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Judaism religion


Judaism or Judaisms?

It has been argued that Judaism can be seen not only as a single

religion, but as a group of similar religions. It has also been

pointed-out that through all the trials and tribulations that Judaism

has suffered through, that there have been common themes that have

proven omni-pervasive. Any institution with roots as ancient and varied

as the religion of the Jews is bound to have a few variations,

especially when most of its history takes place in the political and

theological hot spot of the Middle East.

In this discussion, many facets of Judaism will be examined, primarily

in the three temporal subdivisions labeled the Tribal / Pre-Monarchy

Period, the Divided Monarchy, and the Hasmonean / Maccabean and Roman

Era. Among all the time periods where the religion has been split,

these three seem to be the most representative of the forces


As for a common thread seen throughout all Judiasms, the area of focus

here is the place associated with the religion : Jerusalem. This topic

will be covered in detail first, and then the multiple Judaism arguments

will be presented. In this way, it is possible to keep a common focus

in mind when reading about all the other situations in which the

religion has found itself. A brief conclusion follows the discussion.

A Place to Call Home

No other religion has ever been so attached to its birthplace as

Judaism. Perhaps this is because Jews have been exiled and restricted

from this place for most of their history. Jerusalem is not only home

to Judaism, but to the Muslim and Christian religions as well.

Historically this has made it quite a busy place for the various groups.

Jerusalem is where the temple of the Jews once stood; the only place on

the whole Earth where one could leave the confines of day to day life

and get closer to God. In 586 BCE when the temple was destroyed, no Jew

would have denied Jerusalem as being the geographic center of the

religion. From that point on, the Jewish people have migrated around

the world, but not one of them forgets the fact that Jerusalem is where

it all began. It is truly a sacred place, and helps to define what

Judaism means to many people; a common thread to run through all the

various splinters of the religion and help hold them together.

Even today, as the Jewish people have their precious Jerusalem back

(through the help of other nations and their politics) there is great

conflict and emotion surrounding it. Other nations and people in the

area feel that they should be in control of the renowned city, and the

Jews deny fervently any attempt to wrestle it from their occupation. It

is true that there is no temple in Jeruslaem today, nor are all the Jews

in the world rushing to get back there. But it is apparent that the

city represents more to the religion of Judaism than a mere place to

live and work. The city of Jerusalem is a spiritual epicenter, and

throughout Judaism's long and varied history, this single fact has never


Tribal / Pre-Monarchy

Judaism's roots lie far back in the beginnings of recorded history. The

religion did not spring into existence exactly as it is known today,

rather it was pushed and prodded by various environmental factors along

the way. One of the first major influences on the religion was the

Canaanite nation. Various theories exist as to how and when the people

that would later be called Jews entered into this civilization. But

regardless of how they ultimately got there, these pioneers of the new

faith were subjected to many of the ideas and prejudices of the time.

Any new society that finds itself in an existing social situation, can

do no more than to try and integrate into that framework. And this is

exactly what the Jews did.

Early Judaism worshipped multiple gods. One of these gods was known as

Ba'al, and was generally thought-of as a 'statue god' with certain

limitations on his power. The other primary deity was called YHWH (or

Yahweh) and enjoyed a much more mysterious and illusive reputation. He

was very numinous, and one was to have great respect, but great fear for

him at the same time. Ba'al was not ever really feared, as his cycles

(metaphorically seen as the seasons) were fairly well known, and not at

all fear-inducing.

The fact that the early Jews and Canaanites had these two radically

different representations of a deity active in their culture, basically

assured that there would be splits in the faith. One group inevitably

would focus on one of the gods, and another would focus on another. In

this way, the single religion could support multiple types of worship,

leading to multiple philosophies and patterns of behavior, which could

then focus more and more on their respective niche, widening the gap

into a clear cut distinction between religious groups.

This early time period was generally quite temporary and

non-centralized, stemming from the fact that technology was at a very

low level, and people's lifespan was fairly short. These conditions led

to a rapid rate of turnover in religious thought, and left many factions

of people to their own devices. Widespread geographic distribution

coupled with poor communication certainly did not help in holding the

many faiths together. The Tribal Period in Jewish history is one of the

more splintered eras in the religion, but since these people were all

living in the area near Jerusalem, the common thread can be seen clearly

through the other less-defined elements of the religion.

Divided Monarchy

By its very name, it is apparent that this period of history is host to

a great deal of divergence in the Jewish religion. As Solomon was king,

people began to grow more and more restless. Some objected to

worshiping a human king, while others balked at the oppression of the

poor that was going on. Political unrest in this period led to a

decisive split in geographic territory, and thus a split in religious


A group of people left the area of Judah and traveled North to found

Israel, where they could be free to practice their own political

flavors, and their own religious flavors as well. This sort of behavior

has come to be seen as common of oppressed people, and the result is

almost always a great deviation in the ways of the 'old world'. A

perfect example of this comes when examining the point in American

history where independence was declared from England. Now, mere

centuries later, America is as different in its politics, religions, and

social forces from England as one could imagine. This was most likely

the result when Israel was founded, far back in Biblical history.

Communication between the two cities was sparse. The priests and

prophets were undoubtedly addressing items pertinent to one group, but

not neccesarily the other. The influence of foreign traders to each of

the two places, as well as the political attitudes of each all would

have had enormous impact on a newly-spawned religion. Thus, it can

easily be seen that the religion was split into (at least) two major

divisions during this time period.

Toward the end of the Divided Monarchy, it seems that the prophets began

calling for major changes in the basic foundation of the early Jews'

lives. The kings and priests had no major disputes with the status quo,

but apparently the prophets were calling for a reorganization. This

sort of 'turmoil within' can do nothing but further split people's

faith. It was is if the question was posed : to follow the kings and

the priests, who have guided us and kept us safe? or follow the

far-seeing prophets, who are more like us and honestly have our best

interests at heart? As the next major historical division occurred this

sort of argument would continue, and thus the Jewish people were left to

practice their religion in whatever way they felt best : multiple

groups of people with varying faith in the many forms of Judaism as it

existed toward the end of the Divided Monarchy.

Hasmonean / Maccabean and Roman Era

This time period in Jewish history is politically tumultuous, leading to

high levels of splits and variations in the religion itself. One of the

most disruptive types of all wars is a civil war. And this is exactly

what occurs at the outset in the Jewish homeland of Jerusalem. The

Jewish civil war was against the extreme Hellenizers (people who tended

toward utter reason in their beliefs) and the moderate Hellenizers

(people who can see things rationally, but believe there are more items

to consider than this -- ex. the Maccabean family, who became the

Hasmonean kings). So right away, it is apparent that the ideas that the

Greeks introduced into Jewish culture have acted as time-bombs of

social memes, and have created a major split in the religion.

When the violence of the war has subsided, the moderate Hellenizers have

won ("everything in moderation!") and rule for a short time, until the

Roman empire attacks and throws even more kinks into the Jewish

society. When the Romans take over, the Hasmonean kings are left in

place as 'puppet kings,' which ultimately forces the general population

to question their governing body.

When the Romans destroy the temple in Jerusalem, it is made painfully

clear that some changes are going to be made. Most obvious, the priests

suddenly have no major role in the religion. Their primary purpose had

been to tend to the sacrificing of animals, and since it is illegal to

sacrifice an animal outside the temple, the priests were in an

unsettling position.

As can be seen in countless other examples, politics and religion are

invariably tied, and people began practicing their own flavors of

Judaism after their civilization had been so radically altered. At this

point in history, there is really no solid rule to prevent such splits,

and for a time a mixed form of Judaism with many varieties flourishes.

No one was sure what to do once the heart of Judaism (the temple) had

been destroyed, but it soon became apparent that an appealing option was

arising. Two major social groups of the time period were vying for

power. The first group, the Saducees were associated with the displaced

Hasmonean kings. The second group, the Pharisees, had an idea that

would help work around the tragic destruction of the temple. People

were split, once again. They could stay with the traditional Saducees

(who had the political power, believed in only written Torah, and did

not subscribe to resurrection -- basically a conservative view), or they

could side with the newcomers, the Pharisees (who had religious power,

believed in both the written and the oral Torah, and believed in

resurrection) and hope to preserve their Jewish heritage by worshiping

outside of the temple, in their everyday life.

It was not a hard decision, and the Pharisees eventually gained power,

leading the Jewish religion into its next phase of Rabbinic Judaism.

It is apparent that in each of the three time periods discussed above

that many factions of the same religion were active. Competing

philosophies, outside political forces, and geographic isolation are

among the most obvious of the dividing forces. However many other

influences 'pound' each and every day on a given social institution,

subtly forming it and changing it into something it was not. For this

reason, the answer to the debate whether Judaism is a single, or

multiple religion(s) is an obvious one, depending upon how you choose to

look at it. Every religion has many pieces, but as long as there are a

few constants (such as the birthplace, the language, literature, etc) it

is possible to view the whole as a single force, and still acknowledge


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