Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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The religion of the Jewish people; technically, the religion ascribed to the people of the kingdom of Judah. These included descendants of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as well as Levites and priests. The ten remaining tribes constituting the "Kingdom of Israel" were conquered by Sargon II (722 B.C.E.) and were lost to Jewish history (the "ten lost tribes").

Social Scientific Study of Judaism

Judaism has been the focus of work of some of the major figures in the social sciences, including Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, W. Robertson Smith, and …mile Durkheim. Some points of interest to these theorists will be followed by a survey of normative Judaism, which is the focus of some of these theorists. This discussion describes briefly the development of Judaism from a sociohistorical perspective and also comments on contemporary Judaism in light of contemporary social science.

Karl Marx viewed Judaism with hatred. For Marx, whose family converted to Protestantism when Karl was 6, Judaism was synonymous with bourgeois capitalism (see Marx's essay, On the Jewish Question , 1843).

W. Robertson Smith's work focused on the Bible, the prophets, and family relations and culminated in his study The Religion of the Semites (1889). This last work examined temple ritual and sacrifice. Analyzing ancient Judaism in his comparative study of Semitic societies, Smith noted the importance of ritual without rationale (1889:3). Smith argued that sacrifice is a communion between the god and his worshipers in the joint participation in eating the flesh and blood of the animal (1889:345). What is directly expressed in the sacrificial meal is that the god and his worshipers are commensals (1889:269). The paschal lamb and the laws surrounding it—the requirement that it be eaten as part of a family group, for example, and that no bone may be broken—suggest that this particular sacrifice represented the community, and eating of it joined one with community (1889:345). The participation of the members of the community in the annual paschal sacrifice renews their holiness. Similarly, piacular rites—rites of sorrow, fear, or mourning—restore the connection of the community to its god. They too are an expression of and an intensification of attachment to the sacred.

…mile Durkheim, scion of a distinguished rabbinical family and trained in Jewish scholarship and talmudic study, appears to address Judaism only peripherally. Yet his early education is visible in more than his style of reasoning. His analysis comparing Jewish rates of suicide with rates for Protestants and Catholics is well known among sociologists. Many are also familiar with his discussion of Hebrew law as an example of repressive law (in The Division of Labor in Society , 1902). Durkheim's categorization of legal fines as repressive may appear surprising but is fully consonant with the talmudic law with which Durkheim was thoroughly familiar. The distinction Durkheim drew between repressive and restitutive law is identical to the talmudic distinction between k'nass (fines) and mamon (monetary obligations).

While Durkheim's notion of "collective conscience," which is connected to his idea of the sacred, has no counterpart in Judaism, the connection of the sacred to community clearly does. His distinction between sacred and profane is thoroughly consonant with Judaism's, and possibly rooted in it as well, as Durkheim clearly acknowledges his debt to Robertson Smith (Parsons 1949:401).

Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism (1962 [1939]), written at the end of his influential career, tried to account for the origins and special characteristics of the Jewish people. Writing with a disregard for evidence and biblical texts that he himself characterized as "drawing on it [the Bible] for confirmation whenever it is convenient, and dismissing its evidence without scruple when it contradicts my conclusions" (1962:30), he proposed that Moses had been an Egyptian who taught Egyptian monotheism to Israel. Moses was killed when the Jews rebelled against him. This patricide gave rise to a self-perpetuating unconscious guilt feeling passed down in the national consciousness. He argued that Jesus was the resurrected Moses and the primeval father of the horde as well (1962:112 ff). The point of this was that Jews not only killed the primeval god and his reincarnations but admitted it.

Freud freely reconstructs other elements of Judaism as well. Circumcision, he argues, is an Egyptian rite and is proof that Moses was an Egyptian. Levites were Egyptian officers recruited by Moses when he became leader of Israel. Other elements of Judaism, including stories drawn from the midrash , are introduced when they support Freud's thesis.

The foregoing simply suggests some of the elements of Judaism that attracted the attention of some leading modern social scientists. Marx, Durkheim, and Freud all had Jewish roots, and the former two descended from rabbinical families. Nonetheless, it is Max Weber who showed the greatest interest in Judaism and described aspects of it in positive, if not complimentary, terms.

Weber's Sociology of Judaism

For Weber, the world historical importance of Judaism is not exhausted by the fact that it fathered Christianity and Islam. It is a turning point of the whole cultural development of the West and the Middle East. It compares in historical significance with "Hellenic intellectual culture, Roman law, the Roman Catholic church resting on the concept of office, the medieval estates, and Protestantism" (1952[1921]:5).

Weber found two aspects of Judaism of particular significance: its rationality and its ethicalism. Weber considered that the absolute monotheism of Judaism set it off from all other religions, including Christianity and even Islam (Weber 1963 [1922]:138 ff). When this monotheism and its requirement for rationality confronted the imperfection of the world, it gave rise to the problem of theodicy in its sharpest and most philosophical form. Although magic played a major role in other religions, it was systematically opposed by the Torah teachers (1952:219). Moreover, Weber held that only Judaism and Islam are strictly monotheistic, and he contrasts the universal monotheism of Judaism with the relative monotheism of Zoroastrianism (1963:20-24). In his Introduction to the edition of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism written just before his death in 1920, Weber noted the primacy of rationality in Occidental thought. In place of magical ritual, the Occident has developed rational systems of thought and organization. Weber describes the God of Israel as the "god of intellectuals" as well as god of plebeians, although these masses are led and taught by an educated stratum (1952:223).

Ethical prophecy : Weber saw the ritualism of Judaism promoting ethics, and argued that "a ritualistic religion may exert an ethical effect in an indirect way, by requiring that participants be specially schooled. This happened in ancient Judaism, resulting in systematic popular education. Systematic regulation of ritual led to systematic regulation of ethics of everyday living" (1963:154). Weber contends that Judaism requires rational mastery over the world but not strict innerworldly asceticism (1963:256). This rationalism is heightened by "the immense impact of the absence in Judaism and in ascetic Protestantism of a confessional, the dispensation of grace by a human being" (1963:189 f).

Pariah people : Weber's use of the term pariah people with regard to the Jews is well known. Gerth and Martindale consider it an unfortunate term and suggest that Park's concept of the "marginal man" is a better description (in Weber 1952:xxv). Weber uses the term to describe Jews' "guest people" (i.e., minority) status. The term pariah resonates with the religious conflict between Christians and Jews, particularly with the notion of the Jews' outcast status resulting from their ostensibly having killed Christ. Weber does not suggest this in his use of the term; as he uses it, it refers either to their minority or marginal status or to aspects of Judaism that set it off from other religions. Some of the latter factors are viewed positively by Weber.

For example, Weber notes the importance of the Sabbath and circumcision in effecting a separation of Jews from other nations (1963:71, 1952:354) and describes in detail the development of ritualistic segregation (1952:336-343). Here Weber is describing the "pariah" community in terms of religious boundary-maintaining mechanisms. Weber argues that the outcome of this "pariah intellectualism" in Judaism resulted in general public schools for the diffusion of literacy and systematic education in critical thinking, the hallmark of Jews (1963:128). Elsewhere Weber connects pariah status to the tenacity with which Jews and pariah Hindus hold to their religion in the face of "murderous humiliation and persecution." Pariah status gives rise to resentment, which is "important in Jewish ethical salvation religion, although completely lacking in all magical and caste religions" (1963:109-110).

Weber's discussion of the religion of nonprivileged classes refers in detail to Judaism and to its pariah status. He contrasts Indian and Jewish pariah status and notes the emergence of congregational religion in Judaism. He concludes that only a congregational religion, especially one of the rational and ethical type, could conceivably win followers easily, particularly among the urban lower middle classes, and then given certain circumstances, exert a lasting influence on the pattern of life of these classes. This is what actually happened. (1963:99)

Pariah status, in the sense of marginality or minority status, also led to Judaism's emphasis on a day when their inferior position would be reversed and they would became masters. This too differed from Hindu pariah notions. In an extended discussion of resentment and retribution, Weber finds some points of agreement with Nietzsche's analysis of resentiment but, in contrast to Nietzsche, finds this sentiment is consonant with critical ethical and rational elements of Judaism (1963:110-116)

Werner Sombart (1914) challenged Weber's wellknown thesis on the importance of Protestantism for the emergence of capitalism. Sombart argued that the Jews were the principal cause of the disruption of feudalism and its replacement by capitalism. Although it is accepted that Jews had an important role in the early development of capitalism, Sombart's theories provided the Nazis with anti-Semitic material. Weber's discussion of Judaism, Christianity, and the socioeconomic order (1963, chap. 15) is a response to Sombart's thesis.

The Faith of Judaism

What follows are definitions and descriptions of some of the significant beliefs, rituals, and sacred components of normative Judaism.

The Torah is the body of Divine Jewish teaching; narrowly, the term indicates the Five Books of Moses. The term is also used with reference to all the books of the Bible and the oral traditions. Jewish tradition ascribes the origin of the Torah to Moses (Deut. 33:4). The Torah was accepted by the Children of Israel in a covenental ceremony (b'rit) at Sinai (Exod. 24:7). Nonetheless, the message of the Torah is for all mankind.

Israel was "chosen" because it accepted the Torah. The Covenant is eternal and nonabrogable. With the rise of Christianity and Islam, which claim to replace both the "Old" Testament and the Jewish people, the nonabrogability of both the Covenant and the chosenness of Israel became crucial.

Moses was teacher, prophet, lawgiver, and leader; known as Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses Our Teacher [literally, "master"] in Rabbinic literature, and as "father [greatest] of the prophets." Under him, Israel was shaped into a nation. He led them out of Egypt and for 40 years in the desert. It was he who received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Israel. Yet he is portrayed as human and mortal and is punished by God for his errors. In contrast to founders of other religions, he was not to be deified or glorified. Moses's authority, although challenged during his lifetime, remained unchallenged after his death. He is the "trusted servant" who spoke to God "mouth to mouth, manifestly and not in riddles" (Num. 12:8).

God is the creator and sustainer of the universe and all the creatures in it (see Gen. 1-3, Psalms, et passim in the OT). The Sh'ma declares God's unity; the Ten Commandments, His sole and sovereign rule as creator, sustainer, and savior. He requires moral behavior of His creatures, and particularly of man. He is long suffering, merciful, loving, and just (Exod. 34:6, 7). He is omnipotent, omniscient (Job 28:23, 42:2), and eternal. He is the Father of all mankind yet has a unique covenantal relationship with the Jewish people.

God not only blew life's breath into man but created man in His image. This was understood by the rabbis to refer to man's soul (Hebrew, neshama or nefesh ). "The human soul is God's light" (Prov. 20:27). The nature of the soul is nowhere authoritatively defined. The soul exists after death. But where? In sheol ? In heaven or in Gehinom (literally, "valley of Hinom"; in the Talmud, the place of punishment of evildoers)? Do animals too have souls (Ecl. 3:21)? Answers to all these questions are uncertain. Similarly, the afterlife has remained undefined and a source of speculation in Judaism. Emphasis has focused instead on ethical action. Weber also has commented on a number of other concepts including election of Israel, good and evil, free will, Providence, salvation, messiah, redemption, repentance, resurrection, revelation, and reward and punishment.

No single statement of belief or set of practices is universally accepted as containing Judaism's essence. Several traditional formulations are provided below. There is overlap in these various statements.

Sh'ma is the statement, "Hear, O Israel, The Lord [Y-H-W-H] is our God, The Lord [Y-H-W-H] is one" (Deut. 6:5), a central affirmation of God's unity. It has distinguished Judaism from polytheism and from the duality of Zoroastrianism and the trinitarianism of Christianity. This statement and the following verses that command one to "Love God . . . with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 6:6-9) have been understood as the essential credo of Judaism. Rabbinical Judaism has required that the Sh'ma be repeated each evening and morning. The Sh'ma written on parchment is also contained in the tefillin , small black leather boxes that traditional Jews place on their arms and their heads during weekday morning prayer. The Sh'ma parchment is also placed on doorposts (called mezuzot ; singular, mezuzah ).

The Decalogue or Ten Commandments was a covenant between God and Israel (Deut. 4:13) written on stone tablets, by the "finger of God." They were placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The first four commands deal with duties to God; the fifth requires respect for parents. The last five deal with relations to fellow human beings.

The prophet Micah defined the essence of Judaism as "to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God" (6:5). The Talmud reports that for Hillel the Elder, its core was the following: "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. The rest is commentary, Go and learn it" (Shab. 31a). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a) also sets three rejections as central: A Jew should be martyred rather than (1) commit murder, (2) worship idols, or (3) engage in forbidden sexual relations.

Despite the variations in views of the central beliefs, in the twelfth century Maimonides formulated "13 Principles of Belief" accepted by traditional Jews as authoritative. They include references to the oneness of a personal God, His incorporeality, the immutability of the Torah, ultimate justice, resurrection, and the messiah.

Jewish Religious Practice

The unity of Judaism and the community of Jews emerges primarily from practices rather than from beliefs. Judaism places its major emphasis on behaviors rather than beliefs. While one is a "believing Christian," one is an "observant" or "practicing Jew." Rituals or practices are viewed as holy commandments, or mitzvot . They include not only worship behaviors but also those that sanctify ordinary behaviors such as eating (rules of "kosher") or sexual relations (rules regarding incest, modesty, and purity) that transform and sanctify the action.

Halakha is the authoritative laws and rules of Judaism, laws derived from the scriptures as well as from rabbinic traditions and the customs of the Jewish people. It encompasses the life of the individual from awakening in the morning until and including how and where one sleeps—and with whom and when. It provides a detailed set of instructions for all roles of life. Although life everywhere is lived by roles, halakha is unique in that the roles are explicit, articulated, and taught as part of the obligatory behavior of the member of the community. Ethical rules are the core of halakha.

Justice plays a central role and has a uniquely universal quality: "Justice, justice shall ye pursue" (Deut. 16:20). Charity derives from the same Hebrew root word as justice (zdk) . The principle of equality of all before the law (Lev. 24:22) permeates all of Jewish law. Also emphasized is care of the poor and the less fortunate; charity is regarded as justice. The poor were given a tithe of the crops and in addition were permitted to gather forgotten sheaves of grain (shikchah) and to pick up after the harvesters (leket) . The Talmud created a special fund for the poor (kupa) and provided soup kitchens (tamchoi) . Interest-free loans also are provided for the needy.

Widows and orphans are provided with additional protections. Slavery was permitted but was carefully limited. Girls sold into slavery by their fathers were to be married to their masters or the masters' sons. If not, they were to be set free. They could not be resold. Runaway slaves were not to be returned to their masters. In the year of the jubilee, liberty was to be proclaimed throughout the land, and all slaves were to be freed. Judaism concretized its ethics in laws of contracts, torts, domestic law, marriage and divorce, charity, business and inheritance laws, laws of privacy, of prevention of cruelty to animals, of ecology, and in building regulations. These constitute a major part of the Talmud and the religious codes.

The Religious Calendar:
Biblically Mandated Holy Days

The seventh day of the week is shabbat (sabbath, literally, "rest") to recall that "God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh" (Exod. 20:11) and "so that your slaves may rest as you do, remembering that you were slaves in Egypt" (Deut. 5:14-15). No work may be done or fire lit. Orthodox Jews do not cook, write, travel, or answer the phone on the Sabbath.

Passover is a one-week spring festival celebrating the exodus from slavery in Egypt. Matzo , unleavened flat bread, is eaten in remembrance that the Israelites left Egypt hurriedly (Exod. 12:39). In ancient times, families ate a paschal lamb on the first night of Passover. That is recalled in a feast called a seder (denoting the order of the ceremonies at the meal) on the Eve of Passover. The seder remains one of the most widely celebrated ceremonies in contemporary Judaism.

For the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) , seven weeks are counted from the second evening of Passover; the fiftieth day (Pentecost) is Shavuot (literally, weeks). In ancient times, the first "new fruits" were brought to the Temple beginning on the fiftieth day to the end of the harvest season. In Jewish tradition, this is also the day on which God gave the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai.

New Year , or Rosh Ha-Shanah (literally, beginning of the year), is celebrated with the sounding of the shofar , a hollowed ram's horn. It marks the beginning of a ten-day period known as "Days of Awe" and "Ten Days of Repentance" ending on Yom Kippur . In Jewish tradition, this is a period of judgment for each person and for the entire world.

Yom Kippur (literally, "Day of Atonement") is the holiest day of the year, a day of fasting and prayers of repentance. In ancient times, it was also a day of purification of the Temple. A solemn day, it is nonetheless marked by joy in the certainty of forgiveness.

The Feast of Booths (Succot , also Feast of Harvest) is a one-week festival during which one "dwells in the booths," a hut roofed with boughs or twigs, taking one's meals there. A joyous holiday, it is celebrated with the singing of psalms of thanks (Halleluyah) , prayers for the next year's bounty (Hoshanna) , the taking of the palm branch, citron (lulav) , myrtle, and willow (etrog) . It was celebrated during the Second Temple period with particular joy in the Temple courtyard. The annual cycle of reading the Pentateuch is completed on the last day of this holiday known as Simchat Torah (the Rejoicing with the Torah). In the 1960s, Simchat Torah became a major occasion among Soviet youth seeking to affirm their Jewish identity. On this day, they would gather outside synagogues in the major cities.

The Religious Calendar:
Rabbinically Instituted Holy Days

Purim (literally, "lots") is a reference to the lots cast to determine the date for the annihilation of every Jewish person in the Persian Empire. The threat was overcome through the efforts of Esther and Mordechai. The day is celebrated by reading the Scroll (Hebrew, megillah) of Esther in the synagogue, by the giving of alms to the poor and gifts to friends, and by a festive meal. It is a day for costumes and alcoholic drinks.

Hanukkah (literally, "dedication") is an eight-day festival that celebrates the restoration of the Temple service following the victory of Judah Macabee and his army over the Selucid Greeks in 166 B.C.E. Each day of the holiday, an additional candle is lit in a menorah , a candelabrum, until on the eighth day all eight candles are lit. They are placed in the window to publicize the miracle of the victory of the few against many and that the only undefiled cruse of oil that could be found burned for eight days rather than one. Although this is a minor holiday in the Jewish religious calendar, because it is celebrated around Christmas time (the date varies as Jewish holidays follow a lunar-solar calendar), American Jews have given it added significance as a counterweight to Christmas. It has become one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays among American Jews.

Life Cycle Celebrations

Circumcision : For B'rit Milah (literally, "the covenant of circumcision"), newborn males are circumcised at 8 days old and are thus "brought into the Covenant of Abraham" (Gen. 17:10-14). This b'rit binds the newborn to his people. The b'rit is widely practiced even among Reform Jews, although they questioned it for a period. The ceremony is accompanied by a celebratory meal.

Bar/bat mitzvah : (The literal translation of the term is "son/daughter of commandment.") This ceremony occurs at the age at which persons are considered religiously and legally responsible for their actions and required to perform the commandments (age 13 for a boy and age 12 for a girl). A boy is called to the Torah, which signifies his entry into the religious community. At this age, boys become obligated to wear tefillin during the morning weekday prayer service. The bat mitzvah ceremony for girls is a modern innovation, currently accepted even among many Orthodox. In non-Orthodox circles, girls may be called to the Torah. In contemporary America, this religious ceremony is often followed by and sometimes replaced by a party celebrating the occasion.

Wedding and marriage : Marriage is considered a blessed state (Gen. 2:18-24). It is assumed to be monogamous, although polygyny was accepted. Love is a major theme in marriage (e.g., Jacob and Rachel). Marriage provides companionship, joy, blessing, goodness, and peace (Proverbs; Yev. 62b). Marriages can be ended by divorce (Gen. 21:10-15, Deut. 24:1-4). The rabbis see celibacy as unnatural (Kid. 29b). Polygyny was discouraged by the rabbis and finally prohibited among European Jews in medieval times. Although early marriage was strongly encouraged by the rabbis, in modern times Jews have tended to marry later than others. Marital stability also has suffered. These factors appear to reflect the level of education and urbanization of Jewish populations.

Wedding ceremonies are not described in the Bible, although they are implied (Gen. 22:9). Detailed descriptions of the marriage ceremony, and the joyous dancing and feasts in which the rabbis took part, are found in the Talmud. A number of customs, including the groom giving the bride a ring and declaring that "he takes her as his wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel," are still widely practiced.

Death, burial, mourning : The dead are to be buried as soon as possible (Deut. 21:23). Biblical and rabbinic tradition have followed the practice of burial in the ground or in a cave. Reform Jews have permitted cremation and delay of the funeral. Shiva is a seven-day mourning period. As described in the Talmud, during this period the mourners sit on the floor (i.e., low chairs in the West). They wear clothes that they rend at the funeral as a sign of grief. Friends come to comfort them during this period. Mourning continues in mitigated form up to 30 days and for parents for a year. Reform Jews have an abbreviated mourning period.

Ritual Constants

Study : Study of the Torah is a central value in Judaism. In mishnaic times (100 B.C.E. to 200 C.E.), public elementary schools for the education of children were developed. Jews are "the people of the Book" not simply because they possess "the Book" (i.e., the [Hebrew] Bible) but because of their concern to study it. The rabbis developed academies for study by the elite (Hebrew, yeshivot ; Aramaic, metivtot ) and study halls (Hebrew, bet midrash ) and were enjoined to "nurture many disciples" (Avot. 1:1). At the same time, the public lectures were widespread in the synagogues on sabbath, and their essence came to be transcribed as the midrash . Study of sacred texts, both the Scriptures and the Oral Law, continued to mark traditional Judaism. The religio-legal discussion of the academies came to be embodied in the Talmud . The authority of the rabbi derives from his knowledge of the law rather than from priestly or charismatic powers.

The requirements for a religious education led to the establishment of schools for the masses for study of the Torah. Day schools providing intensive religious (as well as secular) studies emerged in the early twentieth century. Currently, the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews and a noticeable portion of Conservative Jews attend these schools. Some men devote themselves entirely to study for some years after marriage. Study has carried over to other areas as well, and in contemporary times Jews tend to seek formal education to a greater degree than other ethnic or religious groups (Kosmin and Lachman 1993).

Kosher : (The literal translation of the term is "prepared," that is, prepared in accordance with Jewish religious law.) Biblical law forbids the consumption of animals except ruminants that have cloven hooves, and permits consumption of only some fowl, while generally forbidding consumption of raptors and carrion scavengers. Animals may be eaten only when properly slaughtered. Blood must be removed and is strictly forbidden. Meat and milk products may not be cooked together, and even dairy and meat dishes and pots must be separated. One does not eat dairy foods with or immediately following meat dishes. Orthodox Jews tend to follow these laws and currently have developed organizations to certify prepared foods as following kosher standards. These rules, intended to hallow the act of eating, also serve as boundary markers, setting off observant Jews from others. Conservative Jews often have followed the practice of eating kosher at home while being less strict outside the home. Reform Jews have generally abandoned the practice of eating kosher.

Family purity : There is a requirement that the wife separate herself from her husband during her period of menses and for a week following, a "week of purity." On the evening following that week, she bathes and then immerses herself in a mikvah , a ritual bath. She is then ritually pure, and husband and wife may have marital relations. This practice is followed by Orthodox women and marks off Orthodoxy from Conservative and Reform Judaism.

Sex roles : Men are obligated to perform the commandments. Women are primarily required to refrain from doing that which is forbidden but are not obligated to perform rituals that are "time related." Thus men are required to pray thrice daily and to wear the talit (prayer shawl) and tefillin . Women are not (Kid. 29a). Nonetheless, there are complexities in these rules, and women are required to do some things that are time related (e.g., eat matzo at the seder) and not obligated to do others (e.g., religious study). Women's roles have become a major point of contention between the Orthodox on one side and Conservative and Reform Jews on the other. Reform and Conservative Jews now ordain both women rabbis and cantors. Although the Orthodox do not, Orthodox women are now far more educated in religion than in the past. There are also a scattering of women's prayer groups, where women not only pray separately from men but lead the service and read the Torah. These services have encountered strong opposition.

Holy Places

The Temple : Although "the heavens are God's throne and the earth His footstool" (Isaiah 66:1), the Temple at Jerusalem symbolized God's presence. Prayers and sacrifices were offered there. There were two temples. The first, built by King Solomon (973-933 B.C.E.), was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. The second, begun 70 years later by Ezra, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Ruins of the wall surrounding the Temple courtyard remain in Jerusalem. This is known as the Kotel HaMa'aravi (Western Wall) to Jews and the Wailing Wall to others, a term Jews consider pejorative. The Muslim Dome of the Rock has been built upon the ruins of the Temple, creating a site of religious confrontation in modern times.

Synagogues : (This term is from the Greek "gathering together.") The Talmud ascribes the origin of the synagogue to the period of the Babylonian exile (Meg. 29a). Traditionally, synagogues were built with a separate women's gallery based on the existence of a women's court and women's gallery in the Temple. Orthodox Judaism generally maintains that separation. Conservative and Reform Judaism have abandoned it.

The Land of Israel : Israel is a real territory with clear boundaries (although variously defined). Its significance lies in its being "the promised land." God promised this land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12). The land is part of a covenantal agreement between God and the Children of Israel. It is of central importance throughout the Bible and remains so in Jewish theology and theodicy.

Jerusalem : In Jewish tradition, the Temple site is identified with Mount Moriah (Chron. 3:1). Here, Abraham, tested by God, almost offered Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22). David brought to Jerusalem the Holy Ark, making it at once the political and religious capital of the kingdom. So central is Jerusalem to Judaism that it is mentioned 349 times in the Bible, and Zion (another name for Jerusalem, see 2 Sam 5:7-9) is mentioned 108 times.

Jerusalem was sacked in 586 B.C.E., rebuilt, again overrun in 70 C.E., and then razed following the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E. However, a Jewish population has continued to live in this city for much of the time since.

With the emergence of the State of Israel in 1948, Jerusalem came under siege by Arab armies and was divided. Jews were forbidden to enter the Arab-held areas or visit their sacred sites until 1967 following the Six Day War. Currently, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.

Modern Judaism

The Emancipation —that is, the acceptance of Jews as "citizens of the Mosaic faith" rather than as a separate "nation within a nation" in nineteenth-century western Europe and in America—led to efforts to adjust Judaism to the larger society in which it was embedded. The question of what could be considered "essential" when Judaism was stripped of its practices and adherence to the Torah was subject to various interpretations.

For Reform Judaism, the "ethical core"—the moral ideas, principles of justice, and universalism—are held to be the essence of Judaism. Mosaic and rabbinical laws and customs are rejected (see the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885).

For the Historical School, the center of authority in Judaism is the collective conscience of Israel. This perspective sees flexibility and change in historical and social factors affecting Judaism while maintaining adherence to tradition. This idea is central to Conservative Judaism.

For Orthodox Judaism, the essence is the halakha as embodied in religio-legal codes. Recent research in the social sciences has focused particularly on "returnees" to Orthodoxy from Reform or secular Jewish backgrounds (examples of this trend include studies by Danzger 1989, and Kaufman 1991).

The State of Israel : Modern Israel holds an important place in the religious life of contemporary Jews. Efforts on its behalf are central in synagogue life. It is viewed not only as a covenantal promise and religious homeland but also as a haven for persecuted Jews. Jews attempting to flee from the Nazis were barred entry to Western countries. Trapped, they were caught and exterminated. When Israel became an independent nation in 1948, it passed the "Law of Return," which declared that any Jew had the right to become a citizen of Israel. Within weeks after the declaration of statehood in 1948, 250,000 European "displaced persons" poured into Israel. This was followed by a major exodus to Israel of Jews from Arab lands. When Jews in various countries were threatened, Israel mounted major evacuation efforts to rescue them.

Judaism is the official religion of Israel. Israel's government offices close for Jewish holidays. Jewish symbols are incorporated into government buildings and ceremonies. Nevertheless, five religious communities are recognized and receive government support: Jewish, Moslem, Christian, Druze, and Baha'i. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law. Jews are the largest group, constituting 81% of the population. Of this group, about 15% to 20% are Orthodox and another 50% have traditional leanings.

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, the country's population as of September 1995 was 5,570,000: 4,510,000 Jews (81%), 805,000 Moslems (14.4%), 160,000 Christians (2.9%), and 95,000 Druze (1.7%). In raw numbers, however, the United States remains the country with the largest Jewish population in the world.

M. Herbert Danzger


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D. Kaufman, Rachel's Daughters (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991)

B.A. Kosmin and S. Lachman, One Nation Under God (New York: Harmony, 1993)

K. Marx, "On the Jewish Question," in K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works , vol. 3 (New York: International Publishers, 1975 [1843])

G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (New York: Schocken, 1927)

T. Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1949)

A. I. Shiff, The Jewish Day School in America (New York: Jewish Education Committee, 1966)

W. R. Smith, The Religion of the Semites (New York: Meridian, 1959 [1889])

W. Sombart, The Jews and Capitalism (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1951 [1914])

M. Steinberg, Basic Judaism (New York: Harcourt, 1947)

M. Weber, Ancient Judaism (New York: Free Press, 1952 [1921])

M. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Scribner, 1930 [1904-1905, 1920])

M. Weber, The Sociology of Religion (Boston: Beacon, 1963 [1922])

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