The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations


Symbolic rites and observances, expressive of certain thoughts or sentiments. As social life demands forms of etiquette (see Greetings), so every religous system has its peculiar ceremonies indicative of its own particular truths. The Biblical name for ceremonies appears to be "edut" ("testimonies," Deut. iv. 45; vi. 17, 20; see Naḥmanides on the last passage), in distinction to "mishpaṭim" ("judgments," "ordinances," Ex. xxi. 1, and elsewhere); while the term "ḥuḳḳim" ("statutes") is applied to both moral and ceremonial laws (Ex. xii. 14, 43; Lev. xviii. 4, and elsewhere). The Rabbis distinguish between mishpaṭim, moral laws—which are dictated by reason and common sense, such as laws concerning justice, incestuous marriages, and the like—and ḥuḳḳim, those divine statutes to which the "Yeẓer ha-Ra'" (the evil inclination) and the heathen object, such as the prohibition of pork or of wearing garments woven of wool and linen (Sifra, Aḥare Mot, xiii. on Lev. xviii. 5; Yoma 67b).

The Prophets laid the greatest stress upon the moral laws, while condemning mere ceremonialism (see Hosea vi. 6; Amos v. 21-24; Micah vi. 6-8; Isa. i. 13-17). The Psalmist (see Ps. xv.), and especially the Book of Wisdom, do not even refer to the ceremonial law. Whenever Judaism entered into relations with other nations and religions, the moral laws were accentuated, and the ceremonial laws were put into the background. Hellenistic Judaism, therefore (for Pseudo-Phocylides see Bernays, "Gesammelte Schriften," i. 227), Philo, and the entire propaganda literature to which the Didache belongs, take the same attitude toward the ceremonial laws. And, again, when the Jew came into contact with Arabic culture, this view of the ceremonial laws prevailed as being dictated by reason and common sense.

First Mention of Ceremonial Laws.

The discrimination between "laws based upon reason" and "laws demanding obedience to God's will" was adopted by Saadia ("Emunot we-De'ot," iii. 12; compare Ibn Ezra to Ex. xxi. and "Yesod Moreh," v.), and, with direct reference to the rabbinical passages quoted, by Maimonides ("Moreh Nebukim," iii. 2b; "Shemonah Peraḳim," vi.). Joseph Albo ("Iḳḳarim," iii. 25), if not Simon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran (see Zunz, "G. S." ii. 194), is the first who divides the Biblical laws into ceremonial, juridical, and moral laws. He admits, however, that he adopted this classification from a Christian controversialist; and, as a matter of fact, he forced himself in consequence to declare, with Maimonides (l.c. iii. 46), the sacrifices of the Mosaic law to be a concession to the pagan propensities of the people, and (in accordance with Sifre to Deut. xi. 13) prayer to be the true "service of the Lord"—a standpoint hardly to be reconciled with the belief in supernatural revelation and the permanence of the Mosaic law.

Biblical and Rabbinical Ceremonies.

The Mosaic law expressly states that certain ceremonies are to serve as "signs" and "memorials": (a) Circumcision is enjoined as "ot berit" ("a token of the covenant betwixt me and you," Gen. xvii. 11). (b) The Sabbath is to be "ot" ("a sign between me and you throughout your generations," Ex. xxxi. 13, 17; Ezek. xx. 17, 20). (c) The Passover feast "shall be for a sign [ot] unto thee upon thine hand and for a memorial between thine eyes" (Ex. xiii. 9). (d) Connected therewith is the redemption of the first-born to be a "token upon thine hands and for frontlets between thine eyes" (Ex. xiii. 16). According to rabbinical traditions, there are: (e) The putting on of the phylacteries or Tefillin prescribed in Deut. vi. 8, xi. 18, "Thou shalt bind them for a sign [ot] upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes." (f) The placing of Mezuzah upon the doors (Deut. vi. 9, xi. 20): "Thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thine house." (g) The Ẓiẓit,the fringe upon the borders of the garment, is also enjoined for the purpose "that ye may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord" (Num. xv. 39).

In fact, all the festivals are to be "remembrances" of God's deliverance and protection of the people of Israel (Deut. xvi. 3, 12; vi. 24; Lev. xxiii. 43); the paschal lamb, the maẓẓah, and the bitter herb on Passover, and the sukkah and the four plants of the Feast of Tabernacles (Ex. xii. 8; Lev. xxiii. 40 et seq.), being the significant symbols. Similarly, the erection of the sanctuary and the sacrificial worship therein must be counted among the ceremonial laws, and no less so the dietary laws (Ex. xxii. 30; Lev. xi.; Deut. xvi. 3-21), as symbolically emphasizing the idea of Israel being God's "holy" or priest people.

To these, Pharisaic Judaism added a number of new ceremonies, among which may be mentioned the kindling of the lights, the blessing over the wine (see Ḳiddush and Habdalah) for Sabbaths and festival days, and the blessing of the Moon.

Ceremonies are the impressive part, the poetry of religion. They invest life at its various stages and periods with "the beauty of holiness." The need of such has been all the more felt by Judaism since images or signs representing the Deity have been scrupulously shunned; and the home and every-day life of the Jew was to be sanctified no less than the Temple, the ancient domain of the priest. But exactly as the pomp of ritual called forth the protest of the prophet against "the work of men learned by rote" (Isa. xxix. 13, Hebr.), so there was a danger lest the multitude of forms might crush the spirit, wherefore many haggadists and writers, like Aristobulus and Philo, attribute symbolical meanings to Biblical ceremonies. Medieval mysticism also, from Baḥya and Naḥmanides down to Isaac Luria, endeavored to imbue the old ceremonies with new spirituality; while the liberal spirit awakened in Italy in the seventeenth century found its echo in Leon de Modena's attack on ceremonialism in his "Ḳol Sakal."

Mendelssohn's View of Jewish Ceremonial Law.

The question of the relative value of the ceremonies in Judaism was brought to a focus through Moses Mendelssohn, who, in his "Jerusalem," presented a new view of the Jewish ceremonial laws. He proudly repelled the attempts of Christian writers to win him over to Christianity, and declared Judaism to be not a system of belief based upon creeds, but a revealed system of law based upon ceremonies. While granting liberty of conscience to all, because truth is the property of all and dictated solely by reason, the Jewish law demands strict obedience from its adherents, for whom the ceremonial law is a system of sign-language suggestive of thought and sentiment for mind and heart alike. It is a living force impelling people to act well and at the same time to think rightly—the only proper bond of union of a people to be educated for truth and for freedom of thought and to be kept together until God's design shall be fulfilled. Though some of these ceremonies have in the course of time lost their meaning, they nevertheless retain their value and importance as bonds of union, and, even when no longer understood as signs, remain binding upon the Jews until God in His own way and through some universally recognized authority abrogates or changes them. "Doctrines and beliefs," Mendelssohn writes to Herz Homberg, who objected to these postulates of blind obedience, "become shackles of the intellect. As long as polytheism, anthropomorphism, and religious despotism rule on earth, so long must a people of theists, such as the Jews are, remain banded together solely by symbolic actions; that is, by ceremonies" ("Schriften," iii. 311-319, 348-356; v. 669, Leipsic, 1843).

Mutability of the Ceremonial Law.

This was a powerful plea for the ceremonial laws; but it rendered Judaism a national concern void of a world-wide mission—a system of forms without the spirit of faith. Mendelssohn's own disciples were the first to surrender both the form and the faith. As soon as the modern Jew recognized the fact (which Mendelssohn, as follower of Wolfian deism, had failed to see) that in the historic development of humanity Judaism had a mission of its own, centered upon the monotheistic truth and the universal hope of man, the issue was raised between insistence on ceremony advocated by Orthodoxy and accentuating the prophetic ideas as the universal ideal, as was done by the leaders of Reform Judaism. The need of adequate and impressive ceremonies in place of the old and obsolete ones was urged by the Reform pioneers, and the introduction of forms, though adopted from Christian surroundings, roused a new religious life and zeal in many, but likewise awakened opposition from the conservatives. "Ceremonies," says Geiger, in an article on formalism ("Der Formenglaube in Seinem Unwerthe und Seinen Folgen") in his "Wiss. Zeit. für Jüd. Theol." 1839, pp. 1-12, "in order to imbue the people with a religious spirit and hallow their life, must have an elevating character and be in perfect harmony with their own mode of life, or else they lead to superstition bordering on idolatry. Blind obedience against one's conviction, 'the obedience of a dog,' is incompatible with the dignity of man and with faith in a holy God dwelling within him."

This view, advocating a gradual change of the ceremonial law, was pushed to its extreme, much to the detriment of the Reform movement, by the hazardous attempt of the Frankfurter Reform-Verein to abrogate circumcision and by the transfer of the Sabbath to Sunday made by the Berlin Reform congregation. Holdheim, the radical Reform leader, went so far as to deny the validity of the entire ceremonial law in his work, "Das Ceremonialgesetz im Messiasreich" (1845), taking the stand that it is closely interwoven with the national idea and with the temple as center of the Jewish commonwealth, whereas the Messianic era of which modern Israel is to be the herald and harbinger is to be the realization of the universal prophetic ideal. Less outspoken, but in sympathy with the principle enunciated by Holdheim, were Einhorn, Geiger, Samuel Hirsch (who, however, claimed permanency for the Abrahamic rite), Herzfeld, Hess, and others; the Sabbath, as far as the choice of day was concerned,being included among the ceremonial laws, all of which were subject to change. A Talmudical passage, stating that "in the world to come [the Messianic time] the ceremonial commandments will cease to have validity" (Nid. 61b; compare Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxlvi. and Yalḳ. to Isa. xxvi. 2), is referred to by some as corroborating this statement (see Herzfeld, "Zwei Predigten über den Messias," 1844). Einhorn, in his "Sinai," 1856, p. 574, with deeper insight, refers to the frequent alterations and modifications of the Law in Biblical and Talmudical times, mentioned already by Albo ("Iḳḳarim," iii., xiii.-xvi.).

Against these radical Reform views Leopold Zunz advanced the doctrine that the Sabbath and Circumcision have ever been regarded institutions of a fundamental if not sacramental character, and can not be abrogated or radically altered without undermining Judaism itself (Zunz, "Gutachten über die Beschneidung," in "G. S." ii. 191-203). Joseph Aub also, in an article on "The Symbols of Faith of the Mosaic Religion," in Frankel's "Zeitschrift," 1845, pp. 409, 449, claims an exceptional position among the ceremonial laws for what he calls "the two fundamental symbols of Judaism" (see also Jost, "Neuere Gesch." iii. 218 et seq., 261; compare Geiger, "Nachgelassene Schriften," v. 181, and "Sinai," 1857, pp. 696, 698 et seq.).

Issue Between Talmudic and Reform Judaism.

The issue between Reform and Orthodoxy hinges chiefly upon the view taken of the ceremonial law; the Talmudical conception of the Law knows of no such distinction as is claimed to exist between ceremonial and moral laws. The less important and the more important laws ("miẓwot ḳallot" and "ḥamurot") are rated alike (Yer. Ḳid. i. 61b; Tan., 'Eḳeb, 1). "Ceremonial laws must be obeyed as divine ordinances with unhesitating and unreflective obedience" (Yoma 67b), and "the wilful transgressor of any of the ceremonial laws is considered as a breaker of the law" (Ḥul. 5a). "Be as careful in the observance of the smallest commandment as of the greatest" is the ancient Mishnaic rule (Abot ii. 1). On the other hand, the fact is being more and more recognized that while certain ceremonies fall into disuse and others take their place, as has been the case with the sacrificial and Levitical laws, there are some ceremonies which form distinctive features of Judaism and must be upheld in order to keep it from disintegration.

Often imperceptibly old ceremonies are dropped and replaced by new ones. While practical life necessitates a compromise, the law of evolution (which rules religion as well as other domains of life) exerts its power also in regard to ceremonies. Deeper historical research discloses the fact that all forms of religion adapt themselves to the conditions of the time. The regulations concerning the ẓiẓit, the maẓẓah, the sukkah, and the lulab are not observed even by conservative Israelites in exactly the same manner as prescribed in the Law. All religious rites have undergone great and radical transformations, and receive in their modified and sanctioned form only a new meaning or interpretation at the hand of the religion which enjoins it as sacred or sacramental; and the Jewish religion forms no exception to the rule (see Tylor, "Primitive Culture," ii. 362). Consequently, the question of ceremonial observance becomes for the theologian part of the larger problem, how far the principle of evolution is admissible and reconcilable with the belief in revelation and the divine character of the Law, and how far every age has power and authority to change and modify the Law and the forms of religion.

  • Aub, Einhorn, Holdheim, and Zunz, as above.
Images of pages