Explanation of Jewish Customs and Beliefs?

Discussion in 'Research' started by James The Dragon Dude, Mar 11, 2018.

  1. James The Dragon Dude

    James The Dragon Dude Apprentice

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    Hi, I'm working on a fantasy story in which Judaism is a minor religion. It, however, does quickly begin popping up all over the continent (Entilia) in small pockets and soon enough, a King converts and declares his Kingdom a safe haven for the faithful as it is generally seen as dangerous in most of Entilia. While I do know a bit about Jewish history, I don't know a huge amount about the general beliefs and customs of the religion, I'm very familiar with Christianity (mainly Catholic History).

    Thanks!
     
  2. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    If you ask more specific questions, I can give you answers, but I will say that if you want to write realistically, it will be a whole lot easier to write about semi-assimilated Jews than religious ones as this is going to be very complex. I am yet to read a book where a writer has managed to pull this off, and I've read books by writers who really tried. (I am a religious Jew, so I can give you 1st hand info.)
     
  3. James The Dragon Dude

    James The Dragon Dude Apprentice

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    Could you be more specific on what you mean by 'semi-assimilated'?
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    There should be an emoji for when somebody opens a can of worms.

    I worked for about six months at a company run by Chassidic Jews, and most of the employees were from Israel with varying degrees to which they practice. Even just the koscher laws can be pretty intense.

    For example, the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, states that you cannot dip animal meat in its mother's milk. Okay, that sounds pretty reasonable as a way to respect the integrity of the animal. But in order to make certain that people abide by this law, Koscher laws have a strict separation of meat and dairy. If you have meat, you have to wait four hours before you can have dairy, so cheeseburgers are strictly banned. Kitchen dishes and utensils come in three varieties - some for meat, some for dairy, and some that have not been decided either way - and mixing your dishes is a big problem. Since fish clearly don't produce milk, they're not considered meat in Jewish law (that's why morning salmon bagels are common) - but chicken, on the other hand, is considered meat even though it doesn't make milk, because it could be mistaken with the meat of another animal that does. Much of what you buy in stores - you can start checking packages for this - has a little "k" or a similar symbol found on the wrapper to suggest that it's koscher, which actually means that a Rabbi has verified the food processed and declared it to be koscher-dairy, koscher-meat, or koscher-neither - and sometimes even that isn't enough unless the Rabbi actually monitors the process regularly.

    I once poured hot water from the office water cooler into a cup of instant chicken soup. The steam from the soup rose up onto the spout, which designated the spout as "meat." They went out of their way to make sure everyone who used the spout knew they couldn't have dairy that morning. They consulted with a Rabbi who decided that the spout had to be removed from the cooler, boiled in water, and couldn't be used for three days. All of this to make sure that the chicken broth in my soup wasn't secretly cow-meat that happened to be from the same cow whose mother gave their milk to the cheese they might have with breakfast, and that meat particles in the steam might stick the spout, pour out into their drinks, and then mix with the mother's milk in their stomach.

    And if it already had? They didn't notice the first time I steamed the spout - I had been doing it for weeks. And that was fine. It was just an honest mistake. What matters is that they did the best they could to follow God's law.

    Of course, all of this is on the stricter end, and for just one of many such rules. Many, or I assume most, religious Jews tone it down in different ways, but all of them will speak of cheeseburgers as something very naughty.
     
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  5. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    Jews who are assimilated enough to not try to follow the Jewish laws and traditions strictly, but not assimilated enough that they no longer follow them at all. It's a broad spectrum, but allows you to hide any mistakes as being ignorance/carelessness/apathy on the part of your character.
    Harry Turtledove does really well in his Worldwar series, but, makes a few mistakes. here are a couple: a married woman invites her male cousin into her apartment without calling in her 9 year old son from playing in the street first - big whoops. One Jew thinks it's funny that another one says "You can call me Leon", instead of giving a name - he's just saying the name he uses is his secular one, and his real name is probably Yehuda, or Aryeh (Yehuda is one of the 12 tribes whose symbol is a lion, while Aryeh means lion, and Leon also means lion.)
    These things only get more complex the further you dig.
     
  6. James The Dragon Dude

    James The Dragon Dude Apprentice

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    Well, maybe Judaism isn't the best choice for my story, I think going back to Christianity might be best as like I said, I'm far more knowledgeable on that subject.

    I would still like to thank you Dark Squiggle and Devor, I found it all interesting nonetheless.
     
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  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Christianity ain't no simple cake either. :) It's a major reason why I chose not to have Christianity be more than an obscure sect in Altearth. That way I get to plunder all religions for parts without having to worry about true believers noticing inconsistencies. My orcs are monotheists, but I borrow as heavily from Mithraism and Zoroastrianism as from Roman Catholicism or Greek Orthodox. It's a new picture, though drawn from the same palette.
     
  8. James The Dragon Dude

    James The Dragon Dude Apprentice

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    I was thinking of a mix between Catholicism and Catharism, for example, they believe in reincarnation (Cathar) but also in a hell. If you show your faith in a great way (such as martyrdom) than you would be reincarnated, if you are good and pious but don't show faith in said great way, you go to heaven.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Er, them two don't get along. Catholics believe in a triune god; Cathars believed in two separate, co-eternal gods. That's pretty fundamental.

    The Cathar notion of perfecti is definitely a plum. Using that one myself (everyone should!). But that too flies in the face of Catholic belief that no one can be perfect. You're saying that martyrs get reincarnated but the merely good go to heaven? Who goes to hell, everyone else?

    Now you have me curious. What parts of Roman Catholicism would you be using?
     
  10. James The Dragon Dude

    James The Dragon Dude Apprentice

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    Generally speaking, I'm making something mostly Catholic. They only believe in one god. I was planning on having a split later on in the story, one side believes only those who are Christian can enter heaven or get reincarnated, the other believes that while only a Christian can be reincarnated if you are a good person you could still go to heaven.
     
  11. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    I thought Catholics had 3 gods.
     
  12. James The Dragon Dude

    James The Dragon Dude Apprentice

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    My bad, I meant the people in my story still believe in the Trinity.
     
  13. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    Catholics don't have three gods.... They believe in the divine trinity as all being an aspect of the same single God.


    This is a fantasy world? My guess any Judaism that sprang up elsewhere would not be much recognizable as Judaism as seen in our own little reality. While some of the religious concepts might be necessarily be the same, the traditions could be entirely different. It would seem to me, following the pattern of our own example, there would likely be something along the lines of Judaism before there would be something like Christianity anyway, so if the period is early enough, I would think Judaism is more the fit you would look for. Cleary Christ, of Christianity, thought it important.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
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  14. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    Just thinking about the scope of this question, I am not sure how I could give a complete answer. Jewish belief sets and metaphysics I could make a fair effort at, but traditions of the Jewish people, well...one need only look at Devor's post to see how specific that could be. Given the complexity of a culture, and the fact that a lot of that is pulled from the traditions of a people, it would be my feeling that I would take some trappings from what I observed around me, but much of that would not be an exact fit, given a different culture to wrap it around. If you are hoping for enough of the trappings of Jewish culture to pull off the illusion of it being there in full, I think I would look for things that were easily identifiable as belonging to the culture and put in a smattering of that. Such as a wedding, or a temple scene. If you really want to nail it though, and bring out the whole culture, and you are not very familiar with it, you are going to have to immerse yourself in it a bit to get a real feel for it. I am not sure how I could really help with that. Certainly not more so than our Jewish members, so...I'll just leave the floor to them.
     
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    I would also caution against anyone presuming they understand their own culture simply by virtue of living in it. When I taught medieval history, there were plenty of Christians knowledgeable about their own modern church who "knew" all sorts of things about medieval Catholicism that were quite wrong.

    This is yet another reason why I avoid making overt references to existing religions in Altearth. Because no matter how much research I do and how accurate I am, it will conflict with some people's understanding of what is true. And with Western religions, we're talking not merely about a few readers but large segments of the population.

    To take a specific example, I thoroughly enjoyed Philip Pullman's His Dark Design books. But the explicit references to Calvinism jarred because it felt like a stereotype. I am also a historian of the Reformation, so I had to set aside my objections--his writing was strong enough for me to do that--but I really did have to sort of muscle through those chapters. I've sometimes wondered what a Swiss Reformed made of it.

    Anyway, it can be done and has been done well. The example (and Pullman did do it well) that comes to mind is Keith Roberts' Pavane. So I'm trying to encourage research, not discourage the attempt.
     
  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Jews who engage in apologetics tend to argue that Christians have three gods. But Christians would absolutely never speak that way. Christians would usually say that God is Triune, that there is one God who is three persons bound together in perfect unison, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that theology gets watered down, but if so, it's almost always in the direction God's Oneness.

    When you start to break out the nature of each, most people get really confused really fast, so few people try.
     
  17. Malik

    Malik Scribal Lord

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    I can't get the "Jews in Space" sequence from History of the World Part I out of my head.
     
  18. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    Okay, this is a simplification. There are many levels of Halacha aka Jewish Law, and I'll give you another simplification.
    D'oraita, things that come from the Torah (1st 5 books of the Bible + sometimes other bits and pieces of the Old Testament (collectively called Torah She'Biksav, written Torah) + Toras Moshe MiSinai, oral tradition that is said to be handed down by word of mouth fom Moses at Mt. Sinai from God)
    D'rabbonon (Stuff the Rabbis over the last 3500 yrs. said you have to do that nearly has the strength of the above caategory.)
    Takanos (Stuff the Rabbis over the last 3500 yrs. said you have to do that has noowhere near the same strength.)(Some may be regional.)
    Chairims (curses set by courts or Rabbis. No longer made, but could be simple things, like excommunicating someone who had cooperated with the Czar, or complex ones, like outlawing reading other people's mail, men marrying more then one wife, or divorcing a woman without paying today's equivalent of $50,000. [these two laws were made 1000 years ago]. This is taken very seriously, but tends to be local [Only Ashkenazic (European) Jews follow these 3.])
    Chumros (Stuff people do that they are not required to. "Extra Credit")
    So, the mother's milk is from Torah She'biksav. It is extendeed to all meat by Torah Moshe Mi'Sinai, and then to all poultry and pots through D'rabonnon. And then much further through Takanos and Di'Rabannon. Noone cares if meat and milk are actually present, just that the collection of laws should be followed.
    If they hadn't needed to suspect you were making the soup the way you did, it was no problem, as no law required them to check every teeny thing, and the belief is "You don't need to be more careful than God" - once you have fulfilled your obligations, you are fine.

    And they couldn't truly answer you, both due to geographical and temporal sepparation, as @skip.knoxx said.

    Judiasim has changed much in its 3500 year run. I happen to have an interest in Jewsih History, which sort of helps. You should also know that Orthodox Jews require quite thorough Jewish educations (different for girls and boys.) which somewhat may address this. However what you say is undoubtly true.

    It is an issue among Jews. Ashkenazic [European] Jews believe Catholics believe in one God, which allows them to sell Catholic religious items, while Sephardic [Spanish/North African/Middle Eastern] Jews believe that Catholics have 3 Gods, forbidding such trade. (These two groups make up probably 95% of the world's Jews.)
     
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    That's an interesting tidbit, Dark SquiggleDark Squiggle. FWIW, medieval Christians tended to believe Muslims were polytheists because they mistakenly believed they worshiped Mohammad as well as God. Seems to me there's room in fantasy writing for one group to have wrong understandings of another group's religion.
     
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  20. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Yes, of course. I didn't mean to imply that anyone was actually paranoid that the chicken in my soup was really cow, but they explained that it is why the law was extended that way. And I mean, if God gives you a law, you should bend over backwards to obey it, and that's what the rules are supposed to do. I dig it well enough. And everyone was nice about the whole thing.
     
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