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Judaism in Practice: From the Middle Ages through the Early Modern Period;Medieval to Early Modern Jewish Practices. Conflict Between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim Portrayed as Bitter at Times

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

This work covers many topics, and has a few chapters on women in Judaism. It has sections dealing with the life cycle, Torah and learning, Jewish community life, etc. I focus on a few salient topics:


A number of chapters deal with the Karaites. They believed, contrary to rabbinical tradition, that one should refrain from lighting a fire before the Sabbath, and not just on the Sabbath itself. (Exodus 35:3). (Lawrence Fine, p. 25). The Karaites, distinct from the Rabbanite and rejecting the rabbinic tradition by the 8th-10 centuries A. D., today number about 20,000-25,000, and live mainly in the State of Israel, the USA, and Europe. (Daniel Frank, p. 249).


Author Lawrence Fine introduces this subject, (quote) In the course of this process the rabbis determined that there were 613 basic legal obligations or precepts (MITSVAH…) in the Torah. But from each of these 613 MITSVOT, the rabbis derived numerous further precepts, resulting in an ever-expanding body of Jewish law, or, as it came to be known, HALAKHA. The term “HALAKHA”, refers to the entirely of Jewish law, including the Mishnah and its subsequent development. A good example of this process may be seen in connection with the laws of the Sabbath. Whereas the Torah itself prescribes rest on the Sabbath, it provides very little specific guidance as to what such cessation from labor entails. When we turn, however, to the treatise of the Mishnah devoted to the laws of the Sabbath, we find that the sages delineated no fewer than thirty-nine types of activity that they regarded as labor. For each of these thirty-nine activities, rabbinic tradition derived still further precepts, thus exponentially expanding the laws and ritual governing the Sabbath. (unquote). (p. 4).


Some commentators have asserted that Judaism had nothing to say about Christianity, that that Jews spoke up about Christianity only when Christians persecuted Jews. Such was not the case. In actuality, Judaism created a series of long-term anti-Christian rites and narratives.

Ivan G. Marcus writes, (quote) By weaving tougher elements from earlier Jewish traditions, Jews developed a ceremony in the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Germany and northern France that in many ways parodied and subverted aspects of Christian rituals and symbols…Eating special cakes baked with foods that symbolize Torah (flour, honey, milk, and oil), and shelled hard-boiled effs on which words of Torah were written served as a Jewish antidote to the increasingly more prominent central Christian rite of the Eucharist [eucharist in original] that bound Christians to one another and to the living sacrificed Christ. (unquote). (p. 116).

Author Marcus continues, (quote) By protectively wrapping the small Jewish boy in a coat or prayer shawl when he was carried from home to the teacher, Jews acted out the message that Jewish boys, not Jesus, were to be sacrificed—to a life of Torah study…the Jewish boy caressing his father’s cheek as he is brought to the schoolteacher and is seated on the teacher’s lap. These are Jewish adaptations of two well-known Madonna and Child types: the MATER AMABILIS (lovable mother) and the Throne of Wisdom, respectively… (unquote). (p. 116).

The foregoing can be generalized, (quote) They [Jews] often did this through rituals or narratives that denied and even mocked the competing stronger ideology of Christianity in medieval Europe. (unquote). (ibid, pp. 116-117).

Of course, not everything in the practice of Judaism was negatively oriented towards Christianity. For instance, Ephraim Kanarfogel (pp. 193-194) mentions a Jewish custom of ensconcing oneself, in one’s fortress, from worldly temptations, and devoting all one’s time for studying the holy work of God. He suggests that this was a form of Jewish emulation, and adaptation, of Christian monastic traditions. (pp. 193-194). The foregoing contradicts the notion, advanced by some, that Judaism unilaterally frowned upon Christian ascetic practices as a denial of God-given joys.


Author Arthur Green characterizes Hasidism, like the earlier Kabbalah, as a mystical tradition. Does Hasidism blur the distinction between the Creator and the creation? Though Green does not go this far, he does make this comment, (quote) Thus Hasidism constantly struggles, for example, to find elements of its own semi-pantheistic God concept in the highly personified theology of the biblical and early rabbinic sources. (unquote). (p. 401).

Author Allan Nadler portrays the conflict between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim as one that sometimes turned bitter. The Gaon of Vilna led the struggle of the Mitnagdim against the Hasidim. Nadler adds that, (quote) The Mitnagdim not only polemicized against Hasidic doctrine; they waged an uncompromising war against its practitioners, placing them under the rabbinic ban of excommunication and, when possible, denouncing their zaddikim (Hasidic religious leaders; lit. righteous men) as subversives to the tsarist authorities. (unquote). (p. 513).


Author Ivan G. Marcus describes the practice, derived from ancient times, among 18th- or 19th century Jews, of cutting a Jewish boy's hair when he turned three years old. This compared the child to a new fruit tree whose yield can now be harvested. (pp. 118-119).

I find UPSHEERIN personally interesting. We are not Jewish, but, when I was about three years old, my mother cut off some hairs of mine and saved them.
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