Judaism—Searching for God Through Scripture and Tradition
1, 2. (a) Who were some prominent Jews who have affected history and culture? (b) What question might be raised by some people?
MOSES, Jesus, Mahler, Marx, Freud, and Einstein—what did all of them have in common? All were Jews, and in different ways, all have affected the history and culture of mankind. Very evidently Jews have been noteworthy for thousands of years. The Bible itself is a testimony to that.
2 Unlike other ancient religions and cultures, Judaism is rooted in history, not in mythology. Yet, some might ask: The Jews are such a tiny minority, about 18 million in a world of over 5 thousand million people, why should we be interested in their religion, Judaism?
Why Judaism Should Interest Us
3, 4. (a) Of what do the Hebrew Scriptures consist? (b) What are some reasons we should consider the Jewish religion and its roots?
3 One reason is that the roots of the Jewish religion go back some 4,000 years in history and other major religions are indebted to its Scriptures to a greater or lesser degree. (See box, page 220.) Christianity, founded by Jesus (Hebrew, Ye·shuʹa‛), a first-century Jew, has its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. And as any reading of the Qurʼān will show, Islām also owes much to those scriptures. (Qurʼān, surah 2:49-57; 32:23, 24) Thus, when we examine the Jewish religion, we also examine the roots of hundreds of other religions and sects.
4 A second and vital reason is that the Jewish religion provides an essential link in mankind’s search for the true God. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Abram, the forefather of the Jews, was already worshiping the true God nearly 4,000 years ago.* Reasonably, we ask, How did the Jews and their faith develop?—Genesis 17:18.
How Did the Jews Originate?
5, 6. What, briefly, is the history of the origin of the Jews and their name?
5 Generally speaking, the Jewish people are descendants of an ancient, Hebrew-speaking branch of the Semitic race. (Genesis 10:1, 21-32; 1 Chronicles 1:17-28, 34; 2:1, 2) Nearly 4,000 years ago, their forefather Abram emigrated from the thriving metropolis of Ur of the Chaldeans in Sumeria to the land of Canaan, of which God had stated: “I will assign this land to your offspring.”* (Genesis 11:31–12:7) He is spoken of as “Abram the Hebrew” at Genesis 14:13, although his name was later changed to Abraham. (Genesis 17:4-6) From him the Jews draw a line of descent that begins with his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. (Genesis 32:27-29) Israel had 12 sons, who became the founders of 12 tribes. One of those was Judah, from which name the word “Jew” was eventually derived.—2 Kings 16:6.
6 In time the term “Jew” was applied to all Israelites, not just to a descendant of Judah. (Esther 3:6; 9:20) Because the Jewish genealogical records were destroyed in 70 C.E. when the Romans razed Jerusalem, no Jew today can accurately determine from which tribe he himself is descended. Nevertheless, over the millenniums, the ancient Jewish religion has developed and changed. Today Judaism is practiced by millions of Jews in the Republic of Israel and the Diaspora (dispersion around the world). What is the basis of that religion?
Moses, the Law, and a Nation
7. What oath did God make to Abraham, and why?
7 In 1943 B.C.E.,* God chose Abram to be his special servant and later made a solemn oath to him because of his faithfulness in being willing to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, even though the sacrifice was never completed. (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:1-14) In that oath God said: “By Myself I swear, the LORD [Hebrew: יהוה, YHWH] declares: Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven . . . All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants [“seed,” JP], because you have obeyed My command.” This sworn oath was repeated to Abraham’s son and to his grandson, and then it continued in the tribe of Judah and the line of David. This strictly monotheistic concept of a personal God dealing directly with humans was unique in that ancient world, and it came to form the basis of the Jewish religion.—Genesis 22:15-18; 26:3-5; 28:13-15; Psalm 89:4, 5, 29, 30, 36, 37 (Psalm 89:3, 4, 28, 29, 35, 36, NW).
8. Who was Moses, and what role did he play in Israel?
8 To carry out His promises to Abraham, God laid the foundation for a nation by establishing a special covenant with Abraham’s descendants. This covenant was instituted through Moses, the great Hebrew leader and mediator between God and Israel. Who was Moses, and why is he so important to Jews? The Bible’s Exodus account tells us that he was born in Egypt (1593 B.C.E.) to Israelite parents who were slaves in captivity along with the rest of Israel. He was the one “whom the LORD singled out” to lead His people to freedom in Canaan, the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 6:23; 34:10) Moses fulfilled the vital role of mediator of the Law covenant given by God to Israel, in addition to being their prophet, judge, leader, and historian.—Exodus 2:1–3:22.
9, 10. (a) What was the Law that was transmitted through Moses? (b) What aspects of life were covered by the Ten Commandments? (c) What obligation did the Law covenant bring to Israel?
9 The Law that Israel accepted consisted of the Ten Words, or Commandments, and over 600 laws that amounted to a comprehensive catalog of directions and guidance for daily conduct. (See box, page 211.) It involved the mundane and the holy—the physical and the moral requirements as well as the worship of God.
10 This Law covenant, or religious constitution, gave form and substance to the faith of the patriarchs. As a result, the descendants of Abraham became a nation dedicated to the service of God. Thus the Jewish religion began to take definite shape, and the Jews became a nation organized for the worship and service of their God. At Exodus 19:5, 6, God promised them: “If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, . . . you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Thus, the Israelites would become a ‘chosen people’ to serve God’s purposes. However, the fulfillment of the covenant promises was subject to the condition “If you will obey.” That dedicated nation was now obligated to its God. Hence, at a later date (the eighth century B.C.E.), God could say to the Jews: “My witnesses are you—declares the LORD [Hebrew: יהוה, YHWH]—My servant, whom I have chosen.”—Isaiah 43:10, 12.
A Nation With Priests, Prophets, and Kings
11. How did the priesthood and the kingship develop?
11 While the nation of Israel was still in the desert and heading for the Promised Land, a priesthood was established in the line of Moses’ brother, Aaron. A large portable tent, or tabernacle, became the center of Israelite worship and sacrifice. (Exodus, chapters 26-28) In time the nation of Israel arrived at the Promised Land, Canaan, and conquered it, even as God had commanded. (Joshua 1:2-6) Eventually an earthly kingship was established, and in 1077 B.C.E., David, from the tribe of Judah, became king. With his rule, both the kingship and the priesthood were firmly established at a new national center, Jerusalem.—1 Samuel 8:7.
12. What promise had God made to David?
12 After David’s death, his son Solomon built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, which replaced the tabernacle. Because God had made a covenant with David for the kingship to remain in his line forever, it was understood that an anointed King, the Messiah, would one day come from David’s line of descent. Prophecy indicated that through this Messianic King, or “seed,” Israel and all the nations would enjoy perfect rulership. (Genesis 22:18, JP) This hope took root, and the Messianic nature of the Jewish religion became clearly crystallized.—2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalm 72:1-20; Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 9:9, 10.
13. Whom did God use to correct the backsliding of Israel? Give an example.
13 However, the Jews allowed themselves to be influenced by the false religion of the Canaanites and other nations round about. As a result, they violated their covenant relationship with God. To correct them and guide them back, Jehovah sent a series of prophets who bore his messages to the people. Thus, prophecy became another unique feature of the religion of the Jews and constitutes much of the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, 18 books of the Hebrew Scriptures bear prophets’ names.—Isaiah 1:4-17.
14. How did events vindicate the prophets in Israel?
14 Outstanding among such prophets were Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, all of whom warned of Jehovah’s impending punishment of the nation for its idolatrous worship. This punishment came about in 607 B.C.E. when, because of Israel’s apostasy, Jehovah allowed Babylon, the then dominant world power, to overthrow Jerusalem and its temple and take the nation into captivity. The prophets were proved right in what they had foretold, and Israel’s 70-year exile for most of the sixth century B.C.E. is a matter of historical record.—2 Chronicles 36:20, 21; Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Daniel 9:2.
15. (a) How did a new form of worship take root among the Jews? (b) What effect did the synagogues have on the worship at Jerusalem?
15 In 539 B.C.E., Cyrus the Persian defeated Babylon and permitted the Jews to resettle their land and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Although a remnant responded, the majority of the Jews remained under the influence of Babylonian society. Jews later were affected by the Persian culture. Consequently, Jewish settlements sprang up in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean. In each community a new form of worship came into being that involved the synagogue, a congregational center for the Jews in each town. Naturally, this arrangement diminished the emphasis on the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. The far-flung Jews were now truly a Diaspora.—Ezra 2:64, 65.
Judaism Emerges With a Greek Garment
16, 17. (a) What new influence was sweeping across the Mediterranean world in the fourth century B.C.E.? (b) Who were instrumental in spreading Greek culture, and how? (c) How did Judaism thus emerge on the world scene?
16 By the fourth century B.C.E., the Jewish community was in a state of flux and was thus prey to the waves of a non-Jewish culture that was engulfing the Mediterranean world and beyond. The waters emanated from Greece, and Judaism emerged from them with a Hellenistic garment.
17 In 332 B.C.E. the Greek general Alexander the Great took the Middle East in lightning-quick conquest and was welcomed by the Jews when he came to Jerusalem.* Alexander’s successors continued his plan of Hellenization, imbuing all parts of the empire with Greek language, culture, and philosophy. As a result, the Greek and Jewish cultures went through a blending process that was to have surprising results.
18. (a) Why was the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures necessary? (b) What aspect of Greek culture especially affected the Jews?
18 Diaspora Jews began to speak Greek instead of Hebrew. So toward the beginning of the third century B.C.E., the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Septuagint, was made into Greek, and through it, many Gentiles came to have respect for and familiarity with the Jews’ religion, some even converting.* Jews, on the other hand, were becoming conversant with Greek thought and some even became philosophers, something entirely new to the Jews. One example is Philo of Alexandria of the first century C.E., who endeavored to explain Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy, as if the two expressed the same ultimate truths.
19. How does one Jewish author describe the period of the melding of Greek and Jewish cultures?
19 Summing up this period of give-and-take between Greek and Jewish cultures, Jewish author Max Dimont says: “Enriched with Platonic thought, Aristotelian logic, and Euclidian science, Jewish scholars approached the Torah with new tools. . . . They proceeded to add Greek reason to Jewish revelation.” The events that would take place under Roman rule, which absorbed the Greek Empire and then Jerusalem in the year 63 B.C.E., were to pave the way for even more significant changes.
Judaism Under Roman Rule
20. What was the religious situation among the Jews in the first century C.E.?
20 The Judaism of the first century of the Common Era was at a unique stage. Max Dimont states that it was poised between “the mind of Greece and the sword of Rome.” Jewish expectations were high because of political oppression and interpretations of Messianic prophecies, especially those of Daniel. The Jews were divided into factions. The Pharisees emphasized an oral law (see box, page 221) rather than temple sacrifice. The Sadducees stressed the importance of the temple and the priesthood. Then there were the Essenes, the Zealots, and the Herodians. All were at odds religiously and philosophically. Jewish leaders were called rabbis (masters, teachers) who, because of their knowledge of the Law, grew in prestige and became a new type of spiritual leader.
21. What events drastically affected the Jews of the first two centuries C.E.?
21 Internal and external divisions, however, continued in Judaism, especially in the land of Israel. Finally, outright rebellion broke out against Rome, and in 70 C.E., Roman troops besieged Jerusalem, laid waste the city, burned its temple to the ground, and scattered its inhabitants. Eventually, Jerusalem was decreed totally off-limits to Jews. Without a temple, without a land, with its people dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, Judaism was in need of a new religious expression if it was to survive.
22. (a) How was Judaism affected by the loss of the temple in Jerusalem? (b) How do the Jews divide the Bible? (c) What is the Talmud, and how did it develop?
22 With the destruction of the temple, the Sadducees disappeared, and the oral law that the Pharisees had championed became the centerpiece of a new, Rabbinic Judaism. More intense study, prayer, and works of piety replaced temple sacrifices and pilgrimages. Thus, Judaism could be practiced anywhere, at any time, in any cultural surroundings. The rabbis put this oral law into writing, in addition to composing commentaries on it, and then commentaries on the commentaries, all of which together became known as the Talmud.—See box, page 221.
23. What shift in emphasis took place under the influence of Greek thinking?
23 What was the result of these varied influences? Max Dimont says in his book Jews, God and History that though the Pharisees carried on the torch of Jewish ideology and religion, “the torch itself had been ignited by the Greek philosophers.” While much of the Talmud was highly legalistic, its illustrations and explanations reflected the clear influence of Greek philosophy. For example, Greek religious concepts, such as the immortal soul, were expressed in Jewish terms. Truly, in that new Rabbinic era, veneration of the Talmud—by then a blend of legalistic and Greek philosophy—grew among the Jews until, by the Middle Ages, the Talmud came to be revered by the Jews more than the Bible itself.
Judaism Through the Middle Ages
24. (a) What two major communities emerged among the Jews during the Middle Ages? (b) How did they influence Judaism?
24 During the Middle Ages (from about 500 to 1500 C.E.), two distinct Jewish communities emerged—the Sephardic Jews, who flourished under Muslim rule in Spain, and the Ashkenazi Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. Both communities produced Rabbinic scholars whose writings and thoughts form the basis for Jewish religious interpretation until this day. Interestingly, many of the customs and religious practices current today in Judaism really got their start during the Middle Ages.—See box, page 231.
25. How did the Catholic Church eventually react to the Jews in Europe?
25 In the 12th century, there began a wave of expulsions of Jews from various countries. As Israeli author Abba Eban explains in My People—The Story of the Jews: “In any country . . . which fell under the unilateral influence of the Catholic Church, the story is the same: appalling degradation, torture, slaughter, and expulsion.” Finally, in 1492, Spain, which had once again come under Catholic rule, followed suit and ordered the expulsion of all Jews from its territory. So by the end of the 15th century, Jews had been expelled from nearly all Western Europe, fleeing to Eastern Europe and countries around the Mediterranean.
26. (a) What led to disillusionment among the Jews? (b) What major divisions began to develop among the Jews?
26 Through the centuries of oppression and persecution, many self-proclaimed Messiahs rose up among the Jews in different parts of the world, all receiving acceptance to one degree or another, but ending in disillusionment. By the 17th century, new initiatives were needed to reinvigorate the Jews and pull them out of this dark period. In the mid-18th century, there appeared an answer to the despair the Jewish people felt. It was Hasidism (see box, page 226), a mixture of mysticism and religious ecstasy expressed in daily devotion and activity. In contrast, about the same time, philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, a German Jew, offered another solution, the way of Haskala, or enlightenment, which was to lead into what is historically considered to be “Modern Judaism.”
From “Enlightenment” to Zionism
27. (a) How did Moses Mendelssohn influence Jewish attitudes? (b) Why did many Jews reject the hope of a personal Messiah?
27 According to Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), Jews would be accepted if they would come out from under the restraints of the Talmud and conform to Western culture. In his day, he became one of the Jews most respected by the Gentile world. However, renewed outbursts of violent anti-Semitism in the 19th century, especially in “Christian” Russia, disillusioned the movement’s followers, and many then focused on finding a political refuge for the Jews. They rejected the idea of a personal Messiah who would lead the Jews back to Israel and began to work on establishing a Jewish State by other means. This then became the concept of Zionism: “the secularization of . . . Jewish messianism,” as one authority puts it.
28. What events in the 20th century have affected Jewish attitudes?
28 The murder of some six million European Jews in the Nazi-inspired Holocaust (1935-45) gave Zionism its final impetus and gained much sympathy for it worldwide. The Zionist dream came true in 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel, which brings us to Judaism in our day and to the question, What do modern Jews believe?
God Is One
29. (a) In simple terms, what is modern Judaism? (b) How is Jewish identity expressed? (c) What are some Jewish festivals and customs?
29 Simply put, Judaism is the religion of a people. Therefore, a convert becomes part of the Jewish people as well as the Jewish religion. It is a monotheistic religion in the strictest sense and holds that God intervenes in human history, especially in relation to the Jews. Jewish worship involves several annual festivals and various customs. (See box, pages 230-1.) Although there are no creeds or dogmas accepted by all Jews, the confession of the oneness of God as expressed in the Shema, a prayer based on Deuteronomy 6:4 (JP), forms a central part of synagogue worship: “HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.”
30. (a) What is the Jewish understanding of God? (b) How does the Jewish view of God conflict with that of Christendom?
30 This belief in one God was passed on to Christianity and Islām. According to Dr. J. H. Hertz, a rabbi: “This sublime pronouncement of absolute monotheism was a declaration of war against all polytheism . . . In the same way, the Shema excludes the trinity of the Christian creed as a violation of the Unity of God.”* But now let us turn to Jewish belief on the subject of the afterlife.
Death, Soul, and Resurrection
31. (a) How did the doctrine of the immortal soul enter into Jewish teaching? (b) What dilemma did the teaching of the immortality of the soul cause?
31 One of the basic beliefs of modern Judaism is that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of his body. But does this originate in the Bible? The Encyclopaedia Judaica frankly admits: “It was probably under Greek influence that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came into Judaism.” However, this created a doctrinal dilemma, as the same source states: “Basically the two beliefs of resurrection and the soul’s immortality are contradictory. The one refers to a collective resurrection at the end of the days, i.e., that the dead sleeping in the earth will arise from the grave, while the other refers to the state of the soul after the death of the body.” How was the dilemma resolved in Jewish theology? “It was held that when the individual died his soul still lived on in another realm (this gave rise to all the beliefs regarding heaven and hell) while his body lay in the grave to await the physical resurrection of all the dead here on earth.”
32. What does the Bible say about the dead?
32 University lecturer Arthur Hertzberg writes: “In the [Hebrew] Bible itself the arena of man’s life is this world. There is no doctrine of heaven and hell, only a growing concept of an ultimate resurrection of the dead at the end of days.” That is a simple and accurate explanation of the Biblical concept, namely, that “the dead know nothing . . . For there is no action, no reasoning, no learning, no wisdom in Sheol [mankind’s common grave], where you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Daniel 12:1, 2; Isaiah 26:19.
33. How was the doctrine of the resurrection originally viewed by Jews?
33 According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, “In the rabbinic period the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is considered one of the central doctrines of Judaism” and “is to be distinguished from the belief in . . . the immortality of the soul.”* Today, however, while the immortality of the soul is accepted by all factions of Judaism, the resurrection of the dead is not.
34. In contrast with the Bible’s viewpoint, how does the Talmud depict the soul? What do later writers comment?
34 In contrast with the Bible, the Talmud, influenced by Hellenism, is replete with explanations and stories and even descriptions of the immortal soul. Later Jewish mystical literature, the Kabbala, even goes so far as to teach reincarnation (transmigration of souls), which is basically an ancient Hindu teaching. (See Chapter 5.) In Israel today, this is widely accepted as a Jewish teaching, and it also plays an important role in Hasidic belief and literature. For example, Martin Buber includes in his book Tales of the Hasidim—The Later Masters a tale about the soul from the school of Elimelekh, a rabbi of Lizhensk: “On the Day of Atonement, when Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua would recite the Avodah, the prayer that repeats the service of the high priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, and would come to the passage: ‘And thus he spoke,’ he would never say those words, but would say: ‘And thus I spoke.’ For he had not forgotten the time his soul was in the body of a high priest of Jerusalem.”
35. (a) What position has Reform Judaism taken on the immortal soul teaching? (b) What is the Bible’s clear teaching about the soul?
35 Reform Judaism has gone so far as to reject belief in the resurrection. Having removed the word from Reform prayer books, it recognizes only the belief in the immortal soul. How much clearer is the Biblical idea as expressed at Genesis 2:7: “The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (JP) The combination of the body and the spirit, or life-force, constitutes “a living soul.”* (Genesis 2:7; 7:22; Psalm 146:4) Conversely, when the human sinner dies, then the soul dies. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) Thus, at death man ceases to have any conscious existence. His life-force returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 3:19; 9:5, 10; 12:7) The truly Biblical hope for the dead is the resurrection—Hebrew: techi·yathʹ ham·me·thimʹ, or “revival of the dead.”
36, 37. What did faithful Hebrews of Bible times believe about future life?
36 While this conclusion might surprise even many Jews, the resurrection has been the real hope of worshipers of the true God for thousands of years. About 3,500 years ago, faithful, suffering Job spoke of a future time when God would raise him from Sheol, or the grave. (Job 14:14, 15) The prophet Daniel was also assured that he would be raised “at the end of the days.”—Daniel 12:2, 12 (13, JP; NW).
37 There is no basis in Scripture for saying those faithful Hebrews believed they had an immortal soul that would survive into an afterworld. They clearly had sufficient reason to believe that the Sovereign Lord, who counts and controls the stars of the universe, would also remember them at the time of the resurrection. They had been faithful to him and his name. He would be faithful to them.—Psalm 18:26 (Ps 18:25, NW); Ps 147:4; Isaiah 25:7, 8; 40:25, 26.
Judaism and God’s Name
38. (a) What has happened over the centuries regarding the use of God’s name? (b) What is the basis for God’s name?
38 Judaism teaches that while God’s name exists in written form, it is too holy to be pronounced.* The result has been that, over the last 2,000 years, the correct pronunciation has been lost. Yet, that has not always been the Jewish position. About 3,500 years ago, God spoke to Moses, saying: “Thus shall you speak to the Israelites: The LORD [Hebrew: יהוה, YHWH], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever, this My appellation for all eternity.” (Exodus 3:15; Psalm 135:13) What was that name and appellation? The footnote to the Tanakh states: “The name YHWH (traditionally read Adonai “the LORD”) is here associated with the root hayah ‘to be.’” Thus, we have here the holy name of God, the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew consonants YHWH (Yahweh) that in their Latinized form have come to be known over the centuries in English as JEHOVAH.
39. (a) Why is the divine name important? (b) Why did Jews stop pronouncing the divine name?
39 Throughout history, the Jews have always placed great importance on God’s personal name, though emphasis on usage has changed drastically from ancient times. As Dr. A. Cohen states in Everyman’s Talmud: “Special reverence [was] attached to ‘the distinctive Name’ (Shem Hamephorash) of the Deity which He had revealed to the people of Israel, viz. the tetragrammaton, JHVH.” The divine name was revered because it represented and characterized the very person of God. After all, it was God himself who announced his name and told his worshipers to use it. This is emphasized by the appearance of the name in the Hebrew Bible 6,828 times. Devout Jews, however, feel it is disrespectful to pronounce God’s personal name.*
40. What have some Jewish authorities stated regarding the use of the divine name?
40 Concerning the ancient rabbinic (not Biblical) injunction against pronouncing the name, A. Marmorstein, a rabbi, wrote in his book The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God: “There was a time when this prohibition [of the use of the divine name] was entirely unknown among the Jews . . . Neither in Egypt, nor in Babylonia, did the Jews know or keep a law prohibiting the use of God’s name, the Tetragrammaton, in ordinary conversation or greetings. Yet, from the third century B.C.E. till the third century A.C.E. such a prohibition existed and was partly observed.” Not only was the use of the name allowed in earlier times but, as Dr. Cohen says: “There was a time when the free and open use of the Name even by the layman was advocated . . . It has been suggested that the recommendation was based on the desire to distinguish the Israelite from the [non-Jew].”
41. According to one rabbi, what influences brought about a prohibition of the use of God’s name?
41 What, then, brought about the prohibition of the use of the divine name? Dr. Marmorstein answers: “Hellenistic [Greek-influenced] opposition to the religion of the Jews, the apostasy of the priests and nobles, introduced and established the rule not to pronounce the Tetragrammaton in the Sanctuary [temple in Jerusalem].” In their excessive zeal to avoid taking the divine name in vain, they completely suppressed its use in speech and subverted and diluted the identification of the true God. Under the combined pressure of religious opposition and apostasy, the divine name fell into disuse among the Jews.
42. What does the Bible record show about the use of the divine name?
42 However, as Dr. Cohen states: “In the Biblical period there seems to have been no scruple against [the divine name’s] use in daily speech.” The patriarch Abraham “invoked the LORD by name.” (Genesis 12:8) Most of the writers of the Hebrew Bible freely but respectfully used the name right down to the writing of Malachi in the fifth century B.C.E.—Ruth 1:8, 9, 17.
43. (a) What is abundantly clear regarding the Jewish use of the divine name? (b) What was one indirect effect of the Jews’ dropping the use of the divine name?
43 It is abundantly clear that the ancient Hebrews did use and pronounce the divine name. Marmorstein admits regarding the change that came later: “For in this time, in the first half of the third century [B.C.E.], a great change in the use of the name of God is to be noticed, which brought about many changes in Jewish theological and philosophical lore, the influences of which are felt up to this very day.” One of the effects of the loss of the name is that the concept of an anonymous God helped to create a theological vacuum in which Christendom’s Trinity doctrine was more easily developed.*—Exodus 15:1-3.
44. What are some other effects caused by the suppression of God’s name?
44 The refusal to use the divine name diminishes the worship of the true God. As one commentator said: “Unfortunately, when God is spoken of as ‘the Lord,’ the phrase, though accurate, is a cold and colorless one . . . One needs to remember that by translating YHWH or Adonay as ‘the Lord’ one introduces into many passages of the Old Testament a note of abstraction, formality and remoteness that is entirely foreign to the original text.” (The Knowledge of God in Ancient Israel) How sad to see the sublime and significant name Yahweh, or Jehovah, missing from many Bible translations when it clearly appears thousands of times in the original Hebrew text!—Isaiah 43:10-12.
Do Jews Still Await the Messiah?
45. What Biblical basis is there for believing in a Messiah?
45 There are many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures from which Jews over 2,000 years ago derived their Messianic hope. Second Samuel 7:11-16 indicated that the Messiah would be of the line of David. Isaiah 11:1-10 prophesied that he would bring righteousness and peace to all mankind. Daniel 9:24-27 gave the chronology for the appearance of the Messiah and his being cut off in death.
46, 47. (a) What kind of Messiah was expected by Jews living under Roman domination? (b) What change has taken place in Jewish aspirations regarding the Messiah?
46 As the Encyclopaedia Judaica explains, by the first century, Messianic expectations were high. The Messiah was expected to be “a charismatically endowed descendant of David who the Jews of the Roman period believed would be raised up by God to break the yoke of the heathen and to reign over a restored kingdom of Israel.” However, the militant Messiah the Jews were expecting was not forthcoming.
47 Yet, as The New Encyclopædia Britannica notes, the Messianic hope was vital in holding the Jewish people together throughout their many ordeals: “Judaism undoubtedly owes its survival, to a considerable extent, to its steadfast faith in the messianic promise and future.” But with the rise of modern Judaism between the 18th and 19th centuries, many Jews ended their passive waiting for the Messiah. Finally, with the Nazi-inspired Holocaust, many lost their patience and hope. They began to view the Messianic message as a liability and so reinterpreted it merely as a new age of prosperity and peace. Since that time, although there are exceptions, Jews as a whole can hardly be said to be waiting for a personal Messiah.
48. What questions can reasonably be raised about Judaism?
48 This change to a non-Messianic religion raises serious questions. Was Judaism wrong for thousands of years in believing the Messiah was to be an individual? Which form of Judaism will aid one in the search for God? Is it ancient Judaism with its trappings of Greek philosophy? Or is it one of the non-Messianic forms of Judaism that evolved during the last 200 years? Or is there yet another path that faithfully and accurately preserves the Messianic hope?
49. What invitation is made to sincere Jews?
49 With these questions in mind, we suggest that sincere Jews reexamine the subject of the Messiah by investigating the claims regarding Jesus of Nazareth, not as Christendom has represented him, but as the Jewish writers of the Greek Scriptures present him. There is a big difference. The religions of Christendom have contributed to the Jewish rejection of Jesus by their non-Biblical doctrine of the Trinity, which is clearly unacceptable to any Jew who cherishes the pure teaching that “THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, JP) Therefore, we invite you to read the following chapter with an open mind in order to get to know the Jesus of the Greek Scriptures.
All citations in this chapter, unless otherwise stated, are from the modern (1985) Tanakh, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures, by scholars of The Jewish Publication Society.
The chronology here presented is based on the Bible text as the authority. (See the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of N.Y., Inc., Study 3, “Measuring Events in the Stream of Time.”)
The first-century Jewish historian Yoseph ben Mattityahu (Flavius Josephus) relates that when Alexander arrived at Jerusalem, the Jews opened the gates to him and showed him the prophecy from the book of Daniel written over 200 years earlier that clearly described Alexander’s conquests as ‘the King of Greece.’—Jewish Antiquities, Book XI, Chapter VIII 5; Daniel 8:5-8, 21.
During the period of the Maccabees (Hasmonaeans, from 165 to 63 B.C.E.), Jewish leaders such as John Hyrcanus even forced large-scale conversion to Judaism by conquest. It is of interest that at the beginning of the Common Era, 10 percent of the Mediterranean world was Jewish. This figure clearly shows the impact of Jewish proselytism.
According to The New Encyclopædia Britannica: “The trinitarian creed of Christianity . . . sets it apart from the two other classical monotheistic religions [Judaism and Islām].” The Trinity was developed by the church even though “the Bible of Christians includes no assertions about God that are specifically trinitarian.”
In addition to Biblical authority, it was taught as an article of faith in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) and was included as the last of Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith. Until the 20th century, denial of the resurrection was viewed as heresy.
“The Bible does not say we have a soul. ‘Nefesh’ is the person himself, his need for food, the very blood in his veins, his being.”—Dr. H. M. Orlinsky of Hebrew Union College.
See Exodus 6:3 where in the Tanakh version of the Bible the Hebrew Tetragrammaton appears in the English text.
The Encyclopaedia Judaica says: “The avoidance of pronouncing the name YHWH is . . . caused by a misunderstanding of the Third Commandment (Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11) as meaning ‘Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain,’ whereas it really means ‘You shall not swear falsely by the name of YHWH your God.’”
George Howard, an associate professor of religion and Hebrew at the University of Georgia, states: “As time went on, these two figures [God and Christ] were brought into even closer unity until it was often impossible to distinguish between them. Thus it may be that the removal of the Tetragrammaton contributed significantly to the later Christological and Trinitarian debates which plagued the church of the early centuries. Whatever the case, the removal of the Tetragrammaton probably created a different theological climate from that which existed during the New Testament period of the first century.”—Biblical Archaeology Review, March 1978.
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Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews formed two communities
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Ten Commandments for Worship and Conduct
Millions of people have heard of the Ten Commandments, but few have ever read them. Therefore, we reproduce the major part of their text here.
▪ “You shall have no other gods besides Me.
▪ “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. . . . [At this early date, 1513 B.C.E., this command was unique in its rejection of idolatry.]
▪ “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the LORD [Hebrew: יהוה] your God . . .
▪ “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. . . . The LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
▪ “Honor your father and your mother . . .
▪ “You shall not murder.
▪ “You shall not commit adultery.
▪ “You shall not steal.
▪ “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
▪ “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house . . . wife . . . male or female slave . . . ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”—Exodus 20:3-14.
Although only the first four commandments are directly concerned with religious belief and worship, the other commandments showed the connection between correct conduct and a proper relationship with the Creator.
In spite of the unique law from God, Israel imitated the calf worship of its pagan neighbors (Golden calf, Byblos)
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The Sacred Writings of the Hebrews
The sacred Hebrew writings began with the “Tanakh.” The name “Tanakh” comes from the three divisions of the Jewish Bible in Hebrew: Torah (Law), Neviʼim (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings), using the first letter of each section to form the word TaNaKh. These books were penned in Hebrew and Aramaic from the 16th century to the 5th century B.C.E.
Jews believe that they were written under different and diminishing degrees of inspiration. Therefore, they put them in this order of importance:
Torah—the five books of Moses, or the Pentateuch (from Greek for “five scrolls”), the Law, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. However, the term “Torah” may also be used to refer to the Jewish Bible as a whole as well as to the oral law and the Talmud (see next page).
Neviʼim—the Prophets, covering from Joshua through to the major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and then through the 12 “minor” prophets from Hosea to Malachi.
Kethuvim—the Writings, consisting of the poetic works, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, The Song of Songs, and Lamentations. In addition it embraces Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and First and Second Chronicles.
From the Gentile point of view, the “Tanakh,” or Jewish Bible, is the most important of Jewish writings. However, the Jewish view is different. Many Jews would agree with the comment by Adin Steinsaltz, a rabbi: “If the Bible is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar, soaring up from the foundations and supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice . . . No other work has had a comparable influence on the theory and practice of Jewish life.” (The Essential Talmud) What, then, is the Talmud?
Orthodox Jews believe not only that God gave the written law, or Torah, to Moses at Mount Sinai but also that God revealed to him specific explanations of how to carry out that Law, and that these were to be passed on by word of mouth. This was called the oral law. Thus, the Talmud is the written summary, with later commentaries and explanations, of that oral law, compiled by rabbis from the second century C.E. into the Middle Ages.
The Talmud is usually divided into two main sections:
The Mishnah: A collection of commentaries supplementing Scriptural Law, based on the explanations of rabbis called Tannaim (teachers). It was put into written form in the late second and early third centuries C.E.
The Gemara (originally called the Talmud): A collection of commentaries on the Mishnah by rabbis of a later period (third to sixth centuries C.E.).
In addition to these two main divisions, the Talmud may also include commentaries on the Gemara made by rabbis into the Middle Ages. Prominent among these were the rabbis Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac, 1040-1105), who made the difficult language of the Talmud far more understandable, and Rambam (Moses ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides, 1135-1204), who reorganized the Talmud into a concise version (“Mishneh Torah”), thus making it accessible to all Jews.
Below, ancient Torah from what is known as the Tomb of Esther, Iran; right, Hebrew and Yiddish hymn of praise based on Scriptural verses
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Judaism—A Religion of Many Voices
There are major differences between the various factions of Judaism. Traditionally, Judaism emphasizes religious practice. Debate over such matters, rather than beliefs, has caused serious tension among Jews and has led to the formation of three major divisions in Judaism.
ORTHODOX JUDAISM—This branch not only accepts that the Hebrew “Tanakh” is inspired Scripture but also believes that Moses received the oral law from God on Mount Sinai at the same time that he received the written Law. Orthodox Jews scrupulously keep the commandments of both laws. They believe that the Messiah is still to appear and to bring Israel to a golden age. Because of differences of opinion within the Orthodox group, various factions have emerged. One example is Hasidism.
Hasidim (Chasidim, meaning “the pious”)—These are viewed as ultraorthodox. Founded by Israel ben Eliezer, known as Baʽal Shem Tov (“Master of the Good Name”), in the mid-18th century in Eastern Europe, they follow a teaching that highlights music and dance, resulting in mystic joy. Many of their beliefs, including reincarnation, are based on the Jewish mystical books known as the Kabbala (Cabala). Today they are led by rebbes (Yiddish for “rabbis”), or zaddikim, considered by their followers to be supremely righteous men or saints.
Hasidim today are found mainly in the United States and in Israel. They wear a particular style of Eastern European garb, mainly black, of the 18th and 19th centuries, that makes them very conspicuous, especially in a modern city setting. Today they are divided into sects that follow different prominent rebbes. One very active group is the Lubavitchers, who proselytize vigorously among Jews. Some groups believe that only the Messiah has the right to restore Israel as the nation of the Jews and so are opposed to the secular State of Israel.
REFORM JUDAISM (also known as “Liberal” and “Progressive”)—The movement began in Western Europe toward the beginning of the 19th century. It is based on the ideas of Moses Mendelssohn, an 18th-century Jewish intellectual who believed Jews should assimilate Western culture rather than separate themselves from the Gentiles. Reform Jews deny that the Torah was divinely revealed truth. They view the Jewish laws on diet, purity, and dress as obsolete. They believe in what they term a “Messianic era of Universal brotherhood.” In recent years they have moved back toward more traditional Judaism.
CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM—This began in Germany in 1845 as an offshoot of Reform Judaism, which, it was felt, had rejected too many traditional Jewish practices. Conservative Judaism does not accept that the oral law was received by Moses from God but holds that the rabbis, who sought to adapt Judaism to a new era, invented the oral Torah. Conservative Jews submit to Biblical precepts and Rabbinic law if these “are responsive to the modern requirements of Jewish life.” (The Book of Jewish Knowledge) They use Hebrew and English in their liturgy and maintain strict dietary laws (kashruth). Men and women are allowed to sit together during worship, which is not allowed by the Orthodox.
Left, Jews at Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and, above, a Jew praying, with Jerusalem in background
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Some Important Festivals and Customs
The majority of Jewish festivals are based on the Bible and, generally, either are seasonal festivals in connection with different harvests or are related to historical events.
▪ Shabbat (Sabbath)—The seventh day of the Jewish week (from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) is viewed as sanctifying the week, and the special observance of this day is an essential part of worship. Jews attend the synagogue for Torah readings and prayers.—Exodus 20:8-11.
▪ Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement, a solemn festival characterized by fasting and self-examination. It culminates the Ten Days of Penitence that begin with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which falls in September according to the Jewish secular calendar.—Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:26-32.
▪ Sukkot (above, right)—Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles, or Ingathering. Celebrates the harvest and the end of the major part of the agricultural year. Held in October.—Leviticus 23:34-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.
▪ Hanukkah—Festival of Dedication. A popular festival held in December that commemorates the Maccabees’ restoration of Jewish independence from Syro-Grecian domination and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem in December 165 B.C.E. Usually distinguished by the lighting of candles for eight days.
▪ Purim—Festival of Lots. Celebrated in late February or early March, in commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews in Persia during the fifth century B.C.E. from Haman and his genocidal plot.—Esther 9:20-28.
▪ Pesach—Festival of Passover. Instituted to commemorate the deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt (1513 B.C.E.). It is the greatest and oldest of Jewish festivals. Held on Nisan 14 (Jewish calendar), it usually falls at the end of March or the beginning of April. Each Jewish family comes together to share the Passover meal, or Seder. During the following seven days, no leaven may be eaten. This period is called the Festival of Unfermented Cakes (Matzot).—Exodus 12:14-20, 24-27.
Some Jewish Customs
▪ Circumcision—For Jewish boys, it is an important ceremony that takes place when the baby is eight days old. It is often called the Covenant of Abraham, since circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with him. Males who convert to Judaism must also be circumcised.—Genesis 17:9-14.
▪ Bar Mitzvah (below)—Another essential Jewish ritual, which literally means “son of the commandment,” a “term denoting both the attainment of religious and legal maturity as well as the occasion at which this status is formally assumed for boys at the age of 13 plus one day.” It became a Jewish custom only in the 15th century C.E.—Encyclopaedia Judaica.
▪ Mezuzah (above)—A Jewish home is usually easy to distinguish by reason of the mezuzah, or scroll case, on the right side of the doorpost as one enters. In practice the mezuzah is a small parchment on which are inscribed the words cited from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and De 11:13-21. This is rolled up inside a small case. The case is then fixed to every door of each room used for occupancy.
▪ Yarmulke (skullcap for males)—According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica: “Orthodox Jewry . . . regards the covering of the head, both outside and inside the synagogue, as a sign of allegiance to Jewish tradition.” Covering the head during worship is nowhere mentioned in the Tanakh, thus the Talmud mentions this as an optional matter of custom. Hasidic Jewish women either wear a head covering at all times or shave their heads and wear a wig.
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Abram (Abraham), the forefather of the Jews, worshiped Jehovah God nearly 4,000 years ago
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Star of David—a non-Biblical symbol of Israel and Judaism
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A Jewish scribe copying Hebrew text
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Hasidic Jewish family celebrating the Sabbath
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Devout Jews wearing phylacteries, or prayer scroll cases, on arm and forehead