This week we make the move from Eastern to Western traditions. Judaism, Christianity and
Islam are often referred to as the “Religions of the Book.” This may not be the most accurate
explanation, but it is founded on a couple of points. First, all three religions started off as oral
traditions and then began to write down their stories and teaching in order to preserve them for
future generations. All three recognize a certain level of sacredness as it pertains to the written
scripture. Jews view the Tanak (Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim) as the written revelation of God. The
Torah is considered to have come through Moses directly from God.
Second, all three religions are related to one another: Christianity comes from a Jewish milieu
and Islam recognizes many of the stories found in Hebrew scripture. While all three religions
have a separate sacred scripture, all three books are somewhat related to the others.
Also, for those of us who have been raised in any Christian denomination, we should find the
language of Judaism to be fairly familiar. Most Christian ethics have a foundation in Judaism
and much of our understanding of the Christian Old Testament is similar to the Jewish
understanding of Hebrew Scripture.
Finally, we should take a moment to situate Judaism in the aspects/dimensions of religion we
discussed at the beginning of the semester. As noted in the reading, Judaism is a religion of
practice, (doing is more important than professing) so the ritual and ethical dimensions are very
prevalent. Historical Judaism in particular (the ancient Hebrew and Israelite practice) were also
very prophetic in their orientation. The role of the prophets in this history was to remind the
people and rulers of their relationship with the one God.
Like the other religions we have studied, Judaism includes different branches that relate to these
aspects of religion differently. Some of the branches of Judaism allow for a wide understanding
of Jewish law and practice and other branches of Judaism are very literal in their use of Hebrew
Finally, it is important to note that these religious differences within Judaism have an impact on
the needs of a Jewish patient. Generally, Orthodox Jews will have very specific religious needs:
fasting, modesty, dietary laws, Sabbath, concerns with handling the body of the deceased, etc.
Non-Orthodox Jews may also have certain aspects of these religious needs, so it is always
advisable to ask what is necessary for their religious well-being.
Lecture notes for sections
10-1 through 10-3
1. A note about the academic study of religion-When we approach the study of scripture from
an academic viewpoint, we usually take what is called the “historical-critical” perspective. This
means that we treat the scripture as a document written at a certain time by a certain people. It
relates their religious worldview, but from our standpoint, we do not equate it as literal history.
This is often different than how we might approach scripture through the eyes of faith. There are
many Christian denominations who believe that the bible (Old and New Testament) are the
literal words of God and represent factually accurate history. This is fine from the perspective of
faith, but from the perspective of academics, we must sometimes put that view temporarily to the
side. The Hebrew Scriptures are a history of a people’s relationship with God. This is a
God of history, one who is engaged in creation. However, the book cannot be read as a literal
history. Parts were written after the events they describe and offer an interpretation of those
Interestingly, this same split in understanding scripture can be found within Judaism itselfOrthodox and Conservative Jews tend to think of Hebrew Scripture and the inerrant word of
God. Reform Jews tend to view Scripture as a sacred story representing general truths about
God and the Jewish people, but also written in a particular time and context that influenced the
Some general rules for Christians considering Hebrew Scripture
– The Christian Old Testament is NOT the equivalent of Hebrew Scripture. There are a
different number of books and a different organization to their canon.
– Jews do not call their Bible the “Old Testament” because they do not accept the “New
Testament;” therefore, how could theirs be old?
– Hebrews-those who come from Abraham’s family and his covenant with God. Ancient
Israelites-Jews who found themselves in Egypt and are the subject of the Exodus. Jewsthose who return from exile to rebuild the temple and Judea.
2. Tanakh-The Tanakh tells the story of a people’s relationship with their God. It has three
– Torah-Law-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. (Pentateuch)
– Nevi’im-prophets-Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Elijah, Jeremiah, etc.
– Ketuvim-writings-psalms, proverbs, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, etc.
Tradition has held that the Torah was written by Moses, but bible scholarship shows that Genesis
alone has 4 authors.
One set of authors (a later set) was very worried about emphasizing God’s complete
transcendence and holiness. This meant the name of God cannot be spoken. As the reading
notes, some Orthodox and Conservative Jews will not even type the name of God, preferring
instead G-d. When they come across the name of God in Scripture (from earlier authors) they
replace it with Adonai (Lord).
The name of God is very important in Judaism. It is Yahweh, or YHWH (the Tetragrammaton).
It means “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” It is most interesting that this is God’s
name because it points to the fact that God is the only “Being” who really IS. That is, I am
constantly in a state of becoming (I am changing every second). God is the only thing that is
3. Covenant-The story that is encountered in the Hebrew Bible is the story of the covenant. This
is the relationship between the Israelites and YHWH. The best way to understand covenant is to
compare it to marriage. Marriage is a covenant: it is legally binding (like a contract) but also
speaks to a total connection (emotional, spiritual, etc.).
The Hebrew Scriptures talk about many covenants, but the foundational one for Judaism is the
covenant between the ancient Hebrews (through Abraham) and God. In this covenant, the
Hebrews were to be a light to the nations showing the ethical demands of the one true God. In
return, God would bless Abraham with many descendants and make of him a great nation.
Circumcision is the outward sign of the covenant with God, and for this reason, continues to
have a very important role in the lives of contemporary Jews.
4. History-The readings do a good job of exploring the history of the Jewish people.
The classical story of the history of the Jewish people, as evidenced in the Prince of Egypt video
or in the movie classic The Ten Commandments, is that God rescued the Israelites from slavery
in Egypt; gave them the law; guided them through the desert and brought them into the promised
The article on the revisionist explanation of the foundation of ancient Israel is a little different.
Scholars and archeologists might view the presence of the Israelites in Canaan less the result of a
mass exodus and conquering, and more as a slow settlement by Canaanites and escaped slaves
worshiping a new god. Regardless of which story is the “actual, historical truth” Jews have
viewed the story found in scripture (the story from the movies noted above) as speaking to the
truth of their relationship with God.
One important thing to note is that most of the Hebrew Scripture was not written down until the
ancient Israelites were in exile in Babylon. It was the experience of being in a foreign land and
wishing to curb assimilation with that culture that led to writing down the ancient beliefs. Until
that point in time, Judaism was a largely oral tradition. The importance of ritual (sacrifice in the
Temple) and orally retelling the stories and law was a task taken on by priests.
After exile, the Temple was rebuilt and the religion could resume making sacrifice to God.
However, while in exile, new types of worship, particularly those based on reading the now
written scripture had started. These practices would become important after the destruction of
the Second Temple.
Main groups in Palestine during Roman occupation:
Sadducees-priestly families who were in charge of the Temple (only priests could offer
Pharisees-they emphasized observance of the law of Torah, and strove to keep it faithfully.
They conflicted with Sadducees. This group probably began during the exile.
Essenes-monastic group who lived in desert communities (there is some speculation that Jesus
might have spent some time among the Essenes) they were celibate, and separated from the
world. They waited for the messiah and are most likely the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
During this time, many groups began to chafe under Roman rule. There were various revolts,
until finally the Romans had enough and responded very harshly. This led to the destruction of
the 2nd Temple in 70 CE and to the exile of the Jewish people. The temple has never been
rebuilt, so Judaism has not been a sacrificial religion since 70 CE. The Western Wall, is the only
remaining part of the temple and it is now a prayer and pilgrimage site. The Roman campaign
led to exile and the Jewish people settled in other areas after 70 CE. This is called the Diaspora,
and it has continued throughout history and throughout the world.
-The end of the Temple led to the end of sacrifice. The focus of Jewish worship moved from the
priest to the rabbi (teacher).
-The temple was replaced by the synagogue, and the focus moved from sacrifice to study. This
is the beginning of rabbinical Judaism. They focus on Torah study, worship (prayer) and
observance of the law/Torah.
An important piece of modern Jewish history is the systematic destruction of European Jews
during WWII. This video shows an interview with Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and
Nobel Prize winner. His and his family’s experience in the Nazi concentration camps are
particularly important to understanding modern Judaism.
5. Summation of Jewish Beliefs
1. Monotheism-Belief in one God-Shema-“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is One.”
2. Belief in the messages of the Prophets-their words are true and come from Adonai
3. Belief that YHWH gave the Decalogue and law in general to Moses. Law is the basis of all
Jewish practice and the foundation of their being the chosen people.
4. Belief that the Messiah will come
5. Belief in the resurrection of the just
Not all schools of Judaism agree with 4 and 5.
6. Forms of Judaism
First, two main cultures within Judaism:
Sephardic-originally in Spain (Mediterranean) as part of the Diaspora, most recently centered in
Morocco until the creation of Israel; they speak Ladino (derivative of Latin).
Ashkenazic-central Europe, their culture in Europe was wiped out by the Holocaust; they speak
Yiddish which is a mix of German and Hebrew. This group is more populous in the US.
a. Orthodox-most traditional, most observant, but there is a great deal of variety of practice and
observance even within orthodoxy itself.
-Modern Orthodox Jews-They have traditional practice, particularly at home, but are not as
“obvious” in public, they don’t have beards, they wear “regular clothes”, and they don’t cover
-Traditionally, Orthodox Jews are very noticeable: Men have beards, their hair is kept short,
except for the forelock, which is usually curled, they dress in black suits, cover their heads with a
yarmulke and hat, and you can see the ritual fringe of a vest they wear under their clothes peaks
out at the waist of their pants.
-Women don’t wear pants, they always wear long skirts, cover at least to the knee, but often to
the ankle, they wear long sleeves (cover elbow) even in summer.
-Married women keep their hair covered, for ultra-orthodox Hassidim, the woman’s head is
shaved on her wedding night, she wears a wig in public (some just cover their head). The
purpose is wifely modesty, her hair and her body is meant only for her husband.
-Men and women are separated in synagogue
-Services are completely in Hebrew
-Rabbis are male only
-Follow traditional gender roles: wife stays home, domestic duties, cares for large family;
husband is bread winner.
-Keep observance of kosher dietary laws
-Keep laws of Shabbat, very strict, no lights, no phone.
The main difference between Orthodox Jews and Hasidic Jews is the mystical element.
Traditionally, they dress the same, but their practice is different. Hasidic Jews see their mission
to convert reform and conservative Jews into rededicating themselves to God. Hasidic Jews
believe in any addition to prayer that makes people joyful. It is a very physical type of prayer.
(Examples of Davening and singing)
b. Conservative-moderate, in between Orthodox and reform, they have made some change and
accommodation to the larger culture they find themselves in. Again, you will find differences
even within Conservative Judaism. Some keep some elements of traditional dress, like
yarmulke; many don’t.
-Marriage and family is stressed, but it is okay for the wife to have a job or career, girls have bat
mitzvahs, usually keep the dietary laws. About ½ of practicing Jews in US are conservative.
c. Reform-most liberal, they embrace culture fully, and have greatest degree of assimilation.
They embrace the enlightenment values of religious tolerance, and full citizenship in wider
culture. There is no gender separation at synagogue, service is in both the vernacular and
Hebrew. They are not required to wear traditional dress and they strive for total gender equality.
There are female rabbis, bat mitzvahs.
These 3 forms exist in a certain degree of tension with each other, especially between orthodox
and reform. (Reform can look suspiciously light, not Jewish enough, and Orthodox can look too
-Who is a Jew? Traditional answer, you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish (Orthodox and
Reform-if your father, but not your mother is Jewish, you might be considered a Jew.
-Can you convert to Judaism? Maybe…but, unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism does not seek
converts! You must have a really good reason if you want to convert. (Share the burden of the
-Orthodox-if you are marrying an orthodox person they may let you convert.
-Conservative-you can convert for marriage, also if you truly desire it (not for marriage), you go
through years of study before you are allowed into the religion.
-Reform-most open to converts, but you still must have a very good reason.
(If you convert to reform, an orthodox rabbi will probably not consider you Jewish.)
Lecture notes for sections
10-4 through 10-6
7. Jewish Ethics
As noted above, Judaism is a covenantal religion. The foundational covenant was between God
and Abraham. Another covenant presented in Hebrew Scripture is that between Moses (on
behalf of the Israelites) and God. This leads to foundational Jewish ethics.
God chooses the ancient Hebrews as God’s people to show the importance of God and that there
is only one God. There is only one God who is responsible for all of creation. Within Judaism,
the role of the human person is given great weight. The first book of Hebrew Scripture (the
Book of Genesis) explains that all people are made in the image of God. This is not to suggest
that God has a physical form, but that there is something about us (our moral sense, our
rationality) that is representative of God.
God gives to Moses the 10 commandments (Decalogue) as a sign of this new covenant. They
provide the rules for behavior. The 10 commandments have two main themes: How to relate to
YHWH and how to relate to one another.
In addition to these commandments, the Tanakh is also full of more commandments (mitzvah)
613 in all! Many of these rules were written down when the Ancient Israelites were in exile.
Following dietary and purity rules helped to keep them separate from the Babylonian culture.
After exile, and into the modern time, Jews sometimes needed help figuring out how to live these
rules in changing cultural and societal times. Torah study evolved into a series of written
commentaries on the Torah over the next several centuries.
-Mishnah-oral law-interpretation of Torah by the rabbis.
-Talmud-written commentaries on the Torah and Mishnah, important source of knowledge in
Judaism even today.
There are 2 main parts: Halakah-law commentary, Haggadah-story telling, devotional
The goal of these two commentaries on Torah is to help Jews live the laws and to provide
interpretation for laws that seem out of place in a certain historical context.
The practices that revolve around these Beliefs:
-Shabbat-the Sabbath, God rested after creating the world, so humans should to (image of God),
begins Friday evening at sundown, until Saturday evening.
It is ushered in by the woman of the house who lights the candles and sings a prayer.
Most Jews go to synagogue for a service and the whole 24 hours is a day of rest: no
driving, no telephone (unless emergency), no cooking, no lights (these only in certain
types of religious practice)
-Holy Days: High Holy Days
Rosh Hashanah-Jewish new year, in autumn (shifting date because they use a lunar
Yom Kippur-day of atonement, no work, fasting and prayer, remember things you have
done wrong and seek forgiveness. It ends with a service in synagogue and then breakfast.
Passover-springtime, commemorates and makes real again the exodus from Egypt, the
main focus is the Seder meal-unleavened bread (matzah), one place setting empty with a
glass of wine for the prophet Elijah.
-Living the law-dietary laws, Keeping Kosher
No pork, no shellfish-these are considered unclean. There is speculation that ancient
Hebrews lived in a warm climate in which such food could easily develop bacteria
quickly and make people sick easily.
No vermin, reptiles or scavenger animals
Not permitted to mix meat and dairy in same dish-no cheeseburgers! This would violate
the law stated as, “No cooking of a fetal animal in its own mother’s milk.” Some
speculate that this may have been a practice in the ancient world that the Jews found
Kosher families have 2 sets of everything: dishes, utensils, pots, etc. one for meat and one
for dairy, some even have 2 refrigerators.
Animals must be slaughtered in a special way; all of its blood must be drained out.
Observant Jews can only shop at food stores under rabbinical supervision (restaurants
too), they make sure it’s kosher.
Jews pray at morning, noon and dusk.
Orthodox men wear a Talit, prayer shawl, and pray with a Tefillin, small black box ties
to the forehead and wound around left arm, (these are shown in the picture on the first
page of the chapter) Tefillin contain a little scroll of scripture with the Shema on it to
follow the law that says, “keep these words in your head and in your heart” pg. 227.
Yarmulke-skull cap (Yiddish word, Kippah in Hebrew). Men cover their heads to
follow the rule that says, “One’s head should be covered before the Lord.”
Circumcision-8th day of a boy’s life the ‘bris’ is performed by the mohel, that is the time
that your name is made public. For female infant-in place of bris, there will be a naming
Coming of Age-13 or so, boys Bar Mitzvah, girl’s Bat mitzvah
This is the entrance into adulthood, the young person stands before the congregation and
read from the Torah in Hebrew, then a large celebration! (In some Orthodox and
Conservative forms of Judaism, Bat Mitzvah’s are not performed.)
Marriage is very encouraged in Judaism, children are encouraged, and it is considered
the normal route for life to take. The ceremony takes place under …
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