Judaism in the Modern Era
What is "Judaism"?
Can be defined in different ways: Ethnic, cultural, nationalistic,historical, etc.
This course--in Religious Studies!-- will focus on religious questions:
- Religious institutions
- Religious law
- Beliefs and ideologies
What is "Modern"?
Time frame? Depends how we define "modern."
What meanings does the term "modern" have in European history? Are they appropriate to Jewish history?
Possible definition: Judaism during the period that is defined as "modern" in European history.
Qualititative features of Jewish modernity:
- Emancipation: Political, social and economic
- Enlightenment: New ideas and beliefs.
Contrast with Medieval Judaism
Principal Features of Medieval Judaism
Economic and Social:
Vocational restrictions: Jews forbidden to own land or join craft guilds: Confined to banking and finance ("middle class").
Live in separate neighbourhoods: "Ghettos."
- Legal autonomy: Jews as a "corporation" live according to their own laws, using their own languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, etc.).
- Authority of the Rabbis.
- "Kahal" = Communal leadership. Enforcement by "Herem" (Ban).
- Jewish communities administered their own social and religious institutions:
- Schools: Elementary (Heder) and advanced (Yeshivah). Widespread literacy.
- Charitable funds e.g., Gemilut Hasadim (free-loan society); agencies for dowries, hospitals, burial, etc.
Main Streams of Medieval Jewish Religious Thought:
- Study of religious texts: Written and Oral Torahs, especially the Babylonian Talmud.
- Study of Bible usually mediated by tradition.
- Centrality of law "Halakhah." Continuing devlopment of practical and theoretical law.
- Basic beliefs: Monotheism, national mission, covenant, study and observance of the Torah, Messianism, etc.
2) Rationalism and Philosophy:
Especially in Islamic countries, influence of Aristotle, as adapted by Moses Maimonides.
- Philosophers' "prime mover," "first cause," etc. is the traditional God of revelation. Fight against anthropomorphism. Downplaying of personal God and nationalism, emphasis on universal truths.
- Emphasis on knowledge of God as chief religious aim. All other aspects, including observance of religious laws, are means to that end. Tendency towards elitism.
3) Kabbalah: Jewish Mysticism.
- God is beyond rational analysis, can only be known through revealed scripture.
- Special way of reading the Bible, as references to the ten "Sefirot"--Creative powers through which God interacts and communicates with the world.
- Tension between justice and mercy (female and male, left and right).
- Human actions affect the Divine. Every observance or transgression has cosmic significance. Provides justification for traditional religious values.
- Lurianic Kabbalah (following Spanish Expulsion) emphasizes mystical messianism: Israel's exile is symptomatic of a disunity within God. Therefore the repairing of this flaw is tied to the national restoration of the Jews. Leads to (false) messianic movements: Shabbetai Zvi, Jacob Frank, etc.
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