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Judaism Has Changed Before — Part 2

A big change happened to the Israelites when they went from a society run by wise men (known as Judges, like Deborah and Samuel) to a society with a King. They wanted to be like the other nations of the world and the people asked Samuel to appoint them a King. The first King was King Saul. He was killed in battle, and the next two Kings were more famous, King David and his son King Solomon. King David was a warrior who united the country like no one had before. You might compare his role as similar to the United States adopting the Constitution and becoming one country.

A huge change came when King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Temple was considered the home of God. It was very sacred and only Priests were allowed into it. Everyone else stood on the outside and watched. Read more »

Judaism Has Changed Before — Part 3

After being marched into exile in Babylonia, the Judaeans (we can call them Jews now) were deprived of the Holy Temple and their King. But unlike the people of the Kingdom of Israel, the Jews in Babylon did not become Lost. What they did was two things. They resumed local sacrificing like they had before the Holy Temple was built, and they began to write the Talmud.

The Talmud was created by putting the oral law into written form for the first time (it had been passed on orally from generation to generation since the time of Moses), so it wouldn’t be lost. And the wisest and most learned of their people began to meet in groups to discuss and analyze and interpret the Torah in combination with the oral law. Their discussions were recorded, and that is what became the Talmud of today. The people continued to lead a Jewish life, and that is what saved them. Read more »

Judaism Has Changed Before — Part 4

When Napoleon conquered most of Europe in the early 1800’s, he freed the Jews from many forms of discrimination and in some countries like France, England, and Germany, Jews were allowed to participate in general society.

In Germany, the Reform Movement was started, in protest against the strict orthodoxy of traditional Judaism. The Reform Movement allowed Jews to continue to be Jewish while they integrated (and in many cases assimilated) into general society. The rebellion against traditional Orthodox Judaism was so great that some Reform synagogues didn’t allow the wearing of yarmulkas or tallises, they drove on the Sabbath, didn’t keep kosher, and they used organ music to supplement their prayer services. Read more »

Judaism Needs to Change Again

Quoting from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the first paragraph of his famous book God in Search of Man:

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.”

For most Jews, that is the state of Judaism today, and we have to find a way to make it relevant and meaningful to us or consign Judaism to the province of the Orthodox, whose effect on society will become more like the Amish than anything else.

“How Judaism Became a Religion”

Over the years Jews have had many different views about God. In the Torah, God is a family God to Abraham and his descendants. He is portrayed as a warlike, jealous, punishing and angry God. He destroyed the world with the Great Flood, with the exception of Noah’s ark. He punished the Egyptians with plagues and then hardened Pharoah’s heart so more plagues would be necessary. In the desert, he told the Israelites to wipe out the Amalekites and all they owned, and then punished Moses for an indiscretion and didn’t let him enter the Promised Land.

In later Biblical books, God was constantly punishing the Jews for idol worship and destroyed the First and Second Temples for reasons that are not clear. Then He let the Romans disperse the Jews to the Diaspora for almost 2,000 years. This culminated in the Holocaust, which Orthodox Jews blame on many Jews leading secular lives. Read more »