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Consider the Issues When Studying Judaism from an Academic Viewpoint

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When studying Judaism analytically, due to its enormity and complexity it is inevitable that many critical issues arise, from a basic definition to whether Judaism is simply a religion or an ethnic and cultural identity. When studying the methodology of Judaism, many factors must be taken into consideration, for example history, belief, rituals, ethics and heritage. Part of the problem lies in the differences between many Jews, from slight disparities in practices and rituals, to the obvious discrepancies between Orthodox Jews and Reformed Jews.

Due to the vast range of concepts, words and beliefs in this colourful and historical religion, it seems natural that many issues arise when attempting to understand the religion. Judaism has been defined as "the monotheistic religion of the Jews having its spiritual and ethical principles embodied chiefly in the Torah and in the Talmud ". As Breslauer describes "The very term Judaism raises problems. The word is a relatively recent one, coined by Christian scholars seeking to name the 'faith of Israel' so that it would seem more like Christianity ". He explains the difficulty in that Jews often speak of the 'Torah', or 'the people of Israel', but the word 'Judaism' has not actually been 'officially' defined.

One central issue is that of time, dating and the Jewish calendar, clearly vital when looking at a historical religion academically. The calendar adopts an unusual system of recording time, which limits full understanding to insiders. The calendar has dated its years from the "putative origin of the world ", as S. Daniel Breslauer explains, "To use this calendar would be to determine the meaning of Jewish history and religion according to a particular Jewish perspective ", furthermore it is vital to "choose an arbitrary system of dating, one that happens to coincide with that of the Christian calendar but rejects its Christological implications ".

There is much diversity evident when analyzing Judaism from an academic viewpoint. Even the names that Jews use for themselves vary hugely; there are many views and wide-ranging positions within Judaism. Most Jews recognize the variety implicit in their past and the religion that forms their culture and lifestyle. The diversity clearly apparent in Judaism cannot be overlooked when studying the religion "their identity is a complex one and must be understood in terms of the diversity of its sources as well as the uniqueness of any present historical manifestation ", this emphasizes the diversity among Jews and their origins, but also the way in which Judaism differs hugely from any other mainstream religion. The fact that 'Jews' do not universally agree as to their name is indicative of a past filled with diversity. Interestingly, many rituals that are celebrated in the religion indicate how much diversity actually exists within Judaism. Due to biblical instructions in Numbers 15, Jewish men often adopt fringed costumes, which have a symbolic meaning. The 'tallit' is combined with an inner garment; the 'tallit qatan', each fringe is representative of a divine commandment. However, some feel that many aspects of Judaism is not diverse in basic ideas, for example, Jews are not the only religious group who use religious practices and symbols in their lives in a beneficial way. The historical belief of the need for protection from bad spirits and unwelcome demons in people's homes (in Judaism the mezuzah acts against this) shows that Jews are similar to many non- Jews in this particular aspect.

The issue of gender in the Jewish community is complex. Gender divides often become the basis for schisms within the wider community: men and women pursue different roles in society, and are seen to have essential differences. In terms of gender diversity, men can wear skullcaps, whereas the law expressly says women are only allowed to show hair to their husbands, furthermore men have the option of going bareheaded.

In terms of Jewish weddings, there is diversity and similarity in the ceremony and the rituals. The two parts of a marriage ceremony, betrothal (nisuin) and consecration (kiddushin) "intimate the increasing obligations a man takes towards his bride... at the centre of the consecration service is the reading of the ketubah...the marriage ritual reminds participants of specific aspects of Jewish life ". However, on the contrary many characteristics in a Jewish wedding ceremony are similar to weddings in other religions, as Breslauer comments, "other parts of the ceremony focus on the generally human aspect of a marriage ". The close relationship between the bride and groom is symbolized in that they traditionally

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