Notes for Religious Studies 369:
Introduction to Judaism
Page from the Worms Mahzor, Illuminated prayerbook, Germany 13th Century
Differences in comparison to the previous (Talmudic) era
Judaism was no longer the sole monotheistic faith in a pagan world.
Most Jews lived under monotheistic religions--Christianity or Islam--that also shared the same scriptural traditions.
This fact served both as a source of toleration and as a source of friction (as each community claimed to be the legitimate follower of the prophetic tradition).
- Talmudic literature was now considered complete and authoritative.
The Talmuds were accepted by rabbinic Jews as the authoritative formulation of the Oral Torah.
- Talmudic Judaism arose in only two main centres: Israel and Babylonia.
- Babylonia produced only its Talmud.
- Israel also produced Midrash, Masora (science of Bible text and reading), liturgical poetry (piyyut).
- Under the Ge'onim, there was an attempt to maintain strong centralization.
- Medieval Judaism flourished in many places.
New divisions and movements
- Broad cultural divisions:
- Sepharadim: Jews of Muslim lands
- Ashkenazim: Jews of Christian lands.
- Jews in Christian lands faced more severe persecutions and atttacks. Development of models of piety that promoted martyrdom (kiddush hashem = "sanctificaiton of the divine name").
- Struggle between Babylonia and Israel for leadership over Jewish world.
Parallel to competition between Sunni Caliphate (in Baghdad) and rival Muslim leadership, especially Fatimid Ismailis in Egypt.
- Struggles between religious authority (Ga'on) and political authority (Exilarch.).
- Appearances of new Jewish theologies: Rationalist, Kabbalistic, Moralistic, etc.
- Approaches to biblical exegesis: D'rash-- according to the traditional midrashic and talmudic interpretations; vs. the new P'shat, literal, "scientific" reading of the text.