“Judaism?” The term never satisfies, similar to “anti-Semitism”, “Judaism” is a misleading word. Anthropologists and linguists first referred to “Semitism” based on languages, “Semitic” and “Aryan”. We all know of Aryan racism, the Nazi misreading of race. “Aryan” is a hypothetical, akin to “Nordic” and “Caucasian” and other made up appellations. Biblically an anti Semite would be an anti-Shemite, meaning, anybody against Arabs, Babylonians, or Canaanites and Israelites or Judahites. Shem, as you remember, is the son of Noah, the eponymous ancestors of the Semites. There is no wonder why the genealogy of Shem follows the story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis.
The gateway to understanding “Judaism” is a clear definition of the term, along with “Israelite” and “Hebrew”.(Hebrew is a language but also means
One who is a Jew or Israelite.)
True story, I once had a congregant exceedingly angry because I did not visit him in the hospital. This was a puzzlement since I made daily rounds and always worked from the computer print out of those listing their religion as Jewish. Seems this gentleman insisted on being listed as a “Hebrew.” Not that he spoke the language; I think he was uncomfortable being listed as a Jew. Since he never forgave me for not visiting I created a new category for him alone; a “Hebrew National.”
“Israelite” is even more of a challenge. Israel is the nick name of the biblical patriarch Jacob. He had twelve sons, including Judah, who is then, also an Israelite. The Twelve represent the tribes, ten of whom became lost, with many claiming a genetic link, including the Anglo- Israelites.
To complicate matters further the early church fathers considered Catholicism the true heir to the promises of Jacob, who was Israel, and not the Jews. Catholic “Judahism” was found only in the genealogies that trace Jesus back to David, who was also a descendant of Judah, a requirement of Jewish leadership.
Descending from this Tower of Babel we are left with a dizzying array of misdefinition. For the purposes of our home study together we will define Judaism as the collective experience of the people the world calls Jews.
My mentor, The Reverend Franklin H. Littel, taught me that the term Judaism is misleading, and, in fact, invented by early professors of comparative religious studies who made up the word, along with “Hinduism”, “Buddhism” and “Christianity”. The Revered was emphatic
in insisting that “Judaism” is not a helpful word in intelligent conversation. There is no Judaism or “Jewish Faith” aside from the Jewish people.
“Jewish faith” reminds us of the limitations of religious dialogue, since the term is not Jewish. Faith based discussions, dogmas, and creeds are not central to Jewish identity. In other words we experience the world view of another religion when we are referred to as the Jewish faith. These assumptions permeate our language.
I do not think of Judaism as a religion. What then? A Jew is one who is guided by the teachings of the Torah as they journey through life. Judaism is a lifestyle. I believe, that when we arrive at the Pearly Gates the heavenly court will ask us if we loved our neighbor before any questions of theology.
The court assumes that if we loved our neighbor we loved God.
If religion must be as particular as language then we must precisely define the term, and suggest a new one if confusion reigns.
Is religion a universal obsession and neurosis, as described by Freud?
The opiate of the masses?
What is true, or a true religion?
In my opinion religion, at its best is a quest for the true meaning of life. The technique of true religion is the asking of the over whelming questions, such as “Who are we?” “What is the meaning of life?” Why do we die?”
These are the authentic questions religions attempt to answer. You may not believe some of the answers, but the questions remain.
The dictionary definition of religion is helpful:
The personal commitment to
and serving of God
via worshipful devotion
in accord with sacred writings
and authorative teachers
defining a way of life incumbent
on true believers.
Since religions, like people, get lost I prefer to use the term “Realigion” for that which is real and that which we may rely upon in religion.