Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism (Hebrew: "Yehadut Rabanit" - יהדות רבנית) is the mainstream religious system of post-diaspora Judaism. It evolved after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE by the Roman Empire, when it became impossible to practice the religious customs and ritual animal sacrifices that were at that time central to Jewish observance. Rabbinic Judaism developed as a successor system between the second to sixth centuries CE, with the development of the Talmud and oral law to guide the interpretetation of Jewish scripture and to enable the practice of Judaism in the absence of Temple sacrifice and other practices no longer possible. Rabbinic Judaism is based on the tradition that at Mount Sinai Moses received directly from God the Torah (Pentateuch) as well as additional oral understanding and revelation, the "oral law," that was transmitted by Moses to the people in oral form.

Mainstream Rabbinic Judaism contrasts with Karaite Judaism, which disputes the validity of the oral law, and the procedures used to interpret Jewish scripture. Although there are now profound differences among Jewish denominations of Rabbinic Judaism with respect to the binding force of "halakha" and the willingness to challenge preceding interpretations, all identify themselves as coming from the tradition of the oral law and the Rabbinic method of analysis. It is this which distinguishes them as Rabbinic Jews, in comparison to the Karaite movement.


In keeping with the commandments of the Torah, Judaism had centered tightly on religious practice and sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. However, after the destruction of the Temple, Jews were deprived of a central place of worship and religious activity, were unable to fulfill the temple-related practices mandated in the Tanakh, and were scattered around the world.

Written and oral law

The written part of Jewish law exists as the Torah, or the five books of Moses, known to Christians as the Pentateuch. The oral revelation is said to have been transmitted by word of mouth from the generation present at Sinai to their descendants up to the time of the second Temple in Jerusalem. For example, in Exodus 18 and Numbers 11 of the Bible, it is recorded that Moses appointed elders to govern with him and to judge disputes, imparting to them details and guidance of how to interpret the revelations from God while carrying out their duties.

Development of Rabbinic Judaism

As the Rabbis were required to face a new reality—mainly Judaism without a Temple (to serve as the center of teaching and study) and Judea without autonomy—there was a flurry of legal discourse and the old system of oral scholarship could not be maintained. It is during this period that Rabbinic discourse began to be recorded in writing. [See, Strack, Hermann, "Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash", Jewish Publication Society, 1945. pp.11-12. " [The Oral Law] was handed down by word of mouth during a long period...The first attempts to write down the traditional matter, there is reason to believe, date from the first half of the second post-Christian century." Strack theorizes that the growth of a Christian canon (the New Testament) was a factor that influenced the Rabbis to record the oral law in writing.] The theory that the destruction of the Temple and subsequent upheaval led to the committing of Oral Law into writing was first explained in the Epistle of Sherira Gaon and often repeated. [See, for example, Grayzel, "A History of the Jews", Penguin Books, 1984, p. 193.]

The oral law was subsequently codified in the Mishna and Gemarah, and is interpreted in Rabbinic literature detailing subsequent rabbinic decisions and writings. Rabbinic Jewish literature is predicated on the belief that the Written Law cannot be properly understood without recourse to the Oral Law (the Mishnah).

Much Rabbinic Jewish literature concerns specifying what behavior is sanctioned by the law; this body of interpretations is called "halakha" ("the way").

Modern developments

Until the Jewish enlightenment of the late 18th century, and the resulting division of Ashkenazi Jewry into religious movements or denominations, especially in North America and anglophone countries, halakha had the universal status of required religious practice. This remains the prevailing position among Orthodox and Conservative Jews. Reform Jews do not generally treat halakha as binding.


ee also

* Rabbi
* Council of Jamnia
* Judah haNasi

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