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Judaism

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Star of David "Judenstern"

Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות, Yahadút) is the world's first monotheistic worldview, and is foremost among the three great monotheistic religions, since from it came Christianity and Islam. The foundation and principles of Judaism are found in the Hebrew scriptures or the Jewish Bible, more widely known as the "old testament", which is part of the Christian Bible, along with its history. A proper name for the Bible of the Hebrews is the "Tanakh" which is an acronym for the different sections of it: the Torah, or the Instruction, the Law, the five books of Moses; the Nevi'im, the Prophets; and the Kethuvim, the Writings. The most revered section is the Torah, which is the foundation for the rest.

The ethnic and religious group of people called Jews originated from within the genetic lines of the ancient Hebrews or Israelites.

What Judaism Is

A clear and concise definition of Judaism is difficult to give. But the predominant definition is that it is the religion of the Jews. The Jews, in modern terms, are the people who belong to the nation of Israel. Since the word "Jew" comes from the word "Judah", it was originally used simply for those of the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. But after the first exile of the Israel in Babylon, the remnant who lived in Babylon and those who went back to Israel were generally classed as Jews, although there were remnants of other Israelite tribes among them.

Ancient Sects

There were a number of sects that developed between the times of the return from the exile in Babylon and the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD.

Pharisees

The Pharisees believed in the divine origin of a traditional or oral Torah, or law, meaning that it was given by the Almighty to Moses along with the written Torah, and it was handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. According to historical sources, such as Josephus, an ancient historian, these traditions were not given by the Almighty to Moses, but were traditions from their elders or sages. Among these traditions were many laws that were added to the written code which either amplified it, such as washing hands before eating, or diminished its power, such as the laws and regulations that had to be adhered to for a murderer to be executed, making capital punishment very rare.

They have their origins during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, hundreds of years before the destruction of the second temple, who sought to abrogate the Law of Moses and convert the Jews to a Greek lifestyle and philosophy, which was against the Law, such as eating or sacrificing pork and an aversion to circumcision. Since Greece was the supreme force in those days and had conquered Israel, they attempted to cause the world to adopt their ways. This caused a revolt amongst the Jews, amongst whom were a group of people called the "Perushim", the separatists, who sought to keep the people from such influences and help them to remain holy. It was the Pharisees that helped keep Judaism going after the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD, through a compromise with the Romans.

Although a lot can be said about the legalistic tendency of the Pharisees, and about the hypocrisy of some, as is exploited by its opponents, such as the early Christians, their ethical code of morality was remarkable. One of their great teachers, Hillel, showed a great openness to gentiles curious about the Jewish path. Being active between 30 BC-10AD, he first stated the Golden Rule to a prospective proselyte: "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary" (Shab. 31a). Another example of the teachings of the Oral law is this: "Rabban Jochanan ben Zakai received from Hillel and from Shammai. He used to say, "If you have practiced Torah much, claim not merit to yourself, for you were created for that reason" (Avot 2:9)

Sadducees

Unfortunately, because the mainstay of the Sadducees is said to have disappeared after the destruction of the temple, a lot of what is known about them has to be derived from their enemies, Josephus, the Pharisees, and Christians, all of which would have had reason to write about them in a bad light since they all had fundamental disagreements with the Sadducees.

What is known about them is as follows: they rejected the claim of the Pharisees that the oral law, the traditional laws and teachings the Pharisees handed down from teacher to pupil orally, came from Mt. Sinai at the same time as the written Torah. They only accepted the Written Torah as coming from the Almighty. It is said that they rejected the ideas of a coming messianic figure, a future resurrection, the Pharisaic idea of the immortality of the soul, and the existence of angels or demons. Apparently, they also believed that Deity didn't intervene too much in the lives of men, as opposed to the predestination of the Pharisees.

The Sadducees, and a group that developed from before the time of the destruction of the second temple, the Boethusians, were always at odds with the Pharisees, who, through their traditions, appeared to alter the written law. They may have been more strict than the Pharisees on a number of points, but were generally more faithful to the text of the law than the Pharisees.

There are two controversial accusations leveled at the Sadducees that need a little attention. First, there is the claim that the Sadducees were Hellenistic and were normally on the side of the occupying forces, such as the Greeks or the Romans, and their adherents were mostly wealthy or priestly figures in the community and didn't have much popularity, whereas the Pharisees were the popular party, nationalistic, and mostly against the foreign occupation. There is circumstantial evidence in the writings of Josephus, that this is an oversimplification of matters that occurred in Judea in those days. In Josephus' writings, there are signs that it was the Sadducees who were strongly nationalistic as opposed to the Pharisees who collaborated with the occupying forces numerous times, such as in the way that they survived the destruction of the second temple. Also, the Sadducees were sometimes the popular party amongst the people, and were, on a number of occasions, pushed out of the Sanhedrin by the Pharisees and their powerful allies.

Second is the claim that the Sadducean party simply disappeared after the destruction of the second temple since their practices were based so much on it. There are signs that although the group diminished in size and ignored for a time in recorded history, they may have continued to survive and develop into a group later known as the Karaites.

Essenes

The Essenes were a monastic group who withdrew from larger Jewish society and practiced a form of communal living quite similar to that which the early Church practiced, as documented in Acts 4 . They do not appear to have participated to any significant degree in Jewish institutions of their day; for example, they did not offer sacrifices in the temple. The Bible is silent about them, but Josephus describes them in some detail in his Antiquities of the Jews. According to Josephus, they numbered four thousand at the time of the destruction of the second temple. They are the sect that compiled and stored the Dead Sea Scrolls at about this time.

Modern Sects

There are a number of sects that exist now.

Orthodox

These are the modern day descendants of the Pharisees. They hold the divine origins of both the Written and the Oral Torah, and that both Torahs are unchanged from when they were originally given.

Reform

They do not believe that the Torah was written by Deity, and accept the critical views of the authorship of the books of Moses and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, e.g., the documentary hypothesis. They do still retain a lot of the traditions of Judaism. It is considered to be liberal, as it accepts agnostic, non-practicing, and nominal Jews.

Conservative

They do accept some divine source to the Jewish Scriptures, but emphasize the human aspect, in that it was written and transmitted by humans, and thus can contain errors. They believe the laws of Judaism should adapt to the predominant culture. Another sect of Judaism calling itself reconstructionalist Judaism is closely linked to Conservative Judaism, but believes that Judaism is an evolving religious civilisation.

Karaite

Probably the modern day equivalent to the Sadducees, they uphold the divine origin of the Written Torah alone. They do not hold that the Oral Torah is from the Almighty, or that it was given to Moses. They do not reject all tradition out of hand, but only respect those that are in line with the plain understanding of scripture. Their main principle is that everyone should learn Torah for themselves and not put too much trust in teachers or traditions. Karaite Judaism is actually a relatively recent phenomenon which resulted from Judaization in Karaism, an Eastern Christian tradition which converted Abu Hanifa and Anan Ben David to its beliefs.

The Oral Law

One issue that has a significant place within Judaism is the role and power of the Oral Law. The Orthodox Jew sees it as an integral part of Torah, the law of Moshe. To them, without it, the writings of scripture are unreadable and cannot be understood properly. It is divine, coming from the Almighty and his judicial institution, namely the sages and rabbis. Their judgements are seen as binding, and their commentary as the most authoritative to the point where the commentary is studied more that the actual written scriptures. The oral law is seen as divine in origin and thus equal to the written law and scriptures. To the orthodox Jew, to reject the oral law is to reject Judaism and become a heretic.

Those who appreciate the Karaite philosophy of scripture sees any commentary as human in origin and only the written scripture themselves as divine. To promote the words of men, either sages or rabbis and even the Karaite Hakhams (wise men), to an equal status with the divine scripture is something tantamount to idolatry. Although a person with the "written scripture only" philosophy can respect the wisdom of commentaries, even those of the rabbis and sages, but tests them in light of the grammatical and historical context of written scripture.

The Place of the Gentile

Judaism has a fundamental universal aspect to it. Since there is only one Deity, and all humans, Jew and non-Jew, were created by Him, everyone is obligated to acknowledge him. Although Israelites were given a special commission, position, and covenant with YHWH (Yahweh), non-Jews are held to the Noahide laws, and can be accepted by God as righteous if they abide by them. Objections to gentiles, in biblical and rabbinical literature, are essentially ethical, as opposed to racial.

According to rabbinic argument, a gentile can also keep as many of the laws of Israel as he is able to, except laws that are specifically prescribed to Israelites alone, such as tzitzit (a thread that is worn on the corner of garments), and a full observance of the feast and the sabbath. With regards to the latter, the feast days and the sabbath, according to rabbinic sources, a gentile can keep the aspects of the day which are universal, but full observance is forbidden.

The question of whether the Noahide laws are of a purely rabbinic nature or can be derived by scripture has been asked by Karaites, some of whom see it as purely part of the oral law, a foreign addition to the written Torah. But that there is an essential truth to the Noahide laws stated by the Orthodox Jews has been observed. Other Karaites note that, even from a strictly biblical standpoint, there was a "natural" moral code extant before the time of Moses, and a universal aspect to laws within the law of Moses, which apply to gentiles today without them needing to convert fully.

A non-Jew does have the option of becoming a Jew through conversion and naturalisation. The main process of this is circumcision of the foreskin for the male with some form of statement of allegiance to the Creator and Israel. A female can also convert, but no form of circumcision is required.

The Ten Commandments

Main Article: Ten Commandments

Although a good number of Jews and Christians believe that the ten commandments are rules for all of humanity, strictly speaking they are not. There is strong biblical evidence that the Ten Commandments are actually only for the nation of Israel. Firstly, the words "the ten commandments" are not in the Hebrew text of scripture, which would be "asarah hammitwoth" or "asarah hammitvoth" - "asarah" meaning "ten", and "hammitwoth" meaning "the commandments", thus altogether meaning "the ten commandments". The actual words in Hebrew is "the ten statements" or "the ten words" or "the ten matters" ("aseret" meaning "ten" and "haddevariym" meaning "the statements, words, or matters"). There are maybe more than simply ten commandments in it and there are also simple statements, such as "I am YHWH your Deity who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" or "I am a jealous Deity".

Secondly these ten statements are expressly called "the words of the covenant", namely the covenant between YHWH and Israel in Exodus 34:28.

And thirdly, to further prove the fact that the ten statements are actually the written testimony of the covenant between the Almighty and Israel is the fact that they are called "the testimony" numerous times in scriptures (Exodus 25:16 ; Exodus 31:18 ; Exodus 32:15 ; Exodus 34:27-29 ; Exodus 40:20-21 ; 1Kings 8:9 1Kings 8:21 ).

Although there may be principles in the ten statements, as with many parts of the laws of Israel, that are applicable to all nations, the actual ten statements themselves do appear to be for Israel alone as part of their covenant.

Jews believe that there are 7 commandments in the Bible that apply to non-Jews as well as Jews. See Noahide laws.

Doctrines of Judaism

Deity

Although philosophical proofs can be given concerning the existence of the Creator, and are given by some of the philosophers of Judaism, such as Maimonides, the existence of Deity is taken as axiomatic and the existence of the universe is sufficient proof of the existence of Deity.

Judaism says that Deity is absolutely and indivisibly one, as opposed to the trinity of mainstream Christians, or the partnership (i.e., only the "Father" and the "Son") in some unorthodox sects of Christianity. He cannot be split into parts, and he is alone in his sovereignty and shares his rule, glory, and position with no-one. It is only to him that people should pray and give worship. He alone is Creator of the entire universe. He has no body, no physicality, and thus is called incorporeal, and thus passages of scripture referring to parts of Deity, like his hand, eye or arm, are anthropomorphic, and representing him in a real physical form is considered idolatry. He is unchanging, as opposed to other religions that say he, or part of him, changed into a man at some point in history. He is also omnipresent (everywhere), although separate from his creation, omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), eternal (timeless, without beginning or end), and immortal (cannot die).

He is both just and merciful, and holy and perfect.

Atonement and Forgiveness for Sins

All sects of Judaism, the ones that accept both the oral and the written Torah, and the ones that only accept the written, observe that there are several ways of gaining forgiveness and atonement. It must be noted that biblical forgiveness does not necessarily mean that a punishment or negative consequence will not come in response to a sin committed. It simply means that although there may be consequences for sins, the person receives no more blame for the sin.

  • A material offering to the Almighty, normally animal sacrifices and bloodless sacrifices. According to some, this is the lowest level of gaining atonement since it was only good for certain sins, as specified in the early chapters of Leviticus and if a sin was committed defiantly (Heb. with a high hand), there was no offering that could atone for it (Numbers 15:30-31 ). In addition, an offering by itself, without true repentance or true good intention, could not bring about atonement either (Isaiah 1). The offering was not simply given as a means to appease an angry god, as pagans believed. One Hebrew word for offering is "qorban", coming from the root word q-r-b which means to draw near. Thus offerings were more a means of drawing near to Deity.
  • Prayer is an effective means of obtaining forgiveness as can be seen in the classic text which states, "if my people which are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins, and will heal their land." (2Chronicles 7:14 ). Another example of effective prayer can be seen when a king called Menasseh, who lived a life of evil, prayed to the Almighty and received forgiveness. (2Chronicles 33:9 ) An example of powerful prayer can be seen in Psalms 32 .
  • Repentance appears to be the most powerful form of gaining forgiveness. Repentance, otherwise known as teshuvah, is an active rejection of sinful actions in one's life and an adherence to the way of righteousness, doing righteous acts and acknowledging the Almighty. It is mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 26:40-45 ) and is implicit in some of its teachings (e.g. Leviticus 18:5 ). It is given a more extensive clarification in the prophets and the writings, especially in places like Isaiah 1 and Ezekiel 18-33 . Orthodox Jews believe that repentance was powerful enough to overturn the Almighty's decree on a wicked king called Jeconiah that he should remain childless. According to the psalms, such as Psalms 40-51 , the Almighty much prefers repentance and obedience to his word to sacrifice.

Original Sin and Satan

Amongst the sects of Christianity, there is a concept that the sin of Adam has been inherited by all of his descendants, dooming them all to hell unless they accept Jesus, making them a slave to sin. This is called "original sin". This idea is foreign to all sects of Judaism (this is different to the idea of "the original sin" which means that Adam and Eve's sin was the first, and thus original, sin). Everyone has the power and the choice to do good or evil. Although humans do have a tendency to do evil, they also have the power to do good. It is not doing one sin that makes one a sinner, but continual sin that makes one a sinner, since the Jewish scriptures say that men who are called righteous by the Almighty do sin, but are not called sinners (e.g., Genesis 6:9 ; Job 1:1 ; 1Kings 15:5 ; Ecclesiastes 7:20 ). Although humans are not perfect, and cannot be, that does not exclude them from a good relationship with the Creator.

In Judaism, Satan, or more correctly the adversary, is actually an angel of the Almighty who does the bidding of the Almighty. He is the adversary who comes to punish sin and test man. He appears to be the adversary of sin and wickedness rather than the adversary or enemy of man. All in all, he appears to be a servant of Yahweh and a manifestation of his wrath or his character of searching out his human servants. Although Orthodox Judaism does have an elaborate angelology, it is generally held that Deity is in charge of everything and has no viable enemy. There is no dualism of the Almighty being a force of good, and thus needing a counterforce, a force of evil, in the shape of the Devil.

Messiah

According to modern Judaism, the messiah is an anointed king from the seed of David, through his natural father as kingship generally comes through the father, not the mother (Isaiah 7:14-15 ). However the Bible explains that He is yet to come, and is expected to be a righteous king who is a Torah scholar. His reign will bring about such things as the reinstitution of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrifices (Ezekiel 37:26-28 ; and Ezekiel 41-46 ), world peace (Isaiah 2:3 ), and the worldwide knowledge of the Creator (Isaiah 11:9 ). He will even have children (Ezekiel 46:16-17 ) and thus be married. As such things have not occurred, Judaism rejects the claims of others claiming to be the anointed king, such as Simon Bar Kochba, and Jesus of Nazareth.

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