The New International Encyclopædia/Jewish Sects

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JEWISH SECTS. A term applied to certain divergent schools of religious thought, which grew up in the midst of Judaism during the three centuries preceding the Christian Era. In this restricted sense we have only two Jewish sects, the Pharisees (q.v.) and the Sadducees (q.v.). It should, however, be added that the adherents of these ‘sects’ not only belonged to the same religious conmiunity, but also adhered to the same practical religious law, and consequently could not well look upon each other as heretics. The Pharisees and Sadducees represent parties rather than sects, and illustrate the two tendencies of Jewish religious thought — the one emphasizing tradition and the other bringing into greater prominence the element of faith, combined, however, with theological speculation. Apart from political differences which also existed, the chief points at issue between them were certain abstract doctrines in connection with the peculiar manner in which the law, as far as it is contained in the Scriptures, was interpreted and further developed. The Pharisees claimed for certain time-hallowed observations and doctrines not found in the Bible a divine origin, tracing them back through tradition to Moses and Sinai. The Sadducees rejected the divine origin of the ‘oral law,’ as well as certain spiritual dogmas not distinctly set forth in the sacred record. More distinctly a sect were the Essenes (q.v.), who formed a kind of brotherhood, chiefly intent upon the exercise of practical virtues, and ruled by a severe code of morals. The Samaritans, earlier than either Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes, may also be regarded as a Jewish sect, inasmuch as they recognized merely the Pentateuch and Book of Joshua as authoritative sacred writings, established a cult of their own on Mount Gerizim (see Ebal and Gerizim), and during the entire post-exilic period to the days of Jesus maintained opposition to the Jerusalem cult, and took no part in the movements that led to the establishment of Rabbinical Judaism. A remnant of them still exists at Nablus (the modern Shechem). See Samaritans.

At a later period, shortly before and after Christ, numerous divergent religious doctrines, for the most part the result of a confused mixture of Judaism and Hellenism, or rather Alexandrianism, were promulgated, and found adherents both within and without the pale of Judaism. Many and obscure are the names of these ‘sects’ recorded by the early fathers of the Church, but very little is known respecting their history and dogmas.

Tn the eighth century various religious movements among the Jews led to the rise of a number of sects. These movements should be studied in connection with the contemporary religious ferment among Mohammedans, who separated about this time into several distinct schools of thought. (See Mohammedan Sects.) Persia was the centre of this ferment, and there, about 750, arose a certain Obadiah ahu Isa ibn Ishak of Ispahan, who led the Jews in a revolt against the yoke of Talmudical authority, though he retained quite a number of the specifically Talmudical regulations. He adopted some of the rites and customs of Islam; and while not claiming to be the Messiah, as a certain Serenus had done some thirty years previously, to whom the movement of Abu Isa can in a measure be traced, yet did maintain that he was the forerunner of the Messiah. He incited his followers to revolt against the rule of the caliphs, and fell in battle. His followers maintained themselves as a sect up to the tenth century, known as Isavites or Ispahanites. A little later another movement, likewise inspired by a spirit of opposition to the Talmud, began in another part of Persia under the lead of Judah Judghan of Hamadan. It attacked the anthropomorphic conceptions of the deity still current among the Jews, and in other respects represented the adaptation of the rationalistic theology advocated by the Mutazilites. (See [[The New International Encyclopædia/Mohammedan Sects|Mohammedan Sects]].) Abstention from meat and wine, frequent prayers, and fasts were among the rites emphasized by Judah, whose followers maintained themselves for a long time, though they were gradually absorbed by the most successful sectarian movement of the time, and the most decided and thorough reaction against the Rabbinic spirit which claimed the same validity for Talmudic law as for biblical ordinances — i.e. Karaism. Anan ben David, a member of a distinguished family, living in Bagdad, about 765, set up a doctrine which rejected the Talmud and Midrash as the work of man, and only allowed such laws and ordinances tc be binding upon the community as resulted immediately from a simple and natural Scriptural exegesis. The sect thus founded, within an astonishingly brief period, spread over Palestine, Egypt, Greece, Spain, Syria, Tartary, the Byzantine dominions, Fez, and Morocco. The Karaites are now, however, found only in small numbers in Russian Poland, Galicia, Odessa, the Crimea, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. The name Karaites designates them as adherents of the Miḳra (i.e. the written), which is the essentially Jewish name of the Bible. Abrogating the ‘rabbinical’ traditions, they erected a traditional system of their own, derived from what they regarded as a strictly literal interpretation of biblical laws as they stand. Prayer, fasting, pilgrimages to Hebron, are the points of religious practice to which they pay the greatest attention. Their general conduct is even by their antagonists allowed to be of the highest moral standard. They have produced an extensive special Hebrew literature of their own, chiefly consisting of works on theology, philosophy, grammar, mathematics, astronomy, etc. Some of their principal authors are Anan (880-930), Solomon ben Jeruham (885-960), Joseph ben Abraham al Bazir (880-930), Jehudah ben Eliah Hadassi (1075-1160), Aaron ben Joseph (c.1270-1300), Jephet ben Ali (c.950-990), Eliah ben Moshe Bashiatzi (1420-91), and others.

Another sect was that founded by Sabbathai Zewi from Smyrna (1626-76), son of a rich merchant, who proclaimed himself the Messiah, and found numerous followers throughout Germany, Poland, Italy, and Holland. Sultan Mohammed IV., however, put an end to his mission by imprisoning him, and making him adopt Mohammedanism. Many of his disciples followed his example, others turned Roman Catholics — adhering withal to their former doctrines and tenets, consisting chiefly of the belief in the Messiahship of their master, a distinct leaning to the dogma of the Trinity, and the abandonment of the hope of a final return to Jerusalem under the guidance of ‘Messiah ben David.’ They put a thoroughly mystical interpretation upon the Bible, rejected unconditionally the Talmud, and extolled their special cabalistic gospel, the Zohar, above all things created. This sect did not die out until the end of the eighteenth century. Jakob Frank, their last supreme pontiff (whose more intimate friends and followers called themselves by his name, Frankists), died, it is said, in a debtor's prison on the Rhine (1791). Another branch of the Sabbatians was organized in Salonica by Jacob Zewi Kerido (apparently the brother-in-law of Sabbathai Zewi) and his son, Berachya (c.1695-1740). Each of these claimed to be the true redeemer of Israel. Their teachings, a strange mixture of Judaism and Islam, were of a mystical character, and they are said to have favored a species of mystical free love among their followers. They retained the Jewish rite of circumcision and regarded the Song of Solomon as the highest embodiment of true revelation. This branch of the Sabbatians was known as Dolmäh or Donmäh, and a few thousand of them are said still to exist in and around Salonica.

A notable outcome of the mystical movement in Judaism are the modern Chasidim — not to be confounded with the ancient Chasidim (q.v.). They take their stand on the Cabbala, but remain ostensibly within the province of rabbinical Judaism. The sect was founded by Israel Baalshem (c.1698-1759) in Galicia. Its adherents are characterized by their wild mode of praying, contempt for any but mystical and religious science, by their belief in the miracles wrought by their temporary chiefs or saints, whose grandeur and pomp contrasts most strikingly with the simple mode of life of their flock. Constant repentance, joyfulness, disinterestedness, benevolence, peacefulness, cleanliness, and temperance are some of the chief points of the practical doctrine of this sect. They are still very numerous in Poland, Galicia, Russia, and Palestine.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century there began a movement among the Jews of Germany looking to the ‘reform’ of divine worship in the synagogues. This movement in time spread to other countries, notably the United States, and has resulted in the creation of separate ‘reformed’ synagogues and separate rituals for use in worship. The ‘Reformers,’ however, can hardly be called a sect, orthodox and reformers being rather parties within Judaism (like Pharisees and Sadducees) and representative of different tendencies that always existed in one form or the other. See the article Jews, section Judaism of To-day. Consult: the Jewish histories of Grätz, Reinach, Lady Magnus; Jost, Geschichte des Judenthums und seiner Sekten (Leipzig, 1857-59); Schechter, Studies in Judaism (Philadelphia, 1896); Neubauer, Geschichte des Karaerthums (Leipzig, 1866).