Essay, Research Paper: College Paper On Religion


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The transition of Jews through history is one, which is complex and took place
over a long period. There are many factors, which contributed to the change of
the status of Jews within their world and changes in their status as well; these
changes affected the religious and cultural values of European Jews, which lead
to an alteration in their own perception, as well as the surrounding populace.
There are several opinions as to how non- Jews perceive the issues that led to
Emancipation of Jewish people. Prior to the period of Emancipation there were
three main characteristics which defined the traditional Jewish communities of
Europe. These three aspects are community, autonomy and torah (religion). IN
relation to Torah, there is a common yearning to return to their homeland in
Eretz Yisrael. As it is known from the Greek era, the purpose of a state or
community was to glorify one's own religion and as a result, Jews could not be
members of a Christian state. Therefore, they had no choice but to form their
own communities within the larger Christian State. A Jew is a member of the
Jewish nation and people and religion is what defined your life and place in
society. Virtually everything revolved around the community; decisions were made
with the impact of the community in mind. An essential aspect of this community
was the conceptions of ghettos; Jews lived, worked, and played in these ghettos.
These ghettos kept the Jewish community contained, and also provided a sense of
separatism from outside influences. “ The point can also be made that
separation was in fact a contributing factor to healthy relations (between Jews
and non- Jews)…with their concern for lack of clear boundaries, the ghetto
kept boundaries clear and fears in check” . If one did not live in a
community, one did not have an identity. This was especially important in the
case of ex-communication, because once one was ejected out of the community, it
was almost impossible to join another. The notion of autonomy possibly was a
result of the ghettos. Since Jews lived in these ghettos they were separate from
the outside community. It was within the ghetto, which Jews were able to make
and enforce their own laws and practices. However, there remained interrelations
with the "outside" world, usually through the community leaders or
representatives. This form of power gave Jewish leaders the ability to pursue
endeavours, which they felt would benefit the Jewish community. The laws in
these ghettos were based on Jewish law and were carried out by the Rabbis,
spiritual leaders of the community or even recognised wise men who were elected
into the position. It is important to remember that while the Jews lived in a
self-governing entity, it remained within a particular framework set up by the
local Christian authorities. The Torah (religion) was the common bond all Jews
had; it was the Torah, which was the basis for all Jewish law. It was the Torah,
which aided the Rabbis to compose the laws of the communities. Another function
of the Torah was the fact that it did/does hold Jews from around the world
together, regardless of borders and wealth, it is the common bond or glue of
universal Judaism. The Torah, along with the Talmud (Rabbinical interpretation
of Torah) are what help guide the Jewish people to practising good behaviour and
good deeds, to speed up the arrival of the Messiah and the return to Eretz
Yisrael. It is due to these three factors that the traditional Jewish
communities of Europe were able to maintain themselves and in most cases even
prosper. This segregation from Christian society pleased both cultures because
there was a lack of integration, hence lack of threat. Many factors led to the
change in the status of Jews, and these changes had profound effects of the
religious and cultural values of traditional Jews. Both the Industrialisation
and the Enlightenment contributed significantly to the change in status of Jews.
However, it is important to mention that many Jews of Europe, specifically
Spain, were exiled for their religious convictions and forced to practice in
secret, which allowed Jews to practice as individuals and follow their own laws
without the strict adherence to a Rabbi as an authority figure. This set into
motion of sense of individualism for Jews and allowed them to practice more
independently. Industrialisation marked a significant shift in society, society
metamorphasized into an industrial society from the traditional agrarian one,
which previously existed. The introduction of urbanisation resulted in many
people moving into developing cities and coming into contact non-Jews for the
first time. As the economy shifted to an industrial one the Jews were well
established and prepared. Since there was a massive relocation to the city both
Jews and Christians these two people were now living in closer contact. Suddenly
the boundaries between Jews and Christians were not as clear as before. This
lack of boundaries fast lead to tensions between the two cultures. Another
significant factor leading to the changes of status of Jews was the emergence of
the age of Reason or the Enlightenment. This period was marked by a significant
transition in the Christian world, the emergence of both democracy and
capitalism impacted the status quo and permanently altered Europe. More
significant, was that a fact was a fact regardless of what religious beliefs one
prescribed to. It was at this point that some Jews became accepted, sometimes
even embraced into the Christian society. Jews were accepted as individuals, but
certainly not as a group or community. This was because of the situation of the
Court Jews. These Court Jews were wealthy Jews who were moneylenders and
advisors to the King and his court. They came into contact with Gentiles on a
daily basis, adopted their practices and brought them into their homes. Because
the Court Jews had the respect of the King, it was no wonder that Christians
would accept these particular Jews as somewhat equal. These Jews were accepted
into the Christian society were viewed as somewhat assimilated and seen as
models to the Jews who were not assimilated through the views of some
Christians. Other Christians viewed these perceived assimilated Jews as a threat
because as they saw it these Jews were attempting to infiltrate Christian
society. Once again some felt as though that once clear line or boundaries
between Jews and Christians were now being blurred to the extent which some
feared they would never again be clear. Another significant issue that emerged
for many Jews at this time was question of whether Jews could be loyal to their
country of citizenship and at the same time loyal to their religion. This was
also a question, which many Christians posed of the Jews. From the perspective
of non- Jews there were two points of view which emerged. These views shaped and
perpetuated the perceptions of Jews by non- Jews. One of the views contended
that the Jews were a product of Christian attitudes, this being that since they
were not accepted and assimilated fully into the Christian society. These
Christians who believed this felt that they owned the blame for the Jews being
what they are they also believed that given the opportunity the Jews could
potentially become productive and perhaps even productive members of society.
The second point of view held that Jews were inherently bad and can never be
salvaged despite any and all efforts made by Christians to assimilate them.
These Christians felt that there was absolutely no possibility of Jews having
and holding productive positions in society. All the aforementioned occurrences
lead to the transformation of traditional Jewish communities, and paved the way
for Jewish existence, as it is known today. It is apparent, even through the
examination of recent history that there are reoccurring themes in Jewish
history. The most profound and obvious theme is the question of whether Jews can
be productive members of their country and at the same time remain loyal to
their religion. This question was an issue that once again emerged in Nazi
Germany, undoubtedly, and unfortunately, it is not the last time that question
will be asked.
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