Thursday, February 15, 2007

What is Judaism? -

You can study the Torah and come to a score of conclusions; it's seemingly open enough and enough in certain points that you can get what you want from it. If you read the Torah for just half an hour you would understand that the connection between Judaism, Jews, the Torah, and Israel is crystal clear.

Let's start like this; Abraham is the father of the Jewish religion through his revelation by G-d. He settled in Israel vis-a-vis a commandment by G-d, upon leaving Egypt the Jews received the Torah and settled in Israel also upon a commandment from G-d. G-d commanded King David to build a permanent abode for His Presence and that was the Temple in Jerusalem, where Abraham went to bind and sacrifice Isaac. All of that is in the Torah.

Judah is one of the twelve tribes of Israel, whose original name was "Jacob." In English, from the name "Judah" we drive "Jew." As history has it, the ten northern tribes of Israel were driven from the land during the Assyrian invasion in 722 BCE and the rest during 586 BCE by the Babylonians. The tribe of Judah, the tribe from which King David is, remained intact and so the rest of the Israelites intermarried with them (which was already occuring) and gradually took on the name of Judah. This is how it came to be that the Israelites took on the name of Judah, "Jew." For example, my family traces its lineage to the tribe of Levi, but I am still a Jew; it's a nomenclature. Since we now use the word "Jew," we use it interchangably with "Israelite" and "Hebrew," and so we say that Moses and Abraham were Jews.

So who are the Jews?

The Jews are technically Israelites, but this is just a physical, biological understanding, which ultimately is irrelevant in defining a Jew, whose being is bound up in his soul. For example, is Jewish blood different than any other blood? Is there Jewish DNA? The first Jew was Abraham, a Hebrew, but that ethnicity is more-or-less lost to us today; does that matter? A Jew is charged with infusing the world with the unified knowledge of G-d through observing the commandments and teaching the world how to live G-dly lives as well. Ultimately, the genetic formation of his flesh is of no consequence - it is a physical paradigm that Judaism does not condone, nor is there any foundation for it in the Torah.

Many people have been given descriptions of Judaism that classify it as a pseudo-cultral-ethnic phenomenon; that's not what it is at all. There are Jews of all "races," and people can convert to Judaism, which would be impossible if it was not a religion. When a person converts to Judaism, it is said that his/her entire being goes through a change, including the body and the soul.

The Temple in Jerusalem, called the "Bet Hamikdash," destroyed the second time in the year 70 by the Romans, is where the animal sacrifices took place. The sacrifices were used to atone for sin. It is also the courtyard where the Jewish court took place in order to carry out legislation, such as dealing with disputes and carrying out sentences, i.e., the application of the Law. It was also the seat of the Torah-based Jewish monarchy and according to Torah belief, will be again when the Mashiach, Messiah, comes.

Judaism is a way of life totally surrounding the Will of G-d in every aspect of existence; if you want to call it a religion that would technically be accurate if you understand religion to mean a composite set of both practice and doctrine encompassing all of life, originating from G-d's Mind. Through observance of the 613 commandments, the Jews bring the world to the state that G-d desires; part of that desire is to inform the nations of the world, the Gentiles, that they too have obligations to G-d. These are encapsulated in the Seven Noachide Laws. All of these things are kept intact in Orthodox Judaism. That itself is a name (meaning "right" "thinking") that has been given to it, but that's fine, it does the job. In other words, Judaism is the Torah, which is the blueprint of existence. That is Judaism.

This is a very general and simplistic description of what Judaism is, you can find more intellectually probing perspectives in a series of good books, such as "If You Were G-d" by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a personal favorite, "To Be a Jewish Woman" by Lisa Aiken, who lives not very far from me, "The Other Side of the Story," by Yehudis Samet, and a really fascinating read, "The Science of G-d," by Gerard Schroeder.

One particularly good book on Jewish philosophy is "Path of the Just" by Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto (the Ramchal). A very good work called "The Thirteen Principles of Faith" is a short compendium of Torah doctrine written by the Sage Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, also known as "Maimonides" or "the Rambam."

Enjoy and have good day, Yaniv...

No comments: