Search Results

You are looking at 1 - 10 of 11 items for

  • Author or Editor: Alan J. Avery-Peck x
Clear All

The charitable donation of money, goods, or services to the needy is understood in both secular and religious cultures to be a free tribute, given out of the liberality of one person to help in the support of another. People accordingly associate charity with generosity and comprehend it primarily to be an act of free will, in which one individual makes a personal decision to help another who is in need. Judaism, especially in modern times, comparably, recognizes the personal choices involved in decisions regarding when to give, how much to give, and to whom to give. Referring to charity by the Hebrew word Tzedakah (“righteousness”) as well as by the term Gemilut Hasadim (“the bestowing of kindness”), Judaism acknowledges the free will aspect of charity and the extent to which it represents a special act of human kindness. At the same time, at its foundation, Judaism views supporting the needy to be a duty imposed upon each person under the terms of the covenant with God. Unlike secular notions that see in charity only an act of individual free will, under Jewish law, individuals are obligated to provide for the needy. By legislating a system of social welfare run by the community, Jewish law dictates standards of support and assures that individuals and communities will provide for the basic needs of all members of society.

Formal statements of fundamental belief, or articles of faith, do not exist in Judaism in the same way in which they exist in Christianity and Islam. While, especially beginning in the medieval period, Jewish philosophers made many attempts to reduce the content of Judaism to a short statement of dogma, such creeds lacked the backing of a supreme ecclesiastical body, which does not exist in Judaism. Thus, while certain of these statements have been incorporated into the Jewish liturgy and function for many as encapsulations of Jewish belief, the popularity and importance of specific creedal statements always have been a function of the fame and credentials of their authors. No attempts have been made, or can be made, to impose acceptance of any creed as an obligation incumbent upon all Jews or even as a precondition of conversion into the Jewish community. Judaism, as a result, has yielded no articles of faith comparable to the three great creeds of the Catholic Church—the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—or to the Muslim Kalimat As-Shahadat , the first of the five pillars of Islam, which it is a duty for every believer to recite at least once in his or her lifetime. By contrast, despite the interest of medieval Jewish philosophers in systematizing Jewish belief, Judaism offers no defining doctrines or obligatory articles of faith.

The term covenant signifies a formal agreement between two parties, in which “one or both make promises under oath to perform or refrain from certain actions stipulated in advance.” George Mendenhall and Gary Herion, “Covenant,” in Anchor Bible. Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 1179. In the religion Judaism, the term covenant refers in particular to the agreement God made with the people of Israel at Sinai. This agreement calls for the Jews to follow God's law, embodied in Torah. In return God promises to make of the Israelites a great nation dwelling in peace in the Promised Land. Described at Exod. 19–20 and elaborated in the legal materials of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, this covenant is understood also to encompass the later expansions and interpretations of Scripture found within the Talmudic literature and subsequent codes of Jewish law. In light of this association with the system of Rabbinic law and learning, for Jews from the Rabbinic period and on, the term covenant has been tantamount to the concept of Torah. B. Shab. 33a is explicit in this matter, stating that, in Scripture, the term covenant refers to Torah. Covenant, this is to say, refers in Judaism to the entire body of revelation that defines the agreement between God and Israel, that states the obligations Israel has accepted upon itself, and that details what the nation can expect from God in return.

The opposing concepts of free will and determinism (that is, fate) represent contrasting ways of understanding the world in which we live and of comprehending the ability of people to shape that world and to control their place in it. Ileana Marcoulesco defines the doctrines of free will and fate as follows: Encyclopedia of Religion (New York, 1987), vol. 5, p. 419.

The worship of a physical representation of a deity was a central aspect of Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions in the period of the emergence of the religion of Israel, detailed in the Hebrew Scriptures. On the following, see Edward M. Curtis, “Idol, Idolatry,” in ABD, vol. 3, pp. 376–381. In light of the prevailing practices of the peoples around them, practices that we refer to as idolatry, the official religion of the Israelites was striking. In contrast to those religions, the Israelite doctrine took as its fundamental precept the prohibition against creating and worshipping any representation of the Israelites' own God, let alone of the gods of other peoples. Exod. 20:4–5 makes this point clear: See also Exod. 20:23, 34:17, Lev. 19:4, 267:1, Deut. 4:15–19, 4:25, and 5:8.

In Judaism a sin is any act that violates the stipulations of the covenant with God. This means that, within Judaism, sin encompasses not only religious or ritual offenses, which people today commonly think of as sins, but also includes all other crimes as well, whether they are against individuals or are violations of any of the community laws described in the Torah as a whole.

The term tradition generally signifies the theological and ritual content of a religion, its beliefs, doctrines, cultural values, moral standards, and especially the particular behaviors through which individuals and communities express their participation in the religion. Tradition thus may refer to everything from modes of dress and choices of cuisine to language and approaches to rearing children. Insofar as these elements of communal life are transmitted from generation to generation, the term tradition signifies not only the content of the religious culture but also the process through which that culture is passed on from generation to generation. The designation of religious beliefs and practices as tradition implies that religious culture preserves a past way of life, continuously transmitted to contemporary times. On the preceding, see Leon Yagod, “Tradition,” in EJ, vol. 15, col. 1308.

Judaism, like most systems of religion, distinguishes between miracles—the extraordinary deeds of the true God or agents of the true God—and magic—the extraordinary deeds of false gods or their agents. Jacob, “Science and Magic, Miracle and Magic in Formative Judaism: The System and the Difference,” in Jacob, ed., Religion, Science, and Magic in Concert and in Conflict (New York, 1989), p. 61. The former acts are judged good and acceptable, so that a person who is able to use the power of the divine for purposes the religion deems right and appropriate is thought of as a holy man, miracle worker, or sage. By contrast, a person—usually an outsider or practitioner of a different religion—who demonstrates similar abilities is derided as a witch, demon, or fiend.

Extraordinary events that have no possible human or natural cause are recognized in the Hebrew Bible and in later forms of Judaism as deriving from the direct intervention of God in the human sphere. In the Rabbinic literature, such occurrences are referred to simply by the term nes, signifying a “wondrous event” and roughly comparable to the English term “miracle.” Thus M. Ab. 5:4 states, “Ten wonders were done for our fathers in Egypt, and ten at the Sea.” The point is that the process through which the Israelites were redeemed from Egyptian bondage was miraculous. But this statement in itself makes no particular theological point. In the Hebrew Bible, by contrast, events that violate the natural order much more commonly are designated as “signs” (otot, mofetim), In Scripture, the term nes occurs in the sense of miracle only once, Num. 26:10. Otherwise, it refers to a long pole on which an object or banner can be placed for display (Num. 21:8–9, Is. 30:17 and 33:23). On the general conception of miracles in biblical and later Rabbinic thinking, see Jacob Licht, “Miracle,” EJ, vol. 12, col. 73, and Yair Zakovitch, “Miracle (OT), ABD, vol. 4, pp. 845–846. a term that points to the distinctive role miracles play in ancient Israelite theology. This is because, in the Hebrew Bible, God performs miracles—breaks directly into the physical world—for the explicit purpose of demonstrating his power and informing people of his specific desires and particular plans. In light of this purpose, events such as the ten plagues that God brought against the Egyptians are not adequately described through the simple concept of “miracle,” that is, as extraordinary occurrences with no natural explanation. Rather, within the Hebrew Bible, these remarkable happenings have a specific theological function: they are signs of the absolute power of the Israelite deity and proof that Moses indeed speaks for that deity when he states what is expected of the Egyptians.

The inner, animating element of human beings, the soul stands in contrast to the physical body, generally comprehended as the vehicle that contains the soul. Within this general definition, cultures throughout the world express a wide range of understandings of the meaning and function of the soul. In ancient near-eastern cultures, for instance, the soul was broadly associated with physical appearance, destiny, and power. Within the culture of ancient Israel, by contrast, rather than being seen as an aspect of personality or identity, the soul was associated primarily with respiration, narrowly signifying the life force. This is reflected in the root meanings of Hebrew words generally translated as soul: nefesh (“breath”), neshamah (“breathing”), and ruah (literally, “wind”). Having to do primarily with respiration, these terms encompass the Latin terms for soul, anima, which is close to the Hebrew concept of ruah, and spiritus, which parallels the Hebrew terms nefesh and neshamah.