FREE Catholic Classes
At the present day, the term designates the religious communion which survived the destruction of the Jewish nation by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. A brief account of Judaism thus understood may be given under the following heads:(1) Judaism before the Christian Era;
(2) Judaism and Early Christianity;
(3) Judaism since A.D. 70;
(4) Judaism and Church Legislation.
I. JUDAISM BEFORE THE CHRISTIAN ERA
Upon the return from Babylon (538 B.C.), Juda was conscious of having inherited the religion of pre-Exile Israel. It was that religion which had prompted the exiles to return to the land promised by Yahweh to their ancestors, and they were now determined to maintain it in its purity. From the Captivity they had learned that in His justice, God had punished their sins by delivering them into the power of pagan nations, as the Prophets of old had repeatedly announced; and that in His love for the people of His choice, the same God had brought them back, as Isaias (40-46) had particularly foretold. Thence they naturally drew the conclusion that, cost what it may, they must prove faithful to Yahweh, so as to avert a like punishment in the future. The same conclusion was also brought home to them, when some time after the completion of the Temple, Esdras solemnly read the Law in their hearing. This reading placed distinctly before their minds the unique position of their race among the nations of the world. The Creator of heaven and earth, in His mercy towards fallen man (Genesis 1-3), had made a covenant with their father Abraham, in virtue of which his seed, and in his seed all the peoples of the earth, should be blessed (Genesis 12, 18; II Esdras 9). From that time forth, He had watched over them with jealous care. The other nations, once fallen into idolatry, He had allowed to grovel amid their impure rites ; but He had dealt differently with the Israelites whom he wished to be unto Him "a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" ( Exodus 19:6 ). Their repeated falls into idolatry He had not left unpunished, but He kept alive among them the revealed religion which ever represented God as the true and adequate object of their devotion, trust, gratitude, of their obedience and service.
All the past misfortunes of their race were thus distinctly seen as so many chastisements intended by God to recall His ungrateful people to the observance of the Law, whereby they would secure the holiness necessary for the blameless discharge of their priestly mission to the rest of the world. They, therefore, pledged renewed faithfulness to the Law, leaving it to God to bring about the glorious day when all the earth, with Jerusalem as its centre, would recognize and worship Yahweh ; they broke every tie with the surrounding nationalities, and formed a community wholly sacred unto the Lord, chiefly concerned with the preservation of His faith and worship by a strict compliance with all the ritual prescriptions of the Law. On the one hand, this religious attitude of the Judean Jews secured the preservation of Monotheism among them. History proves that the Persians and the Macedonians respected their religious freedom and even to some extent favoured the worship of Yahweh. It remains true, however, that in the time of the Machabees, the children of Israel escaped being throughly hellenized only through their attachment to the Law. Owing to this attachment, the fierce persecutions which they then underwent, confirmed instead of rooting out their belief in the true God. On the other hand, the rigour with which the letter of the Law became enforced gave rise to a narrow "legalism". The mere external compliance with ritual observances gradually superseded the higher claims of conscience ; the Prophet was replaced by the "scribe", the casuistic interpreter of the Law; and Israel, in its sacred isolation, looked down upon the rest of mankind. A similarly narrow spirit animated the Babylonian Jews, for it was from Babylon that Esdras, "a ready scribe in the Law of Moses ", had come to revive the Law in Jerusalem, and their existence in the midst of heathen populations made it all the more imperative for them to cling tenaciously to the creed and worship of Yahweh.
Apparently, things went on smoothly with the priestly community of Juda as long as the Persian supremacy lasted. It was the policy of ancient Asiatic empires to grant to each province its autonomy, and the Judean Jews availed themselves of this to live up to the requirements of the Mosaic Law under the headship of their high-priests and the guidance of their scribes. The sacred ordinances of the Law were no burden to them, and gladly did they even increase the weight by additional interpretations of its text. Nor was this happy condition materially interfered with under Alexander the Great and his immediate successors in Syria and in Egypt. In fact, the first contact of the Judean Jews with hellenistic civilization seemed to open to them a wider field for their theocratic influence, by giving rise to a Western Dispersion with Alexandria and Antioch as its chief local centres and Jerusalem as its metropolis. However much the Jews living among the Greeks mingled with the latter for business pursuits, learned the Greek language, or even became acquainted with hellenistic philosophy, they remained Jews to the core. The Law as read and explained in their local synagogues regulated their every act, kept them from all defilement with idolatrous worship, and maintained intact their religious traditions. With regard to creed, worship, and morality, the Jews felt themselves far superior to their pagan fellow-citizens, and the works of their leading writers of the time were in the main those of apologists bent on convincing pagans of this superiority and on attracting them to the service of the sole living God. In fact, through this intercourse between Judaism and Hellenism in the Græco-Roman world, the Jewish religion won the allegiance of a certain number of Gentile men and women, while the Jewish beliefs themselves gained in clearness and precision through the efforts then made to render them acceptable to Western minds.
Much less happy results followed on the contact of Jewish Monotheism with Greek Polytheism on Palestinian soil. There, worldly and ambitious high-priests not only accepted, but even promoted, Greek culture and heathenism in Jerusalem itself; and, as already stated, the Greek rulers of the early Machabean Age proved violent persecutors of Yahweh worship. The chief question confronting the Palestinian Jews was not, therefore, the extension of Judaism among the nations, but its very preservation among the children of Israel . No wonder then that Judaism assumed there an attitude of direct antagonism to everything hellenistic, that the Mosaic observances were gradually enforced with extreme rigour, and that the oral Law, or rulings of the Elders relative to such observances appeared in the eyes of pious Judean Jews of no less importance than the Mosaic Law itself. No wonder, too, that in opposition to the lukewarmness for the oral Law evinced by the priestly aristocracy -- the Sadducees as they were called -- there arose in Juda a powerful party resolved to maintain at any cost the Jewish separation -- hence their name of Pharisees -- from the contamination of the Gentiles by the most scrupulous compliance, not only with the Law of Moses, but also with the "Traditions of the Elders". The former of these leading parties was pre-eminently concerned with the maintenance of the status quo in politics, and in the main sceptical with regard to such prominent beliefs or expectations of the time as the existence of angels, the resurrection of the dead, the reference of the oral Law to Moses, and the future Redemption of Israel. The latter party strenuously maintained these positions. Its extreme wing was made up of Zealots always ready to welcome any false Messias who promised deliverance from the hated foreign yoke; while its rank and file earnestly prepared by the "works of the Law" for the Messianic Age variously described by the Prophets of old, the apocalyptic writings and the apocryphal Psalms of the time, and generally expected as an era of earthly felicity and legal righteousness in the Kingdom of God. The rise of the Essenes is also ascribed to this period.
II. JUDAISM AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY
At the beginning of our era, Judaism was in external appearance thoroughly prepared for the advent of the Kingdom of God. Its great centre was Jerusalem, the "Holy City", whither repaired in hundreds of thousands Jews of every part of the world, anxious to celebrate the yearly festivals in the "City of the Great King". The Temple was in the eyes of them all the worthy House of the Lord, both by the magnificence of its structure and by the wonderful appointment of its service. The Jewish priesthood was not only numerous, but also most exact in the offering of the daily, weekly, monthly, and other, sacrifices, which it was its privilege to perform before Yahweh. The high-priest, a person most sacred, stood at the head of the hierarchy, and acted as final arbiter of all religious controversies. The Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, or supreme tribunal of Judaism, watched zealously over the strict fulfilment of the Law and issued decrees readily obeyed by the Jews dispersed throughout the world. In the Holy Land, and far and wide beyond its boundaries, besides local Sanhedrins, there were synagogues supplying the ordinary religious and educational needs of the people, and wielding the power of excommunication against breakers of the Law, oral and written. A learned class, that of the Scribes, not only read and interpreted the text of the Law in the synagogue meetings, but sedulously proclaimed the "Traditions of the Elders", the collection of which formed a "fence to the Law", because whoever observed them was sure not to trespass in any way against the Law itself. Legal righteousness was the watchword of Judaism, and its attainment by separation from Gentiles and sinners, by purifications, fasts, almsgiving, etc., in a word by the fulfilment of traditional enactments which applied the Law to each and every walk of life and to all imaginable circumstances, was the one concern of pious Jews wherever found. Plainly, the Pharisees and the scribes who belonged to their party had generally won the day. In Palestine, in particular, the people blindly followed their leadership, confident that the present rule of pagan Rome would speedily come to an end at the appearance of the Messias, expected as a mighty deliverer of the faithful "children of the kingdom'. Meantime, it behooved the sons of Abraham to emulate the "righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees " whereby they would secure admittance into the Messianic world-wide empire, of which Jerusalem would be the capital, and of which every Jewish member would be superior in things temporal as well as spiritual to the rest of the world then rallied to the worship of the one true God.
In reality, the Jews were far from prepared for the fulfilment of the promises which the almighty had repeatedly made to their race. This was first shown to them, when a voice, that of John, the son of Zachary and the herald of the Messias, was heard in the wilderness of Juda. It summoned, but with little success, all the Jews to a genuine sorrow for sin, which was indeed foreign to their hearts, but which could alone, despite their title of "children of Abraham ", fit them for the kingdom near at hand. This was next shown to them by Jesus, the Messias Himself, Who, at the very beginning of His public life, repeated John's summons to repentance ( Mark 1:15 ), and Who, throughout His ministry, endeavoured to correct the errors of Judaism of the day concerning the kingdom which He had come to found among men. With authority truly Divine He bade His hearers not to be satisfied with the outward righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees if they wished to enter into that kingdom, but to aim at the inner perfection which alone could lift up men's moral nature and render them worthy worshipers of their heavenly Father. The Kingdom of God, He plainly declared, had come upon His contemporaries, since Satan, God's enemy and man's, was under their eyes cast out by Himself and by His chosen disciples ( Mark 12:20 ; Luke 10:18 ). The kingdom which the Jews should expect is the Kingdom of God in its modest, secret, and as it were, insignificant origin. It is subject to the laws of organic growth as all living things are, and hence its planting and early developments do not attract much attenti0on; but it is not so with its further extension, destined as it is to pervade and transform the world.
This kingdom is indeed rejected by those who had the first claim to its possession and seemingly were the best qualified for entering into it; but all those, both Jews and Gentiles, who earnestly avail themselves of the invitation of the Gospel will be admitted. This is really a new Kingdom of God to be transferred to a new nation and governed by a new set of rulers, although it is no less truly the continuation of the Kingdom of God under the Old Covenant. Once this kingdom is organized upon earth, its king, the true son and lord of David, goes to a far country, relying upon His representatives to be more faithful than the rulers of the old kingdom. Upon the king's return, this kingdom of grace will be transferred into a kingdom of glory. The duration of the kingdom on earth will outlive the ruin of the Holy City and of its Temple ; it will be coextensive with the preaching of the Gospel to all nations, and this, when accomplished, will be the sign of the near approach of the kingdom of glory. In thus describing God's kingdom, Jesus justly treated as vain the hopes of His Jewish contemporaries that they should become masters of the world in the event of a conflict with Rome ; He also set aside the fabric of legalism which their leaders regarded as to be perpetuated in the Messianic kingdom , but which in reality they should have considered as either useless or positively harmful now that the time had come to extend " salvation out of the Jews" to the nations at large; plainly, the legal sacrifices and ordinances had no longer any reason of being, since they had been instituted to prevent Israel from forsaking the true God, and since Monotheism was now firmly established in Israel ; plainly, too, the "traditions of the Elders" should not be tolerated any longer, since they had gradually led the Jews to disregard some of the most essential precepts of the moral law embodied in the decalogue.
Jesus did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, that is those sacred writings which He, no less than His Jewish contemporaries, distinctly recognized as inspired by the Holy Spirit ; His mission, on the contrary, was to secure their fulfilment. Indeed, He would have destroyed the Law, if He had sided with the Scribes and the Pharisees who had raised a fence to the Law, which actually encroached upon the sacred territory of the Law itself; but He fulfilled it by proclaiming the new Law of perfect love of God and man, whereby all the precepts of the Old Law were brought to completion. Again, He would have destroyed the Prophets, if like the same Scribes and Pharisees, He had pictured an image of God's kingdom and God's Messias solely by means of the glorious features contained in the prophetical writings; but He fulfilled them by drawing a picture which took into account both glorious and inglorious delineations of the Prophets of old, setting both in their right order and perspective. The Kingdom of God as described and founded by Jesus has an historical name. It is the Christian Church, which was able silently to leaven the Roman Empire, which has outlived the ruin of the Jewish Temple and its worship, and which, in the course of centuries, has extended to the confines of the world the knowledge and the worship of the God of Abraham, while Judaism has remained the barren fig-tree which Jesus condemned during His mortal life.
The death and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled the ancient types and prophecies concerning Him (cf. Luke 24:26, 27 ), and the visible bestowal of the Holy Ghost upon His assembled followers on Pentecost Day gave them the light to realize this fulfilment ( Acts 3:15 ) and the courage to proclaim it even in the hearing of those Jewish authorities who thought that they had by the stigma of the Cross put an end forever to the Messianic claims of the Nazarene. From this moment the Church which Jesus had silently organized during His mortal life with Peter as its head and the other Apostles as his fellow-rulers, took the independent attitude which it has maintained ever since. Conscious of their Divine mission, its leaders boldly charged the Jewish rulers with the death of Jesus, and freely "taught and preached Christ Jesus ", disregarding the threats and injunctions of men whom they considered as in mad revolt against God and His Christ ( Acts 4 ). They solemnly proclaimed the necessity of faith in Christ for justification and salvation, and that of baptism for membership in the religious community which grew rapidly under their guidance, and which recognized the risen Son of God as its Divinely constituted "Lord and Christ", "Prince and Saviour", in a real, although invisible, manner, during the present order of things. According to them, these are plainly Messianic times as proved by the realization of Joel's prophecy concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, so that the Jews "first" and next the Gentiles are now called to receive the Divine blessing so long promised in Abraham's Seed for all nations. Much as in these early days the infant Church was Jewish in external appearance, it even then caused Judaism to feel threatened in its whole system of civil and religious life ( Acts 6:13-14 ). Hence followed a severe persecution against the Christians, in which Saul (Paul) took and active part, and in the course of which he was converted miraculously.
At his conversion Paul found the Church spread far and wide by the very persecution meant to annihilate it, and officially pursuing its differentiation from Judaism by the reception into its fold of Samaritans who rejected the Temple worship in Jerusalem, of the Ethiopian eunuch, that is, of a class of men distinctly excluded from the Judaic community by the Deuteronomic Law, and especially of the uncircumcised Cornelius and his Gentile household with whom Peter himself broke bread in direct opposition to legal traditions. When, therefore, Paul, now become an ardent Apostle of Christ, openly maintained the freedom of Gentile converts from the Law as understood and enforced by the Jews and even by certain Judeo-Christians, he was in thorough agreement with the official leaders of the Church at Jerusalem, and it is well known that the same official leaders positively approved his course of action in this regard ( Acts 15 ; Galatians 2 ). The real difference between him and them consisted in his fearlessness in preaching Christian freedom and in vindicating by his Epistles the necessity and efficiency of faith in Christ for justification and salvation independently of the "works of the Law", that is, the great principles acknowledged and acted upon before him in this Christian Church. The result of his polemics was the sharp setting forth of the relation existing between Judaism and Christianity ; in Christ's kingdom, only believing Jews and Gentiles recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Matthew 8:11 ); they are coheirs of the promise made to the father of all the faithful when he was as yet uncircumcised; the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Christ and His body, the Church ; the Gospel must be preached to all nations, and then the consummation shall come. The result of his consuming zeal for the salvation of souls redeemed by the blood of Christ was the formation of religious communities bound together by the same faith, hope, and charity as the churches of Palestine, sharing in the same sacred mysteries, governed by pastors likewise vested with Christ's authority, and forming a vast Church organism vivified by the same Holy Spirit and clearly distinct from Judaism. Thus the small mustard seed planted by Jesus in Judea had grown into a great tree fully able to near the storms of persecution and heresy (see E PISTLE TO THE C OLOSSIANS ; E BIONITES ; G NOSTICISM ).
III. JUDAISM SINCE A.D. 70
While Christianity thus asserted itself as the new Kingdom of God, the Jewish theocracy, guided by leaders unable "to know the signs of the times", was hastening to its total destruction. The Romans came, and in A.D. 70 put an end forever to the Jewish Temple, priesthood, sacrifices, and nation, whereby it should have become clear to the Jews that their national worship was rejected of God. In point of fact, Judaism, shorn of these its essential features, soonSchool or Church closed? - Here's FREE help!
This new system, treated at first as simply provisional because of the surviving hope of restoring the Jewish commonwealth, had soon to be accepted as definitive through the crushing of Bar-Cochba's revolt by Hadrian. Then it was that Rabbinical or Talmudical Judaism fully asserted its authority over the two great groups of Jewish families east and west of the Euphrates respectively. For several centuries, under either the "Patriarchs of the West" or the "Princes of the Captivity", the Mishna "Oral Teaching" completed by Rabbi Juda I, committed ultimately to writing in the form of the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, and expounded by generations of teachers in the schools of Palestine and Babylonia, held undisputed sway over the minds and consciences of the Jews.
In fact, this long acceptation of the Talmud by the Jewish race, before its centre was shifted from the East to the West, so impressed this Second Law (Mishna) upon the hearts of the Jews that down to the present day Judaism has remained essentially Talmudical both in its theory and in its practice. It is indeed true that as early as the eighth century of our era the authority of the Talmud was denied in favour of Biblical supremacy by the sect of the Karaites, and that it has oftentimes since been questioned by other Jewish sects such as Judghanits, Kabbalist, Sabbatians, Chassidim (old and new), Frankist, etc. Nevertheless, these sects have all but disappeared and the supremacy of the Talmud is generally recognized. The most important religious division of Judaism at the present day is that between "Orthodox" and "Reform" Jews, with many subdivisions to which these names are more or less loosely applied. Orthodox Judaism included the greater part of the Jewish race. It distinctly admits the absolutely binding force of the oral Law as finally fixed in the "Shulhan Aruk" by Joseph Caro (sixteenth century). Its beliefs are set forth in the following thirteen articles, first compiled by Maimonides in the eleventh century:
- I believe with a true and perfect faith that God is the creator (whose name be blessed ), governor, and maker of all creatures; and that he has wrought all things, worketh, and shall work forever.
- I believe with perfect faith that the creator (whose name be blessed ) is one; that there is no unity like unto his in any way; and that he alone was, is, and will be our God.
- I believe with a perfect faith that the creator (whose name be blessed ) is incorporeal, that he has not any corporeal qualities, and that nothing can be compared unto him.
- I believe with a perfect faith that the creator (whose name be blessed ) was the first, and will be the last.
- I believe with a perfect faith that the creator (whose name be blessed ) is to be worshiped and none else.
- I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
- I believe with perfect faith that the prophecies of Moses our master (may he rest in peace) were true ; that he was the father and chief of all prophets, both of those before him and those after him.
- I believe with perfect faith that the Law, at present in our hands, is the same that was given to our master Moses (peace be with him).
- I believe with perfect faith that this Law will not be changed, and that no other Law will be revealed by the creator (blessed be his name).
- I believe with a perfect faith that God (whose name be blessed ) knows all the deeds of the sons of men and all their thoughts; as it is said: "He who hath formed their hearts altogether, he knoweth all their deeds".
- I believe with a perfect faith that God (whose name be blessed ) rewards those who keep his commandments, and punishes those who transgress them.
- I believe with a perfect faith that the Messias will come; and although he tarries I wait nevertheless every day for his coming.
- I believe with a perfect faith that there will be a resurrection of the dead, at the time when it shall please the creator (blessed be his name).
With regard to the future life, Orthodox Jews believe, like the Universalists, in the ultimate salvation of all men; and like the Catholics, in the offering up of prayers for the souls of their departed friends . Their Divine worship does not admit of sacrifices ; it consists in the reading of the Scriptures and in prayer. While they do not insist on attendance at the synagogue, they enjoin all to say their prayers at home or in any place they chance to be, three times a day; they repeat also blessings and particular praises to God at meals and on other occasions. In their morning devotions they use their phylacteries and a praying scarf ( talith ), except on Saturdays, when they use the talith only. The following are their principal festivals:
- Passover, on 14 Nisan, and lasting eight days. On the evening before the feast, the first-born of every family observes a fast in remembrance of God's kindness to the nation. During the feast unleavened bread is exclusively used; the first two and last days are observed as strict holidays. Since the paschal lamb has ceased, it is customary after the paschal meal to break and partake as Aphikomon, or after-dish, of half of an unleavened bread cake which has been broken and put aside at the beginning of the supper.
- Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks, falling seven weeks after the Passover and kept, at present, for two days only.
- Trumpets, on 1 and 2 Tishri, of which the first is called New Years's feast. On the second day they blow the horn and pray that God will bring them to Jerusalem.
- Tabernacles, on 15 Tishri, lasting nine days, the first and last two days being observed as feast days. On the first day they carry branches around the altar or pulpit singing psalms ; on the seventh day, they carry copies of the Torah out of the ark to the altar, all the congregation joining in the procession seven times around the altar and singing Ps. xxix. On the ninth day they repeat several prayers in honour of the Law, bless God for having given them His servant Moses, and read the section of the Scriptures which records his death.
- Purim, on 14 and 15 Adar (Feb.-March), in commemoration of the deliverance recorded in the Book of Esther ; the whole Book of Esther is read several times during the celebration.
- Dedication, a feast commemorative of the victory over Antiochus Epiphanes and lasting eight days.
- Atonement Day, celebrated on 10 Tishri, although the Jews have neither Temple nor priesthood. They observe a strict fast for twenty-four hours, and strive in various ways to evince the sincerity of their repentance (see J EWISH C ALENDAR ).
Reform Judaism, which traces back its origin to Mendelssohn's time, is chiefly prevalent in Germany and the United States. It has very lax views of biblical inspiration and bends Jewish beliefs and practices so as to adapt them to environment. It is a sort of Unitarianism coupled with some Jewish peculiarities. It disregards the belief of the coming of a personal Messias, the obligatory character of circumcision, ancient Oriental customs in synagogue services, the dietary laws which but few reform Jews observe out of custom or veneration for the past, the second days of the holy days, all minor feasts and fast-days of the year (except Hanukha and Purim ), while it uses sermons in the vernacular and adds in some places Sunday services to those held on the historical Sabbath Day, etc. Nominally, for all, the Sabbath is the day of rest; but only a small number even of the Orthodox Jews keep their places of business closed on that day, owing to the commercial demands of modern life and the police regulations usually enforced in Christian lands concerning the ordinary Sunday rest. Intermarriage with non-Jews is generally discountenanced even by Reform Jewish rabbis, and as a fact, has never been frequent, except of late in Australia. Of late, the use of Hebrew has been revived particularly in Palestine Jewish colonies, and a number of Jewish journals and reviews are published in that tongue in the East and in certain countries of Europe. Yiddish, or Judeo-German, is by far more prevalent, and is used in the large cities of Europe and North America for weekly and daily papers.
The Yeshibas , or high schools of Talmudic learning, where the time was exclusively devoted to the study of rabbinical jurisprudence and Talmudic law, have been partly replaced by seminaries with a more modern curriculum of studies. In 1893 Gratz College, thus named from its founder, was started in Philadelphia for training religious school-teachers. Young Men's's Hebrew Associations, begun in 1874, now exist in nearly all the large cities of the United States. Of wider import still is the development of the Sabbath schools which are generally attached to Jewish congregations in the same country. The recent Zionist movement claims a passing notice. Since 1896 the scheme for securing in Palestine a legal home for the oppressed Hebrews has rapidly taken a firm hold of the Jewish race. To many, Zionism appears as calculated to bring about the realization of the old Jewish hope of restoration to Palestine. To others, it seems to be the only means of obviating the impossibility felt by various peoples of assimilating their Jewish population and at the same time of allowing it the amount of freedom which the Jews consider necessary for the preservation of their individual character. By others again, it is regarded as the practical answer to the anti-Semitic agitation which has prevailed intensely through Western Europe since 1880, and to the lack of social equality, which Jews repeatedly find denied them, even in countries where they possess civil rights and attain to high political and professional positions. Since 1897 Zionism holds annual international congresses, counts numerous societies and clubs, and since 1898 has a Jewish Colonial Trust. There is no Jewish Church as such, and each congregation is a law to itself. Owing to this, the ancient distinction between the Sephardim and the Askenazim continues among the Jews. As of yore, the Sephardim, or descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, readily organize themselves into separate congregations. Even now, they are easily distinguished from the Askenazim (German or Polish Jews) by their names, their more Oriental pronunciation of Hebrew, and their peculiarities in synagogue services.
IV. JUDAISM AND CHURCH LEGISLATION
The principal items of Church legislation relative to Judaism have been set forth in connection with the history of the Jews. There remains only to add a few remarks which will explain the apparent severity of certain measures enacted by either popes or councils concerning the Jews, or account for the fact that popular hatred of them so often defeated the beneficent efforts of the Roman pontiffs in their regard.
Church legislation against Jewish holding of Christian slaves can be easily understood: as members of Christ, the children of the Church should evidently not be subjected to the power of His enemies, and thereby incur a special danger for their faith ; but more particularly, as stated by a recent Jewish writer:"There was good reason for the solicitude of the Church and for its desire to prevent Jews from retaining Christian slaves in their houses. The Talmud and all later Jewish codes forbade a Jew from retaining in his home a slave who was uncircumcised" (Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages ").
The obligation of wearing a distinguishing badge was of course obnoxious to the Jews. At the same time, Church authorities deemed its injunction necessary to prevent effectively moral offences between Jews and Christian women. The decrees forbidding the Jews from appearing in public at Eastertide may be justified on the ground that some of them mocked at the Christian processions at that time ; those against baptized Jews retaining distinctly Jewish customs find their ready explanation in the necessity for the Church to maintain the purity of the Faith in its members, while those forbidding the Jews from molesting converts to Christianity are no less naturally explained by the desire of doing away with a manifest obstacle to future conversions.
It was for the laudable reason of protecting social morality and securing the maintenance of the Christian Faith, that canonical decrees were framed and repeatedly enforced against free and constant intercourse between Christians and Jews, against, for instance, bathing, living, etc., with Jews. To some extent, likewise, these were the reasons for the institution of the Ghetto or confinement of the Jews to a special quarter, for the prohibition of the Jews from exercising medicine, or other professions. The inhibition of intermarriage between Jews and Christians, which is yet in vigour, is clearly justified by reason of the obvious danger for the faith of the Christian party and for the spiritual welfare of the children born of such alliances. With regard to the special legislation against printing, circulating, etc., the Talmud, there was the particular grievance that the Talmud contained at the time scurrilous attacks upon Jesus and the Christians (cf. Pick, "The Personality of Jesus in the Talmud " in the "Monist", Jan., 1910), and the permanent reason that"that extraordinary compilation, with much that is grave and noble, contains also so many puerilities, immoral precepts, and anti-social maxims, that Christian courts may well have deemed it right to resort to stringent measures to prevent Christians from being seduced into adhesion to a system so preposterous" (Catholic Dictionary, 484).
History proves indeed that Church authorities exercised at times considerable pressure upon the Jews to promote their conversion ; but it also proves that the same authorities generally deprecated the use of violence for the purpose. It bears witness, in particular, to the untiring and energetic efforts of the Roman pontiffs in behalf of the Jews especially when, threatened or actually pressed by persecution they appealed to the Holy See for protection. It chronicles the numerous protestations of the popes against mob violence against the Jewish race, and thus directs the attention of the student of history to the real cause of the Jewish persecutions, viz., the popular hatred against the children of Israel. Nay more, it discloses the principal causes of that hatred, among which the following may be mentioned:
- The deep and wide racial difference between Jews and Christians which was, moreover, emphasized by the ritual and dietary laws of Talmudic Judaism ;
- the mutual religious antipathy which prompted the Jewish masses to look upon the Christians as idolaters, and the Christians to regard the Jews as the murderers of the Divine Saviour of mankind , and to believe readily the accusation of the use of Christian blood in the celebration of the Jewish Passover, the desecration of the Holy Eucharist, etc.;
- the trade rivalry which caused Christians to accuse the Jews of sharp practice, and to resent their clipping of the coinage, their usury, etc.;
- the patriotic susceptibilities of the particular nations in the midst of which the Jews have usually formed a foreign element, and to the respective interests of which their devotion has not always been beyond suspicion.
In view of these and other more or less local, more or less justified, reasons, one can readily understand how the popular hatred of the Jews has too often defeated the beneficent efforts of the Church, and notably of its supreme pontiffs, in regard to them.
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.