Judaism (יהדות) – the religious civilization of the Jewish people. Judaism is distinguished from other faiths by reading the Bible through the lens of our oral law – Torah she’be’al peh תורה שבעל פה. This distinguishes Judaism from Biblical fundamentalism. The oral law is recorded in:

* Mishnah, מִשְׁנָה. The first major written redaction of Judaism’s oral law,  edited in final form shortly after 200 CE.

* Tosefta תוספתא, “supplement”. A parallel to the Mishnah, it contains almost the same texts, but with variations, and also containing an extensive commentary. Seen as a supplement to the Mishnah, it contains some early material left out of the Mishnah, yet also later commentary, perhaps written a few decades after the Mishnah was completed, circa 250 CE., although some scholars date some material in it to as late as 400 CE

* classical Midrash מדרש compilations (most edited between 100 CE and 800 CE) Rabbinic commentaries, sermons and homilies on the all parts of the Bible, by several authorships.

* Talmud Yerushalmi (תַּלְמוּד יְרוּשָׁלְמִי, Jerusalem Talmud) (mostly edited by 450 CE) An authoritative summary of 250 years of rabbinic discussion on the Mishnah and other parts of the oral law, from the great rabbinic academies in the Land of Israel.

* Talmud Bavli ( תַּלְמוּד בבל Babylonian Talmud) (redacted by 550 CE, but further editing continued into the 800s) An authoritative summary of at least 350 years of rabbinic discussion on the Mishnah and other parts of the oral law, from the great rabbinic academies in Babylon (modern day Iraq.)

* Halakha, הֲלָכָה: Hebrew word meaning “the way to go”. Jewish laws, and the system of interpreting and applying them.

* Aggadah, אַגָּדָה – Non-legal parts of rabbinic literature, especially in the Talmud and Midrash. Folklore, historical anecdotes, moral exhortations, and allegories.

* Kabbalah,קַבָּלָה – Esoteric Jewish mysticism. It’s earliest forms are the (non-canonical) apocalypses; later mystism existed during the 2nd Temple period, and Kabbalah entered its modern form with the Zohar. See the following:

Apocalypses of the 2nd Temple period (which are non-canonical) – See Apocalyptic literature (Wikipedia)

After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish mysticism further developed in the Hekhalot/Merkabah literature – works about mystical ascents to the heavenly realms. See Hekhalot literature (Wikipedia) and Merkabah mysticism (Wikipedia)

Kabbalah in it’s modern sense developed with the publishing of the Zohar in the 13th century. This book is the basis for all forms of Hasidic Judaism, and is also accepted by many Orthodox groups that are not Hasidic. However, there is also opposition to the Zohar, as historians have shown that the Zohar is a medieval work, and contains some Gnostic beliefs. See  Zohar and Kabbalah, from the Jewish Virtual Library.

* Mitnagdism, מתנגדים – The opposition to Hasidic Judaism, and many beliefs and practices related to Kabbalah, within European Judaism.

Philosophy terms

* Jewish philosophy (פילוסופיה יהודית) is the attempt to fuse the fields of philosophy with the religious teachings of Judaism. This worldview is called philosophical rationalism.

* Theism – belief in a God that is in some ways transcendent, while in other ways immanent. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, although this belief raises questions about God’s responsibility for evil and suffering in the world.

* Deism – belief that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and does not literally answer prayers or cause miracles to occur.

* Pantheism is the belief that god is the universe, and the universe is god. There is no transcendent nature to God, no Mind.

* Panentheism (note spelling difference) God is the universe, and the universe is god – but here nature is just one aspect of divinity. God maintains a transcendent character, and is viewed as creator and the source of morality. This view of God is in Kabbalah, and also in process theology.

In the synagogue

Synagogue –  בית כנסת‎‎ Bet Kenesset, “house of assembly”, or בית תפילה Bet Tefila, “house of prayer”, שול shul, אסנוגה esnoga or קהל kahal). A Jewish house of prayer. Often called a “Temple”.

Bimah, בימה.  elevated platform from where the prayer leader sings.

The Torah Ark, Aron Kodesh ארון קודש, or heikhal—היכל [temple] by Sephardim, is the cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept.

ner tamid (נר תמיד), Eternal Light – a light that is always on,  used as a reminder of the original menorah that was in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Jewish holy places

Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל . Also called the Promised Land, Holy Land, and Palestine.  Refers to the ancient land of Israel in the Hebrew Bible. According to the Bible, it’s area changed dramatically in different periods of time; the precise extent in each era is not known. This land includes the ancient united kingdom of Israel, and after the Jewish civil war, the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

The State of Israel, Medinat Yisrael, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל‎, is the modern day Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael.

Jerusalem, Yerushaláyim, יְרוּשָׁלַיִם – the ancient and modern capital of Israel.

The Western Wall, HaKotel HaMa’aravi – or just ‘Kotel’,  הַכֹּתֶל הַמַּעֲרָבִי . This is second holiest site in Judaism. This wall is the last remaining part of a once larger retaining wall; it was built as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple. It is the location closest to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem that Jewish people traditionally had access to for the past 2,000 years, and has been a site of pilgrimage and prayer ever since.

The Temple in Jerusalem, Beit HaMikdash, בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ. The central point of ancient Jewish worship, located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. These successive Jewish temples stood at this location. For 2000 years all siddurim have included prayers asking for the rebuilding of the Temple.

The Temple Mount, Har Habayit, הַר הַבַּיִת‎‎. The place where the Holy Temple in Jerusalem once stood. It’s Hebrew name literally means “Mount of the House [of God].” This is the holiest site in Judaism.

The Cave of the Patriarchs, also Cave of Machpelah, מערת המכפלה. This is located in Hebron,  חֶבְרוֹן , in the West Bank.  This is third holiest site in Judaism. According to tradition, this is where the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are buried: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.

Early medieval rabbis

Sa’adiah Gaon. Egypt 882/892, d. Baghdad 942 CE. Rabbi, Jewish philosopher, and exegete of the Geonic period.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki ) (1040-1105 CE) – author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, and commentary on the Tanakh (Bible)

Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089–1167) Spanish rabbi. Excelled in philosophy, astronomy/astrology, mathematics, poetry, linguistics, and bible commentary.

Rambam = Maimonides = Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, 1135-1204 CE. Considered by many to be the greatest philosopher of Judaism.

Ramban = Nachmanides = Rabbi Moses ben Nachman . 1194–c. 1270) Spanish Sephardic rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator.

Levi ben Gershon (1288–1344), aka Gersonides or the Ralbag, was a philosopher, Talmudist, mathematician, physician and astronomer.

Moshe de Leon – 13th century Spanish rabbi. Claims to have discovered the Zohar; historians believe that in large part he was actually it’s author.

Later medieval rabbis

Isaac (ben Solomon) Luria Ashkenazi (1534- 1572) better known as the Ari (the Lion) . Leader of the Jewish community of Safed (Syrian controlled Israel) The father of contemporary Kabbalah.

Joseph Karo (1488 – 1575) Author of the Beth Yosef (בית יוסף), a massive, authoritative study of halakhah, and it’s condensed, edited version, the Shulchan Aruch (שולחן ערוך), which for many Orthodox communities became seen as a binding code of Jewish law (although this position was not without significant controversy) Even today Conservative and Orthodox Jews often refer back to the Shulchan Aruch as part of their decision making process.

Hasidic Rabbis

Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer, often called Baal Shem Tov, or the Besht (1700-1760) founder of Hasidic Judaism.

Dov Ber of Mezeritch (~1705 to 1772), the Maggid of Mezritch. A disciple of the Besht. Regarded as the first systematic exponent of the philosophy underlying the teachings of the Besht, and the main architect of the movement.

Shnuer Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the Alter Rebbe. Founder of Chabad Lubavitch Judaism.

18th century-mid 20th century rabbis

Abraham Geiger (1810–1874) German rabbi and scholar, founding father of Reform Judaism. Emphasizing its constant development along history and universalist traits, Geiger sought to reformulate received forms and design what he regarded as a religion compliant with modern times. He founded influential German Jewish journals, and began the process of creating a distinctly Reform Jewish liturgy. He advocated what he saw as moderate reforms, which he saw as a a recovery of the Pharisaic halakhic tradition.

Eliezer Berkovits (1908-1992) Modern Orthodox rabbi, theologian, and educator

Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888) German Rabbi, founder of the Torah im Derech Eretz school Orthodox Judaism, aka neo-Orthodoxy, aka Modern Orthodoxy.

Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), first chief rabbi of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in British Mandatory Palestine, founder of Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav Kook. He was known as a heterdox Orthodox Kabbalistic philosopher, who worked to unite secular and religious Jews in Israel.

Zechariah Frankel (1801-1875) a founder of the historical school of Judaism (studying how Judaism developed within it’s historic context) This school of thought was the intellectual progenitor of Conservative Judaism.

Emanuel Rackman (מנחם עמנואל רקמן‎‎) (1910-2008) American Modern Orthodox Rabbi, serving as president of the New York Board of Rabbis, and later as president of the Rabbinical Council of America. He helped draw attention to the plight of Refuseniks in the then-Soviet Union and attempted to resolve the dilemma of the Agunah, a woman who cannot remarry because her husband will not grant a Get.

Solomon Schechter – Professor, Rabbi, first major leader of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and founder of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Joseph Soloveitchik (1903 – 1993) One of the most important Orthodox rabbis and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, author of Halakhic Man. He was a scion of the Lithuanian Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty. As a Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York City, he ordained close to 2,000 rabbis over the course of almost half a century.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 – 1972) Polish-born American rabbi raised as a Hasidic Orthodox Jew, briefly taught at a Reform Jewish seminary, and soon joined the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative.) He is considered one of the leading Jewish theologians & philosophers of the 20th century.

Isaac Klein – (1905 – 1979) A prominent rabbi and halakhic authority within Conservative Judaism, also Major U.S. Army. Author of “A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice”

Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was in line to become the next (Orthodox) Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. His acceptance of the validity of historical study of the Torah led to the Jacobs Affair, which created a schism in Britain’s Orthodox community. Those who held by Jacobs became the British Masorti (Conservative) Movement

Modern day rabbis

Ovadia Yosef (עובדיה יוסף ,1920-2013) was an authority on halakha, and spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Shas party. Born in Iraq, he was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1973 to 1983. His responsa were highly regarded within Haredi and Mizrahi communities. Although generally having a Haredi approach, he also allowed for significant reforms and leniencies.

José Faur (יוסף פאור) is a Sephardi Hakham (rabbi), teacher and scholar. He was a Rabbi in the Syrian-Jewish community in Brooklyn for many years . He was also a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, and Bar Ilan University, and is currently Professor of Law at Netanya Academic College.

Aharon Lichtenstein (1933 – 2015) was a noted Orthodox rabbi and rosh yeshiva. Yeshivat Har Etzion, Israel

Page of Talmud






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