Source of Jewish Theology


Christians do not have theologians that create separate interpretations of the Bible and codify what it means to the general population. However, over the many centuries before and since Christ Jewish rabbis tried to maintain an application of the Law since Mount Sinai.

Halakhah, (Hebrew: “the Way”) also spelled Halakha, Halakah, or Halachah, plural Halakhahs, Halakhot, Halakhoth, or Halachot, in Judaism, the totality of laws and ordinances that have evolved since biblical times to regulate religious observances and the daily life and conduct of the Jewish people. Quite distinct from the Law, or the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), Halakhah purports to preserve and represent oral traditions stemming from the revelation on Mount Sinai or evolved on the basis of it. The legalistic nature of Halakhah also sets it apart from those parts of rabbinic, or Talmudic, literature that include history, fables, and ethical teachings (Haggada). That Halakhah existed from ancient times is confirmed from nonpentateuchal passages of the Bible, where, for example, servitude is mentioned as a legitimate penalty for unpaid debts (2 Kings 4:1).

Oral traditions concerning Jewish law passed from generation to generation, and eventually it became apparent that they required organization. The work of gathering opinions and interpretations was begun by Rabbi Akiba in the 1st–2nd century CE and carried on by his disciples, such as Rabbi Meïr. Early in the 3rd century this new compilation, the Mishna, was complete, arranged in its final form by Judah ha-Nasi. Though the Mishna contained the most comprehensive collection of Jewish laws up to that time, it was not meant to settle issues involving contradictory interpretations. Almost immediately, however, Jewish scholars in Palestine and Babylonia began to elaborate extensive interpretations of the Mishna that were called Gemara. When the work was completed several centuries later, the Mishna and the Gemara, taken together, were called the Talmud.

Centuries later, social and economic changes presented new problems of interpretation and required new applications of the law. This gave rise to new compilations of Halakhah by such outstanding scholars as Moses Maimonides in the 12th century, Jacob ben Asher in the 12th and 13th centuries, and Joseph Karo in the 16th century.

Though Judaism acknowledges a continuous development of Halakhah, the law is always viewed as an explication or extension of the original Law given on Mount Sinai. Conservative rabbis tend to adapt certain Halakhahs to fit conditions in the modern world, as, for instance, the Halakhah regarding observance of the SabbathReform Jews tend to disregard Halakhah, though some of them adhere to certain of its precepts.

The book known as the Mishna is be considered the cornerstone of Judaism. Its 62 divisions (tractates, or Mesechtos) provide the background for every subject of Halacha (Jewish law) found in the Oral Torah. Each tractate is a collection of about 50 to 100 Mishnayos (plural for Mishna) – meaning that the title given to the whole book is the same word used to describe its smallest part. The Jews are a perplexing bunch of people, aren’t they?

The 62 sections are divided into six orders (Sedarim):

  1. Zeraim – deals mostly with agricultural laws – by and large relevant only to life in Israel.
  2. Moed – discusses the laws of the Sabbath and festivals.
  3. Nashim – deals with marriage and family law.
  4. Nezikin – covers civil and criminal law and the court system.
  5. Kodshim – is focused on the Temple and the Divine service that was centered around it.
  6. Taharos – discusses the laws of ritual purity.

Despite the fact that the Mishna (when compared with the endless explanation needed to understand it) is really nothing more than chapter headings, they are exceptionally good chapter headings. Amongst the beautifully concise wording and the seemingly simple arguments between sages, lie the hints and references needed to get a discussion going and lead the reader in the right direction. It’s hard to imagine any contract or constitution that could have said so much, so clearly, and in so few words.

The Hebrew of the Mishna is known as classical Hebrew because of its intense beauty and extreme simplicity. The writing is functional and unambiguous while at the same time, poetic and pleasing. It is a truly rare combination which is also found, (in a different way), in the Talmud.

Therefore, great differences in theology do exist between Jews and Christians. Much of it has to do with how rabbis apply passages from ancient oral editions onto today’s modern life. A good example of that is how the Jews view Isaiah 53 as the suffering servant. They do not believe this is a prophecy of Jesus. Instead, they believe that they are the suffering servant. With so much diversity of understanding Scripture complicated by oral traditions from many rabbis’ centuries ago, it is understandable why there seems to be a “great chasm fixed” between Jews and Christians.

Some information taken from the Internet while researching the Jewish view of theology.

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