Wednesday, October 10, 2012
A Better Definition of Judaism to Contrast with Carl Kinbar's Definition
Carl offered a definition of Judaism here. He essentially devised a specialized definition that, in his view, would exclude One Law as a valid expression of Judaism. I happened to come across a better definition today in a book by Shaye Cohen. If you're in a hurry, skip to the last paragraph. And, if you are in such a hurry, shame on you! (I kid).
"Throughout this book I avoid the terms 'orthodox' and 'normative' (and their antonyms 'heretical' and 'schismatic'). In this section I explain why.
The Greek word orthodoxia, the ancestor of the English 'orthodoxy,' means 'right opinion,' just as the Latin word norma, the ancestor of the English 'normal' and 'normative,' means 'standard of behavior.' The terms therefore imply the 'rightness' of the religious variety to which they are applied. 'Orthodox Judaism' is Judaism which is true---that is, revealed by God and sanctioned by tradition. 'Normative Judaism' is the dominant form of Judaism--that is, the form practiced and revered as legitimate by the largest number of Jews. The two meanings overlap but are not identical. To define one variety of Judaism as orthodox is to make a theological judgment, a confession of faith not susceptible to rational inquiry....A historian cannot describe any variety of Judaism as orthodox unless he or she is clearly writing from a confessional perspective.
To define one variety of Judaism as normative is a historical judgment, a statement that this variety was more widely practiced than others, but here too the notion of 'rightness' almost invariably intrudes. In the period of the First Temple, if we may believe...the prophets, most Israelites went whoring after foreign gods... The religion of the masses and, at certain times, of the state as well, was polytheistic...Shouldn't we call Israelite polytheism normative? We do not do so because the biblical prophets and historians, who are deemed by both Judaism and Christianity to have been the bearers of the word of God, roundly condemned such practices. Thus even the term 'normative' conveys a notion of 'right-ness' and is therefore avoided here. (Appropriate substitutes as 'popular' or 'dominant.')....
This issue can be approached from a different perspective. What is Judaism? Is it the religious behavior of all people who call themselves and are known to others as Jews, Israelites, and Hebrews? Or is it an ideal set of beliefs and practices against which the practices and beliefs of real Jews are to be measured and judged? If the former, Judaism is a relativistic construct of human beings, and no variety of Judaism is any more correct or authentic than any other. This is the perspective of the historian. If the latter, Judaism is a body of absolute truths revealed by God and/or sanctioned by tradition, and those interpretations of Judaism that more nearly approximate these absolute truths are truer and more authentic than those that do not. This is the perspective of the believer," pg. 130 From the Maccabees to the Mishnah by Shaye Cohen.
Posted by Peter at 12:29 PM