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The term "G-d" is used in this essay to respect the Jewish prohibition
against spelling the name of the deity in full. Dates listed which are
prior to the 4th century BCE are approximate.
History of Judaism
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 four religions
which trace their roots back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and
the Baha'i World Faith. The book of Genesis describes the events surrounding
the lives of the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Joseph,
who is recognized as a fourth patriarch by Christians is not considered
one by Jews). Moses was the next leader of the ancient Israelites. He led
his people out of captivity in Egypt, and received the Law from
G-d. After decades of wandering through wilderness, Joshua led the tribes
into the promised land, driving out the Canaanites through a series of
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 center. The third king, Solomon built the first
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.
major (and some minor) religious sects had formed by the 1st century AD:
the Basusim, Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees. Many anticipated the arrival
of the Messiah who would drive the Roman invaders out and restore independence.
Christianity was established initially as a Jewish sect, centered 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
the religion of Christianity. Jews were scattered throughout the known
world. Their religion was no longer centered in Jerusalem; Jews were prohibited
from setting foot there. Judaism became decentralized and stopped seeking
converts. The local synagogue became the new center of Jewish life, and
authority shifted from the centralized priesthood to local scholars and
teachers, giving rise to Rabbinic Judaism.
period from the destruction of the temple onward give rise to heavy persecution
by Christians throughout Europe and Russia. In the 1930s and 1940s, Adolph
Hitler and the German Nazi party drew on centuries of anti-Semitism, and
upon their own psychotic beliefs in racial purity. 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
Zionist movement was a response to centuries of Christian persecution.
Their initial goal was create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The state
of Israel was formed on 1948-MAY-18.
are currently about 18 million Jews throughout the world. They are mainly
concentrated in North America (about 7 million) and Israel (about 4.5 million).
Tanakh corresponds to the Jewish Scriptures, (often referred to
as the Old Testament by Christians). It is composed of three groups of
Torah Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Nevi'im, the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Amos, etc.
Ketuvim, the "Writings" including Kings, Chronicles, etc.
Talmud contains stories, laws, medical knowledge, debates about
moral choices, etc. It is composed of material which comes mainly from
Mishnah, 6 "orders" containing hundreds of chapters, including series
of laws from the Hebrew Scriptures. It was compiled about 200 CE.
Gemera (one Babylonian and one Palestinian) is encyclopedic in scope.
It includes comments from hundreds of Rabbis from 200 - 500 CE, explaining
the Mishnah with additional historical, religious, legal, sociological,
is the creator of all that exists; he is one, incorporeal (without a body),
and he alone is to be worshiped as absolute ruler of the universe.
whole of the Torah was revealed to Moses by G-d. It will not be changed
or augmented in the future.
also communicates to the Jewish people through prophets.
monitors the activities of humans; he rewards individuals for good deeds
and punishes evil.
belief does not follow the Christian concept of original sin (the belief
that all people have inherited Adam and Eve's sin when they disobeyed G-d'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 G-d by fulfilling mitzvot
(divine commandments). No savior is needed as an intermediary.
Jews are G-d's chosen people
613 commandments found in Leviticus and other books regulate all aspects
of Jewish life.
Ten commandments, as delineated in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21,
form a brief synopsis of the Law.
Messiah (anointed one of G-d) will arrive in the future and gather Jews
once more into the land of Israel. There will be a general resurrection
of the dead at that time. The Jerusalem Temple, destroyed in 70 CE, will
reach the status of Bar Mitzvah on their 13th birthday; girls reach
Bat Mitzvah on their 12th birthday. This means that they are recognized
as adults and are personally responsible to follow the Jewish commandments
and laws; they are allowed to lead a religious service; they are counted
in a "minyan" (a quota necessary to perform certain parts of religious
services); they can sign contracts; they can testify in religious courts;
theoretically, they can marry, although the Talmud recommends 18 to 24
as the proper age for marriage.
more liberal movements within Judaism differ from some of the above beliefs
concerning the source of the Torah, the concept of direct reward and punishment
according to one's behavior, etc.
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
of the Sabbath (day of rest), starting at sundown on Friday evening.
discipline, according to the Law, governs all areas of life
attendance by Jewish males at Synagogue
of the annual festivals including:
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.
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.
are five main forms of Judaism in the world today:
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
Judaism: This is a very small group, mainly composed of atheists and
agnostics, who regard mankind as the measure of all things.
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 inspired.
Judaism: This is a new, small, liberal movement started by Mordecai
Kaplan as an attempt to unify and revitalize the religion. They reject
the concept that Jews are a uniquely favored and chosen people. They have
no connection at all with Christian Reconstructionism, which is an ultra-conservative
form of Christianity.
Judaism: They are a liberal group, followed by about 70% of the Jews
in the world. 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.
These are the largest forms of Judaism
faith of Israel, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, had divided into
a number of Jewish Sects (the Basusim, Pharisees, Essenes, Saducees, Zealots
and others) by the early first century CE. Subsequently, a number of events
of momentous importance occurred:
of these events came two major world religions:
CE: Some Jews, following the teachings of Jeshua (known by Christians
as Jesus Christ), formed a Jewish Christian reform movement within Judaism
under the leadership of James, an apostle of Jeshua.
55 CE: Paul, a Jewish persecutor of Christians, became converted to
Christianity and started to organize Pauline Christian churches throughout
much of the Roman empire in conflict with the Jewish Christians.
CE: The Roman army destroyed the Temple and the rest of Jerusalem.
CE: Many Jews accepted Bar Kochba as the Messiah. This led to a hopeless
three-year revolt against the Roman Empire. About a half-million Jews were
killed; thousands were sold into slavery or taken into captivity.
The rest were exiled from Palestine and scattered throughout the known
world in what is called the "Diaspora."
in its Rabbinical
form, centered in local synagogues, scattered
throughout the known world, and Pauline Christianity which later
became centered in Rome.
between the two religions became strained. The Christian Scriptures include
many examples of anti-Judaism. One of the gospels, written during the last
third of the 1st
century CE, included the accusation that all
Jews, (past, present, and future), are responsible for deicide: the killing
of God. This form of religious propaganda was serious enough in its original
setting, as long as Christianity remained a small reform movement within
Judaism. There are many examples of inter-religious friction throughout
literature of that era; indeed, it is prevalent today. But when the Christian
religion became the official religion of Rome in the late 4th century CE,
Christianity became sufficiently powerful to actively oppress and persecute
Jews. This led to numerous exterminations of groups of Jews during the
Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Renaissance and into the modern era. Ancient Christian
teachings and practices paved the way for the Nazi holocaust during World
only a few fringe Christian groups still teach that Jews are responsible
for Christ's death. Many Christian denominations teach that the promises
that God made to the Jewish people have been withdrawn and transferred
to the Christian Church. This teaching has led to conflicts over attempts
to evangelize Jews. Although anti-Semitism has been abandoned by most in
North America, the relationships between Christians and Jews have much
room for improvement.
page of links to Jewish web sites is at: http://www.shamash.org
index of class notes for a University of Alberta course called "Judaism
in the Modern Age" is at: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/363_Transp/363_list.html
official FAQ of the
Soc.Culture.Jewish newsgroup is at: http://www.shamash.org/lists/scj-faq/HTML/faq/hl-index.html
This extensive list of questions and answers was developed by a committee
of Jews from all denominations.
Kaiser, "Frequently Asked Questions about Jewish Principals and Beliefs,"
Kaiser, "Frequently Asked Questions about Jewish Beliefs and Theology,"
is at: http://judaism.miningco.com/library/weekly/blrobert_2.htm
He discusses the Jewish concept of G-d, compares the beliefs of different
Jewish denominations, the concept of the Chosen People, etc.
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