Reform Judaism contains the Torah

History of the Jewish Religion

This is how the Jewish religion presents itself to the exemplary believers. God's laws must be obeyed without looking for a reason, since man is unable to understand divine logic. You shouldn't expect a reward either. Fulfilling the commandments is a given and is not intended to do anyone a favor.

The Torah, which God presented to the Hebrew people on Mount Sinai through Moses, was the further development of the covenant, its manifestation and elaboration. It is the unifying constitution for the tribes of the Israelites.

The laws contained in the Torah encompassed every aspect of life, whether secular or religious. They were new and unknown, even shocking for the world in the 2nd millennium BC. There were rules about when, what and how to eat. These dietary regulations were a significant restriction for a desert people who had to use every opportunity to get their fill.

From temple religion to mobile religion

After the arrival of the Jews in the Promised Land (around 1200 BC) an abstract idea became a religion. This revolved around a single temple and the sacrifices made by the peasants there. New forms of cult emerged, priestly families gained influence and were venerated.

Then in 586 BC a blow occurred that would have destroyed almost any other religion: the conquest by the Babylonians. They destroyed the temple and kidnapped the ruling class of the people.

But because the Jewish God is abstract and can therefore be found everywhere, the Jews did not have to give up their faith. The idea of ​​synagogues was born, where religion is cultivated as an experienced community. Deepening, studying and teaching became the ideals of this mobile religion.

The second temple

After returning to Israel, the temple was rebuilt almost 50 years later to re-establish the old order. The Torah, the teaching, now became more and more central in religious life.

Soon the first conflicts began because of her. The Sadducees, supported by the ruling power, made their words the only valid source of religion. The scribes, the popular Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in commentary and further development.

Tensions rose, old institutions began to falter, and public conflicts broke out. Dispute and fighting weakened the people and made them more radical.

The now ruling Romans finally had enough and destroyed between 70 and 134 country, city and temple. Jerusalem no longer existed, the temple was a memory under a salt field. Ultimately, the Pharisees saved religion with their writings.

Jochanan Ben Sakkai, a student of the great and last of the Pharisees, philanthropist Hillel, founded a new teaching center, the first academy of new Judaism, at the end of the 1st century. From now on, synagogues were the center of religion in which the Torah was read and studied. Instead of the three daily sacrifices, there were three prayers. Rabbinic Judaism came into being.

Torah and Talmud

The scriptures, the basis of belief, evolved accordingly. Great works of law, commentaries, liturgy and literature were created around the Torah and the subsequent holy books of the Jewish Bible (which is not entirely identical to the Old Testament).

Abba, a student of Jehuda HaNassi, founded an academy in Surah in 219 AD, which established Babylonia's fame as a center of Jewish scholars. Together with other scholars, he began to comment on the Mishnah (the first written version of the oral Torah) and to document the debates about it.

Almost 300 years later, the Babylonian Talmud emerged from this, the most important work of Jewish interpretation, the textbook for all subsequent generations.

Philosophers, Kabbalah and Hasidism

After the Talmudists came the philosophers, especially in the Arab world. They were influenced by Greek thinkers. Ga’on (academy director) Saadia Ben Josef became famous in the 10th century for his philosophical and grammatical works.

In the 12th century, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time came to Egypt: Maimonides. He combined religion and philosophy and separated knowledge from belief. His Torah commentaries and his interpretations of the laws made them timeless and understandable. He formulated the 13 principles of the Jewish faith that still apply today.

At about the same time, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the teaching of Kabbalah developed in southern France and northern Spain. Influenced by non-Jewish elements, this mysticism should create a supra-rational, deeper relationship to faith. The Kabbalah continued to develop and flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Based on the teachings of Kabbalah, the faith healer Besht began preaching his interpretation of Judaism in Medzieboz, Ukraine. He is considered to be the founder of Hasidism. The Hasidim believe with much joy and emotion and try to find divine existence everywhere. In this way, the poor Jews who could not study could also be close to their God.

Together against liberalism

The Talmudic scholars were the greatest opponents of the Hasidim. But they allied with them against a new movement that spilled over from Western Europe to Lithuania: liberal Judaism. From 1778 the Reformed preached secular integration and the openness of religion.

Sermons were now given in the respective national language, traditions that were not anchored in the scriptures were abolished, women and men visited the synagogue together. Even if the German part of Reform Judaism was almost completely wiped out in the Holocaust, it still includes half of all Jews today.

Judaism today

New questions concerning the Jewish religion arise every day and need to be answered. What does Judaism say about sushi, about piercing, about the internet, about the peace process?

The example of sushi: Can the dried algae contain microscopic sea creatures that would actually be forbidden? Can sushi, which would be kosher without seafood, still be eaten? Here the answer is clear: what is not visible to the eye cannot be unskosher. The invention of the microscope did not change that.

Piercing, on the other hand, is hotly debated. While liberal rabbis accept a limited piercing, the Orthodox are strict about the integrity of the body. They forbid any piercing of the body as we got it from God. This is only allowed to save life, the highest maxim of Judaism.