Can there be Judaism without Jews? Is there somewhere an entity called “Judaism” that exists in a disconnect from Jews in terms of time and place? This question does not relate to the source of the authority of Judaism. In other words, it does not address the issue of who authorized people to create this entity – whether it was God, as tradition maintains, or a social-human initiative, as biblical criticism argues. The question I pose here deals with a given situation in which Judaism already exists. Who if not human beings created it? And can it exist without Jews, detached from a concrete social experience?
I want to argue that it cannot. The fact is that Judaism as we’ve known it for the past 2,000 years is post-Temple Judaism. It’s a Judaism that the sages renewed upon the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and the failure of the Bar-Kochba revolt in 132-136 C.E.. Effectively, the sages fomented a total revolution in Judaism; they changed the modes of worship, the religious experience and the connection with God. Prayer and intensive study of the Holy Scriptures replaced animal sacrifices. The rabbinical revolution also changed the social stratification of the Jewish people. Its leaders supplanted the priests and the Levites as the social and religious elite.