Judaism is the religion and culture of the Jewish people and the first recorded monotheistic faith. The tenets and history of Judaism constitute the historical foundation of other religions, including Christianity and Islam. The 3 faiths recognize Abraham as the Patriarch.

Although Jews comprise only about 0.2% of the human race, 18 million, Jewish influence on the world has been vast, far more than their numbers would indicate.

Three Facts:

  1. Judaism espouses belief in a monotheistic God , who is creator of the universe and who leads His people, the Jews, by speaking through prophets. Judaism is, in essence, the Law of God given to Moses .
  2. Fundamental to Judaism is the belief that the people of Israel are God’s chosen people, who must serve as a light for other nations. God made a covenant first with Abraham around 2000 BC, and then renewed it with Isaac, Jacob, and Moses . This means that Judaism is a religion that focuses on the group and the group’s needs, rather than on individuals. Individuals are important only as their actions affect the group.
  3. The expectancy of a Messiah who will bring universal peace and Jerusalem will be his capital center. Jews believe that the human condition can be improved, that the letter and the spirit of the Torah must be followed, and that a Messiah will eventually bring the world to a state of paradise.

The word of God (G-d) is revealed in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament), especially in that part known as the Torah . The Torah also contains, according to rabbinic tradition, a total of 613 biblical commandments, including the Ten Commandments, which are explicated in the Talmud. Main Scriptures: Tanakh, Torah, Talmud, Mishna

Today’s Judaism

There are three main groups who vary in their interpretation of those parts of the Torah that deal with personal, communal, international, and religious activities:

  1. The Orthodox community : which views the Torah as derived from God, and therefore absolutely binding. This the oldest, most conservative, and most diverse form of Judaism. Modern Orthodox, Chasidim and Ultra Orthodox share a basic belief in the derivation of Jewish law, even as they hold very different outlooks on life. They attempt to follow the original form of Judaism as they view it to be. They look upon every word in their sacred texts as being divinely inspired.
  2. The Reform movement: They are a liberal group, followed by many North American Jews. The movement started in the 1790’s in Germany. They follow the ethical laws of Judaism, but leave up to the individual the decision whether to follow or ignore the dietary and other traditional laws. They use modern forms of worship. There are many female rabbis in reform congregations.
  3. The Conservative Jews : who follow most of the observances set out in the Torah but allow for change in the face of modern life. This began in the mid-nineteenth century as a reaction against the Reform movement. It is a main-line movement midway between Reform and Orthodox. It was brought to America by Solomon Schechter, and it is called the United Synagogue of America.

Holidays, Ceremonies and Life Style (Rites)

The High Holy Days, observed in September or October, centering on atonement from sin. They consist of Rosh ha-Shanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Rosh ha-Shanah is marked by the blowing of a ram’s horn, the shofar . Yom Kippur , 10 days later, is characterized by fasting and praying to God for the forgiveness of sins. After five more days comes Sukkot (Tabernacles), a joyful holiday marked by the construction of a sukkah (booth) decorated with festive fruit and plants. Yom Kippur and Sukkot go back to the Old Testament, the latter as a reminder that the people lived in tents as they journeyed to the Promised Land.

In November or December falls Hanukkah , a holiday that commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the pagan desecrators of the Temple in the year 165 B.C. The New Testament mentions this holiday in John 10:22. During the week of Hanukkah, the menorah (candelabrum) is lit each night and potato pancakes are eaten.

In February or March, a carnival-like holiday called Purim is observed, recounting the events of the Book of Esther .

Passover , the most popular of all the Jewish holidays, falls in March or April and commemorates the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt as narrated in the Book of Exodus. This holiday is characterized by the eating of matzoh (unleavened bread) during the entire week and the observance of the Seder, or Passover meal, at the beginning of the week. The Last Supper of Jesus and the disciples was a Passover meal.

Finally, the holiday of Shavuot (Weeks) falls in May or June, with themes of springtime and harvest. Traditionally, this holiday was the day when God gave the Law to Israel at Mount Sinai.

Ceremonies and life style

Besides the annual holidays, there are various distinctive lifestyle events that characterize the lives of most Jewish people. Three of these are

  • Circumcision of sons on the eighth day after birth called the bris .
  • Bar mitzvah (for boys) and bat mitzvah (for girls — not traditional). This is the coming of age ceremony at age 13, consisting of a synagogue service followed by a reception.
  • Jewish weddings take place under a chuppah (canopy). One high point is the smashing of a glass wrapped in a cloth to symbolize the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Also Sabbath , the weekly day of rest (Friday). Some affix to their doorposts a mezuzah , a small box containing various Scripture portions. Many observe the dietary laws: Kosher

Jewish History

A Timeline of Jewish History

The Biblical Period
2000-1700 BCE (approx) Middle Bronze Age The Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac & Jacob
1700-1300 BCE (approx) Late Bronze Age Israelites Slaves in Egypt
1250 BCE (approx) Exodus from Egypt; Conquest of Canaan (Moses)
1025-928 BCE Iron Age IIA Rule of the Great Monarchs (Saul, David, Solomon)
  • 1000 BCE
Solomon Builds Temple in Jerusalem
928-726 BCE Iron Age IIB Divided Kingdoms (Israel & Judah)
  • 726 BCE Iron Age IIC
Northern Kingdom (Israel) Falls
586 BCE The Destruction of the First Temple, Judah Falls
586-538 BCE Babylonian Exile; Ends wirh Cyrus’ Edict
The Second Temple Period
515 BCE Second Temple Completed Under Persians
332 BCE Alexander the Great Conquers Israel
167 BCE Hasmonean Uprising
80 BCE Roman Victory over Maccabees
37-4 BCE Herod the Great
66-72 CE The Great Revolt
  • 70 CE
The Destruction of the 2nd Temple
The Talmudic Period
135 Bar Kokhba Revolt
200 Mishnah Compiled
425 (approx) Palestinian Talmud Completed
550 (approx) Babylonina Talmud Completed
The Medieval Period
638 Muslim Conquest of Palestine
762 The Karaite Schism
1096 Crusaders Massacre Jews in Rhineland
1135-1204 Maimonides
1240 Paris Disputation & Burning of Talmud
1290 Jews Expelled from England
1391-1492 Inquisition; Expulsion of the Jews from Spain
1516 First Ghetto in Venice
1567 Rabbi Joseph Caro’s Shulkhan `Arukh
1665 Apostasy of Shabbetai Zevi
The Modern Period
1730 First Synagogue in New York
1760 d. of Baal Shem Tov
1770-1880 Haskalah Movement
1791 Jews Granted French Citizenship
1820s Reform Judaism begins in Germany
1878 Petah Tikvah
1881-1924 E. European Migration to North America
1886 Conservative Judaism created
1897 First Zionist Congress
1917 Balfour Declaration
1933-1945 The Holocaust
1948 Creation of the State of Israel
  • 1967
  • 1979
  • 1993
  • 1995
Six Day War
Camp David Accord
Oslo Peace Accord
Rabin Assassination
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