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JN-JZ Archives | Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia
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JOB.

Third book in the biblical section Writings. The theme of Job is divine justice, asking and discussing the question “Why do the righteous suffer?” Job of Uz, a good man, suddenly has a series of terrible misfortunes: he loses his wealth, his children die, and he becomes ill with a loathsome disease. Three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to console him. They assume that his troubles have come to him as punishment for his sins, and urge Job to confess his guilt and accept his suffering as God’s righteous judgment. Job insists that he is innocent and pours out the bitterness of his soul. Finally, a fourth friend, Elihu, son of Barachel, scolds Job for lacking trust in God. The book has a happy ending. Job learns that humans cannot really understand the mystery of the Lord’s ways, when God speaks to him “out of a whirlwind” and restores his health and happiness. Job has more sons and daughters and lives to be 140. With its magnificent poetic description of Job’s trials and his patient faith, together with the majestic descriptions of Divine power, the Book of Job is the greatest of the Wisdom books in the Bible.

JOEL.

Second of the minor prophets in the Bible. The Book of Joel calls the people of Judea to repent because the Judgment Day is at hand. It ends with the promise that the enemies of Israel will be overturned, Jerusalem and Judah will be restored, and God will dwell in the midst of His people once again.

JOEL, BILLY.

See Music.

JOHANAN BEN ZAKKAI

(1st century C.E.).Religious leader. A student of Hillel and a member of the Sanhedrin, Ben Zakkai advocated a policy of peace with the Romans. The Talmud relates that during the siege of Jerusalem for no reason was anyone allowed to leave the city except to bury the dead. Ben Zakkai instructed his disciples to carry him in a coffin across the city walls. There he met the Roman commander Vespasian who granted him permission to open a Talmudical academy at Yavneh. There, he continued the work of the Sanhedrin, instituting laws and regulations that exerted a lasting influence on the development of Jewish spiritual values.

JOHANAN OF GUSH HALAV.

(John of Gis_chala, 1st century C.E.)One of the leaders of the Judean rebellion against Rome, 66-70 C.E., Johanan was a man of frail body and peaceful habits. An attack on his town forced him to take up arms and transformed him into one of the fiercest opponents of Roman tyranny. After Gush Halav fell to the Roman legions, Johanan fled to Jerusalem with several thousand followers. There he joined in the ruthless struggle between the peace party and the Zealots, who favored war. Only after Titus had already laid siege to Jerusalem did Johanan join forces with Bar Giora, another Zealot leader, for defense of the capital. After five months of heroic fighting, Jerusalem was taken by sheer force of numbers. Johanan was among the last to be captured. He was forced to march in Titus’s triumphal entry into Rome and later sentenced to life imprisonment as a rebel.

JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE.

See American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

JOLSON, AL.

See Music.

JONAH.

Literally, dove. Fifth and perhaps most familiar of the minor prophets in the Bible. The first two chapters of the book of Jonah tell how the prophet unwillingly set out on his mission to save the people of Nineveh, how he was swallowed by a great fish and prayed for salvation, and how he was spewed out safely on the shore. The third chapter tells how Jonah obeys the word of the Lord and prophesies the destruction of Nineveh because of its wickedness, and how the people repented. The final chapter describes Jonah’s displeasure because God forgave the people of Nineveh and his prophecy of destruction did not come true. It also tells how the Lord taught Jonah the meaning of mercy and forgiveness.

JORDAN.

In Hebrew, Yarden. Israel’s largest river, flowing into the Red Sea. It is the natural border between Israel and Jordan.

JORDAN, HASHEMITE KINGDOM OF.

Modern name for kingdom of Transjordan, which was formed in 1922. In 1948, Jordan annexed the territory on the West Bank originally assigned in 1947 for a new Arab state under the UN partition resolution and also occupied the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1967, Israeli forces occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank territory. In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel.

JOSEPH.

Literally, He (i.e. God) will add. Son of Jacob and Rachel. The favorite child, he was given “a coat of many colors” to wear. Both a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams, Joseph aroused the jealousy of his brothers and was sold as a slave to an Egypt-bound caravan. In Egypt he gained a position of authority on the estate of his master, Potiphar, but was imprisoned because of a false accusation by Potiphar’s wife. His old skill at interpreting dreams brought his release from prison and his rise to the office of the Pharaoh’s viceroy and governor of Egypt. The stories of his dramatic reunion with his family which came down to Egypt during the years of famine in Canaan and the comfort he brought to his father who had thought Joseph dead form the final chapter in his story. Joseph was not forgotten by his people. Years later, when they fled Egypt to return to their Promised Land, they took Joseph’s embalmed body along on their 40-year journey to Canaan and gave him final burial near Shechem. Rabbinic tales and Jewish folklore have spangled the Joseph story with numerous legends. Folk plays on the theme of his life came into being as traditional entertainment for Purim, to be performed by strolling players or the townspeople themselves. The imagination of humankind has been gripped by the story, and countless dramas and tales have been written about Joseph, culminating in Thomas Mann’s great trilogy, Joseph and His Brothers.

JOSEPHUS FLAVIUS (ca. 37-ca. 105).

Soldier and historian. Born in Jerusalem, Joseph ben Mattathias came from a priestly family and was educated in the schools of the Pharisees. At age 26 he was sent on a mission to Rome where he remained for two years at the court of Nero. Returning home in 65 C.E., Josephus found the country in open rebellion against Roman rule. Entrusted with the command of Galilee, he fortified its cities against Vespasian and his invading Roman legions. From the beginning, Joseph’s loyalty was suspected by Johanan of Gush Halav, leader of the extremist Zeolot party, and the feud between them was bitter. Vespasian invaded Galilee in 67 and conquered the fortresses one by one. In Jotapata, Josephus held out for three months. When the garrison was captured, Josephus saved his life by surrendering. He won his way into Vespasian’s good graces by predicting that he would become emperor of Rome. The prediction came true, Vespasian returned to Rome to mount the imperial throne, and Titus took over command of the war in Judea. During the siege of Jerusalem, Titus used Josephus to urge the Jews to surrender. After the fall of Jerusalem, Joseph accompanied Titus to Rome, and was rewarded by the favor of the Flavian emperors, Vespasian and Titus. In gratitude, he took their name and called himself Josephus Flavius. Josephus appears to have been torn between his inescapable Jewishness and his need to please the Romans. He turned to writing and wrote first The Judean Wars (against Rome). Then he wrote the Antiquities of the Jews, a history glorifying the Jewish people. In Against Apion, a reply to the Alexandrian schoolmaster and antisemite, Josephus passionately defended Jews against slander. Vita is the autobiography that Josephus wrote to answer the charges made against him by another Jewish historian, Justus of Galilee. The writings of Justus on the Jewish revolt have been lost. The books of Josephus have survived, and serve as the only source of knowledge for a good part of the Jewish history of that period.

JOSHUA.

Literally, the Lord will help. According to the Bible, Joshua, the son of Nun, was chosen by Moses to be his successor. Joshua led Israel across the Jordan in about 1260 B.C.E., conquered the Jericho fortress, and defeated the six hostile Canaanite tribes. After six years of battle, he began the division of the conquered territory among the tribes. The Book of Joshua is the sixth in the Bible, following Deuteronomy; it tells the story of the conquest and division of Canaan, and ends with Joshua’s farewell address and death.

JOSHUA BEN HANANYAH.

See Tannaim.

JUDAH.

Literally, Praise to the Lord. Fourth son of Jacob, born of Leah; founder of the tribe of Judah, whose emblem was the lion. Just as Judah came to be the leader of all the sons of Jacob, so the tribe of Judah took the leading role in the life of the people. Much of Chapter 15 in Joshua is devoted to a description of Judah’s territory, which extended from the end of the Salt Sea in the south to the Great Sea in the west and was crowned with Jerusalem on its heights. Judah was also the name of the southern kingdom, which included the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and part of Benjamin. This kingdom came into being after the northern tribes had seceded at the death of Solomon, forming their own northern kingdom of Israel.

JUDAH HA-LEVI.

See Ha-levi, Judah.

JUDAH, KINGDOM OF.

The southern kingdom which included the territory belonging to the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and part of Benjamin. The kingdom of Judah came into being after the northern tribes had seceded from the House of David at the death of Solomon, forming their own northern kingdom of Israel.

JUDAH MACCABEE.

See Maccabees.

JUDAH THE PRINCE (Yehudah Hanasi; ca.135-222 C.E.)

Also called Rabbi and Rabenu ha-Kadosh, our Holy Rabbi. His life work consisted of editing, compiling, and classifying the Mishnah, the entire body of Jewish oral law which had been accumulated during the preceding four centuries. He arranged the Mishnah in six sections, each one dealing with a particular set of laws. This work exerted a crucial influence on the development of the religious, cultural, and social life of the Jewish people.

Judah the Prince was born on the day Rabbi Akiba died, a coincidence symbolic of the continuity of Jewish scholarship. A descendant of Hillel, who established a famous school of interpreters of the Law, he succeeded his father as Nasi, or head of the Sanhedrin, the highest legislative and judicial council of the time. His preoccupation with Jewish law did not prevent the great rabbi and scholar from acquiring a thorough knowledge of Greek language and culture. But it was his vast knowledge of Jewish law that earned him the recognition of the scholars of his time. His learning as well as his wealth added dignity and splendor to his leadership of the Jewish people as head of the Sanhedrin. Even the Roman authorities respected his station. His house resembled a royal court. Yet Rabbi Judah himself was a modest and self-denying person, highly responsive to the needs of his fellow man. In time of famine, he distributed his wealth freely to the poor. His main interests lay in learning and in his students whom he loved deeply. “I learned much from my teachers,” he once said, “much more from my comrades, and most of all from my students.”

Judah the Prince lived first in Bet Shearim and then in Zippori, Galilee. He was the last of the Tannaim, closing a great period of Jewish scholarship.

JUDAISM.

Judaism is based on the Bible, each age reinterpreting and redefining biblical laws. The Talmud is the result of such a process of interpretation. Changing conditions and circumstances resulted in further interpretations by rabbinic authorities of every generation. Hence, Judaism never froze into a fixed and rigid philosophy and was always more concerned with the practice of the commandments regulating human’s relations with each other and with God.

Orthodox Judaism. The way of life that adheres to the traditional aspects of Judaism came to be called “Orthodox” in the early 19th century when Reform and Conservative Judaisms, which differ somewhat from the original tradition of Judaism, developed. Orthodox Jews continued to follow the laws, customs, and ceremonies prescribed in the Shulhan Arukh. This code of Jewish law, however, deals only with obligatory practices. In addition, there are many customs which have evolved over the ages. These customs have been so hallowed by time and tradition that they now have almost the binding force of law for the communities in which they are practiced. Numerous collections of such customs have been made, and many of them have become an organic part of Jewish life.

At the center of the Orthodox way of life lies the idea that God chose His people Israel from among the nations and bestowed His law upon them as a symbol of this love. In receiving the Torah, the Jews took upon themselves the task of becoming “a nation of priests and a sacred folk” by dedicating themselves to fulfilling the ideals of justice and holiness embodied in the Law. For the Orthodox Jew, the Law embodies all the rules for the good life. When he or she acts according to the letter and spirit of the Law, the Jew realizes the will of God and reflects upon the goodness of God and the love lavished by Him upon Israel and all humankind. In fact, a large number of customs and ceremonies observed by Orthodox Jews serve directly to remind them of this love.

Conservative Judaism. The history of Conservative Judaism began with the Historical School of Jewish Learning founded by Zechariah Frankel in Germany in 1850. Frankel held that Judaism was a living spirit which had undergone many changes in its long history to adjust itself to the changes in its surroundings. The Historical School he initiated aimed to use modern scientific methods to study the Jewish past. As long as every effort was made to preserve and understand the Jewish tradition, Frankel believed that in the future, as in the past, changes in customs or ceremonies would evolve naturally in the spirit of Judaism, as well as in the spirit of the times.

A leader of this school of thought was Sabato Morais, a founder of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. When Solomon Schechter assumed the leadership of the Seminary, Conservative Judaism in America was greatly strengthened. Schechter felt that “Universal Israel” had always permitted differences of opinion because of the all-embracing unity of Judaism, past, present, and future. This unity together with tradition and scholarship constituted, he believed, a fertile soil for the growth of a program for Conservative Judaism. The religious movement known as Reconstructionism was first formulated by a member of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s faculty, Dr. Mordecai M. Kaplan.

Reform Judaism. Early Reform Judaism was rooted in the period of political emancipation and cultural adaption of European Jewry from the middle of the 18th through the 19th century. Israel Jacobson in the German province of Westphalia was perhaps the first leader to express the current desire for modifications in Judaism. He introduced a number of changes into his synagogue: a mixed choir, a few prayers recited in German, and a sermon in German.

When he moved to Berlin in 1815, Israel Jacobson instituted these innovations in a new synagogue founded by him and the banker Jacob Beer. It was, however, the scholar Abraham Geiger who laid the ideological foundation for Reform Judaism. Geiger saw Judaism as an historical, developing faith and rejected basic beliefs and practices that he believed were contradictory to modern scientific thought.

The first to found Reform institutions in the U.S. was Isaac Mayer Wise. The principles he advocated formed the basis for the Pittsburgh Platform adopted by a conference of rabbis in 1885. These principles emphasized the prophetic ideas of the Bible and declared some of the biblical and Talmudic regulations no longer applicable. The Platform separated Jewish religion from Jewish nationalism and rejected a return to Palestine and the belief in a personal Messiah. For the Messianic era of peace and perfection it substituted the hope for a perfect world achieved by cultural and scientific progress. Reform Judaism thought of Jews as a group with a mission to spread godliness in the world. A revision of these principles took place in 1937 at the meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Columbus, Ohio. The conference defined Judaism as the “historical religious experience of the Jewish people,” thereby including not only Jewish belief and ethic, but also traditional culture and peoplehood. Today the Reform movement sponsors ARZA, or American Reform Zionist organization, which is dedicated to the cause of Israel. Since the 1960’s, there have been two major ideological trends within Reform. On the one hand, many Reform rabbis have become more traditional and observant, and have even advocated a “Reform Halachah.” On the other hand, other Reform rabbis, including the former leader of the movement, Alexander Schindler, broke ranks with the other Jewish movements by introducing new concepts such as patrilineal descent (recognizing one as a Jew even if not born to a Jewish mother, only a Jewish father). Moreover, a growing number of Reform rabbis began to officiate at marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

A somewhat similar phenomenon could also be detected in the Conservative movement, where the approval of the ordination of women drove a wedge between traditionalist and liberal Conservative rabbis. In the Orthodox camp, a trend toward the right could be seen among some young rabbis, who refuse to recognize the validity of non-Orthodox movements, while others have been seeking dialogue and reconciliation.

JUDENRAT.

From German, meaning Jewish Council. During World War II, the Nazi occupiers of Europe set up a Judenrat in every Jewish community, whether as large as the half million Jews of Warsaw or as small as a village of a handful of families. The members of the Judenrat were put in the painful position of serving their own people’s executioners, and while many of them sought to alleviate their people’s situation, there was little they could do.

JUDGES (12th and 11th centuries B.C.E.).

The Book of Judges spans the period from the death of Joshua to the time when Saul was anointed king. The conquest of Canaan under Joshua had been incomplete. The tribes of Israel had not reached the coast which remained occupied by the Phoenicians and the Philistines. In the Great Plain the unconquered fortresses of Taanach, Megiddo, and Beth-Shean were arranged as a formidable barrier separating the tribes of Dan, Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar in the north, from the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah in the south. Aloof across the Jordan, Reuben tended its sheep, and Gad dallied in Gilead. The physical separation, as well as the nature of tribal society, prevented the Judges from effecting the unification of the people, even though they were popular heroes. During their era, Mesopotamian enemies from the north, the Moabites from across the Jordan in the south, and the nomad Midianites from Sinai subjugated the Israelites for varying periods of time. In such times of crisis, the Judges were called to leadership by the people and their battles eventually extended Israelite mastery of the Land. There were sixteen Judges. Two of them, Deborah and Samuel, were also prophets. One, Eli, was a priest, while Samson was a folk-hero rather than a military or religious leader. Another kind of battle characterized the period of the Judges: the battle of Israel’s religion of one God against the fertility and nature gods of Canaan. In both these struggles, the Judges were the leaders of the people.

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