Judaism by Israel Abrahams - HTML preview

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The aim of this little book is to present in brief outline some of the

leading conceptions of the religion familiar since the Christian Era

under the name Judaism.

The word 'Judaism' occurs for the first time at about 100 B.C., in the

Graeco-Jewish literature. In the second book of the Maccabees (ii. 21,

vii . 1), 'Judaism' signifies the religion of the Jews as contrasted with

Hel enism, the religion of the Greeks. In the New Testament (Gal. i. 13)

the same word seems to denote the Pharisaic system as an antithesis to

the Gentile Christianity. In Hebrew the corresponding noun never occurs

in the Bible, and it is rare even in the Rabbinic books. When it does

meet us, _Jahaduth_ implies the monotheism of the Jews as opposed

to the polytheism of the heathen.

Thus the term 'Judaism' did not pass through quite the same transitions

as did the name 'Jew.' Judaism appears from the first as a religion

transcending tribal bounds. The 'Jew,' on the other hand, was originally

a Judaean, a member of the Southern Confederacy cal ed in the Bible

Judah, and by the Greeks and Romans Judaea. Soon, however, 'Jew' came

to include what had earlier been the Northern Confederacy of Israel as

wel , so that in the post-exilic period _Jehudi_ or 'Jew' means an

adherent of Judaism without regard to local nationality.

Judaism, then, is here taken to represent that later development of

the Religion of Israel which began with the reorganisation after the

Babylonian Exile (444 B.C.), and was crystal ised by the Roman Exile

(during the first centuries of the Christian Era). The exact period

which wil be here seized as a starting-point is the moment when the

people of Israel were losing, never so far to regain, their territorial

association with Palestine, and were becoming (what they have ever since

been) a community as distinct from a nation. They remained, it is true,

a distinct race, and this is stil in a sense true. Yet at various

periods a number of proselytes have been admitted, and in other ways

the purity of the race has been affected. At all events territorial

nationality ceased from a date which may be roughly fixed at 135 A.D.,

when the last desperate revolt under Bar-Cochba failed, and Hadrian drew

his Roman plough over the city of Jerusalem and the Temple area. A new

city with a new name arose on the ruins. The ruins afterwards reasserted

themselves, and Aelia Capitolina as a designation of Jerusalem is familiar

only to archaeologists.

But though the name of Hadrian's new city has faded, the effect of

its foundation remained. Aelia Capitolina, with its market-places and

theatre, replaced the olden narrow-streeted town; a House of Venus reared

its stately form in the north, and a Sanctuary to Jupiter covered, in the

east, the site of the former Temple. Heathen colonists were introduced,

and the Jew, who was to become in future centuries an alien everywhere,

was made by Hadrian an alien in his fatherland. For the Roman Emperor

denied to Jews the right of entry into Jerusalem. Thus Hadrian completed

the work of Titus, and Judaism was divorced from its local habitation.

More unreservedly than during the Babylonian Exile, Judaism in the Roman

Exile perforce became the religion of a community and not of a state;

and Israel for the first time constituted a Church. But it was a Church

with no visible home. Christianity for several centuries was to have a

centre at Rome, Islam at Mecca. But Judaism had and has no centre at al .

It wil be obvious that the aim of the present book makes it both

superfluous and inappropriate to discuss the vexed problems connected with

the origins of the Religion of Israel, its aspects in primitive times,

its passage through a national to an ethical monotheism, its expansion

into the universalism of the second Isaiah. What concerns us here is

merely the legacy which the Religion of Israel bequeathed to Judaism as

we have defined it. This legacy and the manner in which it was treasured,

enlarged, and administered wil occupy us in the rest of this book.

But this much must be premised. If the Religion of Israel passed through

the stages of totemism, animism, and polydemonism; if it was indebted

to Canaanite, Kenite, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and other foreign

influences; if it experienced a stage of monolatry or henotheism (in

which Israel recognised one God, but did not think of that God as the

only God of al men) before ethical monotheism of the universalistic

type was reached; if, further, al these stages and the moral and

religious ideas connected with each left a more or less clear mark in

the sacred literature of Israel; then the legacy which Judaism received

from its past was a syncretism of the whole of the religious experiences

of Israel as interpreted in the light of Israel's latest, highest, most

approved standards. Like the Bourbon, the Jew forgets nothing; but unlike

the Bourbon, the Jew is always learning. The domestic stories of the

Patriarchs were not rejected as unprofitable when Israel became deeply

impregnated with the monogamous teachings of writers like the author

of the last chapter of Proverbs; the character of David was idealised

by the spiritual associations of the Psalter, parts of which tradition

ascribed to him; the earthly life was etherialised and much of the sacred

literature reinterpreted in the light of an added belief in immortality;

God, in the early literature a tribal non-moral deity, was in the later

literature a righteous ruler who with Amos and Hosea loved and demanded

righteousness in man. Judaism took over as one indivisible body of sacred

teachings both the early and the later literature in which these varying

conceptions of God were enshrined; the Law was accepted as the guiding

rule of life, the ritual of ceremony and sacrifice was treasured as a holy

memory, and as a memory not contradictory of the prophetic exaltation of

inward religion but as consistent with that exaltation, as interpreting

it, as but another aspect of Micah's enunciation of the demands of God:

'What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy,

and to walk humbly with thy God?'

Judaism, in short, included for the Jew all that had gone before. But

for St. Paul's attitude of hostility to the Law, but for the deep-seated

conviction that the Pauline Christianity was a denial of the Jewish

monotheism, the Jew might have accepted much of the teaching of Jesus as

an integral part of Judaism. In the realm of ideas which he conceived as

belonging to his tradition the Jew was not logical; he did not pick and

choose; he absorbed the whole. In the Jewish theology of al ages we find

the most obvious contradictions. There was no attempt at reconciliation

of such contradictions; they were juxtaposed in a mechanical mixture,

there was no chemical compound. The Jew was always a man of moods, and

his religion responded to those varying phases of feeling and belief

and action. Hence such varying judgments have been formed of him and his

religion. If, after the mediaeval philosophy had attempted to systematise

Judaism, the religion remained unsystematic, it is easy to understand

that in the earlier centuries of the Christian Era contradictions

between past and present, between different strata of religious thought,

caused no trouble to the Jew so long as those contradictions could be

fitted into his general scheme of life. Though he was the product of

development, development was an idea foreign to his conception of the

ways of God with man. And to this extent he was right. For though men's

ideas of God change, God Himself is changeless. The Jew transferred the

changelessness of God to men's changing ideas about him. With childlike

naivete he accepted al , he adopted al , and he syncretised it all as best

he could into the loose system on which Pharisaism grafted itself. The

legacy of the past thus was the past.

One element in the legacy was negative. The Temple and the Sacrificial

system were gone for ever. That this must have powerfully affected

Judaism goes without saying. Synagogue replaced Temple, prayer assumed

the function of sacrifice, penitence and not the blood of bul s supplied

the ritual of atonement. Events had prepared the way for this change and

had prevented it attaining the character of an upheaval. For synagogues

had grown up al over the land soon after the fifth century B.C.; regular

services of prayer with instruction in the Scriptures had been established

long before the Christian Era; the inward atonement had been preferred

to, or at least associated with, the outward rite before the outward

rite was torn away. It may be that, as Professor Burkitt has suggested,

the awful experiences of the fal of Jerusalem and the destruction of the

Temple produced within Pharisaism a moral reformation which drove the Jew

within and thus spiritualised Judaism. For undoubtedly the Pharisee of the

Gospels is by no means the Pharisee as we meet him in the Jewish books.

There was always a latent power and tendency in Judaism towards inward

religion; and it may be that this power was intensified, this tendency

encouraged, by the loss of Temple and its Sacrificial rites.

But though the Temple had gone the Covenant remained. Not so much in

name as in essence. We do not hear much of the Covenant in the Rabbinic

books, but its spirit pervades Judaism. Of al the legacy of the past

the Covenant was the most inspiring element. Beginning with Abraham, the

Covenant established a special relation between God and Abraham's seed. 'I

have known him, that he may command his children and his household after

him, that they may keep the way of the Lord to do righteousness and

judgment' (Gen. xvi i. 19). Of this Covenant, the outward sign was the

rite of circumcision. Renewed with Moses, and fol owed in traditional

opinion by the Ten Commandments, the Sinaitic Covenant was a further

link in the bond between God and His people. Of this Mosaic Covenant

the outward sign was the Sabbath. It is of no moment for our present

argument whether Abraham and Moses were historical persons or figments

of tradition. A Gamaliel would have as little doubted their reality as

would a St. Paul. And whatever Criticism may be doing with Abraham, it

is coming more and more to see that behind the eighth-century prophets

there must have towered the figure of a, if not of the traditional,

Moses; behind the prophets a, if not the, Law. Be that as it may, to the

Jew of the Christian Era, Abraham and Moses were real and the Covenant

unalterable. By the syncretism which has been already described Jeremiah's

New Covenant was not regarded as new. Nor was it new; it represented

a change of stress, not of contents. When he said (Jer. xxxi. 33),

'This is the covenant which I wil make with the house of Israel, after

those days, saith the Lord; I will put my law in their inward parts, and

in their heart will I write it,' Jeremiah, it has been held, was making

Christianity possible. But he was also making Judaism possible. Here and

nowhere else is to be found the principle which enabled Judaism to survive

the loss of Temple and nationality. And the New Covenant was in no sense

inconsistent with the Old. For not only does Jeremiah proceed to add in

the self-same verse, 'I will be their God, and they wil be my people,'

but the New Covenant is specifical y made with the house of Judah and of

Israel, and it is associated with the permanence of the seed of Israel

as a separate people and with the Divine rebuilding of Jerusalem. The

Jew had no thought of analysing these verses into the words of the true

Jeremiah and those of his editors. The point is that over and above,

in complementary explanation of, the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants with

their external signs, over and above the Call of the Patriarch and the

Theophany of Sinai, was the Jeremian Covenant written in Israel's heart.

The Covenant conferred a distinction and imposed a duty. It was a bond

between a gracious God and a grateful Israel. It dignified history,

for it interpreted history in terms of providence and purpose; it

transfigured virtue by making virtue service; it was the salt of life,

for how could present degradation demoralise, seeing that God was

in it, to fulfil His part of the bond, to hold Israel as His jewel,

though Rome might despise? The Covenant made the Jew self-confident and

arrogant, but these very faults were needed to save him. It was his only

defence against the world's scorn. He forgot that the correlative of the

Covenant was Isaiah's 'Covenant-People'--missionary to the Gentiles and

the World. He relegated his world-mission (which Christianity and Islam

in part gloriously fulfil ed) to a dim Messianic future, and was content

if in his own present he remained faithful to his mission to himself.

Above al , the legacy from the past came to Judaism hallowed and

humanised by al the experience of redemption and suffering which had

marked Israel's course in ages past, and was to mark his course in

ages to come. The Exodus, the Exile, the Maccabean heroism, the Roman

catastrophe; Prophet, Wise Man, Priest and Scribe,--all had left their

trace. Judaism was a religion based on a book and on a tradition; but

it was also a religion based on a unique experience. The book might

be misread, the tradition encumbered, but the experience was eternally

clear and inspiring. It shone through the Roman Diaspora as it afterwards

il uminated the Roman Ghetto, making the present tolerable by the memory

of the past and the hope of the future.