The religion of Judaism was founded in 70 CE by Yochanan ben Zakkai, head of the Sanhedrin, following the capture of Yerushalayim by the Romans under General (later Emperor) Titus; and even more importantly following the destruction of the Temple. 

Judaism should not really be described as a religion; it is a philosophical system, based on the interpretation of a set of laws that are contained in a multi-volume work known as the Talmud, laws that are derived from the Torah and other scriptures, whose "priesthood" are trained lawyers (Rabbis), wise men authorised to interpret the law, something in the manner of magistrates and the Supreme Court in a secular democracy, but also having a role as spiritual guides. 

Judaism, like Buddhism, is less a faith than a lifestyle, and though there is a god at its heart - known variously as YHVH, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, Hashem, Elokim et al - it should not be confused with the Sadducaic religion of the priests and the Temple, which followed the same Tritheistic pattern (sun-god, moon-goddess, eternally dying and reborn son who represents both the produce of the Earth, and the Underworld) as most other peoples in the world at that time, which was rooted in physical "fear" of the gods rather than intellectual "faith" or "belief", and which focused on propitiatory acts of sacrifice rather than congregational acts of petition and thanksgiving, combined with the poetry of song and prayer as a form of inward meditation

Judaism is strongly Hellenistic, its yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries and schools) mirroring the Socratic schools rather than the Aristotelian, and with continual study - the application of human intelligence - at its core. 

As a philosophical system, consciously stripped of superstition, the Judaism of Ben Zakkai and the Sanhedrin described itself as "abstract and ethical monotheism", based on the core credo that "Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad". This may be most usefully translated as "the one whom we call our god, using the name Adonis though we no longer follow Adonis, represents the World as Unity and not as Duality. All of life, including death, stems from the same universal principle, in which Creation is continuous and our god therefore a verb not a noun; and consequently not representable in wood, stone, carving or painting, but only conceptualised as a metaphor, an idea." 

In the two thousand years since Ben Zakkai, this Unity has become ever more palpably a Duality, as the abstract has become anthropomorphised to such a degree that the god is now very much more a noun than a verb, and ever more prohibited superstitions have crept back in (to which, tongue in cheek, let me say mazal tov and baruch ha shem, while kissing the mezuzah and putting salt on my challah). The ethical component, on the other hand, remains essentially intact and unchanged.

The Sadducaic Hebrew religion which Ben Zakkai's Pharisaic Judaism replaced, and to which Judaism appears to be returning, was entirely anthropomorphic; theoretically monotheistic, it worshipped that "one god" under a multitude of names, with characteristics that were clearly plural, and in rites and ceremonies that are only meaningful in a polytheistic context - we can say, rather, that pre-Judaism was polytheistic, but that Judaism has always chosen to present it as monotheistic, in the same way that Trinitistic Christianity has always done. 

Although the establishment of Pharisaic Judaism came only after the fall of Sadducaic Hebrewism, the battle between the two had raged for centuries, as evidenced in the gospels of Jesus. Dating Pythagoras, the Orphic cult, Confucius and Gautama Buddha to the 6th century suggests an earliest possible date for the start of Pharisaic Judaism, with Hellenistic elements added and absorbed later. Only Zorostrianism began earlier, though it too did not really take off until the 6th century.

At the time of the surrender of Yerushalayim, and as his reward for enabling it to happen, ben Zakkai convinced General Titus to allow him to keep open the Rabbinical school at Yavneh, and it was here that the Sanhedrin was assembled, the writing of the Talmud Yerushalmi started, and Judaism created. Zakkai was very clear, however, that the new "religion" was only a "substitute", that would hold the people together in their new diaspora and exile, until such time as Jewish hegemony over the Promised Land was re-established. That historical unlikelihood came to fruition in 1948. Can we therefore assume that, now it is no longer needed, the substitute will shortly be replaced? 

Copyright © 2015, 2016 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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