Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. It began near the eastern region of Canaan, which is currently the Israeli and Palestinian territory. According to Jewish tradition, God, known as Yahweh, revealed himself to a Hebrew man named Abraham that became the founder of Judaism. In their tradition, God made a covenant with Abraham that declared his descendants to be chosen people that would form a great nation.
His grandson Jacob took the name Israel and so these people became known as Israelites. In the beginning, the Israelites were forced into servitude in Egypt until 1,000 years after Abraham when the prophet Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. In Jewish scripture, it is said that the Israelites wandered the wilderness for forty years. Then, God gave his laws, known as the Ten Commandments, to Moses at Mount Sinai.
Eventually, they came to the city of Shiloh where their tabernacle was located for over 300 years. This land was known as the land of Israel.
Jewish people have famously been persecuted for their beliefs, most popularly during the 1066 Granada Massacre where a Muslim mob killed 1,000 Jewish families, the First Crusade, the Spanish Expulsion in 1492, and the Holocaust, where the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews.
After the Holocaust in the 1940s, many Jewish people returned to the region of Palestine that was deemed to be their holy land. Many embraced Zionism, which is a philosophy to create a purely Jewish state in the Middle East. In 1948, their goal was recognized as the nation of Israel was formed. Unfortunately, this has caused ongoing conflicts between the Jewish people and Arabs living in Palestine in the modern era.
Jewish people believe in one transcendent god who created and rules the universe. He elected the Jewish people to choose to have a covenantal relationship with him. At the end of history, they believe that God will redeem their people, humankind, and the world. Because they are the chosen people of God, they are given both special privileges and special responsibilities from God. The ultimate goal of Judaism is rooted in the philosophy of messianism. They aim for a universal realm of justice and peace.
The Jewish laws dominate daily Jewish life and specify how to conduct worship, live ethically, and serve God. Jews live under the belief that God is guiding them towards righteousness and that this will manifest itself in the messianic age. God communicates to believers through prophets and prayer, and rewards good actions while punishing evil.
A critical part of Judaism is the belief in the apocalypse and in their Messiah (savior). Jewish people believe that there will be an end to the world in which God will send a savior to the people. They also believe that God will judge the Israeli people. They believe that God is an example of how humans should behave, and their faith emphasizes the importance of helping the needy and vulnerable in communities.
Today, somebody can be considered both ethnically and religiously Jewish. Most of the time, these categories overlap, as Jews do not try to preach their religion to nonbelievers. One is deemed ethnically Jewish if their mother is Jewish.
The most important day of the week is Shabbat, which is a day of rest and prayer for Jewish people. It begins at sunset on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday. Depending on the sect of Judaism, this determines the level of physical activity allowed on Shabbat. For example, Orthodox and Conservative Jews aren’t allowed to use electricity, drive, or handle money during Shabbat.
Shabbat is celebrated by reading or discussing the Torah, attending a synagogue, or socializing with other Jews. During dinner on Friday night, a Shabbat meal is typically had after lighting two candles on the table. Although the meals can differ, traditional staples include wine and challah (braided bread) that is blessed before eating.
Jewish people also follow dietary restrictions. Their food must be “kosher.” This includes rules like meat and dairy not being consumed together along with a ban on pork, rabbit, predatory birds, crustaceans, mollusks, and water mammals.
There are also several holidays that are traditionally celebrated by Jewish people. One of the most important is Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish Day of Atonement. It marks the beginning of the Jewish calendar and allows time for self-reflection. Sukkot celebrates the time when the Israelites were in the wilderness before inheriting the “Promised Land” of Israel. It takes the form of a harvest festival. Yom Kippur is the first day of Rosh Hashanah where Jewish people are meant to fast, refrain from bathing, and not wear anything made of leather.
Purim is a holiday to celebrate the Jewish people not being destroyed as detailed in the book of Esther. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. Hanukkah is a festival celebrating freedom from oppression and light within the darkness, and Passover celebrates the Jewish liberation from Egypt.
The holy text of Jewish people is called the Tanakh. It includes the same books as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible in a different arrangement. The first five books of the Tanakh are known as the Pentateuch or Torah. These are commonly referred to as the Books of Moses and describe the laws for Jewish people to follow.
Along with the Tanakh, there are other sacred texts that describe how to interpret the Tanakh and that document oral laws. These include the Mishnah and Talmud. The Mishnah was created in 200 A.D. and describes the Jewish code of law that was orally communicated. The Talmud, on the other hand, is a collection of commentaries about Jewish law. The Mishnah is technically a subset of the Talmud. There is then another book within the Talmud called the Gemara that examines the Mishnah. These give the opinions of thousands of rabbis and outline all 613 commandments of Jewish law. The first edition of the Talmud was created during the third century, and its second form was created during the fifth century.
The Jewish place of worship is called a synagogue, and its leaders are rabbis. The six-pointed Star of David is commonly found within synagogues, and some synagogues are even shaped in a hexagonal pattern. This is because the first holy temple in Jerusalem was built as the central place of worship by Solomon, the son of King David.
After the second temple was destroyed, Jewish people started shifting their focus to worshipping in local synagogues rather than a temple. Within Judaism, there are several classifications: Orthodox Judaism, Hasidic Judaism, Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism, and Humanistic Judaism.
Orthodox Judaism is the most well-known and includes strict adherence to traditional Jewish laws and rituals. On Shabbat they do not work, drive, or handle money. Hasidic Judaism is a subset of Orthodox Judaism that places a greater focus on a mystical experience with God through prayer and worship rather than following laws.
Reform Judaism values the ethics and morality of Judaism over the observance of Jewish laws. This group contains most Jews living in the United States, and they promote more progressive ideas and adaptations of traditional laws. Conservative Judaism lies between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. They honor many traditions but allow modern influences into their lives.
Reconstructionist Judaism was a movement that was started in 1922 by Mordecai Kaplan. They believe that Judaism is a civilization that is constantly evolving. Similarly, Humanistic Judaism was founded by Rabbi Sherwin Wine in 1963 to celebrate Jewish culture without an emphasis on God.
During a service at a Jewish synagogue, men traditionally wear a prayer shawl and a kippah (head covering). There is typically a reading of the Torah which is done by a rabbi, and congregational songs are led by a trained cantor.