Judiasm Essay, Research Paper
Is Judaism composed of many ’small religions’ or one underlyingreligion? Judaism or Judaisms? It has been argued that Judaism can be seen notonly as a single religion, but as a group of similar religions. It has alsobeen pointed-out that through all the trials and tribulations that Judaismhas suffered through, that there have been common themes that have proven omni-pervasive. Any institution with roots as ancient and varied as the religion of the Jews is bound to have a few variations, especially whenmost of its history takes place in the political and theological hot spot ofthe Middle East. In this discussion, many facets of Judaism will beexamined, primarily in the three temporal subdivisions labeled the Tribal / Pre-Monarchy Period, the Divided Monarchy, and the Hasmonean /Maccabean and Roman Era. Among all the time periods where the religion has beensplit, these three seem to be the most representative of the forcesresponsible. As for a common thread seen throughout all Judiasms, the area of focushere is the place associated with the religion : Jerusalem. This topic will be covered in detail first, and then the multiple Judaism arguments willbe presented. In this way, it is possible to keep a common focus in mindwhen reading about all the other situations in which the religion has found itself. A brief conclusion follows the discussion. A Place to Call HomeNo other religion has ever been so attached to its birthplace as Judaism. Perhaps this is because Jews have been exiled and restricted from thisplace for most of their history. Jerusalem is not only home to Judaism, butto the Muslim and Christian religions as well. Historically this has made itquite a busy place for the various groups. Jerusalem is where the temple of theJews once stood; the only place on the whole Earth where one could leave the confines of day to day life and get closer to God. In 586 BCE when thetemple was destroyed, no Jew would have denied Jerusalem as being thegeographic center of the religion. From that point on, the Jewish people havemigrated around the world, but not one of them forgets the fact that Jerusalemis where it all began. It is truly a sacred place, and helps to definewhat Judaism means to many people; a common thread to run through all thevarious splinters of the religion and help hold them together. Even today, asthe Jewish people have their precious Jerusalem back (through the help ofother nations and their politics) there is great conflict and emotionsurrounding it. Other nations and people in the area feel that they should be incontrol of the renowned city, and the Jews deny fervently any attempt towrestle it from their occupation. It is true that there is no temple in Jeruslaemtoday, nor are all the Jews in the world rushing to get back there. But it is apparent that the city represents more to the religion of Judaism thana mere place to live and work. The city of Jerusalem is a spiritual epicenter,and throughout Judaism s long and varied history, this single fact hasnever changed. Tribal / Pre-Monarchy Judaism s roots lie far back in thebeginnings of recorded history. The religion did not spring into existence exactlyas it is known today, rather it was pushed and prodded by variousenvironmental factors along the way. One of the first major influences on thereligion was the Canaanite nation. Various theories exist as to how and when thepeople that would later be called Jews entered into this civilization. But regardless of how they ultimately got there, these pioneers of the newfaith were subjected to many of the ideas and prejudices of the time. Any new society that finds itself in an existing social situation, can do nomore than to try and integrate into that framework. And this is exactly whatthe Jews did. Early Judaism worshipped multiple gods. One of these gods wasknown as Ba al, and was generally thought-of as a statue god with certain limitations on his power. The other primary deity was called YHWH (orYahweh) and enjoyed a much more mysterious and illusive reputation. He was very numinous, and one was to have great respect, but great fear for him atthe same time. Ba al was not ever really feared, as his cycles(metaphorically seen as the seasons) were fairly well known, and not at allfear-inducing. The fact that the early Jews and Canaanites had these two radicallydifferent representations of a deity active in their culture, basically assuredthat there would be splits in the faith. One group inevitably would focus onone of the gods, and another would focus on another. In this way, thesingle religion could support multiple types of worship, leading to multiple philosophies and patterns of behavior, which could then focus more andmore on their respective niche, widening the gap into a clear cutdistinction between religious groups. This early time period was generally quite temporary and non-centralized, stemming from the fact that technologywas at a very low level, and people s lifespan was fairly short. Theseconditions led to a rapid rate of turnover in religious thought, and left manyfactions of people to their own devices. Widespread geographic distributioncoupled with poor communication certainly did not help in holding the manyfaiths together. The Tribal Period in Jewish history is one of the moresplintered eras in the religion, but since these people were all living in thearea near Jerusalem, the common thread can be seen clearly through the other less-defined elements of the religion. Divided Monarchy By its very
name, it is apparent that this period of history is host to a great deal ofdivergence in the Jewish religion. As Solomon was king, people began to grow moreand more restless. Some objected to worshiping a human king, while othersbalked at the oppression of the poor that was going on. Political unrest inthis period led to a decisive split in geographic territory, and thus asplit in religious views. A group of people left the area of Judah and traveledNorth to found Israel, where they could be free to practice their ownpolitical flavors, and their own religious flavors as well. This sort of behaviorhas come to be seen as common of oppressed people, and the result is almost always a great deviation in the ways of the old world . A perfectexample of this comes when examining the point in American history whereindependence was declared from England. Now, mere centuries later, America is asdifferent in its politics, religions, and social forces from England as one could imagine. This was most likely the result when Israel was founded, farback in Biblical history. Communication between the two cities was sparse. The priests and prophets were undoubtedly addressing items pertinent to one group, but not neccesarily the other. The influence of foreign tradersto each of the two places, as well as the political attitudes of each allwould have had enormous impact on a newly-spawned religion. Thus, it caneasily be seen that the religion was split into (at least) two major divisionsduring this time period. Toward the end of the Divided Monarchy, it seems thatthe prophets began calling for major changes in the basic foundation of theearly Jews lives. The kings and priests had no major disputes with thestatus quo, but apparently the prophets were calling for a reorganization. Thissort of turmoil within can do nothing but further split people s faith. Itwas is if the question was posed : to follow the kings and the priests, whohave guided us and kept us safe? or follow the far-seeing prophets, who aremore like us and honestly have our best interests at heart? As the nextmajor historical division occurred this sort of argument would continue, andthus the Jewish people were left to practice their religion in whatever waythey felt best : multiple groups of people with varying faith in the manyforms of Judaism as it existed toward the end of the Divided Monarchy. Hasmonean/ Maccabean and Roman Era This time period in Jewish history ispolitically tumultuous, leading to high levels of splits and variations in thereligion itself. One of the most disruptive types of all wars is a civil war.And this is exactly what occurs at the outset in the Jewish homeland ofJerusalem. The Jewish civil war was against the extreme Hellenizers (people who tended toward utter reason in their beliefs) and the moderate Hellenizers(people who can see things rationally, but believe there are more items toconsider than this — ex. the Maccabean family, who became the Hasmonean kings).So right away, it is apparent that the ideas that the Greeks introducedinto Jewish culture have acted as time-bombs of social memes, and havecreated a major split in the religion. When the violence of the war has subsided,the moderate Hellenizers have won ( everything in moderation! ) and rulefor a short time, until the Roman empire attacks and throws even more kinksinto the Jewish society. When the Romans take over, the Hasmonean kings areleft in place as puppet kings, which ultimately forces the generalpopulation to question their governing body. When the Romans destroy the temple in Jerusalem, it is made painfully clear that some changes are going to bemade. Most obvious, the priests suddenly have no major role in the religion.Their primary purpose had been to tend to the sacrificing of animals, andsince it is illegal to sacrifice an animal outside the temple, the priests werein an unsettling position. As can be seen in countless other examples,politics and religion are invariably tied, and people began practicing their ownflavors of Judaism after their civilization had been so radically altered. Atthis point in history, there is really no solid rule to prevent such splits,and for a time a mixed form of Judaism with many varieties flourishes. Noone was sure what to do once the heart of Judaism (the temple) had beendestroyed, but it soon became apparent that an appealing option was arising. Twomajor social groups of the time period were vying for power. The first group,the Saducees were associated with the displaced Hasmonean kings. The second group, the Pharisees, had an idea that would help work around thetragic destruction of the temple. People were split, once again. They couldstay with the traditional Saducees (who had the political power, believed inonly written Torah, and did not subscribe to resurrection — basically a conservative view), or they could side with the newcomers, thePharisees (who had religious power, believed in both the written and the oral Torah,and believed in resurrection) and hope to preserve their Jewish heritage by worshiping outside of the temple, in their everyday life. It was not ahard decision, and the Pharisees eventually gained power, leading the Jewish religion into its next phase of Rabbinic Judaism. It is apparent thatin each of the three time periods discussed above that many factions of thesame religion were active. Competing philosophies, outside political forces,and geographic isolation are among the most obvious of the dividing forces. However many other influences pound each and every day on a givensocial institution, subtly forming it and changing it into something it wasnot. For this reason, the answer to the debate whether Judaism is a single, or multiple religion(s) is an obvious one, depending upon how you chooseto look at it. Every religion has many pieces, but as long as there are a few constants (such as the birthplace, the language, literature, etc) it is possible to view the whole as a single force, and still acknowledge variations that will inevitably spring-up.