A History of Judaism: Nineteen Jewish Groups You’ve Never Heard Of

This month, PUP is publishing the U.S. edition of Martin Goodman’s new History of Judaism. Goodman sifts through thousands of years of historical evidence, archaeological records, and theological debates to present a history of Judaism as a multifaceted and ever-changing belief system.

It comes as no surprise that throughout millennia and across continents, Judaism’s adherents have interpreted the religion’s teachings in myriad ways, living out their faith and articulating their religious identity accordingly. But have you heard of these 19 groups?

 

1. The Therapeutae, a contemplative sect of the late Second Temple Period, were said to live in isolation six days a week and to eat and drink only after sunset.

2. The Ebionites were an ascetic group who lived east of the River Jordan in the second to fourth centuries CE and believed in elements of both Judaism and Christianity.

3. The Nazoraeans lived in Syria in the 400s CE and used an Aramaic gospel. While following much of the Torah, they also practiced elements of orthodox Christianity.

4. The ruling dynasty of the Khazars, a Turkish kingdom in the Lower Volga region, adopted Judaism in the eighth century, probably for geopolitical reasons. It is not known to what extent the general Khazar population did as well.

5. The Romaniot Jews in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, but took their liturgical rites from the Byzantine Empire. They used Judaeo-Greek (Greek written in the Hebrew alphabet) for religious purposes through the Middle Ages.

6. Nazirites took a temporary or permanent vow (described in the Septuagint as “the great vow”) to avoid wine and grapes, let their hair grow long, and avoid contact with corpse impurity.

7. Beginning around the eighth century, the Karaites denied the authority of the Talmud and rejected rabbinic interpretation of biblical law. For example, they fixed their calendar by celestial observation rather than mathematical calculation, did not observe Hanukkah, and discarded rules about menstrual impurity.

8. The Yudghanites were Karaites who believed that Abu ‘Isa, an eighth-century figure, was the Messiah. They did not drink alcohol, eat meat, or observe the Sabbath.

9. The Szombatos in 17th-century Transylvania were a breakaway Christian group who insisted that all Christians should observe the Old Testament laws literally.

10. The Jedid al-Islam, or “New Muslims,” were Persian Jews who were forced to convert to Islam in 1656, but secretly maintained Jewish practices.

11. Sabbatians were various groups of Jews who believed that 17th-century kabbalist Sabbetai Zevi was the messiah. Zevi lived in Turkey, but Sabbatians as far away as Germany heeded his call and sold all their possessions to prepare to join him in Jerusalem.

12. The Dönmeh were Sabbatians from Salonica who converted to Islam but secretly practiced Judaism. One sect of the Dönmeh believed that messianic Torah required all sexual prohibitions to be reversed and treated as positive commands.

13. The Frankists believed that 18th-century leader Jacob Frank was the reincarnation of Sabbetai Zevi. Some Frankists also believed that Frank’s daughter was a Romanov princess. The Frankists were baptized as Christians in Poland.

14. The Subbotniki, a breakaway Christian group in late 18th-century Russia, advocated adherence to certain Jewish laws and rituals and were exiled to Siberia.

15. The Bratslav Hasidim still make regular pilgrimages to the grave of their 18th-century leader, Rebbe Nahman, in Ukraine, chanting the syllables of his name, “Na Nah Nahma Nahman.”

16. The Status Quo Ante were communities of traditionalist Jews in mid-19th-century Hungary who chose to align themselves neither with orthodox groups nor with reformists.

17. The Bund, a Jewish socialist party founded in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, was devoted to a secular, Yiddish-speaking eastern European Jewish nationalism.

18. The Kach was an Israeli political party, formed in 1971, that advocated the mass expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories.

19. The Neturei Karta, or Guardians of the City, are Orthodox Jews who refuse on religious grounds to recognize the existence of the secular State of Israel.

 

Browse Our 2018 Jewish Studies Catalog

Our new Jewish Studies catalog includes an in-depth history of Judaism from its beginnings to the present day, a comprehensive look at how Hasidism helped shape modern Judaism (and how modernity has shaped Hasidism), and an examination of the development of a right-wing strain within modern Zionism which continues to exert influence today.

If you’ll be at AJS 2017 in DC this weekend, please join us at Booth 116, or stop by any time to see our full range of Jewish Studies titles and more.

We’ll also be holding a reception with the University of California Press to celebrate the new books by David Biale and Samuel Heilman. Join us in the Archives Room, on the 4th floor of the Marriot Marquis in DC, on Monday, December 18th to take part in the festivities. The reception will run from from noon until 1:15 p.m.

In this magisterial and elegantly written book, Martin Goodman takes readers from Judaism’s origins in the polytheistic world of the second and first millennia BCE to the temple cult at the time of Jesus. He tells the stories of the rabbis, mystics, and messiahs of the medieval and early modern periods and guides us through the many varieties of Judaism today. Goodman’s compelling narrative spans the globe, from the Middle East, Europe, and America to North Africa, China, and India. He explains the institutions and ideas on which all forms of Judaism are based, and masterfully weaves together the different threads of doctrinal and philosophical debate that run throughout its history.

A History of Judaism is a spellbinding chronicle of a vibrant and multifaceted religious tradition that has shaped the spiritual heritage of humankind like no other.

This is the first comprehensive history of the pietistic movement that shaped modern Judaism. The book’s unique blend of intellectual, religious, and social history offers perspectives on the movement’s leaders as well as its followers, and demonstrates that, far from being a throwback to the Middle Ages, Hasidism is a product of modernity that forged its identity as a radical alternative to the secular world.

Written by an international team of scholars, Hasidism is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand this vibrant and influential modern Jewish movement.

 

By the late 1930s, as many as fifty thousand Polish Jews belonged to Betar, a youth movement known for its support of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of right-wing Zionism. Poland was not only home to Jabotinsky’s largest following. The country also served as an inspiration and incubator for the development of right-wing Zionist ideas.

Recovering the voices of ordinary Betar members through their letters, diaries, and autobiographies, Jabotinsky’s Children paints a vivid portrait of young Polish Jews and their turbulent lives on the eve of the Holocaust. Rather than define Jabotinsky as a firebrand fascist or steadfast democrat, the book instead reveals how he deliberately delivered multiple and contradictory messages to his young followers, leaving it to them to interpret him as they saw fit. Tracing Betar’s surprising relationship with interwar Poland’s authoritarian government, Jabotinsky’s Children overturns popular misconceptions about Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars and captures the fervent efforts of Poland’s Jewish youth to determine, on their own terms, who they were, where they belonged, and what their future held in store.