Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism (Hebrew: "Yahadut Rabanit" - יהדות רבנית) has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the sixth century CE, after the codification of the Talmud. Rabbinic Judaism gained predominance within the Jewish diaspora between the second to sixth centuries CE, with the development of the oral law and the Talmud to control the interpretation of Jewish scripture and to encourage the practice of Judaism in the absence of Temple sacrifice and other practices no longer possible. Rabbinic Judaism is based on the belief that at Mount Sinai Moses received directly from God the Torah (Pentateuch) as well as additional oral explanation of the revelation, the "oral law," that was transmitted by Moses to the people in oral form.
Mainstream Rabbinic Judaism contrasts with Karaite Judaism, which doesn't recognize the oral law as a divine authority, and the Rabbinic 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 Karaite Judaism.
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 feature which distinguished Rabbinic Judaism has been the emphasis placed on the Oral Law or Oral Torah. The authority for that position has been the insistence by the Rabbis that the oral law was transmitted to Moses at Mount Sinai at the same time as the written law, the Torah, and that the oral law has been transmitted from generation to generation since. The Talmud is said to be a codification of the oral law, and is thereby just as binding as the Torah itself. As an example, in Exodus 18 and Numbers 11 of the Bible is cited to show 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. 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.
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).
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.
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ See, for example, Grayzel, A History of the Jews, Penguin Books, 1984, p. 193.