Jews, religious Jews, Israelis .
May 2, 2004 Dov, in biologicalEvolution forum.
Re the recently posted question here " What is it that all practising Jews hold in common?"
I know many variations of "practising Jew" and the thing they have in common is what all members of a phenotype comunity have in common, which is a genotype that differs, naturally, in some details from member to member.
However, to give you some idea of the complexity of the subject I quote here from three letters I wrote in early 2003 to a friend in the USA in response to his questions about Israelis and Jews.
You are completely uninformed re the Israeli scene. Total population is about 6.3 million (without the circa 3 million Palestinians). Rough breakdown:
About one million Israeli Arabs + 0.4 million of few small other phenotype groups (Druze, Bedouines,Cherkesians,various Christian groups) + about 0.2 million non-Jewish Russians who arrived with the Russian immigration + 0.2 milion foreign workers, mostly here illegally (Chinese, Thai, Philipines,Turks,Poles, Bulgarians, Nigerians, Columbians, etc.,).
Of the circa 4.5 million Jews my best guesstimate is: about 0.4 are various types of Ultra orthodox (competing Hassidic courts and competing Sepharadic courts) plus about 0.5 are what we call Woven Skullcap people, i.e. somewhat like USA conservative Jews, kosher and go to synagogue on Holidays but otherwise indistinguishable from the the non-religious in general education etc., also circa 0.5 million that are "traditional" only, i.e. non-kosher no-synagogue but celebrate Holidays non-religiously and "respect" traditional institutes and customs. The majority, circa 3 million Israeli Jews, like us (I am a product of a Woven Skullcap family until I joined the British army in 1942, my wife, Ziv, is a Kibbutz product) are definitely not kosher and not syng goers and have fair to good (like me) knowledge of the origin and history of our people and religious traditions but with all our respect to our traditions we do not accept that ANYTHING is "religiously sanctified" in any way. We understand and accept and explain our culture as a men-made package for survival of our unique phenotype.
It so happened that a few days ago I posted in a Forum here (our PCs are both English and Hebrew, and our forums are Hebrew) a remark that I consider many scientists here as not practicing scientism and I thus consider them "technologists" in the area of their competence, since you find them here in all the segments of population with religiousity ranging from godless to most fundamental. —————————-
Since we met through Evolution, here are few of the reflections that once crossed my mind :
(1) My base moral values are of 1st century AD Shamai (Talmud,Holidays, Shabbath, in Arameic):
A man came to Shamai ( renowned teacher ) and requested to learn all the Torah (Jewish instruction) while standing on one foot. Said Shamai :Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.
For me this is the universal religion. It does not require faith or fear or belief. It is a rational and logical way for individuals, families and communities to co-live, therefore it is worth upholding with all the strength that we can master.
(2)In my view Life is fractal, and I see this wherever I look. In the course of evolution of Judaism there were two revolutionary evolutions.
Until the Judean exile to Babylonia (586 BC) the God of Israel and of Judea was similar to other contemporary near-east gods,i.e. a tribe's god with jurisdiction over the tribe's territory. However, when the Judeans were uprooted into exile in Babylonia they expanded to a concept of non-territorial omnipotent god. This to me is similar in significance to the evolution of Western religion as the 5.4 million yr ago move of our chimpanze forefathers from the trees to the plains, that started ape-to-human evolution. This was the genesis of concept of an omnipotent diety.
Then in the 1st century AD the Hellenized Jew Sha'ul HaTarsi (Paul) started a symbiosis of Jewish thoughts with Hellenistic beliefs, and this evolved into Christianity, that spread as it released gentile joiners from the burdensome unpleasant daily Mitzvot, commandments, which Jews developed exactly for preventing such a symbiosis.
This turned to be a very successful evolutionary turn similar to the symbiosis of early cells with either a mitochondria or a chloroplast cell to end up with very successful energy processing cells.
(3) I also think that Western humanity made a big mistake in the 1st century AD. It was then on a cultural crossroad and elected not to continue on the inherently tolerant polytheistic culture, which by definition is tolerant, but elected to go on a monotheistic route, which is by definition intolerant and raises banners of single absolute truths and led to endless persecutions in Christian and later in Muslim environments. ———————————-
My own guide and mentor re most Jewish matters is Salo W Baron. My father (many yrs ago) gave me a gift, a Baron's 1951 Hebrew edition of a 3-volumes abstract of his 18 (I think) volume series, and I use it very often as a handy reference book. It is a very comprehensive scientific work yet done with respectful understanding of religious concepts/feelings.
But I cannot find the abridged English source, translated by Y or I Grinetch ? the name is written in Hebrew only…). You might start a search via a Columbia University Press link.
As school-age children some of us learned some chapters of the 24 bible books by heart. We also learned much of the Mishna and Talmud, but we also learned the regional (Casdean, Babylonian, Ugaritrhic, Egyptian, etc.,) origins of our religion and of our early religious literature, so that we grew up like the 12th century BC Israelis, with familiarity with the varied area cultures and with a feel of the intertwinning of the area cultures. We learned that we absorbed some values and beliefs from each of these groups and that we modified these intakes within our religious or social context.
The idea of a Ma'shi'ach, Messaiah, is biblical, from the prophets. It originated in troubled days when Judea was under the harsh Babylonian conquest and the oppressed needed a hope to sustain them. It intensified during the Babylonian diaspora, and reached its highest peak under the Roman oppressive rule, and thus – of course – led to the rise of Christianity. It is a repeat phenomenon in every set of oppressive circumstances.
Most daily Jewish customs were formulated and developed by Jews in exile, where for surviving with their unique culture and heritage they had to separate themselves from the surrounding culture. The few original customs evolved still prior to the first exile, also for the purposse of protecting the Israeli phenotype heritage from engulfment by neighbours of different cultures.
Finally,a personal experienced: In 1958 we moved from Pittsburgh, PA to Ponca City OK…. There I experienced my first "reform" synagogue, the only one then in town. This was the first time I saw and tried to read a Hebrew prayer in English. As a youth I used to go to synagogue occasionally, until joining the British army during WW2. I always prayed in Hebrew, of course, but the meaning of words-sentences did not register in my cognizance since they were thoughtlessly repeated by habit. Now the English rendering forced me to note their MEANING, and I was awkwardly jolted…