Ancient Roots

Blowing the shofar in synagogue

Blowing the shofar




At first, I thought it would be nice to write a little blog about Judaism since the Christian faith is an outgrowth of this people set apart to know the one, true God and thus to become a blessing to the world. Jesus, the Christ, was born out of the royal House of David. He was, in fact, the perfect Jew, sinless in every way.

Well, I discovered quite a bit that I did not know.

The Bible tells us about how God interacted with Abraham to initiate a relationship with this small group of people. Until that time, different people groups worshipped various gods, because somehow they knew there must have been a being or beings that created the world and kept it working. Perhaps the god was fire, or nature, or characters such as Zeus or Baal, invented by man, that were often fickle and needed appeasement.

As Abraham, Moses, Noah and others were to learn, there is but one God who is moral, powerful, and loving too. The people God selected to know him may have been the wandering Habiru tribe — which would explain the word Hebrew.

At first, the Jewish people were ruled by religious leaders, such as Moses and Aaron, and later, by judges and kings. As they settled in the land God promised them, wars were common, with the Jews often victorious. However, peace did not reign forever and eventually their land was divided between Israel and Judah. After Israel was lost, Judah was home to those who remained. Others fled to the rest of the known world, and this became known as the Diaspora.

We know, from the Biblical history of the Jews, that there were times of disobedience, punishment, return to obedience, times of faith, and times of faithlessness. Not that much different from all of us today. Jews regularly made animal and grain offerings in the temple in Jerusalem, but after it was destroyed for the last time in 70 AD, the sacrificial system ended. (Although an article I read in the November/December issue of Biblical Archeology Review, “Alternate Altars” by Casey Sharp, indicates that remains of sacrificial altars have been found outside of Jerusalem.)

Rabbis (teachers) replaced priests and synagogues became the only official places for worship and learning, rather than the temple. In Rabbinical Judaism, prayer, sacrifice, and care for one’s neighbor replaced the ritual sacrifices done for atonement of sins and seeking God’s favor.

Thankfully, the Jews wrote of their interactions with God, and so we are blessed with what we Christians call the Old Testament, and what I have heard the Jews call the Torah or Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible), or the Tanakh. There are other Jewish writings as well such as the Mishnah, which is a compilation of opinions on various topics by rabbinical scholars.

At first, Christianity was called “the Way,” and most of its adherents were Jews. But as Paul’s success with gentile converts grew, the question arose about what these gentiles should do to become official followers of the Jewish Savior, Jesus (“Yeshua,” in Hebrew). Do they need to be circumcised? Must Jews and gentile followers obey all the 600 plus laws and rules the Pharisees insisted on?

When Christianity became the official religion under Constantine in the 4th century, and gentiles were in the majority, there arose differences of opinion such as when to celebrate Easter, the Jews opting for three days after their Passover. In time, the gentile ways became dominant. Jews who believed in Jesus as Savior, needed to “convert” to Christianity, and until recently, now as well.

Many Jews today honor the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. They continue to observe the sacred holy days established since Biblical times: Passover, Sfirat HaOmer (for the earliest harvest, or first fruits), Shavuot (for the latter first fruits), Rosh HaShanah (the New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles), Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication), and Purim (The Feast of Lots).

Currently, there are four branches of modern Judaism.

  • Reformed Judaism, which started in the early 19th century, integrates Jews into mainstream society (as opposed to being the people “set apart” in dress and lifestyle.) They made liturgical changes in their worship with prayers and sermons in the vernacular, singing with organ accompaniment, and dietary and Sabbath restrictions were made optional.
  • Orthodox Judaism retains Jewish laws, customs, rules, and dress. Jews identified as Hasidim, for example, are orthodox Jews.
  • Conservative Judaism, or “historical Judaism,” embraces western dress, culture and education, but keeps use of Hebrew in the liturgy, observes dietary laws, the Sabbath, and most of the rituals found in the Torah. In the 1980’s Conservative Judaism allowed women to become rabbis.
  • Re-constructionist Judaism was founded in 1922 by American Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. It is an effort to adapt classical Judaism to modern education and culture, emphasizing science, art, and reason. It is more an effort to promote the evolution of civilization than a religion. Followers don’t necessarily believe in God, miracles, or the concept of being a chosen people. This is a minor branch of Judaism.

Many Reformed, Orthodox, Conservative, or Re-constructionist Jews have difficulty accepting a recent branch of Judaism as being truly Jewish. Messianic Jews believe in Jesus as Savior, but worship Yeshua as Jews and not as Christians. Messianic Judaism is a fairly new, but rapidly growing, movement in modern Judaism and will be my next topic.

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