Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 


Judaism

 





collection:

Susanna

*

The history of Judaism

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)


Part III




 



Moses with the Torah, by Rembrandt van Rijn

 


*


see also:



THE BIBLE

*

The Bible illustrations by



Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"


Gustave Dore


William Blak
e "The Book of Job"

 

 


 



Susanna
 

 


Carracci Ludovico

 


Francesco Hayez

 


Guercino

 


Jan Massys

 


Jacob Matham

 


Jan Saenredam

 


Pompeo Batoni

 


Jan van Noordt

 


Gentileschi Artemisia

 


Gentileschi Artemisia

 


Reni Guido

 


Tintoretto

 


Sisto Radolochio

 


Johann Carl Loth

 


Peter Paul Rubens

 


Johann Spillenberger

 


Allori Alessandro

 


Lorenzo Lotto

 


Albrecht Altdorfer

 


Paolo Veronese

 


Anthony van Dyck

 


Rembrandt van Rijn

 


Rembrandt van Rijn

 


Sebastiano Ricci

 


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

 


Franz von Stuck

 

 



The history of Judaism

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 


Part III

 

Contents

Part I

The history of Judaism
General observations
Nature and characteristics
Periodization
Biblical Judaism (20th–4th century bce)
The ancient Middle Eastern setting
The pre-Mosaic period: the religion of the patriarchs
The Mosaic period: foundations of the Israelite religion
The Egyptian sojourn
Mosaic religion
The period of the conquest and settlement of Canaan
The period of the united monarchy
The religious and political problem
The Davidic monarchy
The period of the divided kingdom
The period of classical prophecy and cult reform
The emergence of the literary prophets
Prophecy in the southern kingdom
Reforms in the southern kingdom
The Babylonian Exile

The period of the restoration


Part II

Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce)
The Greek period (332–63 bce)
Hellenism and Judaism
Social, political, and religious divisions
Religious rites and customs in Palestine: the Temple and the synagogues
Religious and cultural life in the Diaspora
Egyptian Jewish literature
Palestinian literature
The Roman period (63 bce–135 ce)
New parties and sects
Origin of Christianity: the early Christians and the Jewish community
Judaism under Roman rule



Part III

Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century)
The age of the tannaim (135–c. 200)
The role of the rabbis
The making of the Mishna
The age of the amoraim: the making of the Talmuds (3rd–6th century)
Palestine (c. 220–c. 400)
Babylonia (200–650)
The age of the geonim (c. 640–1038)
Triumph of the Babylonian rabbinate
Anti-rabbinic reactions
The gaonate of Saladia ben Joseph
Medieval European Judaism (950–1750)
The two major branches
Sephardic developments
Ashkenazic developments
Marginalization and expulsion
Conflicts and new movements
Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present)
The new situation
The Haskala, or Enlightenment
In central Europe
In eastern Europe
Religious reform movements
Orthodox developments
In western and central Europe
In eastern Europe
Developments in scholarship
Jewish-Christian relations
Zionism
American Judaism
Judaism in other lands
Contemporary Judaism

 


The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » The age of the tannaim (135–c. 200) » The role of the rabbis
After the defeat of Bar Kokhba and the ensuing collapse of active Jewish resistance to Roman rule (135–136), politically moderate and quietist rabbinic elements remained the only cohesive group in Jewish society. With Jerusalem off-limits to the Jews, rabbinic ideology and practice, which were not dependent on the Temple, priesthood, or political independence for their vitality, provided a viable program for autonomous community life and thus filled the vacuum created by the suppression of all other Jewish leadership. The Romans, confident that the will for insurrection had been shattered, soon relaxed the Hadrianic prohibitions of Jewish ordination, public assembly, and regulation of the calendar and permitted rabbis who had fled the country to return and reestablish an academy in the town of Usha in Galilee.

The strength of the rabbinate lay in its ability to represent simultaneously the interests of the Jews and the Romans, whose religious and political needs, respectively, now chanced to coincide. The rabbis were regarded favourably by the Romans as a politically submissive class, which, with its wide influence over the Jewish masses, could translate the Pax Romana (the peace imposed by Roman rule) into Jewish religious precepts. To the Jews, on the other hand, the rabbinic ideology gave the appearance of continuity to Jewish self-rule and freedom from alien interference. The rabbinic program fashioned by Johanan ben Zakkai and his circle replaced sacrifice and pilgrimage to the Temple with the study of Scripture, prayer, and works of piety, thus eliminating the need for a central sanctuary (in Jerusalem) and making Judaism a religion capable of practice anywhere. Judaism was now, for all intents and purposes, a Diaspora religion, even on its home soil. Any sense of real break with the past was mitigated by continued adherence to purity laws (dietary and bodily) and by assiduous study of Scripture, including the legal elements that historical developments had now made inoperable. The reward held out for scrupulous study and fulfillment was the promise of messianic deliverance—i.e., the divine restoration of all those institutions that had become central in Jewish notions of national independence, including the Davidic monarchy, Temple service, and the ingathering of Diaspora Jewry. Above all these rewards was the assurance of personal resurrection and participation in the national rebirth.

Apart from the right to teach Scripture publicly, the most pressing need felt by the surviving rabbis was for the reorganization of a body that would revive the functions of the former Sanhedrin and pass judgment on disputed questions of law and dogma. Accordingly, a high court was organized under the leadership of Simeon ben Gamaliel (reigned c. 135–c. 175), the son of the previous patriarch (the Roman term for the head of the Palestinian Jewish community) of the house of Hillel, in association with rabbis representing other schools and interests. In the ensuing struggle for power, Gamaliel managed to concentrate all communal authority in his office. The reign of Gamaliel’s son and successor, Judah the Prince, marked the climax of this period of rabbinic activity, otherwise known as the “age of the tannaim” (teachers). Armed with wealth, Roman backing, and dynastic legitimacy (which the patriarch now traced to the house of David), Judah sought to standardize Jewish practice through a corpus of legal norms that would reflect accepted views of the rabbinate on every aspect of life. The Mishna that soon emerged became the primary reference work in all rabbinic schools and constituted the core around which the Talmud was later compiled (see Talmud and Midrash). It thus remains the best single introduction to the complex of rabbinic values and practices as they evolved in Roman Palestine.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » The age of the tannaim (135–c. 200) » The making of the Mishna
Although the promulgation of an official corpus represented a break with rabbinic precedent, Judah’s Mishna did have antecedents. During the 1st and 2nd centuries ce, rabbinic schools had compiled for their own use collections of Midrashim (singular Midrash, meaning “investigation” or “interpretation”), in which the results of their exegesis and application of Scripture to problematic situations were recorded in terse legal form. By 200 ce several such compilations were circulating in Jewish schools and were being utilized by judges. While adhering to the structural form of these earlier collections, Judah compiled a new one in which universally accepted views were recorded alongside those still in dispute, thereby largely reducing the margin for individual discretion in the interpretation of the law. Although his action aroused opposition and some rabbis continued to invoke their own collections, the authority of his office and the obvious advantages of a unified system of law soon outweighed centrifugal tendencies, and his Mishna attained quasi-canonical status, becoming known as “The Mishna” or “Our Mishna.” Yet, for all its clarity and comprehensiveness, its phraseology was often obscure or too terse to satisfy all needs, and a companion work known as the Tosefta (“Additions”), in which omitted traditions and explanatory notes were recorded, was compiled shortly thereafter. Neither compilation elucidated the processes by which decisions had been elicited, and various authorities therefore set about collecting the Midrashic discussions of their schools and recording them in the order of the verses of Scripture. During the 3rd and 4th centuries, Midrashim on the Pentateuch were compiled and introduced as school texts.

Fundamentally legal in character, this literature regulated every aspect of life; the six divisions of the Mishna—on agriculture, festivals, family life, civil law, sacrificial and dietary laws, and purity—encompass virtually every area of Jewish experience. Accordingly, the Mishna also recorded the principal Pharisaic and rabbinic definitions and goals of the religious life. One tract, Pirqe Avot (“Sayings of the Fathers”), treated the meaning and posture of a life according to the Torah, while other passages made reference to the mystical studies into which only the most advanced and religiously worthy were initiated—e.g., the activities of the Merkava, or divine “Chariot,” and the doctrines of creation. The rabbinic program of a life dedicated to study and fulfillment of the will of God was thus a graded structure in which the canons of morality and piety were attainable on various levels, from the popular and practical to the esoteric and metaphysical. Innumerable sermons and homilies preserved in the Midrashic collections, liturgical compositions for daily and festival services, and mystical tracts circulated among initiates all testify to the deep spirituality that informed Rabbinic Judaism.


The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » The age of the amoraim: the making of the Talmuds (3rd–6th century) » Palestine (c. 220–c. 400)
The promulgation of the Mishna initiated the period of the amoraim (lecturers or interpreters), teachers who made the Mishna the basic text of legal exegesis. The curriculum now centred on the elucidation of the text of the standard compilation, harmonization of its decisions with extra-Mishnaic traditions recorded in other collections, and the application of its principles to new situations. Amoraic studies have been preserved in two running commentaries on the Mishna, known as the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud, reflecting the study and legislation of the academies of the two principal Jewish centres in the Roman and Persian empires. (Talmud is also the comprehensive term for the whole collections, Palestinian and Babylonian, containing Mishna, commentaries, and other matter.)

The schools were the primary agencies through which the rabbinic way of life and literature was communicated to the masses. The types of schools ranged from the primary school to the advanced “house of study” and more formal academy (yeshiva), the synagogue, and the Jewish court. Primary schools had long been available in the villages and cities of Palestine, and tannaitic law made education of male children a religious duty. Introduced at the age of five or six to Scripture, the student advanced at the age of 10 to Mishna and finally in midadolescence to Talmud, or the processes of legal reasoning. Regular reading of Scripture in the synagogue on Mondays, Thursdays, Sabbaths, and festivals, coupled with concurrent translations into the Aramaic vernacular and frequent sermons, provided for lifelong instruction in the literature and the various teachings elicited from it. The amoraic emphasis on the moral and spiritual aims of Scripture and its ritual is reflected in their Midrashic collections, which are predominantly homileticalrather than legal in character.

An amoraic sermon conceded that, of every 1,000 beginners in primary school, only one would be expected to continue as far as Talmud. In the 4th century, however, there were enough advanced students to warrant academies in Lydda, Caesarea, Sepphoris, and Tiberias (in Palestine), where leading scholars trained disciples for communal service as teachers and judges. In Caesarea—the principal port and seat of the Roman administration of Palestine, where pagans, Christians, and Samaritans maintained renowned cultural institutions—the Jews too established an academy that was singularly free of patriarchal control. The outstanding rabbinic scholar there, Abbahu (c. 279–320), wielded great influence with the Roman authorities. Because he combined learning with personal wealth and political power, he attracted some of the most gifted students of the day to the city. About 350 the studies and decisions of the authorities in Caesarea were compiled as a tract on the civil law of the Mishna. Half a century later, the academy of Tiberias issued a similar collection on other tracts of the Mishna, and this compilation, in conjunction with the Caesarean material, constituted the Palestinian Talmud.

Despite increasing tensions between some rabbinic circles and the patriarch, his office was the agency that provided a basic unity to the Jews of the Roman Empire. Officially recognized as a Roman prefect, the patriarch at the same time sent representatives to Jewish communities to inform them of the Jewish calendar and other decisions of general concern and to collect an annual tax of a half shekel, paid by male Jews for his treasury. As titular head of the Jewish community of Palestine and as a vestigial heir of the Davidic monarchy, the patriarch was a reminder of a glorious past and a symbol of hope for a brighter future. How enduring these hopes were may be seen from the efforts to gain permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Although reconstruction of the Temple was authorized by the emperor Julian (reigned 361–363), it came to naught because of a disastrous fire on the sacred site and the emperor’s subsequent death.

The adoption of Christianity as the religion of the empire had no direct effect on the religious freedom of the Jews. The ever-mounting hostility between the two religions, however, resulted in severe curtailment of Jewish disciplinary rights over their coreligionists, interference in the collection of patriarchal taxes, restriction of the right to build synagogues, and, finally, upon the death of the patriarch Gamaliel VI about 425, the abolition of the patriarchate and the diversion of the Jewish tax to the imperial treasury. Mediterranean Jewry was now fragmented into disjointed communities and synagogues. But the principles of the regulation of the Jewish calendar had been committed to writing in approximately 359 by the patriarch Hillel II, and this, coupled with the widespread presence of rabbis, ensured the continuity of Jewish adherence. Even the restrictions on synagogal worship and preaching imposed by the Eastern emperor Justinian I (reigned 527–565) apparently had no devastating effect. A new genre of liturgical poetry, combining ecstatic prayer with didactic motifs, developed in this period of political decline and won acceptance in synagogues in Asia Minor as well as beyond the Euphrates.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » The age of the amoraim: the making of the Talmuds (3rd–6th century) » Babylonia (200–650)
In the increasingly unfriendly climate of Christendom, Jews were consoled by the knowledge that in nearby Babylonia (then under Persian rule) a vast population of Jews lived under a network of effective and autonomous Jewish institutions and officials. Steadily worsening conditions in Palestine drew many Jews to Persian domains, where economic opportunities and the Jewish communal structure enabled them to gain a better livelihood while living in accordance with their ancestral traditions. To regulate internal Jewish affairs and ensure the steady flow of taxes, the Parthian, or Arsacid, rulers (247 bce–224 ce) had appointed in approximately 100 ce an exilarch, or “head of the [Jews in] exile”—who claimed more direct Davidic descent than the Palestinian patriarch—to rule over the Jews as a quasi-prince. About 220, two Babylonian disciples of Judah ha-Nasi, Abba Arika (known as Rav) and Samuel bar Abba, began to propagate the Mishna and related tannaitic literature as normative standards. As heads of the academies at Sura and Nehardea, respectively, Rav and Samuel cultivated a native Babylonian rabbinate, which increasingly provided the manpower for local Jewish courts and other communal services. While the usual tensions between temporal and religious arms frequently existed in Babylonia, the symbiosis of exilarchate and rabbinate endured until the middle of the 11th century.

Paradoxically, Babylonian rabbinism derived its theological and political strength from its fundamentally unoriginal character. As a transplant of Palestinian Judaism, it asserted its historical legitimacy to the Sāsānian dynasty (224–651), who protected Jewish practices against interference from fanatical Magian priests, and to native Jewish officials, who argued for the validity of indigenous Babylonian deviations from Palestinian norms. But ultimately the historical importance of this transplantation lay in Babylonia’s serving as the proving ground for the adaptability of Palestinian Judaism to a Diaspora situation. Legal and theological adaptations generated by the new locale and the needs of the times inevitably produced changes in the religious tradition. The laws of agriculture, purity, and sacrifices all of necessity fell into disuse. The principles embodied in these laws, however, and the core of the legal and theological system—consisting of faith in the revelation and election of Israel, the requirement that the individual live by the canons of Jewish civil and family law, and the network of communal institutions modeled on those of Palestinian Judaism—remained intact, thereby ensuring a basic continuity and uniformity among rabbinically oriented communities everywhere. Because historical circumstances made Babylonia the mediator of this tradition to all Jewish communities in the High Middle Ages (9th–12th centuries), the Babylonian version of Jewish religion became synonymous with normative Judaism and the measure of Judaic authenticity everywhere.

“The law of the [Gentile] government is binding”—the principle formulated by Samuel (died 254), head of the academy at Nehardea—summarizes the essential novelty in rabbinic reorientation to life on foreign soil. Whereas Palestinian rabbis had complied with imperial decrees of taxation as legitimate de facto—and this was all that Samuel had in mind—Babylonian teachers now rationalized governmental authority in this respect as legitimate de jure, thus enjoining upon the Jews political quietism and submissiveness as part of their religious doctrine. In all other areas of civil law, the Jews were instructed by their rabbis to file suit in Jewish courts and thus to conduct their businesses as well as their family lives by rabbinic law.

While the rabbis could impose their discipline more effectively in matters of public law than in private religious practice, the density of the Jewish population in many areas of Parthia (northeastern Iran) and Babylonia facilitated the application of moral and disciplinary pressures. The most effective vehicle for the dissemination of their teachings was the academies, where judges and communal teachers were trained; among these institutions, those of Sura and Pumbedita remained preeminent. Frequent public lectures in the synagogues of the academies on Sabbaths and festivals were capped by public kalla (study-course) assemblies for alumni of the schools during the two months, Adar (February–March) and Elul (August–September), when the lull in agricultural work freed many to attend semiannual refresher instruction. These meetings were followed by regular popular lectures during the festival seasons that soon followed. Thus, while rabbis constituted a distinct class within the community, their efforts were oriented toward making as much of the community as possible members of a learned and religious elite. The harmonious relations that obtained with but few interruptions over the centuries between the Sāsānian rulers and their Jewish subjects gave the Jewish population the air of a quasi-state, which the Jewish leadership frequently extolled as superior to the Jewish community of Palestine.

The dissemination of the Palestinian Talmud probably stimulated the Babylonians to follow suit by collecting and arranging the records of study and decisions of their own academies and courts. The Babylonian Talmud, which apparently underwent several stages of redaction (c. 500–650) on the basis of the proto-Talmuds—the early collections of commentaries on the Mishna used in the academies—accordingly became the standard of reference for judicial precedent and theological doctrine for all of Babylonian Jewry and all those communities under its influence. Some scholars have postulated a group of anonymous editors of these earlier materials, calling them stammaim (“anonymous ones”). As had been the case with the Mishna, the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud was later designated by authorities as marking the end of a period in Jewish history. The scholars who added the finishing stylistic touches, known as savoraʾim (“explicators”), were classified as a transitional stage between the amoraim and the geonim.

The enduring vigour of Jewish faith during these centuries is graphically demonstrated by the missionary activity of Jews throughout the ancient Middle East, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. Proud Jewish tribes living in close proximity to each other in the vicinity of Yathrib (later Medina, Muhammad’s home city) engaged in agriculture and commerce and proclaimed the superiority of their monotheistic ethos and eschatology. In Yemen (southwestern Arabia) the last of the Ḥimyarite rulers (reigned from c. 2nd century ce), Dhu Nuwas, proclaimed himself a Jew and finally suffered defeat in approximately 525 as a consequence of Christian influence on the Abyssinian armies. Jewish missionaries, however, continued to compete with Christian missionaries and thus helped to lay the groundwork for the birth of an indigenous Arabic monotheism—Islam—that was to alter the course of world history.


The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » The age of the geonim (c. 640–1038) » Triumph of the Babylonian rabbinate
The lightning conquests in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula by the armies of Islam (7th–8th century) created a political framework for the basically uniform (i.e., Babylonian) character of medieval Judaism. As a “people of the Book” (i.e., of the Bible), the Jews were permitted by the Muslims to live under the same autonomous structure that had developed under Arsacid and Sāsānian rule. The heads of the two principal academies were now formally recognized by the exilarch, and through him by the Muslim caliphs (the civil and religious heads of the Muslim state), as the official arbiters of all questions of religious law and as the religious heads of all Jewish communities that came under Muslim sway. Known as geonim (plural of gaon, “excellency”), they conducted high courts manned by scholars of graded ranks, and they received financial support from Jewish communities assigned to them by the exilarch. Religious questions and contributions were solicited from all Jewish communities, and these, along with formal gaonic replies (responsa), were regularly publicized at the semiannual kalla convocations. Under the strong leadership of Yehudai, gaon of Sura (presided 760–763), the Babylonian rabbinate made vigorous efforts to replace Palestinian usage wherever it was still in vogue—including the study of Palestinian amoraic legal literature—with Babylonian practice and texts, thus making the Babylonian Talmud the unrivalled standard of Jewish norms. The campaign’s success is indicated by the usage of the term Talmud, which, when unqualified, has ever since meant the Babylonian Talmud. Indeed, even in Palestine the Babylonian corpus displaced its older rival and caused the study of Palestinian Talmudic literature to be confined to circles of legal specialists.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » The age of the geonim (c. 640–1038) » Anti-rabbinic reactions
The firm—and occasionally oppressive—tactics of exilarchs and geonim generated anti-rabbinic reactions in the form of sectarian and messianic revolts, especially in outlying areas where enforcement was difficult. Inspired in part by ancient Palestinian sectarian doctrines and in part by Muslim usage, the sects were by and large quickly and forcefully suppressed. In the 8th century, according to the traditional Rabbinite account, Anan ben David, a disaffected member of the exilarchic family, founded a dissident sect, the Ananites, later known as the Karaites (Scripturalists). The exact relationship between the followers of Anan and the later Karaites, however, remains unclear. The term itself first appeared in the 9th century, when various dissident groups coalesced and ultimately adopted Anan as their founder, though they rejected several of his teachings. The new sect advocated a threefold program of rejection of rabbinic law as a human fabrication and therefore as an unwarranted, unauthoritative addition to Scripture; a return to Palestine to hasten the messianic redemption; and a reexamination of Scripture to retrieve authentic law and doctrine. Under the leadership of Daniel al-Qumisi (c. 850?), a Karaite settlement prospered in the Holy Land, from which it spread as far as northwestern Africa and Christian Spain. A barrage of Karaite treatises presenting new views of scriptural exegesis stimulated renewed study of the Bible and the Hebrew language in Rabbinite circles as well. The most momentous consequence of these new studies was the invention of several systems of vocalization for the text of the Hebrew Bible in Babylonia and Tiberias in the 9th and 10th centuries. The annotation of the Masoretic (traditional, or authorized) text of the Bible with vocalic, musical, and grammatical accents in the Tiberian schools of the 10th-century scholars Ben Naftali and Ben Asher fixed the Masoretic text permanently and, through it, the morphology of the Hebrew language for Karaites as well as Rabbinites.

In the face of sectarian challenges, the geonim intensified their efforts against any deviation from Rabbinite norms. They began to issue handbooks of Jewish law that set forth in concise and unequivocal terms the standards for correct practice. A number of these codes, notably the Halakhot gedolot (“Great Laws”), Siddur Rav Amram Gaon (“The Prayer Book of Rav Amram Gaon”; on liturgical practice), and Sheʾeltot (“Disquisitions”) by Aḥa of Shabḥa (c. 680–c. 752), attained authoritative status in local schools and further unified medieval Judaism.

The geonim, however, were powerless to halt several social developments in the 9th century that progressively undermined their hold even on Rabbinite communities. A renaissance of Greek philosophy and sciences in Arabic translation, coupled with the progressive urbanization of the upper classes of all religious and ethnic groups in the centres of political, commercial, and cultural activity, generated a new intelligentsia that cut across religious and ethnic lines. Widespread skepticism concerning basic doctrines of faith such as creation, revelation, and retribution was most poignantly represented by latitudinarianism (the tendency to be flexible and tolerant about deviations from orthodox beliefs and doctrines) and by antinomian gnostic groups that denied divine providence and omniscience (see antinomianism). Ḥiwi al-Balkhī, a 9th-century skeptical Jewish pamphleteer, scandalized the faithful by openly attacking the morality of Scripture and by issuing for schools an expurgated edition of the Bible that omitted “offensive” material (e.g., alleged stories of God acting dishonestly). A mystifying Hebrew tract titled Sefer yetzira (“Book of Creation”) posited in terse and enigmatic epigrams a novel theory of creation that betrayed Neoplatonic influence. Karaites joined philosophically oriented intellectuals in heaping scorn on popular Rabbinite customs that smacked of superstition and, above all, on Talmudic homilies that referred to God in anthropomorphic terms.

Gaonic difficulties were compounded by the rise in North Africa and Spain of populous and wealthy Jewish communities that, thanks to the development of their own local schools and talent, ignored the Babylonian academies or favoured one over the other with religious queries and, in consequence, with financial contributions. To the delight of dissidents and the chagrin of the faithful, competition between the Babylonian academies turned to internecine hostility. Occasional revolts against exilarchic taxation and administration in outlying areas of Persia had to be quelled with armed force. The Palestinian Rabbinites had revived their own academies, and their presidents now not only appealed for support in other Diaspora lands but challenged the authority of the Babylonians to serve as final arbiters on matters of public import, such as the regulation of the calendar. By 900 the Rabbinite community of Babylonia was in a state of chaos and dissolution.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » The age of the geonim (c. 640–1038) » The gaonate of Saʿadia ben Joseph
In a bold effort to restore discipline and respect for the gaonate, the exilarch David ben Zakkai (916/917–940) bypassed the families from whom the geonim had traditionally been selected and in 928 appointed Saʿadia ben Joseph (882–942) to head the academy of Sura. Of Egyptian birth, Saʿadia had gained wide acclaim for his scholarly retorts to Karaites, heretics, and Palestinian Rabbinites. Politically, Saʿadia’s brief presidency was a fiasco and aggravated the chaos by a communal civil war. His gaonate, however, gave an official stamp to his many works, which responded to the ideological challenges to Rabbinism by restating traditional Judaism in intellectually cogent terms. Saʿadia thus became the pioneer of a Judeo-Arabic culture that would blossom fully in Andalusian Spain a century later. His translation of the Bible into Arabic and his Arabic commentaries on Scripture made the rabbinic understanding of the Bible accessible to masses of Jews. His poetic compositions for liturgical use provided the stimulus for the revival of Hebrew poetry. Above all, his rationalist commentary on the puzzling Sefer yetzira and his brilliant treatise on philosophical theology, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, synthesized the Torah (understood as the divine law in the Five Books of Moses together with the rabbinic understanding of this revelation) and “Greek wisdom” in accordance with the dominant Muslim philosophical school of kalām. His efforts made Judaism philosophically respectable and the study of philosophy a religiously acceptable pursuit.

Far from tightening the gaonic hold over the Jewish communities of the Arabic world, Saʿadia’s works actually provided the wherewithal for ever-greater intellectual and religious self-sufficiency. While economic, political, and military upheavals progressively weakened various institutions in the Middle East, concurrent prosperity and consolidation in the West stimulated the maturation of indigenous leadership in Egypt, Al-Qayrawān (Kairouan; in present-day Tunisia), and Muslim Spain. To be sure, able geonim such as Sherira and his son Hai (939–1038) exercised enormous influence over the Judeo-Arabic world through hundreds of legal responsa issued in the course of their successive terms (968–1038) at Pumbedita. Circumstances beyond anyone’s control, however, were gradually undermining the effectiveness of exilarchate and gaonate. But by 1038, the year of Hai’s death, the consequences of four centuries of gaonic activity had become indelible: the Babylonian Talmud had become the agent of basic Jewish uniformity; the synthesis of philosophy and tradition had become the hallmark of the Jewish intelligentsia; and the Hebrew classics of the past had become the texts of study in Jewish schools everywhere.


The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » Medieval European Judaism (950–1750) » The two major branches
Despite the fundamental uniformity of medieval Jewish culture, distinctive Jewish subcultures were shaped by the cultural and political divisions within the Mediterranean basin, in which Arabic Muslim and Latin Christian civilizations coexisted as discrete and self-contained societies. Two major branches of rabbinic civilization developed in Europe: the Ashkenazic, or Franco-German, and the Sephardic, or Andalusian-Spanish. Distinguished most conspicuously by their varying pronunciation of Hebrew, the numerous differences between them in religious orientation and practice derived, in the first instance, from the geographical fountainheads of their culture—the Ashkenazim (plural of Ashkenazi) tracing their cultural filiation to Italy and Palestine and the Sephardim (plural of Sephardi) to Babylonia—and from the influences of their respective immediate milieus. While the Jews of Christian Europe wrote for internal use almost exclusively in Hebrew, those of Muslim areas regularly employed Arabic for prose works and Hebrew for poetic composition. Whereas the literature of Jews in Latin areas was overwhelmingly religious in content, that of the Jews of Spain was well endowed with secular poetry and scientific works inspired by the cultural tastes of the Arabic literati. Most significantly, the two forms of European Judaism differed in their approaches to the identical rabbinic base that they had inherited from the East and in their attitudes to Gentile culture and politics.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » Medieval European Judaism (950–1750) » Sephardic developments
In Muslim Spain, Jews frequently served the government in official capacities and, therefore, not only took an active interest in political affairs but engaged in considerable social and intellectual intercourse with influential circles of the Muslim population. Since the support of letters and scholarship was part of state policy in Muslim Spain, and since Muslim savants traced the source of Muslim power to the vitality of the Arabic language, scripture, and poetry, Jews looked at Arabic culture with undisguised admiration and unabashedly attempted to adapt themselves to its canons of scholarship and good taste. The cultured Jew accordingly demonstrated command of Arabic style and the ability to display the beauty of his own heritage through a philological mastery of the text of the Hebrew Bible and through the composition of Hebrew verse, now set to an Arabic metre. Since Arabic philosophers and scientists promulgated the compatibility of Greek philosophy with the revelation to Muhammad, rationalist study of the Jewish classics and defense of rabbinic faith in philosophical terms became dominant motifs in the Andalusian Jewish schools (in southern Spain).

The period of feverish literary creativity in classical Jewish disciplines as well as in the sciences in Spain has been called the golden age of Hebrew literature (c. 1000–1148). Jewish culture of this age was distinguished by the supreme literary merit of its Hebrew poetry, the new spirit of relatively free and rationalist examination of hallowed texts and doctrines, and the extension of Jewish cultural perspectives to totally new horizons—mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, political theory, aesthetics, and belles-lettres. Noteworthy too was the frequent overlapping of the Sephardic religious leadership with the new Jewish courtier class. The unprecedented heights that the latter attained—Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut (c. 915–975) as counsellor to the caliphs of Córdoba; the Ibn Nagrelas as viziers of Granada; the Ibn Ezras (Moses ibn Ezra, c. 1060–1139; and Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, c. 1092–1167), the Ibn Megashs, and the Ibn Albalias as high officials in Granada and Sevilla (Seville)—and the distinctions of these men and their protégés in Jewish and worldly letters restored the ancient integration of culture and practical life and expressed the identification of the Jewish elite with the biblical age of Jewish power and artistic creativity. The effort to recapture the vitality and beauty of biblical poetry stimulated comparative philological and fresh exegetical research that yielded new insights into the morphology of the Hebrew language and into the historical soil of biblical prophecy. Judah ibn Ḥayyuj and Abū al-Walīd Marwān ibn Janāḥ produced manuals on biblical grammar that applied the results of Arabic philology to their own tongue and provided the principles of Hebrew grammatical study down to modern times. The anticipations of modern higher biblical criticism by Judah ibn Balaʿam and Moses ibn Gikatilla (11th century) were popularized in Hebrew a few generations later by Abraham ibn Ezra. In the revival of Hebrew poetry, liturgical as well as secular, that translated the new preoccupation with language and beauty into art, Andalusian Jewry saw its greatest achievements. Solomon ibn Gabirol (c. 1022–c. 1058), Moses ibn Ezra, and Judah ha-Levi (c. 1075–1141) were the acknowledged supreme geniuses of a form of expression that became a passion with thousands the length and breadth of Spain. But the most enduring consequence of the new temper was the redefinition of religious faith in the light of Greco-Arabic philosophical theories. The exposition of faith in Neoplatonic terms by Solomon ibn Gabirol, the defense of Rabbinism using Aristotelian categories by Abraham ibn Daud (c. 1110–c. 1180), the attack on the religious inadequacy of philosophy by Judah ha-Levi, and the epoch-making Aristotelian philosophical theology by Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) fixed philosophical inquiry as an enduring subject on the agenda of rabbinic concerns. Beginning in the 13th century, a new class of philosophers sponsored the translation of Arabic literature into Hebrew and of Hebrew and Arabic literature into Latin; they brought Jews and their thought into the mainstream of Western philosophy and gained for them the position of middlemen of culture between East and West.

The salient trends of Sephardic Judaism did not imply relegation of the rabbinic class to a secondary role. Rather, they shaped a fresh approach to rabbinic texts that paralleled in many respects those adopted in biblical exegesis. Strict adherence to consistency, systematization, and philological exactitude yielded new codes that often diverged from gaonic judgments. A digest of Talmudic law by Isaac Alfasi (1013–1103) placed the Sephardic rabbinate on a self-reliant footing and epitomized its method of getting at the essentials of Talmudic law by sidestepping contingent discussions. In this area too, it was Moses Maimonides who brought the Sephardic principles of comprehensiveness, lucidity, and logical arrangement to their apex through his code of Jewish law, Mishne Torah. Written in Mishnaic Hebrew, the work remains the only comprehensive treatment of all of Jewish law, including those fields that are not applicable in the Diaspora (agriculture, purity, sacrifices, Temple procedure).

With Maimonides, however, the pure Sephardic tradition came to an end, for the Almohad (Amazigh [Berber] Muslim reformers) invasion of Spain in 1147–48 wiped out the Jewish communities of Andalusia and drove thousands to northern Spain and Provence (a province of southeastern France) or, as in the case of Maimonides’ family, to North Africa and Egypt. Sephardic Jewry suddenly encountered a discrete, mature, Jewish culture that for centuries had been developing independently and along quite different lines.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » Medieval European Judaism (950–1750) » Ashkenazic developments
The Ashkenazic Jewry, into whose communities the Sephardim had been thrust by political events, regarded their own heritage and the Christian world in which they lived from a perspective shaped exclusively by rabbinic categories. They drew their school texts and the values that determined their judgments from the Talmud and the Midrash. Sensing no intellectual challenge in Christian faith, which they regarded with thinly concealed contempt, they constituted for the most part a merchant class that lived in urban centres under the protection of ecclesiastical and temporal rulers but also under their own complex of laws and institutions. Except for mercantile relations, Christian society was closed to them, thanks largely to age-old ecclesiastical prohibitions forbidding all social intercourse with Jews. With the Arab conquest of Spain and the rise of the Carolingians (the dynasty that ruled western Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries), the 12-decade interlude of suppression by the Visigoths (589–711) came to an end, and the Roman precedent of toleration and autonomy again became the rule. Merchants and rabbis moved from Italy to France and the Rhineland and infused new energies into the Jewish communities there. An indigenous religious leadership began to emerge at the very time that Andalusian Jewry was entering its golden age. The First Crusade (1096–99) unleashed a tide of hatred, periodic violence, and progressive restrictions on Jewish activities in the Rhineland, but the communities affected had attained sufficient resilience to reestablish their communal institutions shortly afterward and to continue the cultivation of their deeply ingrained traditions.

By 1150 Ashkenazic Jewry had established a culture of its own, with an indigenous literature that ranged from the popular homily to the esoteric tract on the nature of the divine glory. Study of the Bible and the Talmud was oriented toward a mystical pietism in which prayer and contemplation of the secrets embedded in the liturgy were to lead to religious experience. Significantly, the fathers of the Ashkenazic tradition were remembered as liturgical poets and initiates into divine mysteries, and the early codes of the Franco-German schools were heavily weighted with discussions of liturgical usage. After the Second Crusade (1147–49), the German Jewish mystics (also called Hasidim, or pietists) placed heavy emphasis on the merits of asceticism, martyrdom, and penitence, thus adapting to a Jewish idiom the features of saintliness then current in Christian Europe. For the masses of Jews, the cultural fare consisted principally of biblical tales and instruction as interpreted by rabbinic Midrash, the lives of scholars and saints, and liturgical poetry reaffirming the election of Israel and faith in messianic redemption. The chief vehicle of popular instruction consisted of anthologies from the rabbinic writings and commentaries on Scripture, of which the most popular was that of Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes (1040–1105), known as Rashi, the acronym formed from the initials of his name in Hebrew. For the more advanced student, Rashi composed a succinct commentary on the Talmud that achieved an authority approaching that of the text itself.

As living sources of law and values, the Bible and the Talmud had an impact on public and private, as well as secular and religious, affairs. Taking their cue from Talmudic precedent and from Christian ecclesiastical procedures of their own times, the Ashkenazic rabbis occasionally gathered in regional synods to enact legislation on problems of a general nature for which there was no adequate precedent in the literature. Among the most enduring of these measures were the prohibition of bigamy and arbitrary divorce and severe economic penalties for abandonment of wives. Of far more immediate concern to the average Jew were the circumvention of Talmudic prohibitions against usury, relaxation of prohibitions regarding traffic with Gentiles in wines, and adoption of severe disciplinary measures, such as excommunication, against informers or those appealing, in cases involving Jews, to the Gentile authorities.

A new religious trend began in Provence in the 13th century with the introduction into the Talmudic academies of a novel form of mystical study known as Kabbala (literally, “tradition”), which soon spread to northern Spain. Expressing gnostic doctrines in rabbinic guise, the devotees of Kabbala devised an esoteric vocabulary that reinterpreted the Bible and rabbinic law as allegories of the various modes in which God is manifested in a spiritual universe, access to which was reserved for initiates. The most renowned literary product of this new circle was the Zohar (“The Book of Splendour”), a vast mystical commentary on the Pentateuch by Moses de León (c. 1250–1305); with later additions it became the Bible of Jewish mystics everywhere. Although some of the theological notions of the Kabbalists deviated from basic postulates of Jewish monotheism, the insistence of the mystics on unflagging ritual orthodoxy and on a nominal acceptance of the biblical text as divine revelation helped them avert the suspicions aroused by Jewish Aristotelians and Averroists—followers of the 12th-century Arabic Aristotelian philosopher Averroës (1126–98)—and, in time, even won for them the status of a rabbinic elite. Indeed, in the early 13th century some of the mystics lent their support to a campaign that condemned the study of philosophy as generating skepticism, latitudinarianism, and disrespect for traditional literature.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » Medieval European Judaism (950–1750) » Marginalization and expulsion
Developments within the two major Jewish communities of medieval Europe were complicated by their uncertain relationship with the Christian community surrounding them. By all accounts, Christians and Jews had been on relatively good terms until the 11th century. In the early Middle Ages there were frequent contacts between Christians and Jews, who intermarried and shared language and culture. In the Carolingian era some bishops even complained that the Jews were favoured too much by Carolingian rulers. The situation became more complicated after about the year 1000, as Christian society began a process of reorganization that contributed to the marginalization of the Jews and other groups. Although the Jews did not endure unrelenting persecution and even enjoyed a cultural renaissance in the 12th century that paralleled a Christian one, they faced an increasingly hostile community that created a new theological image of the Jews and undermined the place of the Jews in society.

In the opening decade of the 11th century, Jews in various parts of Europe faced violent attacks and forced conversions that led some, according to one account, to commit suicide rather than accept baptism. Attacks against the Jews and full-scale massacres of Jews would occur throughout the rest of the Middle Ages, most notably at Mainz in the Rhineland in 1096, in England in 1198–90, in Franconia in 1298, and in France in 1320. The image of the Jews among Christians worsened, and numerous anti-Semitic stereotypes appeared in the 12th century. The most notorious example of these was the blood libel, which alleged that the Jews killed Christian boys and used their blood to make unleavened bread.

Meanwhile, official legislation of the church confirmed the declining position of the Jews. Pope Innocent III issued a decretal declaring the Jews to be in perpetual servitude for the killing of Christ, and at the fourth Lateran Council in 1215 the Jews were ordered to wear distinctive clothing, forbidden to hold public office, and prohibited from appearing in public during the last three days of the Easter season. With the discovery and burning of the Talmud by Christians in the 13th century, the church’s view of the Jews worsened, because the church thus became aware that contemporary Jews were different from biblical Jews. The acceptance of the Talmud by the Jews was understood as heretical by the church, which had already launched a Crusade and the Inquisition against Christian heretics. The Jews’ failure to live up to the Christian understanding of them undermined the contemporary theological justification for their continued existence (i.e., until the end of time, as witness to the truth of Christian revelation).

Challenges also emerged in the economic and social order as economic opportunities were increasingly restricted. Although there were Jewish merchants, artisans, and viticulturists throughout much of the Middle Ages, by the 12th and 13th centuries the Jews were limited to the occupation of money lending, which brought some of them great wealth but also great animosity from borrowers. Moreover, the Jews were often an important source of capital for the monarchs of Europe. As an important source of revenue, the Jews provided a valuable service to the kings and thus received special protection in the law. This relationship, however, had an ominous side, as the Jews came to be defined in the law as the personal property of the king, to be exploited as he saw fit. Jews also lost their status as individuals and were secure only as long as they were of utility to their lords.

The declining economic usefulness of the Jews and the related deterioration of their social and religious status led to their expulsion from England in 1290 and from France in 1306. Jews were also expelled from the Holy Roman Empire and, most notoriously, from Spain in 1492. In Spain, anti-Jewish riots in the late 14th century had led to the conversion of large numbers of Jews, the so-called conversos. Spanish Christians, however, remained distrustful of the conversos, who were thought to maintain contact with uncoverted Jews and to practice the Jewish faith secretly. An inquisition established to deal with the conversos led to local expulsions in the 1480s. By 1492, however, the king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, and their inquisitors decided that the only real solution to the problem was the permanent separation of the conversos and the Jews. The Jews were compelled to choose between baptism and exile, and ultimately some 40,000 (estimates range as high as 800,000) departed Spain, never to return. They settled in Navarre (then outside the kingdom of Spain), North Africa, and Portugal. Many of those in Portugal, however, accepted Christianity as a result of an order of expulsion or conversion there in 1497.
 

The history of Judaism » Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century) » Medieval European Judaism (950–1750) » Conflicts and new movements
The conflict between philosophers and anti-philosophers in Provence and northern Spain represented a clash between two mature Jewish subcultures of diverse geographic origins, the Sephardic and the Ashkenazic, each of which had in the course of centuries developed different esoteric doctrines to transcend the legalistic formalism and confining dogmas of normative Judaism. Both forms of speculation sought salvation for exceptional individuals through knowledge and thus provided an immediate substitute for messianic deliverance from exile and servitude. Each group charged the other with distortion of tradition, and each issued apologias and excommunications characteristic of medieval doctrinal controversy. While the rifts between them reached bitter proportions, the common threat posed by ecclesiastical attacks on the Talmud in public disputations and by the expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306 prevented open rupture or resolution of the conflict. Ever since that time, two strands of orthodoxy representing the two forms of medieval metaphysical speculation have lived side by side in an uneasy truce.

Most rabbinic circles of the 14th and 15th centuries displayed a progressive dogmatism and insistence on uniformity of practice. The great legal code of Jacob ben Asher of Toledo (c. 1269–c. 1340), Arbaʿa ṭurim (c. 1335; “Four Rows”), which sought to level differences in usage between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, signified the dominant trend of the rabbinate. The increasing hardening of ideological lines, however, did not eliminate independent thinking. Isaac Albalag (13th century) propounded an Averroist (rationalistic) interpretation of the Bible predicated on a theory of double truth (of reason and revelation), while Gersonides (Levi ben Gershom; 1288–1344), gave Jewish Aristotelianism a new and comprehensive formulation. In Muslim areas, the Maimonidean regimen of philosophical contemplation was extended by Maimonides’ son Abraham to a quest for pietist ecstasy that seemed to have much in common with Sufism (Islamic mysticism).

The anti-Jewish riots in Spain and their consequences stimulated the anti-intellectualism of the rabbinate. Hasdai Crescas (1340–1410), while conceding the philosophical untenability of traditional belief in free will (see also determinism), launched a scathing attack on Aristotelian approaches to religion, and his disciple Joseph Albo (c. 1380–c. 1444) issued a compendium on dogma that reaffirmed the traditional postulates of divine creation, revelation, and retribution as axioms of Judaism. But these reassertions of traditional faith could not overcome the ideological and social fragmentation that had split the Spanish communities, often leaving them in open conflict with each other. Widespread marranism (ostensible conversion to Christianity) polarized the community and left residues of bitterness toward those returning to the fold (see Marrano). The expulsions from Spain and Portugal drove the leadership into intensified pursuits of mystical escape from, and rationalization of, the endless calamities that befell their flocks. In Italy and the Ottoman Empire (Asia Minor, northeastern Africa, and southeastern Europe)—the two principal centres of refuge for the exiles of the Iberian Peninsula—legalistic Kabbalism, which insisted on strict observance of the law as a precondition of mystical practice and study, became the dominant form of rabbinic leadership. Despite the terrible circumstances, the rabbinate continued to produce works of encyclopaedic proportions and staggering erudition in every field of Jewish learning.

Inspired by the Jewish tradition that the coming of the messiah would be preceded by horrendous catastrophes, a group of rabbis established a community in Ẕefat (Safed), Palestine, where, in anticipation of the new dawn, every aspect of life was conducted on principles of saintliness and mystical contemplation. Under the leadership of Jacob Berab, the ancient practice of ordination (semikha) was reinstituted in 1538 to form the nucleus of a revived Sanhedrin that would administer ritual procedures requiring fully ordained authorities. Although the effort failed because of rabbinic opposition, it reflected the temper of the times and further fanned messianic hopes sparked shortly before by the campaigns of Solomon Molkho (c. 1500–32) and David Reubeni (died after 1532) in Italy; Molkho was burned at the stake by the Christian authorities, and Reubeni died in prison. In Ẕefat itself, Kabbalism soon entered a new phase under the inspiration of Isaac Luria (1534–72) and Ḥayyim Vital (1543–1620), who confided to their disciples that the calamities of Israel were but a mirror of the captivity into which many sparks of the Godhead itself had fallen. Liturgical innovations and a novel mystical theology were formulated to redeem the imprisoned elements of divinity and thus restore creation to the harmony intended for it.

That the Almighty himself was not quite omnipotent, at least with respect to the fate of his chosen people, was cautiously hinted in a Hebrew work of history (1550) by Solomon ibn Verga (1460–1554), who regarded the Jewish problem as a sociopolitical one to which theological answers were futile. Such guarded rationalism was entertained by a number of courageous thinkers in 16th-century Italy, where, despite the policy of ghettoization (the segregation of the Jewish community in a restricted quarter) begun by Venice in 1516 and soon extended to all major Italian cities, the spirit of the Renaissance and the passion for historical criticism had captivated many Jews. Catholic scholars and prelates occasionally employed rabbis to instruct them in the Hebrew language and in the secrets of the Kabbala, which some Christians believed actually verified the postulates of their own faith. Contacts with Christian scholars in turn introduced Jews such as Azariah dei Rossi (c. 1513–78), whose Meor ʿenayim (“Enlightenment of the Eyes”) inaugurated critical textual study of rabbinical texts, to new bodies of literature that had been lost to the Jewish community, such as the works of Philo and Josephus.

Such phenomena, however, were comparatively rare and isolated. The spread of dogmatic Kabbalism eventually led to the widespread acceptance of the views of the pseudo-messiah Shabbetai Tzevi (1626–76). Most of European and Ottoman Jewry was swept into near hysteria in the belief that the end was now finally at hand. When Shabbetai converted to Islam after being apprehended by the Ottoman government, all but his most faithful followers were despondent, though some tried to explain the apostasy of the pseudo-messiah as a form of voluntary crucifixion for the sake of the Jews. A witch hunt on the part of traditionalists to uncover the remaining cells of heresy unsettled Jewish communities everywhere.

The following century (to c. 1750) was the darkest in the history of Rabbinic Judaism. Scholarship declined and popular religion became mechanical to an extent that Jews had never before experienced. Polish Jews suffered terribly during the Deluge, a period of peasant revolts and war involving Poland, Russia, and Sweden that began in 1648. The Jews were slaughtered by rebels and professional soldiers during the war, which was fought mostly on Polish soil, and many survivors were sold as slaves in Turkey. The massacres and impoverishment of Polish Jewry after 1648 brought a pall over the growing eastern European centres of Jewish life. Antinomian eruptions of extreme Shabbetaians under the leadership of the self-proclaimed messiah and later Catholic convert Jacob Frank (1726–91) alarmed Gentile authorities almost as much as they did Jews. But the fossilization referred to above was only apparent. Beneath the surface many were restlessly searching for new avenues of faith, and the 18th century saw fresh responses that set the history of the Jews and of Judaism in new directions and marked the beginning of a new era.

Gerson D. Cohen


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » The new situation
The criteria used to identify dividing points in the history of the Jews and Judaism are especially notable when it comes to the start of the modern period. Historians of thought traditionally place this point in the late 17th century, with the appearance of those who abandoned, in part or in toto, their inherited Jewish faith but continued to regard themselves—and to be regarded by others—as Jews. Some Israeli scholars prefer a date of about 1700, with the first stirrings of the emigration from the Diaspora to the Holy Land, which culminated in the mid-20th century in the creation of the State of Israel. Political and social historians put the start of the modern period in the second half of the 18th century, when the American and French revolutions eventually resulted in the emancipation of Jews from discriminatory and segregative laws and customs, their attainment of legal status as citizens, and the freedom of individual Jews to pursue careers appropriate to their talents. These varying approaches have one thing in common: the view that the start of the modern period is marked by the end of the doctrine of the exile, whereby Jews saw themselves as a people waiting out centuries of woe in alien lands until the moment of divine redemption. Jewish modernity for most scholars is characterized by the end of a passive waiting for the messiah and the beginning of an active pursuit of personal or national fulfillment on this earth and preferably in one’s own lifetime.

Although the 18th century Haskala (Enlightenment) among the Ashkenazim of central and eastern Europe is often taken as the starting point of Jewish modernity, the process of Westernization had begun a good deal earlier among the Sephardim in western Europe and in Italy. The Marranos who went to the Jewish communities of Amsterdam and Venice in the 17th century to declare themselves Jews carried with them the Western education that they had acquired while living as Christians in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the habits of criticism that had kept them from assimilating into the majority during their Marrano years. Some, such as Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza (1632–77), a son of Marranos, applied these skills to all of the biblical tradition, including especially their own religion. In Italy there was an older Jewish community that had never been sealed off culturally from the influence of its environment; some of its figures were influenced by, and participated in, the main currents of the Renaissance.

Increased contact with Western languages, manners, and customs came to the Ashkenazim only in the 18th century, when new economic opportunities created such possibilities. Jewish bankers and brokers in various German principalities, army provisioners in most European countries, capitalists who were permitted to live in places such as Berlin because they opened new factories or were otherwise helpful to the expansion of the economy—all were in increasing contact with Gentile society, and most of them began to strive for full acceptance. Around this wealthy element there arose a number of intellectuals who agitated for the end of ghettoization as a necessary preamble to the emancipation of the Jews.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » The Haskala, or Enlightenment » In central Europe
The most outstanding figure of the 18th-century Jewish Enlightenment was the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86), a devoted adherent of traditional Judaism who turned away from the historic Jewish preoccupation with the Talmud and its literature to the intellectual world of the European Enlightenment. Mendelssohn did not attempt a philosophical defense of Judaism until pressed to do so by Christians who questioned how he could remain faithful to what they saw as an unenlightened religion. In his response, Jerusalem, published in 1783, Mendelssohn defended the validity of Judaism as the inherited faith of the Jews by defining it as revealed divine legislation, and he declared himself at the same time to be a believer in the universal religion of reason, of which Judaism was but one historical manifestation. Aware that he was accepted by Gentile society as an “exceptional Jew” who had embraced Western culture, Mendelssohn’s message to his own community was to become Westerners, to seek out the culture of the Enlightenment. To that end he joined with a poet, Naphtali Herz (Hartwig) Wessely (1725–1805), in translating the Torah into German, combining Hebrew characters with modern German phonetics in an effort to displace Yiddish, and wrote a modern biblical commentary in Hebrew, the Beʾur (“Commentary”). Within a generation, Mendelssohn’s Bible was to be found in almost every literate Jewish home in central Europe, serving to introduce its readers to German culture. Through his personal example and his life’s work, Mendelssohn made it possible for his fellow Jews to join the Western world without sacrificing their Judaism; indeed, he convinced them that Judaism is compatible with an intellectual commitment to universal reason.

Mendelssohn’s work was carried on by the Berlin Haskala, a group of Jewish intellectuals who had gathered around Mendelssohn during his lifetime; the Haskala was most active in the 20 years following his death. In the pages of their Hebrew-language periodical, Ha-Meʾassef (“The Collector”), they preached the virtues of secular culture and publicized the need for secular education. In response to the Edict of Toleration promulgated in 1781 by the Holy Roman emperor Joseph II (reigned 1765–90), Naphtali Wessely issued an urgent call for the reform of Jewish education as a prelude to full emancipation. Secular subjects—mathematics, German, and world history and literature—were to take precedence over traditional Jewish studies. The study of the Bible, because it was generally acknowledged to be a fundamental part of Western culture, was to be emphasized at the expense of the customary focus on the Talmud. Following this model, modern Jewish schools were established by Jewish intellectuals and businessmen in several German cities, among them Frankfurt and Hamburg. As its educational activities began to bear fruit in the wide dissemination of secular culture, the Berlin Haskala abandoned the use of Hebrew for German and gradually disintegrated. Unlike Mendelssohn himself, his immediate intellectual descendants, including his own children, were unable to strike a balance between Jewish and secular culture; their Western education undermined their religious faith, and they saw themselves as Europeans rather than as Jews.

One of Mendelssohn’s disciples, David Friedlaender, offered to convert to Christianity without accepting Christian dogma or Christian rites; he felt that both Judaism and Christianity shared the same religious truth but that there was no relation at all between that truth and Judaism’s ceremonial law. The offer was refused because Friedlaender would not acknowledge the superiority of Christianity and make an unconditional commitment to it. Unlike Friedlaender, many other followers of Mendelssohn chose to leave the Jewish faith as the only way to win full acceptance in European society.
 

The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » The Haskala, or Enlightenment » In eastern Europe
Thus, the Haskala was quickly played out in central Europe; as an idea, its further career was to continue in eastern Europe, particularly in the Russian Empire, where it flourished in the middle third of the 19th century until, as a result of the pogroms of 1881, Jews lost faith in the willingness of Russians to accept “enlightened” Jews. It was a tenet of the Russian Haskala that the tsar was a benevolent leader who would bestow emancipation upon his Jewish subjects as soon as they proved themselves worthy of it. A goal of the Russian Haskala, therefore, was for the Jews to transform themselves into model citizens—enlightened, unsuperstitious, devoted to secular learning and productive occupations. Following the example of the Berlin Haskala, a Russian Hebrew-language writer, Isaac Baer Levinsohn (1788–1860), published a pamphlet, Teʿuda be-Yisrael (“Testimony in Israel”), extolling the benefits of secular education. At the same time, writers such as Joseph Perl (1774–1839) and Isaac Erter (1792–1851), though traditional Jews themselves, attacked in virulent satire the superstitious folk customs of the masses, thereby opening the way to the anticlericalism that became characteristic of the Russian Haskala.

In the 1840s and ’50s the group’s emphasis shifted from satirical attacks on the cultural parochialism of the Pale of Settlement (the regions to which the Jews were restricted) to romanticization of life outside the Pale, including periods of the Jewish past. Thus, Hebrew poets and novelists in Russia, such as Micah Judah Lebensohn (1828–52) and Abraham Mapu (1808–67), contributed to the creation of a modern Hebrew literature. In the 1860s the Russian Haskala, reflecting the larger political climate, entered a “positivist” phase, calling for practical social and economic reforms. Hebrew-language journals were established, and the Hebrew essay and didactic poetry, calling for religious and cultural reforms, came into their own, particularly in the hands of the poet Judah Leib Gordon (1830–92) and the essayist Moses Leib Lilienblum (1843–1910). Abandoning the original Hebrew and German orientation of the Russian Haskala, a number of Jewish intellectuals—the most prominent of whom were Yoachim Tarnopol (1810–1900), Osip Rabinovich (1817–69), and Lev Levanda (1835–88)—became Russifiers, founding Russian-language Jewish weeklies devoted to “patriotism, emancipation, modernism.” Like their contemporary fellow Jews in western Europe, they declared themselves to be Russians by nationality and Jews by religious belief alone. In 1863 a group of wealthy Jews in St. Petersburg and Odessa created the Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews of Russia for the purpose of educating Russian Jewry into “readiness for citizenship.” The goal of all segments of the Russian Haskala in the 1860s and ’70s was to turn Jews into good Russians and to make their Jewishness a matter of personal choice. But the hopes of the Haskala were upset by the reaction of Russians following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Several Jewish communities were destroyed in pogroms, which often received the tacit approval of the governing authorities. Jewish economic life was severely curtailed, and quotas for Jewish students were put in place in secular educational institutions. The bright optimism of Russian-Jewish intellectuals faded.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Religious reform movements
One element of Westernization that the Haskala championed was the reform of religion. This movement began in western Europe during the Napoleonic period (1800–15), when certain aspects of Jewish belief and observance were seen as incompatible with the new position of the Jew in Western society. Napoleon convoked a Sanhedrin in 1807 to create a modern definition of Judaism that renounced Jewish nationhood and national aspirations, asserted that rabbinic authority was purely spiritual, and recognized the priority of civil over religious authority even in matters of intermarriage. In countries other than France, the rationale for reform, at least in its early years, was more aesthetic than doctrinal. The external aspects of Jewish worship—i.e., the form of the service—was unacceptable to the newly Westernized members of the Jewish bourgeoisie in both Germany and the United States, whose cultural standards had been shaped by the surrounding society and who desired above all to resemble their Gentile peers. Thus, the short-lived Reform temple established in Seesen in 1810 by the pioneer German reformer Israel Jacobson (1768–1828) introduced organ and choir music, allowed men and women to sit together during worship, delivered the sermon in German instead of Hebrew, and omitted liturgical references to a personal messiah and the restoration of Israel. A more radical temple established in Hamburg in 1818 adopted all of Jacobson’s reforms and published its own much-abridged prayer book, which deleted almost all references to the long-awaited restoration of Zion. Reformers in Charleston, South Carolina, introduced similar changes in the synagogue ritual in 1824. It was apparent to the reformers that in Western society Judaism would have to divest itself of its alien customs and conform to the cultural and intellectual standards of the new “age of reason.”

German Reform in the 1840s became institutionalized, a matter of organized formal belief and practice. At a series of synods held at Brunswick (1844), Frankfurt (1845), and Breslau (1846), it created the first theological rationalization for changes introduced to the faith in the previous generation. Judaism, it was declared, had always been a developmental religion that conformed to the demands of the times. Moreover, the reformers maintained, the Jews were no longer a nation and therefore were bound not by their religious and political code of law but only by the dictates of moral law. Rituals that impeded full Jewish participation in German social and political life were no longer considered valid expressions of Jewish religious truth. The use of Hebrew in religious services was limited; practices such as circumcision and the dietary laws and all national messianic hopes were questioned in light of the “spirit of the times.” Messianism in Reform Judaism was transformed into active concern for social welfare in the present, and the Jewish role in history became Diaspora-centred; some even thought of it as constituting a mission to the Gentiles.

Although Reform Judaism was initiated in Europe, its success was limited there because many central European governments would not recognize more than one form of Judaism in any one locale. Even in areas where it had taken root, by the middle of the 19th century, European Reform (now usually called “Liberal Judaism”) lost much of its early radicalism. Reform was much more successful in the United States, where it was carried by massive numbers of German Jewish immigrants in the 1840s and where it coalesced with existing American reform movements. By 1880 almost all of the 200 synagogues in the United States (amalgamated in the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873) were Reform. In 1885 a conference of Reform rabbis formulated what was then the most comprehensive statement of Reform philosophy in the so-called Pittsburgh Platform. This manifesto announced that Judaism was an evolutionary faith and no longer a national one, and it declared that the Mosaic and rabbinical laws regulating diet, purity, and dress were “entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state.” While the preservation of historical identity was considered beneficial, the maintenance of tradition was not; the Talmud was to be treated merely as religious literature, not as legislation. The principles of the Pittsburgh Platform remained the official philosophy of the American Reform movement until 1937, when a later generation, seeking to meet different emotional and intellectual needs, reintroduced the concept of Jewish personhood into the Columbus Platform; this document also reemphasized Hebrew and traditional liturgy and practices. After World War II, Reform in the United States developed along two tracks. It departed in new ways from traditional Judaism in ordaining women (1972), allowing patrilineal descent (1983), and sanctifying same-sex marriage (2000). On the other hand, some Reform Jews began reintegrating long-discarded rituals into worship services. This neo-ritualism stimulated greater use of Hebrew in prayer books and a more dynamic Zionism.

If Reform was a child of Enlightenment rationalism, Conservative Judaism was a child of historical romanticism. It began in 1845, when Zacharias Frankel (1801–75) and a group of followers seceded from a second Reform synod at Frankfurt over the issue of limiting the use of Hebrew to a small core of prayers. For Frankel, Hebrew represented the spirit of Judaism and the Jewish people, and Judaism itself was not merely a theology of ethics but the historical expression of the Jewish experience; this definition he called “positive-historical Judaism.” Although Conservative Judaism conceived of Judaism as a developmental religion, it charted its course through close study of tradition and the will of the people and thus came to largely traditional conclusions about religious observance.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Orthodox developments » In western and central Europe
Although affected by the efforts at religious reform, the bulk of the official Jewish establishment in western and central Europe remained Orthodox (a term first used by Reform leaders to designate their traditionalist opponents). Under the leadership of Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–88) in Frankfurt, a more modern and militant form of Judaism arose. Known as Neo-Orthodoxy, the new movement asserted its right to break with any Jewish community that contained Reform elements. The teachings of Neo-Orthodoxy were profoundly influential, for they indicated the possibility of living a ritually and religiously full life while being totally integrated into Western society. This was accomplished by positing a theoretical division between religion and culture: in religion the Jews were to remain Orthodox (though deferring their messianic aspirations to the unforeseeable future), while in manners and culture they were to become Western. This form of Orthodoxy, which became the intellectual model for Western Orthodoxy, continued into the 21st century in the United States in a variety of religious and academic institutions (such as the Yeshiva University in New York City and the bulk of English-speaking Orthodox synagogues), coexisting in substantial tension with a number of Orthodox groups, most notably the Lubavitcher and Satmar Hasidim (see Hasidism) and some Talmudic academies that viewed the Western world as the enemy and chose to re-create the ghetto.
 

The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Orthodox developments » In eastern Europe
By the mid-18th century, Orthodoxy in eastern Europe, having been convulsed by frantic messianism and stifled by the sterility of legalistic scholarship, was ripe for revival. In the mid-17th century the experience of Shabbetaianism, the first messianic movement to excite virtually all of world Jewry, had revealed the pervasiveness of Jewish exhaustion with the Exile and fervent longing for messianic redemption. Later, in the 18th century, the nihilistic sect of Frankists (the followers of Jacob Frank) transformed that longing into a this-worldly hysteria. Talmudic piety and study, sunk in excessive pilpul (acute logical distinctions that often became mere hairsplitting), was refreshed by the new critical methods of Elijah ben Solomon (1720–97), the gaon of Vilna. Although essentially a legal rigorist, he was open to more-scientific methods of textual analysis insofar as they helped him to elucidate Talmudic texts. Orthodox religious expression also was raised to a new level with the development of Hasidism (pietism) by Israel Baʿal Shem Tov (c. 1700–60) in the mid-18th century. Hasidism contained elements of social protest, being at least in part a movement of the poor against the wealthy communal leadership and of the unlearned against the learned—though many of its leaders, among them Rabbi Dov Baer (1710–72), who was the maggid (“preacher”) of Mezhirich, and Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdichev (1740–1810), were well-versed in Talmudic learning. Nevertheless, it was essentially a non-messianic outcry in the name of piety, emphasizing prayer and personal religious devotion here and now. The major innovation that Hasidism introduced into Jewish religious life was the charismatic leader, the rebbe, who served as teacher, confessor, wonder-worker, God’s vicar on earth, and, occasionally, atoning sacrifice. The earliest rebbes were democratically chosen, but spiritual dynasties formed as the position of leadership passed to the descendants of the first rebbes on the presumption that they had inherited their fathers’ charisma. Hasidism spread throughout eastern Europe and was most successful in Poland.

Hasidism made little headway in Lithuania, where the traditional rabbinic class, under the leadership of Elijah ben Solomon, was able to stave off its influence by issuing a ban of excommunication (ḥerem, “anathema”) against the new movement. The tactic, which involved a complete boycott and cutting off of communication, was widely embraced by non-Hasidic rabbis, who were given the title of Mitnaggedim (“Opponents”) by the Hasidim. In areas where the rabbis had lost the respect of the masses, however, the ḥerem proved largely ineffective, and it called forth a round of counter-excommunications by the Hasidic rebbes. With the passage of time, Hasidim and Mitnaggedim abandoned their conflict and came to see each other as allies against the threat to all Orthodox Jewish religion posed by Haskala and secularization. The impact of Hasidism on eastern European Jewry cannot be overemphasized; even in Lithuania, where it did not take firm hold, it stimulated the growth of a homegrown pietism in the Musar (ethicist) movement of the mid-19th century, and it renewed the Talmudic energies of its opponents.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Developments in scholarship
As the Jews of central Europe moved into mainstream society, a group of young Jewish intellectuals devoted themselves to Jewish scholarship of a type far different from traditional Talmudic learning or medieval philosophy. In 1819 Leopold Zunz (1794–1886) and Moses Moser (1796–1838) founded the Society for Jewish Culture and Learning. The original group quickly dissolved, however, and Zunz became the unofficial leader of a generation of scholars dedicated to the Wissenschaft des Judentums (“science of Judaism”).

The Wissenschaft movement sought to prove that the Jewish past was intellectually respectable and worthy of study, and hence that the Jews deserved an equal place within European societies. Jewish scholarship was enlisted as a weapon in the battles for change. Thus, Isaac M. Jost (1793–1860) wrote a general history of the Jews to promote Reform, Zunz’s Gottesdienstliche Vorträge der Juden, historisch entwickelt (1832; “The Worship Sermons of the Jews, Historically Developed”) served to legitimize the modern innovation of the sermon in the vernacular, and Abraham Geiger (1810–74), the outstanding leader of German Reform in the 1840s and ’50s, interpreted the Pharisees as the forerunners of the reformers of his own day. In their work, these intellectuals presented archetypes of what modern Jews should become. To support their claims of academic respectability, the Wissenschaft figures highlighted those aspects of the Jewish past that were closely integrated with general fields of study. In particular, Moritz Steinschneider (1816–1907), who owes his fame to towering achievements in bibliography, was concerned above all with the contribution of Jews to science, medicine, and mathematics. These scholars set out to praise Judaism as one of the cofounders of the Western tradition; they argued that, because the Jews produced great culture whenever they were not excluded from European society, they would repeat such accomplishments under conditions of social and political equality.

The Wissenschaft movement stimulated the critical study of the Jewish past, and great works of synthesis written from a variety of perspectives began to appear: the multivolume Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart (1853–76; History of the Jews), written from a romantic-national point of view by Heinrich Graetz (1817–91); Dorot ha-rishonim (1897–1932; “The First Generations”), by Isaac Halevy (1847–1914); Toldot Yisrael (1894; “History of Israel”), written from an orthodox standpoint by Zeʾev Jawitz; and Die Weltgeschichte des jüdischen Volkes (1925–30; “The World History of the Jewish People”) by Simon Dubnow (1860–1941), reflecting his belief in secular, nationalistic communal autonomy. After the 1920s this tradition of great synthesis was carried on in the United States by Salo W. Baron (1895–1989), who by the early 1980s had produced 18 volumes of his Social and Religious History of the Jews (1952–83), and in Israel by Ben-Zion Dinur (1884–1973), whose chief work was Yisrael ba-gola (3rd ed., 5 vol., 1961–66; “Israel in the Exile”). Many other first-rank scholars in Europe, Israel, and the United States have made notable contributions to the study of Jewish history, rabbinics, and mysticism.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Jewish-Christian relations

Jewish-Christian relations in the 19th century were strained at best and often broke down during periods of open conflict. The established Christian churches, particularly Roman Catholicism, were staunch upholders of the old order; they identified the Jews as the major beneficiaries of the French Revolution and as the carriers of liberal, secular, anticlerical, and often revolutionary doctrines. Clerical anti-Semitism allied itself with the anti-Semitism of the traditional right in France, and both forms contended with movements that supported the results of the French Revolution in the great convulsion of the Dreyfus Affair in the last years of the 19th century (see Dreyfus, Alfred). In Russia the conflict between the Jews and the Orthodox Church released the most open and virulent manifestation of religious anti-Semitism. In the view of the church, the Jews were seeking to undermine Russian Orthodoxy and the tsar, the very foundations of Russian society. The church and the tsarist authorities condoned—and even encouraged—violent pogroms against the Jews in 1881–82 and again in 1905.

Russian Orthodoxy was also active in spreading the blood libel, a superstitious belief in Jewish ritual murder of Christian children whose blood would be used to make unleavened bread at Passover. The blood libel first emerged in the 12th century and often led to the persecution of Jews; it reemerged in Damascus in 1840 (in which instance the French consul in Syria initiated the accusation) and in Tiszaeszlár, Hungary, in 1882. In both cases, torture was used to obtain false confessions, though the accused were ultimately cleared. The most infamous occurrence of the blood libel in modern times was the case of Mendel Beilis, a Jewish bookkeeper in Odessa who was accused of ritual murder by the tsarist government in 1911. Imprisoned for more than two years, he was eventually acquitted by an all-Christian jury.

From Russian Orthodox circles too arose the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fraudulent documentation of an alleged international Jewish conspiracy to conquer the world by subverting the social order through liberalism, Freemasonry, and other modern movements. The concoction appeared about the turn of the 20th century and was proved to be a forgery by 1921. Despite this demonstration, the Protocols was widely used in anti-Semitic propaganda in Europe, the United States, and the Arab world into the 21st century.

In the 20th century, Jews and Christians moved toward mutual understanding. Although many Christians continued to hold irrational and hostile attitudes toward Jews, some liberal Christian voices were raised against anti-Semitism in the early decades of the century. In the United States the National Conference of Christians and Jews was founded in 1928 in response to the virulent anti-Semitism propagated in Henry Ford’s newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Some Christian leaders spoke out during the 1930s against the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but the majority of Christian leaders in Europe remained silent, even during the Holocaust. In 1946, however, the World Council of Churches denounced anti-Semitism, and in 1965 the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church adopted the schema on the Jews and other non-Christian religions, which formally revised the church’s traditional attitude toward the Jews as the killers of Christ. A growing feeling of ecumenism was shared between Jews and Christians; indeed, Pope John Paul II made improved relations between Catholics and Jews a hallmark of his papacy. Although there remain many difficulties related to the question of the place that Zionism and the State of Israel hold within Judaism, the older forms of official church anti-Semitism have been radically diminished.

 

The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Zionism
The most striking of the new phenomena in Jewish life was Zionism, which, insofar as it focused on the return to Zion (the poetic term for the Holy Land), recalled older religious themes. Because it stressed the establishment of a secular state, however, Zionism was yet another example of the secularization of Jewish life and of Jewish messianism. In its secular aspects, Zionism attempted to complete the emancipation of the Jews by transforming them into a nation like all other nations. Although it drew upon the general currents of 19th-century European nationalism, its major impetus came from the revival of a virulent form of racist anti-Semitism in the last decades of the 19th century, as noted above. Zionism reacted to anti-Semitic contentions that the Jews were aliens in European society and could never hope to be integrated into it in significant numbers; it transformed this charge into a basic premise of a program of national regeneration and resettlement. Zionism has come to occupy roughly the same place in Jewish life as the Social Gospel did in Christian life. Involvement in Israel as the new centre of Jewish energies, creativity, and renewal served as a kind of secular religion for many Diaspora Jews.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » American Judaism
The history of Judaism in the United States is the story of several fresh beginnings. In the colonial period the character of the tiny American Jewish community was shaped by the earliest Sephardic immigrants. The community was officially Orthodox but, unlike European Jewish communities, was voluntaristic, and by the early 19th century much of the younger generation had moved away from the faith. By the mid-19th century a new wave of central European immigrants revived the declining community and remade it to serve their own needs. Primarily small shopkeepers and traders, the new immigrants migrated westward, founding new Jewish centres that were almost entirely controlled by laymen.

Life on the frontier in an open society created a predisposition for religious reform, and it is significant that the greatest American Reform Jewish leader of the 19th century, Isaac Mayer Wise (1819–1900), was based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Wise sought to unite all of American Jewry in the new nontraditional institutions that he founded: the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1873), Hebrew Union College (1875), and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1889); but his ever more radical reforming spirit ultimately drove traditionalist elements into opposition.

The head of the traditionalists was Isaac Leeser (1806–68), a native of Germany, who had attempted to create an indigenous American community along the lines of a modernized traditionalism. After his death, Conservative forces became disorganized, but, in reaction to Reform, they defined themselves by their attachment to the Sabbath, the dietary laws, and especially to Hebrew as the language of prayer. Under the leadership of Sabato Morais (1823–97), a traditional Sephardic Jew of Italian birth, Conservative circles in 1886 founded a rabbinic seminary of their own, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The eastern European immigrants who moved in large numbers to American shores from 1881 to 1914 were profoundly different in culture and manners from the older elements of the American Jewish community, and they and their descendants have made American Judaism what it is today. The bridge between the existing Jewish community led by German Jews of Reform persuasion and the new immigrant masses was the traditionalist element among the older settlers. A traditionalist, Cyrus Adler (1863–1940), cooperated with the German Reform circle of Jacob Schiff (1847–1920) in reorganizing the Jewish Theological Seminary (1902) and other institutions for the purpose of Americanizing the eastern European immigrants. Enough eastern European rabbis and scholars had immigrated, however, to create their own synagogues, which reproduced the customs of the Old World. In 1880 almost all of the 200 Jewish congregations in the United States were Reform, but by 1890 there were 533 synagogues, and most of the new ones founded by immigrant groups were Orthodox. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, which was established in 1898 by elements associated with the Jewish Theological Seminary, was soon taken over by Yiddish-speaking recent immigrants for whom the seminary was much too liberal. In 1902 immigrant rabbis also formed their own body, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (the Agudath ha-Rabbanim), which fostered the creation of yeshivas (rabbinic academies) of the old type. In 1915 two small yeshivas, Etz Chaim and Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary, merged and undertook a program of further growth, adding Yeshiva College of secular studies in 1928 and becoming Yeshiva University in 1945. The eastern European Orthodox elements concentrated primarily on Jewish education, and it was they who introduced the movement for Jewish day schools, analogous to Christian parochial schools. Gradually, an American version of Orthodoxy developed on the Neo-Orthodox model of Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–88), which combined institutional separatism with a certain openness to general culture.

The immigrants and their children had three desires: to advance socially by joining older congregations or forming their own in an Americanized image, to affirm an unideological commitment to Jewish life, and to maintain their ties to the overseas Jewish communities of their origin. With their strong sense of Jewish personhood, they introduced Zionism into American Jewish life and accepted the basic ideas of the Reconstructionism of Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983), which was committed to Zionism. A small group of anti-Zionists remained a significant force in the 1930s and ’40s, but their central organization, the American Council for Judaism, represented the descendants of earlier German Jewish immigrants. The later immigrants took over all the earlier institutions of the Jewish community and imbued them with their own spirit.

American Jewish religious life is a continuum, from the most traditional Orthodoxy to the most radical Reconstructionism. In theory, all Orthodox groups agree on the revealed nature of all of Jewish law. For Reform groups, the moral doctrine of Judaism is divine and its ritual law is man-made; Conservatives see Judaism as the working out in both areas of a divine revelation that is incarnate in a slowly changing human history; and the Reconstructionists (who also include some Conservative and Reform Jews) view Judaism as the evolving civilization created by the Jewish people in the light of its highest conscience. The role of the rabbi is substantially the same in all three groups: no longer a Talmudic scholar but a preacher, pastor, and administrator, a cross between a parish priest and the leader of an ethnic group. Religious life for the three major Jewish denominations—Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative—revolves around the individual synagogue and the denomination to which it belongs. As religious identification has become increasingly respectable in American life, the Jews have followed the American norm, affiliating in greater numbers with synagogues, though often for ethnic or social rather than religious reasons.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Judaism in other lands
Modernity came first to the Jewish people of Europe. It was therefore within the European context that representatives of important non-Ashkenazi communities—such as the proto-Zionist Sephardi Judah ben Solomon Ḥai Alkalai (1798–1878) of Sarajevo and the Luzzatto family and Elijah Benamozegh (1822–1900) in Italy—participated in variations of Jewish modernity. In England and France more so than in Germany or Russia, the central focus of Jewish experience was Wissenschaft des Judentums, with its Enlightenment ideology; there the “republic of scholarship” became the synagogue of the Jewish intelligentsia. In neither country did Reform Judaism gain a major foothold, for the Orthodox establishment liberalized its synagogue practice while retaining its essentially conservative outlook. In Anglo-Jewish life in the last decades of the 19th century, the two most pronounced modernist tendencies were the moderate, romantic traditionalism of Solomon Schechter (1847–1915) and the “renewed Karaism” of Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore (1858–1938), whose version of religious reform was “back to the Bible.”

In South America and Canada, Jewish modernity appeared late, for European Jewry arrived in those places even later than in the United States, attaining significant numbers only in the 20th century. These communities were dependent on immigrant scholars and intellectuals for serious Jewish thought. Jews in the Arab lands in North Africa and the Middle East, living in traditional societies, entered modernity even later than those on the peripheries of Europe. Many of them received their first introduction to the Western world in schools set up by the Alliance Israélite Universelle (a Jewish defense organization centred in Paris), which combined Jewish education with the language and values of French civilization. Yet most of these communities remained traditionalist almost up to the moment when they were expelled or felt compelled to relocate, beginning in 1948, when the State of Israel was created. The ferment of modernity in all its forms is now being felt in their ranks. In Israel, which has received a large segment of Sephardic Jewry, the attention of these communities has turned to gaining equality with the more advanced Ashkenazim rather than to developing forms of modern Jewish thought.

Other groups that may be described as regional or ethnic include the Bene Israel, descendants of Jewish settlers in the Bombay region of India, whose deviation in some Halakhic matters from the present Orthodox consensus has raised problems for those among them who have migrated to Israel; the Falashas of Ethiopia, whose development has been almost entirely outside the mainstream described in this article; and the Black Jews of the United States, whose place in and relation to the rest of the community remains unclear.


The history of Judaism » Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present) » Contemporary Judaism
As a result of the Holocaust, Judaism has become a non-European religion; its three major centres, which together include more than three-fourths of world Jewry, are Israel, the Slavic region of the former Soviet Union, and the United States. Although Jews constitute only a small fraction of the population of the United States, Judaism plays an important role in American life; with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism it is regarded as one of the major American faiths. Similarly, in the international realm of Western religion, Judaism has been welcomed as a partner able to deal with other major religions as an equal on issues such as anti-Semitism, human rights, and world peace.

Within its own community, Jewry is faced with the increasing secularization of Jewish identity in its three major centres, each in its own way. In the United States the open society and the “melting pot” ideologies of past generations have fostered among many Jews a sense of Jewish identity increasingly devoid of concrete religious, national, or historical content; in the former Soviet Union, government policy from the 1930s had banned the teaching of Judaism and Jewish culture to the young and had severely discouraged any manifestation of Jewish identity as a sign of the political disloyalty of “rootless cosmopolitans”; and in Israel a secular nationalism has taken root, raising questions about the role that Judaism plays in the identity of the average Israeli.

Nonetheless, underneath the external secularization there are signs of a deep and persisting religious fervour, in which the sense of history, community, and personal authenticity figure as the intertwined strands of Jewish religious life, especially as it has been affected by the State of Israel. Some of the rituals of the Jewish tradition, especially the rites of passage at the crucial stages of individual existence, are almost universally observed; in the United States, for example, more than 80 percent of Jewish children receive some formal religious training. Among Jewish youth there is, in some circles, a quest for tradition. In the United States, Jewish communes have been established that seek new forms of Jewish expression; in Israel, groups such as Mevaqshe Derekh (“Seekers of the Way”) have tried to bridge secular Israeli culture and Jewish tradition and to maintain traditional Jewish ethical standards even in wartime; in Russia, thousands of young people gather on several occasions of the year to dance and sing and express solidarity in front of the synagogues in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Still, signs of major weaknesses persist. The rate of intermarriage among Jews in the Diaspora has increased, while regular synagogue attendance, at the very highest 20 percent in the United States, remains far below church attendance.

Despite their lack of traditional piety, there is a general sense among Jews that they remain Jews not because of the force of anti-Semitism but because of the attractiveness of their tradition and their sense of a common history and destiny. Although in 1945 the world Jewish community, decimated and horrified by the Holocaust, felt in danger of disappearing, there appeared to be no such despair in the last quarter of the century, when there was an expectation that Jewish communal feeling would remain strong—especially, for many or most Jews, in light of the existence of the State of Israel. Judaism enjoyed a heightened dignity in the eyes of the world, not only because of the creation of the State of Israel but also because of Judaism’s close relations with other world religions. Although the recurring phenomenon of the alienation of young Jews from their tradition was troubling, it was no more so than in recent past generations. Along with other major religions, Judaism’s most disturbing problem was how to deal with secular ideologies and the growth of secularism within its own ranks. Thus, at the beginning of the 21st century, it appeared that Judaism would have to contend with as many problems as the other major religions did, but it would face them with no less confidence—and with more confidence than it had felt at the start of the previous century.

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

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