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Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The tenets and history of Judaism are the major part of the foundation of other Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam.
Over at least the last two thousand years, Judaism has not been monolithic in practice, and has not had any centralized authority or binding dogma. Despite this, Judaism in all its variations has remained tightly bound to a number of religious principles, the most important of which is the belief in a single, omniscient, transcendent God that created the universe, and continues to be involved in its governance. According to Jewish thought, the God who created the world established a covenant with the Jewish people, and revealed his laws and commandments to them in the form of the Torah. Jewish practice is devoted to the study and observance of these laws and commandments, as they are interpreted according to various ancient and modern authorities.
Judaism does not easily fit into conventional western categories, such as religion, ethnicity, or culture, in part because of its 4,000-year history. During this time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic self-government, theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile; they have been in contact with, and have been influenced by, ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment (see Haskalah) and the rise of nationalism. Thus, Daniel Boyarin has argued that "Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension."
According to both traditional Jews and critical historical scholars, a number of qualities distinguish Judaism from the other religious cults that existed when it first emerged. One characteristic was monotheism. The significance of this idea, according to critical historian Yehezkal Kaufman, lies in that Judaism holds that God created, and cares about, humankind. In polytheistic religions, humankind is often created by accident, and the gods are primarily concerned with their relations with other gods, not with people.
Second, the Torah specifies a number of laws to be followed by the Children of Israel. Other religions at the time were characterized by temples in which priests would worship their gods through sacrifice. The Children of Israel similarly had a temple, priests, and made sacrifices -— but these were not the sole means of worshiping God.
Critical scholars argue as to when the notion of monotheism arose in Judaism. Orthodox Jews claim that it is expressed directly in Torah (the Hebrew Bible), where God incorporates it into the Ten Commandments: "...I am the Lord your God. Do not have any other gods before Me. Do not represent [such] gods by any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, or in the water below the land. Do not bow down to [such gods] or worship them. I am God your Lord, a God who demands exclusive worship".
Thus the belief in the existence of God, that God exists for all time, that God is the sole creator of all that exists, that God determines the course of events in this world, is the foundation of the Judaistic religion: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." To turn from these beliefs is to deny God and the essence of Judaism, according to the Jewish understanding of the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, one is required to believe in God and God alone. This prohibits belief in or worship of any additional deities, gods, spirits or incarnations. The idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical for Jews to hold; it is considered akin to polytheism.
To deny the uniqueness of God, is to deny all that is written in the Torah: "You shall have no other gods besides Me...Do not make a sculpted image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above." It is also a prohibition against making or possessing objects that one or other may bow down to or serve, such as crucifixes or icons, and any forms of paintings or artistic representations of God. One must not bow down to or serve any being or object but God. (See Ten_Commandments#Jewish_interpretation)
The significance of the idea is that an omniscient and omnipotent God created humankind as recorded in the Book of Genesis, in the Creation according to Genesis starting with the very first verse of Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," a marked contrast with polytheistic religions in which the gods are limited by their preoccupation with personal desires irrelevant to humankind, by their limited powers, or by the interference of other powers. In Judaism, God is unlimited, fully capable, and fully available to care for Creation.
Practical worship and the laws
Second, the Torah (i.e., The Hebrew Bible) specifies a number of laws, known as the 613 mitzvot, to be followed by the Children of Israel. Other religions at the time were characterized by temples in which priests would worship their gods through sacrifice. The Children of Israel similarly had a Temple in Jerusalem, a caste of priests, and made sacrifices — but these were not the sole means of worshiping God.
As a matter of practical worship (in comparison to other religions) Judaism seeks to elevate everyday life to the level of the ancient Temple's worship by worshipping God through the spectrum of daily activites and actions. It has traditionally maintained that this is how the individual would merit rewards in the afterlife, called gan eden (Hebrew: "Garden of Eden") or olam haba ("World to Come"), though Judaism does not have a single concept of the afterlife, nor is the afterlife the focus of Jewish practice.
Religious view of the development of Judaism
The subject of the Hebrew Bible is an account of the Israelites' (also called Hebrews) relationship with God as reflected in their history from the beginning of time until the building of the Second Temple (ca. 350 BCE). This relationship is generally portrayed as contentious, as Jews struggle between their faith in God and their attraction for other gods, and as some Jews (most notably and directly, Abraham, Jacob -- later known as Israel—and Moses) struggle with God.
According to Orthodox Judaism and most religious Jews, the Biblical patriarch Abraham was the first Hebrew. Rabbinic literature records that he was the first to reject idolatry and preach monotheism. As a result, God promised he would have children: "Look now toward heaven and count the stars/So shall be your progeny." (Genesis 15:5) Abraham's first child was Ishmael and his second son was Isaac, whom God said would continue Abraham's work and inherit the Land of Israel (then called Canaan), after having been exiled and redeemed. God sent the patriarch Jacob and his children to Egypt, where after many generations they became enslaved. Then God sent Moses to redeem the Israelites from slavery, and after the Exodus from Egypt, God led the Jews to Mount Sinai and gave them the Torah, eventually bringing them to the land of Israel.
God designated the descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother, to be a priestly class within the Israelite community. They first officiated in the tabernacle (a portable house of worship), and later their descendants were in charge of worship in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Once the Jews had settled in the land of Israel, the tabernacle was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years during which time God provided great men, and occasionally women, to rally the nation against attacking enemies, some of which were sent by God as a punishment for the sins of the people. This is described in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the tabernacle in Shiloh.
The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they had reached the point where they needed to be governed by a permanent king, as were other nations, as described in the Books of Samuel. Samuel grudgingly acceded to this request and appointed Saul, a great but very humble man, to be their King. When the people pressured Saul into going against a command conveyed to him by Samuel, God told Samuel to appoint David in his stead.
Once King David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple, and as a reward for his actions, God promised David that he would allow his son to build the temple and the throne would never depart from his children (David himself was not allowed to build the temple because he had been involved in many wars, making it inappropriate for him to build a temple representing peace). As a result, it was David's son Solomon who built the first permanent temple according to God's will, in Jerusalem, as described in the Books of Kings.
After Solomon's death, his Kingdom was split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. After several hundred years, because of rampant idolatry, God allowed Assyria to conquer Israel and exile its people. The southern Kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, home of the Temple, remained under the rulership of the House of David, however, as in the north, idolatry increased to the point that God allowed Babylonia to conquer the Kingdom, destroy the Temple which had stood for 410 years, and exile its people to Babylonia, with the promise that they would be redeemed after seventy years. These events are recorded in the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Jeremiah.
After seventy years the Jews were allowed back into Israel under the leadership of Ezra, and the Temple was rebuilt, as recorded in the Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah. The Second Temple stood for 420 years, after which it was destroyed by the Roman general (later emperor) Titus. The Jewish temple is to remain in ruins until a descendant of David arises to restore the glory of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Torah given on Mount Sinai was summarized in the five books of Moses. Together with the books of the prophets it is called the Written Torah. The details and interpretation of the law, which are called the Oral Torah or oral law were originally unwritten. However as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, rabbinic tradition holds that these oral laws were recorded in the Mishnah, and the Talmud, as well as other holy books.
Critical historical view of the development of Judaism
Although monotheism is fundamental to Rabbinic Judaism, many critical Bible scholars claim that certain verses in the Torah imply that the early Israelites accepted the existence of other gods, while viewing their God as the sole Creator, whose worship is obligated (a rather henotheistic point of view). According to them, it was only by the Hellenic period that most Jews came to believe that their God was the only God (and thus, the God of everyone), and that the record of His revelation (the Torah) contained within it universal truths. They posit that this attitude reflected a growing Gentile interest in Judaism (some Greeks and Romans considered the Jews a most "philosophical" people because of their belief in a God that cannot be represented visually), and growing Jewish interest in Greek philosophy, which sought to establish universal truths, thus leading - potentially - to the idea of monotheism, at least in the sense that "all gods are One".
According to this theory, Jews began to grapple with the tension between their claims of particularism (that only Jews were required to obey the Torah), and universalism (that the Torah contained universal truths). The supposed result is a set of beliefs and practices concerning identity, ethics, and the relationships between man and nature and man and God that examine and privilege "differences" — for example the difference between Jews and non-Jews; the local differences in the practice of Judaism; a close attention, when interpreting texts, to difference in the meanings of three words; attempts to preserve and encode different points of view within texts, and a relative avoidance of creed and dogma.
In contrast to the Orthodox religious view of the Hebrew Bible, critical biblical scholars also suggest that the Torah consists of a variety of inconsistent texts that were edited together in a way that calls attention to divergent accounts (see Documentary hypothesis).
Religious doctrine and Principles of Faith
- Main article: Jewish principles of faith
While Judaism has always affirmed a number of Jewish principles of faith, no creed, dogma, set of orthodox beliefs, or fully-binding "catechism," is recognized, an approach to religious doctrine that dates back at least two thousand years and that makes generalizations about Jewish theology somewhat difficult. While individual rabbis, congregations, or movements have at times agreed upon a firm dogma, generally other rabbis and groups have disagreed, and because there is explicitly no central religious authority, no specific formulation of Jewish principles of faith could take precedence over any other. In attempting to define who is a Jew, the ancient historian Josephus emphasized practices and traditions rather than religious beliefs, associating apostasy with a failure to observe traditional customs, and suggesting the requirements for conversion to Judaism included circumcision and adherence to traditional customs. Notably, in Orthodox Judaism some principles of faith (e.g., the Divine origin of the Torah) are considered important enough that public rejection of them can put one in the category of "apikoros" (heretic).
Over the centuries, a number of clear formulations of Jewish principles of faith have appeared, many with common elements, though they differ in certain details, and comparisons demonstrate a wide variety of tolerance for varying theological perspectives. Of these formulations, the one most widely considered authoritative is Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith:
- God is one - strict unitarian monotheism, in which the eternal creator of the universe is the source of morality.
- God is all powerful (omnipotent), as well as all knowing (omniscient), and the different names of God are ways to express different aspects of God's presence in the world (see also: Names of God in Judaism).
- God is non-physical, non-corporeal, and eternal. All statements in the Hebrew Bible and in rabbinic literature which use anthropomorphism are held to be linguistic conceits or metaphors, as it would otherwise be impossible to talk about God.
- One may offer prayer to God alone — any belief in an intermediary between man and God, either necessary or optional, has traditionally been considered heretical.
- The Hebrew Bible, and much of the beliefs described in the Mishnah and Talmud, are held to be the product of divine revelation. How revelation works, and what precisely one means when one says that a book is "divine", has always been a matter of some dispute. Different understandings of this subject exist among Jews.
- The words of the prophets are true.
- Moses was the chief of all prophets.
- The Torah (five books of Moses) is the primary text of Judaism.
- God will reward those who observe His commandments, and punish those who violate them.
- God chose the Jewish people to be in a unique covenant with Him (see also: Jews as a chosen people).
- There will be a moshiach (Jewish Messiah), or perhaps a messianic era.
- The soul is pure at birth, and human beings have free will, with an innate yetzer ha'tov (a tendency to do good), and a yetzer ha'ra (a tendency to do bad).
- People can atone for sins through words and deeds, without intermediaries, through prayer, repentance, and tzedakah (dutiful giving of charity), if accompanied by a sincere decision to cease unacceptable actions and if appropriate amends to others are honestly undertaken, always providing a "way back" to God. (see also: Jewish views of sin)
The traditional Jewish bookshelf
Jews are often called the "People of the Book," and Judaism has an age-old intellectual tradition focusing on text-based Torah study. The following is a basic, structured list of the central works of Jewish practice and thought. For more detail, see Rabbinic literature.
- The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Jewish bible study, which include:
- Works of the Talmudic Era (classic rabbinic literature)
- Halakhic literature
- Jewish Thought and Ethics
- The Siddur and Jewish liturgy
- Piyyut (Classical Jewish poetry)
- Torah databases (electronic versions of the Traditional Jewish Bookshelf)
- List of Jewish Prayers and Blessings
Jewish Law and interpretation
- Main article: Halakha
The basis of Jewish law and tradition ("halakha") is the Torah (the five books of Moses). According to rabbinic tradition there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Some of these laws are directed only to men or to women, some only to the ancient priestly groups, the Kohanim and Leviyim (members of the tribe of Levi), some only to those who practice farming within the land of Israel. Many laws were only applicable when the Temple in Jerusalem existed, and fewer than 300 of these commandments are still applicable today.
While there have been Jewish groups which claimed to be based on the written text of the Torah alone (e.g., the Sadducees, and the Karaites), most Jews believed in what they call the oral law. These oral traditions were transmitted by the Pharisee sect of ancient Judaism, and were latter recorded in written form and expanded upon by the rabbis.
Rabbinic Judaism has always held that the books of the Tanakh (called the written law) have always been transmitted in parallel with an oral tradition. To justify this viewpoint, Jews point to the text of the Torah, where many words are left undefined, and many procedures mentioned without explanation or instructions; this, they argue, means that the reader is assumed to be familiar with the details from other, i.e., oral, sources. This parallel set of material was originally transmitted orally, and came to be known as "the oral law".
By the time of Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (200 CE), after the destruction of Jerusalem, much of this material was edited together into the Mishnah. Over the next four centuries this law underwent discussion and debate in both of the world's major Jewish communities (in Israel and Babylonia), and the commentaries on the Mishnah from each of these communities eventually came to be edited together into compilations known as the two Talmuds. These have been expounded by commentaries of various Torah scholars during the ages.
Halakha, the rabbinic Jewish way of life, then, is based on a combined reading of the Torah, and the oral tradition - the Mishnah, the halakhic Midrash, the Talmud and its commentaries. The Halakha has developed slowly, through a precedent-based system. The literature of questions to rabbis, and their considered answers, is referred to as responsa (in Hebrew, Sheelot U-Teshuvot.) Over time, as practices develop, codes of Jewish law are written that are based on the responsa; the most important code, the Shulkhan Arukh, largely determines Jewish religious practice up to today.
What makes a person Jewish?
- Main article: Who is a Jew
According to Jewish law, someone is considered to be a Jew if he or she was born of a Jewish mother or converted in accord with Jewish Law. (Recently, the American Reform and Reconstructionist movements have included those born of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers, if the children are raised practicing Judaism only.) All mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts.
A Jew who ceases to practice Judaism is still considered a Jew, as is a Jew who does not accept Jewish principles of faith and becomes an agnostic or an atheist; so too with a Jew who converts to another religion. However, in the latter case, the person loses standing as a member of the Jewish community and becomes known as an apostate. In the past, family and friends were said to often formally mourn for the person, though this is rarely done today.
The question of what determines Jewish identity was given new impetus when, in the 1950s, David ben Gurion requested opinions on mihu Yehudi ("who is a Jew") from Jewish religious authorities and intellectuals worldwide. The question is far from settled and occasionally resurfaces in Israeli politics.
- Main article: Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy refers to the conjunction between serious study of philosophy and Jewish theology. Early Jewish philosophy was influenced by the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, and Islamic philosophy. Major Jewish philosophers include Solomon ibn Gabirol, Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, and Gersonides. Major changes occurred in response to the Enlightenment (late 1700s to early 1800s) leading to the post-Enlightenment Jewish philosophers, and then modern Jewish philosophers such as Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Will Herberg, Emmanuel Levinas, Richard Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim, and Joseph Soloveitchik.
- Main article: Jewish denominations
Over the past two centuries the Jewish community has divided into a number of Jewish denominations; each has a different understanding of what principles of belief a Jew should hold, and how one should live as a Jew. Unlike Christian denominations, these doctrinal differences have not fundamentally split Jewish denominations, which continue to overlap on many issues. It would not be unusual for a Conservative Jew to attend either an Orthodox or Reform synagogue, for example.
- Orthodox Judaism holds that the Torah was written by God and dictated to Moses, and that the laws within it are binding and unchanging. Orthodox Jews generally consider a 16th century CE law code, the Shulkhan Arukh, to be the definitive codification of Jewish law, and assert a continuity between pre-Enlightenment Judaism and modern-day Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism consists of Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism. Hasidic Judaism is a sub-set of Haredi Judaism. Most of Orthodox Judaism holds to one particular form of Jewish theology, based on Maimonides' 13 principles of Jewish faith.
- Reform Judaism (outside of the US also known as Progressive Judaism, and in the UK as Liberal Judaism) originally formed in Germany in response to the Enlightenment. Reform Judaism initially defined Judaism as a religion, rather than as a race or culture; rejected the ritual prescriptions and proscriptions of the Torah; and emphasized the ethical call of the Prophets. Reform Judaism developed a prayer service in the vernacular, and emphasized personal connection to Jewish tradition over specific forms of observance. Today, many Reform congregations have returned to Hebrew prayers and encourage some degree of legal observance.
- Conservative Judaism. Outside of the US it is known as Masorti (Hebrew for "Traditional") Judaism. "Masorti" is its official title in the State of Israel as well, although most Israelis use the word in a more general sense (see below). Conservative Judaism formed in the United States in the late 1800s through the fusion of two distinct groups: former Reform Jews who were alienated by that movement's emphatic rejection of Jewish law, and former Orthodox Jews who had rejected belief in the "oral law" (which claims continuity between God's revelation at Sinai and Jewish law as codified in the Shulkhan Arukh) in favor of the critical study of Jewish texts and history. Conservative Jews emphasize that Jews constitute a nation as well as a religion. Conservative scholars emphasize their identification with the Amoraim, the sages of the Talmud, who embraced open debates over interpretations (and reinterpretations) of Jewish law.
- Reconstructionist Judaism started as a stream of philosophy by a rabbi within Conservative Judaism, and later became an independent movement emphasizing reinterpreting Judaism for modern times.
- Humanistic Judaism. A small nontheistic movement that emphasizes Jewish culture and history as the sources of Jewish identity. Founded by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, it is centered in North America but has adherents Europe, Latin America, and Israel.
Many religious Jews do not look at one's denomination as a valid way of designating Jews; instead they view Jews by the level of their religious observance. According to most Orthodox Jews, Jewish people who do not keep the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov (the holidays), Kashrut, and family purity are considered non-religious. Any Jew who keeps at least those laws would be considered observant and religious.
Jewish denominations in Israel
- Main article: Judaism in Israel
Even though all of these denominations exist in Israel, Israelis tend to classify Jewish identity in ways that are different than diaspora Jewry. Most Jewish Israelis classify themselves as "secular" (hiloni), "traditional" (masorti), "religious" (dati) or Haredi. The term "secular" is more popular as a self-description among Israeli families of western (European) origin, whose Jewish identity may be a very powerful force in their lives, but who see it as largely independent of traditional religious belief and practice. This portion of the population largely ignores organized religious life, be it of the official Israeli rabbinate (Orthodox) or of the liberal movements common to diaspora Judaism (Reform, Conservative).
The term "traditional" (masorti) is most common as a self-description among Israeli families of "eastern" origin (i.e., the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa). This term, as commonly used, has nothing to do with the official Masorti (Conservative) movement.
There is a great deal of ambiguity in the ways "secular" and "traditional" are used in Israel. They often overlap, and they cover an extremely wide range in terms of ideology and religious observance.
The term "Orthodox" (Ortodoxi) is unpopular in Israeli discourse (among both "secular" and "religious" alike). Nevertheless, the spectrum covered by "Orthodox" in the diaspora exists in Israel, again with some important variations. The "Orthodox" spectrum in Israel is a far greater percentage of the Jewish population in Israel than in the diaspora, though how much greater is hotly debated. Various ways of measuring this percentage, each with its pros and cons, include the proportion of religiously observant Knesset members, the proportion of Jewish children enrolled in religious schools, and statistical studies on "identity".
What would be called "Orthodox" in the diaspora includes what is commonly called dati (religious) or haredi (ultra-Orthodox) in Israel. The former term includes what is called "Religious Zionism" or the "National Religious" community, as well as what has become known over the past decade or so as haredi-leumi (nationalist haredi), or "Hardal," which combines a largely haredi lifestyle with nationalist ideology.
Haredi applies to a populace that can be roughly divided into three separate groups along both ethnic and ideological lines: (1) "Lithuanian" (non-hasidic) haredim of Ashkenazic origin; (2) Hasidic haredim of Ashkenazic origin; and (3) Sephardic haredim. The third group is the largest, and has been the most politically active since the early 1990s.
Unlike the above denominations, which were ideological reactions that resulted from the exposure of traditional rabbinic Judaism to the radical changes of modern times, Karaite Judaism did not begin as a modern Jewish movement. The followers of Karaism believe they are the remnants of the non-Rabbinic Jewish sects of the Second Temple period, such as the Saducees, though others contend they are a sect started in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Karaites, or "Scripturalists," accept only the Hebrew Bible and what they view as the Peshat: "Plain or Simple Meaning"; and do not accept non-biblical writings as authoritative. Some European Karaites do not see themselves as part of the Jewish community, while most do. It is interesting to note that the Nazis often did not associate Karaites with Jews, and therefore several Karaite communities were spared in WWII and exist to this day even in places such as Lithuania where Jewish communities were completely devastated. In other areas, such as Greece, the Nazis deemed Karaites as belonging to a greater Jewish tradition and abused them accordingly.
The main article Jewish views of religious pluralism describes how Judaism views other religions; it also describes how members of each of the Jewish religious denominations view the other denominations.
Jewish prayer and practice
- Main article: Jewish services
There are three main daily prayer services, named Shacharit, Mincha (literally: "flour-offering") and Maariv or Arvit. All services include a number of benedictions called the Amidah or the Shemonah Esrei ("eighteen"), which on weekdays consists of nineteen blessings (one was added in the time of the Mishna, but the name remains). Another key prayer in many services is the declaration of faith, the Shema which is recited at shacharit and maariv. Most of the prayers in a traditional Jewish service can be said in solitary prayer, but Kaddish and Kedusha require a group of ten adult men (or men and women in some branches of Judaism) called a minyan (prayer quorum). There are also prayers and benedictions recited throughout the day, such as those before eating or drinking.
There are a number of common Jewish religious objects used in prayer. The tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl. A kippah or yarmulke (skullcap) is a head covering worn during prayer by most Jews, and at all times by more orthodox Jews — especially Ashkenazim. Phylacteries or tefillin, boxes containing the portions of the Torah mandating them, are also worn by religious Jews during weekday morning services.
The Jewish approach to prayer differs among the various branches of Judaism. While all use the same set of prayers and texts, the frequency of prayer, the number of prayers recited at various religious events, and whether one prays in a particular liturgical language or the vernacular differs from denomination to denomination, with Conservative and Orthodox congregations using more traditional services, and Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues more likely to incorporate translations, contemporary writings, and abbreviated services.
- Main article: Shabbat
Shabbat, the weekly day of rest lasting from Friday night to Saturday night, celebrates God's creation as a day of rest that commemorates God's day of rest upon the completion of creation. It plays an important role in Jewish practice and is the subject of a large body of religious law. Some consider it the most important Jewish holiday.
- Main article: Jewish holidays
Three holidays celebrate revelation by commemorating different events in the passage of the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to their return to the land of Canaan. They are also timed to coincide with important agricultural seasons. They are also pilgramage holidays, for which the Children of Israel would journey to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to God in His Temple.
- Pesach or Passover is a week-long holiday beginning on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan, that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, and coincides with the barley harvest. It is the only holiday that centers on home-service, the Seder. Leavened products are removed from the house prior to the holiday, and are not consumed during the holiday.
- Shavuot or Pentacost or Feast of Weeks celebrates Moses' giving of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, and marks the transition from the barley harvest to the wheat harvest.
- Sukkot, or "The Festival of Booths" commemorates the wandering of the Children of Israel through the desert. It is celebrated through the construction of temporary booths that represent the temporary shelters of the Children of Israel during their wandering. It coincides with the fruit harvest, and marks the end of the agricultural cycle.
- Rosh Hashanah, also Yom Ha-Zikkaron (The Day of Remembrance) or Yom Teruah (The Day of the Sounding of the Shofar). Called the Jewish New Year because it celebrates the day that the world was created, and marks the advance in the calendar from one year to the next, although it occurs in the seventh month, Tishri. It is also a holiday of redemption, as it marks the beginning of the atonement period that ends ten days later with Yom Kippur.
- Yom Kippur, or The Day of Atonement, also called "the Sabbath of Sabbaths," is a holiday centered on redemption; a day of atonement and fasting for sins committed during the previous year. Many consider this the most important Jewish holiday.
There are many minor holidays as well, including Purim, which celebrates the events told in the Biblical book of Esther, and Chanukkah, which is not established in the Bible but which celebrates the successful rebellion by the Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire.
- Main article: Torah reading
The core of festival and Sabbath prayer services is the public reading of the Torah, along with connected readings from the other books of the Jewish Bible, called Haftarah. During the course of a year, the full Torah is read, and the cycle begins again every autumn during Simhat Torah (“rejoicing in the Torah”).
Synagogues and Jewish buildings
- Main article: Synagogue
Synagogues are a Jewish houses of prayer and study, they usually contain separate rooms for prayer (the main sanctuary), smaller rooms for study, and often an area for community or educational use. There is no set blueprint for synagogues and the architectural shapes and interior designs of synagogues vary greatly, so a synagogue may contain any (or none) of these features:
- an ark (called aron ha-kodesh by Ashkenazim and hekhal by Sephardim) where the Torah scrolls are kept (the ark is often closed with an ornate curtain (parokhet) outside or inside the ark doors);
- a large elevated reader's platform (called bimah by Ashkenazim and tebah by Sephardim), where the Torah is read (and from where the services are conducted in Sephardi synagogues);
- an Eternal Light (ner tamid), a continually-lit lamp or lantern used as a reminder of the constantly lit menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem; and,
- (mainly in Ashkenazi synagogues) a pulpit facing the congregation to preach from and a pulpit or amud (Hebrew for "post" or "column") facing the Ark for the Hazzan (reader) to lead the prayers from.
Dietary laws: Kashrut
- Main article: Kashrut
The laws of kashrut ("keeping kosher") are the Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with Jewish law is termed kosher, and food not in accord with Jewish law is termed treifah or treif. From the context of the laws in the book of Leviticus, the purpose of kashrut is related to ritual purity and holiness, as well as health. Kashrut involves the abstention from consuming animals that eat other animals, and that roam the sea floor eating the excretions of other animals, therefore excluding birds/beasts of prey and seafood (other than fish), respectively. Also, mixing meat and milk is not allowed, as this is viewed as cooking the child in its mother's milk. Orthodox Jews and some Conservative Jews do keep kosher, to varying degrees of strictness, while Reform and Reconstructionist Jews generally do not.
- Main article: Niddah
The laws of niddah ("menstruant", often referred to euphemistically as "family purity") and various other laws regulating the interaction between men and women (e.g., tzeniut, modesty in dress) are perceived, especially by Orthodox Jews, as vital factors in Jewish life, though they are rarely followed by Reform or Conservative Jews. The laws of niddah dictate that sexual intercourse cannot take place while the woman is having a menstrual flow, and she has to count seven "clean" days and immerse in a mikvah (ritual bath) following menstruation.
Life-cycle events occur throughout a Jew's life that bind him/her to the entire community.
- Brit milah - Welcoming male babies into the covenant through the rite of circumcision.
- Bar mitzvah and Bat mitzvah - Celebrating a child's reaching the age of majority, becoming responsible from now on for themselves as an adult for living a Jewish life and following halakha.
- Death and Mourning
Judaism does not have a clergy, in the sense of full-time specialists required for religious services. Technically, the last time Judaism had a clergy was prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, when priests attended to the Temple and sacrifices. The priesthood is an inherited position, and although priests no longer have clerical duties, they are still honored in many Jewish communities.
- Kohen (priest) - patrilineal descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses. In the Temple, the kohanim were charged with performing the sacrifices. Today, a Kohen is the first one called up at the reading of the Torah, performs the priestly blessing, as well as complying with other unique laws.
- Levi (Levite) - Patrilineal descendant of Levi the son of Jacob. Today, a Levite is called up second to the reading of the Torah.
From the times of the Mishna and Talmud to the present, Judaism has required specialists or authorities for the practice of very few rituals or ceremonies. A Jew can fulfil most requirements for prayer by himself. Some activities -- reading the Torah and haftarah (a supplementary portion from the Prophets or Writings); the prayer for mourners; the blessings for bridegroom and bride; the complete grace after meals -- require a minyan, the presence of ten adults (Orthodox Jews and some Conservative Jews require ten adult men; some Conservative Jews and Reform Jews include women in the minyan).
The most common professional clergy in a synagogue are:
- Rabbi of a congregation - Jewish scholar who is charged with answering the legal questions of a congregation. Orthodox Judaism requires semicha (Rabbinical ordination). A congregation does not necessarily require a rabbi. Some congregations have a rabbi but also allow members of the congregation to act as shatz or baal koreh (see below).
- Hazzan (cantor) - a trained vocalist who acts as shatz. Chosen for a good voice, knowledge of traditional tunes, understanding of the meaning of the prayers and sincerity in reciting them. A congregation does not need to have a dedicated hazzan.
Jewish prayer services do involve two specified roles, which are sometimes, but not always, filled by a rabbi and/or hazzan in many congregations:
- Shaliach tzibur or Shatz (leader -- literally "agent" or "representative" -- of the congregation) leads those assembled in prayer, and sometimes prays on behalf of the community. When a shatz recites a prayer on behalf of the congregation, he is not acting as an intermediary but rather as a facilitator. The entire congregation participates in the recital of such prayers by saying amen at their conclusion; it is with this act that the shatz's prayer becomes the prayer of the congregation. Any adult capable of speaking Hebrew clearly may act as shatz (Orthodox Jews and some Conservative Jews allow only men to act as shatz; some Conservative Jews and Reform Jews allow women to act as shatz as well).
- Baal koreh (master of the reading) reads the weekly Torah portion. The requirements for acting as baal koreh are the same as those for the shatz.
Note that these roles are not mutually exclusive. The same person is often qualified to fill more than one role, and often does.
Many congregations, especially larger ones, also rely on a:
- Gabbai (sexton) - Calls people up to the Torah, appoints the shatz for each prayer session if there is no standard shatz, and makes certain that the synagogue is kept clean and supplied.
The three preceding positions are usually voluntary and considered an honor. Since the Enlightenment large synagogues have often adopted the practice of hiring rabbis and hazzans to act as shatz and baal koreh, and this is still typically the case in most Conservative and Reform congregations. However, in most Orthodox synagogues these positions are filled by laypeople.
Specialized religious roles
- Dayan (judge) - expert in Jewish law who sits on a beth din (rabbinical court) for either monetary matters or for overseeing the giving of a bill of divorce (get). A dayan always requires semicha.
- Mohel - performs the brit milah (circumcision). An expert in the laws of circumcision who has received training from a qualified mohel.
- Shochet (ritual slaughterer) - slaughters all kosher meat. In order for meat to be kosher, it must be slaughtered by a shochet who is expert in the laws and has received training from another shochet, as well as having regular contact with a rabbi and revising the relevant guidelines on a regular basis.
- Sofer (scribe) - Torah scrolls, tefillin (phylacteries), mezuzahs (scrolls put on doorposts), and gittin (bills of divorce) must be written by a sofer who is an expert in the laws of writing.
- Rosh yeshivah - head of a yeshiva. Somebody who is an expert in delving into the depths of the Talmud, and lectures the highest class in a yeshiva.
- Mashgiach of a yeshiva - expert in mussar (ethics). Oversees the emotional and spiritual welfare of the students in a yeshiva, and gives lectures on mussar.
- Mashgiach over kosher products - supervises merchants and manufacturers of kosher food to ensure that the food is kosher. Either an expert in the laws of kashrut, or (generally) under the supervision of a rabbi who is expert in those laws.
Jewish religious history
- Main article: Jewish history
Jewish history is an extensive topic; this section will cover the elements of Jewish history of most importance to the Jewish religion and the development of Jewish denominations.
Ancient Jewish religious history
Jews trace their religious lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. After the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews came to Canaan, and settled the land. A kingdom was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon with its capital in Jerusalem. After Solomon's reign the nation split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel (in the north) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the south). The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BCE and spread all over the Assyrian empire, where they were assimilated into other cultures and become known as the Ten Lost Tribes. The Kingdom of Judah continued as an independent state until it was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BCE, destroying the First Temple that was at the centre of ancient Jewish worship. The Judean elite was exiled to Babylonia, but later at least a part of them returned to their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians seventy years later, a period known as the Babylonian Captivity. A new Second Temple was constructed, and old religious practices were resumed.
After a Jewish revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE, the Romans all but destroyed Jerusalem; only a single "Western Wall" of the Second Temple remained. Following a second revolt, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem and most Jewish worship was forbidden by Rome. Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, and instead was rebuilt around rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities (see Jewish diaspora). No new books were added to the Jewish Bible after the Roman period, instead major efforts went into interpreting and developing Jewish law.
Historical Jewish groupings (to 1700)
Around the first century CE there were several small Jewish sects: the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, and Christians. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, these sects vanished. Christianity survived, but by breaking with Judaism and becoming a separate religion; the Pharisees survived but in the form of Rabbinic Judaism (today, known simply as "Judaism").
Some Jews in the 8th and 9th centuries adopted the Sadducees' rejection of the oral law of the Pharisees/rabbis recorded in the Mishnah (and developed by later rabbis in the two Talmuds), intending to rely only upon the Tanakh. These included the Isunians, the Yudganites, the Malikites, and others. They soon developed oral traditions of their own which differed from the rabbinic traditions, and eventually formed the Karaite sect. Karaites exist in small numbers today, mostly living in Israel. Rabbinical and Karaite Jews each hold that the others are Jews, but that the other faith is erroneous.
Over time Jews developed into distinct ethnic groups — amongst others, the Ashkenazi Jews (of Central and Eastern Europe with Russia); the Sephardi Jews (of Spain, Portugal, and North Africa) and the Yemenite Jews, from the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. This split is cultural, and is not based on any doctrinal dispute, although the distance did result in minor differences in practice and prayers.
- Main article: Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism was founded by Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760), also known as the Ba'al Shem Tov (or Besht). His disciples attracted many followers; they themselves established numerous Hasidic sects across Europe. Hasidic Judaism eventually became the way of life for many Jews in Europe. Waves of Jewish immigration in the 1880s carried it to the United States.
Early on, there was a serious schism between Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews. European Jews who rejected the Hasidic movement were dubbed by the Hasidim as mitnagdim, (lit. "opponents"). Some of the reasons for the rejection of Hasidic Judaism were the overwhelming exuberance of Hasidic worship; their untraditional ascriptions of infallibility and alleged miracle-working to their leaders, and the concern that it might become a messianic sect. Since then all the sects of Hasidic Judaism have been subsumed into mainstream Orthodox Judaism, particularly Haredi Judaism.
The Enlightenment and Reform Judaism
- Main article: Haskalah
In the late 18th century CE Europe was swept by a group of intellectual, social and political movements known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment led to reductions in the European laws that prohibited Jews to interact with the wider secular world, thus allowing Jews access to secular education and experience. A parallel Jewish movement, Haskalah or the "Jewish Enlightenment," began, especially in Central Europe, in response to both the Enlightenment and these new freedoms. It placed an emphasis on integration with secular society and a pursuit of non-religious knowledge. The thrust and counter-thrust between supporters of Haskalah and more traditional Jewish concepts eventually led to the formation of a number of different branches of Judaism: Haskalah supporters founded Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism, while traditionalists founded many forms of Orthodox Judaism, and Jews seeking a balance between the two sides founded Conservative Judaism. A number of smaller groups came into being as well.
- Main article: The Holocaust
While the Holocaust did not directly affect Jewish denominations, the great loss of life it caused resulted in a radical demographic shift, ultimately transforming the makeup of organized Judaism into the way it is today. A Jewish day of mourning, Yom HaShoah, was inserted into the Jewish calendar commemorating the Holocaust.
The present situation
In most Western nations, such as the United States of America, Israel, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina and South Africa, a wide variety of Jewish practices exist, along with a growing plurality of secular and non-practicing Jews. For example, in the world's largest Jewish community, the United States, according to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, 4.3 million out of 5.1 million Jews had some sort of connection to the religion. Of that population of connected Jews, 80% participated in some sort of Jewish religious observance, but only 48% belonged to a synagogue.
Religious (and secular) Jewish movements in the USA and Canada perceive this as a crisis situation, and have grave concern over rising rates of intermarriage and assimilation in the Jewish community. Since American Jews are marrying at a later time in their life than they used to, and are having fewer children than they used, the birth rate for American Jews has dropped from over 2.0 down to 1.7 (the replacement rate is 2.1). (This is My Beloved, This is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate relations, p. 27, Elliot N. Dorff, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1996). Intermarriage rates range from 40-50% in the US, and only about a third of children of intermarried couples are raised Jewish. Due to intermarriage and low birth rates, the Jewish population in the US shrank from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2001. This is indicative of the general population trends among the Jewish community in the Diaspora, but a focus on population masks the diversity of current Jewish religious practice, as well as growth trends among some communities, like haredi Jews.
In the last 50 years there has been a general increase in interest in religion among many segments of the Jewish population. All of the major Jewish denominations have experienced a resurgence in popularity, with increasing numbers of younger Jews participating in Jewish education, joining synagogues, and becoming (to varying degrees) more observant. Complementing the increased popularity of the major denominations has been a number of new approaches to Jewish worship, including feminist approaches to Judaism and Jewish renewal movements. There is a separate article on the Baal teshuva movement, the movement of Jews returning to observant Judaism. Though this gain has not offset the general demographic loss due to intermarriage and acculturation, many Jewish communities and movements are growing.
Judaism and other religions
Christianity and Judaism
There are a number of articles on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. These articles include:
- Christianity and anti-Semitism
- Jewish view of Jesus
- Cultural and historical background of Jesus
Messianic Judaism (sometimes Hebrew Christianity) is the common designation for a number of Christian groups which include varying degrees of Jewish practice. These groups have attracted tens (and perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Jews and Christians to their ranks; members identify themselves as Jews. These groups are viewed highly negatively by all Jewish denominations, which typically see them as covert and deceptive attempts to convert Jews to Christianity, a view Messianic-Jewish groups strongly contest.
Mormonism and Judaism
- Main article: Mormonism and Judaism
If a member of the Latter Day Saints church has an established Jewish heritage and lineage, then they are considered by the Mormons to be of the Tribe of Judah, and as such, considered both Mormon and Jewish by Mormon authorities, though not in Jewish practice.
Islam and Judaism
- Main article: Islam and Judaism
Under Islamic rule, Judaism has been practiced for almost 1500 years and this has led to an interplay between the two religions which has been positive as well as negative at times. The period around 900 to 1200 in Moorish Spain came to be known as the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain.
Other relevant material:
Jews and Judaism
- Jew for information on Jews from a national, ethnic, and cultural perspective.
- Jewish history
- Jewish population
- Secular Jewish culture
- List of converts to Judaism
Jewish law and religion
- Halakha (religious law)
- Rabbinic literature, including the Talmud
- Jewish services
- List of Jewish prayers and blessings
- Jewish eschatology, Jewish views of the Messiah and the afterlife.
- Role of women in Judaism
- Ancient Judaism, Max Weber, Free Press, 1967, ISBN 0029341302
- Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition and Practice Wayne Dosick.
- Conservative Judaism: The New Century, Neil Gillman, Behrman House.
- American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective Jeffrey S. Gurock, 1996, Ktav.
- Philosophies of Judaism Julius Guttmann, trans. by David Silverman, JPS. 1964
- Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts Ed. Barry W. Holtz, Summit Books
- A History of the Jews Paul Johnson, HarperCollins, 1988
- "Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity" Jason von Ehrenkrook, Journal of the International Institute 13 (2005).
- A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America, Jack Wertheimer. Brandeis Univ. Press, 1997.
- Encyclopaedia Judaica, Keter Publishing, CD-ROM edition, 1997
- The American Jewish Identity Survey, article by Egon Mayer, Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar; a sub-set of The American Religious Identity Survey, City University of New York Graduate Center. An article on this survey is printed in The New York Jewish Week, November 2, 2001.
- Judaism 101, an extensive FAQ written by a librarian.
- Microsoft Encarta article on Judaism
- Judaism article from the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Extensive Collection of Links, from Shamash.org
- Introduction to Judaism from About.com.
- Judaism from ReligionFacts.com.
- Jewish Concepts from the Jewish Virtual Library.
- Orthodox Judaism - The Orthodox Union: Official website
- Chabad-Lubavitch: Official website
- What is Orthodox Judaism? Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
- The Various Types of Orthodox Judaism
- The State of Orthodox Judaism Today
- The United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism: Official website
- Introduction to Conservative Judaism
- The State of Conservative Judaism Today
- Reform Judaism (UK): Official website
- Reform Judaism (USA): Official website
- The Origin of Reform Judaism
- What is Reform Judaism? Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
- Jewish Virtual Library articles on Reform Judaism
Jewish religious literature and texts
- Wikisource Pentateuch (in Hebrew).
- Complete Tanakh (in Hebrew, with vowels).
- English Tanakh from the 1917 Jewish Publication Society version.
- The Judaica Press Complete Tanach with Rashi in English
- Torah.org - The Judaism Site. (also known as Project Genesis) Contains Torah commentaries and studies of Tanakh, along with Jewish ethics, philosophy, holidays and other classes.
- The complete formatted Talmud online. Interpretative videos for each page from a Orthodox viewpoint are provided in French, English, Yiddish and Hebrew.
- Links to many sources of Divrei Torah. Interpretations and discussions of portions of the Tanach from many different viewpoints.
- Jewish Texts - Internet Resources
Wikimedia Torah study projects
Text study projects at Wikisource. In many instances, the Hebrew versions of these projects are more fully developed than the English.
- Mikraot Gedolot (Rabbinic Bible) in Hebrew (sample) and English (sample).
- Cantillation at the "Vayavinu Bamikra" Project in Hebrew (lists nearly 200 recordings) and English.
- Mishnah in Hebrew (sample) and English (sample).
- Shulchan Aruch in Hebrew and English (Hebrew text with English translation).