Cults And Jews
Cults are becoming more and more of an issue for Jews every day. Many cults are beginning to target Jews. They say you can believe in Jesus yet remain a Jew, or many other things like that. It is important for people to educate themselves of these cults and their recruiting techniques so that they will not be taken advantage of by these cults. Cults now are very different than they were in ancient times though. The Jews, rather than being targeted by cults, were themselves a cult. In fact they were one of the first documented cults.
Now, Judaism is not considered a cult, it is a religion. Back in the ancient days many aspects of the Israelites’ laws made them a cult. The Israelites had sacrifices for many occasions. Sin-offerings, guilt offering, fellowship, votive, freewill, dedicatory, and ordination are all documented reasons for sacrifices to God. These sacrifices are what made the ancient Israelites different from the modern day Jewish people. Those sacrifices are also what made the ancient Israelites a cult instead of being a religion like now. After the destruction of the second temple sacrifice was replaced with prayer and prayer still stands now.
Mishna discusses the different sacrifices the Israelites made and the reasons they were made. The rabbis say that sacrifices were not a bad thing. Because the sacrifices were made to God and represented different things between God and the people, the sacrifices were allowed. Sacrifices were made for apologies to God, for holidays and many other purposes, but they were always animal sacrifices and they were always to God. These two aspects permitted the offerings. Because they were animal offerings, not human, the offerings were not too gore-filled. And since the offerings were made to God, it is not a person, but an all-powerful being. It makes sense to make offerings to God because God created the people and guided them.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate dictionary defines cult as: 1 : formal religious veneration : Worship. 2 : a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents. 3 : a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents. 4 : a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>. 5 a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion.
Definition 2 states that religious practices like sacrifice define a cult. Some of the modern day descriptions of cults say that they have 1 centralized meeting place, rather than many meeting places. The ancient Israelites tried to keep their practices centralized. Though other centers for sacrifice emerged, efforts were to contain sacrifice in one location. Though we in modern day have left this practice of sacrifice, the orthodox Jews continue to this day to pray for the restoration of sacrifices to God. The reform Jews leave out these prayers, but the orthodox continues them.
“When it becomes known, the sin that they sinned, the assembly are to bring near a bull, a young of the herd, as a hattat offering.” (Leviticus 4:14) “Now on the eighth day one is to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of appointment. The priest is to sacrifice one as hattat/decontamination offering, and one as an offering up.” (Numbers 6:10-11) “Only: your holy offerings that you have, and your vow offerings, you are to lift up and are to come to that place Yhwh chooses. You are to sacrifice your offerings up, the meat and the blood on the slaughter site of Yhwh your God.” (Deuteronomy 12:26-27)
These are just 3 examples of many offerings given in the torah. Giving offerings and sacrifices to God was a common religious practice for the Israelites; A religious practice that defined the Israelites as a cult.
Today, cults are measured by different standards. Following a single leader and his every word. This leader must be a living person, different than a god. Cult standards include cutting off all ties from family and friends, letting the other cult members be the only people in your life, having full devotion to the cult and to the beliefs, just to name a few. Modern responsa deals with the subject of cults based on these new standards. Modern responsa to cults is written about cults as they are now, not as they were in biblical days. Because cults now are so different from the cults of biblical days, they speak little of the Israelites because what they did was ok. Modern responsa discusses the recruiting techniques of cults, where they recruit, how to avoid joining a cult, and how to tell if it’s a cult or not.
In biblical days cults were not a bad thing. Of course they weren’t because God chose the Israelites, and they were a cult. Now though, cults are bad things which people are told to avoid joining. Many people have joined cults and gotten out of them so lots of modern responsa uses their stories in telling how to avoid joining cults.
Cults use recruiting techniques like getting a person to come to one meeting, then another, then slowly the person loses ties with their friends, their family, and their normal life. They try to convince a person that not only is the cult harmless, but it is a good thing. Once in the cult, the person has a complete devotion to the system of beliefs and to the leader as well.
By these standards the Jewish religion is not a cult. Jews do not cut off ties with friends and family. For most their family, is Jewish too. There is not a living being in which all belief and trust is invested. Jews no longer sacrifice, which was the only aspect that made them a cult in biblical days, and there are no longer any odd practices in the Jewish religion.