Ninian Smart's Seven Dimensions of Religion and Their Application to Judaism

Topics: Judaism, Religion, Passover Seder Pages: 5 (1208 words) Published: November 18, 2014

The six dimensions of religion are deeply entwined with eachother, as no person can experience the depth of one dimension without encountering the others. The six dimensions, as described by Ninian Smart, are the Doctrinal dimension, The Mythological dimension, the Ethical dimension, the Ritual Dimension, the Experiential dimension, and the Social dimension. Each one seeks to explain a different aspect, or manifestation of the phenomenon of the religious experience. Scholars and laymen alike can understand, internalize, and synthesize the six dimensions of religion, and find similarity between faiths: polytheistic and monotheistic, proselytizing and non-proselytizing, Reform and Orthodox. The ‘ritual dimension’ of religion refers to what subscribers to a particular faith do to maintain their adherence to the tenets of the religion. Highly symbolic in nature, it can refer to worship, rites of passage, and participation in regular gatherings, among other things. One could postulate that a purpose of this dimension is to engender a feeling of belonging and pride within the community, and maintain the oral, cultural, and historical traditions of the religion. Rituals often stem from the practice of the followers to re-enact, or remember a significant event within the religion’s history. Attending synagogue, maintaining purity, resting on the Sabbath day, holding a Seder on Passover, circumcising a male infant (as per the covenant Abraham made with God), the holiday of Hanukkah, and bar/bat mitzvahs for 13-year olds are all manifestations of the Practical and Ritual dimension of religion.

A specific example of the ‘ritual dimension’ apparent in Judaism is the Passover Seder plate. It contains six items, specially chosen and arranged to represent significant aspects of the story of the Jews exodus from Egypt. The maror (bitter herbs) represent the bitterness of the Hebrews enslavement in Egypt. The charoset (chopped apples, walnuts, sweet wine, and cinnamon) represents the mortar the Hebrews used to build the pyramids of Egypt. The karpas (parsley, or other vegetable) is dipped into salt water to represent the tears shed by the Hebrew slaves. The z’roa is a lamb shank bone that symbolizes the sacrificial lamb (originally sacrificed in the Temple of Jerusalem). The beitzah, a roasted hard boiled egg, represents the mourning over the destruction of the Temple. The ‘mythological (narrative) dimension’ of religion encompasses many aspects of a religion’s history, ranging from creation to destruction, to divine intervention. It is omnipresent in religion (no pun intended), as religious teachings have been passed down and shared through oral and written stories, and have even served as entertainment and teaching in primitive nomadic tribes and highly-evolved religions alike. Religious myths are culturally pervasive, and can be found in popular literature, religious and secular alike, as well as peppered into general working vocabulary. Myths (narratives) are used to promote behavior expectations, teach moral lessons, and inspire both pride and atonement. An example of the ‘mythological dimension’ of Judaism is the story that is read out of the Haggadah on Pesach, or Passover. The story is about the Exodus of the Jews from the land of Egypt. It is read both in Hebrew and in English, and can inspire a fierce sense of pride and strengthen the emotional connection one has to their faith, ethnicity, and heritage. The ‘ethical (and legal) dimensions’ of religion are more tangible because many religious and ethical laws were documented in written form. The Torah, containing over six hundred laws (including those governing diet, worship, purity, and social and familial obligations) comprises the ethical framework for living for Jews, although the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews are the sects most likely to adhere to the Divine Law in it’s entirety. The Ten Commandments, as delivered by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, has served as a...
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