In my last post I shared that early on in my journey, I misinterpreted the Father’s instruction to “learn everything Hebraic” to mean “learn everything Jewish.” And so that’s exactly what I did. With (what I believed to be) my directive in mind and the resources available to me, I dug into the subject of Judaism. In today’s post, I’ll share some of the intersting discoveries I made. Though it may have been an initial sidetrack, the information proved absolutely neccessary to understanding the relationship between Judaism and Scripture itself.
Today, Judaism is made up of three main branches or denominations:
1. Conservative – This group, for the most part, adheres to the principles and practices of traditional Judaism. They allow, however, for certain ‘permissible’ modifications and rejections of some of the ‘old’ views. They consider the apostle Peter an example of a ‘devout’ Jew making exceptions.
2. Orthodox – This branch strictly adheres to all practices and principles of traditional Judaism. They are devout to the study of the Torah, the Sabbath, the festivals, Holy days, and the dietary laws. They strive for daily attendance of their local Synagogue.
3. Reform – Those in this group apply themselves to a religious system that is based on the Orthodox Judaism, however they frequently simplify and even outright reject many of the traditional religious laws and customs that do not fit within their modern, even secular worldview.
In the United States, all three of these denominations are commonplace. In Israel, however, Judaism is primarily subdivided into either Orthodox or “non-religious”. The main differences between each group is based on several elements:
1. Liturgy (whether or not they emphasize the Hebrew language).
2. Observances (Sabbath, feast days, etc.)
3. Authorship of biblical writings, textual criticisms.
4. The role of the Messiah or Messianic age.
In direct contrast to the Orthodox, the non-Orthodox have a tendency to be much more ‘liberal’ in their thinking. I learned that the term Judaism includes a religious, a cultural, and ethnic mindset. For example, it is possible for one to reject the religious aspect entirely, and still be included within the system of Judaism.
This first dose of information was the easy part of my research. I was able to acquire it from both interviewing my Jewish friends and utilizing dictionaries to define specific terms. Still, the definitions I gathered did not satisfy the deeper questions of “how and why.”
I still needed to know:
1. Where and how did Judaism get started and what was its origin?
2. What customs and traditions did they modify from and reject from Scripture and how should that effect me?
Let’s start with the origins. I went back to my Jewish friends and asked them some basic questions. Where, when and how did Judaism begin? They all gave me pretty much the same answer: Abraham.
Was Abraham a Jew? I had never really given it much thought before, but now I was giving it almost all my thoughts. After this idea was introduced, my research focused on finding out everything I could about Abraham. The first place I turned was to the scriptures. It is in Genesis 10:26 that we are first introduced to Abram. “Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” They lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, which is implied in verse 28 when it speaks of Haran’s death. Then again, definitively, in verse 31 when Terah took his family out of Ur of the Chaldeans with the intention of going to Canaan, but only went as far as Haran (verse 31).
There is also an account of Abram in the book of Yasher (Jasher, as it is pronounced in the English) that tells us that his father was a well loved captain of King Nimrod and an idol worshipper. It also tells us that Abram spent most of his life in hiding with his very great (as in several generations great) grandfather, Noah. It was Noah and his son Shem who taught Abram about God. Whether this is true or not, I cannot say, as there are some scholars who give little or no credence to the historicity of the book of Yasher. However, it is an interesting read and does (in my opinion) give us valuable insight into who Abram was and what God was calling him to leave behind.
In the seventeenth chapter of Genesis God changed Abram’s name, which meant “high or exalted father” to Abraham, which means “father of many or of a multitude.” Abraham is famous for being the father of both the Hebrews (through Isaac) and Arabs (through Ishmael).
Abraham was called a Hebrew in chapter fourteen, verse thirteen. This is when Lot, his nephew was taken hostage and a person escaped and ran to Abram to tell him what had happened. “Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew…” So now let’s look closely at the word Hebrew.
The word Hebrew means “to cross over”, or “to pass through”. In that time period it was used primarily to refer to the “crossing over” of a body of water specifically. As Abram crossed over the Euphrates River when going to Haran and then crossing back when leaving, he was now considered a Hebrew. In fact, it would appear, according to Yasher, that he crossed over more than a couple of times.
Now as the word Jew itself was not coined until the destruction of the second temple and not even used in written form until the time of King James in the early sixteen hundreds (I’ll get more into this at a later time) I determined that Abraham was not a Jew. Furthermore, based on the historical accounting of the word “Jew” we can safely assume that none of the Patriarchs were Jews either.
That would, of course, mean that Isaac, Abraham’s son was not a Jew and neither was Isaac’s son, Jacob. Jacob’s name, as we read in Genesis 32:28 was changed to Israel by the messenger of God he had wrestled with all night before meeting up with Esau, his brother. It was reiterated in Genesis 35:10 “And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So he called his name Israel.”
So in summary, we have learned:
Regardless of whether a person is born a Jew or whether they have converted to Judaism at some point in their lives, Jews are broken down into two main categories; religious and non-religious. However, the non-religious still “keep” some of the same customs as the religious, just not…religiously.
Abraham, while being considered the founder of Judaism, was in fact not a Jew and neither were his son nor his grandson. At the end of this initial phase of research I came to the following conclusion: All Jews, regardless of whether they are Jew by birth or by conversion are Hebrews, but not all Hebrews are Jews.