What would “authentic” judaism look like? Let me clarify the question: what would Judaism look like if you stripped out anything that was “borrowed” from other religions or pagan practice…
I’m not so bold as to try and figure out what “authentic” Judaism would look like, but I do want to pose the following question: Why is Judaism so similar to the religions and societies that were around at time the Torah was given (as well as to those from the time of Avraham)?
The answer, as usual, can be found in Rambam among others, but I’m posting this as a lazy sketch, not a real post, so bother me later for sources if you really want them.
One important explanation is really quite simple. I think I might just post what I commented on Dov Bear’s status on facebook, where I responded specifically to a commenter’s claim that Rambam would exclude sacrifices (korbanot) from Judaism if he could, because sacrifices exist only to wean us away from paganism in his opinion.
Just to put out a thought I think is important and relevant here.
First, Rambam wouldn’t exclude sacrifices. Just because it exists in his opinion to wean us away from paganism (like many, many, other mitzvot in his opinion) does not mean that if we would start again we would not have them. Rather, we should learn that God gave the Torah to man, to fit man as he basically still is, but more specifically was, at the time the Torah was given.
If the Torah resembles Hamurabi’s Code, it is because God wanted the Torah to be given in the most understandable way possible for people at that time. They would have understood that code, and even if it was reinterpreted and changed, they would respond to it with sympathy and understanding (“imagination” and rational thought being necessary in this case, see Faur’s homo mysticus on the MN).
Same goes for brit milah, and endless things. The Torah was given in the language of man, etc.
“Native Judaism” is a Judaism that is not just native to the Divine, but is also native to the people who were taken out of Egypt, as well as to the human psyche in general.
The Moreh Nevuchim will probably always be the best book for this point of view, but it pops up here and there, and seems implicit from TaNaKH (the Bible) itself.
As usual, it’s always good to recommend anything by Nachum Sarna, because he explains beautifully in many places how the Torah wanted to take a pagan world view and make it into a monotheistic one, with all of the implications that come with this.
Taking this understanding with us also allows us to understand many Aggadic (non legal statements) from Chazal (The Sages) in a new light.