Besides being a religion, Judaism is the Jewish culture. The way of life comprises the cultural, social, and religious history of a diverse and extensive community, including people who do and do not consider themselves religious.
Jewish sages such as Judah Halevi explains that God established the world so he could reveal the Torah. Thus, the Torah existed before the formation of the world (Stone, 2008). In the scriptures, there is no text which openly confirms the infinity of the Torah. Though, expressions such as “an eternal ruling throughout the generations” accompany most laws of the Torah. Rabbis understood the continuity of the Torah in that God handed the entire code to Moses, and none of it remained in heaven.
The Hebrew teachings reveal that the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt, Moses led them out of the land, and God handed him the ten commandments, which indicated how they would live. The Hebrews started jotting down the legal principles, including the commandments. The five books of the Bible (Torah) became the written law while Mishna and Talmud list the oral code. Jewish tradition believes that Moses received the text of the law from God on Mount Sinai (Costly, n.d.). Contrary, an ancient tradition indicates that the Torah was in heaven before the establishment of the world, and before Moses received it from God. Rabbinic literature teaches that the Torah was among the seven things that God created before he founded the earth.
The written teachings offered the ancient Hebrews regulations of moral and religious laws (Costly, n.d.). Jews fled their country due to religious persecutions and migrated all over Europe, the Middle East, and other regions of the world. Several Jewish religious scholars resided in Babylon while the rest moved to Palestine.
For many centuries, the rabbis in the two locations thought about the requirements, discussed, and understood Jewish law. The literature which developed from the effort refers to Talmud, which concentrates on applications of the Jewish laws to daily life.
Beginning the 2nd century A.D., Jewish scholars tried to collect laws from sources such as Torah, which would group all the Jewish requirements into one. Moses Maimonides, a legal Jewish Rabbi, completed incorporating the Jewish studies in one code in 1187. Years later, Joseph Caro combined the works of Jewish religious leaders such as Maimonides into his rules. Today, Caro’s code dictates the Jewish law.
Over time, Jewish rabbis have argued about almost every idea of the law. Three main divisions within Judaism exist today. Conservative Jews stick to the old rules; however, they consider them open to explanation.
Orthodox Jews assume that since Torah and Talmud existed centuries ago, the Jews must strictly observe the laws. Reform Jews believe the traditional moral and Jewish laws as guidelines but do not require strict observation.
Religious and theological goals of the Jewish law
The spiritual purpose of Jewish law is to provide an alignment of the requirement of the statutes to Jewish daily lives, enhancing salvation individually (Stone, 2008). Most of the religious observance in the Jewish community occurs at home, which includes daily prayers recited at least thrice daily.
Congregational prayers happen in a synagogue, which is the Jewish house of study and prayer. During festivals, the Sabbath, High Holy Days, Mondays, and Thursdays, the synagogue service comprises interpretations from the prophets and Torah in Hebrew. An ordained religious leader or rabbi with knowledge in a Yeshiva (Jewish theological seminary) conducts the synagogue service.
Other specialized duties of the rabbi include holding daily or weekly study meetings for the congregation. Additionally, a Jewish scholar can give knowledgeable decisions concerning the application of Jewish tradition and religious law, for instance, settlement of personal issues. Beit din (a local ecclesiastical court) conducts serious Jewish matters, for instance, religious divorce.
Theological goals of the Jewish law involve equipping the Jews. For instance, the Rabbis dedicate their lives to learning the Torah. Thus, the religious leaders model their lives studying divinity. Additionally, Jewish law equips learners with the knowledge to handle matters in society. Since medieval periods, the programs of Yeshivot (traditional Jewish studying institutions) have concentrated on the study of Halakha (Jewish law) and Talmud. Accordingly, it helps scholars assume an authoritative status among the Jews. Equipping the religious leaders helps them to lead the people per Jewish law.
Additionally, it enables them to deal with matters wisely. Equipping goes in hand with acquiring revelations of the law, which prepares one to handle issues in a Godly manner. Consequently, fulfilling the theological goals of Jewish law mainly benefits the rabbi to lead the Jews as required. Nurturing people requires an individual to have skills which the rabbis acquire from the law.
Costly, A. (n.d.). The Hebrews and the Foundation of Western Law. Retrieved from Constitutional Rights Foundation, https://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-16-4-a-the-hebrews-and-the-foundation-of-western-law
Stone, S. L. (2008). Religion and state: Models of separation from within Jewish law. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 6(3-4), 631-661. doi:10.1093/icon/mon028