What Laws Separated Jews From Gentiles?
29 SEP 2017
In Ephesians 2:14 of the New Testament, Paul speaks about a "dividing wall of hostility" separating Jews from Gentiles: "For he ... has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility ... " This separation between Jews and Gentiles was created and enhanced through religious laws, traditions and social practices.
1 Moses' Laws
For centuries, Jews have followed a distinct set of religious laws, as identified and articulated by their greatest prophet, Moses. The greater public largely recognizes these laws as the Ten Commandments, which are also followed by Christians today, although the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or the Torah, specifies hundreds of laws and is much more extensive and detailed. These laws -- and not just one single law -- distinguished Jews from Gentiles for centuries, as they described specific rites and practices related to daily rituals and sacrifices that were unique to Jews alone.
At the time, Jews were unique from Gentiles because they were strictly monotheistic and did not worship several idols. According to Jewish doctrine, this was and is one of the most fundamental commands of God to the Jewish people, as idolatry was more common for the non-Jew or Gentile during the time of the Second Temple. An important Mosaic law also set Judaism apart from those of Canaan, and other tribes who worshipped other gods: "I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way ... Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods ... " (Exodus 23:28, 32).
3 God's Covenant
According to Judaic beliefs and texts, the special covenant that God entered into with the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone, also distinguished Jews from Gentiles. This covenant was renewed throughout history, including the promise made to Abraham regarding the inheritance of the land in and around Palestine and God's covenant with Moses, symbolized through the Ten Commandments.
In the Torah, God commands Jews not to intermarry among the "seven Canaanite nations," although this practice was extended to include all Gentiles during the Second Temple period: "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations ... seven nations larger and strong than you ... Make no treaty with them ... Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons ... " (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). Today, Orthodox Judaism does not condone intermarriage, while Conservative Jews strongly discourage it. Reform Judaism takes a more progressive stance, as they do not have rules against intermarriage, although they encourage that children born from intermarriage are raised Jewish.