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A Broad Overview of Judaism. Includes Full Implications of the Hellenization of Jews,

jan peczkis|Friday, May 1, 2015

My review is based on the sixth edition, published 1929. This work begins with basic issues surrounding the nature of God, faith, humanity, Israel's mission, etc. It then provides considerable detail on the Jewish feasts. Because so many issues are raised, I only touch on a few of them.


Author Morris Joseph includes interesting information. For instance, various Jewish thinkers had suggested that many aspects of Jewish religious observance will disappear in the future, notably during the messianic age. (p. 165). [On this basis, the non-carryover of most Judaic customs into Christianity does not appear as Jewish-rejecting as commonly supposed.]


Joseph repeats the familiar premise of Jews as Chosen meaning that Jews have extra duties to God. He compares it to the idea of NOBLESSE OBLIGE--the nobility having the privilege of special access to the king, but also being required to perform special duties. (p. 156). As for Jewish moral superiority, he sees this not as a state of affairs but as a goal. He writes, (quote) We therefore affirm, not that we are better than others, but that we ought to be better. (unquote). (p. 156). Is this not itself a form of Jewish elitism?

The author also believes that Jews are Chosen owing to the implications of having been descended from Abraham. In addition, God has given the Jews special hereditary qualities to perform their role as the Chosen. He comments, (quote) The Israelites thus owe their election to their descent, but not only to the mere physical fact of their descent only. They become the possessors by heredity of the qualities and ideals of the Patriarchs. With the Divine promise which has made them the elect, there is transmitted to them the moral and spiritual equipment that justifies its fulfillment. They become the chosen because they deserve to be the chosen, because God loves them and they deserve His love. The belief in the one and the only God, and a genius for righteousness--these, in spite of frequent lapses into idolatry and sin during the Biblical age, were Israel's great characteristics. (unquote). (p. 151).

The reader should be aware of the fact that all forms of inherited Jewish traits, as connected with Jewish Chosenness, were repudiated by Rabbi Mordecai Menachem Kaplan. Please click on, and read my review, of The future of the American Jew.


The author tells the familiar story of the origins of Chanukah (Feast of Dedication). However, he also mentions an important detail, as elaborated below.

It was not only Antiochus attempting to prevent Jews from practicing their religion, and of forcing Greek ways on them. Some of the Jews voluntarily underwent Hellenization. Joseph comments, "Some of them [Jews], too, were attracted by the graceful and sensuous ceremonial of Greek worship, so different from the simple and elevated rites of the Jewish religion. But these Hellenist, i. e, Greek-loving Jews, did not really represent the temper of the people at large." (p. 280). We thus see the efforts by the Jews of that time to repel not only the forced imposition of a foreign culture, but also the voluntary adoption of a foreign culture by Jews themselves. [The informed reader can see the parallel with the oft-condemned Endek warnings, before WWII, of a prospective mass assimilation of Poland's huge Jewish population leading to the zazydzenie (Judaization) of Poland. Poles could voluntarily adopt Jewish modes of thinking. This could effectively transform Polish culture from a Polish one to some kind of mongrel Polish-Jewish one. Now if Jews can protect their culture, from foreign [Greek] influences, as they see fit, why cannot Poles protect their culture, from foreign [Jewish] influences, as they see fit? The circumstances were different, but the principle is the same.]


Author Joseph suggests that the Rabbins who formulated the regulations governing ritual slaughter (SCHECHITA) were motivated by causing the least pain to the dying animal. He suggests that, were these Rabbins alive today, they would approve of whatever methods of slaughter are now known to minimize suffering to the animal. (pp. 473-474). (This puts a new spin on the SCHECHITA debate that goes on even today.)


The author elaborates on many biblical verses that deal with the humane treatment of animals. (pp. 471-472). This is not only to avoid inflicting pain upon animals, but also to avoid causing moral injury to the human, even if there is little or no pain inflicted upon the animal. (The impairment of character would include an indifference to suffering.)
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