Based on the history of centuries, it is evident that the Judaism is an autonomous religion which can sustain under any circumstance. The foundation of Judaism relies on the original covenant established between God and Abraham when he was called to proceed to the promised land of Cannon.
Judaism is not based on a hierarchical structure in the real sense, though there are several special designations given to people, who perform their designated services in the community. Given below are the special roles played by people in the social hierarchy of Judaism:
In the Jewish community every adult male can perform the religious rituals and there is no concept of a priest who is authoritative to perform rituals. A Rabbi is a teacher who is qualified in Jewish law and customs, who can teach the community, clarify their doubts and resolve disputes among them as per the law. A rabbi’s role can be compared to the position of a protestant minister, who is supporting the community, leading the religious rituals and engaging with organisational matters associated with the synagogue.
A Chazzan (Cantor) is the man who leads the congregation prayers and the melodious music in the service. Any male adult person with anunderstanding of the prayers and services can lead these and sometimes the rabbi take over the role of chazzan in small congregations. However, professional chazzans are hired in larger congregations, who are proficient in music and services and can teach young people about the same.
A gabbai is generally a common man who offers to perform several duties in association with the Torah readings in the prayer services. A gabbai is supposed to be well versed with Torah readings and attending as a gabbai is considered as a great honour in the Jewish community.
A Kohanim is another honourable position in Jewish community who are given the first Aliyah on Shabbat. At certain other special occasions in the community, a kohanim is asked to recite a sanctification over the community. However, followed by the demolItion of the temple, the significance of kohanim is lowered in favour of the rabbis.
Similar to the Kohanims, the Levis also became less significant after the obliteration of the temple. The Levites are asked to perform some special rituals related to the temple and they are eligible for the horror of second Aliyah on Shabbat.
The position of a Rebbe is hereditary and the literal meaning of the term is ‘My Rabbi’. A Rebbe is considered as a spiritual master and a leader of the Chasidic community, who has the decisive final word over public decisions. A Rebbe is sometimes considered as a Tzaddik in the Jewish community.
The literal meaning of the word Tzaddik is the ‘righteous one’ and it refers to an absolutely righteous person in the community, who usually possesses some mystical or spiritual power. It is not compulsory that a tzaddik to be a ‘rebbe’ or ’rabbi’, but a ‘rebbe’ in the Chasidic community is considered as a tzaddik.
In late antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages, Diaspora Jewish communities in Islamic and Christian countries enjoyed a great measure of self-governance, with autonomous institutions, including rabbinical religious courts that adjudicated both religious matters and civil disputes, and independent banking and taxation systems. In the period following the emancipation of European Jewry beginning at the end of the 18th century, Jewish communal organizations increasingly became parochial, volunteer, non-profit institutions.
The traditional Jewish community is referred to as the kahal or kehilla (the synagogue is to this day known is Hebrew as a kehilla kedosha or sacred society) and encompasses a wide array of charitable, religious, and social-welfare societies, known as chevrot (plural of chevra, which literally means brotherhood). The most important of these are the chevra kadisha, which is responsible for all the rites concerning the burial of the dead. Examples of other chevrot are chevra gemilat-hesed, which provides interest-free loans; chevra hakhnasat orchim, which provides home hospitality and food for wayfarers and the poor (especially on Shabbat and Jewish holidays); chevra tehilim, for regular recitation of Psalms and prayers for healing; and chevra Shas, which organizes regular classes in Talmud study.
In the modern period the work of many of these small individual chevrot was absorbed by umbrella communal organizations. In North America, the largest of these institutions is the United Jewish Communities (formerly known as the American Jewish Federation), most commonly known either as "the UJC" or "the Federation." The UJC is the principle philanthropic fund-raising institution for North American Jewry and it maintains multi-use Jewish community centers (JCCs). Almost every significant Jewish community in the United States and Canada, as well as many in Europe and South America, have JCC complexes, or campuses, that typically encompass a library, athletic facilities, kosher restaurant or cafeteria, and meeting rooms, and that sponsor programs for groups with special needs. Most Jewish Federations also maintain, or heavily support, assisted-living housing for the Jewish elderly that feature kosher food, on-site religious services, and Jewish cultural programming. One of the major focuses of the UJC has historically been raising funds for both local Jewish needs and a host of institutions in the State of Israel.
In the broader Jewish political realm, two major American Jewish organizations were founded in the early 20th century with the primary mission of protecting the Jewish community, across the denominational spectrum, from antisemitic oppression both in American and worldwide. The American Jewish Committee was founded in 1906 in response to the reports about widespread pogroms against the Jews of Russia. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was founded in 1913 in response to the lynching in Georgia of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who was falsely accused of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a young Christian worker in his factory.
While both organizations remain dedicated to combating anti-Jewish prejudice, the ADL's mandate is today more narrowly focused on monitoring and actively responding to instances of bigotry, including not only antisemitic incidents, but all racist activities, and the organizations and public spokesmen who foment them. As such, it has worked closely with other institutions dedicated to fighting racial and religious prejudice, such as the NAACP and Southern Poverty Law Center.
The American Jewish Committee has long sponsored a broader educational and cultural agenda that includes interfaith dialogue with Christians and Muslims, public education about Judaism, and the publication of the prominent pro-Israel journal, Commentary. Title: Louis Brandeis Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brandeisl.jpgThe American Jewish Committee maintains numerous community-relations boards across the country to foster positive inter-religious and inter-ethnic cultural relations with other minority communities.
The other major national Jewish organization, the American Jewish Congress, was founded in the aftermath of World War I to advocate for the rights of displaced European Jews to immigrate to the United States. For many years, it was led by such luminaries as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and was the most politically outspoken, activist, and powerful Jewish advocacy group in the world.
In 1936, leaders of the American Jewish Congress and a representative group of European Jews created the World Jewish Congress to deal with international affairs of Jewish concern in a similar matter—from fighting Nazism and Communist repression of Judaism in the Soviet Union, to supporting the creation of the State of Israel. The World Jewish Congress today enjoys NGO delegate status at the United Nations. The American Jewish Congress, which since 1936 has focused on North American issues, has maintained an activist, liberal political and legal agenda, from free speech and church-state separation to women's reproductive rights. The President of the American Jewish Committee at the height of the Civil Rights struggle in the deep south, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, was a principle organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington and worked closely with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in advancing equality for African Americans. Of the three major Jewish organizations, the American Jewish Committee is the most ideological liberal and politically activist.
American Jewish Committee founded in 1906, in response to pogroms. Fosters interreligious and interethnic dialogue
American Jewish Congress founded after World War I. Politically powerful advocacy group
World Jewish Congress founded in 1936, activist, liberal political advocacy
Most of the major Israeli political parties—from the secular Mapam Socialist Zionist Organization to the Orthodox Mizrachi Religious Zionist Organization—maintain branches throughout the Jewish Diaspora, many of which sponsor youth groups, educational programs, lecture series, summer camps, and a variety of organized trips and missions to Israel. In the United States, the two largest Zionist organizations are left-center American Zionist Federation and the more right-wing Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
Religious life in the United States is also highly organized. There are no Jewish bureaucratic structures approaching the ecclesiastical centralization characteristic of the major Christian denominations. Individual Jewish congregations, their synagogues, and schools are legally constituted as private, not-for-profit institutions. Nevertheless, almost all major congregations are affiliated with one of the four major denominations of contemporary Judaism—Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform—each of which sponsors synagogue councils, rabbinical and cantorial associations, and seminaries for the training of their rabbis and cantors, as well as vocational placement bureaus for their alumnae.
COMMUNITY FOCUSED Community is an integral part of the Jewish experience. My Jewish Learning By Rabbi Jill Jacobs
It is no accident that the Jewish people call themselves “Am Yisrael“–“the people of Israel”– rather than “Dat Yisrael,” or”the religion of Israel.” A sense of peoplehood has long been the defining characteristic of the Jews. Accordingly, the central experience of Jewish history–the only event that demands an annual retelling–is the exodus from Egypt. Though wrapped up in an encounter with divinity, the exodus was primarily an experience of national liberation, rather than a moment of religious awakening community
On the everyday level, this focus on peoplehood is translated into an emphasis on the community as the primary organizing structure of Jewish life. Wherever Jews have lived, they have built synagogues, established communal organizations, and created systems of communal governance.
WHAT MAKES A COMMUNITY?
One Talmudic text offers a working definition of the concept of community in Jewish life:
“A talmid haham (Torah scholar) is not allowed to live in a city that does not have these 10 things: a beit din (law court) that metes out punishments; a tzedakah fund that is collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a bath house; a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a blood-letter; (some versions add: a butcher); and a teacher of children” (Sanhedrin 17b).
In other words, in order to be a suitable place to live, a community must provide for all of its members’ spiritual and physical needs. The presence of a beit din helps to protect residents from falling victim to crime. A tzedakah fund under appropriate supervision aids community members who have fallen into poverty.
A synagogue offers a place for prayer, as well as for communal gatherings. The bathhouse, bathroom, doctor, craftsperson, blood-letter and butcher provide for the physical needs of residents. The teacher ensures that the next generation is versed in Jewish tradition and prepared eventually to assume leadership of the community.
The sense that the community is responsible for the physical and communal needs of its members has manifested itself in different ways throughout Jewish history. In late antiquity and in the medieval period, many Jewish communities were semi-autonomous. Though ultimately subject to the laws of the place in which they lived, these communities governed themselves and cared for the needs of their members. Even as these semi-autonomous local authorities have disappeared, many Jewish communities to this day maintain a beit dinthat arbitrates disputes between members of the community.
Virtually every Jewish community has established charitable organizations that help poor members of the community. The first Jewish immigrants to the United States set up institutions such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Hebrew Free Loan Society, aimed at assisting newer immigrants to gain a foothold in their new country. These organizations, and others like them, continue to operate today.
Since at least the first century, much of Jewish life has focused around the synagogues. In addition to being places of prayer, synagogues are the site of lifecycle events celebrating births, weddings, and b’nai mitzvah. The communities that form around synagogues generally take care of the members of that community. Community members may prepare meals for those sitting shiva, visit members who are ill, and join in one another’s life cycle events.
Another major institution in most Jewish communities is the mikveh , a ritual bath in which conversions take place, and in which women traditionally immerse after menstruation. Many people also immerse in the mikveh before their weddings, prior to Yom Kippur, and, in some communities, on Friday afternoons before Shabbat. In contemporary times, the mikveh has been used for rituals of healing after sexual abuse, miscarriage, and divorce. The mikveh is considered so central to the life of a community that many Jewish legal scholars mandate constructing a mikveh even before building a synagogue.
In contemporary times, Jewish communities have sprung up around other types of institutions, including Jewish Community Centers, schools, camps, local Federations, and Jewish non-profit organizations. In all of these cases, a building or organization serves as the initial point of contact for a group of people who then begin caring for each other and taking care of one another’s needs.
AN OBLIGATION, NOT AN OPTION
Jewish texts treat participation in communal affairs not as an option, but as a religious obligation. One debate among a number of the early Talmudic commentators and codifiers of Jewish law concerns the question of whether one who is occupied with taking care of a communal need must stop to pray. At the root of this discussion is the legal principle that “one who is occupied with one mitzvah (religious obligation)is exempt from other mitzvot.“
If caring for the needs of the community can be defined as a mitzvah, then a person involved in such work will be exempt from other pressing mitzvot, such as prayer. While early religious scholars take various positions on this issue, one modern authority, the Mishnah Berurah (Rabbi Israel Meir Ha-Kohen, 1839-1933) virtually closes the question by declaring,”Most later authorities have ruled [that one does not need to stop to pray]” (Orah Hayim 93:4).
Even more strikingly, one midrash likens removing oneself from the community to destroying the world. According to this source:
“‘With justice, a king sustains the earth, but a fraudulent (terumot) person destroys it.’ (Proverbs 29) [What does this verse mean?] With the justice that the king does, he sustains the earth, but the fraudulent person destroys it. If one makes oneself like terumah (portion of produce that is set aside as an offering), set aside in the corner of the house, and says, ‘Why should I trouble myself for the community? What’s in it for me to take part in their disputes? Why should I listen to their voices? I’m fine [without this],’ this person destroys the world. This is the meaning of ‘the fraudulent person destroys [the world].’
“There is a story about Rav Assi, that when he was dying, his nephew entered and found him crying. He said to him, ‘Why are you crying? Is there any Torah that you did not study and teach to others? Look–your students sit before you. Are there any acts of lovingkindness that you did not do? Furthermore, despite your stature, [you humbled yourself and] you stayed far from disputes and did not allow yourself to be appointed over the affairs of the community.’
“Rav Assi replied, ‘My son, this is why I am crying. What if I am asked to account for the fact that I was able to arbitrate disputes among the people of Israel and did not?’ [This is the meaning of] ‘the fraudulent person destroys [the world]'” (Midrash Tanhuma, Parshat Mishpatim 2).
Though the precise structure of Jewish communities has changed according to place, time and current interests, membership in a Jewish community has always demanded a sense of shared destiny, manifested in the obligation to care for other members of the community, as well as in the joy of partaking in others’ celebrations.
EUROPEAN COUNCIL OF JEWISH COMMUNITIES (ECJC)
The ECJC was re-established in 2011 and brings together European Jewish communities and organisations, non-governmental organisations, federations and networks which are working to guarantee Jewish life in Europe for the next Generations to come. The members of the ECJC represent thousands of people in the shape of organisations, associations and voluntary groups at local, regional, national and European level reflecting the different interests of a wide social range including representatives from all walks of Jewish life.
The ECJC is non-political and non-denominational. We take shared responsibility for our communal life. We choose not to affiliate with any of the official Jewish movements but to offer each one of them the platform to reach different constituencies and to enable cross-learning and facilitate experiences of collaboration.
The ECJC is dedicated to offer programmes as gathering places, where people of all ages and from all walks of Jewish life can meet, more inspired by their Jewish heritage and more connected to their communities and to one another.