General Essay on Judaism

The origins of Judaism can be traced back more than 3000 years to the religion of ancient Israel known as Yahwism. Its name is derived from Judah, a region in the southern part of ancient Israel, which distinguishes it from other ancient developments of Yahwism such as the Rechabites, a small ultra-strict separatist sect, and the Samaritans. By 400 BCE varieties of Ancient Judaism had been established outside Palestine as well, in particular in Egypt and Babylonia (modern Iraq). By the first century BCE there were several varieties of Palestinian Judaism, including the Sadducees, Essenes, Scribes, Pharisees, Zealots and Herodians, defined for the most part by their relation to the Temple at Jerusalem. Of these the Pharisees were the most influential and it was from them that both Christianity, much influenced also by the Greek-speaking Judaism of Egypt (Alexandria), and Talmudical Judaism emerged.

In the centuries of Diaspora ("dispersal") following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, Jews travelled far and wide, setting up strong and self-contained communities some of which survived until modern times. These include the Babylonian community, the Kaifeng community in central China, the Bene Israel and the Cochin Jews in India and the Falashas in Ethiopia. During this period the teachings of the rabbis in Palestine and Babylon were incorporated in two great religious works known respectively as the Jerusalem (or Palestinian) Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud, which together with the Hebrew Bible constitute the foundation texts for virtually all subsequent forms of Judaism. Only the ultra-conservative sect known as the Karaites refused to accept Talmudical authority. Various forms of Jewish mysticism, from early Merkabah mysticism and mediaeval Kabbalah to modern Hasidism, have also presented in various degrees a challenge to orthodoxy, especially when allied with messianic fervour as in the case of the Shabbateans (followers of Shabbetai Tzvi). Other more radical modern varieties of Judaism such as Jewish Feminists and the Messianic Jews, though influenced by heterodox traditions, all stem from Orthodox Judaism.

The main challenge to Orthodox Judaism came in the eighteenth century as a result of the threat to traditional religion posed by rationalists of the European Enlightenment. Some sought consolation in the miracle-working and mystical beliefs and practices of the Hasidim. Others followed Jewish rationalists like Moses Mendelssohn into alternative forms of Judaism, notably Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism, which account for a growing number of Jews in the world today. Since the Nazi holocaust (1939-45), in which 6,000,000 European Jews died, the largest Jewish communities are in the State of Israel, created in 1948 by partitioning Palestine to accommodate Jewish refugees from Europe and elsewhere (4,000,000), and in the United States of America (6,000,000).

General Bibliography

Encyclopaedia Judaica, 16 volumes and year books, Keter Jerusalem 1972

The Jewish Encyclopedia, 12 volumes, Funk and Wagnall, New York 1901-1907

Europa World Year Book 1997, Europa Publications Ltd.

The Law, the Prophets and the Writings, The New JPS Translation according to the Traditional Hebrew Text, JPS, New York 1985

I.Abrahams, A Companion to the Authorized Daily Prayer Book New York 1966

P.R.Alexander, ed., Textual Sources for the Study of Judaism Manchester University, Manchester 1984

H.H.Ben Sasson ed., A History of the Jewish People Harvard/London, 1976

J.L.Blau, Modern Varieties of Judaism New York 1966

D.R.Blumenthal, ed., Understanding Jewish Mysticism: a Source Reader New York 1978

E.B.Borowitz, Liberal Judaism Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York, 1984

M.Buber, Tales of the Hasidim Schocken, New York 1947-48

T.Carmi, ed., The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse Penguin Books 1981

R.Coggins, Samaritans and Jews. The Origins of Samaritanism reconsidered Blackwell Oxford/ John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1975

J.Dan, Jewish Mysticism and Jewish Ethics Washington University Press, 1986

H.Danby, ed., The Mishnah English translation, Oxford University Press, 1933

L.Finkelstein, ed., The Jews: their History, Culture and Religion 4th edition, 3 volumes, Schocken, New York, 1970 S.B.Freehof, Current Reform Responsa Cincinnati 1969

A.Friendlander, Out of the Whirlwind. A Reader of Holocaust Literature Schocken New York 1976

L.Ginzberg, Legends of the Bible JPS, Philadelphia 1975

D.J.Goldberg and J.D.Rayner, The Jewish People: their History and Religion Penguin Books 1987

N.K.Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible. A Socio-Literary Introduction Fortress Press Philadelphia, 1985

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B.Greenberg, On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1981

J.Guttman, Philosophies of Judaism (1933) translated by D.S.Silverman, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1964

J.H.Hayes and J.M.Miller, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah Westminster Press Philadelphia, 1986

A.Hertzberg, ed., The Zionist Idea: a Historical Analysis and Reader Doubleday New York 1959

M.Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988

A.Z.Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and its Development (1932) Schocken, New York 1967

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L.Jacobs, Principles of the Jewish Faith Vallentine Mitchell London/Basic Books, New York, 1964

D.Kessler and T.Parfitt, The Falashas: the Jews of Ethiopia Minority Groups, London 1985

B.Lang, Monotheism and the Prophetic Minority Sheffield 1983 Lange, Atlas of the Jewish World Phaidon, London 1985

M.Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed translated M.Friedlander (1904), Dover Publications, New York, 1956

C.G.Montefiore and H.Loewe, edd., A Rabbinic Anthology New York, 1938

G.F.Moore, Judaism in the First Three Centuries of the Christian Era 3 vols., Cambridge, Mass., 1927-30

L.Nemoy, A Karaite Anthology Yale University Press, 1952

J.Neusner, From Politics to Piety. The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism Ktav, New York 1979

J.Neusner, Torah through the Ages. A Short History of Judaism SCM Press, London 1990

C.Pearl, Rashi, Weidenfeld and Nicholson London 1988

J.Plaskow, Standing again at Sinai Harper and Row, San Francisco 1990

H.Rabinowicz, The World of Hasidism Vallentine Mitchell, London 1970

C.Roth, The Haggadah London, 1975

J.Sachs, Traditional Alternatives. Orthodoxy and the Future of the Jewish People Jews' College Publications, London ,1989

H.Schauss, The Jewish Festivals London 1986

G.Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi (1626-1676). The Mystical Messiah Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1973

E.Schuerer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Christ 4 volumes, revised by G.Vermes, F.Miller, M.Goodman, T. & T.Clark, Edinburgh, 1973-88

M.Sklare, Conservative Judaism, an American Religious Movement new ed., Schocken, New York, 1972

A.Unterman, Jews: their Religious Beliefs and Practices Routledge, London/Boston 1981

G.Wigoder, The Story of the Synagogue Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 1986

H.J.Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim London 1958