Religion: Judaism, OBSERVANCES OF JUDAISM
Judaism, religion Judaism, Judaism religion. OBSERVANCES OF JUDAISM:
OBSERVANCES OF JUDAISM
The historical consciousness of Israel was vitalised by a unique adaptability to present conditions. This is shown in the fidelity with which a number of ancient festivals have been maintained through the ages. Some of these were taken over from pre-Israelite cults. They were nature feasts, and these are among the oldest rites of men. But, as Maimonides wisely said eight centuries ago, religious rites depend not so much on their origins as on the use men make of them. People who wish to return to the primitive usages of this or that church have no grasp of the value and significance of ceremonial. Here, at all events, we are not concerned with origins. The really interesting thing is that feasts, which originated in the fields and under the free heaven, were observed and enjoyed in the confined streets of the Ghetto. The influence of ceremonial is undying when it is bound up with a community's life. 'It is impossible to create festivals to order. One must use those which exist, and where necessary charge them with new meanings.' So writes Mr. Montefiore in his _Liberal Judaism_ (p. 155).
This is precisely what has happened with the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. These three festivals were originally, as has been said, nature feasts. But they became also pilgrim feasts. After the fall of the Temple the pilgrimages to Jerusalem, of course, ceased, and there was an end to the sacrificial rites connected with them all. The only sense in which they can still be called pilgrim feasts is that, despite the general laxity of Sabbath observance and Synagogue attendance, these three celebrations are nowadays occasions on which, in spring, summer, and autumn, a large section of the Jewish community contrives to wend its way to places of public worship.
In the Jewish Liturgy the three feasts have special designations. They are called respectively 'The Season of our Freedom,' 'the Season of the Giving of our Law,' and 'the Season of our Joy.' These descriptions are not biblical, nor are they found in this precise form until the fixation of the Synagogue liturgy in the early part of the Middle Ages. But they have had a powerful influence in perpetuating the hold that the three pilgrim feasts have on the heart and consciousness of Israel. Liberty, Revelation, Joy--these are a sequence of wondrous appeal. Now it is easily seen that these ideas have no indissoluble connection with specific historical traditions. True, 'Freedom' implies the Exodus; 'Revelation,' the Sinaitic theophany; 'Joy,' the harvest merry-makings, and perhaps some connection with the biblical narrative of Israel's wanderings in the wilderness. But the connection, though essential for the construction of the association, is not essential for its retention. 'The Passover,' says Mr. Montefiore (_Liberal Judaism_, p. 155), 'practically celebrates the formation of the Jewish people. It is also the festival of liberty. In view of these two central features, it does not matter that we no longer believe in the miraculous incidents of the Exodus story. They are mere trappings which can easily be dispensed with. A festival of liberty, the formation of a people for a religious task, a people destined to become a purely religious community whose continued existence has no meaning or value except on the ground of religion,--here we have ideas, which can fitly form the subject of a yearly celebration.' Again, as to Pentecost and the Ten Commandments, Mr. Montefiore writes: 'We do not believe that any divine or miraculous voice, still less that God Himself, audibly pronounced the Ten Words. But their importance lies in themselves, not in their surroundings and origin. Liberals as well as orthodox may therefore join in the festival of the Ten Commandments.
Pentecost celebrates the definite union of religion with morality, the inseparable conjunction of the "service" of God with the "service" of man. Can any religious festival have a nobler subject?' Finally, as to tabernacles, Mr. Montefiore thus expresses himself: 'For us, to-day, the connection with the wanderings from Egypt , which the latest [biblical] legislators attempted, has again disappeared. Tabernacles is a harvest festival; it is a nature festival. Should not a religion have a festival or holy day of this kind? Is not the conception of God as the ruler and sustainer of nature, the immanent and all-pervading spirit, one aspect of the Divine, which can fitly be thought of and celebrated year by year?
Thus each of the three great Pentateuchal festivals may reasonably and joyfully be observed by liberals and orthodox alike. We have no need or wish to make a change.' And of the actual ceremonial rites connected
with the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, it is apparently only the avoidance of leaven on the first of the three that is regarded as unimportant. But even there Mr. Montefiore's own feeling is in favour of the rite. 'It is,' he says, 'a matter of comparative unimportance whether the practice of eating unleavened bread in the house for the seven days of the Passover be maintained or not. Those who appreciate the value of a pretty and ancient symbol, both for children and adults, will not easily abandon the custom.'
This is surely a remarkable development. In the Christian Church it seems that certain festivals are retaining their general hold because they are becoming public, national holidays. But in Judaism the hold is to be maintained precisely on the ground that there is to be nothing national about them, they are to be reinterpreted ideally and symbolically. It remains to be seen whether this is possible, and it is too early to predict the verdict of experience. The process is in active incubation in America as well as in Europe, but it cannot be claimed that the eggs are hatched yet. On the other hand, Zionism has so far had no effect in the opposite direction. There has been no nationalisation of Judaism as a result of the new striving after political nationality. Many who had previously been detached from the Jewish community have been brought back by Zionism, but they have not been re-attached to the religion. There has been no perceptible increase, for instance, in the number of those who fast on the Ninth of Ab, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. Hence, from these and other considerations, of which limited space prevents the specification, it seems on the whole likely that, as in the past so in the future, the Festivals of the Synagogue will survive by changes in religious significance rather than by any deepening of national association.
Except that the Synagogues are decked with flowers, while the Decalogue is solemnly intoned from the Scroll of the Pentateuch, the Feast of Pentecost has no ceremonial trappings even with the orthodox. Passover and Tabernacles stand on a different footing. The abstention from leavened bread on the former feast has led to a closely organised system of cleansing the houses, an interminable array of rules as to food; while the prescriptions of the Law as to the bearing of palm-branches and other emblems, and the ordinance as to dwelling in booths, have surrounded the Feast of Tabernacles with a considerable, if less extensive, ceremonial. But there is this difference. The Passover is primarily a festival of the Home, Tabernacles of the Synagogue. In Europe the habit of actually dwelling in booths has been long unusual, owing to climatic considerations. But of late years it has become customary for every Synagogue to raise its communal booth, to which many Jews pay visits of ceremony. On the other hand, the Passover is _par excellence_ a home rite. On the first two evenings (or at all events on the first evening) there takes place the _Seder_, (literally 'service'), a service of prayer, which is at the same time a family meal. Gathered round the table, on which are spread unleavened cakes, bitter herbs, and other emblems of joy and sorrow, the family recounts in prose and song the narrative of the Exodus. The service is in two parts, between which comes the evening meal. The hallowing of the home here attains its highest point.
Unless, indeed, this distinction be allotted to the Sabbath. The rigidity of the laws regarding Sabbath observance is undeniable. Movement was restricted, many acts were forbidden which were not in themselves laborious. The Sabbath was hedged in by a formidable array of enactments.
To an outside critic it is not wonderful that the Jewish Sabbath has a repellent look. But to the insider things wear another aspect.
The Sabbath was and is a day of delight. On it the Jew had a foretaste of the happiness of the world to come. The reader who wishes to have a spirited, and absolutely true, picture of the Jewish Sabbath cannot do better than turn to Dr. Schechter's excellent _Studies in Judaism_ (pp. 296 _seq._). As Dr. Schechter pithily puts it: 'Somebody, either the learned professors, or the millions of the Jewish people, must be under a delusion.' Right through the Middle Ages the Sabbath grew deeper into the affections of the Jews. It was not till after the French Revolution and the era of emancipation, that a change occurred. Mixing with the world, and sharing the world's pursuits, the Jews began to find it hard to observe the Saturday Sabbath as of old. In still more recent times the difficulty has increased. Added to this, the growing laxity in observances has affected the Sabbath. This is one of the most pressing problems that face the Jewish community to-day. Here and there an attempt has been made by small sections of Jews to substitute a Sunday Sabbath for the Saturday Sabbath. But the plan has not prospered.
One of the most notable rites of the Service of the Passover eve is the sanctification with wine, a ceremony common to the ordinary Sabbath eve.