Judaism Or Judaisms Essay, Research Paper
Is Judaism composed of many ’small religions’ or one underlying religion?Judaism or Judaisms?It has been argued that Judaism can be seen not only as a singlereligion, but as a group of similar religions. It has also beenpointed-out that through all the trials and tribulations that Judaismhas suffered through, that there have been common themes that haveproven omni-pervasive. Any institution with roots as ancient and variedas the religion of the Jews is bound to have a few variations,especially when most of its history takes place in the political andtheological hot spot of the Middle East. In this discussion, many facets of Judaism will be examined, primarilyin the three temporal subdivisions labeled the Tribal / Pre-MonarchyPeriod, the Divided Monarchy, and the Hasmonean / Maccabean and RomanEra. Among all the time periods where the religion has been split,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 topicwill be covered in detail first, and then the multiple Judaism argumentswill be presented. In this way, it is possible to keep a common focusin mind when reading about all the other situations in which thereligion has found itself. A brief conclusion follows the discussion. A Place to Call HomeNo other religion has ever been so attached to its birthplace asJudaism. Perhaps this is because Jews have been exiled and restrictedfrom this place for most of their history. Jerusalem is not only hometo Judaism, but to the Muslim and Christian religions as well.Historically this has made it quite a busy place for the various groups. Jerusalem is where the temple of the Jews once stood; the only place onthe whole Earth where one could leave the confines of day to day lifeand get closer to God. In 586 BCE when the temple was destroyed, no Jewwould have denied Jerusalem as being the geographic center of thereligion. From that point on, the Jewish people have migrated aroundthe world, but not one of them forgets the fact that Jerusalem is whereit all began. It is truly a sacred place, and helps to define whatJudaism means to many people; a common thread to run through all thevarious splinters of the religion and help hold them together. Even today, as the Jewish people have their precious Jerusalem back(through the help of other nations and their politics) there is greatconflict and emotion surrounding it. Other nations and people in thearea feel that they should be in control of the renowned city, and theJews deny fervently any attempt to wrestle it from their occupation. Itis true that there is no temple in Jeruslaem today, nor are all the Jewsin the world rushing to get back there. But it is apparent that thecity represents more to the religion of Judaism than a mere place tolive and work. The city of Jerusalem is a spiritual epicenter, andthroughout Judaism s long and varied history, this single fact has neverchanged. Tribal / Pre-MonarchyJudaism s roots lie far back in the beginnings of recorded history. Thereligion did not spring into existence exactly as it is known today,rather it was pushed and prodded by various environmental factors alongthe way. One of the first major influences on the religion was theCanaanite nation. Various theories exist as to how and when the peoplethat would later be called Jews entered into this civilization. Butregardless 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, cando no more than to try and integrate into that framework. And this isexactly what the Jews did. Early Judaism worshipped multiple gods. One of these gods was known asBa al, and was generally thought-of as a statue god with certainlimitations on his power. The other primary deity was called YHWH (orYahweh) and enjoyed a much more mysterious and illusive reputation. Hewas very numinous, and one was to have great respect, but great fear forhim at the same time. Ba al was not ever really feared, as his cycles(metaphorically seen as the seasons) were fairly well known, and not atall fear-inducing. The fact that the early Jews and Canaanites had these two radicallydifferent representations of a deity active in their culture, basicallyassured that there would be splits in the faith. One group inevitablywould focus on one of the gods, and another would focus on another. Inthis way, the single religion could support multiple types of worship,leading to multiple philosophies and patterns of behavior, which couldthen focus more and more on their respective niche, widening the gapinto a clear cut distinction between religious groups. This early time period was generally quite temporary andnon-centralized, stemming from the fact that technology was at a verylow level, and people s lifespan was fairly short. These conditions ledto a rapid rate of turnover in religious thought, and left many factionsof people to their own devices. Widespread geographic distributioncoupled with poor communication certainly did not help in holding themany faiths together. The Tribal Period in Jewish history is one of themore splintered eras in the religion, but since these people were allliving in the area near Jerusalem, the common thread can be seen clearlythrough the other less-defined elements of the religion. Divided MonarchyBy its very name, it is apparent that this period of history is host toa great deal of divergence in the Jewish religion. As Solomon was king,
people began to grow more and more restless. Some objected toworshiping a human king, while others balked at the oppression of thepoor that was going on. Political unrest in this period led to adecisive split in geographic territory, and thus a split in religiousviews. A group of people left the area of Judah and traveled North to foundIsrael, where they could be free to practice their own politicalflavors, and their own religious flavors as well. This sort of behaviorhas come to be seen as common of oppressed people, and the result isalmost always a great deviation in the ways of the old world . Aperfect example of this comes when examining the point in Americanhistory where independence was declared from England. Now, merecenturies later, America is as different in its politics, religions, andsocial forces from England as one could imagine. This was most likelythe result when Israel was founded, far back in Biblical history. Communication between the two cities was sparse. The priests andprophets were undoubtedly addressing items pertinent to one group, butnot neccesarily the other. The influence of foreign traders to each ofthe two places, as well as the political attitudes of each all wouldhave had enormous impact on a newly-spawned religion. Thus, it caneasily be seen that the religion was split into (at least) two majordivisions during this time period. Toward the end of the Divided Monarchy, it seems that the prophets begancalling for major changes in the basic foundation of the early Jews lives. The kings and priests had no major disputes with the status quo,but apparently the prophets were calling for a reorganization. Thissort of turmoil within can do nothing but further split people sfaith. It was is if the question was posed : to follow the kings andthe priests, who have guided us and kept us safe? or follow thefar-seeing prophets, who are more like us and honestly have our bestinterests at heart? As the next major historical division occurred thissort of argument would continue, and thus the Jewish people were left topractice their religion in whatever way they felt best : multiplegroups of people with varying faith in the many forms of Judaism as itexisted toward the end of the Divided Monarchy. Hasmonean / Maccabean and Roman EraThis time period in Jewish history is politically tumultuous, leading tohigh levels of splits and variations in the religion itself. One of themost disruptive types of all wars is a civil war. And this is exactlywhat occurs at the outset in the Jewish homeland of Jerusalem. TheJewish civil war was against the extreme Hellenizers (people who tendedtoward utter reason in their beliefs) and the moderate Hellenizers(people who can see things rationally, but believe there are more itemsto consider than this — ex. the Maccabean family, who became theHasmonean kings). So right away, it is apparent that the ideas that theGreeks introduced into Jewish culture have acted as time-bombs ofsocial memes, and have created a major split in the religion. When the violence of the war has subsided, the moderate Hellenizers havewon ( everything in moderation! ) and rule for a short time, until theRoman empire attacks and throws even more kinks into the Jewishsociety. When the Romans take over, the Hasmonean kings are left inplace as puppet kings, which ultimately forces the general populationto question their governing body. When the Romans destroy the temple in Jerusalem, it is made painfullyclear that some changes are going to be made. Most obvious, the priestssuddenly have no major role in the religion. Their primary purpose hadbeen to tend to the sacrificing of animals, and since it is illegal tosacrifice an animal outside the temple, the priests were in anunsettling position. As can be seen in countless other examples, politics and religion areinvariably tied, and people began practicing their own flavors ofJudaism after their civilization had been so radically altered. At thispoint 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. No one was sure what to do once the heart of Judaism (the temple) hadbeen destroyed, but it soon became apparent that an appealing option wasarising. Two major social groups of the time period were vying forpower. The first group, the Saducees were associated with the displacedHasmonean kings. The second group, the Pharisees, had an idea thatwould help work around the tragic destruction of the temple. Peoplewere split, once again. They could stay with the traditional Saducees(who had the political power, believed in only written Torah, and didnot subscribe to resurrection — basically a conservative view), or theycould side with the newcomers, the Pharisees (who had religious power,believed in both the written and the oral Torah, and believed inresurrection) and hope to preserve their Jewish heritage by worshipingoutside of the temple, in their everyday life. It was not a hard decision, and the Pharisees eventually gained power,leading the Jewish religion into its next phase of Rabbinic Judaism. It is apparent that in each of the three time periods discussed abovethat many factions of the same religion were active. Competingphilosophies, outside political forces, and geographic isolation areamong the most obvious of the dividing forces. However many otherinfluences pound each and every day on a given social institution,subtly forming it and changing it into something it was not. For thisreason, the answer to the debate whether Judaism is a single, ormultiple religion(s) is an obvious one, depending upon how you choose tolook at it. Every religion has many pieces, but as long as there are afew constants (such as the birthplace, the language, literature, etc) itis possible to view the whole as a single force, and still acknowledgevariations that will inevitably spring-up.