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JUDAISM. The religious system held by the Jews. Its teachings come from the OT, especially from the law of Moses as found from Exod.20.1-Exod.20.26 through Deuteronomy; but also from the traditions of the elders (Mark.7.3-Mark.7.13), some of which our Lord condemned. The principal elements of Judaism include circumcision, a strict monotheism, an abhorrence of idolatry, and Sabbath-keeping.

The religion of the Jews in contrast with that of the OT, from which it was derived. The two focal points in its development were the two destructions of the Jerusalem temple in 586 b.c. and a.d. 70, which ended the centrality of sacrifice found in the OT. It was encouraged above all by the widespread dispersion of Jewry both East and West, which made the Law the center around which Jewish life and religion had perforce to revolve outside Palestine. During the intertestamental period, in which Judaism was developing, various directions became obvious—e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Hellenists-but the situation created by the destruction of the Jewish state in a.d. 70 and confirmed by the crushing of the Bar- Kochba revolt in 135 left the Pharisaic interpretation of Judaism without rivals. It reached its full development by 500, its authoritative documents being the Talmud, composed of the Mishnah and Gemara, and the Midrashim (official interpretations of the OT books).

An outstanding feature of Judaism has been its ability to adapt itself to pressure and persecution from Christianity and Islam, to minority social status, and to changing cultural circumstances without altering its essential nature. These adaptations have periodically been codified, the most important being Maimonides's Mishneh Torah (1180) and Karo's Shulcan Aruch (1565). Once Judaism had been able to eliminate the Jewish Christian, there was only one movement, until modern times, which it was not able to assimilate, viz., the Karaites, who emerged in the eighth century and reached their climax in the twelfth; today they claim only some two thousand adherents. In the nineteenth century, under the influence of modern thought, a reform, or liberal, movement began and has steadily increased. Other Jews have turned to materialism, Marxism, or a religionless nationalism.

Though Judaism had its great philosophical thinkers, it is essentially a historical religion based on God's election of Israel, shown above all in the Exodus, giving of the Law, and conquest of Canaan. Though Judaism recognizes the existence of the righteous among the nations, who will have “a share in the world to come,” a full knowledge of God's will and the possibility of carrying it out are confined to Jewry. It is the possession of the Law that gives real meaning to God's election, and any Gentile who is prepared to accept “the yoke of the Law” is welcomed into the community of Israel. Since under Muslim and medieval Christian rule successful missionary attempts by Jews involved the death penalty for converter and converted alike, the zeal for converts shown in an earlier period vanished and is only rarely met with today.

The Jewish doctrine of God is not merely monotheistic, but strongly and deliberately anti-Trinitarian. God's unity is declared to be unique, “like no other unity.” In its more philosophical forms Judaism declares that no human attribute may be postulated of God; where they are used in the Bible, it is merely an accommodation to human weakness. The transcendence of God is stressed in a way that makes any concept of incarnation impossible. Various concepts to bridge the gulf between God and His creation are found, but none are authoritative or universally received.

The main stress in normative Judaism is laid on the Torah. Though under Septuagint and Christian influence this is very generally rendered “Law,” it is realized that “Instruction” is a more accurate rendering. The Torah is perfect, written in letters of fire in heaven antedating the creation of the world. Israel was chosen for the sake of the Torah and apart from it has no reason for existing. The Torah consists of two parts, the written and the oral. The written Torah contains 613 precepts, 365 being negative and 248 positive; the oral Torah is the extension of these precepts to cover all life and all its contingencies. Except for adaptations to more recent conditions, the oral Torah has found its definitive expression in the Talmud, to which modern developments must conform. Much scorn has been poured on the methods used by the rabbis, but once we grant the basic concept of Torah, it is difficult to see what other results could have been reached. The Talmudic system is more humane than that of the Samaritans or Karaites and is in many ways comparable with the casuistic methods of the Schoolmen and Jesuits.

Legalistic such a system must be, but this is mitigated by stress on kawwanah and lishmah, i.e., that in the carrying out of the commandment the heart must be directed (kawwanah) to God and that it should be done for its own sake (lishmah), out of the love to God, and not purely for reward. If it is asked how this can be reconciled with a statement like Acts 15:10, it must be remembered that it was said by Peter, who came from a mixed population of Galilee. The real keeping of the Law virtually demands a thoroughly Jewish environment.

The outstanding weakness of the system from the Christian standpoint is that the Torah is conceived of as something given to man for his interpretation and application. On the basis of passages like Leviticus 18:5 it is stressed that the Torah was given that men might live by it; hence commandments that weighed too heavily on the community have been mitigated or circumvented. In addition, a genuine threat to life releases the Jew from all commandments except those prohibiting idolatry, murder, and adultery-Christian baptism is regarded as idolatry. This outlook, the tendency to place all commandments on the same level, and the vanishing of sacrifice have in the course of time diminished the sense of sin. Traditional Judaism recognizes that there are two impulses in man, one good, one bad, by virtue of his creation, not fall; the concept is played down today. The evil impulse can be checked by study of Torah.

The messianic hope never took on a fixed and official form. It is universally accepted that God will yet set up His perfect rule on earth, and it was generally agreed that this would be achieved through the Messiah.* Mainly due to repeated disappointments, he has become for many the personification of the hope of the kingdom of God. With this was linked the expectation of the resurrection of the body. Under Greek influence the concept of the immortality of the soul was gradually accepted. The virtual incompatibility of the two ideas has led to a blurring of the hope of a future life and bodily resurrection. For the Liberal, future life is purely spiritual.

There is judgment to come for all, yet only the exceptionally wicked Jew need fear punishment; for most it will mean rewards. Various views have been held about Gehinnom, or hell. For some it is a limited period of punishment, which purifies or annihilates; others consider it eternal.

Theology, beyond the unique oneness of God, the divine origin and primacy of the Torah, the coming kingdom of God, and the election of Israel, plays little part in Judaism. Controversies, until recently, have been about doing. A Jew who does the right things is presumed to believe the right things unless he expressly denies them. Hence it is usual to speak of an “observant” rather than of an “orthodox” Jew. “Orthopraxy” would be a better term than “orthodoxy.”

Judaism by its nature has always stressed the community rather than the individual, this world rather than the next. The ghetto system, by shutting the community in on itself, made charity and justice paramount virtues necessary for survival, and the Torah scholar, using his knowledge for the good of the community, was its outstanding member. In Judaism there are no sacraments, and the rabbi occupies his position solely by virtue of his knowledge of the Torah.

Mysticism has played a major role in the synagogue. At first it was confined to small circles “whose intellectual and religious background fortified them against the dangers of straying into the paths of heresy.” Its influence widened over the centuries until in the late eighteenth century it became a popular mass-movement in E Europe known as Hasidism. Stress on the transcendence of God and the claims of the Torah prevented mysticism from degenerating into pantheism and antinomianism. All estimates of Judaism in practice must allow for the influence of the mystic element.

With few exceptions Jewry missed the impact of the Renaissance. It was the growth of humanism and the politically liberating effects of the French Revolution that exposed Jewry, especially in W Europe, to the impact of modern thought. Religiously the result has been the rise of the Liberal Synagogue (Reform Synagogue in America), which in turn has deeply influenced the thought, if not the practice, of much traditional Judaism. In it the center of gravity has moved from the Law to prophetic ethics, and but for its historical coloring, it is hardly distinguishable from Unitarianism. The advent of the State of Israel, especially since the war of 1967, has normally added a strong nationalistic coloring.

In Israel itself, Judaism is under the control of the stricter traditionalists. The tendency is for the more obvious demands of the Law to be treated as national customs without religious significance.

S. Singer (ed.), The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire (1891): with commentary by J.H. Hertz (2 vols., 1941); Jewish Encyclopaedia (12 vols., 1901-6); C.G. Montefiore, Liberal Judaism (1903); L. Baeck, Das Wesen des Judentums (1905-ET The Essence of Judaism, 1936); W.O.E. Oesterley and G.H. Box, The Religion and Worship of the Synagogue (1907) and A Short Survey of the Literature of Rabbinical and Mediaeval Judaism (1920); M. Friedländer, The Jewish Religon (1909, 1921); S. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909); H.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (4 vols., 1922-28); G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (3 vols., 1927, 1930); E.R. Bevan and C. Singer (eds.), The Legacy of Israel (1927); H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (ET 1931); A. Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (1932); H. Danby (tr.), The Mishnah (1933); I. Epstein (ed.), The Talmud (ET, 35 vols., 1935-52); C. Roth, A Short History of the Jewish People (1935); C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (1938); G.C. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1946); J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (1947); S.S. Cohon, Judaism, A Way of Life (1948); J. Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ (1949); M. Waxman, Judaism, Religion and Ethics (1953); I. Epstein, The Faith of Judaism (1954) and Judaism (1959); L. Roth, Judaism, A Portrait (1960); J. Parkes, The Foundations of Judaism and Christianity (1960); R.A. Stewart, Rabbinic Theology (1961); L. Jacobs, Principles of the Jewish Faith (1964), R.J. Zwi Werblowsky and D.G. Wigoder, The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion (1966).

JUDAISM (̓Ιουδαϊσμῳ̂, KJV the Jews’ religion). This Gr. word occurs only twice (Gal 1:13, 14) in the Bible, in reference to the belief and life of the Jews. Judaism may be described as the religion of the Jews in contrast to that of the OT, although recognizing that it is firmly rooted in OT religious attitudes and practices.


Rise of Judaism


Properly speaking, Judaism ought to be regarded as beginning with the Babylonian exile. This experience proved to be a watershed in the history of Heb. religion, for it marked a break with the type of pagan cultic observance that had occupied the attention of both Israel and Judah to varying degrees previously, and set the scene for a different type of religious observance based more firmly upon the ancient covenantal ideals. Life in Pal. had been totally disrupted when the Babylonians ravaged Jerusalem in 587 b.c., and though a few survivors of the catastrophe continued to live around Jerusalem, the most important elements of the nation had been carried in captivity to Babylon. Deprived of all their former religious and cultic associations, the exiles were forced by circumstances to consider the adoption of a type of non-sacrificial religion contemplated by Jeremiah. The full formulation of this concept did not occur until a later period, and as far as the exiles were concerned the most pressing need was for a fresh outlook on life that was completely divorced from the earlier sanctuary worship. In this situation of emotional crisis, a firm lead was given by Ezekiel, who shared the spiritual ideals of Jeremiah and brought them to fuller development. His ministry to the exiles had as its aim the inculcation of a sense of repentance for the past transgressions of the nation, and a firm resolve to exemplify under the conditions of a restored community life in Pal. the ideals and spirituality of the Sinai covenant. He saw that the only way to preserve the spirit of nationality among the exiles was by a careful attention to those religious customs that could be observed with impunity on alien soil. Thus memorial celebrations were substituted for the preexilic feasts, and special fasts were instituted on anniversaries connected with the fall of Jerusalem. Circ umcision was stressed as a distinguishing mark of the exiles, and the ancient laws of purity in the Pentateuch were more closely observed. The Sabbath came into particular prominence as the weekly day of worship, and marked the time when people gathered in houses to hear the law read and to pray. Open-air services also were held by the Kabar irrigation canal, at which confession and the recitation of parts of the Torah were consistent features. The house meetings instituted by Ezekiel laid the basis of subsequent synagogue worship, and were of great significance in focusing the attention of the exiles on the divine word rather than on ritual or cultic performances. Other distinctive exercises of piety by the exiles were designed to stimulate a greater sense of national sin and the consequent need for atonement. By the time that liberty was proclaimed to the captives through the decree of Cyrus in 538 b.c., there had arisen among the exiles a consciousness of being different from and superior to other peoples in view of the higher religious character that participation in the covenant relationship offered them.

Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

The pattern that life in the returned community of Judea followed was that of a theocracy or religious commonwealth, in which the will of God was mediated to the people through the priesthood. The Pers. authorities encouraged the repatriates to follow this form of government, and between 520 and 515 b.c., under the prophetic leadership of Haggai and Zechariah, the Temple was rebuilt and worship renewed in Jerusalem. From the writings of these two men, it is apparent that the zeal with which the repatriates returned to Pal. was soon dissipated, and only after considerable exhortation were the Jews inspired to reconstruct the Temple. The prophecy of Malachi, dated about 450 b.c., shows that certain abuses had crept into the Temple worship and the religious life of the theocracy, and there was a real danger that a lax priesthood would once again bring the people to the brink of spiritual ruin.


These tendencies were brought to an abrupt halt by the work of Ezra the scribe, who was appointed by Artaxerxes I as minister for Jewish affairs to regulate life in Judea. He instituted various reforms (see Religion of the Hebrews) that purified the priesthood and established the covenantal ideal of the theocracy more firmly than ever. He placed great emphasis upon the primacy of the Torah, which he interpreted less as a law code than a set of principles that could be applied to every aspect of life, and that were particularly binding upon the Jews. Ezra has been described quite accurately as the “father of Judaism,” for in coming to Judea he was not introducing a new law so much as demonstrating a new way of keeping the old one.

The Greek period.

The centuries that followed saw determined opposition to the policies of Ezra both from the richer priestly classes and the Samaritans, the latter having benefited from the reforms in Judea to the extent of having gained a high priest from Jerusalem who had been unwilling to surrender his foreign wife. The dramatic rise of Hellenism throughout the empire of Alexander the Great brought about important changes in ancient Near Eastern culture, which by nature were more pervasive and threatening than anything that the Jews had experienced previously in their varied history. The Judeans struggled hard against these influences, being determined to maintain their historic religious distinctiveness. The upper classes of Jews found Gr. traditions fairly attractive, and to counteract this the theocratic ideal was widened and strengthened. The high priesthood played an important role in this process, since it represented the most advanced and influential levels of administration in the religious community. The high priest was the spiritual head and representative of the state, controlling a hierarchy of priests, Levites, and Temple officers. The most characteristic emphasis of Judaism was upon keeping the law, and when many of the priests succumbed to Hellenism, the priestly interpreters of the law, who were known as scribes, succeeded them as guardians of the Torah. Their interpretations gradually acquired an authority of their own, and during the Gr. period the scribes became accepted as the real instructors of the faithful Jews, using the synagogues as their principal sphere of influence. In the 2nd cent. b.c., another group of zealous teachers arose, and were known as Pharisees, or “separatists,” because of their sanctity and moral strictness in such matters as food and religious ceremonies. They accepted the oral tradition of the law as having equal authority with the Torah itself, and maintained that if a man carried out all the injunctions of the law and the tradition, he could obtain justification with God. The Pharisees claimed support from the general mass of the people, and became so influential in the 2nd cent. b.c. that they challenged the authority of the priestly scribes by training their own instructors in the traditional law. They brought a degree of stability to bear upon normative Judaism, which enabled it to survive the catastrophe of a.d. 70.

Another religious group that arose in the 2nd cent. b.c. was known as the Sadducees. The origin of the term has been disputed, but the influence of this party was unquestionably great. It was composed of priestly aristocratic families who kept aloof from the general populace, preferring instead to exercise control over national life at an intellectual, political, and cultic level. Although the Sadducees were in contact with Hellenism sooner than the Pharisees, they were better equipped intellectually to resist its attractions. The Sadducees claimed authority for the law alone, and rejected any doctrine that could not be proved from the Torah. Though a decided minority, they secured control of the high priesthood, an office that they monopolized until Jerusalem was destroyed in a.d. 70.

The Samaritans comprised one of the chief schismatic elements in early Judaism, and when they broke with the postexilic theocracy as a result of the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, they established their own temple on Mt. Gerizim and formed a flourishing community in nearby Shechem in the 4th cent. b.c. During the conquests of Alexander they revolted, but were crushed and expelled from Samaria. Alexander placed the province of Samaria under Jewish control, so that when the Samaritans ultimately returned to Shechem they found themselves once again in the power of their religious opponents. Like the Sadducees, the Samaritans accepted the Torah as canonical, and they furnish independent testimony to the antiquity of this section of the Heb. Canon.

The upheaval that followed the death of Alexander in 323 b.c. had repercussions in Judea as elsewhere. Ptolemy I, who succeeded to power in Egypt, annexed Syria shortly after 320 b.c., and marching into Jerusalem he occupied the city and deported a number of its inhabitants to Egypt. After he had gained control of Judea by this show of force, he pursued the liberal policies of Alexander—ultimately winning the confidence of the Jews to the extent that many of them emigrated to Egypt. Friendship with the Jews characterized the early Seleucid regime also, and Nicator I was as successful as Ptolemy in encouraging Jews to migrate to more distant parts of his realm. The influence of the Jerusalem priesthood was greatly enhanced in the time of Ptolemy I by the wise administration of Simon I (c. 300-287 b.c.), but political intrigue began with his successor, Onias II. Under Ptolemy II (285-246 b.c.), the task of tr. the Heb. Scriptures into Gr. was begun; the end result was the LXX VS. This proved to be the principal means by which Heb. thought was conveyed to the Jews living outside Pal. About 225 b.c., a reactionary group in Judea agitated for allegiance to the Syrian regime of Antiochus III instead of to Egypt, but the ambitions of the latter were thwarted by Ptolemy, who marched into Judea and quelled the dissident elements. Antiochus defeated Egyp. forces in battle near Sidon in 198 b.c. and incorporated Judea into the province of Syria.

The Roman period.

Doctrines of Judaism

Theocracy and covenant.

The form of the returned community was that of a religious commonwealth rather than a nation. The remnant had been redeemed to attempt again the task of exemplifying the ideals of the Sinai covenant in communal life. The Jews had been called by divine grace to be witnesses to the ransoming and renewing power of God, and the theocracy was to be the vehicle for such a testimony to contemporary society. As Ezekiel had foreseen, the priesthood occupied an important place in the community, for it was by this means that the will of God was revealed to the people after the voice of prophecy ceased with Malachi (c. 450 b.c.). The destiny of the nation was to realize within itself the covenant concept of a kingdom of priests, which would reflect the holiness inherent in the divine nature (cf. Exod 19:6). Strict observance of the divine will would prevent any further disastrous lapses into idolatry or apostasy, and would preserve the ancestral faith intact. As a result of this, pagan nations round about could expect to receive the blessings of God, for the nation had the responsibility as the servant of the Lord of bringing the light of divine rule to the heathen (Isa 42:1-9; 49:1-6). The theocratic ideal assumed the form of covenant obligations with the work of Ezra, who made covenant and law the normative elements of community life. Because the Jews were surrounded by pagans, the danger of cultural and ideological assimilation was real. Consequently it was necessary then as during the Exile for the Jews to maintain a distinctive character. This particularistic attitude, unfortunately, had the side effect of provoking a conflict with the universalism inherent in OT prophecy, a tension that remained unresolved in Judaism throughout the NT period. Nevertheless, the basic commission of the theocracy was that of absolute fidelity to the provisions of the covenant and the exemplification of divine holiness in society as a means of blessing for the world.

The Torah.

The keeping of the law was the most characteristic emphasis of Judaism, and in this area the Pharisees exercised a dominant influence. So exalted did the role and value of the Torah become that the keeping of the precepts associated with it, both written and oral, became the explanation and justification for the existence of Judaism. The obligations of covenant law had always been a dominant feature of Heb. religion, but in Judaism they were developed to the fullest extent. Because the prophets had insisted that the punishment of the Exile was the result of a breach of covenant law, the repatriates were encouraged to take its observance far more seriously in the future. Its permanence and stability could not be questioned, since it alone had survived when cult and nation alike had been destroyed in the Exile. Because the Theocracy was based upon observance of covenant law, the Torah came into its greatest prominence as the regulative norm for individual and corporate behavior. If the observance of the Torah, or written law, was of such importance, it was necessary to formulate agreed principles for its study and exegesis. Such principles and their application to daily living became the oral Torah or “tradition,” of the priestly and later the Pharisaic scribes. The tradition protected the enactments in the written Torah by the formulation of new rules that when observed would guarantee the keeping of the basic commandments. This procedure became known as “making a hedge about the Torah,” and found its fullest development in the Talmud and Midrashim. The Talmud consisted of the Mishnah, the oral law in existence by the end of the 2nd cent. a.d. as collected by Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (c. a.d. 200), and the Gemara, or rabbinical comments, between a.d. 200 and 500 on the Mishnah. The Midrashim were the official expositions of the OT books and consisted of homiletical and expository material. For the pious Jew, keeping the law was virtually the whole of his religious obligation. Athough the cult of the Jerusalem Temple continued to carry out the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the law, it became less important with the growth of the synagogues. The ancient Levitical function of instruction was given prominence in the theocracy, and even the smallest village had its synagogue where the law was read and explained. The Torah thus superseded priestly functions, and with the end of prophecy it became the prime source of the divine will for Judaism.

Paradise and resurrection.

The word “paradise” was used only in a few OT Scriptures (Neh 2:8; Eccl 2:5; Song of Solomon). Originally Old Persian (pairidaēza), the term appeared in Heb., Aram. and Gr. sources, used in the first two in its normal sense of “walled garden,” and in NT Gr. as an eschatological term. In Heb. thought, “paradise” originally expressed primeval bliss, an idea that was subsequently applied to the glories of the future messianic kingdom. When c. 200 b.c., there emerged in Judaism a belief in the resurrection of the dead (cf. Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2, 3), there arose the conviction that the righteous would live, after their resurrection, in the Garden, or “paradise,” of Eden. The Jews also held that paradise was a reality in their own day, but was concealed from view. It was the location to which the souls of the patriarchs and the righteous had been taken at death, and constituted their eternal home. The idea of paradise among pre-Christian Jews was thus rather fluid, and gives the impression that the concept fulfilled varying roles in different periods of thought. The “tree of life” (Gen 2:9) naturally acquired prominence in descriptions of paradise as the abode of the righteous dead (cf. 1 Enoch 25:4, 5; 4 Ezra 8:52; etc.). Whereas the Sadducees denied the resurrection altogether (Acts 23:8; Jos. Antiq. XVIII. i. 4), since it could not be proved from the Torah, the Pharisees accepted the doctrine warmly, and only excluded from the privilege of resurrection certain classes of apostates. Their tenets became normative in Judaism, and found expression in their liturgies. Pharisaic concepts of resurrection however, were both gross and materialistic, for they conveyed the impression that in the next world men would live in opulent luxury—eating, drinking, and having carnal relations with their wives.

Messianic hope.


G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927-1930), 3 vols.; A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud (1932); H. Danby, The Mishnah (1933); J. Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ (1949); I. Epstein, Judaism (1959).

See also

  • Religion of Israel