Though most people do not know about it, Universal Judaism has a long, fascinating history worth celebrating.

Since the Babylonian exile, the dominant “form” of Jewish life was priest and Temple dominated. However, during the time of the Maccabees, with the first assault on the Great Temple by the Seleucid Greeks, another approach to Jewish learning began to emerge. Scholars arose who began to examine and contemplate upon the words of the Torah and other scriptures, seeking to frame them in a context of Universal Truth and History. These were the forerunners of what we call rabbis or teachers.

Many of these “proto-rabbis” journeyed into the surrounding territories, because people had become intrigued with Jewish ideas such as One God, Universal Justice, Compassion and Love for all humankind.(1)

However, unfortunately, such Jewish Universalism was quite threatening to “Roman universalism”, which took a far more brutal form. Soon, the Roman emperor Hadrian forbade Jews to spread their knowledge openly, under penalty of extinction. It was then that open teaching of Universal Judaism ceased. After that, Jews would discretely teach only those non-Jews who approached them.

Nevertheless, it is a great irony of history that many of the truths of Universal Judaism were passed into Christianity, which eventually became the religion of the Roman Empire. Over time, the world learned much about our universal viewpoint. Indeed, there is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth shared the great universal teachings of many of our scholars, such as Hillel and Akiba, and was an inspired, charismatic teacher of Universal Judaism in his own right.

Centuries later, with the great inspiration of Islam, also based upon core Jewish knowledge, the truths of Universal Judaism, reached an even wider world.

Today, the ethical structure of our increasingly global world, as well as the legal system of virtually the entire civilized world, west or east, is firmly rooted in core Jewish knowledge.

However, because many of the truths of Universal Judaism were taught through alien spiritual perspectives, there has been, unfortunately, some dangerous distortion. Today, we witness problems in the world which are the direct result of improperly teaching Jewish knowledge. For instance, our ecological nightmares: While Roman law permitted one to own anything, without restriction, and had little respect for the sanctity of the earth and creatures upon it, this was not the case of Jewish law, which respected the earth and all Life as a Creation of God. Sadly, Roman law was the foundation of our capitalist system. We are witnessing the devastating effect of this inadequate understanding of Universal Judaism.

We have come to a monumental moment in history.

More than ever, the world needs Universal Judaism. And today, in a kinder, more hospitable, more open world, we have an unprecedented opportunity to teach openly again.

 

(1) See for example Josephus, Against Apion.