Understanding Judaism

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Understanding Judaism
Robert W. Mynes
REL 212
September 5, 2012
Professor Ronald Gavin

Abstract Prior to studying Judaism the only personal exposure I had to the religion was my friend Joseph and his family. My biggest misconception of the faith was that Rabbis were the center of the faith and taught from the Old Testament. Additional stereotypes (which I think is an appropriate word for misconceptions) that I was regretfully party too were: Jews are stingy with money, loud, argumentative; their holidays come once a month it seems and involved fasting and staying home to prey and not work. I will discuss how these beliefs were negatively reinforced by society and Hollywood. Utilizing text, research, conversations with the Halikmans, and attending service at Rodef Shalom Temple in Hampton, Virginia; I hope to erase these misconceptions by sharing my experiences about the Jewish faith, traditions, and religious practices described or taught by someone of the Jewish religion. As stated by (Swidler, 1988), “All Participants must define themselves, only the Jew, for example, can define from the inside what it means to be a Jew.”

Jewish Misconceptions One of the most embarrassing things I have ever had to admit to a friend was my ignorance and stereotypical thinking towards the Jewish religion. Joseph has been my friend over the last several years. Before we met my knowledge of Judaism was based on watching television shows like; “Jerry Seinfeld” and movies such as “Fiddler on the roof”. Rabbis in the movies always seemed to be giving advice, passing judgment, and accusing people of sin. Watching television I would see these Seinfeld actors playing their roles and constantly poking fun of their Jewish faith and traditions. Stinginess was prolific at the little Diner, tips or covering the meal was a constant game. George and his family would argue loudly about senseless things. These influences led to much ignorance about Jewish people on my part. An attempt to explain how Society influenced these beliefs was attempted by Economist and historian Thomas Sowell of Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, who investigated the stereotypes of Jews. He concluded that “In medieval Europe many governments restricted money handling and lending to Jews, believing them to be practices morally inappropriate for Christians” (Singer, 2000). So those who were competent with money could have success. In the work place I have heard many people remark and jest over the years that they are considering becoming Jewish just to get extra days off and sit home. These remarks were meant as jokes but as with any prejudices they were more of ignorance and prejudice.

Understanding the Jewish Perspective Shortly after I became friends with Joseph I learned that he was Jewish, he would come to work with a little beany and what I thought was small Bible. He explained to me that the skull cap was a “Yarmulke or Kippah” called yamaka by many. His book was not a Bible but the Torah, the Hebrew Bible of sorts. In our text the Torah is the teaching that guides the way of the Jews and the constitution of the ongoing relationship of God and the Jewish people. The Torah can refer to all sacred literature and observances and can be referred to as God’s will (Fisher, 2011). For years Joseph has been my personal Jewish library of sorts. If I had a question about a holiday or custom I would ask Joe. When I asked him about his Rabbi and how he interacted with the congregation? Joe let me know pretty quick that not all Rabbis are men and though they are ordained and have earned the right to interpret Jewish laws to settle disputes, their main role was as a teacher of the Torah(Rich, 1998-2011). Unlike priest, Rabbis have no more rights to perform Jewish rituals than any other Elder of the Faith.
Learning by Education Now years later, I find myself 46 and in collage. Shamefully I must again admit that although I had