¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In most biblical writings, divine protection guards against the dangers in this world and applies more to the Jewish people as a whole rather than to individuals. But while observation of the laws is the responsibility of each person, the notion of collective liability, emphasized by the Prophets, creates an uneasy social pressure towards religious conformity. The idea of individual reward and punishment in the hereafter appears relatively late in Judaism and could very well have been introduced from the outside. Halacha pervades just about every aspect of Jewish life. Over its long accretionary evolution, Judaism has become a tight amalgamation of spiritual, ethical and social precepts, and historical detritus. As in any complex system, it is often easy to miss the forest for the trees; the gap between religious ordinance and actual behaviour varies widely.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 One of Judaism’s deepest thinkers, Moses Maimonides (~1135–1204), postulated that God’s existence is manifest only through his actions, and any other divine attributes are purely human constructs.7 If we accept that people have been created in God’s image,8 then it follows out of symmetry that a person’s godliness expresses itself only by his or her deeds, not by thoughts or words. Thus, Judaism is a religion of doing rather than talking.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Prime among Jewish tenets is the requirement that God has to be approached with humility and in purity9 – both spiritual and physical. Thus, an observant Jew may pray or read the Torah even without the benefit of a synagogue – but one may not do so in a state of impurity; for purification one needs a ritual bath (mikvah).10 The ritual bath is particularly crucial in maintaining “Purity of the Family,” a modest circumlocution of cleansing rituals related to reproductive function – particularly for women. An unassuming ritual bath therefore has a higher priority in a Jewish community than a prominent synagogue.11
7Maimonides and Friedländer, “The Guide of the Perplexed”, 185; Bujis, “Attributes of Action in Maimonides,”
8Cf. Gen. 1:27.
9BT, Shab. 104a; Ber. 10a.
11Ullmann, “Nachbarschaft und Konkurrenz”,160; Berlin, “Responsa Meshiv Davar”