6 November 2011, 9 Cheshvan 5772
What is Judaism?
The Bible and the Law.
The first five books of the Bible were given by Moses. This is the Chumash
(Five), pronounced something like "K-h-oo-mash". The Chumash strictly speaking
is what is also known as the Torah. The expression "Torah" literally connotes
Instruction and may also be used for all (or any) religious instruction.
The Chumash is considered the main part of the Bible. All the other books are
recognized as inspired but to a lesser degree. The other books derive their
sanctity from the Chumash and must be understood as consistent with it. The
Chumash contains the Law. Judaism is the Law given to the Children of Israel
through Moses in its practical application.
Moses received the commandments. There were very many of them. Some are quite
detailed while others are only briefly referred to.
Most of the commandments were to be carried out almost immediately while some
were deferred until they entered the Land of Canaan (e.g. circumcision see
These commandments can be quite complicated. At times they appear to contradict
each other. Questions will also arise as what happens in exceptional
Since the commandments were performed it stands to reason that directions
concerning their performance must have existed. This was known as the Oral Law.
The existence of the Oral Law is indicated in the Hebrew Bible (Deuteronomy
In addition Moses was commanded to appoint seventy elders to help him judge the
people and instruct them as to how the Law was to be fulfilled [Numbers
One of the commandments is that in case of doubt recourse should be had to a
central body of elders who would explain how the Law was to be kept (Deuteronomy
17:8-12). Even if one disagreed with their decision (and thought them to be mistaken) there was still an obligation
to obey them. Those who disobeyed could in extreme cases incur the death penalty
This Oral Law in time grew greatly. At first it was transmitted through memory.
At a later stage, here and there in a private capacity notes were kept by some
as memory aids.
The Romans scattered the Jewish People and systematically attempted to erase the
Jewish religion. There was a struggle for survival and a danger that knowledge
of the Law would be lost.
The existing traditions were therefore gathered together and presented in
systematized form. This became the Mishnah. Later the Mishnah itself was not
always clear or not sufficient in itself so additional material was added. This
is know as the Gemara and together with the Mishnah it comprises the Talmud. A
large corpus of Rabbinical Literature was added to the Talmud and out of the
whole emerges Jewish Law.
In order to reach decisions recourse was had to existing traditions alongside a
rigorous analysis of the Hebrew Text of the Bible.
Rules of Logic were also derived from Biblical Texts. These logical rules
applied to apparently contradictory or obscure Biblical verses enabled the Sages
to understand what the Law should be.
Nowadays Rabbinical Students study this whole process and re-enact the evolution
of decisions seeing how they all relate back to the Will of the Almighty as
revealed in Biblical Texts.
When new questions arise precedents are searched for, and decisions reached.
Despite an argumentive nature, great dispersal, and otherwise overwhelming
difficulties, Orthodox Jews throughout the world have maintained a remarkably
unified consensus of opinion as to how the Law should be carried out.
It is accepted that someone who wishes to reach spiritual heights will pray, do
good deeds, study holy works, elevate their personal qualities, and otherwise
endeavor to purify themself.
This can lead to spiritual elevation but it is dependent on psychological
effort. Not everyone can do this and even if they can any heights reached may be
difficult to maintain. Not only that but the results differ from one individual
Judaism has developed another way which the Torah itself enveloped.
In addition to the above there is the pathway of intellect which is to be
adopted as part of the spiritual experience. By learning the Torah and delving
into the process of deduction and induction etc concerning the Law the mind
changes and the inner psychology of the student develops. A spiritual process
takes place. The Divine Presence makes itself felt. This is Judaism.
Are The Ten Tribes the Same as Gentiles?
The Approach of Maimonides.
We have explained the basis of Judaism above from the point of view of those who learn and learning Torah is of the upmost importance.
Maimonides however, though he may have been one of the most learned of all time, would not necessarily have taken this position.
Maimonides (1135-1204) was born in Spain but spent his later life in Egypt as physician to King Saladin.
[Remember Robin Hood, King John and his brother King Richard? Saladin was the one Richard fought against.]
Maimonides wrote a major encyclopedical legal work ("Mishneh Torah"), as well as Responsa on major questions, and his Guide to the Perplexed on philosophy.
For Maimonides the intellectual process of reaching the decisions was much less important than the decisions themselves.
These decisions became Laws and it is these that should be learnt. Each and every law in its practical sense and the learning of it
is a stepping stone towards worship of the Almighty.
The attitude of Maimonides permeates, and may also be a reflection of, the Sephardic (Eastern Jewish) approach.
Differences between the Ashkenazim (Jews whose forefathers sojourned in Europe) and Sephardim exist. These however are not significant and leading authorities on both sides tend to borrow from and agree with each other.
In general Jewish Understanding on the historical-philisophical level is that in Bible Times and the Temple Era the emphasis was on spiritual inspiration and guided intuition.
Times changed and it was necessary to rely more on the intellect and ordered understanding of obligations.
In the future matters will return to as they were in Biblical Times BUT what was acheived and understood in the itermediate "intellectual" state will be incorporated.
TO BE CONTINUED!
The Ten Tribes and the Jews.
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