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A Layman's Guide to World War III - Judaism
By Kevin Filan

Religions:    Christianity | Judaism | Hinduism | Shi'a Islam | Sufism | Wahhabism

After the second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., the Jews were scattered around the world. Those who settled in France, Germany and Eastern Europe became known as the Ashkenazim; those who settled in Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East were known as Sephardim. Ashkenazic Jews faced brutal persecution from the start, as their Christian neighbors held them personally responsible for the Crucifixion, the plague, crop failures, droughts, missing children, sour milk, etc. As a result their lifestyle was more insular, with a tendency to look upon non-Jews with an all too frequently justified suspicion. Things were somewhat better for the Sephardim; the Moslems looked upon Jews as "People of the Book" and were generally less given to pogroms and persecutions. Sephardic philosophy and culture drew more freely from the surrounding peoples, and showed the influence of Arabic thinkers. One of the greatest Jewish philosophers, Moses Maimonides, was a Sephardic Jew who wrote many of his treatises not in Hebrew but in Arabic. While the Ashkenazim and Sephardim recognize each other as Jews, there are cultural differences. Today in Israel Ashkenazic (European) Jews tend to be wealthier and more politically connected than their Sephardic counterparts. This cultural divide is narrowed to a great extent by Israel's compulsory military service, which brings Israelis of all backgrounds and social classes together, and by that feeling of shared distress which 100 million angry neighbors can bring. To this day small Jewish communities can be found in Japan, India and Ethiopia.

As a "chosen people," Jews are obligated to follow innumerable commandments and proscriptions. The Kashrut (dietary laws) of the ultra-Orthodox are considerably more complicated than "don't eat pork and avoid leavened bread during Passover, as the rules of the Torah are supplemented by the work of generations of Torah scholars. In following these commandments, observant Jews literally become "a people set apart" by their distinctive clothing, food, and social customs. This has served to promote a sense of cultural identity in the face of serious pressure to assimilate; it has also made Jews easy targets for bigotry.

Before World War I, most religious Jews considered Zionism a heresy; and thought only the Mosiach could re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and many of the other early Zionist leaders were non-religious. The Orthodox Jews living in Palestine were horrified by the non-observant Zionist chalutzim (settlers), while the Zionists considered religious Jews superstitious anachronisms. After the Holocaust, and the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, the idea of a Jewish state became more popular. While there are still ultra-Orthodox Jews who reject Zionism, today most religious Jews are strong supporters of Israel.

With this unification of religion and nationalism comes the potential for serious trouble. Right-wing Orthodox settlers have continued to set up homes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, claiming that G-d himself gave the Jews Israel and no UN declaration is going to change that. More disturbing, in the long run, are rumblings about a Third Temple. Many of the rites of Ancient Israel cannot be made save in the Temple. Alas, the space upon which the Temple once stood currently houses the Mosque of the Rock, one of the holiest places in Islam. No Third Temple could be constructed without first destroying the Mosque of the Rock, an action which would almost certainly precipitate an international conflagration.

http://www.bsz.org/
Sephardic Jewish Homepage

http://www.jewfaq.org/
Judaism 101

http://www.shj.org/
Society for Humanistic Judaism (Secular Jews)

Kevin Filan is a freelance contributor to hybrid based in New York. Last month, Kevin wrote a piece entitled The Thermonuclear Men's Club.

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