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Table of Contents
We now turn our attention towards a much misunderstood and much maligned religion which was in fact the mother of Christianity.
|The Star of David. David was a legendary King of the Hebrews in biblical times. The Star was his symbol. It also adorns Israel's national flag.|
Judaism, the religion of the Jews has many features common with Hinduism.
Commonality with Hinduism
These common features are not a result of cultural interchange alone but owe their a similarity in conditions in which the came into being.
The common factor in both these religions is that they have preserved a continuous link with antiquity, in the sense that they were not established by any one person or a group of persons at any identifiable time in history. They had evolved out of the religious attitudes that were nurtured since pre-historic times by humankind. No doubt both the religions have undergone changes with the passage of time but their links with antiquity remained unbroken .
Judaism has had a very traumatic and tragic history for the past two thousand five hundred years since the destruction of their first temple up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
A Diaspora of 2,500 Years
Apart from having been tyrannized, right from Babylonian and Assyrian times 2500 years back when their first temple at Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews have been oppressed by many subsequent rulers like the Persians, Greeks, Romans and non-Jewish Semitic people (after Islam) in their home-land of Israel.
|The Holocaust refers to the organised murder of the Jewish people by the Nazis during the period 1939-1945. The sketch here shows, David Olere a French Jew being tortured at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.|
A large part of the history of the Jews was enacted in exile. After the beginning of their diaspora due to Roman persecution about 2000 years back, the Jews have been living in various countries as exiles. In Europe they were generally looked down And most of the reasons for this were a result of the arbitrary hatred of the community by their hosts. The Spanish inquisition let loose a reign of terror on the Jews living in Spain, when many Jews were burnt at the stake. The latest wholesale organised slaughter the Jews, ' the Holocaust', was the result of a sick Teutonic mind. The Jewish community today still bears the scars of this Hitlerite nightmare. But the Hitlerite legacy is not yet a thing of the past, it exists today in the jaundiced attitude of those who continue to treat the Jewish state as an outcaste with the aim of appeasing the theocratic states around it.
|The Jews were meted out inhuman torture in the Nazi concentration camps. The Warsaw Ghetto was one such camp. The sketch here shows the selection from Jewish inmates for torture by their Nazi Jailors.|
Recent History of the Jews back in their Homeland
The recent history of the Jews is associated with their original homeland called Palestine which was part of the Turkish empire till 1917. Following Germany' s defeat in the First World War, the empire of its ally Turkey was dismembered. The British took a large part of it - Palestine as the spoils of their victory. As a reward for helping them in defeating the Turks, they carved off Palestine and gave away the larger part to a Bedouin Arab, named Abdullah, who became the first Hashemite King of Transjordan (now Jordan) by which the 70% of Palestine was called. his grandson Hussein now rules Jordan.
The remainder of Palestine was mandated by the British. In 1947 Britain had to give up control over this part of Palestine which was divided into Israeli and Arab Zones. The Arab Zone went to Jordan.
This division was accepted by the Jews but not by the Arabs. The Arabs went to war in 1948, they lost. They went to war four times after that and lost. They chose to live in refugee camps and did not settle in _ the other half of Palestine which was now Jordan. Their efforts were concentrated on destruction of the State of Israel and expulsion of the Jews who had returned there after living in exile for more than 2500 years. The Arab states and the Arabs living in what is now Israel could not bring themselves to accept the fact that Israel had been created by dividing Palestine into two parts, with Israel being a homeland for the Jews and the other half of Palestine i.e. Jordan, being the country of the Arabs previously residing in Israel.
Today there are many Arabs living in Israel, but most Arabs whether living in Israel or outside it have never reconciled themselves in their heart of hearts to the fact of Israel's existence, unlike the way Indians have accepted Pakistan. Pakistan which too was created after partitioning a formerly united ~ country. Israel is today like a fishbone stuck in the Arab throat and try as they can the Arabs have not so far been able to spit it out. But due to international pressures and Israel's conciliatory approach, we see today a state of Palestine which occupies parts of territory which had formed a part of Israel since 1967.
|This is the traditional Lamp of the Jews. Such Lamps were used by the Jewish people for religious purposes since biblical times.|
The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was the only ray of light in the history of the Jewish community. The remarkable progress achieved by the state of Israel amidst oppressive conditions of the mid-east, is a 20th century miracle. Any other community would have easily withered away in the face of the challenges that Israel faces. The ancient history of the virile community is as glorious as its present. It has given us Solomon, Abraham, Moses not to mention Jesus Christ, Karl Marx, Albert Einstien and many others .
The origins of Judaism are lost in thc misty realms of the past. The Old Testament like the Rig Veda of the Hindus, cannot be dated. One of the composers of the Old Testament is Moses. Even to talk about him we have to go thirteen centuries before Jesus Christ i.e. 3,300 years behind our age. The Jewish religion is even older than Moses.
The pre-mosaic religion of the Jews is considered to have been a mixture of animism and fetishism. Certain places and objects were worshipped as sacred. The natural feeling of awe which came upon the Hebrew speaking nomads of pre-biblical times, when they viewed a mountain a majestic tree or the starry host of heavens, it grew into a superstitious recognition of the powers supposed to be resident there. These powers were called elohim. The singular of which is Eloha or el, meaning 'lord'.
(The Arabic term "Allah" is quite close to the hebrew "Eloha")
|A Jewish Rabbi (priest)|
The transformation from the plural elohim to the singular eloha was perhaps due to the Mosaic injunction according to which Yahweh (Jehovah) says ' Though shalt have no other Gods, but me'. (This finds reflection in the Islamic dictum "There is no God, but Allah".) Some scholars maintain that Yahweh himself was a local god of the Kenites or Cannanites, a Hebrew tribe, and that Moses' father-in-law was a priest of that tribe who initiated Moses into Yahweh worship. Thus Yahweh may well have been originally a local god, but Moses made Yahweh the universal God of all Hebrews. The word Yahweh means 'he who causes to be', has been interpreted variously as 'the creator', the 'fulfiller of promises' and more recently as 'the God of Procreation'.
The word Moses is in the original Hebrew, Mosheh and might have been derived from the Hebrew verb mashah, ' to draw out. Thus the word Moses may mean Deliverer or saviour. It is possible that he was named, or rather re-named 'Deliverer after he delivered the Jews from their bondage in Egypt
From the biblical legends about Moses we learn that he spent his youth in Egypt. He is supposed to have married f a women called Zipporah. The first meeting of Moses with Zipporah was at the usual place where pastoral men and maidens met and their courtship began when Moses helped Zipporah to water her flock of sheep. The first child of Moses and Zipporah was given the the name Gershom which means stranger and the second one was named Eliezer which means 'God help me'.
The names Moses gave his children indicated the discontent in Moses' mind. The name ' stranger' seems to reflect the slavery of Jews in Egypt and the second name is an invocation for divine assistance As Moses was a shepherd he had plenty of time to think and every great- religions leader has come forth with a message after a long period of meditation in a lonely g place. We are told that during his meditations God appeared before Moses like a flame of light. Describing his experience Moses said that, as he walked along leading the flock of sheep to the back of the wilderness near the Mountain of God (Horeb-Sinai) he saw a burst of flame with an angel in its midst. Then he noticed that the f lame came from a bush which burned but was not consumed, and from the bush, God spoke saying that He had long been the God of the Hebrews, even in the days of the fathers, that He knew about the oppression of His people (in Egypt).
Then came the divine commission "Come now and I will send thee unto Pharoah, that thou may bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt Inspired by his new found religion and anxious to inform his people that Yahweh would bring them out of bondage, Moses started for Egypt taking his wife Zipporah and his two infant sons with him.
|The walled city of Jerusalem dates back to the 10th century before the birth of Christ. Over the years it has been invaded many times. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Mamelukes, Crusaders, Ottomans, British all have ruled the city in turns, before Jewish rule was re-established in 1948. The sacred temple of the Jews in the city has been pulled down by many of these invaders. Today only a part of the wall of the temple remains. This is called the Wailing Wall.|
After impressing the Egyptian Pharoah with magic tricks, Moses acquired liberty for the Jews in Egypt. Now it was Moses' task to lead the Jews out of Egypt to the holy land of Israel. Another of his problems was to make wise laws to maintain proper relations among the anatagonistic groups and tribes. With this aim he formulated or rather gave the Jews the following "Ten Commandments" which he had received from Yahweh.
|The Wailing Wall (or Western Wall) is the only surviving part of the Second Temple of the Jewish People. This wall dates back to Biblical times before the birth of Lord Christ|
. PREFACE;:"Iam the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me
2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
4)Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
5)Honour thy father and thy mother
6)Thou shalt not kill
7)Thou shalt not commit adultery
8)Thou shalt not steal
9)Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour
10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife nor anything that is thy neighbour's .
Having done this Moses' major task was over. On the edge of the Land of Promise with victory in sight, and his successors trained and ready, Moses passed away. The great prophet had come to the end of his road.
Moses' Legend is reflected in religions other than Judaism. The story of burning bush has significance not only to the Jews but also for the Christians. In conformity with Jewish belief God made his appearance to Moses in a bush, the early Christians believed that God dwells in trees, groves and shrubs. The famous Oak of Abraham at Mamre was worshipped for centuries not only by Jews but by Christians also well, until Constantine in the fourth century stopped the superstitious practice by building a church there.
But the belief in the divinity of a tree still lingers on in modern Christianity. The Yule log, and the lighted Christmas tree and the blazing berried holly, none of which has the slightest connection with Christianity, but which all good Christians use at Christmas time are derived from this aspect of the Jewish faith. This does proclaim them to be ardent, if ignorant, tree worshipping pagans of our times!
Even the Christian practice of eating the sacrament and buns marked with the sign of the cross is borrowed from Judaism. It was an ancient and widespread practice in Judaism to ritually eat cakes stamped with symbols or with the actual form of divinity. In some cases they were given the shape of images of Gods and Goddesses and they were ritually eaten.
|A Panoramic View of the Fortress of Masada.|
It was at this fortress, that a handful of Jewish warriors took a last stand in resisting the Roman invasion of ancient Israel. Masada, was the last bastion of Jewish resistance to Roman rule.
Even today we have wedding cakes with lucky symbols on them,. "Hot cross buns, to be eaten on Good Friday must have the image Of the cross on them. "Eat the image of thy God and be like him", this was the philosophy behind these practices. Even pre-Islamic Arab followed such practices, which were later abolished by Mohammed.
Thus, elements of Judaism have widespread presence in Christianity . The heavy interchange of ideas between these two religions was natural as Christianity emerged from Judaism. Thus Judaism had worldwide impact through the medium of Christianity, though Judaism itself had a limited following. Even otherwise the countries in which the Jews lived, they constituted a small but powerful minority having considerable interest in industry and commerce . Though unfortunately in most of the host countries they were treated like second class citizens.
Jews in India
Jews have been present in India since the 1st century of our era. Most of the Jews were concentrated in Kerala in South India. Cochin was their main centre of settlement. Even today we have some ancient synagoges at Cochin. They also lived in Western India mainly in Mumbai and Pune.
|The Jewish inamtes of a Nazi concentration camp cladestinely listen in the dead of the night to BBC news during the Second World War.|
In Mumbai, Jews from West Asia called Bagdadi Jews immigrated in the l9th century. They were mainly industrialists and traders. Sir David Sasson is the most illustrious name of this community of Jews. In Mumbai, the Jewish community was concentrated in the Jacob Circle (now renamed Gadge Maharaj Chowk) area in Central Bombay. They have a synagogue there. The Jews in India were a microscopic community of around a few thousands. They had totally integrated themselves with the society around them. Their dress is traditionally Indian. Their womenfolk wear saree; and bangles. Their surnames and family names like those of other Indians. Their culinary habits are totally Indian.
(Charles F. Potter - The Story of Religion, Geroge Harrap, London, 1930 PP 111,112)
Their Indian character is so pronounced that even after many of them have migrated to Israel, they are known their as Bene-Israelis. While Israel is their original homeland and it is natural for them to migrate to Israel, the fact that have completely absorbed Indian culture is evident from the fact that the first generation of Indian Jews settling in Israel find it difficult to adjust to their new surroundings. But this too is natural as Israelis are composed of the immigrant Jews who for thousands of years had been living in different foreign countries.
|The Jewish inmates were forced to live in inhuman conditions in the Nazi Concentration Camps. Here is a sketch depicting the scene when the Jewish inmates were given an order to burn their own brothers and sisters living in the camp. While some of the inamtes arrange for the wood for that gruesome act, those condemned to so die, have a last drink.|
As Israel is the original homeland of all Jews, a time may come when there are no more Jews in India, even today they are not more than a few thousands. Though this emigration is a natural one for the Jews to realise their own national and cultural aspirations, we in India do stand to lose a microscopic but dynamic element of ourselves. to the emergent sovereign state of Israel.
Now we move on to the next religion Zoroastrianism and examine the presence of Hindu Customs in the Parsi Community in India.
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