Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Judaism Research Paper

Cracking the Code of Judaism

We cannot imagine our world without religions. There are people who fully believe in G-d, there are those who believe less, though the importance of religions in our lives cannot be denied even by biggest atheists. The concept of every religion even a small one is very complex and takes hours to be explained. However, in my paper I will try to crack the code of Judaism briefly, presenting the most important points of this fascinating religion. I will also touch upon some of the basic similarities and distinctions Judaism and Christianity have. The term “G-d” instead of “God” will be used in this essay in order to respect the Jewish prohibition against even spelling the name of G-d in full in vain.


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To begin with, I would like to give a short historical background on the history of Judaism. Judaism is the religion carried out by Jewish people. The word “Jew” is derived from the name Judah, and stands for Jewish people as a religious group, while the terms “Israel” and “Israelis” designate them as a national group. The appearance of Judaism dates back to 1300 BC, when the G-d of the ancient Israelites established a divine pledge with Abraham and made him the patriarch of many nations.

Judaism as any religion is very complicated and people spend their whole lives learning its concepts, still in order to introduce Judaism I will present some basic points. Judaism is the first religion to teach monotheism, that is the belief in one G-d. This principal idea is the basis of Judaism and is summed up in the opening words of the prayer Shema Israel that is said daily: “Listen, O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One” (Deut. 6:4). According to Judaism, G-d’s providence expands to all people, even non-Jews, however, Jews are the ones G-d made a special pledge with. One of the main points of Judaism is to wait for Messiah to come that is a source of optimism for religious Jews. The modern Judaism, by the way, proclaims that Messiah will come in our times, meaning very soon. Judaism can be described as a this-world religion, because its goal is a peaceful world of justice and order.

The most important book of Judaism is the Hebrew Bible, the “Old Testament”, especially its first five books, called the Torah. With giving of the Torah to Moses and other Jews who left Egypt, the G-dliness was brought into this world. The Torah is also a primary revelation of G-d’s law to humanity and it is considered endless and unchangeable for times to come. The law of written Torah were explained and clarified in oral Torah. Oral Torah was eventually written down in the Mishnah and Talmud, in order not to be forgotten, when the Jews started to scatter around the world.

The essence of Judaism may be described in the parable that I would like to present next. This fable is about a very famous and wise Rabbi - Rabbi Hillel who lived around the first century. He was once asked by a non-Jew to teach him everything about the Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel’s response was as follows: “What is hateful to you, don’t do unto your neighbor. The rest is commentary. Now, go and study.” From this short story the main principle of the whole faith may be derived. In Judaism, one should first of all love another as much as he loves him/herself, and also one should never do something he would not like himself to his fellow human.

Even though the law stated above is the main principle, Judaism is much more expanded. There are thirteen principles of faith existing that were written by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, (a.k.a. Maimonides). Maimonides is one of the most important Jewish scholars so his list of principles is universally accepted by Jews as a brief summary of the Judaism. Still, of course, there are those who dispute some of the thirteen today. I find it necessary to list some of these principles below. One of them states that G-d exists, another that G-d is one and unique and spiritual, the prayer is to be directed to G-d alone, there will be no other Torah, G-d will reward the good and punish the evil, and others. Today the reformed movements disagree with some of the above beliefs. The disagreement is usually about the source of the Torah, and the concept of reward and punishment according to one’s behavior, and others.

All the Jewish practices are grouped in Jewish law - halakhah. This law consists of a complicated structure of divine commandments (mitzvot) combined with rabbinic laws and traditions. Halakhah governs not just religious life, but also daily life. As I have already mentioned, halakhah is made up of mitzvot from the Torah, laws instituted by the Rabbis and the customs. Commandments from the Torah are the unchangeable 613 commandments that G-d gave to the Jewish people in the Torah on Sinai Mountain. Some of the commandments from the Torah are clear and straightforward, like do not murder or worship idols. Others are more implicit, for example the mitzvah to recite grace after meals, which are derived from “and you will eat and be satisfied and bless the L-rd your G-d”. Some of the commandments can only be understood using deductive reasoning. (Heschel)

The Rabbinic laws are still referred to as mitzvot (commandments), even though they are not part of the original 613. Rabbinic laws are considered to be as obligatory as Torah laws, but there are differences in the way these laws are applied. Rabbinic commandments are generally divided into three categories: gezeira - a Rabbinic prohibition, takkanah – a Rabbinic enactment, and minhag the custom. The importance of the existence of Rabbinic laws is mentioned in the Torah, by saying that the Rabbis should put a fence round Torah to protect it with the help of new laws. What is every important about Rabbinic laws is that one should always know whether these laws are Rabbinic or not, and not confuse them with the Torah commandments. (Heschel)

One of the most important laws of Judaism is Kashrut, the law dealing with what foods that can and cannot be eaten and how prepare them. Kosher is not a style of cooking. Italian, Mexican and Chinese food can also be kosher if it is prepared in accordance with the Jewish law. Many modern Jews think that the laws of kashrut are primitive health regulations that are old-fashioned today when other modern dietary methods appeared. Doubtlessly, some of the kashrut laws have beneficial health effects. Though, health is not the only reason for kashrut to exist. The short answer to why the laws of kashrut must me observed is simply because the Torah says so. The Torah does not give any reasons and for a religious Jews this explanation should be enough.

Below I would like to state the main laws of kashrut. First of all certain animals may not be eaten at all, like pigs, rabbits and camels. The birds and mammals that can be eaten must be killed in accordance with a kosher law, thus all the blood must be drained from the meat before it is eaten. Certain parts of allowed animals may not be eaten. Meat cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables can be eaten with either meat or dairy, and are called parve. The utensils that contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Grape and bread products made by non-Jews may not be eaten. (Jewish Virtual Library)It is a very important notice that the separation of meet and dairy does not only include the foods themselves, but all the utensils included in preparing and storing them. So in some religious families there are even separate fridges to store the milk and meet products separately.

Observation of the weekly Sabbath as a day of rest, is also a fundamental law of Judaism. G-d was creating the world for 6 days and on the seventh day he was resting. Sabbath lasts for a full day starting at sundown on Friday evening and ending on Saturday evening. Eighteen minutes before the Sabbath starts all girls from the age of three are obligated to light the Sabbath candles in order to bring the light of Sabbath into this world. This unique commandment, given to Jewish women, is affluent with meaning and purpose. In our dark world of death, injustice and pain, the candles lit by Jewish women and girls bring light, happiness and g-dliness. It is forbidden to work on Sabbath, and not only to work but to create, and commit any action that change the environment, such as writing or watching TV, for example. Sabbath is the day a Jew should live for the L-rd, spend time with his/her family, relax and pray.

Another great law of Judaism that I would like to mention is the law of circumcision – Brit Milah. The customs and laws of circumcision are derived from the Torah and Jewish tradition, passed down from generation to generation. The circumcision is done on the eighth day after a baby boy is born. Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism. The circumcision is the bond between a Jewish boy and G-d, and as this bond is so vital that it is not delayed till the time the boy gets older. The person who performs the Brit is called a “Mohel”. He is a professional surgeon with special expertise in Jewish ritual circumcision. To be a Mohel a man should be Torah observant Jew, and trained in all of the countless Jewish laws as well as medical laws of Brit Milah. It is very important to to know that getting the baby circumcised by a surgeon at the hospital does not fulfill the religious requirements of Brit Milah.

And to finish up my paper I would like to briefly compare Judaism and Christianity. Christianity has a close relationship with Judaism, both traditionally, historically and theologically. Both Judaism and Christianity developed on the basis of obeying G-d, following his rules and precisely fulfilling his commandments. Both religions fall into the “rule-deontological category” because their main point is to follow the G-d’s rules. In Judaism, G-d is seen to have a strong everlasting bond with the Jewish people. Jews act upon G-d’s holy laws in return for giving them the status of the chosen people. However, in Christianity, the emphasis is placed on love of the L-rd, rather than on simply following his rules. In Christianity, people believe that G-d is compassionate, he loves the people, and they do not only wait for a punishment from him. (Weiss)

Christianity and Judaism both believe in one G-d who is almighty, omniscient, all-pervading, undying, and immeasurable. Christianity and Judaism share the Old Testament, although Christianity includes the New Testament as well. Both Christianity and Judaism believe in the concept of Heaven and Hell. Heaven in both religions is the place of the righteous, and Hell - the place for the sinful.

The main difference, however, is the perception of Jesus Christ. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is a Messiah and a Savior. Judaism, in its turn, often recognizes Jesus as a great teacher, philosopher, and, possibly, a prophet. Still Jesus in Judaism is not a Messiah. However, what is universally accepted is that Jesus, himself and the members of the earliest Christian communities were all Jews. Jesus’ family was the Jewish observant family and frequently quoted the Hebrew Bible. (Epstein)

In conclusion, I would like to say that there are much more things that must be said about Judaism. Nevertheless, as I had to make my paper rather brief I could not explain more of the Jewish laws in details. Still this paper will be a brief introduction to Judaism to those who are just starting to learn this magnificent religion.
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