom. Bringing together diverse ancient tribal narratives, the royal storytellers constructed a larger and more complex story that begins with the creation of the world and ends with the kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon as the greatest nation of the ancient Middle East. It is an unambiguous story of promise and fulfillment. However, the story had to be revised in light of the Babylonian exile. The priestly revision describes Israel as a people shaped by seemingly broken promises that are unexpectedly fulfilled, at least in part, leading to new hope and new life – a story of exile and return. If the Exodus was the founding event of Judaism, the Exile was its formative event. As one distinguished scholar of Judaism, Jacob Neusner, has noted, it was the great crisis of exile and the astonishment of return that set the mythic pattern of Judaic thought and experience ever since. The exile and return provided a story pattern through which all past and future events, whether of triumph or of tragedy, could be meaningfully integrated into Jewish identity. ‘Exile and return’ shaped the imagination of all future generations. No longer did Israel think of itself as David did (in 1 Chronicles 22:1-19), as having an unconditionally guaranteed existence. On the contrary, Israel’s existence was dependent on its commitment to the covenant. Therefore the fall of the second temple at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE was a trauma and a deep blow to those who wholeheartedly believed the story of the God who leads his people through time. But the crisis was not without precedent or without meaning. For although the power of leadership shifted once more, this time from the priests to the teachers (i.e., rabbis), the rabbis immediately reverted to the priestly pattern of explanation, arguing once more that the cause of the present misfortune was that Israel had not kept the covenant faithfully enough. Consequently, although the disasters that befell the first and second temples were two of the most traumatic events in the long history of Judaism, neither destroyed the faith of Jews. On the contrary, in each case Jews came to the conclusion that the loss of the temple was not a sign of God’s abandonment but a call to the people Israel to be more fully observant of the covenant. Thus today Jews willingly recall these events on the holy day of Tisha B’Av, for what remembering brings is not despair and hopelessness but repentance and renewal. From Torah to Talmud The Pharisaic Roots of Rabbinic Judaism To follow the emergence of Rabbinic, or Talmudic, Judaism, we need to resume our discussion of the various Jewish sects and movements that existed in the first century. Such diversity was brought to an end by the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Of the movements that had been vying to provide a model for Jewish life only a few survived, and of these it was the Pharisee who provided new leadership. There were at least three reasons for this. First, the political neutrality of the Pharisees in the period before the fall of the temple made them appealing to the Romans. Unlike the Zealots, the Pharisees seemed to take a benign view of the Roman Empire. So the roman authorities gave them permission to establish an academy at Yavneh on the coast of present-day Israel. There began the task of reconstructing Judaism for a new period of exile apart from the land and the temple. Second, the Pharisees were already the leaders of the synagogue tradition and the teachers (rabbis) of the importance of the oral tradition. Finally, the oral tradition the Pharisees had espoused gave them the flexibility to interpret the requirements of Jewish life priesthood disappeared, no new institutions needed to be invented. The Pharisees became the natural leaders by default everywhere in ancient Palestine. The task of the new leadership was to transpose the priestly model focused on the temple in Jerusalem into a new key – one that would allow the people Israel, like their ancestors in Babylon, to survive as Jews apart from the land and the temple. The solution the Pharisees arrived at was a model in which the people Israel (not just the temple) were holy, every male head of a Jewish household was in fact a priest, and the table in every Jewish house was an altar. In this new model, the centre of Jewish life shifted from written Torah to oral tradition, from priest to rabbi, from temple to synagogue, and from temple altar to family table. The priestly tradition had insisted that Israel was a holy people, set apart for service to the one true God, and had established elaborate rules of ritual separation to keep the people from blending in with the general population. The Pharisees, drawing on the prophets, insisted that what God wanted more than cultic worship, with its sacrifices, was deeds of loving kindness (mitzvoth) – that is, acts of justice and mercy. To this end, the Pharisees transferred the rituals of separation from the temple cult to a system of ethics. The prophets had issued sweeping demands, in the name of God, for justice and mercy. The Pharisees took these demands and made them the content for the priestly rituals of holiness, working out their application in all the details of everyday life according to the best insights of the oral tradition. Between the second and fifth centuries, Rabbinic Judaism, or the Judaism of the dual Torah, emerged as the insights of the oral tradition were written down and incorporated into what became known as the Talmud. And it was this Talmudic tradition, as we shall see, that shaped Jewish life from the sixth century until the emergence of Jewish modernizing movements in the nineteenth century. The heart of the teachings of the Pharisees was that God was a loving personal father who chose Israel to enter into the covenant revealed in the oral and written Torah, so that each and every individual who keeps this covenant can live in hope of resurrection from the dead. Although the Pharisees are depicted as legalists in the Christian scriptures, historians have shown that they taught that the sacrifices that God wants, deeds of loving kindness, are not merely a matter of external observance but must be rooted in a pure heart. The Pharisees asked Jews to love God above all and their neighbour as themselves. They insisted that what is hateful to oneself must not be done to one’s neighbour. They insisted that humans do not live by bread alone and therefore one should trust in God rather than worry about tomorrow. They insisted that those who would seek the will of God would find it and that those who humbled themselves would be exalted. All these teachings were adopted by Christianity, as well. The Rabbis and the Formation of the Talmud Hillel and Shammai were the two leading rabbis, or teachers of oral tradition, in the first century of the Common Era. Their influence led to the development of two major schools: the house of Hillel (Bet Hillel) and the house of Shammai (Bet Shammai). The disputes between Hillel and Shammai, and their schools, eventually became the foundation of the Talmud and set the tone of disputation and dialogue that is characteristic of Talmudic Judaism. Both Hillel and Shammai sought to apply the oral Torah tradition to the details of everyday life. In general it is said that Shammai interpreted the demands of Torah more strictly and severely. Hillel, who tended to be more lenient and compassionate in his decisions, is frequently quoted for this summation of the whole of the Torah:’ What is hateful to you, do not unto your neighbour; this is the entire Torah, all the rest is commentary… Go and study.’ In general, although not always, it was the teachings of Hillel that shaped the emerging Talmudic tradition. And it was the students of Hillel who were the primary shapers of the Mishnah – the writings that form the core of the Talmud. It was the disciples of Hillel and Shammai and their descendants who led the Jews into the Talmudic era. A disciple of Hillel, Johannan ben Zakkai, had been chosen to initiate the academy at Yacneh. There the first task was to settle one of the key arguments that had been going on in Judaism at the beginning of the century – namely, which writings of the tradition should be considered holy and therefore revelations from God. The argument, of course, was settled by default. Since the Pharisees survived to re-establish Judaism, it was the writings they revered that were selected to constitute the canon, the official set of scriptures. Unsurprisingly, the Pharisees did not limit their choces to the Torah, that is, the books attributed to Moses. In addition to the five books called the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), the Pharisees included the books of the prophets (e.g., Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Amos and Hasea), some historical writings (e.g., First and Second Kings), and also the writings, or wisdom literature (e.g., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job). Thus it was the academy at Yavneh that settled on the books that make up the Bible of Judaism, known as the TaNaK – an acronym standing for Torah (teachings), Neviim (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). In Western culture it has often been suggested that to compare the teachings of Judaism and Christianity, all one need do is compare the Tanak, or Hebrew Bible, (which Christians call the Old Testament) with the New Testament. This suggestion is totally misleading. The Talmud and the New Testament are like two different sets of glasses for reading the Hebrew Bible. Through the Talmud glasses, certain passages seem very clear and easy to read, while other parts are fuzzy and unreadable. And with New Testament glasses the fuzzy passages become clear, and vice versa. Both Jews and Christians read the Hebrew Bible through the eyes of a further revelation (Talmud and New Testament) that tells them how to read the Hebrew scriptures, including what is valid and what can be dismissed. Thus Jews and Christians who seem to be reading an important body of holy writings in common might just as well be reading two different books – which, in s sense, they are. To understand Judaism, therefore, one must understand the Talmud and the central role it plays in Judaism. With the Jewish people’s sacred teachings committed to writing in the written Torah (the Tanak), the Tannaim (‘those who study’) began the paradoxical process of writing down the cast and diffuse teachings of the oral tradition and transforming this material into the oral Torah. The process occurred in two phases. First, the Tannaim, led by Hillel and hammai, organized the wisdom of the Jewish oral tradition into categories, or seders, covering six areas of everyday life: agriculture, Sabbaths and festivals, women and property, civil and criminal law, laws of conduct for cultic ritual and temple, and rules for maintaining cultic purity. Then the discussions of the rabbis recalling the wisdom of the oral Torah on each of these areas were written down. This collection of materials, known as the Mishnah, thus codifies the wisdom of the oral Torah. The Mishnah was intended to show Jews how they could sanctify life (i.e., make it holy) despite their loss of the temple and absence from the land of Israel. In the second phase of Talmudic formation, the successors to the Tannaim, the Amoraim (‘those who interpret’), set about developing a commentary on the Mishnah that would link the oral to the written Torah. The result of their work was called the Gemara, and these writings in combination with the Mishnah form the Talmud (meaning ‘learning’ or ‘study’ as related to Torah). Even though the Talmud (Mishnah and Gemara) is said to have been completed by the sicth century, there is a sense in which the Talmud is never complete. For example, sages in the tradition, the Geonim (eminent scholars), followed up the work of the Amoraim by providing the Responsa – further commentaries on the Talmud. These writings constitute answers to request from Jews throughout the Diaspora for insight and guidance in applying the teachings of the Talmud to the problems of everyday life. The tradition of commentary, which continues from generation to generation, is integral to Judaism, leaving the Talmudic traditions, as an expression of oral Torah, open to continuous development. Producing the Talmud by writing down the oral Torah surely seems like a self- contradictory task. And yet the genius of the Talmud is in preserving the oral character of the material in written form. To appreciate the uniqueness of the Talmud one really has to look at it and see how its pages are constructed. A typical page is made up of diverse and distinct parts, coexisting on the same piece of paper. These parts express the voices of the rabbis throughout the ages, and teachings about the same subject are juxtaposed on the same page. The Talmud is an ongoing dialogue among Jews not only of the same time p
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