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Citation for Exodus and the Jewish Tradition

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Tigay, Jeffrey H. . "Exodus." In The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Mar 30, 2020. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195297515/obso-9780195297515-div1-68>.


Tigay, Jeffrey H. . "Exodus." In The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195297515/obso-9780195297515-div1-68 (accessed Mar 30, 2020).

Exodus and the Jewish Tradition

MANY OF THE FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS and practices of Judaism are rooted in Exodus. The first of the book's two central events, the exodus itself, is recounted daily in Jewish prayers. It and the other central event, the proclamation of the Decalogue at Mount Sinai, are celebrated and retold on Jewish festivals every year, the exodus on the festival of Pesaḥ, whose rituals, including the Seder, are based on the rules prescribed in chs 12–13, and the proclamation of the Decalogue (ch 20 ) on the festival of Shavuot. The two festivals are known, respectively, as zeman ḥerutenu, “the time of our freedom,” and zeman matan toratenu, “the time when our Torah was given.” The inextricable link between them, expressed in the fact that Pesaḥ begins a fifty‐day countdown to Shavuot (see Lev. 23.15–21 ), proclaims that the freedom attained on the former only reaches fulfillment with the laws received on the latter. These two festivals plus Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, constitute the three “Pilgrimage Festivals” (shalosh regalim) of the Jewish religious calendar. Two other rituals that began as commemorations of the exodus are daily wearing of tefillin ( 13.9–10 n. ) and the redemption of first‐born sons (pidyon haben, 13.13 n. ).

The exodus also served to orient Jewish festivals increasingly toward God's actions in history, in contrast to polytheistic festivals which focused on the gods' actions in nature. The role of Pesaḥ and the Feast of Unleavened Bread as commemorations of the exodus completely eclipsed their presumed earlier significance as spring festivals ( 12.6–14 n., 14–20 n. ). Sukkot, although essentially an agricultural festival, also comes to commemorate the Israelites' dwelling in booths following the exodus (Lev. 23.43 ). At least since Second Temple times Shavuot—in the Torah an entirely agricultural festival—has been recognized as commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Theologically, God's manifestation as Israel's redeemer at the exodus has fortified Jewish belief in redemption even in the throes of oppression.

Fundamental principles of Judaism based on Exodus are the belief that the relationship between God and the Jewish people is defined by the covenant (berit) established between them at Mount Sinai (chs 19; 24 ) and the belief that God gave the Torah there, ordaining the Jewish way of life (chs 19–24 ). The momentous encounter with God at Sinai is, for Judaism, the defining moment in Jewish history, the moment when God came down on earth and spoke to all Jews, present and future, giving them His rules for life, which they accepted enthusiastically ( 20.16; 24.3, 7 n. ). These laws (according to rabbinic belief both the Written Torah and its oral interpretation were communicated simultaneously) became the basis of all of Judaism: “Moses received Torah—written and oral—at Sinai and passed it on” down through the generations (Pirkei ’Avot 1.1 ). Because these laws were presented to the entire people ( 21.1 n. ), it became the duty of every Jew, not just an intellectual elite, to study them. Finally, the Thirteen Attributes of God, recited on various occasions in Jewish liturgy, are based on the attributes that God reveals to Moses in 34.6–7 .

The first laws that God proclaimed to the Israelites were the Decalogue ( 20.2–14 ), ordaining laws both “between humankind and God” and “between one human being andanother.” Three of the laws in the first group became defining characteristics of Judaism which Jews have defended, often with their lives: the requirement to worship only the LORD (YHVH) and have no other gods, the requirement to have no idols, and the requirement to observe the Sabbath. Of the latter it has been said that “Even more than the Jews kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath preserved the Jews,” as the Zionist philosopher Aḥad Ha‐‘Am (Asher Ginzberg, 1856–1927) observed.

The exodus has reverberated down through world history. Many early American settlers understood their flight from Europe and settlement in America as a new exodus, and later, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson recommended that the great seal of the United States depict Moses leading the Israelites across the parted sea as a symbol of the American experience. African‐Americans in the United States, hoping for freedom in the 19th century and fighting for civil rights in the 20th century, likewise saw themselves as reliving the Israelite experience. In the 1970s and 1980s, the mass departure of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union was known as “Operation Exodus.” The exodus has clearly resonated strongly in Western history.


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