Thursday, May 14, 2009

So What's the Difference- Judaism

Judaism has a history beginning around 200 B.C. begun by Rabbis, or Jewish Teachers. Around the time of the 2nd Temple's destruction is when Judaism really broke off from the traditional religion of Israel which was written about in the Old Testament. The destruction of the Temple meant there were no more Temple worship, no more sacrifices and no more priestly duties- therefore no more need for priests. New practices and institutions such as synagogue, rabbinical training and the office of the Rabbi came about, and the Rabbis were those who now set the laws, authority and practices for the Jewish people.

While Christianity and Judaism are similar in their both being shoots of the Old Testament religion of Israel, there are many differences between the two which we'll look at in the next post. In this post, we'll look at Judaism and the different beliefs.

From the start of Judaism until the early 18th century, Judaism really didn't change much, and there was really only one form practiced. After the 18th century, Modern Judaism broke into 3 main branches. The different branches were more of a personal choice of association, family roots and tradition, and where the nearest synagogue was, and if you liked the rabbi's message.

While there are 3 main branches, many people don't adhere to any particular doctrine, and many times, they come to their own version of what Judaism is all about.

The three branches are Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Orthodox is the closest form of the Judaism which was practiced around the time of the Temple's destruction. It's emphasis is on tradition and strict observance of the Law of Moses as instructed by the Rabbis. Orthodox Judaism can be almost compared to Roman Catholicism, in that they both have heavy Traditional based teachings. There view of the Torah, or the first Five Books of Moses is that they are true. Faith is an essential part of belief in the Torah, and they believe in the divine origin of oral and written word of the Torah. It is given a higher authority than the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Their belief is that God is in spirit. He is to the Orthodox Jew, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal and loving. They believe humans are basically good, but with an equal portion to be capable of evil. They believe that people can have self control over their evil nature and be perfected by their own efforts to be good and in following the Laws of Moses. The Law is the basis for Judaism, and gives structure and meaning to life, which leads to a closer relationship with God. They do not believe in original sin, but that people commit sin by breaking any of the Laws. Repentance, prayer and obedience of the Law are needed for a relationship with God but salvation is not necessary. The Messiah is a human, and not divine. He will restore the Jewish kingdom and rule righteously over the earth, and give judgement and make things right. The Orthodox Jew believes in a physical resurrection, and the righteous will be with God forever. Evil people will suffer after death, but many people have different thoughts on whether a literal hell exists or not. They attend synagogue for teaching and prayer, as well as social reasons. Men and women sit apart from each other, and the teachers usually face the same direction as the congregation.

Reform Judaism had it's beginnings in Germany around the time of the Enlightenment during the 18th century. Reformed Judaism focuses more on ethics and ideas of the prophets. Reformed Judaism can be compared to Unitarianism in that they both have emphasis on humanism. The Reformed Jew's belief is that the Hebrew Bible is a human document which has passed on and preserved the history and cultures of the people. It's an important book for learning moral and ethical ways to live. They have different interpretations of God, which includes mystical, natural and humanist philosophies. They do not believe that anyone holds the truth. They believe in the basic goodness of humans, and their approach is more humanistic, in that with education, evolution and encouragement, people can tap into the potential within self. Their view on the Laws, are that the law is basically evolving and changing, and it adapts to each age. In their view, if the law or observance of Judaism comes against societal demands, they must be dropped in favor of society. They do not believe in original sin, and i is actually a product of society. Salvation is by human effort, and brought about by a better society and education. Reform Jews do not believe in a Messiah, but more in with the liberal ideas of a utopia or perfect world to come where humans have evolved enough to be perfected and good. To the Reformed Jew, this is called the Messianic Age. They have no beliefs of life after death, although some believe in a Eastern Mysticism where souls will all merge into one huge impersonal life force. Their synagogue is called Temple, and the services are totally modern, and men and women sit together. They have choirs included in their worship services.

Conservative Judaism started around the 19th century, again with roots in Germany, and is considered "middle of the road". They can be compared with modern liberal protestants, which focuses on form and social issues rather than on doctrine. Their views of the Hebrew Scripture is that they are both from God and man. It's not considered inspired by God, and it's revelation is an ongoing process. The more popular thought is that God is impersonal- much to the belief that God created the world, and us, but He has left us to "do our own thing". They have similar views as the Reformed Jew, more humanist, that people can become perfect by enlightenment, and that Humanity is in a "partnership" with God. Truth and the law are relative, in that they change with the time, and must adapt to societal changes. There is no belief in original sin, but that people can sin by actions or immoral choices. Conservative Jews identify closer with the Reformed views of salvation, but they include the necessity of keeping their Jewish Identity. They also have similar views as Reformed Jews concerning Messiah. They also have more humanist views of man creating a utopia. Similar views as well on life after death, although they are not as involved in Eastern Mystic ideas. the Synagogue is seen as a basic part of Jewish life, and their services are more to the Reformed views than that of Orthodox.
Out of each branch, there is no real comparison to Bible believing Christianity. Neither do any of the branches really practice having a personal relationship to God, as they are more focused on living according to traditional understanding and ethical behavior. In Judaism, there is no real official religious principal, or doctrine, except to reaffirm that God is One from Deut. 6:4

All Jewish people, no matter which branch of Judaism they practice, observe at least some of the Jewish Holidays. They don't look at Holidays as celebrations, but more of observance. More practices of all Judaism include circumcision of sons on the eighth day, which is followed by a ceremony called brit milah. Bar mitzvah for boys and occasionally bat mitzvah for girls, which are coming of age ceremonies at the age of 13. There is usually a synagogue service followed by a fancy reception or party. Jewish weddings are usually celebrated under a canopy, which is called the chuppa, and the smashing of a glass wrapped in cloth to symbolize the destruction of the Temple.

Other observances are practiced mostly by the Orthodox Jews, but to a lesser extent, other branches who wish to get in touch with their Jewish roots include things such as observing the Sabbath. Traditional Jews will not do any work on Sabbath, but others may at least cook a family meal at the beginning of the Sabbath, on Friday nights.Some Traditional Orthodox Jews wear small black boxes, called phylacteries, which contain portions of Scripture. These must be wrapped around the arm and forehead according to a set time and pattern. Many Jews of all branches will have a mezuzah on their door post of their home. These are little boxes which contain various Scripture verses. This isn't really related to Religious beliefs, but more a way to maintain Jewishness.The last, most well known practice is to keep kosher laws. One of the most well known is the prohibition of mixing meat products with dairy at one meal. After high school, I worked for a Jewish family who owned a summer camp, and became accustomed to a lot of these practices- especially getting used to drinking juice at meals which contained meat. Many Jews will keep kosher laws more out of tradition than Religious reasons. Even among non religious Jews, who don't believe in the dietary law will keep most kosher practice. I have to say, I loved working at that camp, and I loved the people there- but I sure missed bacon!

In the next post, we'll look more at the differences between the Scriptures of Judaism and Biblical Christianity.

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