Judaism Today

Everything changed for Jewish religion when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. This is illustrated in the ancient rabbinic volume Sayings of the Fathers. We are told that Simon the Just, who lived prior to the destruction of the Temple, "used to say: By three things is the world sustained: by the Law, by the [Temple-] service, and by deeds of loving kindness". Former Chief Rabbi Dr Joseph Hertz comments that "the Temple service" originally meant the "Sacrificial cult of the Temple". After the destruction of the Temple, Judaism had to come to terms with the fact that one of the sustaining pillars of the world - sacrifice - had been removed. So, in the same chapter of Sayings of the Fathers, we read that Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel who lived in the second century taught that the world is sustained "by truth, by judgement, and by peace".

Though Judaism is often described as the oldest established religion, predating Christianity by some 1,500 years, this idea rests on the false assumption that Judaism today is a continuation of the religion of the Old Testament. Nicholas de Lange, in his book Judaism, says, "There is no longer a widely accepted yardstick against which any particular belief or practice, any sect or ideology, can be measured. There are many different expressions of Judaism, each claiming authenticity for itself but none recognised as definitively authentic by the others."

This article outlines both the unifying elements and major differences within contemporary Jewish thought.


When the Mishnah says that "Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders..." it is not referring to the ten commandments but to the "Oral Tradition", an unwritten explanation of "the meaning enshrined in that Text, as expounded and unfolded by the interpretation of successive generations of Sages who made its implicit Divine teachings explicit".

There is, of course, no biblical warrant for the claim that two laws - one written and the other oral - were delivered to Moses at Sinai. Nevertheless, belief in the divine origin of the "Oral Law" has persisted to this day. The Mishnah and Gemara, which together comprise the oral tradition in written form, have in practice usurped the authority of Scripture.

In Jews and Christians: the Myth of a Common Tradition Jewish author Jacob Neusner admits that modern Judaism is not based on the Bible alone: "Christianity is the religion of the Bible ... Judaism is the religion of ... the Talmud". Judaism has added to the Scripture a body of tradition which is accorded equal authority with the Word of God. Christianity alone accepts the Bible as the final authority in matters of faith and practice.


In common with other faiths, Judaism is ultimately a religion of self-effort. "Every man, Jew or not, is believed to be responsible for, and capable of, attaining his own salvation", writes Leo Rosten. "The highest contribution [to] the universal salvation of mankind", says Rabbi Isidore Epstein, "must come from the individual". The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, declared in a broadcast on BBC Radio that the glory of Judaism is "the freedom of the will" so that "the greatest sinner by an act of the will may become the greatest saint".

The Messiah

Throughout the past 2,000 years, as Jesus himself predicted (Matthew 24:5), a number of Messianic pretenders have arisen and some have attracted large groups of followers. But whatever Jews may, or may not, believe about the Messiah, most are certain of one thing: Jesus did not fulfil that role.

If a Jew knows anything about the Messiah, however, it is that he will inaugurate a reign of universal peace when nations will beat their weapons of war into agricultural implements (Isaiah 2:4) and wolves will lie down with lambs (Isaiah 11:6-9). But apart from some members of the Lubavitch sect, Jews know nothing of a Messiah who must "suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 17:1-3). Though the last Lubavitch Rebbe, hailed as "King Messiah" by many of his followers, died three years ago some of his disciples believe he will yet rise from the dead if only they have sufficient faith.

Orthodox Judaism — Going by the Books

Orthodoxy regards itself as the only true Judaism, maintaining that the Torah came as a divine revelation at Sinai, hence the words of the Law are divine and fully authoritative. However, according to the Orthodox Authorised Daily Prayer Book, "Torah" is not simply the Ten Commandments. It "is variously used for the Pentateuch, the Scriptures, the Oral Law, as well as for the whole body of religious truth, study and practice". The Orthodox Jew's life is governed by "Torah" in this broad sense and the Orthodox man must conform his life to the propositions and rituals of rabbinic tradition, including the rules of Sabbath observance, dietary laws and prayer three times a day.

Reform Judaism — Changing wit

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