Understanding Judaism

Understanding Judaism

Understanding Judaism

Understanding Judaism


Rabbi Rosen presents a serious and concise overview of Jewish history, theology and practice from Judaism's biblical origins to the present day. The book provides an integrated approach that relates the main developments in Judaism to their historical context. The author is an Orthodox rabbi and academic. The book is written from the perspective of a committed and a practicing Jew but is not uncritical and incorporates different perspectives.


As anyone who loves knows, impartiality is incredibly difficult. I love Judaism. As a result I am very conscious of how commitment can distort. However, cold 'objective' analysis can distort too and academic life is as full of human bias as are other areas of human activity. I want to present Judaism in as objective a light as I can, but I must make it clear that I am describing a living religion and I am looking at its history through its own eyes.

I lecture at the Faculteit voor Vergelijkende Godsdienstwetenschappen (The Faculty for Comparative Religion) in Antwerp, Belgium. It is a remarkable little institution not because it insists that students study a range of religions, but because it also insists that religions can only be taught by someone practising and committed to the religion he or she is teaching. I believe the benefits of this approach far outweigh any possible deficiencies. Too often Judaism is described by those who are not passionately committed to its way of life.

My work in Comparative Religion convinces me that all religions share many basic concepts and ideas and that each one tends to exaggerate or overemphasise certain aspects to the detriment of others. I believe that these differences owe more to cultural and political forces than to genuinely spiritual ones. I do not understand how a religion can excuse taking life simply on abstract or theological grounds. Yes indeed, Moses gave such instructions, but that was nearly 4,000 years ago. I find it disturbing that in too many parts of the modern world religion and violence seem to go together. Yet I can no more hold religion itself to blame any more than football for its hooligans.

I know how difficult it is to categorise religions with their different extremes and schisms and variations. Talk about 'Christianity' or 'Islam' is not very helpful, unless one is much more specific, because there are so many variations, so many sects and divisions that are almost as implacably opposed to each other as they are to outsiders. So it is with Judaism. Small as it is, perhaps no more than twelve million, Judaism is divided into all sorts of different segments, religious, secular, and national. I will try to explain the variations as best I can.

In my style of writing I try to reflect a Jewish world outlook. So I do not refer to BC 'Before Christ' or AD 'Anno Domini' because such terms are irrelevant to Jews who do not ascribe to Jesus any particular status above that of any other human. Instead, I talk about BCE 'Before the Common Era' or CE

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