Cohn-Sherbok - Popular Dictionary of Judaism

Lavinia and Dan Cohn-Sherbok - Popular Dictionary of Judaism

Lavinia and Dan Cohn-Sherbok - Popular Dictionary of Judaism

Surrey: Curzon Press, 1997. – 208 p.
ISBN-13:  978-0844204239
The history of the Jewish people began in the fertile lowlands alongside the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was here in Mesopotamia that successive empires of the ancient world flourished and decayed before the Jews emerged as a separate people. The culture of these civilizations had a profound impact on the Hebrew religion: ancient Near Eastern myths and traditions were filtered and refashioned to serve the needs of the faith of the Jewish nation. The Hebrew Scriptures are thus an amalgam of elements from neighbouring peoples, and modern archaeology provides a vast array of literary documents preserved on stone and clay tablets which shed light on this development. These sources give an account of the rise and fall of states and empires and the spread of religious ideas, and although only referring to Israel indirectly they help to clarify the intellectual and religious milieu in which the Bible was formed.
Scholars generally consider that the Jews emerged as a separate people between the nineteenth and sixteenth centuries BCE. Some writers maintain that the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were real persons – chiefs or founders of tribal units; others argue that the names of the patriarchs refer not to individuals but to families, clans or tribes. In either case, these ancestors of the Jewish nation appear to have been part of a wave of north-western Semitic-speaking peoples who moved into Canaan in the second millennium BCE. They and their descendants were semi-nomadic groups with small bands of sheep and goats coming from the desert in search of pasture and intermingling with the local inhabitants. It has been suggested that these immigrants and sojourners were part of a larger social stratum living on the fringes of settled society referred to in Near Eastern sources as Habiru – a term which resembles the Biblical word ‘Hebrew’. The patriarchal clans may have been part of this Habiru element in ancient Canaan.
The Israelites believed they had at some stage endured slavery in Egypt and had conquered Canaan, the Promised Land. After a long period of tribal unity, the nation divided into two kingdoms. This separation was a reflection of an ideological division which had existed for much longer. The northern tribes led by Ephraim and the southern tribes led by Judah had only been united by their allegiance to David. But when Solomon and his son Rehoboam violated many of the ancient traditions, the northern tribes revolted. The reason they gave for this rebellion was the injustice of the kings, but in fact they sought to recapture the simpler ways of earlier generations. Then there had been no monarch, and leadership was exercised on the basis of charisma. What the north looked for was allegiance and loyalty to the King of Kings who they believed had brought them from Egyptian bondage into the Promised Land in the early days of their history. It was against this background that the pre-exilic prophets endeavoured to bring the nation back to the true worship of God. Righteousness, they declared, is the standard by which all people are to be judged.
Prophecy was not a phenomenon unique to the Israelites. There are records of prophets of other Near Eastern religions such as that of the Phoenician Baal. Like them, the official Israelite cult employed prophets, or prophetic bands known as sons of the prophets, to predict the outcome of battles and to serve near the shrines. Scholars have not determined the exact relationship between these official prophets and the solitary prophets whose words are recorded in the Scriptures. It used to be thought that the Biblical prophets were separate from and indeed stood against the cult prophets. Now it is recognized that there was probably a closer connection between the two groups. In any case, throughout the pre-exilic period the Biblical prophets provided a commentary on the historical events of their day, and continually reminded the kings that they were only rulers under God.
During the first millennium BCE the Jews watched their country emerge as a powerful state only to see it sink into spiritual and moral decay. The ten northern Tribes disappeared from history when they were conquered by the Assyrians in 721BCE. Then in 586, the Southern Kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians. Initially the Jews despaired of their fate – the Temple lay in ruins and Jerusalem was demolished. This must be God’s punishment for their iniquity which the prophets had predicted. Yet despite defeat and exile, the nation rose anew phoenix-like from the ashes of the old kingdoms. In the years of exile which followed, the Jewish people continued their religious traditions and communal life. Though they had lost their independence, their devotion to God and His law sustained them through suffering and hardship and inspired them to new heights of creativity. In Babylonia they flourished, keeping their religion alive in the synagogues. These institutions were founded so that Jews could meet together for worship and study; no sacrifices were offered since that was the prerogative of the Jerusalem Temple. When in 538BCE King Cyrus of Persia permitted the Jews to return to their former home, the nation underwent a transformation. The temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt and religious reforms were enacted. This return to the land of their fathers led to national restoration and a renaissance of Jewish life which was to last until the first century CE.
* * *
(Aramaic ‘Spokesmen’). The * sages who explained and interpreted the Mishnah in Palestine and Babylon between 200 and 500 CE. Their discussions are recorded in the Palestinian and Babylonian * Talmuds. Those in Palestine who had been ordained by the * nasi and the * Sanhedrin were given the title of * Rabbi while the Babylonian sages who were not ordained were known as * Rav. The amoraim were the successors of the * tannaim whose debates and opinions are collected in the * Mishnah. The * halakhic decisions of both the tannaim and the amoraim are considered to be binding and both groups contributed to the * aggadic tradition. At least two thousand individual amoraim have been identified although there is some confusion over names. Besides teaching their students, the amoraim also filled positions of leadership in their communities (See, * TALMUD).
Frank, Jacob
(1726–1791) Sect founder. Jacob Frank believed himself to be the * messiah and the successor to * Shabbetai Zevi. After his * excommunication by the * rabbis of Poland, Frank and his followers renounced the * Talmud and were formally baptized as Christians. It became clear however that they regarded Frank rather than Jesus as the messiah and for a time Frank was imprisoned by the Church authorities. Initially adherents of the Frankist sect only married within their community, but by the mid-19th Century intermarriage became more common. The Frankists themselves were frequently accused of immorality. Many of their descendants became prominent among the Polish nobility.
Holy Days
Five holy days besides the weekly * Sabbath are mentioned in the * Bible:– Passover ( * Pesah), Weeks ( * Shavuot) and Tabernacles ( * Sukkot) – the three * pilgrim festivals – and the “High Holy Days – the New Year ( * Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement ( * Yom Kippur). As both Pesah and Sukkot are seasons only the first and last days of each period count as holy days, (for the intermediate days See * HOL HA-MOED). All work is forbidden on holy days and each * festival or * fast has its own particular customs. In the * diaspora among the * Orthodox, each holy day (except for Yom Kippur and the Sabbath) is celebrated for two days because of the doubt of the dating of each new month (See * SECOND DAY OF FESTIVALS). In * Israel and among the * Progressive only one day is observed. On the post biblical festivals such as * Hanukkah, * Purim, * Lag Ba’Omer and on fasts such as the Fast of * Gedaliah and * Tishah b’Av, work is permitted. (Also see entries under individual holy days).
Jewish War
The rebellion against Roman rule in the 1st Century CE. The Jewish War was led by the * Zealots and described in detail by the historian * Josephus. It resulted in the siege of * Jerusalem and the almost complete destruction of the * Temple in 70CE. The centre of Jewish life moved to * Jabneh under * Johanan ben Zakkai, but the ancient institutions of * priesthood, * sacrifice and temple worship were completely lost. The Jewish war ended with the capture of * Masada. The Roman triumph is portrayed on the triumphal arch of Titus in Rome, which shows the sacred “menorah being removed from the Temple. (See * ZEALOTS).


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