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Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism (Hebrew: "Yahadut Rabanit" - יהדות רבנית) has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud. Rabbinic Judaism became the predominant stream within the Jewish diaspora between the 2nd to 6th centuries, with the redaction of the oral law and the Talmud as the authoritative interpretation of Jewish scripture and to encourage the practice of Judaism in the absence of Temple sacrifice and other practices no longer possible. Rabbinic Judaism is based on the belief that at Mount Sinai, Moses received directly from God the Torah (Pentateuch) as well as additional oral explanation of the revelation, the "oral law," that was transmitted by Moses to the people in oral form.

Mainstream Rabbinic Judaism contrasts with Karaite Judaism, which does not recognize the oral law as a divine authority, and the Rabbinic procedures used to interpret Jewish scripture. Although there are now profound differences among Jewish denominations of Rabbinic Judaism with respect to the binding force of halakha and the willingness to challenge preceding interpretations, all identify themselves as coming from the tradition of the oral law and the Rabbinic method of analysis. It is this which distinguishes them as Rabbinic Jews, in comparison to Karaite Judaism.

BackgroundEdit

In keeping with the commandments of the Torah, Judaism had centered tightly on religious practice and sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. However, after the destruction of the Temple, Jews were deprived of a central place of worship and religious activity, were unable to fulfill the temple-related practices mandated in the Tanakh, and were scattered around the world.

Written and oral lawEdit

The feature which distinguished Rabbinic Judaism has been the emphasis placed on the Oral Law or Oral Torah. The authority for that position has been the insistence by the Rabbis that the oral law was transmitted to Moses at Mount Sinai at the same time as the written law, the Torah, and that the oral law has been transmitted from generation to generation since. The Talmud is said to be a codification of the oral law, and is thereby just as binding as the Torah itself. As an example, in Exodus 18 and Numbers 11 of the Bible is cited to show that Moses appointed elders to govern with him and to judge disputes, imparting to them details and guidance of how to interpret the revelations from God while carrying out their duties.

The central conception distinguishing Rabbinic Judaism from all other conceptions of Judaism, past and present, is the belief in the myth of Moses as "our rabbi," and the conception that when God—also conceived in the model of the rabbi—revealed the Torah to Moses, he gave Torah in two parts, one in writing, the other as tradition handed on orally. The tradition handed on orally is now contained in the Mishnah and its cognate literature, Tosefta, Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, the various Midrashim, and the like. Accordingly, at the center of Rabbinic Judaism are the concept of the dual Torah and the fundamental conviction that the written Torah is not the whole record of revelation.[1]

Development of Rabbinic JudaismEdit

Main article: Origins of Rabbinic Judaism

The term "rabbanism" appears to be assigned largely by non-Jews to a portion of Jewish history to imply the dominance of rabbis in the religious and national life of Jews in Post-Destruction Israel and beyond in the 1st century CE. There are indications that "rabbinic" activity predates this period by at least 1,000 years. Moses, himself was always referred to as "Moshe Rabbeinu - Moses our Rabbi/Teacher". The Torah even provides an example of Moses' own officiating among the masses while rules were still being worked out in the desert for various issues. The Torah itself requires, as a commandment, future generations to seek advice from its leaders at any future time (i.e., those who know the Law). The Talmud records prior rabbinic deliberations during the time of King Solomon, where laws of eruvim (public/non-public enclosures relating to Sabbath observance) were decided based on application of the oral law around 900 BCE. Subsequent Sanhedrins codified the Hebrew canon (though the book of Esther) as early 350 BCE, baselined modes of communal prayers, etc., even while in Babylonian exile. Sanhedrins were effectively rabbinic judicial bodies. It may be that the focus of secular views of the Post-Destruction period of Judaism are colored by a perceived parallelism in the development of the early Church in the 1st century CE, and there was a need to somehow make Judaism no more than an equivalent new "religious" form and in some way less authentic to "biblical" Judaism, rather than a continuation of an old religion - as the Romans themselves saw it. Properly understood, "rabbanism" is an adaption of "biblical" Judaism not so much to new modes of religious thought, but to altered political and social circumstances brought on by the political chnages wrought by brutal Roman oppression and the Jewish exile from their homeland. That required new applications of old Law to new circumstances, sans Temple, Sanhedrin and King. Thus the real innovation of "rabbanism" is the making of the religion of a landed people and nation portable in new found circumstances during the exile. Such was the object of Yochanan ben Zakkai and his court in the 1st century CE. Recent archaeolgical evidence seems to show even the development of "synagogues" originated by the extension of existing social-cultural forms of the Beit Kennesset - "house of assembly" - where Jews met to study and pray during the day in local villages even when the Temple stood. This instituion itself predates even the Babylonian exile and proliferated during that exile and became the inheritor of the organizational form post-destruction.

As the Rabbis were required to face a new reality—mainly Judaism without a Temple (to serve as the center of teaching and study) and Judea without autonomy—there was a flurry of legal discourse and the old system of oral scholarship could not be maintained. It is during this period that Rabbinic discourse began to be recorded in writing.[2] The theory that the destruction of the Temple and subsequent upheaval led to the committing of Oral Law into writing was first explained in the Epistle of Sherira Gaon and often repeated.[3]

The oral law was subsequently codified in the Mishna and Gemarah, and is interpreted in Rabbinic literature detailing subsequent rabbinic decisions and writings. Rabbinic Jewish literature is predicated on the belief that the Written Law cannot be properly understood without recourse to the Oral Law (the Mishnah).

Much Rabbinic Jewish literature concerns specifying what behavior is sanctioned by the law; this body of interpretations is called halakha (the way).

Modern developmentsEdit

Until the Jewish enlightenment of the late 18th century, and the resulting division of Ashkenazi Jewry into religious movements or denominations, especially in North America and anglophone countries, halakha had the universal status of required religious practice. This remains the prevailing position among Orthodox and Conservative Jews. Reform Jews do not generally treat halakha as binding.

NotesEdit

  1. EARLY RABBINIC JUDAISM – HISTORICAL STUDIES IN RELIGION, LITERATURE AND ART BY JACOB NEUSNER LEIDEN E. J. BRILL 1975
  2. See, Strack, Hermann, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, Jewish Publication Society, 1945. pp. 11-12. "[The Oral Law] was handed down by word of mouth during a long period...The first attempts to write down the traditional matter, there is reason to believe, date from the first half of the second post-Christian century." Strack theorizes that the growth of a Christian canon (the New Testament) was a factor that influenced the Rabbis to record the oral law in writing.
  3. See, for example, Grayzel, A History of the Jews, Penguin Books, 1984, p. 193.

See alsoEdit

Rabbinical Eras


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