Gene Expression

I’ve always been ill at ease with the term “Judeo-Christian.” As someone from a Muslim cultural background I was minimally familiar with the tenets and principles of the Islamic religion. As someone who was socialized with both Jews and Christians I was reasonably familiar with the outlines of both faiths. When my teachers wouldrefer to the “Judeo-Christian” tradition I simply felt that something was off. Talking to Jews about their religion it seemed, to me, to resemble Islam more than what the Christian children described. Additionally, on occasion my family would purchase kosher food because it was always halal. Unlike Christians both Muslims and Jews tend to avoid pork and circumcise (though Jews obviously have no problem with alcohol). As I grew up I had the experience multiple times of Jews, American and Israeli, attempt to establish a bond with me when first meeting me by emphasizing the relative similarity of Judaism and Islam as opposed to Christianity (the assumption being that I was Muslim). Simultaneously, in my reading I stumbled upon peculiar facts. For instance, while rabbis have long had debates about whether Christian churches are houses of idolatry (e.g., could Jews buy land from Christians and use a former church facility?), there was never any such concern about Muslim houses of worship, because Muslims were incontrovertibly monotheists who did not use images in their worship.

Recently I’ve been reading Essential Talmud by Adin Steinsaltz, as well as some extracts from the Talmud proper. The material I encountered has confirmed in my mind that empirically the term Judeo-Christian is a farce when it is juxtaposed against Islam (though not against a Dharmic religion). The mode of Talmudic casuistry has the same intellectual flavor as Islamic jurisprudence. Some religious scholars have emphasized that while Islam & Judaism are religions of orthopraxy, Christianity is one of orthodoxy. Roughly, Islam & Judaism are faiths where the details of belief once particular necessary preconditions are attained are less important than punctilious implementation of the law. In contrast, Christiantiy has a long history of abstruse theological controversies and debates. If the Abrahamic faiths can be viewed as a fusion between Semitic theism, religious legalism and Greek philosophical formalism, one can characterize Christianity as emphasizing the first and last elements, while Judaism & Islam put the focus on the first and second elements. Both Islam and Judaism did give rise to movements which attempted to inject Hellenistic philosophy into the religion early on in the development of the historic traditions; but both these attempts (the Mu’tazili school in Islam, and the Hellenistic variants of Judaism during the Greco-Roman period) failed in their overall project (some Jewish thinkers were suspicious even of Maimonides philosophical forays). In contrast, early on Christianity became de-Judaized and St. Paul established the precedent that gentile converts to Christianity did not have to follow Jewish law.

Of course these are broad generalizations, and cultures are not sealed into separate compartments. Certainly details of theology and belief are critical in distinguishing some esoteric Shia groups from the mainstream of Sunni Islam. Some Christians have also shifted back toward more Judaic customs, especially with the splintering of sects after the Reformation. But, there is one major issue in the American context which I think is important when it comes to the perception of a Judeo-Christian co-dominion, and that is the prominence of Reform Judaism. Reform Judaism is a relatively new movement which arose in 19th century Germany and has flourished in particular in the United States. According to the American Jewish Identity Survey the Reform movement is the largest group of religiously identified American Jews. A few years ago I read a book, One People, Two Worlds, which consisted of a discussion between a Reform & Orthodox rabbi. One interesting point that illustrates the chasm between the two groups is that the Orthodox rabbi kept complementing the Reform rabbi’s knowledge of the Hebrew Bible (similar to the Christian Old Testament), but, he encouraged him to study the Talmud and become “religious.” The issue here is that the Orthodox rabbi never truly could engage the Reform as a religious Jew, because to him religious Judaism is the historical tradition which emerged out of the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud and requires adherence to the Jewish law. Many Christians simply assume that Judaism is Christianity without the New Testament, that is, it is a religion based upon the Old Testament in the form of the Hebrew Bible (which differs a bit in the books and their order from the Christian version). For most of the past 2,000 years this was very incorrect insofar as Rabbinical Judaism, what we today term Orthodoxy, was grounded in an enormous corpus of commentary and exposition of the Oral Law which became the Talmud. For Jews to turn away from this legalism they would not have to just interpret the Hebrew Bible in a more allegorical fashion (so the 613 commandments aren’t literally intended or relevant anymore), they would have to do away with the relevance of the Talmud to Jewish life, when the fact is that that book has been central to Judaism from 500 CE to 1800 CE. Reform Jews to a great extent did just that, and some Reform revisionists contend that their tradition is a form of Judaism which is the heir to the practices of the Saducees or the Hellenistic Jews. In this way, they recast their tradition not as a diminishing of Judaism (e.g., the abolition of adherence to law) but the rebirth of an alternative tradition within the faith. There is another group today which is likely the heir to Hellenistic Judaism: Christianity. Rodney Stark in his The Rise of Christianity argues that Hellenistic Jews were the core of the early Christian Church.

And so there you have a way to make the term Judeo-Christian be more than propaganda, Reform Judaism like Christianity tends to reject legalism and ground its identity in a statement of creeds and principles of belief. Over the past century Reform has become more traditionally Jewish (e.g., in the 20th century they reaffirmed that the Jews were a nation, which they had rejected in the 19th), but it still remains distinct from Orthodoxy in its soft-pedaling of adherence to Jewish law. Reform Judaism arose in Germany during the 19th century when Jews were allowed into the mainstream of gentile society. It was an attempt to “normalize” Jews so that they were no longer a people apart, tearing away the separation which ritual law enacted (some Reform rabbis even rejected circumcision) and remaking Jews into a minor unitarian denomination with a culturally particular past. Ultimately Reform was a failure in Germany for obvious reasons (though intermarriage, conversion and secularization already took a large toll before the mass exodus and extermination of the community during the Nazi period), but it flourished in the United States as an avenue for the assimilation of eastern European Jews into the American cultural matrix. It allowed Jews to retain their religious distinctiveness without being bound to Jewish laws. One reason most Americans find the idea of Judeo-Christianity so plausible is that the Jews they encounter are disproportionately Reform or secular. To caricature it one could sum up the minimalist Judaism normative in the Untied States as mainline Christianity with the Son and the Holy Ghost subtracted. In contrast, it is in Orthodox Judaism that the similarities to Islam become stark as the legal dimension of the faith comes to the fore. Though Orthodox Judaism and Islam give due respect to their foundational written scriptures, the Hebrew Bible and the Koran, both are incomprehensible without consideration of the mass of commentary built around the original written law. In Judaism this would be the collection of writings which comprise the Talmud, and in Islam it would be the Hadiths. I predict that there is a strong chance that in this century we will see a “Reform Islam” coalesce in the West which is analogous to Reform Judaism, an adherence to a minimalist Koranically inspired religion which gives short-shrift to the relevance of the Hadiths in the modern world. In this way, there will be a dyad of Judeo-Christian-Islamic and Judeo-Islamic (there are legalistic movements in modern Christianity, but obviously unlike Islam or Judaism they are created de novo rather than looking back to a long history of commentary and precedent).

So where does that leave us with the term Judeo-Christian? Language is what you do with it. My own suspicion is that when people use the term Judeo-Christian they really mean Western, but Western is not a PC term for contemporary discourse. Haredi Jews are not truly part of the West the way Reform Jews are. And Reform Jews are of the West while Muslims are not, at least for now. The Sephardic Jews don’t have a Reform tradition because they did not crystallize in a Western cultural matrix. Since I tend to favor precision over expedience in language I generally challenge or confront friends or acquaintances who use the term Judeo-Christian in a manner which has inferential significance.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    June 24, 2007

    Archy wrote a good post about a year ago on this topic.

  2. #2 Roy
    June 24, 2007

    My understanding is the ‘Judeo-Christian’ is a code that means ‘Christian’ without attacking Judaism yet not accepting Judaism.

    If used by Mormoms, it means LDS. If used by Christian Scientists, it means CS. If used by Lutherans, it means Lutheran. And so on.

    It is something Christians use to refer to their own brand of Christianity without meaning to antagonize other brands, or infuriating Jews.

  3. #3 keil
    June 24, 2007

    Where would Mormons fit into this? They seem from the outside to be legalistic christians, but I haven’t studied it deeply yet. They have clothing laws, alcohol laws, sex and marriage laws, and probably many more.

  4. #4 razib
    June 24, 2007

    Where would Mormons fit into this? They seem from the outside to be legalistic christians, but I haven’t studied it deeply yet. They have clothing laws, alcohol laws, sex and marriage laws, and probably many more.

    the laws aren’t implemented in the same way that muslim and christian ones are. they’re pretty straightforward implementations of overall moral principles. many fudamentalist protestant groups have similar laws (especially in regards to alcohol). also, most christians don’t accept mormons as christians.

  5. #5 David Boxenhorn
    June 24, 2007

    Excellent post.

    The Christians that seem to be moving in the direction of Halakha/Shari’a are the Amish:

    Ordnung are the Amish rules of living. It is the German word for order, arrangement, organization, system. Every Amish church is its own governing authority and has its own set of rules; therefore, it follows its own Ordnung. Their lives are ordered by this code.

    These rules are largely unwritten. Because the Amish have no central church government, each community administers its own guidelines. The ‘plain’ folks, Amish, believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and the Ordnung is meant to make sure that members of the church live life following the Word of God. The Ordnung also contains a set of behavioral rules. A person is expected to live a simple life devoted to God, family and community according to God’s laws. Once a rule has been adopted, it is nearly impossible to have it rescinded or changed.

  6. #6 razib
    June 24, 2007

    Archy wrote a good post about a year ago on this topic.

    well, that captures part of the phenomenon, but please note that most of the people i encounter who use the term ‘judeo-christian’ are liberal atheists. historically it started becoming a usage in the 1950s when america reconceptualized itself as more than just a protestant nation, but a protestant-catholic-jewish nation. as such, different political and social groupings use the term in different ways. my main issue with the term judeo-christian is that it makes islam an ‘eastern’ outgroup, when the reality is that it isn’t that different. since islam is something we have to get a grips with in our current world i think the terminology here might need a revision. for a typical new yorker, i think understanding islam might be easier if they multiply satmar hasidism X 1000 numerically.

  7. #7 Ruchira
    June 24, 2007

    A few years ago, I heard author Cynthia Ozick go to great theological and historical contortions to prove that Judaism is in fact more similar to Christianity than to Islam. Wrong!

    The whole thing is a hoax and a vote getting ploy. Most conservative Jews and Christians, though they recognize the hoax, find the conflation convenient to serve the political ends of Zionism and the Christian right. As for the End of Days prophecy, the Jews don’t believe it will happen and the Christians believe that when it happens, it will take care of the Jews. So why not join forces now when there is a common enemy (the Muslims) to beat up on? Nothing like “the enemy of my enemy” line of political calculation to make newer and stranger bedfellows. Which is also perhaps why Islam and Judaism are similar in the first place. Christianity broke away from its parent faith of Judaism to assert its separate identity. Islam, as the third in line and wanting to improve on its immediate predecessor Christianity, atavistically harked back to the “older, purer” Judaic doctrines and practices to chart out its own theological path. Talk of “reactionary” mentalities at several levels.

    I have also heard that some fundamentalist Hindu groups are currently at great pains to emphasize the monotheistic nature of Hinduism so as to align themselves politically with the powerful Judeo-Christian coalition. What a laugh! Although technically, Hinduism is monotheistic at its core, to most Hindus what matters is not the unique and infinite Brahman but their personal / familial deity. And in any case, why this orgiastic pride in monotheism? What’s so great about it? If the notion of god itself is suspect (as it is to me and a host of others), how does it matter if superstition is concentrated on one supernatural power or its many million incarnations?

    I predict that there is a strong chance that in this century we will see a “Reform Islam” coalesce in the West which is analogous to Reform Judaism, an adherence to a minimalist Koranically inspired religion which gives short-shrift to the relevance of the Hadiths in the modern world.

    I hope so. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  8. #8 razib
    June 24, 2007

    And in any case, why this orgiastic pride in monotheism? What’s so great about it?

    when non-monotheistic groups are under islamic cultural domination they have to reformulate their religion as a monotheistic religion for the sake of survival. zoroastrianism has deemphasized its dualist dimension for this very reason. in indonesia buddhism and hinduism are both monotheistic religions, because monotheistic is incumbent under the pancasila ideology dominant in that nation.

    I hope so. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    i can give you some sects who i think come close to this already. some of the alevis and alawites traditionally didn’t put too much of an emphasis on ritual prescription. the key is that in the muslim world these groups are heretical. in judaism the analogy would be with the karaites, who reject the talmud, and were reviled by rabbnical jews. but once the united states the rabbnical authorities couldn’t control these deviations and what is in many ways karaitism in a more liberal and modern form, reform, dominates the religious scene.

  9. #9 razib
    June 24, 2007

    As for the End of Days prophecy, the Jews don’t believe it will happen and the Christians believe that when it happens, it will take care of the Jews.

    and just to be clear, there is a lot of variation on this. reform jews reject the literal coming of the messiah. orthodox jews do not.

  10. #10 Ruchira
    June 24, 2007

    and just to be clear, there is a lot of variation on this. reform jews reject the literal coming of the messiah. orthodox jews do not.

    Yup. Only the Jewish version of coming of the Messiah does not include mass slaughter of Jews. I was differentiating between the Jewish wait for the Messiah and the second coming of Christ.

    BTW. Unlike fundamentalist and the “Left Behind” Christians, the Jews are much more relaxed about the literal meaning of the coming of the Messiah. I read a joke which goes something like this.

    “In a little shtetl in eastern Europe, the village gatekeeper was entrusted with the job of raising the alarm when the Messiah was on his way. For his vigil he was paid two kopeks a month as salary. Someone asked him how he could be satisfied with such a low paying job. The gatekeeper answered, “The pay may be low. But think of the job security!”

  11. #11 Alan
    June 24, 2007

    Razib –

    You’re probably way too young, but when I was kid (way back in the 60s). I NEVER heard the term Judeo-Christian heritage or Judeo-Christian values, etc. It was always Christian – full stop. “Our values as Christian nation” “Our Christian heritage” etc, etc. It was almost entirely used as a substitute for “Western” but, I think the subtext was that one used the term “Christian” instead of “Western” to refer not only “Christian” values which implied tolerance, forgiveness, ‘turning other cheek,’ kind of stuff which were implicitly Christian and not Judaic, but also as a subtle dig to remind Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc that although we were a secular nation, certain national touchstones were completely Christian in orientation – take it or leave it.

    I really don’t recall the introduction of Judeo-Christian until the late 70s, and I always thought it was a politically correct sop to the Jews, or promoted as a ‘me too!, me too!’ effort on the part of Jewish Americans.

    As a secular American (who loathes any religion on principle), I always bridle at the term, but I can see and accept the historical antecedants. No one in the 1920s would have batted an eye at the term “Our Christian heritage.” But today, I think there’d be plenty of people today ready to take the poor soul to task who forgets the “Judeo-” suffix when using the term. Certainly no politician would dare – it would be political suicide.

    I think the term should be viewed as an historic artifact. I loathe political correctness almost as much as I loathe religion. So while I see nothing wrong with “Our Christian values” when I’d much prefer “Our Western values” I also hate the contrived “Common Era” and “BCE” instead of AD and BC. Why throw out our historical, dare I say, “Christian heritage” just for touchy-feely political correctness? I’m not a Christian, but I’m not offended by AD and BC. Are any other Atheists, Jews, Hindus, of Muslims offended by those designations?

  12. #12 ian so
    June 24, 2007

    Alan

    i am sur I can remember hearing Judeo-Christian being used in the late 50’s. For some reason I always associated it with Eisenhauer.

  13. #13 John
    June 24, 2007

    Wouldn’t part of the christian comfort with this term be from the fact that the christian bible contains the old testament? The koran is a completely separate work so I’d think most christians don’t see any connection to that. From what I’ve seen most christians see christianity as a continuation of the historical, pre-Jesus jewish religion.

  14. #14 TGGP
    June 24, 2007

    I agree with the CE/AD point Alan made.

    Mencius Moldbug (whose father was jewish, but is himself an atheist) has some good posts and comments on the “Protestantizing” of Judaism and Catholicism in America.
    http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/06/why-i-am-not-anti-semite.html

  15. #15 razib
    June 24, 2007

    For some reason I always associated it with Eisenhauer.

    he said something to the effect that it doesn’t matter wut god you believe in so long as you believe in god. it was during the ike’s time that the mainline protestant-catholic-jewish normative character of american culture started to become crystallized. the anti-catholic sentiments during JFK’s run was probably the last big push for a protestant america along the elites.

    Wouldn’t part of the christian comfort with this term be from the fact that the christian bible contains the old testament? The koran is a completely separate work so I’d think most christians don’t see any connection to that. From what I’ve seen most christians see christianity as a continuation of the historical, pre-Jesus jewish religion

    the koran has fragments and garblings of jewish & christian narrative elements. but, in any case, xtians who lived cheek-by-jowl with muslims were totally at least with describing islam not as a heathen faith, but a heresy. this was a common byzantine view, and the last of the church fathers, john of damascus (who lived under the ummayyads and was a minister in their gov.) viewed it in this light. additionally, the old testament does encapsulate the pre-jesus jewish religion, or at least one strain of it. but judaism is not a fossil, and in its talmudic form which was judaism qua judaism between the 6th and 19th centuries it was far different from the religion which christianity looked back to. so that is my problem with judeo-christian as christians imagine it, it doesn’t really characterize judaism properly. and, it serves to block analogies which can be made between rabbnical judaism and islam which can allow one to conceptualize the latter more accurately. obviously most christians don’t know much about orthodox judaism, but a substantial number know far more about it than they do about islam.

  16. #16 David B
    June 25, 2007

    As another ‘oldie’, I agree with Alan that ‘judeochristian’ is comparatively recent, at least in popular usage. It may have started out in more academic circles, to emphasise the differences between ancient Pagan morality and ‘our’ Christian morality. In Victorian times, with thinkers like Ruskin and Matthew Arnold, there was a big issue about how much we owe to the Jews as against the Greeks and Romans. Likewise with Nietzsche, except that he was all for the old Pagans!

  17. #17 David B
    June 25, 2007

    …just to be clear, I may be an ‘oldie’, but I wasn’t atually around in Victorian times!

  18. #18 Melinda Barton
    June 25, 2007

    As a practicing Reform Jew, I agree with you that Judeo-Christian is disingenuous. The arguments of the Orthodox aside (who often assert that we’re not even Jews), Reform Judaism is far more complicated than you realize. Some Reform communities are far more traditional than others in the way they practice. Also, Reform Judaism allows each individual to decide what level of practice is best for them personally and allows no compunction or hierarchical force. Yes, we have a lot of Reform Jews who are almost entirely non-observant, but you also have ones that eat kosher, keep the sabbath, perform the mikvah, study Talmud, etc. BY CHOICE rather than under threat of exclusion from the community.

    I also agree that Judaism and Islam are far more similar than either is with Christianity. I personally think a Reform Islam is not far off, especially when you consider the very secular form of Islam practiced in Turkey and the rising tide of Muslims who are attempting to reform the faith rather than abandon it wholesale, some of them basing their ideas for reform on ancient practices that fell out of use. Irshad Manji’s itjihad ideas have been pretty well received by far more Muslims than most people realize, since the focus is predominantly on the many Muslims who want her dead. I think there’s hope there.

  19. #19 oljb
    June 25, 2007

    What do you think about the catechism within Catholicism as a parallel to the Talmud? In that sense, Protestantism generally would seem to be more similar to Reform Judaism. Catholics tend to not take Protestant theology seriously because it is outside the tradition of religious authority to which the former links the relevance of the Bible in the first place. Seems similar to the dynamic you mentioned in the anecdote with the Orthodox Rabbai entreating the Reform Rabbai to study the Talmud.

  20. #20 razib
    June 25, 2007

    What do you think about the catechism within Catholicism as a parallel to the Talmud?

    the catechism is an exposition of doctrine. the talmud is an enormous commentary which has a disproportionate focus on topics relating to religious ritual. all catholics should know the catechism, it is that accessible. very few jews master the whole talmud.

    The arguments of the Orthodox aside (who often assert that we’re not even Jews)

    i think the orthodox assert you are not religious jews (though they would reject those who converted or whose fathers are jewish but not the mothers as well).

    Also, Reform Judaism allows each individual to decide what level of practice is best for them personally and allows no compunction or hierarchical force. Yes, we have a lot of Reform Jews who are almost entirely non-observant, but you also have ones that eat kosher, keep the sabbath, perform the mikvah, study Talmud, etc.

    hm. not to be a smart ass, but there is variation amongst christians too in the adherence to jewish law too. ‘judaizing’ has been a recurrent feature of christianity throughout history as a heresy.

  21. #21 Melinda Barton
    June 25, 2007

    Actually, many Orthodox Jews do not consider Reform Judaism part of Judaism period. While they acknowledge “ethnic” Jewishness to some extent, they would reject the idea that Reform Jews have a right as Jews to perform the mitzvot. Some even refer to us as “Christians” which is pure ignorance since Christianity requires, at minimum, belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah, something no Reform Jew believes.

    As for the last part, there’s a huge difference between Jews practicing a vital part of their cultural and religious heritage and Christians taking on something that is foreign to their cultural and religious heritage and was specifically rejected by Christianity within decades of its formation. The equivalent is arguing that New Age hipsters wearing mendi is the same as Hindu women wearing it.

  22. #22 j mct
    June 25, 2007

    I’d agree with Razib here, and I’d also agree that Judeo Christian is a term that was basically invented after the Holocaust by Christians who wanted to be nice to or reassure Jews and by Jews saying that they count too. I don’t think that this is necessarily bad even if it’s not really correct.

    I’d also agree about the Torah Law and Sharia. I’m not an expert about the rationale for Sharia, but per the Torah, God gave Moses something akin to a complete guide to living, as in what does one do if one catches adulters to what one should do if one accidently kills one’s neighbor’s sheep. Jesus, or Paul if one is a bit of a conspiricist, comes along and throws the whole thing out and replaces it with three rules, love God, your neighbor and oneself. What does this mean in practice? As to loving God, see loving one’s neighbor. Past that the Bible gives a few non comprehensive examples like the parable of the good Samaritan, but it’s almost as if Jesus were saying, “I gave you a mind, use the da.., err, blessed thing”.

    What does one do if one loves one neighbor? One does something that contributes to his well being. Where does human well being lie? Lots to think about, and the Greeks of antiquity thought long and hard about it and came up with the answer ‘virtue’, virtue is the best thing a man can have, more valuable than money or noble birth. A virtue is a personality characteristic, the traditional Greek ones being Fortitude, Wisdom, Temperance and Justice. The Christians got rid of Justice, which meant that one treated noblemen like nobleman and slaves like slaves, and replaced it with Gratitude, and added Faith, Hope, and Charity. Charity, love of one’s neighbor might be thought to clash with one’s pursuit of one’s own virtue, but Christians said being charitable is just as important as being wise say, therefore they don’t clash. One can argue with the particulars of the specific answers to the ‘where and in what human well being one’s own and others, lies’, but thinking that is morality itself is Christian, though not exclusively Christian. The difference between a Christian and and ancient enlightened pagan was one of emphasis, Plutarch says “be virtuous” and gives examples to emulate, the Christian says “don’t be a sinner”, sort of like the glass half empty versus the glass half full as it were.

    Christianity dispenses with answers from revealed religion concerning the particulars of morality or human well being and forces men to think about it, just like an enlightened pagan, which they do with varying degrees of efficiency. I’d like to point out that the Catechism is ‘what the Church currently thinks best’ at least taken as a whole, it’s not Gospel, one can argue with it and still be a good Catholic. I’d say this is critical to understanding ‘modernity’ as it were.

    Razib understands Islam better than I ever will, but it seems to me that conflating the Torah and Sharia is correct. It seems the big difference is that it’s easy to become a Muslim, but harder to stop, and vice versa for Judaism.

    Also, taking into account my non comprehensive knowledge of Islam into account, when some people say chit chat about what’s wrong with Islam and what needs to change about it to make it “modern”, some say Islam needs a Martin Luther and some say a Pope, I’d say it needs something bigger than that. Maybe that 12th Imam guy that some Iranians seem to be waiting for will show up at the execution of teenage rape victim about to be hanged for adultery and say something like “Let he who is without sin hoist her up”, and then everyone walks away, he makes it stick.

  23. #23 razib
    June 25, 2007

    .Actually, many Orthodox Jews do not consider Reform Judaism part of Judaism period. While they acknowledge “ethnic” Jewishness to some extent, they would reject the idea that Reform Jews have a right as Jews to perform the mitzvot. Some even refer to us as “Christians” which is pure ignorance since Christianity requires, at minimum, belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah, something no Reform Jew believes.

    well, part of it is likely that many of the reform innovations seemed ‘protestant.’ i’ve talked to atheist jews who are uncomfortable in many reform temples because they feel like they’re in a christian church. so the christian insult is probably due to the ‘smells and bells’ aspect than doctrine.

    As for the last part, there’s a huge difference between Jews practicing a vital part of their cultural and religious heritage and Christians taking on something that is foreign to their cultural and religious heritage and was specifically rejected by Christianity within decades of its formation. The equivalent is arguing that New Age hipsters wearing mendi is the same as Hindu women wearing it.

    this is true, but of course judaizers as a culture can feel that their judaizing is “authentic” and part of their heritage. there is a hypothesis that the beta israel originate from this sort of culture (the ethiopian orthodox church is already relative ‘hebraic’ as christians go). genetically they don’t show signatures of close relationship with others jews (which the bene israel of india do).

  24. #24 Melinda Barton
    June 25, 2007

    Beta Israel, according to both the Sefardi Chief Rabbi and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, are legitimate descendents of the lost tribes. Although, there is some evidence that they’re actually converts to Judaism since they don’t share Y chromosome DNA with other Jews except a few Yemeni Jews. Either way, a full conversion to Jewish tradition is different from grafting Jewish traditions onto Christianity.

    As for smells and bells, I’ve never been in a Reform synagogue that had that particular tradition, not that they don’t exist. As I said, there’s a lot of diversity. Some Reform synagogues are virtually indistinguishable from Conservative synagogues, for instance. Many of the more “protestant-seeming” practices have been subsequently rejected by much of the Reform movement, which felt these practices went too far in the wrong direction.

  25. #25 razib
    June 25, 2007

    Beta Israel, according to both the Sefardi Chief Rabbi and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, are legitimate descendents of the lost tribes. Although, there is some evidence that they’re actually converts to Judaism since they don’t share Y chromosome DNA with other Jews except a few Yemeni Jews. Either way, a full conversion to Jewish tradition is different from grafting Jewish traditions onto Christianity.

    well, the descent from the lost tribes is almost certainly made up. at least non-trivial descent (most of the world’s population likely has some hebrew line of descent within the last 3,000 years). the genes are pretty clear on this (just as they have ‘validated’ the likely non-trivial jewish ancestry of other groups such as the bene israel & askhenazi despite a great deal of intermarriage and genetic absorption into the local substrate populations. see here). but as for ‘jewish traditions,’ operationally you make a valid point. but, i am simply bringing into question the very act of separating non-jew and jew in a definitive manner. after all, that’s what rabbinical jews descended from the pharisees do with the reform, any acceptance of the possibility of innovation or revision is marked off as ‘non-jew.’ you, as an identified jew, maybe clear who is and isn’t a jew, but as a non-jew it isn’t so cut & dried. why should i accept your opinion when the orthodox deem you non-jewish in terms of religion? the definition of ‘jewish’ and ‘christian’ and ‘pagan,’ etc. has fuzzy boundaries. there is a quantitative difference and personally it is obvious that the variation shows general trends, but from an instrumental perspective i think as a non-jew i feel there is a lot of utility in viewing reform as a jewish derived religious tradition which hybridizes aspects rabbinical judaism with christian ideas of how believers should relate to the world around them. just as makes sense to consider orthodox judaism as a jewish derived tradition which hybridized with ideas derived from zoroastrianism and hellenistic religious concepts. with that it mind, that is why i am a bit reluctant to dismiss judaizers as somehow inauthentic, because i think they are doing what jews themselves have always done.

  26. #26 Melinda Barton
    June 25, 2007

    The problem with the DNA tests is that we have good info on groups from 2 tribes: Benjamin and Judah. We don’t know for certain what kind of DNA markers were shared between those 2 and the other 10. I think the lost tribes story is a bit suspicious myself, but they have at least fully converted to Judaism.

    You’re correct that it is very difficult to determine the line between Jew and Non-Jew in that one can be ethnically, culturally, and/or religiously Jewish. Jewish atheists are still Jewish. However, it’s easy to draw the line between Jews (by religion) and Christians and pagans. I think hybridizing Jewish traditions onto Christianity is a bit suspect considering that the fundamental tenets of Christianity from its earliest formal incarnation (under Paul of Tarsus) specifically rejected the traditions and the concepts of orthopraxy. I don’t condemn someone who thinks this makes Christianity more fulfilling for them, but I think there is simply a difference between someone a.) practicing cultural traditions passed on through one’s ethnic group, b.) practicing religious traditions passed explicitly through one’s religion and required fundamentally by one’s religion and c.) claiming traditions that conflict with one’s religious traditions. Orthopraxy and Orthodox conflict in this way.

  27. #27 razib
    June 25, 2007

    The problem with the DNA tests is that we have good info on groups from 2 tribes: Benjamin and Judah. We don’t know for certain what kind of DNA markers were shared between those 2 and the other 10. I think the lost tribes story is a bit suspicious myself, but they have at least fully converted to Judaism.

    we have a good sense based on the genetic distances between near eastern populations. the beta israel are related to their genetic neighbors, and they don’t show much genetic difference. this doesn’t rule out distant ancestry (like i said, 3,000 years is enough time for everyone in the old world to be descended from aaron), but it does make it highly unlikely that the beta israel are descended from a near eastern population. to use an analogy, if a chinese jews (who were resident kaifeng) were still extant and claimed they were descended from a jewish tribe (say dan), and it was found though they were genetically different from sephardic and ashkenazi jews, but were somewhat related in other near eastern related groups, one could hypothesize that this is simply the byproduct of population substructure in the ancient jewish communities. it is almost certain that the jews emerged predominantly from caananite antecedents. no matter their variation they were a west asian levantine people. the beta israel don’t show this. as you say, they are accepted as jews, whether convert or not, so that’s a moot point from the jewish perspective. but not from mine ;-)

    However, it’s easy to draw the line between Jews (by religion) and Christians and pagans.

    the ease of drawing lines is partly contingent on the religious environment. after the 4th century and until the 19th it as pretty easy to say who was jewish or not jewish in the western world. there were rabbnical jews, and there were non-jews, with oddballs like the karaites here and there. before the 4th century there was more diversity within the jewish community. and today there is more diversity.

  28. #28 qalam
    June 25, 2007

    The term “Judaeo-Christian” became popular after World War II as a way of suggesting the historical relationship between the two religions (since Chrisitanity began as a Jewish sect) and referring to the common values held by both communities, especially the role of the Ten Commandments.

    Wikipedia gives a succinct history of the term:

    ===========beginning of citation============
    The first-known uses of the terms “Judaeo-Christian” and “Judaeo-Christianity”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are 1899 and 1910 respectively, but both were discussing the emergence of Christianity from Judaism. The term was first used with its current meaning in 1938, and was then used during World War II to as an alternative to using the term ‘Christian civilization’ in light of Hitler’s attacks on Jews and Judaism. Some argue that the term was invented in the United States in an attempt to create a non-denominational religious consensus or civil religion that, by embracing Judaism, avoided the appearance of anti-Semitism. The term is now commonly used in popular culture as a shorthand for the predominant religious influences upon Western culture.
    =============end of citation============

    In the historical continuum sense, a more correct term would be “Greco-Romano-Judaeo-Christian”!

  29. #29 Melinda Barton
    June 26, 2007

    You make a good point with the DNA. I’m going to assume you probably know more about population DNA testing than I do. Like I said, it seems suspicious to me, but I have tried to reserve judgment simply b/c my knowledge of population DNA testing and its implications is rather limited. Although I’d point out that some historians think the early Jews were actually a conglomeration of tribes that weren’t necessarily genetically related (despite what the Torah may say), so there’s always the outside chance (a slim one, I’d think) that the beta israel are Jews in that sense.

    What I meant by it being easy to discern the difference religiously is this. Judaism (whatever its form) requires, at minimum, accepting the oneness of the deity and the impossibility of that deity residing within a finite physical body. (I’ll refer you to Maimonedes 13 points.) Christianity, at minimum, requires acceptance of Jesus as THE Messiah and as having risen either bodily or spiritually from death. (There’s actually more than one Messiah in Judaism.) Historically, it implied accepting him as divine in some sense, although what it meant for him to be divine has been a bone of contention since the earliest days of the religion. Pagan is far more difficult to define as it is generally a subjective term used by religious groups to describe the outgroup, much as atheist was once used. However, some of my friends identify as pagan and they define it to refer to followers of natural, earth-based religions like Druidism and Wicca. (I’ll have to accept their definition here.)

    It’s definitely difficult when you’re dealing with the kind of religious diversity we have today, but I think we can usually establish some minimum requirement of belief and/or practice to distinguish certain groups.

    For instance, messianic Jews would still be Jews ethnically/culturally but would no longer be Jewish religiously as they accept the embodiment of the deity. Jewish atheists fall under that as well, since they reject the concept of a deity.

  30. #30 Simon Seamount
    June 26, 2007

    Since all these religious traditions originally flow from Abraham, I consider myself an Abramist, and respect and value the texts, laws, rituals, traditions, prophets and leaders that include all the various branches and groups of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

  31. #31 razib
    June 26, 2007

    Although I’d point out that some historians think the early Jews were actually a conglomeration of tribes that weren’t necessarily genetically related (despite what the Torah may say), so there’s always the outside chance (a slim one, I’d think) that the beta israel are Jews in that sense.

    sure. there is conjecture that the tribe of dan (the “danaans”?) were assimilated philistines (ergo, aegean greeks). the hebrews were almost certainly a diverse people, but the probability is that that diversity was as a near eastern people. not as a multiracial coalition.

    What I meant by it being easy to discern the difference religiously is this. Judaism (whatever its form) requires, at minimum, accepting the oneness of the deity and the impossibility of that deity residing within a finite physical body. (I’ll refer you to Maimonedes 13 points.) Christianity, at minimum, requires acceptance of Jesus as THE Messiah and as having risen either bodily or spiritually from death. (There’s actually more than one Messiah in Judaism.)

    this is an entirely defensible point. i won’t push this point further, just offer that a lot of the issues i have here aren’t my own perceptions (i’m pretty neutral on who is who), but my caution about rejecting the self-perception of others. and people often have a hard time agreeing on broad points or principles.

  32. #32 Melinda Barton
    June 27, 2007

    Great point. Actually, it’s one I’ve argued many times in the past. Although we all apply labels to ourselves, our meanings for those labels are so diverse as to make some labels almost completely meaningless.

    I’ve greatly enjoyed the back and forth with you. Reasoned debate is becoming all too rare in the blogosphere.

  33. #33 razib
    June 27, 2007

    I’ve greatly enjoyed the back and forth with you. Reasoned debate is becoming all too rare in the blogosphere.

    thanks. i appreciated your insights.

  34. #34 Ruchira
    June 28, 2007

    In the context of “labels,” those that we put on ourselves and the ones that we get tagged with, I highly recommend Amin Maalouf’s slim but insightful volume, “In The Name of Identity.”

  35. #35 Gabriel
    January 14, 2009

    “According to the American Jewish Identity Survey the Reform movement is the largest group of religiously identified American Jews. A few years ago I read a book, One People, Two Worlds, which consisted of a discussion between a Reform & Orthodox rabbi. One interesting point that illustrates the chasm between the two groups is that the Orthodox rabbi kept complementing the Reform rabbi’s knowledge of the Hebrew Bible (similar to the Christian Old Testament), but, he encouraged him to study the Talmud and become “religious.” ”

    Though you are not a million miles away from the truth, you should know that the shift of attention away from the Tanach among orthodox Jewry is actually a product of the 19th century. It’s a very sad development and there are Orthodox Jews who want to reverse this by introducing “Nach Yomi” to complement “Daf Yomi” (i.e. a daily study of prophets and other writings in addition to Talmud.

    You should be aware that it is simply not the case that the scriptures have had the role in Rabbinic Judaism for the last millenium and a half that you claim. Even at the real low point of interest about 40 years ago, daily reading of the psalms normative; indeed ,the first half of the obligatory morning prayer consists of psalms and some other scriptural passages. Of course, study of the Five Books of Moses has always been the basis of Rabbinic Judaims and is so today. Talmud is for the relatively clever kids.

    Roman Catholicism also has an authorative tradition that tells RCs how bits of scripture should and should not be interpreted. Does it differ in kind from the Jewish one? Yes. Does it differ as much as you imply? No.

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