JEWISH LAWS AND RULES
Jews have traditionally placed great importance on abiding by the laws and rules set forth in the Torah and regard it as a religious duty to follow them. Jewish Law is called the Halakah , which literally means “that by which one walks.” It is comprised of the laws laid out in the Torah and Talmud and interpretations of these laws. Torah she-bi-khtav is the written law.
Judaism was originally a theocratic religion like Islam in which there was a set of religious laws for a Jewish kingdom. After the diaspora, laws and rules were established that became a way of defining and uniting Jewish communities.
Almost every aspect of a Jew’s life and every act of everyday living—from eating to dressing to working—has some religious aspect attached to it. Almost all aspect of life are governed by strict religious practices and rules. Jews regard it as a duty to observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, eat certain foods, performing specific rituals like the lighting of candles, and attending the synagogue. The are special blessing that are uttered when an Jew eats, smells a flower or puts on clothes in the morning.
Websites and Resources: Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Judaism and Jewish Resources shamash.org/trb/judaism ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah’org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; Judaism.com judaism.com ; ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article on Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Origin of Judaism adath-shalom.ca ;Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish Culture and History Resources ddickerson.igc.org/judaica ;
Books: A Short History of Judaism by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford; Oxford Companion to the Bible ; Palestine Bible as History by Werner Keller; The Bible Unearthed by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands by K. Farrington
Torah reading The Torah contains 613 commands: 248 positive ones and 365 negative ones, each of which is associated with a specific part of the body. Believed to have been given to Moses by God, these include the Ten Commandments, which hold a central place in Jewish law, as well as rules on food, hygiene, morality and rituals. Jews believe these laws are part of their Covenant with God as God’s chosen people.
Jews are required to follow the 613 commandments in the Torah. Following them is regarded as an affirmation of their covenant with God. These laws are followed without questioning even if they seem arbitrary or silly. These laws are regarded as an expression of love: by God as a way of allowing mankind to redeem itself for causing disharmony and trouble, and by mankind as a way of expressing emotion and gratitude to God. Mitzvah literally means “commandment” but is also interpreted as meaning “good dead” or “religious act.”
Moses Breaks the Tablets of the Law "And it came to pass...that there were thunders and lightnings...And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire....
"And God spake all these words, saying.
"I am the Lord they God..."
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image... 
"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain... 
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy... 
"Honour they father and mother 
"Thou shalt not kill. 
"Thou shalt not commit adultery. 
"Thou shalt not steal. 
"Thou shalt not bear false witness... 
"Thou shalt not covet... 
The ban on graven images means that believers may not worship or bow down to idols or even images that attempt to capture the one true God. The understanding is that God is so powerful and overwhelming that he can not be conveyed in an image. He can be worshipped as a spirit.
The ban on using God’s name in vain is reminder that using God’s name is not something that should be taken lightly. Traditionally, Jews have not even used his name at all. Instead they referred to him as Adonai (The Lord) and HaShem (The Name).
The Seventh Commandment forbids adultery (extramarital sexual relations) not fornication (premarital sexual relations) . This is because Jews traditionally married very young so fornication was not regarded as a problem while adultery was a community problem because it called into question the legitimacy of children.
Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Covenant The words of the Ten Commandments were written on two stone tablets with the "finger of God.” The Ark of the Covenant is a wood-and-gold chest built by Moses to house the Ten Commandments. It is believed that the Ark was kept in the First Temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem. According to one legend it was stolen by the illegitimate son of Solomon and Sheba and taken to Ethiopia in the 10th century B.C. It was placed first on an island Mesa in Lake Tana, where its was watched over by a band of monks, and then taken to a church in Aksum, where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church became its chosen protector.
At Aksum the ark has been watched over by a single virginal monk who, once chosen for this lifetime appointment can never leave the iron-fenced chapel grounds. No one is allowed behind the red curtains that shields the ark from view, lest they, according to legend, fall ill and die. Most scholars don’t think the ark is really there and it has became a matter of faith whether it is or not. Ethiopia’s Patriarch Abune Daulos said in 1999, “We don’t have to prove it to anyone. You want to believe, it’s your privilege. If you don’t want to believe, it’s you own privilege again.”
It is not even clear what is meant by the ark. Does that mean the stone tablets themselves or does it refer to the box they were kept in or is it a reference to the building as repository of faith. The power of the place is said to be the fact it s closed to the outside world and the mystery of what lies within.
Talmud The laws of the Torah have been adopted to a changing world by interpretations by rabbis, whose role is to apply an interpretation the laws to new circumstances and situations as they arise. Even so, the basic interpretations of the laws were fixed in the centuries that followed the destruction of the Second temple (A.D. 70). After the interpretations of the laws were worked out to smallest detail. The result was the Talmud,
The Torah does not provide instruction on all matters. After the Jews were exiles, laws addressing these issues were gathered and debated by rabbis
The second most important document in Judaism after the Torah is the Talmud , a collection of Jewish laws, traditions, poems, anecdotes, biographies, prophecies and rabbinical interpretations of scriptures and commentaries. The Talmud is divided into the Mishna (text) and the Gemara (commentary about the Mishna ).
The Talmud is primarily a collection of interpretations of the Torah and a record of the oral tradition of the Jews. The codification that led to the Talmud was done to avoid the dissolution of Judaism by providing laws and guidance for situations not addressed in the Torah.
The Talmud took 500 years to put together. It began as a set of oral laws, interpretations of the Torah and applications of Torah to new situations. Around A.D. 200, these laws were written down by Rabbi Judah ha Nasi. This became the Mishna. For the next 200 years these interpretation were debated and updated. This resulted in the Gemara. Around A.D. 500 the Mishna and the Gemara were further updated and combined by the Babylonian Rabbi Rav Ashi. This became the Talmud.
Talmud set Over time several Talmuds were written. Many passages were written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The main ones are Babylonian version complied by Rav Ashi and the Palestinian version. These were later organized into summaries to help readers understand them better. The most well known of these are the code of Maimonides (1135-1204) and Joseph Caro (1488-1575), known as Shulchan Aruch .
The Talmud can derives an extraordinary number of laws and ideas from a simple sentence or phrase. Kosher food is a good example of how the Talmud derives an extraordinary number of laws and ideas from a simple sentence or phrase. The sentence “Thou shall not eat anything with the blood” (Leviticus xix 26) is taken to mean that one can not eat: 1) any animal that still has life in it; 2) any animal parts that still have blood in them; 3) before one prays for pure life (based on the connection of blood with life); 4) sacrificial meat while blood is still in the basin; 5) on the day a judge gives out a death sentence. Connected with the prohibition is warning that gluttony will lead one down the road to ruin.
Jewish Laws, Morality and Love
Sabbath elevator The emphasis in Judaism is on ethical behavior, with Orthodox Jews also emphasizing traditional, careful ritual observance. Jews have traditionally felt that performing good deeds is something that comes from the heart not from a desire for rewards.
Jews believe that all people are created equal and have their own version of Confucius's Golden Rule. According to the Talmud (Shabbat, 31a): "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary." According to Leviticus, "Love your neighbor as thyself."
On the issue of tolerance. Isaiah "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways."
Throughout history, justice has been carried for Jews by Jewish courts as well as courts in the places where Jews live. In Israel today, Jewish courts deal with many civil matters such as marriage and divorce. No Jewish courts have had the power to impose a death sentence since Jesus's time.
In Israel Religious courts make decisions on education and “private affairs, including child custody, marriages and divorce” This was a decision that was made early in Israel’s history to win the support of ultra-Orthodox Jews for the Zionist state. The religious courts are so powerful that they have defied Supreme Court decisions that called for them appoint Reformist members.
Yeshiva in Belarus Jews put a strong emphasis on education and piety is equated with learning. Traditionally, literacy has been universal, among males, anyway, and schooling and study of the sacred texts began at a young age. In ancient times children on their first day of school were given sweets in the shape of letters so they would associate learning things that taste good.
The education of children is considered the primary responsibility of parents. The scriptures contains many references to this duty: “You shall teach them [the commandments] diligently to your children, and you shall talk to them when you sit on your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
For children to grow up to be good Jews it considered essential that they learn by heart all 613 commandments in the Torah and be familiar with a variety of interpretation and opinions for each one.
In the old days boys were sent to schools to learn Hebrew, the Pentateuch, and the prayers, often by rote. Larger Jewish communities had advanced rabbinic schools, where the Talmud was taught. Girls were generally educated at home by their mothers.
Yeshiva Limud In the past Jewish children were taught at a school attached to the synagogue called a cheder . In Europe, many Jews attended secular schools. Western-style schools were introduced in the Middle East in the 19th century by Christian missionaries and the Alliance Israelite Universelle.
Yeshivas are Jewish religious high schools, which have traditionally concentrated on Talmudic study and accepted only boy students. In yeshivas boys have traditionally studied the Talmud in pairs, reading it carefully and then discussing it in Yiddish. Often the boys study little else other than religion.
For students that attend them, the Yeshiva marks the beginning of a lifetime spent studying Jewish texts. Some study Aramaic so they can read the Babylonian Talmud in the language it was written and continue their studies when they are well into their 20s. . Many students become rabbis, scribes or scholars.
At a typical ultra-Orthodox elementary school children spend five hours a day studying the Torah, which their teachers insist is all they need to know to get through life. They spend les than three hours day studying math, science, geography and nature and don’t spend any time studying literature or culture.
Rabbinic Debate and Study
Roy Lindman Rabbinical
School in Jerusalem The rabbinic model of study is the practice of seeking the relevance of passages from the Torah to contemporary issues. This form of study is often centered around discussion groups called midrash (from the Hebrew root “to search”).
Rabbis and future rabbis sit before the Torah ark swaying over a volume of the Talmud and debate Talmudic interpretations.
Yur Foreman, a professional light middleweight boxer who is studying to be an Orthodox rabbi told the New York Times that answering the rapid-fire questions from his teacher Rabbi DovBer Pinsom was tougher than his boxing training: “It’s a sharpen-your mind workout. When I go to the gym I am training my physical self. With the rabbi, I’m training my spiritual muscles.”
Seven year cycle of Talmud study.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011