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Rabbinic Judaism

Heterodoxy and sectarianism

Modern Judaism


The word “Jew” can refer to a member of either of two kinds of collectivities. First, it is sometimes used to refer to any person of Jewish parentage, that is, anyone born of people who are identified as descendants of the group described in Biblical and post-Biblical sources; this criterion of descent does not necessarily entail a particular common attitude on the part of those to whom it applies. The word is also applied to an adherent to a body of beliefs —Judaism—who performs the religious practice required by it.

Absolute monotheism is the main tenet of Judaism. Religious practice consists primarily in abiding by the body of prescriptions and prohibitions laid down by the Supreme Being, the details of which are to be found in the traditional literature as it is interpreted by the duly authorized persons, the rabbis. In non-Orthodox practices of Judaism the adherence to details of this ritual is selective.

The Jews formed a definite society in the Palestine of the Near East sometime between the years 1200 and 600 B.C. The Jewish people, or at least the prophets and their devotees, manifested a sense of religious consciousness which set the Jews apart from other nations and attributed to them a special religious mission. This self-image involved a belief in a covenant which, once contracted between God and the ancestors of the existing Jewish society, rendered the observance of the divine revelation incumbent on the whole society. The prophetically foretold events of the sixth century, such as the deportation of the Jews to Babylonia and their subsequent restoration to Palestine by the Persians, strengthened the belief that the Jewish nation was under the special care of divine providence and led to ideas of the future redemption of the nation.

During the second commonwealth, which followed the restoration to Palestine and which lasted until A.D. 70, Jews came into political and cultural contact with the West. During this period Jewish communities were also established outside Palestine, in Babylonia and Egypt. These encounters with other cultures sharpened the Jews’ feelings of ethnic and cultural distinctiveness and made their sense of religious mission more acute. Both in Palestine and abroad, Jewish society was, in principle, based on traditions contained in the law and prophetic teachings, which were then being collected and canonized. These were supplemented by and adapted to current conditions by means of the oral law, a large and somewhat fluid body of interpretations and independent teachings and prescriptions, which claimed to be coeval with the written law itself and to have been handed down by word of mouth through the ages. The oral law did not remain uncontested and its fluid character invited widespread variations; alongside the mainstream of Judaism there appeared different denominations and sects, such as the Samaritans, Sadducees, Essenes, and Kumerans (perhaps identical with the Essenes). With the exception of the Samaritans, however, these sects were not separated from the political framework of the nation.

After the Jews ceased to be a self-governing society, they continued to believe that the old covenant remained in force and continued to maintain and develop the national religious tradition which subsequently served as the framework of existence for all Jewish communities during the Middle Ages.

The loss of political autonomy was accompanied by the cessation of the internal sectarianism which had been characteristic of the second commonwealth. Pharisaism, the major sect of that period, now achieved complete ascendancy and provided the set of beliefs and practices which came to be known as Rabbinic Judaism and which became the belief system of all Jewry. Only the Karaites (a sect in Babylonia which rejected, in principle, the use of the oral law in the interpretation of the Bible) challenged the authority of Rabbinic Judaism during the early Middle Ages. Otherwise, throughout this period what variations there were, were those of interpretation and custom as, for example, the Sephardic (Spanish) as against the Ashkenazi (German) traditions in Europe or various local traditions in the Near East, such as the Yemenite. Only in the beginning of modern times—in the late seventeenth century—was the consensus of religious belief within the Jewish people disrupted, first by the sudden appearance of antinomian and mystical sects and then by the gradual spread of rationalism.

The number of Jews during different historical periods is roughly estimated as follows: for Biblical times 2 million; at the end of the second common-wealth 5 to 8 million (accounting for 10 to 12 per cent of the population of the Roman Empire); during the Middle Ages 2.5 million, remaining at that level until the second half of the eighteenth century; from the end of the nineteenth century it remained at 15 million, until the Nazi holocaust, when a loss of 5 to 6 million was sustained. The present estimate is 12 million, of whom 5.5 million live in the United States, 1.5 million in Israel, some 3 million in Russia and other communist countries, 1 million in western Europe, and 1 million elsewhere.

Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism is historically the most wide-spread and most representative form of Judaism. It accepts the canonized books of the Hebrew Bible as divine revelation and accords them uncontested authority. The same holds true of the substance of the oral tradition. Both written and oral law, how-ever, are not simple sources to be directly consulted by the believer for guidance. Their interpretation lies in the hands of experts, that is, the sages or rabbis who are, in a more or less formal fashion, authorized by their predecessors. This uninterrupted transmission of oral law from teacher to student since the time of Moses is one of the cardinal tenets of the belief system of Rabbinic Judaism.

The rules and content of interpretation are them-selves included in the tradition and are relatively stringent when they touch upon practical affairs, such as moral, ritual, or civic matters (halachah). In the area of belief and dogma, however, the body of teaching (agadah) is less strictly defined in both method and in content. Both types of teachings were incorporated into the basic texts of Rabbinic Judaism—the Mishnah and the Gemara, which together constitute the Talmud (both the Palestinian version, edited in the third century, and Babylonian, edited in the fifth). The Mishnah is a terse summary, in Hebrew, of the full corpus of Jewish law as it had crystallized by the second century of the Christian era. The Gemara is a quasi-stenographic report, in Aramaic, of the discussions and lengthy elaborations of the Mishnah as they occurred in the Palestinian and Babylonian academies in the subsequent centuries. The text is further interspersed with lengthy discussions of formulated exegesis and folklore. The whole body of religious teachings is commonly designated by the name torah, a term which strictly speaking refers only to the first five books of the Old Testament, that is, the Pentateuch.

The authoritative Mishnah and Gemara were subjected to reinterpretation, partly as a consequence of the inherent dialectic of textual interpretation and partly as an outgrowth of religious–judicial decisions on new and problematic realities. From commentaries, novellae, and responsa, layer after layer was added to the law, and as a consequence the halachah was repeatedly codified. Correspondingly, religious thinkers brought its theoretical teachings into alignment with various contemporary philosophical systems. Both intellectual activities—juridical and philosophical—were dependent on interpretation of given sacred texts by qualified authorities and remained scholastic in nature.

Alongside these two branches of religious learning there developed since Talmudic times, especially during the Middle Ages, the esoteric lore of the mystics known as the cabala. Starting with gnostic-like ideas, it developed emanative theories of the godhead and reinterpreted much of the tradition in this light. The main book of the cabala is the pseudographic Zohar, written in Aramaic in thirteenth-century Spain and attributed to one of the Talmudic sages of the second century. Al-though opposed by some rationalists ever since and looked upon with suspicion by some hala-chists, it nevertheless found widespread acceptance, especially since the late Middle Ages, when it strongly influenced both religious thinking and practice.

The natural universe

Judaism did not define its own beliefs dogmatically. The Jewish outlook on the nature of the universe, man, and the like must be derived from an analysis of sources rather than by citation of authoritative statements.

For the Jew, the universe is the creation of God and it runs its course according to laws implanted in it by the Creator. Interference by man with the course of natural events by use of magic is perhaps possible but is outlawed by religious proscription. The Creator himself is capable of changing the course of nature, and it is assumed that such changes did indeed occur in the remote past— Biblical miracles are in principle taken literally. New interventions by the Creator, while possible, are not expected. Nature is therefore taken, for all intents and purposes, as a stable and reliable entity. This stability does not exclude, however, the control of God over the natural processes which determine human life. The welfare of man on earth is dependent on his moral and religious behavior. Longevity, the blessing of children, prosperity, and health are thought to be dependent upon one’s merit. This presupposes the divine direction of events. The obvious logical and experimental difficulties of this position are noted and have been discussed in theological and philosophical terms. In effect, however, neither the constancy of nature nor the providence of God is repudiated.

This conception of the relationship between nature, God, and man leaves man sufficient scope to work out his own destiny. Man is regarded as free to choose the morally good and religiously desirable. Rabbinic Judaism is aware of the evil impulse in man both as an impediment to the performance of good and as a constant source of temptation. This, however, is capable of being overcome by human will, and divine support is vouchsafed to aid in the struggle. The concept of original sin is not unknown but is peripheral and does not infringe upon the capacity of man to determine his own fate both in this world and in the world to come.

The attitude of Rabbinic Judaism to the world does not preclude quietism, but it is more conducive to activity. Man’s moral responsibility requires him to provide for his own needs and for the needs of those who are dependent on him.

The conception of God as transcendent does not preclude contact with him. Revelation and prophecy, like miracles, however, have been relegated by Judaism to remote times, and they are viewed as having ended with the close of the Biblical era. Although the claims of individuals throughout later periods to have had visions or other supernatural contacts with another world were not discounted, they never received recognition as authoritative guides to religious conduct. Such guidance is to be derived exclusively from the accepted body of revealed law through the medium of rational interpretation.

The conduct of life

Religious precepts in Judaism are traditionally divided into prohibitions and positive commandments. The first represents a system of religious taboos or restrictions which lend to Jewish life the air of restraint but not of outright ascetic character. They limit gratification but do not seek to suppress it. Dietary laws prescribe the exclusion of some (“unclean”) animals from the Jewish menu and dictate the manner of preparation of certain foods—the slaughtering and salting of meat and the separation of milk and meat products, for example. Within these limits the partaking of food is limited only by the general injunction against gluttony. As against the days of fast, there are festivals on which the enjoyment of a meal is a religious duty. All sexual or even erotic contact outside marriage is proscribed, and marriage is prescribed, preferably at an early age. Within marriage, sexual intercourse is limited by an additional period of purification after the cessation of menstruation. Yet sexual intercourse is not limited to the purpose of propagation but includes the mutual satisfaction of man and woman.

The execution of religious rites is part of the fulfillment of the positive commandments. Prayer, preferably together with the community, must be recited three times a day. The Pentateuch is read during the Sabbath and festival services, and on festivals special rites are also performed. On the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth), for example, originally a harvest festival, the worshiper is required to hold four kinds of plants during the services. On the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) the ram’s horn (shofar) is sounded. The special rites of Passover, such as the partaking of unleavened bread (matzah) and the narration of the exodus from Egypt, take place within the family. Special significance is attributed to the rite of circumcision, since it initiates the eight-day-old male child into the covenant of Israel. Although devoid of any special rite, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) with its full-day fast and prayers occupies a special place in the Jewish religious calendar, for it is dedicated to repentance which, if genuine, is, according to the rabbinic outlook, capable of atoning for sins. The periodic unity of the community in prayer and ritual has been a major factor in social cohesion, while the family is similarly strengthened by being the locus of the religious performance.

Positive as well as negative commandments are obligatory on males above the age of 13 and females above the age of 12. Women are exempted from some of the positive commandments, as they are also excluded from the study of the law beyond an acquaintance with the precepts necessary for religious practice. Women are not participants in the religious community, nor do they take active part in the communal rites, although they may attend such services, seated in sections apart from the men. They may, however, acquire religious merit by fulfilling the special duties connected with the Jewish home and by aiding their husbands and sons in the fulfillment of religious obligations, especially the study of the law.

The fulfillment of religious precepts, both positive and negative, is the basic means of religious justification (in the Weberian sense) in Rabbinic Judaism. The degree of piety is established by the conscientiousness and exactitude of religious observance—the time and effort lavished upon an observance to give it an aesthetic character above and beyond its technical requirements and the intensity and devotion with which the commandment is actually performed.

In addition to being attached to religious duties in the strict sense of the word, religious merit is attributed to communal good works. Communal works are highly esteemed, as is every aid to those in need, such as extending hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick, and, above all, attending the dying and eulogizing and burying the dead. Correct behavior in business relations and abstention from deceptive speech and practices are also religiously valued. In places where the letter of the law conflicts with equity, the individual is admonished to forgo his legal rights. Thus moral behavior also becomes a source of religious justification.

Rabbinical learning and practice

Besides emphasizing the practical need for knowledge of the law (Torah) as a guide to religious observance and communal practice, Rabbinic Judaism regards the study of the law as an end in itself and one of the most basic of religious duties. Therefore, it advocates the dedication of one’s time to the study of the Torah and exclusive devotion to it, even at the cost of reducing all other activities to a bare minimum.

Since early Pharisaic times there developed an elite which tried to live up to these demands. This was first achieved by the leading of an austere and even ascetic life in a society of peasants or artisans where work could be limited to provide for the necessities of life. In Mishnaic and Talmudic times, both direct and indirect support were provided by the community to members of the learned elite. They were often exempted from taxation and given certain minor business concessions: where they were concentrated in academies, as in Babylonia during Talmudic times, for example, these institutions were supported by voluntary contributions, and in the early Middle Ages a tax was levied on the Jews within their districts. Generally, despite variations arising from the different environments in which they existed, all Jewish communities followed these patterns. In the earliest stages of a Jewish settlement, men of learning were not to be found, but after having consolidated itself economically, a particular community usually attracted scholars from other, longer-established Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

The status of the elite varied according to prevailing economic conditions. In Yemen, where Jews remained an artisan class, no systematically supported elite developed and learning was cultivated as a part-time occupation of the intellectually oriented. In France and Germany, where the Jews became money lenders, their economic activity left much time free for independent study by “laymen,” alongside that taking place in the communally supported institutions devoted exclusively to the study of the texts and the training of young persons in their interpretation. In Muslim and Christian Spain the academies were supported by rich courtiers. In addition to the support of the very rich, the academies of Poland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could rely on the support of the less wealthy but still prosperous middle class. The intellectual elite became dependent upon the court Jews (the permanent financial agents of the abso-lute rulers of German principalities), who emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In all periods there were instances of wealthy families supporting a scholar among their own kin and sometimes even sustaining a whole academy which had grown up around him.

The door to the intellectual elite was, both in principle and in the final analysis, open to all, though naturally the time required to master the complex data made it easier for the well-born and well-to-do to attain the necessary intellectual level. In several instances this conjunction of advantages, circumstances, and hereditary talent resulted in learned family dynasties.

The support of those who devoted themselves to study was regarded as one of the highest religious virtues. The contributor was viewed as participating vicariously in the activity of the learned. Even after the maintenance of scholars had become common, exceptional individuals still adhered to the old ideal and refused to accept any remuneration for their studies. Indeed, one of the greatest authorities of medieval Jewry, Maimonides (1135–1204), lodged a formal protest against the institution of private or communal support of the learned. For the average scholar, however, neither such protests nor his own qualms were of much avail, as both the changed economic conditions and the ever-increasing body of material to be mastered made full-time study imperative and necessitated what may be called a division of labor between the economically active and the learned.

The disapprobation which had adhered to the acceptance of payment by scholars had been attached also to the acceptance of payment for any services rendered in the exercise of religious authority. It was originally assumed that teaching, preaching, serving as a judge, or functioning in any other religious capacity was to be done gratuitously. Later, payment for such services was legalized and morally defended. When such functions were concentrated in the hands of one person, spontaneously by virtue of his intellectual and moral pre-eminence or formally by election by the community, the communal rabbinate arose. This occurred noticeably in Christian Spain in the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries and in Germany and Poland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the course of time a fixed salary was guaranteed in addition to various emoluments.

Any action of a scholar or rabbi in matters of ritual or in the performance of marriage or divorce drew its authority from his halachic expertise. If an error could be shown, the action could be invalidated. As no formal hierarchy existed, invalidation could be achieved only by appeal to some informally acknowledged higher rabbinic authority or by bringing the matter before the assembled opinion of the learned. On all levels, once decisions were made, discussions were conducted upon formal legal categories. Although theoretically the validity of any act depended solely upon its technical agreement with an external frame of reference (halachah), in practice it drew much of its authority from the fact that it came from one who was regarded as being charismatic in consequence of his knowledge of and sustained contact with divine law and lore.

Relations with other religions

Judaism makes no claim to universal allegiance and demands it only from those born of a Jewish mother. It holds the door open, however, to those who wish to join it out of conviction. The ritual of conversion requires circumcision and immersion for the male and the latter for the female. In pre-Christian times Jewish proselytes were common and in some places perhaps converted en masse. The attitude toward converts is somewhat ambivalent, but the possibility of their joining the faith has never been seriously contested. Proselytes from among the Christians were accepted at times even in Christian countries where such conversion was forbidden by the political authorities. Jewish activity for gaining converts was perhaps vigorous at times, but at no time did Judaism achieve the dimensions of a missionary religion.

The claim of religious superiority has traditionally been maintained toward Christianity, which was first regarded by Judaism as simply another form of idolatry. Jews who became Christians fell under the category of heretics (min) or renegades (mumar). Insofar as Christianity claimed to be the true party to the Abrahamic or Sinaitic covenant, it was viewed as a usurper. In business and social affairs the Jews in Christian countries sought viable and amicable relationships with the population, and many restrictions originally instituted with respect to paganism were declared inoperable in relation to Christianity. Gradually this also led to a lenient attitude toward Christianity itself. Maimonides, for example, declared that the spread of Christianity paved the way for the ultimate universal acceptance of the true faith. One of his followers in the fourteenth century exonerated Christianity from any charge of paganism. This tolerant attitude has gained more and more acceptance since the sixteenth century. Islam, being dogmatically unequivocal as to its monotheism, has been regarded as less contradictory than Christianity to Judaism. Toward the other world religions Rabbinic Judaism has had no occasion to take a stand.

Society and polity

Rabbinic Judaism takes the division of society between rich and poor for granted. Poverty may be viewed as a divine punishment for one’s sins, as a testing of the righteous by God, or simply as a result of misfortune; but at any rate poverty is not a state in which one ought to remain intentionally. A premium is placed upon economic independence, not so much as an indication of divine grace but rather as the circumstance in which man is most free to serve God. Fundamentally Judaism is indifferent to the manner of self-support. Indirectly, however, through the high evaluation of study, the choice of profession has historically been religiously influenced. Occupations which left time free for study were preferred. This led in earlier societies to the preference of artisanship over agriculture and in later times to trade over manual labor. A religious impetus for acquiring wealth derived from the fact that wealth could be used for performing good deeds, especially the support of scholars. Striving for wealth could have derived some of its motivation from religious sources, but economic activity could not become a calling, as it was in certain Protestant sects. Economic success could only be a contributory factor to religious justification but not the basis of it.

It is more difficult to elicit the thoughts of Rabbinic Judaism in the field of politics. The necessity of government in general is acknowledged in the maxim “Were it not for fear of the government a man would devour his neighbor alive.” But the manner of establishing the government is not set forth. Talmudic literature reflects the conception of a hereditary kingdom guided by the prescriptions of the law and limited somewhat by the High Court (Sanhedrin). Since the Jews did not long retain political independence and the foreign body politic within which the Jews existed had to be accepted, there was no incentive for the further development of political thought. Jewish communities adapted themselves to the prevailing political conditions. The political authority of the Christian prince was at no time challenged; it was acknowledged from the outset. In practical matters a similar attitude was adopted toward Islam. Concern for political matters was confined to communal affairs, which were conducted by the acknowledged elders or elected officials under general rabbinic supervision.

Heterodoxy and sectarianism

The Karaites

The religious unity of the Jews lasted from the first to the seventeenth century with only one major deviating sect—the Karaites. This sect arose in the seventh century in Babylonia, under Arab rule and probably under Arab influence. Its members rejected the authority of the oral law and based their beliefs upon the direct interpretation of the Scriptures. The sect spread to Palestine, Egypt, and other Mediterranean countries with some outposts in the Crimea, Poland, and Lithuania. Although strongly opposed by the rabbinates, the Karaites at no time rejected the basic conception of Judaism as an institutionalized revealed religion whose observance was incumbent upon all members of the Jewish people, and they rejected the rival religions of Christianity and Islam. The links between the two communities were not severed, and intermarriage was at times countenanced and even legalized. In modern times the sense of common nationality drew the two groups together, although in Israel the Karaites view themselves, and are viewed, as a sect apart.

Sabbatai Zevi

Jewish tradition had foreseen a radical change in the status of religious law in the Messianic era. According to the widely held view, with the appearance of the Messiah the religious commandments would no longer be held binding. Throughout the Middle Ages, Messianic expectations evoked Messianic pretenders, but as they were quickly disproved, the possible implications for religious practice were not realized. Different, however, was Sabbatai Zevi, who came from Smyrna, Turkey, and who from 1665 to 1666 succeeded in keeping all Jewry in suspenseful waiting for the final call. He introduced new religious rites and partook in forbidden food in order to demonstrate by deed the end of the old era and the commencement of the new. When called to account by the Turkish authorities for causing mass upheavals, Sabbatai Zevi, to save his life, converted to Islam. A number of his followers accepted this as a necessary stage in the process of redemption, and in the course of theological justification for the converted Messiah, heretical theologies arose which were linked with the prevailing dualistic doctrines of the cabala. These gave rise to a number of sects, some of which were syncretisms of Judaism and Islam and lived on the margin of Jewish society, while others, although remaining within the confines of the Jewish community, were of a heretical and even antinomian or nihilistic character. These groups led a more or less clandestine existence among Jews in Turkey, Poland, Bohemia, and Moravia, thus disrupting the age-old religious unity of the Jewish people.


Sabbataianism at the very least served as a catalyst in engendering the great mystical movement of Hasidism, which arose in Poland in the middle of the eighteenth century. Originating in the small rural communities of Podolia, this movement centered on popular religious leaders of lower rank, wandering preachers, popular healers, and the like. Its first leader, Israel Ba’al Shem-Tov (who died in 1760) possessed an extraordinary gift for communicating his mystical experiences to his followers. During his lifetime the movement was still a local one, but in the following decades, under his disciples, it spread throughout eastern Europe and was checked only where it encountered savage opposition, as in Lithuania, for example. Hasidism did not challenge the validity of religious law, and except for some minor changes in liturgy and ritual, the accepted body of law and custom was left intact. What Hasidism did introduce was a new overriding religious value —that of communion with God, which was to be achieved either through enthusiasm or contemplation. The Hasidic leader was expected to have attained this “union” and to communicate it to his followers. Thus, a new type of religious leader arose whose legitimation did not stem primarily from his knowledge of the law but from his charismatic qualities. A new “community” was thus formed upon the basis of personal contact and was not bound by traditional territorial divisions. Those who could settle around the leader did so, while those who could not returned regularly to participate in the religious experiences of the community. In the course of time the leader was viewed not only as the guarantor of religious experience but also as a figure whose intervention was essential for the material well-being of the individual. The followers who gathered around provided for his support and that of his household, which often took on the dimensions of a court. And as in courts, the succession tended to become hereditary. The new religious leadership did not supplant the traditional rabbinical type, but it did encroach upon its authority.

Hasidism also had a deep impact upon many nonreligious aspects of life. It lessened the ascetic tendencies in Jewish living and encouraged emotional self-expression in the form of storytelling and song. It also loosened religious and communal disciplines and sanctioned the quiescent attitude toward the demands of practical life. It was a religious movement, but its total impact was to produce a new Jewish mentality.

Modern Judaism

While Hasidism was altering Jewish society in eastern Europe from within, Jewry in western Europe was being transformed by forces from without. The theory and practice of separateness, which had been the way of Jewish life, was becoming progressively less tenable. Intellectual, social, and political forces were, in the course of a century, from 1750 to 1850, transforming Europe from a semifeudal society into a society of classes having a relatively high mobility. The status of Jewry within this new framework had to be re-defined, and internally the old tradition had to be adapted to the new conditions.

The idea of Jewish political and social emancipation was originally conceived by John Toland in England in 1714, spelled out in detail in 1781–1783 in Germany by Ch. W. Dohm, and first implemented during the French Revolution. In the United States, Jewish equality was implied in the constitution. In the following decades the idea of emancipation spread to all countries of western Europe, and by 1870, after much struggle and some reverses, political emancipation was an accomplished fact.

Alongside these social and political changes, intellectual contact with European thought took place. In the last third of the eighteenth century, the first Jewish secular intellectuals appeared, headed by Moses Mendelssohn. They were deeply influenced by the doctrines of the Enlightenment and later by other European intellectual currents.

Judaism was confronted by rationalism and later by historical criticism. These, together with the social and political adjustments, led to a dis-integration of the old conceptual as well as concrete framework of Jewish existence. In the ensuing chaos, many intellectuals and members of the upper class abandoned Judaism and perfunctorily embraced Christianity. Later, as the intellectual turmoil subsided, the main trends of modern Judaism emerged—Reform, Orthodox, and what came to be known as Conservative.

Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism started in Germany in the second decade of the nineteenth century, found followers in other European countries, such as England, Holland, and Hungary, and spread widely in the United States, where it assumed its most radical and thoroughgoing form. It rejected ritual, especially the restricting observances, and retained only ceremonies with obvious symbolic meanings. Liturgy was purged of elements of an archaic and nationalistic character, such as the prayer for the institution of sacrifices and the ultimate return of the Jews to their home-land. Instead, Messianism was interpreted as a belief in human progress. Of the prayers retained, some were translated into the vernacular, and the service was adapted to modern taste. As to doctrine, Reform Judaism emphasizes the ethical aspects of religion and advocates an enlightened but absolute monotheism, stressing in this way its difference from Christianity. Relinquishing tradition in principle, the Reform trend did not substitute any other source of authority for guidance in religious theory or practice. For this reason there is no unanimity among Reform Jews on just how much of the tradition is to be retained. The Reform rabbi is not expected to lay down the law for the community but rather to serve as preacher whose task is to officiate at ceremonies and guide the congregation to religious contemplation and elevation.

Orthodox Judaism

Orthodoxy, on the other hand, retained the authority of halachah and claimed allegiance to all details of Jewish observance and rites. In theory at least, an Orthodox rabbi is prepared to answer all questions concerning the permissible and the forbidden arising out of modern conditions while adhering to the traditional modes of halachic interpretation. In dogma, no concessions are made either to criticism of the verbatim revelation of the Pentateuch or to criticism of the substantive reliability of the oral tradition. Orthodoxy therefore remains antagonistic toward critical examination of the literary sources of religion. This did not prevent one German group under the guidance of S. R. Hirsch, regarded as the founder of modern Orthodoxy, from advocating the acquisition of and participation in secular culture. The old Talmudic institutions having disappeared, Hirsch attempted to secure the loyalty of the youth not by the study of the law’s minutiae but through an understanding of and identification with the principles of Jewish doctrine and observance.

Eastern Europe in the early nineteenth century witnessed a renaissance of Talmudic academies, but as midcentury drew near, the impact of rationalism was being felt. To counterbalance the increasingly secular and assimilationist environment, an ethical–religious movement (Mussar), founded by Rabbi Israel Lipkin of Salant, arose, which sought to assure identification with Jewish values and commandments through continuous introspection. A third trend in Orthodoxy was noticeable in Hungary, where the clash with the Reform led the Orthodox leadership to advocate a radical seclusion from modern life and a proscription of any secular study. Hasidism, despite serious inroads of secularism, maintained its communal cohesion. All these ideologies are still operative in our day, especially in the United States, England, and modern Israel.

Conservative Judaism

The greater part of Jewry, while not accepting tradition as absolutely valid, adheres nevertheless to some parts of it be-cause of religious sentiments or need for identification. This attitude assumed the nature of a principle for some thinkers and historians of the Breslau school in Germany and for the Conservative movement in the United States. Having perceived in the past a process of development in religion, they accept this notion as a legitimate course to be pursued in the present. However, they expect the process to be organic and continuous and reject outright changes based on rationalistic considerations. Conservatism neither accepts halachah in the strict sense of the word nor repudiates it. Accordingly it has made some adaptations in religious services and practice but more on an ad hoc basis than on any clear-cut principle.

These three main trends in modern Judaism have assumed the character of denominations. They are centered on synagogues, and these are connected by nation-wide and even world-wide organizations. They also maintain seminars for the training of teachers and rabbis. In Continental Europe in the nineteenth century such organizations were necessary, as one’s formal affiliation with the Jewish community was prescribed by the secular state. However, in English-speaking countries, in France since 1905, and in Germany since the end of World War I, such associations have been on a voluntary basis.

Since then, the usual manner of identification with Judaism has been through affiliation with one of the religious organizations or by observance of some religious practice. A third way, though less common, is the personal acceptance of a certain religious outlook which is defined as Jewish. Such a school of thought is represented by Martin Buber, who interpreted prophetic Judaism and especially Hasidism in the light of an existentialist philosophy. Buber was not committed to any observance nor was he associated with any synagogue, but he was satisfied to be affiliated on the basis of his theoretical exposition of the Jewish religion. Buber has had a marked influence among affiliated and nonaffiliated Jews alike. [See the biography of Buber.]

Secular Judaism

It is paradoxical but historically understandable that there evolved ways of Jewish identification which are religiously indifferent or even antireligious. This development originated in eastern Europe during the latter half of the nineteenth century where, in spite of the disintegration of the traditional religious framework, Jewry remained a distinct ethnic group, linguistically and socially set apart from the populace. In this environment Yiddish and Hebrew literature of a secular nature prepared the ground for national social movements with distinctly Jewish objectives—such as Zionism and the socialist movement of the Bund. These movements drew their objectives from the persecutions in eastern Europe and the rise of anti-Semitism in western Europe. However, large segments within secular Judaism based their ideologies upon a reinterpretation of Jewish history: behind the religious unfolding of Judaism through the ages there always had been an ethical or social doctrine which, by the progress of human thought, then came to the fore-front. The ethical interpretation was represented by Achad Haam (pseudonym of Asher Ginzberg) and the social one by Ber-Borochoff, both leading figures of modern nationalistic movements. Achad Haam, especially, believed in the revitalization of ancient Judaism through the establishment of a Jewish state and society which, although secular, would have a historical continuity with traditional Judaism because of its ethnic identity with it. A secular interpretation of Judaism is the premise of the contemporary national culture of Israel.

In other countries, too, trends combining ethnic and cultural aspirations together with some religious content could be discerned. Most conspicuous perhaps is the reconstructionist movement of Mordecai M. Kaplan in the United States, which prefers to define Judaism in terms of civilization rather than in terms of religious dogma or law.

Not all those who are considered by themselves or by others as Jews would subscribe to any of the above-mentioned outlooks, whether religious or secular. There are Jews who are indifferent to any Jewish content yet still have strong feelings of group identity, expressed in such ways as contributing to Jewish causes. Others disavow Judaism entirely, and some even conceal their origins. Irrespective of how assimilated a Jew may be, he is nevertheless commonly regarded by Jews and gentiles alike as a Jew until he joins a non-Jewish church, a fact which reflects the original ethnic-religious connotation of the term. Converts to Judaism, being few in number, are easily absorbed by the community.

The Jewish community

Any assessment of the numerical division of Jewry among the abovementioned groups remains conjectural. The three religious movements in the United States, for example, claim to include some 60 per cent of the 5½ million American Jews. Each group claims about 1 million members. While affiliation with the Reform movement clearly indicates the renunciation of strict religious observance, affiliation with Orthodoxy and Conservatism does not indicate the degree of adherence to religious practice. It is certain that the number of those who strictly abide by the law comes nowhere near that of the formally affiliated. In Great Britain, with the exception of some ultra-Orthodox and a few Reform congregations, all the synagogues are officially connected with the Orthodox chief rabbinate, but no more than 5 per cent of the half million British Jews could possibly be viewed as strictly observant. In France, out of a slightly smaller population, even fewer Jews are observant. Other countries conform to a similar pattern. In eastern European countries, especially in Russia, religious activity is barely tolerated, and Jewish observance and even circumcision is practiced by only a small fraction of the 3 million Jews.

Israel is a case apart. If judged by the number of those voting for religious political parties, Orthodox Jewry would total 15 per cent of the population; if judged by those sending their children to religious schools, they would total 37 per cent. Both figures are correct, as they reflect various aspects of religious attachments. Reform Judaism and Conservatism for all practical purposes are not represented institutionally. Nonetheless, gradations of observance are to be found among the populace. The nation is also divided on the issue of church and state. Since the time of the British mandate no secular marriage or divorce exists, and religious communities (Christian, Muslim, and Jewish) are subject to their respective religious courts. This is resented by the antireligious segments of the population and criticized by some religious elements as well. The tension is heightened by the generous leavening provided by the extremely orthodox (some of whom go so far as to deny the authority of the state) and militantly antireligious minorities in Israel.

Contemporary relevance of religion

Having found that Jewry in modern times adopts a selective attitude toward its traditional religion, we may ask whether this religion still retains some influence. Allowing for variations according to time and place, Jewry in modern society presents a certain sociological profile which may roughly be described as follows: It is a social unit with a clear sense of group identity and a strong leaning toward endogamy, family cohesion, and group solidarity. Concentrated largely in certain sectors of the economy, it constitutes a comparatively striving group within it. Socially it tends to move within its own circles, culturally to have a comparatively high level of education, and politically to reveal a leaning toward the more liberal trends and parties of its country.

All these traits can be understood in light of past history and the present situation as a consequence of the memory of former persecutions and as a reaction to contemporary economic and social prejudice. Yet it is still possible that religion has its share in maintaining some of these group characteristics. Two forces are at work, and we must clearly distinguish between the restrictive tendencies of specific religious requirements and the general Weltanschauung of Judaism.

Religious restrictions, such as Sabbath observance, dietary laws, and, among some groups, opposition to secular knowledge, confine their followers in the choice of occupation, in the extent of social intercourse with the environment, and in the identification with the surrounding culture. They act directly upon the believer and are operative only insofar as one submits to them; thus, their impact is most noticeable among the Orthodox and becomes progressively less as one moves across the religious spectrum.

The effects of the Jewish Weltanschauung are less direct, more diffuse and general, and thus much more difficult to gauge. It is commonly held that Jewish intellectualism of the medieval period (until the eighteenth century) has influenced the development of modern society. The absence of religious restrictions upon the acquisition of wealth may have fostered Jewish economic striving. Finally, the idea of social justice, found abundantly in Jewish sources and dwelt upon by modern exponents of Judaism, strengthened the impulse toward social reform which had probably been engendered by the situation of the Jews as a permanent minority.

Be that as it may, religion continues to serve as a source of social cohesion. For while it is true that during the modern period Jewish society developed many secular institutions of social and quasi-political activity (Zionism, for example), which presented opportunities for group identification, nevertheless religious organizations remain to this day the most ubiquitous and all-embracing. In this capacity, Judaism, even in its most diluted form, serves the purpose of communal self-preservation.

Jacob Katz

[See alsoAnti-Semitism; Canon law; Near Eastern society, article onisrael; Zionism. Other relevant material may be found under Religion.]


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Guttmann, Julius (1933) 1964 Philosophies of Judaism: The History of Jewish Philosophy From Biblical Times to Franz Rosenzweig. New York: Holt. → First published in German.

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Judaism is a monotheistic, scriptural religion that evolved from the religion of ancient Israel during the Second Temple period (516 b.c.e.70 c.e.). Two core beliefs shaped the attitude of Judaism toward nature and toward the systematic study of nature (i.e., science): that God is the creator of the universe and that God revealed God's will in the form of Lawthe Torah (literally "instruction")to the chosen people, Israel.

The doctrine of creation facilitates an interest in the natural world that God brought into existence, even though the details of the creative act remain beyond the ken of human knowledge. Several Psalms express the notion that the more one observes nature, the more one comes to revere its creator, since the world manifests order and wise design. Awareness of nature's orderliness leads the observer to praise and thanksgiving and evokes awe and reverence. The study of nature, then, did not conflict with love of and obedience to God. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, Jewish philosophers regarded the study of God's created nature as a religious obligation. Nonetheless, the natural world was not to be worshiped for its own sake; that is the form of idolatry against which Judaism rails. In Judaism, nature always points, rather, to the divine creator who governs and sustains nature and who intervenes in human affairs, making God's will known through the performing of miracles, the greatest of which is the revelation of the Torah to Israel.

Rabbinnic attitudes

Even though in principle there is no theological impediment to study the natural world, the degree to which Jews should engage in scientific inquiry has always been debated in traditional Jewish society. Since philosophy and science originated in ancient Greece, the debate pertained to the cultural boundaries of Judaism, especially because Jews encountered Hellenistic culture as the culture that occasionally oppressed them, curtailing Jewish political independence and threatening Jewish mores. Since immersion in Greek culture could conceivably lead one away from commitment to God's Torah and the life it prescribed, rabbinic literature contains suspicious attitudes toward "alien wisdoms" (hochmot hitzoniyot ) and issues a call to avoid teaching "Greek wisdom" to children. This caution is found side by side with information about rabbis who promoted the Greek paideia or who were themselves learned in the natural sciences. More problematically, the primacy of Torah study itself was justified by the claim that the revealed Torah, identical with God's wisdom, encompasses all true knowledge. If so, Jews have no need to pursue knowledge outside the perimeters of Torah. It is difficult, then, to generalize about the rabbinic attitude toward the study of nature and determine the precise scope of rabbinic knowledge of the science in their day.

The main scientific data in rabbinic literature pertains to astronomy and human physiology. Several rabbis (e.g., R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, Gamaliel II, and Joshua ben Hananya) were expert astronomers, using observed data for the calculation and adjustment of the lunar-solar calendar. The rabbinic corpus is also replete with information about the motions of celestial bodies, the four seasons, the planets, the zodiac, and even comets. The picture of the universe in Talmudic texts has the Earth in the center of creation with heaven as a hemisphere spread over it. The Earth is usually described as a disk encircled by water. Interestingly, cosmological and metaphysical speculations were not to be cultivated in public nor were they to be committed to writing. Rather, they were considered as "secrets of the Torah not to be passed on to all and sundry" (Ketubot 112a). While study of God's creation was not prohibited, speculations about "what is above, what is beneath, what is before, and what is after" (Mishnah Hagigah: 2) were restricted to the intellectual elite.

Within the created world, the human body was of utmost interest to the rabbis, although their information about human anatomy was shaped by religious concern for ritual purity. Rich in details about the skeleton, the digestive organs, the respiratory system, the heart, the genitals and other organs, the rabbinic corpus also includes rather fanciful material and is totally lacking in graphic illustration. The discussion is concerned primarily with physical disfigurements that disqualify men from the priesthood, with rules concerning menstruating women, and with other sources of ritual pollution. The rabbinic corpus also includes informative claims about embryology, diagnosis of diseases, and a host of medications and hygienic strategies for prevention of disease. Indeed, the physician is viewed as an instrument of God, treated with utmost respect, and several Talmudic scholars were themselves physicians. Nonetheless, the rabbinic discourse about scientific matters was unsystematic, primarily because it was embedded in the interpretation of Scriptures. Whether the rabbinic legal reasoning as a whole could be considered "science" is debated in contemporary times, reflecting twentieth-century changes in the philosophy of science.

Scientific learning in the Middle Ages

The cultivation of science as a public, albeit elitist, activity began in earnest in the ninth century, when most of world Jewry lived in the orbit of Islam. Greek and Hellenistic philosophy and science were translated into Arabic and stimulated the rise of Islamic rationalist theology. Writing in Arabic, Jews emulated Islamic scholars, reinterpreting rabbinic Judaism in rationalist categories derived from Muslim neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism. Jewish scholars studied all branches of the sciences and a few Jews (e.g., Isaac Israeli, Moses Maimonides, and Levi ben Gershom, known as Gersonides) achieved distinction in the non-Jewish world. Jews participated in astronomy at the court of Alphonso X and were largely responsible for the construction of the Alphonsine Tables for computing planetary positions that remained popular until the mid-seventeenth century. Lacking an institutional setting, Jewish scientific learning was an autodidactic, bookish activity of translating texts of the liberal arts and natural philosophy from Arabic into Hebrew and occasionally from Hebrew into Latin, writing commentaries on them, and working out the theological implications of the apparent conflict between revealed knowledge ("religion") and knowledge discovered by human reason ("science"). One primarily exception was the astronomical observations of Gersonides (12881344), who built an instrument to study the distance between the stars, the Jacob Staff remained in use by European navigators until the mid-eighteenth century.

Moses Maimonides (11351204) articulated the most sophisticated synthesis of science and Judaism. In principle, he held, there can be no contradiction between the inner, nonliteral meaning of the Torah and what is true in the sciences of physics and metaphysics. Apparent conflicts emerge either because a nondemonstrable scientific theory is adopted (for example, Aristotle's view that the world is eternal and his explanation of celestial motions), or because the biblical text is not interpreted in light of philosophy and science. For Maimonides, who accepted Aristotelian science in regard to processes of the sublunar world, possessing knowledge about the physical world was a religious obligation, because accurate knowledge about the physical world leads one to understand how God governs the world (i.e., God's attributes of action). However, Maimonides's radical negative theology, according to which scientific knowledge does not yield valid knowledge about God's essence, placed a limit on science and made the intellectual perfection (the goal of human life according to Maimonides) unattainable.

For the subsequent four centuries, Maimonides's followers translated scientific literature into Hebrew and interpreted Scripture as an esoteric text that contains scientific-philosophic truths. To disseminate philosophic-scientific knowledge Jewish scholars composed encyclopedias that summarized known scientific data in the linguistic sciences (logic, rhetoric, and grammar), the mathematical sciences (arithmetic, geometry, optics, astronomy, music, mechanics, algebra), the physical sciences (based on the eight books of Aristotle's Organon ), metaphysics, and politics (including ethics and economics). This vast knowledge was deemed necessary for the attainment of intellectual perfection, resulting in immortality of the intellect. Whether it was also sufficient knowledge for immortality was vigorously debated, especially after Maimonides's theory of divine attributes was modified by Gersonides to mean that scientific knowledge does yield positive knowledge about God's essence. For Jewish philosophers to attain religious perfection, they had to be philosopher-scientists.

Jewish scientific learning during the Middle Ages was broad in scope and ambitious in aim but it was not unproblematic. First, scientific learning was cultivated only by Jews in Mediterranean communities of Spain, Southern France, Italy, and North-Africa but did not penetrate the Jewish communities north of the Alps. Second, the Jewish scientists-philosophers did not have an institutional setting and did not receive official support for their inquiries. Unlike their Christian neighbors, Jews did not create universities, and the scientific curriculum was not incorporated into the rabbinic academies for higher learning. Third, scientific knowledge was cultivated by a very small number of experts and did not engage the community at large. Finally, there was organized opposition to the cultivation of the sciences, spearheaded not just by rabbis who regarded secular knowledge to be irrelevant or even undermining to the authority of the Jewish tradition, but sometimes by Jews who were themselves quite knowledgeable in the sciences. The Maimonidean controversy that engulfed world Jewry during the thirteenth century and resurfaced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries indicated that the cultivation of science remained problematic even in the Middle Ages.

Early modern period

In the early modern period (sixteenth through eighteenth centuries), the Maimonidean tradition lost its interpretative power and was replaced by Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, as the official theology of Judaism. In a way, the turn to Kabbalah was an attempt to overcome the restrictions of Maimonides's radical negative theology. For the kabbalists, knowledge of God's essence and intimacy with God were to be attained not through observation of the material world interpreted by Aristotelian scientific theories, but through fathoming the symbolic meaning of God's revealed Torah. Constructed out of the building blocks of the Hebrew alphabet, nature mirrors God's essence and the primordial Torah is the key to decipher nature's symbolic structures. The kabbalists regarded nature not as observable, measurable mass, but as an information system that has to be decoded. Their elaborate speculations about the origins of the universe were ultimately a hermeneutic activity, framed by the very language of Jewish canonic texts. This approach to nature was in accord with trends in Renaissance culture and usually went hand in hand with preoccupation with magic, astrology, and alchemy, but it did not necessarily prevent the Jewish scholar from also being informed about new scientific discoveries in astronomy, human physiology, botany, zoology, and mineralogy.

While Kabbalah did not preclude one from interest in nature, on the whole, Kabbalah probably retarded the involvement of Jews in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Jewish scholars played a marginal role in the development of early modern science, although a small number of Jews were aware of the emerging new sciences. David Ganz (15411613), for example, corresponded with the astronomer Johannes Mueller and was personally familiar with Johann Kepler and Tycho Brahe. The first Jew to mention Copernicus and praise him, Ganz nonetheless adapted Brahe's model, which reconciled the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems on the basis of actual observations. For Brahe, Ganz translated the Alphonsine Tables from the Hebrew into German, and for his Jewish audience Ganz composed in Hebrew the history of Jewish involvement in astronomy. That book, however, was printed only in 1743, indicating a relative lack of interest in the subject among Jews. A typical Jewish response to the heliocentric theory was voiced by Isaac Cardozo (1604-1681), the most scientifically informed Jew of his day, who rejected it on religious grounds and adduced nineteen biblical verses against the theory. By contrast, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (15911655), who had contacts with Galileo Galilei and who was the first Jewish scholar to use the recently invented logarithmic tables, parted company with the followers of Ptolemy to espouse the Copernican system. Delmedigo was also a student of Kabbalah, which he proceeded to criticize, but he promoted knowledge of the empirical sciences as a way to alleviate the miserable conditions of Jewish life in Europe's ghettos. The small cadre of Jews who earned doctoral degrees from European universities, especially in medicine from the University of Padua, did not change the fact that interest in the natural sciences was marginal in Jewish culture during the early modern period. Instead, the study of Halachah and Kabbalahboth are elaborate, textual, self-referential, abstract edificespreoccupied Jewish intellectual interests. The ethos of Jewish traditional life in eighteenth-century Europe remained largely uninformed by the scientific revolution.

In the late eighteenth century, a small group of Jewish intellectuals in Germany began to agitate for change. Inspired by the Enlightenment, these Jews insisted that Judaism must embrace scientific knowledge or else stagnate. Desiring social integration and an end to Jewish segregation and persecution, the advocates of Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah ) were very critical of traditional Jewish education and encouraged Jews to study the sciences in order to become fit to enter modern society. The proponents of Haskalah worked tirelessly to persuade European states to grant Jews equal civil rights.

France was the first country to grant citizenship to Jews (1791), as the logical consequence of the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789). Yet the struggle for legal emancipation lasted until the 1870s in central Europe and was achieved in Russia only with the revolution of 1917. As citizens, Jews who flocked to the universities of western and central Europe embraced the natural sciences as secular pursuits that promised social progress and modernization. Some even converted to Christianity in order to be able to hold academic positions, and for those who remained nominally Jewish, science replaced traditional Jewish Torah-study and was devoid of religious meaning. In the nineteenth century, individual Jews contributed immensely to a plethora of natural sciences, but they did so as individuals and not as members of Israel, God's chosen priestly nation. The secularization of Western (Christian) culture, which privatized religion, and the prevailing scientific theories of classical physics exacerbated the perception that science and religion were diametrically opposed. The main Jewish responses to modernityReform, Conservative, and Orthodoxyarticulated distinctive approaches to the perceived tension.

Strands of modern Judaism

Reform Judaism essentially denies that there is a conflict between Judaism and science. Reform thinkers assume that Judaism is a rational religion that welcomes the scientific, ongoing sequence of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and conclusion, with each conclusion subject to further investigation by the same method. The rationalist spirit of Reform Judaism intended to strip Judaism from the morass of ossifying, legalistic minutiae and bring to the fore the timeless, universal truths of Judaism. The rationalist temper, which led Reform Judaism to discard many traditional practices or invent new rituals, did not necessarily mean endorsing the most challenging scientific theory of the nineteenth centuryDarwinism. In the United States, the radical reformer David Einhorn (18091879) sneered at the idea that humans descended from lower animals, and his opponent, Isaac Mayer Wise (18191900), also took a dim view of Darwinian thought. However, by the 1880s several Reform rabbis attempted to reconcile religion with the new science and defended Judaism's superiority over other religions because of its nondogmatic, ever-evolving character. Reform rabbis accepted biblical criticism and viewed the Bible itself, and not only rabbinic Judaism, as a product of history. To their chagrin, however, Reform rabbis had to contend with Protestant biblical criticism that used the Darwinian model to prove that Judaism was a primitive religion out of which evolved the superior religion of Christianity.

Interest in the relationship between science and religion is stronger in Conservative Judaism because it takes the rabbinic tradition to be obligatory, while acknowledging that it evolved over time. More than the natural sciences, the academic discipline of history was the scientific inquiry that concerned Conservative Judaism. In the nineteenth century, Conservative scholars accepted the evolutionary model and applied it to the history of Jewish law, leaving the Bible untouched. In the twentieth century, the critical method has been applied to the biblical text and the perceived challenge by science is rebuffed by saying that the revealed biblical text did not intend itself to be understood literally but as a poetic statement of certain truths: that the world was created by God, and that God planned it carefully and designed it to be hospitable to human beings. These conclusions are consistent with contemporary scientific theories in physics and cosmology. Indeed, the twentieth-century move away from classical physics to a new model of the universe explained by relativity theory or by quantum mechanics enabled some Conservative rabbis to make the biblical narrative more intelligible. Rabbi Lawrence Troster, for example, argued that the Anthropic Principle shows that the universe is not a neutral entity, empty of purpose and meaning, and that partnership between science and religion is possible and desirable. For him the Big Bang theory can lead to an intellectual or emotional enthusiasm for the creator. Conversely, contemporary physics should lead to rethinking the meaning of the doctrine of creation, especially creation in the image of God, and of the problem of evil. Troster's studies are consistent with the work of Norbert Samuelson, the only Reform rabbi who has made a significant contribution to the dialogue of science and religion.

The main area for the confluence of science and religion in Conservative Judaism is bioethics. Conservative legal thinkers such as Elliot Dorff maintain that scientific research is both possible and potentially fruitful and that contemporary interpretation of Halachah must be informed of advances in science and technology. Yet, scientific activity cannot be taken for its own sake: Scientific means and ends have to be evaluated by religious values. Science, and especially its application in technology, can be used to solve legal problems or to alleviate legal restrictions. Though rabbis must be informed about science, the scientific facts of every disputed issue do not settle anything since how one construes the facts is crucial, and this is determined by one's religious and moral values. Biomedical issues of most concern to Conservative thinkers are issues of human sexuality (e.g., fertility and homosexuality) as well as questions of the beginning and end of life (i.e., abortion and euthanasia). Conservative legal thinkers legitimize the consultation with science by insisting that Jewish law itself presupposes the existence of knowledge and morality independent of Jewish law.

Of all variants of modern Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy (in contradistinction from Ultra Orthodoxy) is most preoccupied in the dialogue between science and religion, precisely because on the surface the two may appear to be contradictory. Founded by Samson Raphael Hirsch (18081888) in Germany, Modern Orthodoxy was also a response to the challenges of modernity, even though it rejected the radical ritual changes of Reform Judaism or the historical approach of the positive-historical school, the ideological foundation of Conservative Judaism. For Hirsch, a "Torah-True Judaism" meant that the Torah is eternal and unchanged, but that Judaism must be informed about and selectively involved in the secular world. His slogan, "Torah im Derekh Eretz " (Torah combined with secular knowledge), became the institutional credo of Yeshiva College in New York City, which was founded in 1928 and became a university in 1946. This institution was committed to the synthesis of "Torah U-Mada" (Torah and science), although the precise meaning of this ideal is repeatedly questioned. The faculty and graduates of Yeshiva University publish essays about the interplay of science and religion in their academic magazinesTradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought and The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and even founded a magazine devoted solely to that issue: The Torah U-Mada Journal. Precisely because Orthodoxy understands Judaism as truth, it takes note of seemingly competing truth claims in science.

For Modern Orthodoxy the affirmation of the dialogue between science and Judaism is based on the following assumptions: first, Halachah is binding and all-encompassing and no aspect of human life is irrelevant to it, including science. Second, since halachic discourse exposes the true meaning of divine revelation, there can be no contradiction between what is true in science and what is true in Judaism. Third, scientific and technological advances can help resolve many practical details of religious practice, especially in matters that concern the human body. Medical ethics is thus a primary area in which a fruitful interaction between science and Judaism can take place.

Fourth, science is not the source of value, and science requires a framework of values whose authority is other than human. Judaism's moral values are absolute and immutable because they are revealed by God.

Orthodox scholars reject biblical criticism and treat the halachic tradition as an eternally valid legal system that has its internal mechanisms of self-interpretation. In terms of the doctrine of creation, Orthodox Jews, who tend to pursue the study of the natural sciences but shun the humanities and social sciences, argue, not without a tinge of apologetics, that the Big Bang theory validates even the details of biblical narrative of creation, although science still fails to explain why the world was created. That explanation is available only to the believing Jew who ascribes the creative act to God's will. In regard to bioethics, Orthodox jurists such as Rabbi J. David Bleich and Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, who are informed in contemporary medicine, bring their extensive knowledge of the halachic tradition to bear on a host of medical problems. These include dwarfism, transsexual surgery, egg donation, and implantation, Tay-Sachs disease, dental practices, skin grafting, organ transplantation, hazardous medical procedures, establishment of death, the treatment of human corpses, eugenics, sterilization, contraception, the proper conduct of physicians, gene therapy, and cloning technology. Though no medical issue is outside the scope of Halachah, it is the halachic corpus itself that defines the principles that enable the Modern Orthodox jurist to determine what is permissible. To the extent that this endeavor requires a theological justification, the model is found in medieval Jewish philosophy of Maimonides and his disciples. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, however, do not accept the Maimonidean synthesis, are not interested in accommodation to modern life, and take a literalist approach to Scripture. For them, science and Judaism belong to different realms and their truth-claims are of unequal epistemic value.

In sum, while there is no theological impediment to the study of nature in Judaism, there has been some unease about the pursuit of science in traditional Jewish society. Either because scientific knowledge originated outside Jewish society, or because scientific inquiry could divert Jews focusing exclusively on Torah, premodern Jewish culture harbored suspicion toward the study of nature, classified as "secular learning." In the Middle Ages, especially in Spain and Southern France, Jews cultivated the natural sciences and excelled in mathematics, astronomy, and medicine, but these achievements were overshadowed by the preoccupation with law and with Kabbalah in the early-modern period. In the modern period, the dialogue between science and religion has been configured in the context of Jewish social integration into Western society and the need to rethink the authority of Halachah. Reform Judaism, which champions full integration and denies the authority of the rabbis, takes for granted that Judaism is rational, and does not see science as a challenge to Judaism at all. Conservative Judaism, which promotes allegiance to the Jewish tradition along with admission that Halachah evolved over time, is aware of the challenge but considers scientific theories useful for a deeper understanding of Scripture and legal decision-making. Finally, modern Orthodoxy, which insists on the eternal validity of Halachah while being open to modern life, is most creative in attempting to respond to new scientific theories and technological advances. Most modern Jews, who define themselves religiously, and not only ethnically or culturally, regard scientific study of God's created world positively, while insisting that scientific means and ends be judged and/or complemented by Jewish religious and moral values.

See also Judaism, Contemporary Issues in Science and Religion; Judaism, History of Science and Religion, Medieval Period; Judaism, History of Science and Religion, Modern Period; Maimonides


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Jewish conceptions of childhood have undergone considerable transformation from the biblical era to the present. The practical challenges posed by child rearing have elicited a wide range of approaches to child care, discipline, and education, while also raising important questions concerning the role of gender, the scope of parental authority, and the nature of parent-child relations. The evolution of these issues reflects the impact of ethnic, cultural, and regional factors in Jewish history, and also bears unmistakable traces of the ever-changing role of religious ritual in Jewish life. No aspect of childhood has remained immune to these forces or indifferent to the dynamic influence of neighboring cultures.

Conceptions of Childhood

Research conducted by Jewish historians over the last thirty years, similar to most general studies devoted to childhood, stands largely in opposition to the theories advanced by French historian Philippe AriÈs. Ariès argued that childhood as we know it today did not exist in medieval society, owing to a lack of "awareness of the particular nature of childhood." Only with the approach of modernity was childhood "discovered." Countering these claims, Judaic scholars have assembled overwhelming evidence, culled from ancient and medieval Jewish sources, attesting to distinct develop-mental phases of childhood within Judaism and a clear appreciation of the child as such. As understood within Jewish society and culture, childhood refers broadly to all stages of life that precede adulthood, at which point an individual attains economic independence and assumes family or communal responsibilities. Abundant evidence in the Talmud indicates that the transitional stages, which include infancy, childhood, adolescence, and youth (young adulthood), were widely acknowledged within ancient Judaism.

Several ritual ceremonies denote critical moments in the development of the child. Circumcision, a ceremony that takes place on the eighth day after birth, marks the entrance of the male child into the covenant of Israel. In the Talmudic age it served additionally to set Jewish males apart from others in the Greco-Roman world. An intricate new ritual created in northern France and Germany during the twelfth century marked the initiation of boys at the age of five or six into Hebrew studies. Dressed in his best clothes, the boy was escorted to the synagogue and was fed eggs, fruit, and cakes of honey. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet were written on a slate and read to the boy. Then the letters were covered with honey, which the boy licked. Staged during the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), the ceremony symbolically incorporated the child into the ranks of the Jewish people by reenacting the Torah covenant that was created at Mount Sinai. It was also intended as a rite against forgetfulness and as a means to open the heart. Some scholars have suggested that this initiation, insofar as it contains elements resembling the Christian Eucharist devotion, was designed as a counter-ritual to challenge the claims of the majority faith. Bread, wine, and honey likely were included in the Jewish ceremony simply because they represented knowledge and were commonly used to teach the alphabet. The initiation ceremony later found its way to distant Jewish communities in the Mediterranean basin and eastern Europe during the seventeenth century.

The bar mitzvah ceremony commemorates a boy's reaching the age of religious majority: thirteen years and one day. No comparable ritual marked a girl's attainment of her majority (twelve years and one day). The bar mitzvah first arose in Germany during the eleventh century, though it only became popular two centuries later. Thirteen had been established as the male age of religious obligation during the previous century; in the new ritual the boy's father was called to the Torah to declare that he was now relieved of responsibility for his son's misdeeds. Although minors had been technically permitted to participate in the full range of ritual commandments before their bar mitzvah, they were nonetheless dissuaded from performing certain rites until they attained their religious majority. Fourteenth-century sources describe a boy being called to the Torah for the first time on the Sabbath that coincided with or followed his thirteenth birthday; in sixteenth-century Poland, the ceremony developed into a bona fide rite of passage.

For all practical purposes, however, a young person did not become a full-fledged member of the community until he was much older than age thirteen. The precise age at which this occurred varied according to time and place. Furthermore, in many communities, unmarried men regardless of age were not eligible for certain synagogue honors; for example, religious authorities in eighteenth-century Metz refused to authorize unmarried men as ritual slaughterers. Marriage by itself could not definitively confer adult status, however, in part because child marriages were still prevalent in the early modern period. Seeking to harmonize the Talmudic tradition of "at eighteen to the marriage canopy" with the social and cultural desirability of marriage at a younger age, the authoritative Shulhan Arukh code of 1566 stated: "It is the duty of every Jewish man to marry a wife in his eighteenth year, but he who anticipates and marries earlier is following the more laudable course, but no one should marry before he is thirteen." The phenomenon of young men who married even at the age of ten was not unknown in early modern Europe. In some instances where the age at marriage was significantly higher, limitations were still imposed on relative newlyweds. According to an enactment of the Council of Lands in Poland in 1624, no note signed by a man within two years after his marriage had any validity; this period was subsequently extended to three years. Similarly, the council barred the extension of a loan to any person who was either under the age of twenty-five years or who had not been married for at least two years.

Care of Children

In sharp contrast to ancient Greece, where the practice of leaving newborns to die of exposure was not uncommon, Jews of antiquity emphatically rejected infanticide as murder. Philo of Alexandria, a leading Jewish philosopher of the first century, forcefully articulated the importance of caring for all infants. His revulsion against infanticide (he called it "a violation of the laws of nature") went hand-in-hand with the Judaic view of procreation as a divine command. Eventually this teaching would enter the mainstream of Christian thought as the Roman Catholic Church subsequently outlawed infanticide in the fourth century. Child abandonment would nonetheless persist as an acute social problem well into the modern age, tolerated by the Church so long as there was an economic argument for it.

The care given to young Jewish children reflected Judaism's overwhelmingly positive attitude toward childhood. According to ancient rabbinic law as recorded in the Talmud, a father was obligated to redeem his (first-born) son, circumcise him, teach him Torah, teach him a trade, obtain a wife for him, and according to one other opinion, to teach him to swim as well. No provision for child maintenance was mentioned explicitly in this list of parental obligations because the moral obligation to care for one's children was so elemental. Only after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132135 c.e.), in an era when Roman law developed in a parallel fashion, mishnaic law was recast so as to offer greater protection for children. The father's obligation to feed his children became a matter of law, and the prerogative to sell a son as security was abolished, though this legal advancement was not applied as fully to daughters. Even so, in times of severe economic hardship some parents felt compelled to offer their sons and daughters for sale.

Most sources describe the ideal medieval home as a gentle regime resting on mutual affection between parent and child. Ethical writings of the Middle Ages, such as the thirteenth-century German Sefer Hasidim, emphasized the obligations of mothers to keep their infants clean, well fed, and protected from the elements. Unlike other cultures that showed a clear preference for adult children, Judaism was partial to infants. This is evident in Jewish tomb inscriptions, where more attention was paid to the deaths of young children than was the case in ancient Egypt and Rome. Similarly, the anguish expressed upon the death of a child by Rabbi Judah Asheri of fourteenth-century Spain and others, consistent with the advice offered by Sefer Hasidim about showing sensitivity to parents who have lost a child, confirms the depth of attachment to children. Consistent with this is the imagery of Midrash Rabbah (on Psalm 92:13), which portrays playfulness between parents and their young children in the most positive terms.

Medieval sources also point to the growing involvement of Jewish fathers in their child's upbringing, as is evident in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic cultural orbits. Fathers are depicted as becoming increasingly aware of intensity of love for an infant rather than an older child. Perhaps for this reason, the ethical literature was alert to the tensions between the competing demands of child care on the one hand and adult responsibilities on the other, and therefore under-scored the priority that fathers were expected to give to their own Torah learning. Parents were nonetheless cautioned against indulging the child in an overabundance of affection. Excessive indulgence, it was argued, would undermine the goal of training children to fear their parents. This oftrepeated concern, which can be traced to a fourteenth-century Spanish moralistic work, Menorat Ha-Ma'or, also confirms that such expressions of affection were commonplace.


In the biblical era corporal punishment was commonly viewed as the primary means of discipline, as exemplified by Proverbs 13:24, "Spare the rod, despise the child." In the Talmudic age the strap replaced the rod, and by all accounts, strict punishment was meted out both in the home and at school. From the third century on, however, a reduction of physical punishment was favored; instead, alternative disciplinary measures were employed. For example, in response to the problem of the inattentive student, the specific recommendation of the Talmud was to "place him next to a diligent one" rather than to impose physical punishment. Parents and teachers were advised to exercise patience and sensitivity. Medieval sources point to a reality that was frequently at variance with the picture emerging from these Talmudic prescriptions. Although Sefer Hasidim was equivocal about corporal punishment, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) (11351204) and Rabbi Solomon ben Aderet (12351310) acknowledged the right of the parent or teacher to strike a boy in the course of his studies. The fourteenth-century Sarajevo Passover Haggadah and the Coburg Pentateuch show teachers with whips, and a number of early modern sources, such as the Brantshpigl, advised teachers to gauge the severity of the punishment in accordance with the pupil's age.


Owing to the primacy of ritual in traditional Judaism, instruction of children focused on the attainment of ritual literacy as its central goal. In the Talmudic era, boys attended elementary school or studied with a tutor from the age of five, six, or seven until the age of twelve or thirteen. A network of schools operated in the Land of Israel by the second century. School children learned to read the Torah and to write; at age twelve they studied Mishnah. No formal instruction in secular courses such as mathematics, Greek, or gymnastics, was included in the Jewish school curriculum in this period. Initially, the houses of study excluded children from the lower strata of society, but by the third century education was made available to children of all classes. Girls were, by and large, excluded from the elementary schools, however, though some Talmudic sources suggest that fathers taught their daughters informally.

In the medieval period there was no system of communally funded elementary schools in northern France or Germany. Schooling was a private arrangement between parents and teachers. By contrast, the Jews of Spain and Italy maintained a more formal educational structure; moreover, in southern France there are references to elementary schools, though it is unclear whether these were schools or synagogues. Conditions in Italy were likely exceptional. Women gave elementary lessons in reading and writing to girls and boys, often in the teacher's home; the most striking example was the establishment of a special elementary school ("Talmud Torah") for girls in Rome in 1475.

Quite apart from formal schooling, great emphasis was placed on ritual education within the home and the synagogue. Each of the Jewish festivals provides an opportunity for children to acquire an understanding of the religious ideals of Judaism within a national and historical perspective, while at the social level the holidays foster shared values and a strong collective identity. The Passover seder offers perhaps the most outstanding paradigm of informal education in the entire Jewish calendar. The narration of the exodus from Egypt follows a question-and-answer format and uses rituals and symbols specially created to hold the interest of the children and to deepen their experience. Talmudic in origin, these strategies stress the importance of adapting both the supporting materials and the level of discussion to the child's ability to understand.

The importance attached to ritual literacy was also emphasized in less formal settings. The seventeenth-century Polish mystical-ethical work Shnei Luhot Ha-Berit emphasized the importance of teaching the child from the age of two or three, as this was seen to be the critical period for acquiring proper moral virtues, such as fear of one's father. The author, like the author of the Brantshpigl, went so far as to assign great importance to the role of mothers in rebuking their children, "even more than the father." Although children were formally exempt from reciting the Shema (dailycredo) and from putting on tefillin (phylacteries), they were nonetheless obligated in prayer, mezuzah (scriptural verses attached to the door posts of the home), and grace after meals for training purposes. Nevertheless, at each successive stage in the child's development a new level of ritual involvement was added, and children were thus taught to observe certain commandments as soon as they were old enough to perform them. When a boy reached the age of three, he was given tzitzit (ritual fringes) to wear, and by the age of five, he was taught to recite the Shema. At the age of nine or ten the oaths that a child might take were considered valid. Girls and boys at this age were also encouraged to fast for several hours on Yom Kippur, with the time period increasing by one hour each year "so that they may be versed in the commandments" and so that when they reached the ages of twelve and thirteen, respectively, they would be ready to observe the full day of fasting.

Developments in the Early Modern and Modern Periods

The sixteenth century opened an era of escalating intergenerational tension. Challenges to parental authority in numerous Jewish communities became especially pronounced in the age of the Protestant Reformation, and this trend would continue through the modern period. Numerous Jewish communities in the 1520s and 1530s prohibited marriages that were contracted without parental consent. Nevertheless, several distinguished rabbinic authorities at mid-century upheld the independence of young people to choose their marriage partners. Misgivings about the instability of youth and juvenile delinquency found expression in a variety of communal initiatives, including the creation of publicly funded schools and legislation establishing compulsory education. Other efforts sought to curb the freedom sought by adolescents from parental authority, especially in the realm of sexual conduct.

Revolutionary changes in society's attitude toward children were felt conspicuously within Jewish communities as well. Since the Renaissance era, thinkers had placed ever increasing emphasis on the power of nurture over nature. The European Enlightenment, and its Jewish variant, the Haskalah movement, favored the image of a child's mind as a tabula rasa on which teachers could write suitable information. Modern Jewish schools, founded in Berlin and other centers of Haskalah in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, drew heavily on the new pedagogical theories advanced principally by J. B. Basedow and J. H. Pestalozzi. Their emphasis on a systematic approach to education that was attuned to the individual needs and talents of each child exerted enormous influence on Jewish educational reformers such as Naphtali Herz Wessely (17251805). Ambitious efforts to provide vocational training to children of poor Jewish families were part of the same modernization project. In the traditional heder (Jewish elementary school) of Eastern Europe, however, the modern spirit was much less in evidence. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, corporal punishment continued to be severe.

Powerful currents of religious modernization in the nineteenth century not only dominated the ideology of religious reform, but also substantively influenced the leadership of traditional Judaism. Among the most pressing issues was the recasting of educational and religious opportunities to include girls. Early in the century, most modern Jewish schools in Germany and France had been designed to educate both girls and boys. At the 1856 Paris rabbinical conference, a new ceremony for the blessing of newborn girls was created and adopted. The most widely implemented innovation in France and Germany was the confirmation ceremony. Adopted by traditionalist rabbis, the ceremony was conducted for boys and girls who had passed examinations in Hebrew reading and in the catechism designed for Jewish students.

In the same spirit of egalitarianism, bat mitzvah ceremonies for girls proliferated in Conservative and Reform congregations in the United States in the twentieth century. In the second half of the century, such ritual celebrations also found acceptance, albeit in a more limited manner, in the Orthodox movement. There is also an increasing trend among vastly different Orthodox streams to provide Jewish elementary (and higher) education for girls that is virtually identical to that of boys. Dynamic forces at work in the State of Israel, as well as developments in the United States, are setting the pace for these trends.

See also: Catholicism; Christian Thought, Early; Holocaust; Holocaust, Jewish Ghetto Education and; Islam.


Ariès, Philippe. 1962. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Trans. Robert Baldick. New York: Vintage Books.

Baron, Salo W. 1942. The Jewish Community: Its History and Structure to the American Revolution. 3 vols. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.

Berkovitz, Jay. 2001. "Social and Religious Controls in Pre-Revolutionary France: Rethinking the Beginnings of Modernity." Jewish History 15: 140.

Biale, David. 1986. "Childhood, Marriage, and the Family in the Eastern European Jewish Enlightenment." In The Jewish Family: Myths and Reality, ed. Steven M. Cohen and Paula E. Hyman. New York: Holmes and Meier.

Blidstein, Gerald. 1975. Honor Thy Father and Mother: Filial Responsibility in Jewish Law and Ethics. New York: Ktav Publishing.

Cooper, John. 1996. The Child in Jewish History. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Goitein, Solomon D. 1978. A Mediterranean Society: Vol. 3. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Hundert, Gershon D. 1989. "Jewish Children and Childhood in Early Modern East-Central Europe." In The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory, ed. David Kraemer. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kanarfogel, Ephraim. 1992. Jewish Education and Society in the High Middle Ages. Detroit. MI: Wayne State University Press.

Kraemer, David. 1989. "Images of Childhood and Adolescence in Talmudic Literature." In The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory, ed. David Kraemer. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marcus, Ivan. 1996. Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Schimmel, Solomon. 1976. "Corporal Punishment of School Children: The Teacher's Tort Liability in Jewish Law." Jewish Education 45: 3240.

Stow, Kenneth. 1987 "The Jewish Family in the High Middle Ages: Form and Function." American Historical Review 92: 10851110.

Ta-Shema, Israel. 1991. "Children of Medieval Germany: A Perspective on Ariès from Jewish Sources." Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 12: 263380.

Weissbach, Lee Shai. 1987. "The Jewish Elite and the Children of the Poor: Jewish Apprenticeship Programs in Nineteenth-Century France." Association for Jewish Studies Review 20:123142.

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Jay R. Berkovitz

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"Judaism." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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According to Jewish tradition, the family and home make up a mikdash me'at, or a small sanctuary, like a synagogue. However, as fewer twenty-first century Jewish families can be called traditional, there are different interpretations of what sanctifies them now and what will sanctify them in the future. No longer shaped primarily by religious laws, the Jewish family today defines itself in many ways.

Tradition and Change

Halakhah is the branch of rabbinical writing outlining the laws of Jewish religious and ethical behavior. A proposal for new Jewish family values in a post-halahkic time (Ackelsberg 1992) suggests that Jewish families can live outside traditional religious ideals and the demands they make on personal, family, and social life. Such families construct their values according to the forms of Judaism that fit their experience and reflect their desires for traditional observance. Competing accounts of contemporary Jewish experience insist on the need for religious and historical norms for Jewish family life, and particularly so at a time when modern society is increasingly pluralistic and relativistic in matters of behavior and ethics. Even those favoring the traditional Jewish family acknowledge the need to recognize variations in commitment and practice as legitimate adaptations to modern life (Wertheimer 1994).

However one feels about contemporary values, any general account of the Jewish family is likely to overstate its commonalties (just as the historical image of the Jewish family can obscure important differences [Kramer 1989]). What can be said of the Jewish family is perhaps best put in the form of contrasts, choices, and adaptations of tradition. If, as two authoritative studies of Jewish life have recently proposed, it is "the Jew within"—the Jew who interprets for himself or herself the meaning and practice of Judaism—who matters more than halakhic conformity and synagogue membership, then the family too will represent the possibilities for change and Jewish adaptation as much as it does tradition (Cohen and Eisen 2000; Fishman 2000).

For much of its history the Jewish family has been guided by religious rules and practices, as represented in the Hebrew Bible (including the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses) and the commentaries of the rabbis in the compilations known as the Talmud and the Mishnah. With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and then again by the Romans in 70 BCE, Jews have been a people in exile. Their books, laws, and other habits of society they represent, became an essential source of education and continuity. Thus, the story of the Jewish family begins in Genesis, where it is written that God blessed the first man and woman, and instructed them to have children and to raise them in a family. To do so would be a primary way, because God had created humans in his image, of also living in a divine world. In Exodus (20:12) the Jews are commanded to "Honor your father and your mother in order that your days may be prolonged on the soil that your God is giving you." With the core impulse and relational code in place, Judaism provided a strong ethical bond for the family. Shalom bayit—respect for every member of the family, recognition of the different needs of every member, and mutual responsibility for each other's physical and emotional well being—is the guiding historical principle. It is accomplished by fulfilling the mitzvoth and observing the rituals of the Jewish week and year. Mitzvoth are the 613 religious commandments in the Torah and also ordinary good deeds.

Throughout the Jews' long history, the family and the home, incorporating the desires of private rather than public life, provided identity and security. Until they gained legal rights, during the period of emancipation in eighteenth century Europe, Jews had little reason to identify with the state. The classic Jewish texts, and the social habits they had prompted and sustained, were an essential source of high rates of marriage and childbearing among Jews in the premodern world. However, traditional control of the family began to decline as Jewish thought and society made way for new ideas, science, and democracy. With emancipation and then the Jewish Enlightenment the Jewish family, like other institutions, changed in response to greater social and economic opportunities. Less bound by religion, the family became more adaptive—a scene of growth and development, particularly for life in the large cities. Nevertheless, its traditional structure still prompted many to see it as the source of authentic Judaism. Thus, a French writer said in 1886 that "It is neither the rabbis, nor the synagogue, nor the Talmud, nor even the law or persecution which preserved the Jewish religion. It is the love of parents for children, the love of children for parents—it is the family" (cited in Hyman 1989).

Indeed, lighting the Sabbath candles and making the blessings over the bread and wine, and enjoying the Sabbath dinner, remain universal and durable expressions of Jewish family identity. Jewish holidays and celebrations—like Channukah and Purim—are typically centered in the home for observance and celebration as well as in the synagogue. For many Jews today the Passover Seder represents the meaning of the Jewish family. There is the ancient distribution of roles in the meal-based service. Women light the candles and men make the blessing over the wine. The youngest child recites the Four Questions, in effect guiding the entire family toward recognition of what is unique about the biblical events the holiday records.

As is often noted, Jewish celebrations all have their special foods, reflecting too the role of eating Jewish dishes among those whose claim Jewish identities but have only occasional interest in Judaism as a religion. Lionel Blue vividly tells us:

The changes of the liturgical year are marked out for the Jew by smell and taste, by the aromas of the kitchen. Through the most basic senses, he feels the changing moods of the spirit. Theologies alter and beliefs may die, but smells always remain in his memory, calling him back to his own childhood. . . . Whatever prayers he may forget, the gastronomic cycle remains. (cited in DeLange 2000)

Thus, Jewish family memory can be intense even when an individual lives a largely secular and assimilated life.

Migration from Europe

With increasing anti-Semitism and violence against Jews in Europe and Russia, from the Russian pogroms of the 1880s through the Holocaust, the Jewish population center shifted from Europe to the United States and Israel. After World War II, the Jewish family in the United States prospered. U.S. Jews have been particularly successful in education and the professions and have claimed many of the advantages of middle class life. Even so, virtually every account of contemporary Jewish life registers uneasiness about its status and future, including the fate of the family. "Once perhaps the most predictably normative of American family types, contemporary Jewish-American families now seem to be the epitome of change" (Fishman 2000). For with prosperity, as is the case with other groups, has come a high degree of assimilation, and among many Jews, the feeling that they are at least as much "Americans" as they are Jews.

The increasing influence of the modern Jewish denominations has meant changing ideas about the individual and the family. Conservative and Reform Jews, although differing in attitudes toward Jewish tradition, are both less categorically tied to traditional family practices than the Orthodox. For example, the laws and ritual practices of kashrut still govern Orthodox and sometimes Conservative family life, whereas they are unevenly observed or ignored among Reform Jews. A fourth denomination, Reconstructionism, is widely understood to fall between Conservatism and Reform, and families who identify with it also blend traditional and modern features of Jewish living.

Jewish identity—for individuals and within the family—represents a combination of religion and ethnicity, the latter being the dominant factor for many Jews in the years since World War II. The family is the crucible of Jewish identity, the place where commitments to Jewish ideas, values, and ways of living are encountered and expressed. But the Jewish family, like other institutions in the United States has responded to pressures that both reduce difference, late artifacts of the famous melting pot, and strengthen it, like the ethnic revivals of the 1960s and 1970s when racial and then ethnic minorities found it satisfying to accentuate what made them different from others. Thus, as Charles Liebman (1990) has argued, the Jewish family should be seen against the historical choices posed by loyalty to universalism, or the values Jews share with others, in contrast to particularism, or those values Jews believe are unique to their history and faith. Even so, with the increasing individualism of Jewish life, either choice can mean a weaker connection to traditional religious observance.

In the latest study of the U.S. Jewish community (Cohen and Eisen 2000), the family is presented ideally as a chain of influence across generations. Thus, "Those who are nearest exert the greatest influence upon Jewish observance and supply its greatest meaning, serving as both stimulus and audience to the enactment of convictions, which might otherwise have remained within the self." Grandparents are identified as being crucial and beloved role models for many Jews who came to adulthood in the later decades of the twentieth century. However, as wealth and mobility have increased during this time, the extended Jewish family became less common, and nostalgia for the roles of family elders has replaced the experience of family life with them. The success of Allegra Goodman's collection of short stories, The Family Markowitz (1996), illustrates the transition in intergenerational roles. Gathered for the family's Passover seder, the Markowitz's four children offer competing images of Jewish commitment. Their parents and grandmother accept them all as signs of the inevitable breakup of tradition and of the Jewish future in which the family will house (generally) tolerant varieties of contemporary Judaism reflecting generational, ideological, educational, and experiential difference. Whether Judaism can in fact hold a family together, and whether a family can maintain a unified view of religious belief and practice, is precisely what worries a middle class professional who understands the tensions of contemporary Jewish family life:

I hope [my children] become practicing and believing Jews. In other words that there is a consistency there, that they are not just practicing. It's because they actually believe the prayers and it's important. And somehow I would approach that question by saying that all these other qualities that I want for them are the things that instigate whatever their Jewish practice is. I don't particularly care if they want to join an Orthodox congregation; that doesn't bother me. If they become Jews in such a way that it excludes me or any other members of their family, that's a different story (Cohen and Eisen 2000).

Holding the Jewish family together has been seen—in history and in popular U.S. culture—the primary responsibility of the Jewish mother. There is an old Jewish proverb, "God could not be everywhere, so mothers were created." Even so, like other groups around the world, Jews maintained a patriarchal family structure throughout most of their history. However, feminism and the women's movement have had a major impact on what Jews think about family life, with new roles for women in ritual life at home and in the synagogue. Thus, the famous Jewish mother, a domineering if loving fixture of the suburban American-Jewish family, can give way to a mother who is no less loving but who contributes less by control of the household (especially the kitchen table) and more in terms of a her unique grasp of the spiritual and of the meaning of community (see Hendler 1999 for a personal account of this transformation).

Intermarriage and the Jewish Future

Nothing could guarantee, however, that the Jewish family would maintain the reputation it has had for stability and durability. In this century, Jews have maintained high rates of marriage and childbearing (even if at a low birth rate) and relatively low rates of divorce. By nearly every measure, Jews have exemplified U.S. ideas of the normal family (see Fishman 2000 for a compact account of recent statistics). Yet, near the end of the twentieth century, survey research prompted one scholar to claim that U.S. Jewish life had "progressively weakened demographically as a result of low fertility, high intermarriage, significant dispersion, and assimilatory losses." In the 1990s there was intense debate about the meanings of these changes. In particular, there has been significant attention to the question of intermarriage, which increased dramatically in the decades after World War II—over 50 percent according to some interpretations of statistics. The consequences for Jewish continuity, a widely used phrase toward the end of the twentieth century, signifying as much fear as optimism, were the subject of increasing attention. "The majority of all new Jewish households formed in the United States in recent years involved a non-converted non-Jewish spouse. ... [And] while only 16% of households established before 1965 consisted of a born Jew with a non-Jewish spouse, this percentage increased to 69 for those families established between 1985 and 1990. Thus, in less than one-third (31%) of the households are there children who are exposed to parents who were both born into the Jewish religion" (Klaff 1995).

Accordingly, for many scholars, and religious and lay leaders in Jewish life, intermarriage poses the most significant single threat to the Jewish family and to the prospects for Jewish continuity altogether. Although intermarriage among ethnic groups generally tends to yield little family conflict, religious differences are a likely source of tension, particularly so in the matter of childrearing and what is to be provided for children in religious education and other resources for identification with Judaism. In any case, empirical studies of the family consequences of intermarriage are often limited by the difficulties in establishing consistency among research subjects' expressed views about religious beliefs and observance, and the meaning of Judaism for their day-to-day lives (e.g., Heller and Wood 2000).

Although Jews might regret increasing intermarriage, they do not see it necessarily as a threat to Judaism and the Jewish family. Indeed, in the popular film Keeping the Faith (1999) even though the cosmopolitan young rabbi marries a non-Jewish woman, the title appears to be anything but an irony. For many Jews, intermarriage is not as great a threat to the Jewish future as is a general decline in U.S. spirituality and the inability of many Jews— particular those in the first half of life—to relate to religion. What is called Jewish Renewal (Lerner 1994) offers a vision of Judaism that accepts an adaptive role for the Jewish family in regulating behavior on behalf of rededication to Jewish social and communal values including recognition of new family styles in our post-halahkic time.

Loyalty to the traditional Jewish family can "result in the fear that as traditional families change, and as more and more people live in alternative, or non-traditional, structures, individuals will become isolated, community weakened, and the Jewish future threatened" (Ackselberg 1992). Because only a minority of U.S. Jews live in the traditional nuclear family, there must be recognition of the legitimacy of other forms: "Giving the nuclear family first class status makes everyone else second class . . . [and] those whose intimacy constellations differ from the norm need not be on the margins of organized Jewish communities" (Ackselberg 1992). The goal is a more egalitarian and democratic Jewish community, with women participating fully not only in leading the family but in matters of spirituality and religious ritual in the home and the synagogue. Moreover, in the most liberal views of the future of the Jewish family, new structures, including single women bearing children (or raising them as adoptees) or homosexual unions of men or women should have the advantage of holy purpose in their households.

Critics of the newest ideas about the Jewish family, although accepting change, offer the success of traditional values, or the durability of Jewish history and culture as the best argument for keeping the past active in the present. Thus: "We will educate our children and adults to be understanding of other configurations and considerate of the people in them, but the Jewish [family] ethic will be what it has been in the past—not because of its historical roots, but because of the real personal and communal needs it serves" (Dorff 1992). Seen from another perspective, the twenty-first century Jewish family will continue to be a location for different ideas about what it means to be Jewish and to be a part of a Jewish household and family. Neither the decline in traditional Jewish beliefs shaping Jewish family life nor ideas about family structure representing radical breaks with tradition should be understood as defining the future. Not surprisingly, the Jewish past can still be invoked on behalf of its contributions to finding what new forms of family life can be made in the image of Judaism (Harman 1999).

See also:Circumcision; Family Rituals; Food; Interfaith Marriage; Israel; Religion


Ackselberg, M. A. (1992). "Jewish Family Ethics in a Post-Halakhic Age." In Imagining the Jewish Future: Essays and Responses, ed. David Teutsch. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Cohen, S., and Eisen, A. (2000). The Jew Within: Self,Family, and Community in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

De Lange, N. (2000). An Introduction to Judaism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dorff, E. A. (1992). "Response." In Imagining the JewishFuture: Essays and Responses, ed. David Teutsch. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Fishman, S. B. (2000). Jewish Life and American Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Hartman, D. (1999). "Memory and Values: A Traditional Response to the Crisis of the Modern Family." A Heart of Many Rooms: Celebrating the Many Voices within Judaism. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights.

Heller, P., and Wood, B. (2000). "The Influence of Religious and Ethnic Differences on Marital Intimacy: Intermarriage versus Intermarriage." Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 26(2): 241–252.

Hendler, L. M. (1999). The Year Mom Got Religion: OneWoman's Midlife Journey into Judaism. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights.

Klaff, V. (1995). "The Changing Jewish Family: Issues of Continuity." In American Families: Issues of Race and Ethnicity, ed. C. K. Jacobson. New York: Garland.

Kraemer, D., ed. (1989). The Jewish Family: Metaphor andMemory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lerner, M. (1994). Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing andTransformation. New York: Putnam.

Wertheimer, J. (1994). "Family Values and the Jews." Commentary 97( January):30–34.

steven weiland

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Judaism is the religion founded upon the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, which is viewed as an exhaustive account of Gods will for humanity. Judaism is the oldest of the three monotheist religionsthe others being Christianity and Islam. The Hebrew scriptures first took shape around 450 BCE with the assembling of the Torah (instruction), which recorded the revelation of God to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Torah is composed of the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The sacred Scripture also encompasses the Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets; as well as the Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah.

The Torah and the Prophets tell twin stories of exile from Paradiseone concerned with humanity as a whole, the other with Israel, the people of the Torah. Adam and Eve, representing humanity, lose Paradisethe Garden of Edenbecause of their rebellion against God. The people of Israel likewise lose their paradisethe Land of Israelbecause of their disregard of Gods will as revealed in the Torah. Israel had acquired the Promised Land in fulfillment of Gods covenant with Israels founders, Abraham and Sarah, and their descendants. In 722 BCE, however, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians and was incorporated into Assyria, and in 586 BCE the southern kingdom of Judea fell to the Babylonians, who destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. Following this, the Jews went into exile in Babylonia (present-day Iraq). In the later sixth century BCE the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, who in 530 permitted the exiled Judeans to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple there on Mount Zion. Some did just that. Then, around 450 BCE the scribe Ezra, in cooperation with the Temple priests, promulgated the Torah of Moses as the law for Israel.

The Torah portrays Israels exile as the consequence of rebellion and its return as its reward for repentance, and sets forth the rules that Israel must keep if it is to retain paradise in the Land of Israel. The parallel narrativesthe stories of Adam and Eve and their counterpart, the people of Israelpart ways with the return to Zion, for whereas Israel could repent and reform, Adam, representing the rest of humanity, without the Torah could do nothing to regain Paradise.


The theology of Judaism is set forth by the rabbis of the first six centuries CE in their readings of Scripture. These readings took place in dialogue with a set of documents that record the oral traditions that had been passed on via a chain of masters and disciples stretching back to Moses and up to the early centuries of the Common Era. The first of these documents recoding oral tradition is the Mishnah (ca. 200 CE), a law code that both amplifies the laws of Scripture and sets forth laws that take up topics not treated by Scripture. A collection of supplements, the Tosefta (ca. 300 CE), and two commentaries to the Mishnah, the Talmud of the Land of Israel (ca. 400 CE) and the Talmud of Babylonia (ca. 600 CE), augmented the laws of Scripture as systematized in the Mishnahs topical expositions. The same rabbis produced commentaries on Scripture, called Midrashim: among others, Genesis Rabbah (ca. 400), on Genesis; Mekhilta Attributed to Rabbi Ishmael (ca. 300), on Exodus; Leviticus Rabbah (ca. 450), on Leviticus; and Sifré to Numbers and Sifré to Deuteronomy, on Numbers and Deuteronomy, respectively.

The monotheism of Judaic theology as set forth in Scripture and oral tradition contrasts strongly with the polytheism prevalent at the time of Judaisms foundation. For a religion of numerous gods, lifes problems have many causes; for a religion of only one God, there is only one cause. To explain why life is seldom fair and often unpredictable, polytheism identifies multiple causes, one god per anomaly. Diverse gods do diverse things, so it stands to reason that the outcomes of their actions conflict. Monotheism by its nature explains many things in a single way. One God rules all and everywhere. Life is meant to be fair, and just rules are supposed to describe what is ordinary, all in the name of that one-and-only God. Thus, in Judaic monotheism a simple logic governs, to limit ways of making sense of things. But that logic contains its own dialectics. If one true God has done everything, then, because he is God all-powerful and omniscient, all things are credited to, and blamed on, him. In that case he can be either good or bad, just or unjustbut not both.

Jewish theology attempts to systematically reveal the justice of the one-and-only God of all creation. God is not only God but also good. The Torah pictures a world order based on Gods justice and equity. Judaism finds its dynamic in the struggle between Gods plan for creationto create a perfect world of justiceand mans will. That dialectic is embodied in a single paradigm: the story of Paradise lost and regained.

Four key sets of beliefs characterize the theology of Judaism:

  1. God formed creation in accord with a plan, which the Torah reveals. The facts of nature and society set forth in that plan conform to a pattern of reason based on justice and together constitute Gods world order. Private life as much as public order conforms to the principle that God rules justly in a creation of perfection. Those who possess the Torahnamely, Israelknow God and those who do notthe gentilesreject him in favor of idols. What happens to these two sectors of humanity, respectively, corresponds to their relationship with God. Israel in the present age is subordinate to the nations, because God has designated the gentiles as the medium for penalizing Israel for its rebellionmeaning that Israels subordination and exile is intended to provoke repentance.
  2. The perfection of creation, realized in the rule of exact justice, is signified by the timelessness of the world of human affairs, and its conformity to a few enduring paradigms that transcend change. Perfection is further embodied in the unchanging relationships of the social commonwealth, which assure that scarce resources, once allocated, remain unchanged. Further indications of perfection lie in the complementarity of the components of creation, and in the correspondence between God and man, who was created in Gods image.
  3. Israels condition, public and personal, constitutes flaws in creation. What disrupts perfection is the sole power capable of standing on its own against God: mans will. What man controls and God cannot coerce is mans capacity to form intention and therefore choose either arrogantly to defy, or humbly to love, God. Because man defies God, the sin that results from mans rebellion flaws creation and disrupts world order. As with Adam and Eves exile from Eden, the act of arrogant rebellion leads to humanitys flawed condition. God retains the power to encourage repentance through punishing mans arrogance. In mercy, moreover, God exercises the power to respond to repentance with forgivenessthat is, a change of attitude bringing about a change in mans condition. Because man also has the power to initiate the process of reconciliation with God through repentancean act of humilityman may restore the perfection of that order his arrogance has marred.
  4. God ultimately will restore that perfection that embodied his plan for creation. In the process of restoration, deathwhich exists because of sinwill die, the dead will be raised and judged for their deeds, and most, having been justified, will go on to eternal life in the world to come. The paradigm of man restored to Eden is realized in Israels return to the Land of Israel. In that world or age to come, idolaters will perish, and the remaining portion of humanity, comprising Israel, will know the one, true God and spend eternity in his light.


The theology of Judaic monotheism set forth by the rabbis of the first six centuries CE was subsequently amplified by philosophers and mystics. Judaic intellectuals in the Islamic world, from the advent of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century CE, faced the challenge posed by Muslim rationalism and philosophical rigor. The task at hand was to reconcile and accommodate Torah and the philosophical form of science.

That is why alongside the study of Torahmeaning the Babylonian Talmud and later codes, commentaries, and rabbinical court decisionsa different sort of intellectual-religious life flourished in Judaism. This was the study of the Torah-tradition through the instruments of reason and the discipline of philosophy: the quest for generalization, a critical sifting of evidence, and, above all, the attempt to find harmony between the generalizations of the Torah and the scientific principles of Aristotle. For example, how can the scriptural notion that God changes his mind be harmonized with the Aristotelian principle that change indicates imperfection, and how can the belief that miracles interrupt the course of nature be reconciled with the philosophical principle that laws of nature are immutable? If God is arbitrary, then God is no philosopher. But for Judaic, Christian, and Islamic theology, God is the source of all truth, whether revealed in nature or in scripture.

The Judaic philosopher had to cope with problems imposed not only by the Torahs conflict with philosophy, but also by the anomalous situation of the Jews themselves. For instance, what was the meaning of the unfortunate history of the Jews? How was philosophy to account reasonably for the homelessness of Gods people, who were well aware that they lived as a minority among powerful, prosperous majoritiesChristian or Muslim? If the Torah were true, why did different revelations claiming to be based upon itand to complete itflourish, while the people of Torah suffered? Why, indeed, ought one to remain a Jew, when every day one was confronted by the success of the daughter religions? Conversion was always a possibilityan inviting one even under the best of circumstancesfor a member of a despised minority.

The search was complicated by the formidable appeal of Greek philosophy to medieval Christian and Islamic civilizations, two cultures in which Judaism was practiced. Its rationalism, openness, and search for pure knowledge challenged all revelations. Philosophy called into question all assertions based not on reason, but on appeals to a source of truth not universally recognized. Specific propositions of faith and the assertions of holy books had to be measured against the results of reason. Belief in mysterious divine plans conflicted with claims for the limitless capacity of human reason. It seemed, therefore, that reason stood in opposition to revelation, and free inquiry could not be relied on to lead to the synagogue, church, or mosque. Faith or reasonthis seemed to be the choice.

For the Jews, moreover, the very substance of faithin a personal, highly anthropomorphic God who exhibited traits of character not always in conformity with humanitys highest ideals and who in rabbinic hands looked much like the rabbi himselfposed a formidable obstacle. The obvious contradictions between belief in free will and belief in divine providence further enriched classical philosophical conundrums. Is God all-knowing? Then how can people be held responsible for what they do? Is God perfect? Then how can he change his mind or set aside his laws to forgive people? No theologian in such a cosmopolitan, rational age could begin with an assertion of a double truth or a private, relative one. The notion that something could be true for one party and not for another, or that faith and reason were equally valid and yet contradictory were ideas that had little appeal.


From the time of the Roman emperor Constantine, who in the fourth century declared Christianity legal and whose heirs made it the religion of the Roman Empire, to the nineteenth century, Jewry in Christendom had sustained itself as a recognized and ordinarily tolerated minority. The contradictory doctrines of Christianitywhich saw Jews as Christ-killers to be punished, and as witnesses to be kept alive and ultimately converted at the second coming of Christheld together in an uneasy balance. Official policykeep the Jews alive, but do not reward their disloyaltyaccounts for the Jews survival in some of the Christian realms, particularly those on the frontiers of Christian Europe, south and east. The pluralistic character of some multiethnic societies explains the welcome accorded Jewish entrepreneurs in certain territories, including Spain before 1492, and Norman England, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine in the early centuries of their development.

The rabbinic system, for its part, had addressed the agenda of Christianity and for long centuries had given answers that, for Israel, proved self-evidently valid. Judaism had answered the question made urgent by Christianitys triumph: What is Israel in the divine plan? This it did by appeal to the sanctification of Israel and its future salvation. Normative Judaism had taken shape in response to the challenge of Christianity. So long as in Christian lands Christianity defined the issues, Judaism would flourish without effective competition within Jewry, absorbing and accommodating new ideas. The same was true of Islamic lands and the character of Judaism in the Muslim world.


In modern times, faced with the political changes brought about by the American Constitution of 1787 and the French Revolution of 1789, Jews in western Europe and the United States aspired to rights possessed by the majority population: citizenship, equality before the law. But an urgent question emerged: How could and why should one be both Jewish and German or Jewish and French or Jewish and British? (The issue was conceived in terms of the categories of religion and nationality; that is, Jews were Jewish by religion and German by nationality. In the late-twentieth-century United States the issue would be conceived in terms of religion and ethnicity; thus, one could be both Christian and ethnically Jewish.) From the earliest decades of the nineteenth century, new Judaisms took shape, dealing with this and other urgent questions. They offered explanations of how a Jew could be not solely an Israelite but also somethinganythingelse. To do so, people had to identify a neutral realm in the life of individuals and consequently of the community, a realm left untouched by the processes of sanctification leading to salvation, which had for so long made Jews into Israel, the community of Judaism. Each of these Judaisms claimed to continue in linear succession the Judaism that had flourished for so long, to develop it incrementally, and so to connect, through the long past, to Sinai. But in fact, each one responded to contemporary issues deemed urgent among one or another group of Jews.


Three main new Judaisms took shape between 1800 and 1850. The first to emerge was Reform Judaism, which developed in the early part of the nineteenth century. Reform Judaism made changes in liturgy, then in doctrine and in the Jewish way of life. More significantly, perhaps, it recognized the legitimacy of making changes and regarded change as reformhence its name.

Second to develop was Orthodox Judaism, which achieved its first systematic expression in the middle of the nineteenth century. A reaction to Reform Judaism, Orthodox Judaism was in many ways continuous with traditional Judaism, but in other ways it was as selective in its adoption of elements of traditional Judaism as was Reform Judaism. Orthodox Judaism denied the validity of change, and held that Judaism lies beyond history; it is the work of God, and constitutes a set of facts of the same order as the facts of nature. Hence change is not reform, and Reform Judaism is not Judaism. But, at the same time, Orthodox Judaism affirmed that one could devote time to science as well as Torah-study, an accommodation with contemporary culture different only in degree from the Reform compromise.

Third in line and somewhat after Orthodox Judaism came positive Historical Judaism, known in America as Conservative Judaism, which occupied a middle position between the two other new Judaisms. This Judaism maintained that change could become reform, but only in accordance with the principles by which legitimate change may be separated from illegitimate change. Conservative Judaism would discover those principles through historical study. In an age in which historical facts were taken to represent theological truths, the historicism of Conservative Judaism gave it compelling weight. Positivism and dependence on history to validate theological conviction would serve Conservative Judaism poorly later on, however, when the discoveries of archaeologists called into doubt principal parts of the scriptural narrative.



Baron, Salo Wittmayer. 19521993. A Social and Religious History of the Jews. 2nd rev. ed. 18 vols. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ben-Sasson, Haim Hillel, ed. 1976. A History of the Jewish People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Finkelstein, Louis, ed. 1966. The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. 1987. God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Neusner, Jacob. 1987. The Enchantments of Judaism: Rites of Transformation from Birth through Death. New York: Basic Books. Reprint, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005.

Neusner, Jacob. 2003. The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson.

Schwarz, Leo W., ed. 1956. Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People. New York: Random House.

Jacob Neusner

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The phenomenon of fasting in the variegated history of Judaism has its roots in the biblical text. Though it is not entirely clear why and when this practice arose, it is certain that in ancient Israel, abstaining from food and drink on both the individual and communal level was considered an act of piety that one would (in most cases spontaneously) undertake as a means of entreating God's compassion or in the hope of averting divine punishment ( Judges 20:26; 1 Kings 21:9, 27; 1 Sam. 7:6; 2 Sam. 12:16, 22; Jer. 14:12, 36:6, 9; Joel 1:14, 2:12, 15; Jonah 3:5; Ps. 35:13, 69:1112; Esther 4:16; Dan. 9:3; Ezra 8:21, 23; Neh. 1:4; 2 Chron. 20:3) or as a sign of mourning and lament (1 Sam. 31:13; 2 Sam. 1:12; 12; Zech. 7:5; Esther 4:3; Ezra 10:6; Dan. 10:23; 1 Chron. 10:12).

Fixed Fasts

The four fixed fast days mentioned by the post-exilic prophet Zechariah relate to calamities centered about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Zech. 8:19): the fast of the fourth month corresponds to what is celebrated as the seventeenth of Tammuz, which marks the breaching of the walls of the city (in 2 Kings 25:4 and Jer. 39:2 the date is the ninth); the fast of the fifth month, the ninth of Av when the Temple was destroyed (in 2 Kings 25:8 and Jer. 52:1213 the date is the tenth); the fast of the seventh month, the third of Tishrei when Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, was murdered (2 Kings 25:25, Jer. 41:12); and the fast of the tenth month, the tenth of Tevet, which marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (2 Kings 25:12, Jer. 52:4). The custom to fast on the thirteenth of Adar, the day before the holiday of Purim, which celebrates the downfall of Haman and the redemption of the Jewish people, does not commemorate a tragedy in Jewish history but rather stands as a reminder of a precarious moment when disaster was averted (Esther 4:16).

By contrast, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur (celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month, which is enumerated as the first month of the new year), the one fast specified in the Pentateuch, is part of the afflicting of the bodyaccording to later rabbinic law this comprises five forms of self-denial: abstention from eating, washing, anointing, wearing shoes, and cohabitation; Mishnah Yoma 8:1that is a means of purification from transgression (Lev. 16:2934, 23:2732; Num. 29:711). From other verses we can deduce that refraining from eating and drinking was considered one of various methods of abstinence by which one could afflict the body, acts that were often accompanied by oaths and vows (Num. 30:216; Dan. 10:12). There is evidence to suggest that fasting was also practiced as preparation for communing with the spirits of the dead (1 Sam. 28:20). The narrative about Moses being with God for the forty days in which he wrote the tablets of law specifies that during that time he neither ate bread nor drank water, indicating that he was in a transformed state wherein the normal physical needs could be discarded (Exod. 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18), a theme that is applied as well to Elijah when he had the theophany on Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:812). In the case of Daniel as well, acts of prayer, which included fasting, were answered with a vision of the divine (Dan. 9:2027, 10:721).

Abstention from food was considered one of the several typical acts of humbling oneself, which may have included renting one's clothes, lying in sackcloth, walking about in a subdued posture, sleeping on the floor, and not washing, anointing, or changing one's clothes (2 Sam. 1:1112, 12:1620; 1 Kings 21:27; Jonah 3:5; Ps. 35:13, 69:12; Esther 4:3; Dan. 9:3; Neh. 9:1). Fasting could also accompany weeping and the offering of sacrifices ( Judges 20:26; Joel 2:12) or the confession of one's iniquities (1 Sam. 7:6; Neh. 9:2; Dan. 9:4), but on occasion it takes the place of the sacrificial cult ( Joel 1:1314). The purpose of fasting as a ceremonial expression of remorse and supplication is underscored in the prophetic pronouncements against those who would fast without the proper intent as if God demanded of the Israelites external forms of self-affliction without commitment to act justly (Isa. 58:37; Jer. 14:12). Indeed, according to the messianic declaration of Zechariah, the fast days in Israel commemorating past suffering centered around the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple would be transformed into occasions for joy provided there would be love of honesty and integrity (Zech. 8:19).

Fasting without repentance is of no value. In the Second Temple period, abstaining from eating and drinking continued to serve as a primary means of atonement, but in addition we have evidence that on occasion it functioned as an ascetic regimen that served to purify the heart and bring one closer to God, and even in some cases to induce an ecstatic state wherein a supernatural vision was granted (2 Bar. 12:5, 20:56, 43:3; 4 Ezra 5:1320, 6:3536). There is evidence from the rabbinic corpus that select individuals similarly fasted excessively in order to have visionary experiences (Palestinian Talmud, Kil'ayim 9:4, 32b), a phenomenon attested as well in the Heikhalot literature, the magical and mystical texts that began to take shape roughly during the time that Judaism and Christianity began to emerge as distinct liturgical communities. We know little about the social background of the individuals responsible for these texts, but we can conclude with some degree of certainty that they adopted ascetic practices, primarily fasting and sexual renunciation, as preparation for dream-vision, angelic adjuration, or heavenly ascent. In the tenth century, a leading rabbinic figure, Hai Gaon, summarized these older practices by saying that anyone who wished to gaze at the chariot must "sit fasting for a specified number of days, place his head between his knees, and whisper to the earth many prescribed songs and hymns." It is likely that fasting or even a restricted diet (together with sexual abstinence) was viewed as means by which the human could be transformed into an angelic being, a prerequisite for the attainment of the visionary encounter with an angel or the glory.

Perhaps some of the rabbis developed a critical stance vis-à-vis fasting as an appropriate form of piety to combat such individuals and their anomian customs. Thus, a dictum is transmitted in the name of R. Yose: "An individual is not permitted to torment himself in fasting lest he fall upon the community and they will need to support him" (Tosefta, Ta'anit 2:12). According to another statement attributed to Samuel, "Whoever sits in a fast is called a sinner" (Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 11a). In the words of a maxim ascribed to Reish Laqish, "the scholar is not permitted to sit and fast for it diminishes the work of heaven" (Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 11b). Finally, Rav reportedly declared that "in the future a man will have to give an account for everything that his eye saw but he did not eat" (Palestinian Talmud, Qiddushin 4:12, 66b).

An especially interesting concern for the rabbis was the abstinent woman whose constant fasting "causes her to lose virginity" (Palestinian Talmud, Sotah 3:4, 19a). Indeed, on account of the reduced intake of food she is called the "fasting virgin," a term that suggests that the challenge such a woman posed was that she disrupted the societal expectations by abdicating the domestic responsibility of child bearing. In contrast to early Christianity where virginity and fasting were considered virtuous acts of piety, the rabbinic sages castigated the woman who adopted an ascetic lifestyle with regard to sexuality and eating. According to one rabbinic ruling, the ascetic woman is enumerated among those who bring destruction to the world (Mishnah, Sotah 3:4), an expression meant to convey that female celibacy results in the breakdown of marital life and the bearing of progeny.

Additional Fasts

The basic approach to fasting was continued by the rabbis who, in their characteristic fashion, codified specific regulations to fashion the biblical references into binding rituals. In addition, the rabbis decreed additional fasts in the course of the calendar, generally associated with the fixed fasts and other calamitous events in biblical and postbiblical history. Yet, the rabbinic authorities were opposed to extreme forms of abstinence, including fasting, as we find, for instance, in the Therapeutaue community described by Philo, early Christian communities, and the individuals whose experiences are preserved in the Heikhalot texts. It must be pointed out, however, that the rabbinic sources themselves yield proof that some members of the academies were more positively disposed toward voluntary abstinence as a way to cultivate the highest form of piety. Thus, there is substantial textual evidence to indicate that sages (many from the third and fourth centuries) undertook excessive fasts as part of an ascetic lifestyle, to attain an extraordinary experience (usually of a visual nature), or for penance (Palestinian Talmud, Kil'ayim 9:3, 32b, Ta'anit 2:13, 66a, Nedarim 9:2, 40d; Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 68b, Hagigah 22b, Qiddushin 80b, Baba Metsi'a 85a, Nazir 52b).

Additionally, there is verification that some rabbis preserved an ancient custom, apparently initiated in the land of Israel, to fast every week on Monday and Thursday (Palestinian Talmud, Ta'anit 1:6, 64c; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 24a, Ta'anit 12a), and there is as well confirmation of the fact that some considered fasting appropriate for Sabbath (Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 68b, Beitsah 15b) even though others clearly thought the opposite and prohibited fasting on Sabbath (Palestinian Talmud, Ta'anit 3:13, 67a, Nedarim 8:10, 40d), maintaining that Sabbath is a day of joy and rest, the sanctification of which involves physical pleasure, encompassing eating and drinking (Palestinian Talmud, Shabbat 15:3, 15a; Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 32b). A residue of the former orientation is found in the ruling that fasting because of a troubling dream (ta'anit halom ) is allowed even on Sabbath (Genesis Rabbah 44:12; Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 31b, Ta'anit 12b). Interestingly, the routine of fasting on Sabbath was revived in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by figures like Judah he-Hasid, the leader of the Rhineland German Pietists (Hasidei Ashkenaz), who adopted an ascetic form of devotion, and we even have a report by Avigdor ben Elijah ha-Kohen that Judah fasted on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a practice followed by other rabbis connected to this group, such as Abraham Haldiq of Bohemia, though by no means accepted by everyone. Finally, there are rhetorical flourishes in rabbinic literature that assign supreme theurgical significance to fasting as a means of atonement. Perhaps the best illustration of this approach is the prayer offered by Rav Sheshet before God, which is predicated on the symbolic equation of fasting and sacrifices: "May it be your will to account my fat and blood, which have been diminished, as if I sacrificed them before you on the altar, and you should find favor with me" (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 17a).

In spite of the admonitions against excessive fasting, it must be said that an ascetic tendency is well entrenched in the classical rabbinic corpus, an orientation that served as the foundation for pietists and mystics at later stages of Jewish history. In particular, the Rhineland Pietists and the Provençal and Spanish kabbalists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries cultivated ascetic practices to attain a state of holiness and removal from the bondage of the corporeal world, in part based on earlier mystical tracts. An especially important part of the pietistic regimen was fasting, which, together with sexual abstention, was viewed as the mechanism by which the mortal being could be transmuted into an angel. For example, Eleazar of Worms, another leading member of the Hasidei Ashkenaz, chronicles an elaborate ceremony for the transmission of the divine name, which involved ritual immersion, being clad in white clothes, and fasting. Acts of self-denial and self-affliction were considered to be the way of fulfilling the hidden will of God.

Kabbalistic Piety

In kabbalistic literature as well we find a central concern with fostering an ascetic piety predicated on acts of behavior that transform the human into an angel. Moreover, kabbalists articulated a contemplative goal of union with God, which is often described as the merging of the finite and infinite will, as we find in Azriel of Gerona, Jacob ben Sheshet, and the authors of the Zohar. The rabbinic analogy comparing fasting to sacrifice played a crucial role in shaping the mystical sensibility of offering one's heart fully to God and subjugating desire (Zohar 2:20b, 119b, 153a). From the symbolic vantage point endorsed by kabbalists, fasting is the instrument by which one becomes a sacrifice and is submerged thereby in the Godhead. In somewhat different terminology, but expounding a similar ascetic ideal, in zoharic literature the members of the mystical fraternity engaged in Torah study are said to partake of the spiritual food that angels eat, the "bread of the mighty" (lehem 'abirim ) (Ps. 78:25), the overflow of divine wisdom, rather than the coarse food of this world (Zohar 2:61b). With this idea we reach the paradoxical reversal characteristic of mystical insight: abstention is genuine consumption.

Utilizing an older midrashic gloss (Leviticus Rabbah 20:10) on the verse "And they saw the God of Israel, and they ate and drank" (Exod. 24:11), the kabbalists affirm that this refers to an "actual eating," which does not entail physical ingestion, but deriving sustenance from basking in the visual presence of God, a state applied to the righteous and angels in the world to come (Zohar 1:104a, 2:126a). By fasting the kabbalist anticipates that condition in this world and thus has a foretaste of the food that is perpetually fulfilling.

See also Buddhism; Christianity; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; Hinduism; Islam; Jewish Food; Judaism; Middle East; Religion and Food; Sin and Food.


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Wolfson, Elliot R. "Eunuchs Who Keep the Sabbath: Becoming Male and the Ascetic Ideal in Thirteenth-Century Jewish Mysticism." In Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, edited by Jeffrey J. Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler, pp. 151185. New York: Garland, 1997.

Elliot R. Wolfson

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JUDAISM. The first Jews in North America arrived from Holland in 1654, their ancestors having been expelled from Spain and Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century. The religion of these Sephardic (Spanish) Jews was different from that of the Ashkenazic Jews who arrived in the United States two centuries later from Central and Eastern Europe. Sephardic Jews followed a ritual different from their Ashkenazic counterparts and came from a region where, until the 1490s, they had enjoyed relative peace, security, and wealth under both Muslim and Christian rulers. They were eager to assimilate into American society and did so successfully. During the American Revolution, a Hessian mercenary serving in Newport, Rhode Island, commented that the Jews were "not distinguishable by their beards and attire … while their women wear the same French finery as the other faiths." The arrival of Ashkenazic Jews during the nineteenth century altered the character of Judaism in the United States. Although many gravitated toward the Re-form tradition, the majority remained Orthodox, especially those coming from Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Russia between 1880 and 1924. As a consequence, Orthodox Judaism in the United States became synonymous with Central and Eastern European Jewry.

Orthodox Judaism

By the 1820s three Orthodox Ashkenazic rite synagogues had been established in North America: the first in Easton, Pennsylvania in 1761, followed by Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia in 1802 and, in 1825, by B'nai Jeshurun in New York City. The first Orthodox rabbi, however, did not arrive in the United States until 1840 when Abraham Rice came from Germany to serve the Orthodox congregation in Baltimore.

Orthodox Jews strictly observe the Halachah (Jewish laws). Derived from the Torah, the Mishna (commentaries on the Torah), and the Gemara (commentaries on the commentaries), the laws make up the Talmud, the authoritative text of Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is preeminently a religion of laws and practices that direct and regulate every aspect of life for the faithful. Among Orthodox Jews, however, community is also essential. To worship, Orthodox Jews require only the presence often adult Jewish males, the minyan; they need no synagogue or rabbi. Such a community could theoretically be small and self-contained, having no formal connection with other Jews; in practice, however, such isolation has proven impossible to sustain. Complex issues involving ritual and law frequently compel adjudication from an outside authority. As a result, questions of, and disputes about, faith, law, and practice have linked one Jewish community to another.

The Retreat from Orthodoxy

The years between 1840 and 1880 were turbulent for the American Jewish community. Jews increasingly rejected the Halachi prescriptions as old-fashioned and inapplicable to their circumstances in the United States. Everywhere Orthodoxy was in retreat.

Reform Jews attempted to accommodate Judaism more completely to the modern world. From the 1840s until the turn of the twentieth century, Reform Judaism was the primary form of Judaism in the United States, losing its dominance to Conservative Judaism only in the 1920s. With roots in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Reform Judaism emphasized the ethical and moral aspects of religion at the expense of ritual and theology. Only in the United States, however, did Reform Judaism attract substantial numbers of adherents.

The first Reform organization in the United States began among members of the Congregation Beth Elohim of Charleston, South Carolina. They wanted briefer services, greater use of English, and the mixed seating of men and women. (Orthodox Jews separate men and women at

worship.) When the majority of the congregation refused to yield, the dissidents withdrew and, in 1824, founded the Reformed Society of Israelites.

The principal impetus behind the growth of Reform Judaism in the United States came from German immigrants who created Reform Vereine (Reform Societies) that eventually developed into temples, as they called synagogues. In 1842 Temple Har Siani in Baltimore became the first first Reform temple in the United States, followed in quick succession by Temple Emanu-El in New York City (1845), and later by Sinai in Chicago (1858). During the second half of the nineteenth century, the efforts of Rabbis Isaac Mayer Wise, David Einhorn, and Kaufman Kohler gave institutional order and theological substance to Reform Judaism.

Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism radically altered Jewish belief, ritual, practice, and law. Meeting in Philadelphia in 1869, Re-form Jews, guided by the liberal David Einhorn, rabbi at Adath Jeshurun (later Beth-El) in New York City, rejected the hope for a restoration of Israel and a rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Einhorn declared, alternately, that the "messianic aim" of Judaism was a union of all the children of God, not merely the Jews. He also downplayed the customary dietary restrictions and the ritual of male circumcision.

The Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, drafted by Kaufman Kohler, rabbi at Temple Beth-El in New York City and Einhorn's son-in-law, superseded the Reform statement of 1869 and repudiated all Jewish laws and practices not in keeping with "the views and habits of modern civilization." In the Pittsburgh Platform, which Isaac Mayer Wise called the "Jewish Declaration of Independence," Kohler asserted that the Jews were not a nation or people in exile, but a religious community. As such, Jews could anticipate "neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any laws concerning the Jewish state." Kohler and the signatories of the Pittsburgh Platform characterized Judaism as a "progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason."

Controversy and Antagonism

Relations between Reform and Orthodox Judaism could not have been more antagonistic. Reform Jews looked upon the Orthodox as ignorant rabble who had given themselves over entirely to vulgar superstitions. The Orthodox considered Reform Jews heretics and pagans. Yet the majority of the 2.5 million Jewish immigrants who came to the United States between 1880 and 1924, or at least their children, gradually abandoned Orthodoxy and embraced Reform Judaism. Although they accepted the tenets of Reform Judaism, Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe were unwilling to renounce their Jewish cultural heritage and ethnic identity. Many were ardent Zionists, and by the 1930s had compelled the Re-form movement to change its position on Zionism. Originally rejecting Zionism, by 1937 the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which Isaac Wise had founded in 1889 as one of the institutional centers of Reform Judaism, adopted a statement of principles that called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Conservative Judaism

The effort to accommodate to American circumstances and concurrently to preserve Jewish tradition led to the emergence of Conservative Judaism. By the end of the twentieth century Conservative Judaism was the largest branch of American Judaism, consisting of 850 congregations that represented 1.5 million members.

Conservative Judaism originated from a breach that developed in the Reform movement. At a banquet held in 1883 to honor the first graduating class of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, the caterer, who was himself Jewish, served shrimp, one of the foods forbidden to Jews who follow kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. Several members of the board of trustees along with a number of rabbis left the banquet in a rage, convinced that they could not make common cause with Reform Jews who apparently sought to ridicule them and to denigrate the customs and precepts they cherished. From this relatively minor incident Conservative Judaism was born.

Although the infamous "trefa (forbidden food) banquet" was the immediate cause of the Jewish division into Reform and Conservative factions, Conservative Judaism had more significant antecedents. Not all Jews in the United States endorsed the radical break with tradition that the reformers espoused in the Pittsburgh Platform. Under the direction of Isaac Lesser, Sabato Morais, Henry Pereira Mendes, Marcus Jastrow, and Benjamin Szold, Conservative Jews sought to perpetuate the Jewish dietary laws, which Isaac Wise had disparaged as "Kitchen Judaism," the identity of Jews as a people in exile, and the unity of American Jews with their brethren scattered throughout the world. The Conservatives did not oppose change—surely God had not sanctioned all elements of the tradition; some were the work of men and thus men could and, when necessary, should alter them.

Conservatives maintained, however, that Reform Jews encouraged purely utilitarian modifications. They opposed the attitude that the law needed to be replaced not because it had been tried and found wanting but because it had been tried and found impractical and difficult. Conservative Jews did not wish to impugn the tradition but to infuse it with new life. Rabbi Alexander Kohut of Ahavath Chesed in New York City expressed the ideals of Conservative Judaism in a sermon delivered in 1885: "I desire a Judaism full of life … a Judaism true to itself and its past, yet receptive of the ideas of the present."

Reconstructionist Judaism

Conservative Jews saw their movement as a compromise between the iconoclasm of Reform Judaism and the rigidity of Orthodox Judaism. They emphasized klal Yisrael (universal Israel), and aspired to unite Jews everywhere into a single community as the chosen people of God. In that larger purpose Conservative Jews failed; their commitment, moreover, alienated liberals, some of whom created a fourth American denomination, Reconstructionist Judaism.

A continuation of the ideas of Mordecai M. Kaplan, who urged American Jews to "reconstruct the Jewish civilization," Reconstructionist Judaism dispensed with belief in the supernatural while retaining some commitment to the Jewish tradition in an effort, as Kaplan wrote, "to maintain the historic continuity of the Jewish people and to express, or symbolize, spiritual values or ideals which can enhance the inner life of Jews." Most Reconstructionist Jews, however, emphatically reject the idea of Jews as the chosen people of God. Although not an independent movement until the 1960s, Reconstructionist Judaism, by the 1990s, boasted a membership of fifty thousand, with sixty congregations and one hundred and fifty rabbis.

American Judaism in the Twenty-First Century: Problems and Prospects

In the two decades between 1945 and 1967 Jews in the United States, though internally divided, enjoyed a peace and security that enabled them to pursue their version of the American dream. That tranquil period ended with the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Although the Israelis prevailed, the threat to the existence of Israel brought Jewish history, including the Holocaust, to the forefront of Jewish concerns. Since the late 1960s, the preservation of Jewish traditions, the maintenance of Jewish identity, and the survival of the Jewish people have come to be of paramount importance to American Jews, including many in the Re-form and Reconstructionist movements.

Common concerns notwithstanding, relations have not been cordial among Jews in the United States. No issue inspired greater conflict than the debate over the role of women. The introduction of integrated seating at worship, a practice that both Reform and some Conservative Jewish congregations adopted, ignited a terrible quarrel. From the Orthodox perspective, though, the worst violation of Jewish tradition and law were changes authorizing greater participation of women in religious services. The first alteration came in 1973, when the law committee of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly issued a takhana (legislative enactment) that permitted women to be counted in the minyan. A ten-year conflict also ensued over whether to admit women to the rabbinate. The dispute ended in 1983 when the faculty of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City voted thirty-four to eight to accept female students. Reform Jews had voted even earlier, in 1972, to ordain women; the Reform decision to consider ordaining homosexuals increased tensions with Orthodox and Conservative Jews.

Predictably, Orthodox Jews have been the most resistant to making concessions. Their defiance strengthened Orthodoxy, which since the 1970s has been the most dynamic and vibrant Jewish denomination. By 2000 the United States had 1,075,000 Orthodox Jews. As young Jews feel increasingly alienated from the secular world and as many seek to rediscover their cultural and religious heritage, Orthodox Judaism has become more attractive. The dramatic and often salutary alternative that Orthodox Judaism presents to those who have grown weary of the degeneracy of modern American society explains, at least in part, its continued appeal. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, however, Orthodox Jews have had to consider whether, and to what extent, their community can maintain it insularity and protect itself from the contamination of the modern world and how much its survival depends upon adaptation to American life.


Davis, Moshe. The Emergence of Conservative Judaism: The Historical School in Nineteenth Century America. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1963.

Eisen, Arnold. The Chosen People in America: A Study of Jewish Religious Ideology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

Glazer, Nathan, ed. American Judaism. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

Goldsmith, Emanuel S., Mel Scult, and Robert M. Seltzer, eds. The American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan. New York: New York University Press, 1990.

Herberg, Will. Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology. New York: Doubleday, 1955.

Libowitz, Richard. Mordecai M. Kaplan and the Development of Reconstructionism. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1983.

Neusner, Jacob, ed. Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism. New York: Katv, 1975.

Olitzky, Kerry M., Lance J. Sussman, and Malcolm A. Stern, eds. Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Plaut, W. Gunther. The Rise of Reform Judaism. 2 vols. New York: World Union for Progressive Judaism, 1963–1965.

Rosenblum, Herbert. Conservative Judaism: A Contemporary History. New York: United Synagogue of America, 1983.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of Jews in America. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Mark G.Malvasi

See alsoReligion and Religious Affiliation ; Religious Thought and Writings .

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Judaism (jōō´dəĬz´əm, jōō´dē–), the religious beliefs and practices and the way of life of the Jews. The term itself was first used by Hellenized Jews to describe their religious practice, but it is of predominantly modern usage; it is not used in the Bible or in Rabbinic literature and only rarely in the literature of the medieval period. The word Torah is employed when referring to the divinely revealed teachings of Jewish law and belief. Judaism is used more broadly, including also the totality of human interpretation and practice. Thus, one may speak of "secular Judaism," referring to an adherence to values expressed by Judaism but removed from any religious context. The most important holy days in Judaism are the weekly Sabbath, the major holidays of Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth (see Tabernacles, Feast of), Simhat Torah,Passover, and Shavuot, and the minor holidays of Hanukkah, Purim, and Tisha B'Av.

The Early Period

The history of Judaism predates the period to which the term itself actually refers, in that Judaism formally applies to the post-Second Temple period, while its antecedents are to be found in the biblical "religion of Israel." The Bible is no longer considered a homogeneous work; the many traditions represented in it demonstrate variance and growth. While the historicity of the patriarchs' existence and of Moses as the giver of all laws is under question, certain dominant themes can be seen developing in this early period that have importance for later Judaism.

Central to these themes is the notion of monotheism, which most scholars believe to have been the outgrowth of a process that began with polytheism, progressed to henotheism (the worship of one god without denying the existence of others), and ended in the belief in a single Lord of the universe, uniquely different from all His creatures. He is compassionate toward His creation, and in turn humans are to love and fear (i.e., stand in awe of) Him. Because God is holy, He demands that His people be holy, righteous, and just, a kingdom of priests to assist in the fulfillment of His designs for humankind and the world.

Israel's chosenness consists of this special designation and the task that accompanies it. God promises the land of Canaan to Israel as their homeland, the place in which the Temple will be built and sacrificial worship of God carried out. The holy days were the Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth; and circumcision, dietary laws, and laws pertaining to dress, agriculture, and social justice characterized the structure of the biblical religion. Three types of leaders existed during this period: the priest (kohen), who officiated in the Temple and executed the laws; the prophet (navi), to whom was revealed God's messages to His people; and the sage (hacham), who taught practical wisdom and proper behavior. There was developing already in this early period a belief in the ultimate coming of God's kingdom on earth, a time of peace and justice. To this was added, after the destruction (586 BC) of the First Temple and the Babylonian captivity (which many saw as the consequence of idolatry and which may have been responsible for the final stage of the development from polytheism to monotheism), the expectation of national restoration under the leadership of a descendant of the Davidic house, the Messiah.

The Postexilic Period

It was after the Babylonian captivity (not later than the 5th cent. BC) that a compilation of earlier texts and oral traditions was made, forming the canon of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Subsequently 34 other books were added to form the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, though the canon was not finalized until perhaps as late as the 2d cent. AD The Torah was traditionally attributed to Moses, and study of the Torah was accompanied by expositions and explanations in which the Oral Law, as distinct from the Written Law (the Torah text), is rooted. While it is widely held that the Pharisees further developed the Oral Law, in opposition to the literalness of the Sadducees, it is inconceivable that the latter group could have administered the biblical laws without reinterpreting them in accordance with a changing world, or in the face of a lack of specificity in the text.

The Babylonian exile had exposed the Israelites to new ideas, and it is to that period that the notions of identifiable angels (such as Michael and Raphael), of the personification of evil (Satan), and of the resurrection of the dead can probably be traced. The conquests of Alexander the Great once again brought the Jews into contact with new ideas, most significantly that of the immortality of the soul. Conflict arose within the community of Israel concerning the level of Hellenization acceptable, out of which came the revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucid rulers of Syria and their Judean sympathizers. The resulting martyrdom of many gave added impetus to the belief in collective resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul after the body's death. These concepts were wed in such a way that while the body awaited its resurrection, the soul was seen as living on in another realm. This new development in no way supplanted the earlier notion of earthly reward; life on earth, however, was viewed by many as preparatory for the next.

As the conditions of life deteriorated, apocalyptic beliefs grew—national catastrophe and the messianic kingdom were seen as imminent events. Some groups (see Essenes; Qumran) fled into the desert to lead righteous lives in anticipation, while others followed claimants to the mantle of Messiah (most notably Jesus). Out of these numerous ingredients came both Christianity and classical, or rabbinic, Judaism.

After the Destruction of the Second Temple

Developing over a period of five centuries (until c.AD 500), rabbinic Judaism completed the process already underway, which saw the replacement of the Temple by the synagogue (the Second Temple was destroyed in AD 70), of the priest by the rabbi, and of the sacrificial ceremony by the prayer service and study. Basic to these changes was the redaction and codification of the Oral Law (see Mishna; Talmud) and the Midrash, which, as outgrowths of the biblical religion, centered on the relationships between God, His Torah, and His people, Israel. Emphasis was placed upon study of the Torah (in its broadest sense) as the most important religious act, leading to an understanding of the proper way of life; upon the growing need for national restoration in the face of continued Exile from the Promised Land; and upon the function of this world as preparatory for the World to Come (Olam ha-Bah), while not devaluing the importance of life in this world.

Daily life was sanctified by the emphasis in Jewish law (halakah) on the ritual fitness of foods (kashrut), the recitation of blessings for a variety of mundane acts, and the daily, weekly, monthly and annual cycles of prayer. Rites for the personal life cycle came to include circumcision of male infants at the age of eight days, signifying their induction into the covenant between God and Israel; the recognition of thirteen years as the age of majority for religious responsibilities (see Bar Mitzvah); marriage; and funeral rites. During the medieval period, these trends continued and were basic to the several important codifications of the legal material and to the many biblical and Talmudic commentaries that were composed at this time (most notably by Rashi and Maimonides).

The Middle Ages

The kabbalah flowered during the Middle Ages, combining older trends in Jewish mysticism with Neoplatonism and other ideas. The kabbalists retained the idea that the totality of God's nature is ultimately beyond human grasp ( "Ein Sof" [Heb., literally,=without end] as the "Nothing" ), yet, in keeping with tradition, held to a vision of a personal God who exists as the active, creative, and sustaining force within the cosmos ( "Ein Sof" as the "Everything" ). Spain was a major center of kabbalistic thought, which after the expulsions and forced conversion in 1492, spread and became more central to Jewish life in the Mediterranean world. Palestine then became the center of kabbalism, especially as it was developed by Isaac Luria and others.

A Jewish philosophy developed in answer to the questions raised by the exposure to Greek thought as distilled through the Islamic natural philosophy and metaphysics. Central to these issues was the conflict between reason and revelation: whether revelation was necessary if all could be ascertained through reason, or whether reason was imperfect and revelation was God's assisting humans to know the truth. Maimonides argued that one can say nothing positive about the personal nature of God, which is beyond human comprehension; one can only indicate what He is not (thus, the statement that God is wise says only that God is not ignorant, not how wise He actually is).

While the Jewish Middle Ages is usually defined by scholars as extending at least into the 18th cent., there was a Jewish counterpart to the general European Renaissance of the 15th and 16th cent., and figures such as Judah Abravanel were influenced by contemporary European philosophic currents. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 led to the Jews of N Italy, S France, and the Levant coming under Sephardic influence (see Sephardim), and these events provoked much messianic and kabbalist speculation, culminating in the spectacular career of the self-proclaimed Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.

The Amsterdam community of Marranos (those Jews forced by the Inquisition to adopt Christianity, but who continued to practice Judaism in secret, and many of whom later emigrated and returned to the Jewish fold) often provided a liberalizing influence on Orthodox Judaism, most significantly in the person of Baruch Spinoza, a Jew excommunicated for his unsparing critique of Rabbinic Judaism. The reaction to Sabbatianism and philosophical liberalism caused a hardening of rabbinic orthodoxy, but the Jewish world of the 18th cent. remained turbulent. It produced both the great traditionalist rabbinic figure Elijah ben Solomon and the untraditional figures of Baal-Shem-Tov, the founder of Hasidism (which Elijah himself fought against), and Moses Mendelssohn, the spiritual progenitor of later reformers whom Elijah's spiritual descendants repeatedly condemned.

The Reform Movement and Zionism

The emancipation of European Jews in the early decades of the 19th cent. brought with it the problem of maintaining claims of distinctiveness, of being "chosen," and at the same time wishing to participate in the general society. First dealt with by the Reform leaders of Germany (most notably Abraham Geiger), this problem was met directly in Eastern Europe, giving rise to the Haskalah movement, whose members (e.g., Nachman Krochmal) sought to revitalize Jewish life by recreating it along the lines of the best in European culture.

In the late 19th cent., Zionism promised a return to the Holy Land. This again created problems for the traditionalists whose religious ideas were rooted in the Diaspora, and many of whom opposed any movement to build a secular Jewish state in the Holy Land. Eventually, an Orthodox wing of Zionism did emerge. For many Jews still unanswered is the question of whether a full Jewish life is possible in exile, or whether residing in Zion is essential. Theologically, Zionism posed the problem of whether Jews can work for the messianic return or whether this would be counter to another traditional belief that saw humanity awaiting the divine intervention.

Modern Judaism

Ultimately, it was the halakah (the law) that divided Judaism in the 19th cent. The Orthodox hold both the written law (Scriptures) and the oral laws (commentaries on the legal portions of the Scriptures) as authoritative, derived from God, while the Reform do not see them as authoritative in any absolute sense, but binding only in their ethical content. While Orthodox Jews maintain the traditional practices, Reform Jews perform only those rituals that they believe can promote and enhance a Jewish, God-oriented life. In 1999, however, leaders of American Reform Judaism reversed century-old teachings by encouraging but not enforcing the observance of many traditional rituals. The "historical school," or Conservative movement, attempts to formulate a middle position between Orthodox and Reform, maintaining most of the traditional rituals but recognizing the need to make changes in accordance with overriding contemporary considerations. Conservative Jews believe that the history of Judaism proves their basic assumptions: that tradition and change have always gone hand in hand and that what is central to Judaism and has remained constant throughout the centuries is the people of Israel (and their needs), not the fundamentalism of Orthodoxy nor what they consider the abandonment of traditions by Reform. The related Reconstructionist movement of Mordechai M. Kaplan holds Judaism to be a human-centered rather than a God-centered religious civilization.

Also part of contemporary Judaism are the several Sephardic traditions maintained in Israel, France, Canada, and the United States by immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa and by European Sephardim in Europe and the Americas; the several Hasidic groups in Israel and the United States; the religious and secular Zionists in Israel and the Diaspora; the unorganized secular Jews, who maintain an atheist's or agnostic's adherence to Jewish values and culture; and those unorganized Jews who seek a religious life outside the synagogue. These many positions represent the most recent attempts at defining the "essence of Judaism," a process that has been continuous throughout the ages, variously emphasizing one of the three major components of Judaism (God, Torah, Israel) over the remaining two.


See J. L. Blau, Modern Varieties of Judaism (1966); M. M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (2d ed. 1957, repr. 1967); J. Neusner, There We Sat Down (1972); R. Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought (1980); A. Eisen, The Chosen People in America (1983); M. A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement (1988); G. Robinson, Essential Judaism (2000); J. R. Baskin and K. Seeskin, ed., The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture (2010); M. Brenner, A Short History of the Jews (tr. 2010).

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As a cultural and religious group with a historical connection to contemporary Jewish culture, Judaism, dates to the end of the first century of the C.E. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. was the event that both enabled and forced rabbinic Judaism to take its position as the preeminent contender as the representative of Judaism. The founding text of rabbinic Judaism is actually the third-century Mishnah, not the Torah. The Mishnah is the first compilation or code of Jewish law, which was edited in the early third century. However, it includes material that dates back to the first century and underwent editing and revision several times throughout the second century as the rabbinic academies in Palestine grew.

Some scholars see a smooth and direct link between the religion articulated by Ezra or the Pharisees and the religion that was articulated by the rabbis after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Most scholars, however, understand rabbinic Judaism as having developed at the same time as early Christianity. A small minority of scholars thinks that rabbinic Judaism developed after early Christianity. The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 caused such a break in the practice and consciousness of the Jews of Palestine and the Diaspora that it is all but impossible to directly connect pre-70 and post-70 Judaism. To be sure, the materials necessary for rabbinic Judaism to develop were present before the destruction of the Temple, but in a merely germinal form. Rabbinic Judaism is essentially a different religion than other pre-Temple Judaisms.

The Bible, which embodies a diversity of religious views, says very little about the afterlife. Impurity stemming from contact with the dead is a prominent feature of the Torah, as is capital punishment. The archaeological evidence seems to demonstrate that the Israelites in Biblical times were concerned with the afterlife. It is not until Daniel, written in third and second centuries B.C.E., that there is seemingly unambiguous reference to the afterlife and the end of days. By the time of Qumran literaturethat is, texts discovered around the Dead Sea that date back to the first and second centuries B.C.E. and used by Jewish sectariansthere is a full-blown notion of an afterlife, which is both a reward for the righteous and a means for explaining the ultimate justice of God. Josephus, a Jewish commander in the war against Rome in the first century and who later defected to the Roman side during the war, points to an afterlife and the resurrection of the dead as sources of conflict between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. This description is supported by Matthew.

One of the ways of defining rabbinic Judaism and its descendants is by its textual tradition. Rabbinic Judaism claims the Torah as the cornerstone of the textual tradition. On the other hand, the canonization of Mishnah, the third-century compilation of rabbinic legal thought and ruling, meant the exclusion of much of post-Biblical literature. While Sirach is quoted in the sixth-century Babylonian Talmud, for example, it is not part of the Jewish canon, it is an extra-canonical book from the first century B.C.E. The Mishnah lays out its own apostolic genealogy in the beginning of the tractate, which is known as Chapters of the Fathers: "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly" (Fathers 1:1).

The Men of the Great Assembly is the period that begins with the first exile in the sixth century C.E. and ends with the Pharisaic precursors of the rabbinic movement around the turn of the millennium. Rabbinic tradition numbers even legendary figures such as Mordecai (from the book of Esther) as one of the Men of the Great Assembly.

Mishnah purports to gather traditions from two centuries of rabbinic activity, laying out the boundaries of rabbinic Judaism. Within its sixty-three tractates, divided into six orders, there is legislation pertaining to all areas of life, from Sabbath law to torts to sacrificial law to proper beliefs. This material unfolded and developed at the same time that early Christianity was growing from a Palestinian movement of Jewish followers of Jesus to the official Christianity of the Roman Empire.

If people judge by the quantity of material, Mishnah's central concern with death relates to issues of impurity. One complete order of Mishnah deals with purity issues and determining the minimum dimensions of a part of a corpse that will generate impurity when touched. A majority of the twelve tractates in that order deal with the impurity emanating from the dead. A dead person was considered an ultimate source of impurity, an attitude that arises directly from Torah teachings. It was obviously a central issue in Temple times because no impure person, including priests who had become impure, were allowed into the Temple. The centrality of the concept of impurity in the community is evident in the fact that almost a century and a half after the destruction of the Temple, when impurity no longer had any major significance in daily life, there were still extensive laws on this topic.

One of the so-called lesser tractates, euphemistically titled "Times of Joy," deals with burial and mourning. Another (mourning) deals with dying and suicide. Burying the dead is one of the commandments that supersedes others, and if there is a dead body with no one to bury it, even the high priest (who under normal circumstances is forbidden contact with the dead) must bury the body.

The third area, death as a punishment for sins and crimes, is divided into two types of death: death at the hands of the court and death at the hands of God. Death is also the last step in atonement for certain types of sins. This does not, however, imply anything about the status of a person postmortem.

There is also a passing but interesting reference to the afterlife and resurrection of the dead. "All of Israel have a place in the World to Come. ... These do not have a place in the World to Come: the one who says there is no resurrection of the dead." The afterlife is presented as a reward for the righteous but is not explored in much detail. Resurrection is presented in both the Gospels and Josephus as an ideological boundary dividing the Pharisees from other sects of Second Temple Judaism.

One type of death that occupied a significant amount of thought and energy among early Christians was martyrdom. There are two types of martyrdom. One is active martyrdom, in which the martyr willingly goes to his or her death to proclaim a belief in the one God (or in Jesus, for Christian martyrs). The second type of martyrdom is passive martyrdom, in which a believer is given the choice of abrogation of religious obligation or death. This latter, passive martyrdom was a part of rabbinic Judaism from its beginnings. When confronted with the choice of either having to abrogate one of the three core prohibitions (idolatry, murder, or illicit sexual unions) or be killed, the Rabbinic Jew must choose death. Scholars differ about the issue of active martyrdom. Some say that it became a desideratum for rabbinic Judaism hard on the heels of its widespread acceptance in Christianity. Others say that the debate was open until much later and might not have been settled even at the conclusion of the Babylonian Talmud in the seventh century.

These general categories were the boundaries for the discussion of death and dying throughout the rabbinic period and into the Middle Ages. The next layer of the rabbinic textual tradition consists of the Palestinian Talmud (edited in the fifth century) and the Babylonian Talmud (edited in the seventh century). The Talmuds engaged in more explicit discussions of what the world to come might look like and in more extended discussions of the punitive or expiatory efficacy of death. There is also more elaboration of the concept of martyrdom and the introduction of the "time of oppression," when martyrdom might be a more common obligation. On the whole, however, the bulk of the Talmudic discussions of death are concerned with issues of purity and impurity and capital punishment.

Death is seen as a normal part of the cycle of life, even as a necessary part of life. Death is not seen as punishment for original sin or punishment for sin in general; extraordinary death, however, is sometimes seen as punishment for sin. At times, this kind of death is the result of an inexplicable divine decree: "There are those who die without judgment." The dead are judged and rewarded or punished, although there are conflicting reports of what that reward or punishment is. It is also not clear whether the afterlife is corporeal or noncorporeal.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the crusades brought in their wake a renewed interest in martyrdom and even in the notion of suicide as an escape from transgression or forced conversion to Christianity. The biblical story of the binding of Isaac, wherein Abraham attempts to sacrifice his son, as told in Genesis 22, is often cited in justifications of the murder of one's spouse and/or children in the face of a Christian onslaught. Even the greatest of the medieval Talmudists attempted retroactively to find a way to justify these suicides and murders.

The notion that the soul's journey starts before life and continues after death is already found in the Talmud. Its most extensive treatment, however, ensued from the mystical speculations that started in the late rabbinic period and came to fruition with the production of the Zohar, the central text of the Jewish mystical tradition, in thirteenthcentury in Spain, and with the advent of the Kabbalistic teaching in the sixteenth century in northern Israel. Whereas the Judaism of the Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash collections was vague and reticent about the nature of posthumous existence, the mystics were very explicit, discussing the source of souls in the upper realms, the resurrection of the dead to a corporeal existence at the end of time, and the transmigration or reincarnation of souls. The afterlife of the soul is part of a mystical theodicy in which God's justice is worked out over many lifetimes.

At the same time that the mystics were contemplating the journey of the soul and martyrs were lauded in France and Germany, Maimonides, the greatest Jewish philosopher and jurist, was codifying a much different approach to both martyrdom and the afterlife. In Maimonides' formulation, the only acceptable martyrdom was passive martyrdom. While one is obligated to accept death rather than transgression in certain cases, one who falters and transgresses under duress is not culpable. Further, Maimonides' conception of the afterlife is unclear and was contested even during his lifetime. There is support for an Aristotelian reading in which the soul or intellect cleaves to God (the active intellect) and in this way continues its existence after the death of the material body. When challenged on his belief in the afterlife and resurrection, however, Maimonides affirmed a belief in a corporeal resurrection.

The centrality of the communal obligation to the dead, which includes preparation of the body for burial (taharah ) and the burial itself, was already evident in the rabbinic period. According to this law, after passing a certain period of residency, all citizens of a town must contribute toward the burial expenses of the town's destitute. In the early modern period this tradition gained greater visibility and authority. The so-called holy society (chevra kadisha ), the communal body that is mandated to perform the death and burial rites, became a source of communal responsibility even for matters outside of its immediate purview (i.e., charitable pursuits). The society was supported by a communal tax and had a charter and a complicated acceptance procedure that included periods of probation and study. An actual membership organization called the chevra kadisha seems to be an innovation of the early modern period. There are still holy societies that perform the death and burial rites. These include guarding the dead body until it can be brought to the mortuary or cemetery, ritually cleansing the body, clothing the body in special death garments, and bringing the body to burial.

In the modern and contemporary periods the existence of an afterlife and the resurrection and reincarnation of the dead have become points of contention between the different movements within Judaism. On the whole, Reform Judaism does not believe in an afterlife, resurrection, or reincarnation. Orthodox Judaism believes in all three, though there are some factions of Orthodoxy that do not believe in reincarnation. There are varying opinions in Conservative and Reform Judaism that span the gamut.

See also: Buddhism; Chinese Beliefs; Christian Death Rites, History of; Hinduism; Jesus; Kaddish


Avery-Peck, Alan J., and Jacob Neusner, eds. Judaism in Late Antiquity. Pt. IV: Death, Life-After-Death, Resurrection and the World to Come in the Judaisms of Antiquity. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

Baumgarten, Albert I., Jan Assmann, and Gedaliahu G. Stroumsa, eds. Self, Soul, and Body in Religious Experience. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1998.

Boyarin, Daniel. Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Cohen Aryeh. " 'Do the Dead Know?' The Representation of Death in the Bavli." AJS Review 24 (1999):145171.

Collins John J., and Michael Fishbane, eds. Death, Ecstasy, and Other Worldly Journeys. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Giller, Pinhas. Reading the Zohar: The Sacred Text of the Kabbalah. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Goldberg, Sylvie Anne. Crossing the Jabbok: Illness and Death in Asbkenazi Judaism in Sixteenth-through Nineteenth-Century Prague, translated by Carol Cosman. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken Books, 1961.

Urbach, Ephraim E. The Sages, Their Concepts and Beliefs and Practices, translated by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975.


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JUDAISM. Jewish food is primarily defined by the dietary laws of Judaism. The Judaic religion is prescriptive in the selection, cooking preparation, and consumption of specific food items. Daily practice is meticulously structured to comply with Jewish law, the Halakhah, and the community of Jews is organized as a community of religiously complying eaters. Specific dishes, food combinations, and cooking preparations are prescribed for religious festivals. Throughout their history of multiple migrations and diaspora (dispersion), the Jews have been in contact with different cultures, languages, and cuisines. This has generated a diversified Jewish cuisine.

Dietary Laws

Under the classifying terminology of kosher versus nonkosher, the system of dietary prescriptions and prohibitions in Judaism primarily involves the consumption of animal flesh, and is codified in the Pentateuch, in Leviticus (chapter 11). Typical edible animals are domestic, have a vegetarian diet, and are physiologically "plain," that is, not affected by any disease or anatomical or physiological defect. In fact, as Mary Douglas has pointed out in Purity and Danger, the dietary prohibitions of Leviticus include a biblical narrative logic. They are organized along the mythological lines that structure the cosmological section of Genesis. Thus the animal kingdom is classified into three categories: those living on the earth, those living in the water, and those living in the air. In the first category, only mammal quadruped ruminants with split hooves are allowed on the Jewish table. Striking exceptions to this rule are emphatically mentioned in the text. Among the animals living on the earth, the swine, the camel, the hare, and the rock-badger are specifically excluded from the Jewish table because they satisfy only one condition for edibility; that is, either they are a ruminant, or they have a split hoof, instead of both conditions required. The category of animals living in the air also functions as an exclusive system, when it provides a list of animals strictly prohibited on the table. Most of these animals are carnivorous birds, while the bat is eliminated for being a flying mammal, an utmost abomination by the Leviticus standards. Finally, animals living in the water should have fins and scales to be considered "pure" and edible, while those crawling on the earth or living underground are also considered "impure."

In addition to these dietary prohibitions concerning the selection of animals based on anatomical and physiological criteria, biblical law forbids the consumption of blood (Deuteronomy 12:23) and the mixture, in the kitchen and at the table, of dairy foods and meat dishes (Exodus 23:19). The former rule thus requires the strict observance of slaughtering techniques designed to evacuate the largest amount of blood from meat cuts before they are distributed to the marketplace. Some secular scholars have interpreted the regulation of Jewish food practices by religious law and sacred scriptures as evidence that the idea of God is at the core of the Jewish table. This spirit, although viewed by some as being motivated by hygienic concerns, has generated a complex system of community institutional organization that involves the technical training of rabbinical slaughterers (shohatim ), their appointment in slaughtering houses, and the establishment of a system of verification of the enforcement of dietary laws. The latter requirement is often handled by secular agencies, in collaboration with local rabbinical authorities. In New York, for example, the presence of the largest urban Jewish population in the world has generated a system in which the state government is in charge of the enforcement of kosher laws in the local food stores, especially those selling meat displayed as being kosher (Fried, 2000).

Jewish Festival Foods

At the core of all Jewish festival tables is the sanctified bread, or challah. Oven-baked and usually excluding dairy ingredients, the loaves are braided, though other shapes can be found in various Jewish traditions. Another typical festive dish is the Ashkenazic gefilte fish (Yiddish, "stuffed fish"), opening sabbath or holiday meals as a good omen. Most holiday menus are linked to the religious festivals and have a narrative function. Examples include the fried pastries served during Hanukkah. The holiday of Hanukkah is a ritual celebration of the biblical section narrating the Maccabees' victory over the Seleucid Greeks in the second century b.c.e. and the following miracle that kept the ritual oil lit for eight days in the Second Jerusalem Temple after it had been devastated by the Greek armies. Thus, in the Jewish communities of central and eastern European origin, the tradition requires that latkes, fried potato pancakes, be served. The equivalent in the Jewish traditions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East is usually fried buns served with honey. Purim celebrations include the baking of multiple pastries, a playful reminder of the defeat of Haman. Thus, Ashkenazic families serve hamantashen or "Haman's hats," poppy seedfilled triangular pastries.

The Jewish festival of Passover, a ritual narration of the Jewish slaves' exodus from Pharaoh's Egypt, includes special food prescriptions. During the eight days of the holiday, the only bread allowed for consumption is unleavened bread, to commemorate the bread that the slaves took in their hasty overnight flight from slavery. This unleavened bread, called matzo in Hebrew, is industrially baked today as a thin square flat cracker according to the Ashkenazic (eastern and central European) tradition. In Sephardic (Mediterranean and Middle Eastern) traditions, matzo has a round shape. The Passover food restrictions also require that no leavened substance be included either in the kitchen and menus or in the household at all. Some North African Jewish communities exclude rice from their Passover diet. Some also exclude chicken for fear of finding grain in the gizzard. Thus most Passover pastries and carbohydrate dishes are prepared with matzo flour or cracked matzo. Ashkenazic Jews traditionally serve matzo balls boiled in chicken soup, matzo brei (a fried, egg-coated matzo pancake), while North African Jews often enjoy the flavors of a couscous made out of cracked matzo.

Shavuot, or festival of the Torah, is marked by the consumption of honey and dairy foods, with which the Torah is allegorically identified. Blintzes, cheese pancakes, are displayed on Ashkenazic tables, while Sephardic traditions include yogurt or baklava. The favorite dishes served for Rosh Hashanah ( Jewish new year) include heavily sweetened dishes such as the Ashkenazic tzimmes (a sweet carrot and raisin stew) and honey cake, all of which are designed to welcome a good and sweet new year. The fall festival of Sukkoth (also Sukkot) includes borsht, a beet and cabbage-based soup, served in households of Polish origin.

Sabbath Foods

The Jews' food history is characterized by their many migrations and their status as a minority group. From this viewpoint, it is as diverse as Jewish cultures, languages, and community experiences have been, as Jews have related to the multiple cultures and populations they have been in contact with throughout the world. Jewish food has operated, both practically and symbolically, and not unlike Jewish languages, as Jewish versions of local nutritional habits. An illustration can be found in most dishes served for the most important holiday of the Jewish ritual calendar, the Sabbath. The tshulent is the Ashkenazic version of this sabbatical dish. The Yiddish name of this dish includes two French words, chaud ('warm') and lent ('slow'), a linguistic combination testifying not only to the many influences on Jewish culture and languages, but also to the specifically Jewish character of this dish's cooking technique. It is in effect cooked slowly for about twelve hours between the beginning of Sabbath (Friday night) and the Saturday lunch. This long and slow cooking is the result of the sabbatical prohibition on lighting fire during the twenty-four hours between Friday night and Saturday night. This implies that once the Sabbath candle is lit on Friday evening, any food starting to cook then will end up being overcooked when it is consumed on Saturday. In North Africa and the Middle East, this dish is called by either of the Arabic terms dfina or tfina ('buried'), skhina or hammin ('warm'). The first set of terms refers to the burying of the pot underneath blankets or even in an underground oven designed to keep warmth in. The second set of terms refers to the permanent warmth of the dish. All Sabbath dishes are composed of heavy and varied ingredients found in the local marketplace: beef, grain, potatoes, vegetables, peas or beans. In eastern North Africa, the tradition was to use green vegetables such as spinach or Swiss chard, fresh fava beans, or cardoons. This ingredient use is probably a custom borrowed from local Muslim neighbors. Muslims of these regions serve very green dishes for major holiday dinners, in the belief that green was the Prophet's favorite color. Thus local Jews have integrated this color symbol into their own major holidays.

The many migrations that have affected the Jews of eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East throughout the twentieth century have resulted, in the early twenty-first century, in the massive secularization of the Jewish migrants in the hosting countries. Traditional Jewish food has thus become a marker of ethnic identity rather than a part of religious observance. On the other side, these traditional dishes, because they are the last ritual items to be given up in the process of Jewish secularization, constitute practical and social frameworks allowing religious observance to be maintained, even in its minimal scope.

See also Bagel; Bread, Symbolism of; Christianity; Diaspora; Fasting and Abstinence: Judaism; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; Islam; Passover; Religion and Food; Taboos; United States: Ethnic Cuisines .


Bahloul, Joëlle. Le culte de la table dressée: Rites et traditions de la table juive algérienne. Paris: A.-M. Métailié, 1983.

Cernea, Ruth Fredman. The Passover Seder: Afikoman in Exile. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger; An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Praeger, 1966.

Fried, Joseph P. "Court Ruling Highlights Divergences on 'Kosher.' " New York Times, 5 August 2000, B3(L).

Milgrom, Jacob. "The Biblical Diet Laws As an Ethical System." Interpretation 17 (1963 [Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia]): 288301.

Nathan, Joan. The Jewish Holiday Kitchen. New York: Schocken Books. 1988.

Roden, Claudia. The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Soler, Jean. "The Semiotics of Food in the Bible." In Food and Drink in History, edited by Robert Forster and Orest Ranum. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

Joëlle Bahloul

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The religion of the Jewish people.

Judaism developed out of scripture (the Torah) and an oral tradition of legal and ethical conduct as inscribed in the Talmud, codes, mystical literature, and rabbinic commentaries. Although traditional Jews assume that Judaism has remained unchanged from the revelation at Sinai to the present, most scholars agree that it has been transformed by the vicissitudes of Jewish history since the days of the Bible.

A significant turning point in Judaism occurred when the wandering Israelites entered into the Promised Land and later when they built their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. For much of this time, the religion was essentially a temple cult, organized around regular ritual sacrifices and a series of three pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and practiced by a people ruled by kings, guided by prophets, and ministered to by priests.

After the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 b.c.e. and even more so following the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e., Judaism became a religion of exile. Replacing the temple and temple rites were synagogues, regular prayer, and an emphasis on the lifelong study of sacred texts in the Torah. Rabbis and teachers replaced the priests and prophets, and Jewish community leaders, the kings. This new Judaism was a more portable religion, appropriate to a wandering people. Moral and ethical laws became central, but ritual praxis, governed by strict codes and guided by rabbinic interpretation of the law, was also crucial. The Torah became the focus of Judaism, the yeshiva its most important sanctuary, and a return to the Promised Land Zion and a rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem remained abiding hopes and part of the promise of messianic redemption.

The Diaspora has led to a nuancing of Jewish tradition into distinct customs. Among the most outstanding have been the custom variations between Sephardic Jews, whose expatriation occurred in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula, and Ashkenazic Jews, who trace their origins to France and the German-speaking countries but who emigrated ultimately to almost all of Europe and later to the Americas. Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazic Jews share a belief in Scripture and a dependence on the Talmud, but they have evolved variations in custom and ritual praxis based upon their varying ethnic experiences and the disparate rabbinic authorities by whom they have been guided over the years. Nevertheless, many of the rabbis and their commentaries have, through time, acquired a religious legitimacy that supersedes these differences. Thus, for example, Rashi, an eleventh-century Ashkenazic exegete, and Maimonides, a twelfth-century Sephardic rabbinic codifier, are recognized by all Jewish traditions to be authoritative interpreters of Judaism.

By and large, Judaism defines a Jew as someone born of a Jewish mother or someone who has submitted to religious conversion. Although there is debate about what constitute the minimal requirements of conversion, the halakhic ( Judeolegal) minimum requirement consists of circumcision for males, immersion in the waters of a ritual bath (mikveh), a period of Torah study, and a commitment to be bound by all the laws of Judaism. During the twentieth century, some non-Orthodox Jews expanded this religious definition to include children of either a Jewish father or mother and do not require a commitment to keep all the laws. The definition is a crucial one in Israel, which guarantees full citizenship rights to all Jews.

Through most of the period of the Diaspora, Judaism has tended to focus on matters of praxis more than on principles of faith, because, it was argued, the former better guaranteed the religion's continuity while ensuring the integrity of belief. Since the eighteenth century and especially in the twentieth century, however, a large-scale move away from praxis has occurred. A result of religious reform and social changes that brought Jews out of their status as pariahs and into the mainstream of Western societies, this development has led to a Judaism that focuses more on its moral and ethical principles and on some vague notions of ethnicity than it does on ritual praxis. Accordingly, in contemporary Judaism, those who strictly maintain traditions, ritual praxis, and time-honored Jewish codes of conduct now constitute a growing minority.

Although the principles of Jewish faith have been the subject of much discussion and debate among Jewish philosophers and rabbinic commentators, among the most commonly cited essentials are thirteen principles listed by Maimonides. These include a belief in a single Creator, a unique and everlasting God, who is incorporeal, who existed before time began and will last after it has passed, and who alone is worthy of worship. It also includes a belief in the utterances of the prophets, and especially the words of Moses; a conviction that the entire Torah was divinely revealed to Moses at Sinai and passed on intact to the Jewish people, who may not replace it with another set of teachings; and a belief that God is omniscient and that He creates all life, rewards the good, and punishes the bad. Finally, it includes a faith in the promise of messianic redemption. In the same way that only a minority of Jews today abide by all the rules of Jewish law and praxis, so is it likely that only a few Jews today hold all of the thirteen beliefs.

Although Judaism has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to survive the vicissitudes of Jewish history and the vagaries of existence in the Diaspora, including persecution and pogrom (most recently during the European Holocaust), some observers are anxious about its future in the context of an open society like America's and that of a secular state like Israel, the two largest population centers of Jewry today. Pointing to a decline in numbers of Jews in America as well as a diminution of Jewish education, practice, and faith, these observers argue that Judaism's days as a vital religion are numbered in America and throughout the Diaspora. On the other hand, looking at Israel's large-scale redefinition of Jews as secular Israelis, other observers worry no less about the future of the religion in the Jewish homeland. To some of these observers, the answer to these anxieties is to press for the coming of the Messiah. To others, the answer is a revitalization of Jewish education and a return to Jewish tradition.

see also diaspora; holocaust; pogrom; yeshiva.


Finkelstein, L., ed. The Jews: Their History, 4th edition. New York: Schocken Books, 1970.

Glatzer, Nahum N., ed. In Time and Eternity: A Jewish Reader. New York: Schocken Books, 1946.

Heilman, Samuel C., and Cohen, Steven M. Cosmopolitans and Parochials: Modern Orthodox Jews in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

samuel c. heilman

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Judaism. The name ‘Judaism’ emerged at around the opening of the Christian era (2 Maccabees 2. 21, 8. 1, 14. 38; Galatians 1. 13). Like other aggregating names of major religions, it is misleading if it implies that there is uniformity of belief and practice among all Jews. Yet it is appropriate if it draws attention to a shared genealogy (identified through having a Jewish mother, and going back to ‘our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’; see PATRIARCHS) and to a sense of being a people chosen to receive God's guidance in Torah—though the emphasis on being a chosen people has itself been questioned during the 20th cent. Today a distinction is frequently drawn between ‘secular’ or ‘cultural’ Judaism (denoting those who accept the history and values of Judaism, but who do not observe the details of Torah) and ‘religious’ Judaism, which implies acceptance of Torah. Even then, there are major differences in the ways in which Torah is brought to bear on life, among the major divisions of Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Progressive, Reconstructionist, and Liberal Judaism.

The origin of the Jewish people and of Judaism cannot be traced historically with any certainty. The major sources of information are contained in those books which came to be believed as having come from the initiative and inspiration of God, and which became scripture, i.e. Torah, Nebiʾim (Prophets), and Kethubim (Writings), hence the abbreviated name. Tanach. From these books, it seems clear that a kinship group, the bene Jacob (descendants of Jacob) gradually ceased to be nomadic and settled in areas of Canaan. Different parts of the kinship group followed different histories (a dramatic part of which was an enslavement in Egypt and an escape now commemorated in Passover; another was a covenant with a god Yhwh at Sinai). As the tribes began to settle, so they began more formally to unite in the defence, and later conquest, of territory, making a covenant, not only with each other, but also under the demand and protection of Yhwh (how this name was originally pronounced is unknown; conventionally it is transliterated as Yahweh, but Orthodox Jews would not attempt to pronounce it at all: see HA-SHEM). Thus Israel is a proleptic community, established by God in the midst of time, to represent that harmony which was intended by God in creation, and which will in the end be the whole human case, ‘when the knowledge of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2. 14). Under David, Jerusalem was captured, and there the Lord's anointed (ha-Māsh-iach = the Messiah) mediated between God and people; there too the Temple was built where worship and sacrifices surrounded the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary where only the high priest entered on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Yet ritual action and kingly control were never self-sufficient: they were monitored by prophets who spoke directly from God, koh amar Adonai, ‘Thus says the Lord … ’. In this way the triple cord of Israel's religion (prophet, priest, and king) was woven together.

At the time when Jesus was alive, Judaism was a successful missionary religion, winning many converts to its ethical and obedient monotheism. During this period there were many conflicting interpretations of what it must mean in practice and in detail for Jews to fulfil the commands of the covenant. (e.g. Sadducees, Pharisees, Dead Sea Scrolls). Nevertheless, there was a common sense that the final control and outcome of history is in the hand of God, and that God would send a messiah to restore the independent kingdom of the Jews, or of heaven; and this led to increasing restlessness under Roman occupation, culminating in two revolts against Rome, in 66–70/2 and 132–5 CE, which left the Jews a people no longer in possession of their holy land and places.

The reconstruction and continuity of Judaism was achieved by the rabbis, beginning at Jabneh. They sought and achieved a practice of Judaism which no longer possessed a Temple. The family and the synagogue became the centres of Jewish life. The period of Rabbinic Judaism saw a gathering together of the many interpretations of the original written Torah, which thus came to form a ‘second’ Torah, Torah she beʿal peh (oral Torah): this produced halakhah, that by which Jews can walk in knowledge that this is the received application of Torah to life. This voluminous interpretation was gathered first in Mishnah, then in Talmuds; and eventually it was organized in Codes (codifications of Law), notably the Code of Maimonides and Joseph Caro's Shulḥān Arukh. At the same time, Judaism was graphically expressed and sustained through its stories, Aggadah, and its biblical exegesis, midrash. But the fact remained that Jews were now dispersed throughout the world (diaspora): the two major communities (between whom many differences, especially of custom, persist) were the Sephardim (from Spain after the expulsion in 1492, and in the Mediterranean) and the Ashkenazim (originally in Europe, but after the many pogroms, culminating in the Holocaust, now scattered again, but numerous in the USA). Both communities and traditions are present in Israel.

Two other major developments were those of Kabbalah and Ḥasidism. At the same time, Jewish philosophers made important connections between the inherited faith and the quest for wisdom and truth.

Throughout this whole period of galut (exile) from the Jewish homeland, the memory of Zion and the prayer for restoration and return (especially in the liturgy) has been constant. The pogroms of 1881–2 forced many Jews to return to Palestine from where the Zionist movement rapidly spread into Europe. Zionism received a major boost during the First World War, particularly through the Balfour Declaration; and it became inevitable during and after the ‘war against the Jews’ waged by the Nazis and their followers from 1933 onward. Anti-Semitism remains a real and vicious illustration of the depravity of the human herd; but marrying out of Judaism threatens a serious dissipation of its numbers; and assimilation jeopardizes the identity of Jews in a pluralist and pluralizing world. But the tenacity of Jewish faith, which has endured millennia of hatred and murder, remains undiminished.

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231. Judaism

See also 151. FAITH ; 183. GOD and GODS ; 349. RELIGION ; 392. THEOLOGY .

an attitude or policy of hatred and hostility toward Jewish people. anti-Semite , n.
Hasidism, def. 2.
1. the principles or doctrines of the cabala, a system of theosophy, theurgy, and mystical Scriptural interpretive methods originated by rabbis about the 8th century and affecting later Christian thinkers.
2. an interpretation made according to these doctrines.
3. an extreme traditionalism in theological concepts or Biblical interpretation.
4. obscurantism, especially that resulting from the use of obscure vocabulary. cabalist , n. cabalistic , adj.
the scattering of the Jews after the period of Babylonian exile.
a student of or expert on the Gemara, or second book of the Talmud. Gemaric , adj.
the state or quality of being non-Jewish. gentile , n., adj.
Haggada, Haggadah, Aggada, Aggadah
1. the explanatory matter in rabbinic and Talmudic literature, interpreting or illustrating the Scriptures.
2. a book in which is printed the liturgy for the Seder service. haggadic, haggadical , adj.
1. a student of the Haggada.
2. a writer of the Haggada.
Halaka, Halakah, Halachah
the entire body of Jewish law, comprising Biblical laws, oral laws transcribed in the Talmud, and subsequent codes altering traditional teachings. Halakist, Halachist , n. Halakic , adj.
Hasidism, Chasidism
1. the beliefs and practices of a mystical Jewish sect, founded in Poland about 1750, characterized by an emphasis on prayer, religious zeal, and joy.
2. the beliefs and practices of a pious sect founded in the 3rd century B.C. to resist Hellenizing tendencies and to promote strict observance of Jewish laws and rituals. Also Assideanism . Hasidic , adj. Hasidim , n. pi.
the thought, spirit, and practice characteristic of the Hebrews. Hebraist , n. Hebraistic, Hebraistical , adj.
1. the Jewish people collectively.
2. an area inhabited solely or mostly by Jews.
1. the Jewish religion, rites, customs, etc.
2. adherence to the Jewish religion, rites, etc. Judaist , n. Judaic, Judaistic , adj.
Judophobism, Judophobia
a hatred of Jews and of Jewish culture. Also called Judaeophobia .
a Jewish theology based on literal interpretation of the Old Testament and rejection of rabbinical commentary. Karaite , n.
the custom under the Mosaic code (Deut. xxv: 5-10) that required a widow to marry her dead husbands brother if she had no sons. levirate, leviratical , adj.
Masorete, Masorite
any of the Jewish scribes of the 10th century who compiled the Masora. Masoretic, Masoretical , adj.
1. a belief in a Messiah coming to deliver the Jews, restore Israel, and rule righteously, first mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah.
2. the Christian belief that Jesus Christ was the Messiah prophesied.
3. the vocation of a Messiah. Messianic , adj.
the condition of being rooted in Mosaic tradition.
1. the system of laws and rituals established by Moses.
2. devotion to the Mosaic laws. Mosaist , n. Mosaic , adj.
Phariseeism, Pharisaism
1. the beliefs and practices of an ancient Jewish sect, especially strictness of religious observance, close adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and a coming Messiah. Cf. Sadducecism.
2. (l.c.) the behavior of a sanctimonious and self-righteous person. Pharisee, pharisee n. Pharisaic, pharisaic , adj.
the philosophy of Philo Judaeus, lst-century B.C. Alexandrian, combining Judaism and Platonism and acting as a precursor of Neoplatonism. Philonian , adj. Philonic , adj.
the beliefs, practices, and precepts of the rabbis of the Talmudic period. rabbinic, rabbinical , adj.
the beliefs and principles underlying a strict observance of the Sabbath. Sabbatarian , n., adj.
Sadduceeism, Sadducism
the beliefs and practices of an ancient Jewish sect made up largely of the priestly aristocracy and opposing the Pharisees in both political and doctrinal matters, especially literal and less legalistic interpretation of the Jewish law, rejection of the rabbinical and prophetic traditions, and denying immortality, retribution in a future life, and the existence of angels. Cf. Phariseeism . Sadducee , n. Sadducean , adj.
the beliefs and actions of Jewish scribes during the life of Christ.
the study of Semitic languages and culture. Semitist, Semiticist , n.
1. the state or quality of being Jewish.
2. anything typical or characteristic of Judaism, as customs, beliefs, influence, etc.
Sepher Torah
Torah, def. 2.
1. the teachings of the collection of Jewish law and tradition called the Talmud.
2. the observance of and adherence to these teachings. Talmudist , n. Talmudic , adj.
1. the first flve books of the Old Testament; the Pentateuch.
2. a scroll of these scriptures in Hebrew used for liturgical purposes. Also called Sepher Torah .
3. the entire body of Jewish law and tradition as found in the Old Testament and the Talmud.
a writer of tosaphoth.
the explanatory and critical glosses made usually in the margins of Talmudic literature.
1. the worship of Yahweh (Jehovah).
2. the act or custom of naming Jehovah Yahweh.
the beliefs, activities, and spirit of an ancient radical group in Judea that advocated overthrowing Roman rule.
a worldwide Jewish movement for the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for Jews. Zionist, Zionite , n. Zionist, Zionistic , adj.

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Immigration. Although there were Jews living in Britains American colonies as early as 1654, it was not until the nineteenth century that Jews began migrating to North America in large numbers. Most came during the second half of the century, but the earlier period also saw a significant increase in the Jewish population. Some Jews came after the end of the wars in Europe in 1815, others on the heels of the revolutionary movements in Germany of 1830 and 1848. The first large-scale immigration came in 1836, when extended families and even entire communities left Bavaria, where in a time of economic depression they had been subjected to extra taxes and restrictions that limited their chances for financial success. Between 1836 and 1850 the Jewish community in the United States grew from fewer than 15, 000 to about 50, 000. By 1860 the population had reached 160, 000.

Adaptation. In these early years of immigration the newcomers were generally poor people with limited education who were relatively orthodox in observance and belief. Most lived in the cities and worked as peddlers and small-scale merchants. Because of the Jewish emphasis on reading sacred Scripture, most Jews were literate when they arrived, and they were quick to learn English. Too small a minority to attract the kind of prejudice and hostility faced by Catholic immigrants, they adapted to American life with remarkable ease. Poverty always existed in the Jewish community, but nonetheless each generation experienced a significant rise in wealth and social status. Like other immigrant groups, Jews joined together for mutual support and social activities, many of which were centered around their synagogues. Two hundred new synagogues were constructed across the nation during the 1840s and 1850s.

Reform. While almost all of these new synagogues adhered to Orthodoxy at first, many soon adopted Reform Judaism, a new mode of worship that had emerged in Germany. Reform Judaism began as a movement of intellectual Jews of middle to high social status who felt that old-fashioned, unenlightened forms of worship, dress, and behavior put Jews at a social and cultural disadvantage. Seeking to conform to the rest of German society, they made several modernizing alterations to their religious services. Americans with similar aspirations followed their lead, establishing many Reform congregations in the 1840s. To the dismay of traditionalists, some of the ceremonies and observances of Orthodox Judaism were set aside. The traditional garb of hats and prayer shawls was abandoned, as were medieval practices such as ritual chanting. Organs, traditionally used in Christian services, were installed in the synagogues; the number of Hebrew prayers was reduced; and men and women were no longer seated separately.

Lay Involvement. Much of the impetus for reform came from the laity. Like other Americans, most Jews were confident in their ability to exercise authority in their religious affairs. They built the synagogues and paid the rabbis salaries, so they felt they had a natural right to a voice in debates over ritual practice. Most of the changes they advocated were not theologically or ideologically grounded but simply seemed natural and preferable. It made sense to them that prayers would be in English, that synagogues should be quiet and decorous like churches, and that women (who played vital roles in maintaining Jewish culture in America) should be allowed to sit where men did.


On 15 September 1825 Manuel Mordecai Noah dedicated the city of Ararat, a settlement on an island in the Niagara River (near Buffalo, New York) that was to be a homeland to American Jews. Noah was a journalist, politician, playwright, and probably the most prominent Jewish public figure of his day. He hoped to provide a place of refuge and gathering for Jews fleeing from persecution in Europe. Jewish immigrants, most of whom had backgrounds in manufacturing and commerce, would be retrained in agricultural and industrial skills, to be used when they eventually settled in the Holy Land of Palestine. The project was a failure and has been described as nothing more than a wild fantasy. The motivation behind it, however, was the product of real issues facing Jews in nineteenth-century America. In the face of pressure from evangelical Protestants to convert to Christianity and pressure from society at large to conform to American customs, Jews faced important decisions about whether to adapt or band together in an effort to preserve Jewish identity.

Source: Jonathan Sarna, Jacksonian Jew: The Two Worlds of Mordecai Noah (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981).

Community. The changes brought about by the laity, and later also by rabbis who had been trained in the secular universities of central Europe, altered the character of Jewish life in America. The traditional ritual life of the religion was deemphasized, and Jews blended easily into the society around them. But this did not mean that religious life became unimportant or that Jews wanted to lose their distinctive identity. On the contrary, they

lived, worked, and socialized together, forming closeknit groups bound together not only by synagogues but also by schools, clubs, charitable societies, and other community organizations. They continued to practice their faith and nourish their culture in ways that made sense for them not only as Jews but as Americans as well.


Hasia R. Diner, A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration: 18201880 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992);

Arthur Hertzberg, The Jews in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989);

Howard M. Schar, A History of the Jews in America (New York: Knopf, 1992).

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Judaism Monotheistic religion developed by the ancient Hebrews in the Near East during the third millennium bc and practised by modern Jews. Tradition holds that Judaism was founded by Abraham, who (c.20th century bc) was chosen by God to receive favourable treatment in return for obedience and worship. Having entered into this covenant with God, Abraham moved to Canaan, from where centuries later his descendants migrated to Egypt and became enslaved. God accomplished the Hebrews' escape from Egypt, and renewed the covenant with their leader, Moses. Through Moses, God gave the Hebrews a set of strict laws. These laws are revealed in the Torah, the core of Judaistic scripture. Apart from the Pentateuch, the other holy books are the Talmud and several commentaries. Local worship takes place in a synagogue, a building where the Torah is read in public and preserved in a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. A rabbi undertakes the spiritual leadership and pastoral care of a community. Modern Judaism is split into four large groups: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Liberal Judaism. Orthodox Judaism, followed by most of the world's 18 million Jews, asserts the supreme authority of the Torah and adheres most closely to traditions, such as the segregation of men and women in the synagogue. Reform Judaism denies the Jews' claim to be God's chosen people, and is more liberal in its interpretation of certain laws and the Torah. Conservative Judaism is a compromise between Orthodox and Reform Judaism, adhering to many Orthodox traditions, but seeking to apply modern scholarship in interpreting the Torah. Liberal Judaism, also known as Reconstructionism, is a more extreme form of Reform Judaism, seeking to adapt Judaism to the needs of society.

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Judaism A monotheistic world religion with origins in the prophetic activities of the Jews in relation to the God Yahweh. It is important to distinguish early biblical Judaism, before the fall of the Temple in 70CE, and later Judaism which was focused on the synagogue. Judaism was organized around religious teachers (the rabbis) and religious knowledge was contained in the Torah or teaching (especially the first five books of the Hebrew Bible). Judaism, which was based on the idea of a sacred covenant between Yahweh and his people, produced profound messianic movements throughout history.

In the Middle Ages, there were a number of important mystical movements, such as the Kabbalah, which gave an esoteric reading to traditional Jewish theology. In the nineteenth century, there were attempts to change and reform many traditional practices, giving rise to the creation of two separate religious movements, Reform and Conservative Judaism. The destruction of European Jewish communities in the Holocaust and the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 have transformed Judaism in the twentieth century.

Sociologists have been particularly interested in the nature of Jewish prophecy (see, for example, M. Weber , Ancient Judaism, 1917–19
), the relationship between Judaism and capitalism (see W. Sombart , The Jews and Modern Capitalism, 1911
), and more recently the implications of the Holocaust for established social theories (see Z. Bauman , Modernity and the Holocaust, 1990

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Judaism the monotheistic religion of the Jews. For its origins Judaism looks to the biblical covenant made by God with Abraham, and to the laws revealed to Moses and recorded in the Torah (supplemented by the rabbinical Talmud), which established the Jewish people's special relationship with God.

Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in ad 70, the rituals of Judaism have centred on the home and the synagogue, the chief day of worship being the Sabbath (sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday), and the annual observances including Yom Kippur and Passover.

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"Judaism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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395. Judaism

  1. Altneuland Theodore Herzls imaginative description of the future Zionist settlement in Palestine. [Jewish Hist.: Colliers, XIX, 79]
  2. Oppenheimer, Josef Süss chooses Judaism even when renunciation would save him from execution. [Ger. Lit.: Feuchtwanger Power ; Magill I, 773]

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"Judaism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Ju·da·ism / ˈjoōdēˌizəm; -dā-/ • n. the monotheistic religion of the Jews. ∎  the Jews collectively. DERIVATIVES: Ju·da·ist n.

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"Judaism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

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This entry includes two subentries:

Judaism to 1800
Modern Judaism

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