CLASS:                     BDP2

            In 538 B.C.E, Cyrus, conquered Babylon and permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. He was sure in gratitude for this favour they would become a stable nation in this outpost of his domain. Nehemiah and Ezra, who had been leading members of remaining strong community of Babylonia and held high offices with the king, returned to Jerusalem about 100 year later.

TEMPLE RESTORATION: The first thing Ezra did was to start the teaching of the torah and rebuilding of the temple. He declared solemn assembly and read the Torah to the people from morning till evening so as to instill the fear and restore the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The restoration of the temple worship was met with oppositions from the Samaritans (the Samaritans were a judiaized mixture of native north Israelites and gentile deportees settled by the Assyrians in the erstwhile  northern kingdom). A new religious inspiration attended the governorship of Zerubbabel (6th century BCE), a member of Davidic line, who became the centre of messianic expectations during the anarchy attendant upon the accession to the Persian throne of Darius 1 (522 BCE). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah understood the overthrow of the Persian empire, as a world wide manifestation of God, and as a glorification of Zerubbabel (see books of Haggai and Zechariah). Against the day of the empires fall, they urged the people to quickly complete the building the temple. The labour was resumed and completed in 516, but the prophecies remained unfulfilled. Zerubbabel then disappears from the Biblical narrative and the spirit of the community flags again.
            The one religious constant is the vicissitudes of the restored community was the mood of repentance and desire to win back God’s favour by adherence to the rules of his covenant. The anxiety that underlay this mood produced a hostility to strangers and encouraged a lasting conflict with the Samaritan who asked permission to take part in the temple of the God whom they too worshipped. The Jews rejected the Samaritans on ill-specified but apparently ethnic and religious grounds: They felt the Samaritans to be alien to the Jewish historical community of faith and especially to its messianic hopes.

THE TORAH:  The decisive constitutional event of the new community was the covenant subscribed to by its leaders in 444, which made the Torah the law of the land. A charter granted to Ezra by the Persian king Artaxerxes 1 empowered the latter to enforce the Torah as the imperial law for the Jews of the province Avar-natira (“Beyond the River”), in which the district of Judah (now reduced to a small area) was located. The charter required the publication of the Torah, which in turn entailed its final editing-now plausibly ascribed to Ezra and his circle. The survival in the Torah of patent inconsistencies and disagreements with the postexilic situation indicate that its materials were by then sacrosanct, to be compiled but no longer created. But these survivals made necessary the immediate  invention of harmonizing and creative method of textual interpretation to adjust the Torah to the need of the times. The Levites were trained in the art of interpreting the text to the people; the first product of the creative exegesis later known as Midrash (meaning “investigation” or “interpretation’, plural midrashim) is to be found in the covenant document of Nehemiah, chapter 9-every item of which shows development, not reproduction, of a ruling of the Torah (see books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Thus, the publication of the Torah as the law of the Jews laid the basis of the vast edifice of Oral Law so characteristic of later Judaism.
            Concern over observance of the Torah was raised by the contrast between messianic expectations and the harsh reality of the restoration. The contrast signified God’s continued displeasure, and the only way to region his favour was to do his will. So, the book of Malaachi, named after the last of the prophets, concludes with an admonition to be mindful of the Torah of Moses. God’s displeasure, however, had always been signaled by a break in communication with him. As time passed and messianic hopes remained unfulfilled, the sense of a permanent suspension of normal relations with God took hold, and prophecy died out. God, it was believed, would some day be reconciled with his people, and a glorious revival of prophecy would then occur. For the present, however, religious vitality expressed itself in dedication to the development of institutions that would make the Torah effective in life. The course of this development is hidden from view by the dearth of sources from the Persian period. But the community that emerged into the light of history in Hellenistic times had been radically transformed by the momentous, quiet process.
            Over the centuries the search for meaning in Torah went deeper  and deeper, in debate, discussion, rabbinic decision and commentaries. This growing body of interpretations was transmitted for centuries by word of mouth, Oral Torah evolved, and eventually, when the subject matter became too voluminous and persecution endangered the lives of the rabbis who held the knowledge, this “Oral Torah” was written down. This has come to be known as Mishanah (Review), which then became the source for additional commentary, the Gemara (addition), completed in Babylonia. Both Mishanah and Gemara from the Talmud (compendium of learning). It has remained the “encyelopeida of the Jew”.
            When need arose, Torah was even translated to remain the guide for those Jews who had lost their facility in Hebrew. Translated into Greek, supposedly the work of seventy scholars, this early translation is known to us as the Septuagint from the Latin world for seventy. 

HELLENISTIC JUDAISM                                             
            The emergence of Alexander the great of Macedonia on the stage of history opened wide the gates to the influence of Greek culture (Hellenism). In (336-323 BCE), Alexander conquering the world, entered Jerusalem, and was so gracious to the Jews that made many name their sons after him. Upon his early death, Judah first fell under the rule of the Ptolemics of Egypt (the first ptolemy was one of the generals who had divided up Alexander’s empire). So strong was the influence of Hellenism that many of the pious Jews of Egypt no longer understood Hebrew, hence the translation of the Septuagint, already mentioned.
            Soon, however, Judah became attached to the kingdom of Syria, the house of Seleucids. One of the kings, Antiochus in Epiphanes, desirous of unifying his empire by means of Greek worship and thought, but also inspired by Jewish Hellenists, endeavoured to suppress Jewish religion. In 167 B.C.E this brought on a rebellion, led by Judah Maccabee (Judas Maccabacus, the Hammerer) of the house of hasmon, not for independence but for freedom of religion. It resulted incomplete independence. The victory is celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah. The Hasmoneans traced their descent to Aaron the high priest; they were, therefore, members of the priestly caste, the only one entitled to conduct the service in the temple and to provide the high priest. The Hasmoneans now assumed the power of the royal purple as kings, adding to it the office of High priest. Their power was truly absolute and soon became corrupt. Possessed by political and dynastic ambitions the rulers had forgotten that they were the guardians of the covenant.

MARRIAGE LIFE                        
            Ezra and Nehemiah were bent and very strict on family purity, they even compelled the setters to divorce their non-Jewish wives. Priests who married non-Jewish wives were depressed they vowed never again to give their daughter to non Jews, nor their sons to marry them. The Jewish kinship had to be deepened among all those who were committed to unyielding obedience to God and Torah. It was felt that only a family uncompromisingly committed to Torah and Mitzvot and brought up in them for generations could assure Jewish survival. The Samaritans a people of Jewish and non- Jewish ancestry with synthetic religion composed of many practices, were rejected.

            The attitude of Judaism toward converts thereby underwent a charge under the impact of external forces.
            During their early settlement, Jews had been hospitable to converts. They were the first and only people in antiquity to receive the stranger willing to become a Jew, while all other nations exclude the “Barbarians”. The book of Ruth, attests to this hospitality, the convert lovingly accepted, became the ancestress of king David. Now, faced with the dangers of erosion, a barrier was put up. Since those days, the Jewish attitude toward conversion has remained ambivalent. At times (for instance, during the period of the Roman participate) conversion activity was widespread. At the height of Jewish conversion activity, which includes the period of the emergence of Christianity, a very broad outlook prevailed. Even those who were not prepared to accept all of the Jewish laws could as “associate members” the convert became a “ger toshau” a resident aline, entitled to enjoy the full measure of sustaining brotherhood of the Jewish people, though restricted in his religious privileges. He could, of course, become a full-fledged Jew, if he so desired. The feeding was: if men offer it. Later, efforts at conversion became minimal, portly, of course, as a result of the prohibition of Christianity against it. At present, there seems to exists a more liberal outlook, at least among non orthodox Jews. The convert becomes a full-fledged and beloved member of the Jewish people.

            Post exilic era brought drastic changes to the Jews both socially, religiously, politically and economically. Without which, there will be nothing like the nation of Israel today. It allows non Jews who desired to worship Yahweh to do so, provided they are ready to obey the Torah. Post exilic Judaism is the brain behind what we have today as the nation of Israel.

Leo Trepp
Judaism Development and Life
Second Edition
Moshe Greenberg
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