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  Judaism is the name originally given to the religion not by its own practitioners but by others. It is derived from the name given in 933  BCE to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, formed from the ancestral lands of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin when the other Hebrew-speaking tribes of Israel refused to accept the harsh rule of Solomon\'s son Rehoboam, and withdrew to form the Northern Kingdom of Israel with its own centres of worship. But the Kingdom of Judah survived until 587  BCE, when it became a province first of the Babylonian Empire, then of the Greek warlords who succeeded Alexander, and then of the Romans, with only a brief period of independence under the Maccabees (c.165-87  BCE). These upheavals and the effect on agriculture led to migration to all the major cities of the ancient world, so that what had originally been the name of a tribe became the name of a whole people, their ancestral land and their religion, with a fine literary tradition evolving into a scriptural canon and a sophisticated social system with strong moral cohesion.

Judaism, as a religion, puzzled the ancient world. There was only one temple, in Jerusalem, and no idol or image of God was to be found anywhere. Calling themselves the Children of Israel, Jews refused to work on the seventh day, refused to sacrifice to other gods, and while they were prepared to pray for the well-being of the Roman emperor, they would rather die than worship him. Contact with Zoroastrianism, reaction to the early Christian church and incessant persecution led to modifications in the Jewish faith, but there is a continuity and consistency from earliest times to the present day.

The origins of the Jewish faith have been a matter of controversy for scholars since methods of modern textual and literary criticism were applied to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) in the middle of the 19th century, and archaeologists uncovered the civilizations contemporary to the Children of Israel. For Christians, who had apropriated the Hebrew Scriptures as their ‘Old Testament’, this archaeology was a vital quest for the foundations of faith: to know, for example, what really happened to Moses on Mount Sinai. But for Jews, who had a living tradition of interpretation, who always felt themselves in dialogue with their forebears, and who certainly did not see themselves as an anachronistic survival from the past, this kind of validation was less important than such matters as religious revival and the birth of modern Zionism. That the question should be asked at all is an indication of the importance of the understanding of history in first Judaism and then Christianity. If God were not perceived as acting in history to redeem his people, there would simply be no Jewish faith. If a slave race had not been liberated and led out of Egypt to a new homeland in Palestine, assimilating related clans already settled there, there would be no Jewish people, and if there had not been charismatic leaders appearing as prophets, priests, kings and military leaders, and teachers whose words and deeds were enshrined in scripture and tradition, neither the people nor their faith would have survived until today. In the liturgy of Temple and synagogue the story of the Exodus from Egypt was continually rehearsed. In every Jewish home at the ritual Passover meal the youngest child asked why this night of all nights was special, and was told the story, while at other great festivals such as Purim and Chanukah other occasions of deliverance were celebrated. However, the dynamic of this belief is not the glory of the past but the hope of the future. Belief in resurrection and the last judgement came relatively late into Jewish faith, in the 2nd century  BCE, as a response to the mass slaughter of innocent Jewish people by their Syrian rulers. The important questions, rather, were the continuity of one\'s family within Israel and the apotheosis of Israel within history.

The controversy referred to above concerns the identity of the God of Israel, and the extent of borrowings from surrounding tribes. This God has no personal name in the sense that Jupiter or Vishnu do. In the earlier strands of the Pentateuch, God is referred to as El, of the honorific plural Elohim, a word for God found in surrounding culture c.2000  BCE, with a suitable epithet and title, such as ‘Lord God of Hosts’. He made himself known to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and as their personal deity was known as ‘the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac and the Mighty One of Jacob’, but more usually (and always in liturgy) as ‘The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’. There is debate among Christian theologians as to whether this is not a merging of three separate tribal deities as well as three separate theophanies, but already before anything was written down (c.1000  BCE) there was a rich tradition of stories involving the nomadic patriarchal family as successive generations rather than separate tribes.

The turning point came with Moses\' experience. The fugitive Hebrew adopted by an Egyptian princess encountered God in the wilderness, but when asked the name of the God who was sending him back to his people, he was told YHWH, which can be translated as ‘I am who I am’, ‘I was who I was’, ‘I will be who I will be’. In other words, God is who he is, and his name is no business of his people. However, a new relationship was established. God was now to be addressed as Lord, and the appellation YHWH is considered too sacred to use. He is bound to those whom he had called by a covenant, whereby he protected them, and they obeyed him, giving service and worship in lives dedicated to the pursuit of justice, peace and the responsible stewardship of his creation.

Judaism emphasizes the importance of creating a just society, with the cry of the prophet Amos echoing down the centuries: ‘Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ His successors, Hosea in Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Isaiah and Jeremiah in Jerusalem (8th-7th century  BCE), did not hesitate to blame the nation\'s misfortunes on the refusal to give justice to the poor or mercy to the debtors. The commandments in Deuteronomy frequently repeat the injunction to protect the widow and the orphan, and to love the stranger. ‘For you too were strangers in the land of Egypt until I took you out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.’ The corners of the field were to be left for the poor to come and harvest, and the gleanings of harvest and vineyard were to be left for them as well. These laws from Leviticus and Deuteronomy can be seen in practice in the Book of Ruth. Later, when Jews were no longer living an agricultural life, and a money economy had developed, financial support replaced this, and every Jewish community developed a network of institutions to facilitate this. Orphanages, dower societies and credit unions proliferated to meet changing social needs. The Hebrew word for giving to charity, sedakah, comes from the same root as the word for justice; that is, it is the right of the poor that the rich share with them, and they are not the recipients of favours. Maimonides, the medieval philosopher and jurist, said that there are eight degrees of charitable giving, and ranked them in a hierarchy, preferring the recipient to be self-supporting thereafter. The principle of Leviticus 19, ‘You shall be holy, as I the Eternal, your God, am holy’, undergirds Jewish ethics. Later Judaism said that creating a just society is part of the process of tikkun olam, bringing the world into a state of perfection, which is the Jewish people\'s task on Earth.

Observance of the Jewish faith depends much on women, because it is family-based, and because they oversee obedience to the complex rules of purity and taboo. A Jew is someone with a Jewish mother (not necessarily a Jewish father), though conversion is possible in Reform Judaism. Judaism has been continually as risk from assimilation into the religions of the countries in which Jews live—since about twenty-five per cent of Jew marry non-Jews—and to massacre: about one third of the Jewish world population, for example, perished in the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s. The establishment of the state of Israel has therefore been crucial to the survival of Judaism; second in importance is the existence of a strong community in North America. EMJ RM

See also chasidim/hasidim.Further reading Michael Fishbane, Judaism; Revelation and Traditions; , E. Kedourie (ed.), The Jewish World; , Herman Wouk, This is My God.



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