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5. Modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present)


The various criteria used to mark off dividing points in the history of the Jews and Judaism (see above General observations ) are especially notable when it comes to setting a starting date for the modern period. Historians of thought put it in the late 17th century with the appearance of men, such as the philosopher Benedict de Spinoza, who ceased, in part or in toto, to believe in the inherited faith without at the same time ceasing to be Jews (i.e., to consider themselves and be considered as Jews). Some Israeli scholars set it at about 1700 with the first stirrings of that new and continuing emigration from the Diaspora to the Holy Land that culminated in the mid-20th century in the creation of the State of Israel. Political and social historians set it in the mid- and late-18th-century processes that led to the American and French revolutions and to the results that flowed from these two epochal events, among them the emancipation of Jews from discriminatory and segregative laws and customs, the attainment of legal status as citizens, and the freedom of individual Jews to pursue careers appropriate to their talents. These varying approaches appear to have one thing in common--the view that these postmedieval forms of Jewish experience assume the end of the doctrine of the Exile, whereby Jews saw themselves as a people waiting out centuries of woe in alien lands until the moment of divine redemption. Jewish modernity for most scholars, then, is marked by the end of a passive waiting on the Messiah and the beginning of an active pursuit of personal or national fulfillment on this earth and preferably in one's lifetime.

Although the 18th century Haskala (Enlightenment) among the Ashkenazim of central and eastern Europe is often taken as the starting point of Jewish modernity, the process of Westernization had begun a good deal earlier among the Sefardim in western Europe and Italy. The Marranos who went to such communities as Amsterdam and Venice in the 17th century to declare themselves as Jews carried with them the Western education that they had acquired while living as Christians in the Iberian Peninsula, and the habits of criticism that had kept them from assimilating into the majority during their Marrano years and that some, such as Spinoza, a son of Marranos, used in analyzing all of the biblical tradition, including especially their own religion. In Italy there was an older Jewish community that had never been sealed off culturally from the influence of its environment; some of its figures were influenced by, and participated in, the main currents of the Renaissance (see above Rabbinic Judaism [2nd-18th century] ).

Increased contact with Western languages, manners, and modes of living came to the Ashkenazim only in the 18th century when new economic opportunities created such possibilities and needs. Jewish bankers and factors in various German principalities, army provisioners in most of the European countries, capitalists who were permitted to live in such places as Berlin because they opened new factories or were otherwise helpful to the expansion of the economy--all were in increasing contact with Gentile society, and most of them began to look upon the goal of their lives as the winning of full acceptance. Around this wealthy element there arose a number of intellectuals who agitated for the end of ghetto ways as the necessary preamble to the emancipation of the Jews.


i) In central Europe.

By far the most outstanding figure of the 18th-century Jewish Enlightenment was the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, who, while remaining a devoted adherent of Orthodox Judaism, turned away from the traditional Jewish preoccupation with the Talmud and its literature to the intellectual world of the European Enlightenment, of which he became the foremost Jewish representative. Mendelssohn did not attempt a philosophical defense of Judaism until pressed to do so by Christians who questioned how he could remain faithful to what they saw as an unenlightened religion. In his response, Jerusalem, published in 1783, Mendelssohn defended the validity of Judaism as the inherited faith of the Jews by defining it as revealed divine legislation and declared himself at the same time to be a believer in the universal religion of reason, of which Judaism was but one historical manifestation. Aware that he was accepted by Gentile society as an "exceptional Jew" who had embraced Western culture, Mendelssohn's message to his own community was to become Westerners, to seek out the culture of the Enlightenment. To that end he joined with a poet, Naphtali Herz (Hartwig) Wessely, in translating the Torah into German, combining Hebrew characters with modern German phonetics in an effort to displace Yiddish, and wrote a modern biblical commentary in Hebrew, the Be`ur ("Commentary"). Within a generation, Mendelssohn's Bible was to be found in almost every literate Jewish home in central Europe and had served to introduce its readers to German culture. Through his personal example and his life's work Mendelssohn made it possible for his fellow Jews to join the Western world without sacrificing their Judaism; he had convinced them that their intellectual processes were those of universal reason, with which Judaism accorded.

Mendelssohn's work was carried on by a group of Jewish intellectuals who had gathered around him in his lifetime, forming the nucleus of the Berlin Haskala, which was most active in the 20 years following their mentor's death. In the pages of their Hebrew-language periodical, ha-me`assef ("The Collector"), they preached the virtues of secular culture and used Hebrew as a vehicle by which to introduce that culture. To achieve their goal of an enlightened Judaism, the leaders of the Berlin Haskala publicized the need for secular education. In response to the Holy Roman emperor Joseph of Austria's Edict of Toleration of 1781, Naphtali Wessely welcomed the efforts and issued an urgent call for the reform of Jewish education as a prelude to full emancipation. Purely secular subjects--mathematics, German, and world history and literature--were to take precedence over the traditional Jewish studies. The study of the Bible, since it was generally acknowledged to be a fundamental part of Western culture, was to be emphasized at the expense of the more traditional learning in the Talmud. Following this model, modern Jewish schools were established by Jewish intellectuals and businessmen in several German cities, among them Frankfurt and Hamburg. As its educational activities began to bear fruit in the wide dissemination of secular culture, the Berlin Haskala abandoned the use of Hebrew for German and gradually disintegrated. Unlike Mendelssohn himself, the immediate descendants of his circle and his own children were unable to strike a balance between Jewish and secular culture; their Western education undermined their religious faith and they perceived their identity as Europeans rather than as Jews.

One of Mendelssohn's disciples, David Friedlaender, offered to convert to Christianity without accepting Christian dogma or Christian rites; he felt that both Judaism and Christianity shared the same religious truth but that there was no relation at all between Judaism's ceremonial law and that truth. The offer was refused unless Friedlaender would acknowledge the superiority of Christianity and make an unconditional commitment to it, which he was not prepared to do. Unlike Friedlaender, many others who began by following Mendelssohn chose to leave the Jewish faith as the only way to win full acceptance in the European community of which they felt themselves a part.

ii) In eastern Europe.

The Haskala, thus, was quickly played out in central Europe; as an idea its further career was to continue in eastern Europe, particularly in the Russian Empire, where it flourished in the middle third of the 19th century until, as a result of the pogroms of 1881, Jews lost faith in the goodwill of Russians to accept "enlightened" Jews. It was a tenet of the Russian Haskala that the tsar was a benevolent leader who would bestow emancipation upon his Jewish subjects as soon as they proved themselves worthy of it; and that it was the task of the Jews, then, to transform themselves into model citizens, enlightened, unsuperstitious, devoted to secular learning and productive occupations. Following the example of the Berlin Haskala, a Russian Hebrew-language writer, Isaac Baer Levinsohn, published a pamphlet, Te'uda be-Yisrael ("Testimony in Israel") citing the benefits of secular education. At the same time, such writers as Joseph Perl and Isaac Erter, though Orthodox Jews themselves, in virulent satire attacked the superstitious folk customs of the masses and opened the way to the anticlericalism which was to become characteristic of the Russian Haskala. In the 1840s and 1850s the emphasis shifted from satire and attack on the cultural parochialism of the Pale of Settlement (the regions to which the Jews were restricted) to romanticization of life outside the Pale, including periods of the Jewish past. Thus, Hebrew poets and novelists, such as Michal Levensohn and Abraham Mapu, arose on Russian soil to contribute their talents to the creation of a modern Hebrew literature. With the climate of government reforms in the 1860s, the Russian Haskala entered a "positivist" phase, calling for practical social and economic reforms. Hebrew-language journals were established and the Hebrew essay and didactic poetry, calling for religious and cultural reforms, came into their own, particularly at the hands of such stylists as the poet Y.L. Gordon and the essayist Moses Leib Lilienblum. Abandoning the original Hebrew and German orientation of the Russian Haskala, a number of Jewish intellectuals, the most prominent of whom were Yoachim Tarnopol, Osip Rabinovich, and Lev Levanda, became Russifiers, founding Russian-language Jewish weeklies devoted to "patriotism, emancipation, modernism." Like their contemporary fellow Jews in western Europe, they declared themselves to be Russians by nationality and Jews by religious belief alone. In 1863 a group of wealthy Jews in St. Petersburg and Odessa created the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia for the purpose of educating Jewry into "readiness for citizenship." The goal of all segments of the Russian Haskala in the 1860s and 1870s was to turn Jews into good Russians and to make their Jewishness a matter of personal idiosyncrasy alone. The period of reaction that set in with the pogroms (massacres) of 1881 was to prove how deluded the hopes of the Haskala had been.


One element of Westernization that the Haskala had championed was the reform of religion. It began in western Europe during the Napoleonic period (1800-15) when certain aspects of Jewish belief and observance were seen as incompatible with the new position of the Jew in Western society. Napoleon convoked a Sanhedrin (Jewish legislative council) in 1807 to create a new, modern definition of Judaism in its renunciation of Jewish nationhood and national aspirations, its protestations that rabbinic authority was purely spiritual, and its recognition of the priority of civil over religious authorities even in the matters of intermarriage. In areas other than France, the rationale for reform, at least in its early years, was more aesthetic than doctrinal. The external aspects of worship--i.e., the form of the service--appeared unacceptable to the newly Westernized members of the Jewish bourgeoisie in both Germany and the United States, whose standards of cultural acceptability had been shaped by the surrounding society, and who desired above all to resemble their Gentile peers. Thus, the short-lived Reform temple established in Seesen, by the pioneer German reformer Israel Jacobson, in 1810 enshrined order and dignity of a Protestant type in the service and introduced an organ, sermon, and prayers in German, in place of Hebrew, to create an uplifting spiritual experience. The more radical temple in Hamburg (established 1818) adopted all of Jacobson's reforms and published its own much-abridged prayer book, which deleted almost all the references to the long-awaited restoration of Zion. Reformers in Charleston, South Carolina, introduced similar changes in the synagogue ritual in 1824, for they sought a non-national Judaism similar in form to Protestantism and adapted to the surrounding culture. It was apparent to the reformers that in Western society Judaism would have to divest itself of its alien customs and conform to the cultural and intellectual standards of the new "age of reason." (see also Index: Reform Judaism)

German Reform in the 1840s became institutionalized, a matter of organized, formal belief and practice, and, at a series of synods held at Brunswick (1844), Frankfurt (1845), and Breslau (1846), it created the first theological rationalization for changes introduced in the previous generation. Judaism, it was declared, had always been a developmental religion that conformed to the demands of the times, and, since the Jews were not now a nation, they were no longer bound by their entire religious-political code of law, but only by the dictates of moral law. Thus, those rituals which stood in the way of full Jewish participation in German social and political life were no longer considered valid expressions of Jewish religious truth. The use of Hebrew in religious services was limited; practices such as the dietary laws and circumcision and all national messianic hopes were discarded upon the altar of the "spirit of the times." Messianism in Reform Judaism was transmuted into active concern for social welfare in the present, and the Jewish role in history became Diaspora-centred, a mission to the Gentiles.

Although Reform was initiated in Europe, it did not enjoy a successful career there, for many central European governments that regulated the existence of religious communities would not recognize more than one form of Judaism in any one locale. Reform did not achieve its greatest success until it was imported into the United States along with the massive German-Jewish immigration of the 1840s and coalesced with earlier American trends toward reform. By 1880 almost all of the 200 synagogues in the United States had become Reform, amalgamating in the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (formed 1873). In 1885 the Reform philosophy was given its most comprehensive formulation in the so-called Pittsburgh Platform, drawn up by a conference of Reform rabbis. This manifesto declared that Judaism was an evolutionary faith, and no longer a national faith, and that it was now to be de-orientalized. While the preservation of historical identity was considered to be beneficial, the maintenance of continuity of tradition was not; the Talmud was to be considered merely as religious literature, and not as legislation. The rationalist principles of the Pittsburgh Platform remained the official philosophy of the American Reform movement until a later generation, seeking to meet different emotional and intellectual needs, reintroduced the concept of Jewish peoplehood into the Columbus Platform of 1937, which also reemphasized Hebrew and traditional liturgy and practices. Classical (19th-century) Reform was very much a late child of the Enlightenment, and by mid-20th century its Enlightenment philosophy appeared antiquated to many Jewish thinkers.

If Reform was a child of Enlightenment rationalism, Conservative Judaism was a child of historical romanticism. It began in 1845 when Zacharias Frankel and a group of followers seceded from a second Reform synod at Frankfurt over the issue of the limitation of the use of Hebrew to a small core of prayers. For Frankel, Hebrew represented the spirit of Judaism and the Jewish people, and Judaism itself was not merely a theology of ethics but the historical expression of the Jewish experience; this definition he called "positive-historical Judaism." Although Conservative Judaism conceived of Judaism as a developmental religion, it charted its course through close study of the tradition and the will of the people, and thus came to largely traditional conclusions about religious observance.


i) In western and central Europe.

The bulk of the official Jewish establishment in western and central Europe, though affected by the efforts at religious reform, remained Orthodox (a term first used by Reform leaders to designate their traditionalist opponents). Under the leadership of Samson Raphael Hirsch, a more modern and militant form of Neo-Orthodoxy arose, based in Frankfurt am Main, which asserted its right to break with any Jewish community that contained Reform elements and to form an independent community. The thinking of this group was profoundly influential, for it indicated the possibility of living a ritually and religiously full life while being totally integrated into Western society. It accomplished this by positing a theoretical division between religion and culture; the Jews were to remain Orthodox in religion (although deferring their messianic aspirations to the unforeseeable future) while becoming Western in manners and culture. This form of Orthodoxy, which became the intellectual model for Western Orthodoxy, continued into the late 20th century in the United States in a variety of religious and academic institutions (such as the Yeshiva University and the bulk of English-speaking Orthodox synagogues), coexisting in substantial tension with a number of Orthodox groups, most notably the Lubavitcher and Satmar Hasidim (for Hasidism, see below), and some Talmudic academies that saw the Western world itself as the enemy and chose to recreate the ghetto. (see also Index: Orthodox Judaism)

ii) In eastern Europe.

By the mid-18th century Orthodoxy in eastern Europe, having been convulsed by frantic messianism and stifled by the sterility of purely legalistic scholarship, was ripe for revival. The experience of Shabbetaianism (the first messianic movement to excite virtually all of world Jewry) had revealed in the mid-17th century the pervasiveness of Jewish exhaustion with the Exile and fervent longing for messianic redemption, while the nihilistic sect of Frankists (the followers of Jacob Frank, see above Rabbinic Judaism [2nd-18th century] ) in the 18th century had transmuted that messianism into a this-worldly hysteria. Talmudic piety and study, sunk in excessive pilpul (acute logical distinctions that often became mere hairsplitting), was refreshed by the new critical methods of Elijah ben Solomon, the gaon of Vilna. Although essentially a legal rigorist, he was open to Western scientific learning insofar as it helped him to elucidate Talmudic texts. Orthodox religious expression also was raised to a new level with the development of Hasidism (Pietism) by Israel Baal Shem Tov in the mid-18th century. Although Hasidism contained elements of social protest, being at least in part a movement of the poor against the wealthy communal leadership and of the unlearned against the learned--though many of its leaders, among them Rabbi Baer, the maggid ("preacher") of Mezhirich and Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdichev, were well-versed in Talmudic learning--it was essentially a non-messianic outcry in the name of religious emotion, emphasizing prayer and personal religious devotion here and now. Contemporary scholarship is investigating the linkage between Hasidism and eastern European Christian pietistic movements. The major innovation that Hasidism introduced into Jewish religious life was the charismatic leader, the rebbe who served as teacher, confessor, wonder-worker, God's vicar on earth, and occasionally as atoning sacrifice. Although the earliest rebbes were democratically chosen, the position of leadership passed to their descendants on the presumption that they had inherited their fathers' charisma and thus created spiritual dynasties. Hasidism spread throughout eastern Europe and enjoyed its greatest success in Poland.

Hasidism was notably unsuccessful, however, in Lithuania, where the traditional rabbinic class, under the leadership of Elijah, the Vilna gaon, was able to stave off its influence by issuing a ban of excommunication (herem, "anathema") against the new movement. The tactic (a complete boycott and cutting off of communication) was widely embraced by non-Hasidic rabbis, who earned for themselves among the Hasidim the title of Mitnaggedim (Opponents), but it proved largely ineffective in areas where the rabbis had lost the respect of the masses, and it called forth a round of counter-excommunications by the Hasidic rebbes. With the passage of time, Hasidim and Mitnaggedim abandoned their conflict and came to see each other as allies against the threat to all Orthodox Jewish religion of Haskala and secularization. The impact of Hasidism on eastern European Jewry cannot be overemphasized; even in Lithuania, where it did not take firm hold, it stimulated the growth of a home-grown pietism in the Musar (ethicist) movement of the mid-19th century, and it renewed the Talmudic energies of its opponents.


As Jews moved into Western society in central Europe, there arose a group of young Jewish intellectuals who devoted themselves to Jewish scholarship of a far different type from traditional Talmudic learning or medieval philosophy. In 1819 Leopold Zunz and Moses Moser founded the Society for Jewish Culture and Learning for the study of Jewish history and literature. Although the original group quickly dissolved, Zunz became the unofficial leader of a generation of scholars dedicated to the Wissenschaft des Judentums (Science of Judaism). Under its carefully objective and scholarly facade, the Wissenschaft movement embraced a variety of nonacademic motives and goals. All of its members sought to prove that the Jewish past was intellectually respectable and worthy of study, and hence that the Jews deserved an equal place within European societies. Jewish scholarship was enlisted as a weapon in the battles for change. Thus, Isaac M. Jost wrote a general history of the Jews to promote Reform; Zunz's Gottesdienstliche Vorträge der Juden, historisch entwickelt (1832; "The Worship Sermons of the Jews, Historically Developed") served to legitimize the modern innovation of the sermon in the vernacular; and Abraham Geiger, the outstanding leader of German Reform in the 1840s and 1850s, interpreted the Pharisees as the forerunners of the reformers of his own day. In their work these intellectuals presented archetypes of what modern Jews should become. To support their claims of academic respectability, the Wissenschaft figures highlighted those aspects of the Jewish past that were closely integrated with general fields of study. In particular, Moritz Steinschneider, who owes his fame to towering achievements in bibliography, was concerned above all with the contribution of Jews to science, medicine, and mathematics. Nineteenth-century Jewish scholarship set out to praise Judaism as one of the cofounders of the Western tradition, and thus to argue that whenever the Jews were not excluded from European society they have produced great culture, and that they would repeat such accomplishments under conditions of social and political equality.

The Wissenschaft movement stimulated the critical study of the Jewish past, and great works of synthesis, written from a variety of perspectives, began to appear: Heinrich Graetz's multivolumed Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart (1853-75; History of the Jews), written from a romantic-national point of view; Isaac Halevy's Dorot ha-rishonim (1897-1932; "The First Generations") and Ze`ev Jawitz's Toldot Yisrael (1894; "History of Israel"), from an orthodox standpoint; and Simon Dubnow's Weltgeschichte des jüdischen Volkes (1925-29; "World History of the Jewish People"), reflecting his belief in secular, nationalistic communal autonomy. Since the 1920s this tradition of great synthesis has been carried on in the United States by Salo W. Baron, who by the early 1970s had produced 14 volumes of his Social and Religious History of the Jews (1952), and in Israel by Benzion Dinur, whose chief work was Yisrael ba-gola (3rd ed., 5 vol., 1961-66; "Israel in the Exile"). Many other first-rank scholars in Europe, Israel, and the United States have made notable contributions to the study of Jewish history, rabbinics, and mysticism. This great emphasis on historical research and knowledge from a wide variety of perspectives tended to propose veneration for the Jewish past as a substitute for waning religious faith.


Jewish-Christian relations in the 19th century, strained at best, often erupted into open conflict. Established Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular, staunch upholders of the old order, identified the Jews as the major beneficiaries of the French Revolution and as the bearers of a liberal, secular, anticlerical, and often revolutionary threat. Clerical anti-Semitism was thus in France allied with the anti-Semitism of the traditional right, and these movements contended with those who affirmed the results of the French Revolution in the great convulsion of the "Dreyfus affair" in the last years of the 19th century. In Russia the conflict of the Jews and the Orthodox Church released the most open and virulent manifestation of religious anti-Semitism. To the church, the Jews were the enemy seeking to undermine Russian Orthodoxy and the tsar, the very foundations of Russian tradition. The church and the tsarist authorities went so far as to condone, and even encourage, the violent pogroms that were perpetrated against the Jews in 1881-82 and again in 1905. Russian Orthodoxy was active as well in spreading the so-called blood libel, a superstitious belief in Jewish ritual murder which had reemerged even in the 19th century, in Damascus in 1840 (in which instance the French Consul in Syria initiated the accusation) and in Hungary in the Tiszaeszlár affair in 1882. In both cases torture was used to obtain false confessions but the accused were ultimately cleared. The most infamous recurrence of the blood libel in modern times, however, was the Beilis case of 1911-13, in which the tsarist government, with church complicity, sought unsuccessfully to convict a Jewish bookkeeper in Odessa of ritual murder. From Russian Orthodox circles, too, arose the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fraudulent documentation of an alleged international Jewish conspiracy to conquer the world by subverting the social order through Liberalism, Freemasonry, and other modern movements; the concoction appeared around the turn of the century and enjoyed a phenomenal success in anti-Semitic propaganda. In spite of the fact that much of modern anti-Semitism was not Christian but racial, pagan, and often left-wing, Jews have attributed even secular anti-Semitism to older Christian teachings, which they assert persisted as a case of time lag. In the 20th century Jews and Christians have moved toward mutual understanding. In the early decades of the century, some liberal Christian voices were raised against anti-Semitism; in the United States the National Conference of Christians and Jews was founded (1928) as a response to anti-Semitism propagated in Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent. Elements of the Church spoke out during the 1930s against the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but the majority of Christian religious figures in Europe remained silent, even during the Holocaust (near extermination of European Jews). In response to the Holocaust, however, the World Council of Churches denounced anti-Semitism in 1946, and in 1965 the Roman Catholic Church's Schema on the Jews and other non-Christian religions, adopted by the Second Vatican Council, revised its traditional attitude toward the Jews as the killers of Christ. A growing sense of ecumenism (of fellowship and common concerns) has been shared by Jews and Christians alike. Although there remain many difficulties related to the question of the place that Zionism and the State of Israel hold within Judaism, the older forms of official church anti-Semitism have radically lessened. (see also Index: World War II)


The most striking of the new phenomena in Jewish life is Zionism, which, insofar as it has focussed on the return to Zion (the poetic term for the Holy Land), is a re-echo of older religious themes. Insofar as it has stressed the national concentration of the Jews in a secular state, however, it is yet another example of the secularization of Jewish life and of Jewish messianism. In its secular aspects Zionism attempted to complete the emancipation of the Jews by transforming them into a nation like all other nations. Although it drew upon the general currents of 19th-century European nationalism, its major impetus came from the revival of a virulent form of racist anti-Semitism in the last decades of the 19th century, as noted above. Zionism reacted to anti-Semitic contentions that the Jews were aliens in European society and could never hope to be integrated into it in any numbers, and transformed this charge into a basic premise of a program of national regeneration and resettlement. Zionism has come to occupy roughly the same place in Jewish life as the "social gospel"--according to which the Kingdom of God is to be achieved in economic and social life--for Christians; the involvement in Israel as the new centre of Jewish energies, creativity, and renewal serves as the secular religion of many Diaspora Jews.


The story of Judaism in the United States is the story of several fresh beginnings. In the colonial period the style of the tiny American Jewish community was shaped by the earliest Sefardic immigrants; the community was officially Orthodox but, unlike European Jewish communities, was voluntaristic, and by the early 19th century there was a significant drift of the younger generation from Judaism. By the mid-19th century a new wave of central European immigrants revived the declining American Jewish community and remade it to serve its own needs. Primarily petty shopkeepers and traders, the new immigrants migrated westward, founding new Jewish centres which were almost entirely controlled by laymen. The exigencies of life on the frontier within an open society created a predisposition for religious reform, and it is significant that the greatest American Reform Jewish leader of the 19th century, Isaac Mayer Wise, was based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Wise sought to unite all of American Jewry in the new nontraditional institutions that he founded, Hebrew Union College (1875), the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1873), and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1889); but his ever more radical reforming spirit ultimately drove the traditionalist elements within the American Jewish community into opposition. The head of the traditionalist circles had been Isaac Leeser, a native of Germany, who had attempted to create an indigenous American community on the lines of a modernized traditionalism. Conservative forces, after his death, became disorganized, but in reaction to Reform they defined themselves by their attachment to the sabbath, the dietary laws, and especially to Hebrew as the language of prayer. Under the leadership of Sabato Morais, an Orthodox Jew of Italian birth, Conservative circles in 1886 founded a rabbinic seminary of their own, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The eastern European immigrants who moved in large numbers to the American shores in the years from 1881 to 1914 were profoundly different in culture and manners from the older elements of the American Jewish community, and it is they and their descendants who made American Judaism as it is today. The bridge between the existing Jewish community led by German Jews of Reform persuasion and the new immigrant masses was the traditionalist element among the older settlers. Cyrus Adler, traditionalist himself, cooperated with a German Reform circle of Jacob Schiff in reorganizing the Jewish Theological Seminary (1902) and other institutions for the purpose of Americanizing the eastern European immigrants. Enough eastern European rabbis and scholars had immigrated, however, to create their own synagogues, which reproduced the customs of the old world. Whereas in 1880 almost all of the 200 Jewish congregations in the United States were Reform, by 1890 there were 533 synagogues, and most of the new ones founded by immigrant groups were Orthodox. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, which was established in 1898 by elements associated with the Jewish Theological Seminary, was soon taken over by Yiddish-speaking recent immigrants for whom the seminary was much too liberal. In 1902 immigrant rabbis also formed their own body, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (the Agudath ha-Rabbanim), which fostered the creation of yeshivas (rabbinic academies) of the old type. In 1915 two small yeshivas, Etz Chaim and Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary, added Yeshiva College of secular studies in 1928, and became Yeshiva University in 1945. The eastern European Orthodox elements concentrated primarily on Jewish education and it was they who introduced the movement for Jewish day schools, analogous to Christian parochial schools. Gradually an American version of Orthodoxy developed on the Neo-Orthodox model of Samson Raphael Hirsch, which combined institutional separatism and cooperation with other Jewish groups in umbrella organizations.

The immigrants and their children had three desires; to upgrade themselves socially by joining older congregations or forming their own in an Americanized image; to affirm an unideological commitment to Jewish life; and to maintain their ties to the overseas Jewish communities of their origin. With their strong sense of Jewish peoplehood, they introduced Zionism into American Jewish life, and accepted the basic ideas of Mordecai Kaplan's Reconstructionism, which was committed to Zionism. A small group of anti-Zionists remained a significant force in the 1930s and 1940s, but their central organization, the American Council for Judaism, represented the descendants of earlier German-Jewish immigrants. The later immigrants took over all the earlier institutions of the Jewish community and imbued them with their own spirit.

American Jewish religious life is a continuum--from the most traditional Orthodoxy to the most radical Reconstructionism. In theory, all of the Orthodox groups agree on the revealed nature of all of Jewish law; for the Reform groups, the moral doctrine of Judaism is divine and its ritual law is man made; the Conservatives see Judaism as the working out in both areas of a divine revelation that is incarnate in a slowly changing human history; and the Reconstructionists (who include both Conservative and Reform Jews) view Judaism as the evolving civilization created by the Jewish people in the light of its highest conscience. What really marks the various bodies in the mind of the Jewish community is their difference in ritual practices, but the ritual variations shade from one group into the other. The role of the rabbi is substantially the same in all three groups; he is no longer a Talmudic scholar but a preacher, pastor, and administrator, a cross between a parish priest and the leader of an ethnic group. Although there was some cooperation among the three major Jewish denominations--Orthodoxy, Reform, and Conservatism--the real effort of organized Jewish religion in America in the late 20th century revolved around the individual synagogue and the denomination to which it belonged. As religious identification became increasingly respectable in American life, the Jews followed the American norm, affiliating in greater numbers with synagogues, though often for ethnic or social, rather than religious reasons.


Modernity came first to the Jewish people in Europe and it was, therefore, within the European context that representatives of important non-Ashkenazi communities such as the proto-Zionist Sefardi Judah ben Solomon Hai Alkalai of Sarajevo, the Luzzatto family in Italy, and Elijah ben Abraham Benamozegh in France, participated in variations of Jewish modernity. In England and France, more than in Germany or Russia, Wissenschaft des Judentums (see above Developments in scholarship ), with its enlightenment ideology, was the central focus of Jewish experience; there the "republic of scholarship" became the synagogue of the Jewish intelligentsia. In neither country did Reform Judaism gain a major foothold, for the Orthodox establishment, which remained the official synagogue, liberalized its synagogue practice while retaining its essentially conservative outlook. In Anglo-Jewish life in the last decades of the 19th century the two most pronounced modernist tendencies were Solomon Schechter's moderate romantic traditionalism and the "renewed Karaism" of Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore, whose version of religious reform was "back to the Bible."

Outside of Europe, in such places as South America and Canada, Jewish modernity appeared late, for European Jewry arrived in those places even later than in the United States, attaining a significant number only in the 20th century. These communities have been dependent on immigrant scholars and intellectuals for serious Jewish thought. Jews in the Arab lands, in North Africa and the Middle East, living within traditional societies, entered modernity even later than those on the peripheries of Europe. Many of them received their first introduction to the Western world in widespread schools set up by the Alliance Israélite Universelle (a Jewish defense organization centred in Paris), which combined Jewish education with the language and values of French civilization. Yet most of these communities remained traditionalist almost to the moment when they were expelled or felt compelled to relocate, since 1948, when the state of Israel was created. The ferment of modernity in all its forms is now being felt in their ranks. In Israel, which has received a large segment of Sefardic Jewry, the attention of these communities has turned to attaining equality with the more advanced Ashkenazim rather than developing some forms of modern Jewish thought.

Other groups that may be described as regional or ethnic include the Bene-Israel, descendants of Jewish settlers in the Bombay region of India, whose deviation in some Halakhic matters from the present Orthodox consensus has raised problems for those among them who have migrated to Israel; the Falashas, the Jewish community of Ethiopia whose development has been almost entirely outside the mainstream described in this article; and the Black Jews of the United States, whose place in, and relation to, the rest of the community remains unclear.


As a result of the Holocaust, Judaism has become a non-European religion; its three major centres, which together include more than three-fourths of world Jewry, are Israel, the Slavic region of the former Soviet Union, and the United States. Although Jews constitute only a small fraction of the population of the United States, Judaism occupies a role far surpassing its numerical importance and is regarded with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as one of the major American faiths. Similarly, in the international realm of Western religion, Judaism has been welcomed as a partner able to deal with other major religions as an equal on such issues as anti-Semitism, human rights, and world peace.

The rights and needs of the world Jewish community, including Israel, have triggered deep conflicts with which Judaism has been involved with the Arab and Communist worlds. Friction between Israel and the Arab states has created tension with Islam, while the political stand of Israel and the treatment of the Jewish minority within the erstwhile Soviet Union led to open clashes with the Communist leadership. Some of the diatribes and charges that have issued from the Arabs and Communists in this struggle have at times re-evoked older forms of anti-Semitism. In the long-range view, the problems of Judaism and Islam seem more soluble than those of Judaism and such secular ideologies as Communism, for the major religions of the world are increasingly seeking accommodation with each other, as all are confronted by hostile secularist ideologies which have retained their conversionary élan.

Within its own community Jewry is faced with the increasing secularization of Jewish identity in its three major centres, each in its own way. In the United States the open society and the melting pot ideologies of past generations have fostered among many Jews a sense of Jewish identity increasingly devoid of concrete religious, national, or historical content; in the former Soviet Union government policy from the 1930s had banned the teaching of Judaism and Jewish culture to the young and had severely discouraged any manifestation of Jewish identity as a sign of the disloyalty of "rootless cosmopolitans" to the Russian state; and in Israel a secular nationalism has taken root, raising questions as to the role that Judaism plays in the identity of the average Israeli. Nonetheless, underneath the external secularization there are signs of a persisting deep Jewish religious fervour, in which the sense of history, community, and personal authenticity figure as the intertwined strands of Jewish religious life, especially as it has been affected by the State of Israel. Some of the rituals of the Jewish tradition, especially the rites of passage at the crucial stages of individual existence, are almost universally observed; in the United States, for example, more than 80 percent of Jewish children receive some formal religious training. Among Jewish youth there is, in some circles, a quest for tradition. In the United States, Jewish communes have been established that seek new forms of Jewish expression; in Israel, groups such as Mevaqshe Derekh (Seekers of the Way) have tried to bridge secular Israeli culture and Jewish tradition and to maintain traditional Jewish ethical standards even in wartime; in Russia thousands of young people gather on several occasions of the year to dance and sing and express solidarity in front of the synagogues in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Still, signs of major weaknesses persist. The rate of intermarriage among Jews in the Diaspora increased, while regular synagogue attendance, at the very highest 20 percent in the United States, remained far below church attendance. Despite their lack of traditional piety, there is a general sense among Jews that they remain Jews not because of the force of anti-Semitism but because of the attractiveness of their tradition and their sense of a common history and destiny.

If in 1945, the world Jewish community, decimated and horrified by the Holocaust, felt in danger of disappearing, there appeared to be no such despair in the last quarter of the century when there was an expectation that Jewish communal feeling would remain strong, especially, for many or most Jews, in light of the existence of Israel. Judaism enjoyed a heightened dignity in the eyes of the world, not only because of the creation of the State of Israel, but also because of its close relations with other world religions. Although the recurring phenomenon of the alienation of young Jews from their tradition was troubling, it is no more so than in recent past generations. Along with other major religions, Judaism's most disturbing problem yet to be solved was how to deal with secular ideologies and the growth of secularism within its own ranks. Thus, at the end of the 20th century, it appeared that Judaism would have to contend with as many problems as other major religions, but that it faced them with no less confidence than these, and with more confidence than it had felt earlier in the century. ( Ar.H.)


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