The term "G-d" is used in this essay to respect the Jewish prohibition
against spelling the name of G-d in full.
Early History of Judaism
Circa 2000 BCE, the G-d of the ancient Israelites established a divine
covenant with Abraham, making him the patriarch of many nations. From his
name, the term Abramic Religions is derived; these are the three
religions which trace their roots back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity
and Islam. The book of Genesis describes the events surrounding the lives of
the four patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Moses was the next
leader. He led his people out of captivity in Egypt, and received the
Law from God. After decades of wandering through wilderness, Joshua
led the tribes into the promised land, driving out the Canaanites through a
series of military battles.
The original tribal organization was converted into a Kingdom by Samuel;
its first king was Saul. The second king, David, established Jerusalem as
the religious and political centre. The third king, Solomon built the
first temple there.
Division into the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of
Judah occurred shortly after the death of Solomon in 922 BCE. Israel fell
to Assyria in 722 BCE; Judah fell to the Babylonians in 587 BCE.
The temple was destroyed. Some Jews returned from captivity under the
Babylonians and started to restore the temple in 536 BCE. Alexander the
Great invaded the area in 332 BCE. From circa 300 to 63 BCE, Greek became
the language of commerce, and Greek culture had a major influence on Judaism.
In 63 BCE, the Roman Empire took control of Palestine.
Three religious sects had formed by the 1st century AD: the Sadducees,
Pharisees and Essenes. Many anticipated the arrival of a Messiah who would drive the Roman invaders out and
restore independence. Christianity was established initially as a Jewish
sect, centred in Jerusalem. Paul broke with this tradition and spread the
religion to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Many mini-revolts led to the destruction
of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. The Jewish Christians were wiped out or
scattered at this time. The movement started by Paul flourished and quickly
evolved into a separate religion. Jews were scattered throughout the known
world. Their religion was no longer centred in Jerusalem; Jews were
prohibited from setting foot there. Judaism became decentralized and
stopped seeking converts. The local synagogue became the new centre of
Jewish life, and authority shifted from the centralized priesthood to local
scholars and teachers, giving rise to Rabbinic Judaism.
The period from the destruction of the temple onward give rise to heavy
persecution by Christians throughout Europe and Russia. The latter held the
Jews continuously responsible for the execution of Jesus. In the 1930s and
1940s, Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi party drew on centuries of
anti-Semitism (and upon their own psychotic beliefs in racial purity) when
they organized the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of all Jews in
Europe. About 6 million were killed in one of the world's greatest examples
of religious and racial intolerance.
A Zionist movement was a response to persecution. Their initial
goal was create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The state of Israel was
formed on 1948-MAY-18.
There are currently about 18 million Jews throughout the world; about 7
million live in North America.
The Tanakh corresponds to the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) in
the Christian bible. It is composed of three groups of books:
The Talmud describes a code for daily Jewish life.
- the Torah Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
- the Nevi'im, the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Amos, etc
- the Ketuvim, the "Writings" including Kings, Chronicles, etc.
Jewish Beliefs and Practices
Jewish beliefs include:
- G-d is the creator and absolute ruler of the universe
- Jewish belief is unlike the Christian concept of original sin (the
belief that all people have inherited Adam and Eve's sin when they disobeyed
God's instructions in the Garden of Eden). Judaism affirms the inherent
goodness of the world and its people as creations of G-d. Believers are
able to sanctify their lives and draw closer to God by fulfilling
mitzvot (divine commandments). No saviour is needed as an
- The Jews are God's chosen people
- The Ten commandments, as delineated in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuterotomy
5:6-21, form the core of Jewish life
- The need to follow the many dietary and other laws of the Torah
Jewish practices include:
- Observation of the Sabbath (day of rest), starting at sundown on Friday
- Strict religious discipline governs almost all areas of life
- Regular attendance at Synagogue
- Celebration of the annual festivals including:
- The Passover, which is held each Spring to recall their
deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. A ritual Seder meal is eaten in
each observing Jewish home at this time. Some Passover dates are:
1995-APR-15, 1996-APR-4 and 1997-APR-22
- The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah (New Year) to Yom Kippur
(Day of Atonement) which are days of fasting and penitence. Some Rosh
Hashanah dates are 1995-SEP-25, 1996-SEP-14 and 1997-OCT-2.
The local synagogue is governed by the congregation and led by a rabbi
who has been chosen by the congregation. The Chief Rabbis in France and Great
Britain have authority only by the agreement of those who accept it.
Two Chief Rabbis in Israel have civil authority in areas of family law.
There are five main forms of Judaism in the world today:
- Conservative* Judaism: 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.
- Humanistic Judaism: This is a small group, mainly composed of atheists
and agnostics, who regard mankind as the measure of all things.
- Orthodox* Judaism: This the oldest and most conservative form of Judaism.
They attempt to observe their religion as close to its original forms as
possible. They look upon every word in their sacred texts as being divinely
- Reconstructist Judaism: This is a new liberal movement started by
Mordecai Kaplan as an attempt to unify and revitalize the religion. They
reject the concept that Jews are a uniquely favoured and chosen people.
- Reform* Judaism: They are a liberal group, who 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.
* These are the largest forms of Judaism
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