How one considers the “uniqueness” and enduring legacy of the Hebrew civilizations of the past and of Judaism today is partly dependent upon one’s views of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Even without strict adherence to the Bible, however, enough is known about the history of Judaism to posit some suggestions.
The oldest of the three major monotheistic religions, the Hebrews are recorded in the Bible as having held a special place in God’s design for humanity. The Hebrew civilization goes back thousands of years, and involved innumerable hardships. One of the things that make it unique, however, has been its survival. Forced into countless exiles and subjected to multitude of pogroms, culminating in the 20th Century’s most horrific episode, the Holocaust, the Hebrew civilization has persevered and, in many instances, prospered. The 1948 establishment of the State of Israel represented for most Jews the final end to thousands of years of wandering and suffering, deprived of a homeland and of their freedom to practice their religion in peace throughout much of history. The founders of modern Israel resurrected a long-dead language, Hebrew, and made it the official language of the new state. All of this makes the story of the Jews unique while demonstrating the enduring legacy of their will to survive as a people.
Once again, if one looks to the Bible, it was prophesied that the Hebrews would return to the land from which they had been exiled. Whether one accepts that as gospel, it is a fact that that is precisely what did occur in Jewish history.
The historical and enduring emphasis Jews have placed on education could also be considered both unique and admirable. When permitted to do so by governing regimes throughout history, Jews have educated themselves and risen to the tops of many professions, including medicine, law, literature, and the arts. On a per capital basis, Jewish contributions to these fields exceeds that of any other individual ethnic or religious group.
Again, to the extent one wishes to look to the Bible for history – and this essay makes no presumptions one way or the other – the history of Hebrew civilization has not been without blemishes. The first five books of the Old Testament are composed primarily of the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of bondage and towards the land promised them by God. Those years of wandering, however, were replete with instances of the Hebrew people incurring the wrath of God, and His patience was tried repeatedly. All that aside, the Hebrew civilization of the past and the practice of Judaism today continues to place tremendous emphasis on the basic tenets set forth in Biblical history – a history for which the Ten Commandments provided the first set of established laws and which guided them for years to come.