???The covenant underpins all Jewish practice today.???
The main goal in a Jewish life is ???to live in harmony with God” (Spiritual World: 9/12/10) so Judaism does not, ???conceive itself as a religion??™ (Unterman, A. 1981:7) but as a community of people and a ???covenanted relationship between God and Israel??™, Unterman, A. (1981:7). The relationship to God is a very special one and it is a mutual love and commitment that is ???formally embodied in a binding legal agreement, known as ???the covenant??™.??™, De Lange, N. (2000:155). The most important figure in Judaism is Abraham who is the ???founder of the Jewish religion??™, Braybrooke, M. (1995:52). Jews have maintained a distinct and vibrant tradition based on the principles of the covenant that was made between God and Abraham.
Abraham??™s former name was Abram, which means ???father of Arom??™, Blech, B. (1999:70) which restricted his leadership to a small group, thus God changed it to ???Abraham??™ which means, ???father of many nations??™, Hodder & Stoughton (2005:Gen 17:5). Abraham was told by God to leave his country and journey to the ???land that God would show him??™, Braybrooke (1995:53), which is known today as Israel. Jewish people still have a special attachment to Israel whether they are a devote Jew or not, calling it the Promised Land. They believe that someday they will be able to return to what was rightfully theirs as it ???was included in the covenant??™, (Rossel:10/12/10).
Abraham is central to Jews as he is seen as ???the servant of God??¦a friend of God??™, Braybrooke (1995:53) and as ???a model of all virtue??™, Braybrooke (1995:52). Abraham obeyed all the laws of the written and oral Torah and many Jews strive to have a close connection with God as Abraham did and follow the traditions and expectations of the covenant. There are many Jewish practices today but all of them remain influenced to support the covenant teachings to achieve this relationship with God.
Judaism is a ???religion of a people??™, Kung, H. (1995:19) and many Orthodox Jews believe that it is also a ???way of thinking as well as a way of living??™, Sherbok, C. (1991:45). The Jewish society is built upon two main units: community and family. This does not generally underpin the covenant but according to Jews, ???Abraham is regarded as the father of the Jewish people??™, Braybrooke (1995:53), and therefore see Judaism as a family.
It is common for families to gather together for special occasions such as the Passover Seder. Traditionally, at home the ???wife supports the family??™, De Lange, N. (2000:88), and is allocated certain religious rituals to carry out, such as the lighting of lights on the Sabbath Eve. This generally supports the covenant as in Jewish tradition it was customary for the women to look after the house. Due to the evolving world many of ???these ancient structures have become weakened, modified or demolished??™. De Lange, N. (2000:88) due to the emancipation of women and the right for equal partnership. Reform Judaism believe that Judaism is frozen and antique when it practices old traditions, it is not a living fountain. Whereas Orthodox Jews believe that the laws and traditions need to be obeyed. A common visible sign of this the Mezuzah, which is a ???hand written parchment contained in an elongated case marked with the Hebrew letter ???shin??™ for Shaddai??™, De Lange, N. (2000:89). Many Jews would kiss the Mezuzah when they enter or leave the house. It is a constant reminder of the words of the Torah which is firmly stated in Deuteronomy to ???write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Deut 6:9).
When Abraham was ninety nine years old God appeared to him and created the covenant, ???I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.??™ Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Gen 17:6). Abraham in turn was to circumcise every male in his family for generations to come and that would be ???the sign of the covenant between me and you??™, Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Gen 17:11).
Circumcision is important to Jewish people as the ???sign on the male reproductive organ signifies that the covenant was to be passed on to and through Abrahams descendants??™, (Patriarchy website: 9/12/10). Non-Orthodox Jews today would argue that according to Jewish law it states, ???do not cut your bodies or put tattoo marks on yourselves??™, Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Lev. 19:28), and circumcision involves the cutting and marking of the natural male organ. So does it appear that in some ways circumcision is not consistent with Jewish laws and values
God promised a great nation to come from the family of Abraham and this family would be Jewish. For most Jews, circumcision is seen as not just a religious practice but as a source of an identity as it underpins the covenant. However many would argue today that circumcision is inhumane as the infant feels unbearable pain. Therefore, how do we begin to justify the practice on ethical grounds Circumcision is losing its appeal as ???the biggest threat to survival today is assimilation??™, (Jewish Circumcision: 14/12/10), as many Jews choose to marry a non-Jewish spouse.
The Jewish marriage has ???undergone a radical transformation over the course of time??™, The Reform Synagogues of Great Britain (1983: 3), and it is not always perceived the same. The weddings often take place in the synagogue but they can be held anywhere. The law in the UK ???allows a Jewish wedding to take place in any locale, indoor or outdoor, so long as it does not hold a license for civil weddings??™, (Reform Judaism: 14/12/10). The ceremony takes place under a chuppah or canopy which is held on four poles. The poles remind the Jewish people of the home that they are about to establish is open like Abraham??™s tent and this shows the hospitality that they will extend. Strictly Orthodox Jews believe that the wedding should not be developed from romanticism but shadchanut, an arranged marriage. The main reason for this would be that many Orthodox Jews would say that they are sensitive to the influence of outside religions due to the fact that there about ???13 million Jews worldwide??™, (About.com: 14/12/10), and they feel that intermarriage ???poses a serious threat to Jewish survival??™ (About.com: 14/12/10). Reform Jews tend to disagree with this as they believe as ???long as that the couple will raise their children as Jewish and provide them with some sort of formal Jewish education??™, (About.com: 14/12/10) that is sufficient.
In a Jewish household all food must ??™conform with the rules of Kashut??™, De Lange, N. (2000:89), or the keeping of kosher foods. Meat which consists of animals that have ???cloven hooves and chew the cud??™, (Kosher Certification:10/12/10), are permitted. Any animal that do not comply to these regulations are forbidden as stated in the Torah, ???there are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them??™, Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Lev 11:4), so are therefore considered terefah. Jews must also only eat meat if it has been killed by a Schochet which is a ???Ritual slaughterer??™, (Kosher Certification: 10/12/10). The Schochet must have a clean and extremely sharp knife as to avoid inflicting any pain on the animal. Today there are arguments with animal cruelty laws that prohibit the practices and it can be asked if the practice would involve stunning the animal to lessen the suffering that occurs.
Jews must also make sure there is a rigorous separation between milk and meat products and they are also forbidden from ???eating meat and milk in the same meal??™, De Lange, N. (2000:91). Orthodox Jews believe that the keeping of kosher foods is another way of ???showing that the home is a sanctuary by the observance of kashrut??™, Braybrooke, M. (1995:25), and likewise Liberal Jews accept these views as the ???dietary laws are respected and observed, but modified??™, (Lexicorient: 10/12/10), so that they are more adjusted to modern times.
The command to keep the Sabbath is stated in the Torah to ???remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God??™, Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Ex 20:8-9). The Sabbath supports the covenant as it is a time to cease from doing any work and allows time to think about God and become spiritually and physically refreshed. The Sabbath falls on a Saturday, and in society today it can be seen as a problem as many people work on a Saturday as well as a Sunday which is also the Christian day of rest. Many Christians put aside their religious beliefs to work on this day so why is this not acceptable to Jews Orthodox Jews uphold the old tradition of work being ???forbidden, as well as switching on a light or an electrical appliance??™, De Lange, N. (2000:96), so many believe it is a sin to undervalue the day God has given them to rest. Contrastingly, Reform and Conservative Jews are more lenient and tend to make some concessions on the regulations, for example by switching on a light switch or driving a car.
Orthodox Jews tend to have everything prepared before the beginning of the Sabbath, even the candles are lit at a ???specific time before sunset??™, De Lange, N. (2000:91), whereas Non- Orthodox homes tend to light candles at the beginning of the meal. The ???house must be cleaned and tidied??™, De Lange, N. (2000:95), the best tableware used and the members of the household will have a ???bath or shower and put on clean clothes??™, Braybrooke, M. (1995:26). The Sabbath ends ???when three stars have appeared in the sky??™, De Lange, N. (2000:97) on Saturday night. It is accompanied by a prayer in thanks to God, spices remembering the incense used in the temple and the plaited candle with several wicks to represent ???the light of the Sabbath brightening the coming week??™ Braybrooke, M. (1995:27).
???The Synagogue has a vital role in sustaining Jewish life??™, Braybrooke, M. (1995:37), as it is a place of holiness and it is a place to feel close to God. In Orthodox congregations, men and women sit separate and usually in a balcony or gallery above the men as it is to avoid distractions. Reform Judaism does not agree with this tradition as it believes in ???the complete equality women.??™ (Rossel: 10/12/10)
Synagogues can be elaborately decorated but they do not contain any images of people or animals as it is seen as idol worship. In the synagogue, the greatest ???sanctity belongs to the ark and its contents??™, Braybrooke, M. (1995:37), and it is always on the mizrach or eastern wall of the synagogue, in the direction of Jerusalem. The ark houses the Torah and it is hidden by ???a beautiful curtain, the parochet, to separate it from the items of lesser holiness??™, Blech, B. (1999:280). The ner tamid or the eternal light is suspended in front of the ark and is a ???symbolic reminder of the continually burning menorah of the temple??™, Braybrooke, M. (1995:37). The Torah is acknowledged as ???the holiest item in the synagogue??™, Blech, B (1999:280). It is read on the bima, a platform in the centre of the synagogue so it can be higher than the congregation and it is it is read over the course of a year. A rabbi is ???elected by the members of the congregation??™ (Lexicorient:10/12/10), and in Reform and Conservative congregations the rabbi can either be male or female. Orthodox Jews argue with this they see a woman??™s place is at home, not in the synagogue whereas Reform Jews were one of the first to ordain women, even though it is not ???unusual for a community to be without a rabbi, or for Jewish services to be conducted without a rabbi??™ (Think Quest: 12/12/10).
A devote Jew always wear the Kippah to remind him that he is always ???duty bound to follow the laws of God at all times and in all places??™ (Woodlands Junior: 12/12/10) although Reform and Liberal movements worshippers no longer cover their heads. Men are also required to wear a tallit with fringes to remind him of the Ten Commandments and a tefilin which is worn in the left arm, near your heart as a reminder to keep God??™s laws with all your heart. Orthodox Jews would argue that these are all ???signs of respect for God??™. Braybrooke, M. (1995:25).
The Torah which ???signifies the Pentateuch??™, Unterman, A. (1981:27), is the first five books of Moses. It is a fundamental concept of Judaism and is a ???central part of the covenant??™ (Unterman, A. 1981:7) between God and the Jews. The Torah is essential to Judaism as ???the contents of this covenant, provide the guidelines for living in the Abrahamic Covenant.??™ (Patriarchy Website.com: 9/12/10). The Torah, to Orthodox Jews is the ???the direct communication of God to man??™, Blech, B. (1999:66) so is seen as infallible as it is from ???the mouth of God??™, De Lange, N. (2000:49). It therefore cannot be contradicted in any way, whereas Reform Jews believe that the Torah was ???written and edited by human beings??™ (Rossel: 12/12/10) and so is open to interpretation and editing. According to Jews, the Torah is ???a teaching, a doctrine, or a law??™, Blech, B (1999:67), and is therefore described as being the ultimate source of Jewish authority. It contains 613 commandments or Mitzvot. When the Jewish people received the Mosaic Covenant, God told the Jewish People, that their part, is that they must dedicate themselves to serving God and the Jewish people agreed to do so by saying, ???we will do everything the Lord has said.??™ Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Ex 19:8).
In the bible God spoke to man, so Jews believe that the Oral Torah was created when God gave instructions to Moses on Mt. Sinai that were absent from the Torah. It had been passed down through generations until it was eventually complied into what is known today as the Talmud. Reform and Liberal Jews believe the Oral Torah is ???capable of revision to adapt it to the modern life??™, Braybrooke, M. (1995:77), whereas strictly Orthodox Jews claim it to be ???of divine origin, and represent the word of God??™ (Jewish Virtual Library: 13/12/10).
Homosexuality in Judaism is prohibited as stated in the Torah to, ???do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable??™, Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Lev 18:22). Orthodox Jews do not agree with homosexuality as they abide by the Levitical laws and they prohibit ordination of gays and lesbians as rabbis. Whereas Reform Jews accept it and they argue the fact that we should love one another. Orthodox Jews see the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a sign that homosexuality is an atrocity in God??™s eyes.
To conclude, the story of Abraham is about ???obedience to the will of God??™, (BBC: 14/12/10) but not a blind obedience because Abraham frequently challenged God and asked God questions. Eventually God made an extraordinary promise and in doing so formed a special relationship with Abraham which many Jews will strive to obtain today. When the Covenant was created between God and Abraham, his descendants would be the ???chosen people, giving them certain rights as well as responsibilities??™, (Lexicorient: 10/12/10). This involved obeying all rules and traditions God had provided and to live by them daily, then they would be able to return to the??™ land that the Lord has promised on oath to your ancestors??™, Hodder & Stoughton (2005: Deut 8:1). Contrastingly, Reform Jews believe that Judaism is about ???ethics: how a Jew should behave??™, (Rossel: 14/12/10), not on how tradition is upheld. Orthodox Jews believe they are the chosen people to return to the Promised Land, now known as Israel as they are the only denomination of Judaism that maintains all that God asked them to do. Unlike the Orthodox, Conservative Jews believe that the Jewish law should ???be continually examined to meet the needs of every new generation??™, (Rossel: 14/12/10).
These are rules that Jews should strive to fulfil as from Abraham??™s compliance, he was rewarded. Judaism has changed astonishingly and God ???demands obedience??™, De Lange, N. (2000:155). Jews strive to follow God but the only purpose of obeying the commands is to serve God, and the only way to serve God is by obeying the commands??™, De Lange, N. (2000:196). This obedience is what he intended from Abraham and his people when God created a promise with them.
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