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Jews are sometimes referred to as God's "chosen people.

About Judaism:
The first religion to teach monotheism, or the doctrine of one god.
The Torah is the first five books of the Bible, and is where the laws and teachings of Judaism can be found.
The Torah is also called the "Tree of Life."
Denominations sorted by adherence to the Torah and Talmud include Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and
Synagogues are the Jewish place of worship.
Rabbis are the Jewish spiritual authorities. Rabbis interpret the Bible and present the meaning of Jewish law.
The Ten Commandments are the foundation of Judaism.
Shabbat, the Sabbath or day of rest, begins Friday night and lasts until sundown Saturday.
Rosh Hashanah means "beginning of the year" in Hebrew. It is a time for reflection and repentance and is referred to
as the "day of judgment" or the "day of repentance."
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, falls on the tenth day of the Jewish lunar month of Tishri.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days of the year, known as the High Holidays.
Passover, also called Pesach, is the Jewish festival celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery in
1200 B.C. God's Hebrew name is never spoken out loud and is never to be erased or destroyed in print.

Judaism was established circa 2000 B.C.E. as part of a covenant between God and Abraham. Uprisings against the
Romans during the first and second centuries A.D. led to the beginning of the Jewish diaspora. Those practicing
Judaism were kept marginalized from society and persecuted in many countries. The creation of a Jewish state was
discussed at the first Zionist Congress in Switzerland in 1897. Yet, it was not until May 18, 1948, that the state of
Israel was formed, after World War II and the genocide of over six million Jews.
Judaism falls into four major periods:
-- Biblical Judaism or the Persian Period (approximately 20th-4th century BCE) - This era began with the lives of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and was focused around the areas that were known as Mesopotamia, Egypt, and
Canaan or Palestine.
-- Hellenistic Judaism (4th century BCE-2nd century CE) - A time of Greek and Roman influence in many religions.
Jews were given more freedoms and Hellenizing Jews controlled the high priesthood.
-- Rabbinic Judaism (2nd-18th century CE) - Based on the Talmud. The Talmud is composed of formerly unwritten,
understood laws and practices of ancient Jews. The oral traditions were collected and put into writing at this point. In
this era, generations of commentators and interpreters expound on the Talmud and orthodox adherence to the laws
becomes popular (though not unanimous.) Orthodox Jews of today still adhere to the tenets developed in this era.
-- Modern Judaism (approximately 1750-present) - Persecution from most European and Middle Eastern nations.
Many Jews move to the United States. Less focus on religious rituals and Judaism becomes more of an ethnicity.
The rise of American Jewry occurs in this era, with the faith diverging into more liberal branches open to greater
religious activity by women and gays, including rabbinical ordination. The branching also leads to less emphasis
(rather than focus) on religious rituals.
"The core Jewish population includes people who identify as Jews by religion, as well as others who are not
interested in religion but see themselves as Jews by ethnicity or by other cultural criteria," according to the American
Jewish Year Book.
World - 13,746,100
Israel - 5,901,100 (42.9%)
United States - 5,425,000 (39.5)
France - 480,000 (3.5%)
Canada - 375,000 (2.7%)
United Kingdom - 291,000 (2.1%)
Russian Federation - 194,000 (1.4%)
Argentina - 181,800 (1.3%)
Germany - 119,000 (0.9%)
Australia - 112,000 (0.8%)
Brazil - 95,300 (0.7%)
According to the Pew Research Center, only 4.2 million or 1.8% of the adult population in the United States are Jews by

Jewish faith and God
The relationship with God
Jews believe that there is a single God who not only created the universe, but with whom every Jew can have an individual and personal
They believe that God continues to work in the world, affecting everything that people do.
The Jewish relationship with God is a covenant relationship. In exchange for the many good deeds that God has done and continues to do for the
Jewish People...
 The Jews keep God's laws
 The Jews seek to bring holiness into every aspect of their lives.
Judaism is the faith of a Community
Jews believe that God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world.
Jewish life is very much the life of a community and there are many activities that Jews must do as a community.
 For example, the Jewish prayer book uses WE and OUR in prayers where some other faiths would use I and MINE.
Jews also feel part of a global community with a close bond Jewish people all over the world. A lot of Jewish religious life is based around the
home and family activities.
Judaism is a family faith
Judaism is very much a family faith and the ceremonies start early, when a Jewish boy baby is circumcised at eight days old, following the
instructions that God gave to Abrahamaround 4,000 years ago.
Many Jewish religious customs revolve around the home. One example is the Sabbath meal, when families join together to welcome in the
special day.
Who is a Jew?
Jews believe that a Jew is someone who is the child of a Jewish mother; although some groups also accept children of Jewish fathers as Jewish. A
Jew traditionally can't lose the technical 'status' of being a Jew by adopting another faith, but they do lose the religious element of their Jewish
Someone who isn't born a Jew can convert to Judaism, but it is not easy to do so.
Judaism means living the faith
Almost everything a Jewish person does can become an act of worship.
Because Jews have made a bargain with God to keep his laws, keeping that bargain and doing things in the way that pleases God is an act of
And Jews don't only seek to obey the letter of the law - the particular details of each of the Jewish laws - but the spirit of it, too.
A religious Jew tries to bring holiness into everything they do, by doing it as an act that praises God, and honours everything God has done. For
such a person the whole of their life becomes an act of worship.
Being part of a community that follows particular customs and rules helps keep a group of people together, and it's noticeable that the Jewish
groups that have been most successful at avoiding assimilation are those that obey the rules most strictly - sometimes called ultra-orthodox Jews.
Note: Jews don't like and rarely use the word ultra-orthodox. A preferable adjective is haredi, and the plural noun is haredim.
It's what you do that counts...
Judaism is a faith of action and Jews believe people should be judged not so much by the intellectual content of their beliefs, but by the way they
live their faith - by how much they contribute to the overall holiness of the world.
The Jewish view of God
A summary of what Jews believe about God
 God exists
 There is only one God
 There are no other gods
 God can't be subdivided into different persons (unlike theChristian view of God)
 Jews should worship only the one God
 God is Transcendent:
 God is above and beyond all earthly things.
 God doesn't have a body
 Which means that God is neither female nor male.
 God created the universe without help
 God is omnipresent:
 God is everywhere, all the time.
 God is omnipotent:
 God can do anything at all.
 God is beyond time:
 God has always existed
 God will always exist.
 God is just, but God is also merciful
 God punishes the bad
 God rewards the good
 God is forgiving towards those who mess things up.
 God is personal and accessible.
 God is interested in each individual
 God listens to each individual
 God sometimes speaks to individuals, but in unexpected ways.
The Jews brought new ideas about God
The Jewish idea of God is particularly important to the world because it was the Jews who developed two new ideas about God:
 There is only one God
 God chooses to behave in a way that is both just and fair.
Before Judaism, people believed in lots of gods, and those gods behaved no better than human beings with supernatural powers.
The Jews found themselves with a God who was ethical and good.
God in the Bible
But how do Jews know this about God?
They don't know it, they believe it, which is different.
However, many religious people often talk about God in a way that sounds as if they know about God in the same
way that they know what they had for breakfast.
 For instance, religious people often say they are quite certain about God - by which they mean that they have an
inner certainty.
 And many people have experiences that they believe were times when they were in touch with God.
The best evidence for what God is like comes from what theBible says, and from particular individuals' experiences
of God.
God in the Bible
Quite early in his relationship with the Jews, God makes it clear that he will not let them encounter his real likeness
in the way that they encounter each other.
The result is that the Jews have work out what God is like from what he says and what he does.
The story is in Exodus 33 and follows the story of the 10 commandments, and the Golden Calf.
Moses has spent much time talking with God, and the two of them are clearly quite close...
The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.
Exodus 33
But after getting the 10 commandments Moses wants to see God, so that he can know what he is really like. God
says no...
you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.
Then the LORD said,
There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the
rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back;
but my face must not be seen.
Exodus 33
Two sides of God
Jews combine two different sounding ideas of God in their beliefs:
 God is an all-powerful being who is quite beyond human ability to understand or imagine.
 God is right here with us, caring about each individual as a parent does their child.
A great deal of Jewish study deals with the creative power of two apparently incompatible ideas of God.

Ceremonies in Judaism
In the Jewish religion, there are particular occasions in a person's life that are marked and celebrated
because they are especially significant. While many times the individual is the focus of the festivities, the
family, and in many cases the entire community, participate in the commemoration. These special events
are some of the most important practices of Judaism.
According to Jewish beliefs, life is marked by numerous special days in which adherents take time out of
their everyday lives to stop work and focus on God and hismitzvot (commandments), including daily
prayer, Sabbath services and holidays. These special days not only include weekly or yearly festivities, but
also once-in-a-lifetime celebrations, which often signify the completing of one chapter of life and the
beginning of another.
This section explores the special ceremonies and celebrations that mark important stages in a Jewish person's life as he or she journeys
from birth to death.
 Brit Millah. This is the covenant of circumcision. It is the ritual removal of the foreskin which is performed in accordance with the
Torah scripture Genesis 17:10. It takes place on the 8th day of a baby boy’s life.
 Brit Hayyim/Brit Bat. This is a naming ceremony for baby girls, it also takes place on the 8th day of life.
 Bar Mitzvah. A ceremony for boys at the age of 13. It makes a Jewish boy’s entry into the community as an adult. The words
literally mean “son of the Commandment.”
 Bat Mitzvah. A ceremony for girls, the literal translation is “daughter of the Commandment”, it can be held for females as young
as 12. It is a ceremony that was first celebrated in the 20th Century and would not be followed by all branches of Judaism.
 Kiddushin. The Jewish marriage ceremony. It takes place under a huppah (canopy) and includes the ritual breaking of a glass
underfoot. The breaking of the glass is an act to commemorate the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 C.E.
 Funeral. Funeral practices vary within the tradition.

 Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year. Occurs around the middle of September/October. It celebrates the religious New Year
and the creation of the earth.
 Yom Kippur. Occurs shortly after Rosh Hashanah. It is the Day of Atonement. It runs from sunset to sunset and believers do not
eat or drink during this time. It is a time to repent for actions of the past year.
 Sukkot. The feast of Booths. It lasts for nine days and occurs around the end of September/October. It is known as the Harvest
 Channukah (Hanukkah). Occurs late November to mid December. Known as the Festival of Lights it celebrates the victory of the
Maccabees over the Syrians in the second century B.C.E.
 Purim. Occurs late February to early March. It remembers the deliverance of the Persian Jews from destruction. The day before
Purim is spent fasting, the actual day of Purim is joyous.
 Pesach (Passover). Occurs from late March to early April. It honours the delivery of the Jewish people from slavery. It lasts
between 7 and 8 days (depending upon the branch of Judaism).
 Shavout. Occurs in May/June and lasts for 2 days. It is the spring harvest festival and the celebration of God’s gift of the Torah.

Judaism's religious practices
The Mitzvot
The Hebrew word mitzvot means "commandments" (mitzvah is its singular form). Although the word is sometimes used more broadly to
refer to rabbinic (Talmudic) law or general good deeds ("It would be a mitzvah to visit your mother"), in its strictest sense it refers to the divine
commandments given by God in the Torah.
The 613 Commandments
The important Jewish philosopher Maimonides made a list of the 613 commandments he found in the Jewish Bible, and here they are.
Rabbinic Law
In addition to the 613 mitzvot, Jewish law incorporates a large body of rabbinical rules and laws. These are considered just as binding as
the mitzvot, although the punishments for violating them are less severe. Another difference is that it is possible, though unlikely, for the
rabbinical laws to be changed, but no rabbi can change the Torah mitzvot. The rabbinical portion of halakhah falls into three groups:
a gezeirah, takkanah, and minhag.
The Synagogue
The Jewish house of worship is a synagogue. The synagogue predates the destruction of the Second Temple, but it
became central to religious life after the Temple was lost. The synagogue replaces ritual sacrifice with Torah readings,
prayer and teaching.
Jewish Worship and Prayer
Guide to characteristics of Jewish worship and prayer, the weekday and Sabbath prayer services and etiquette for
Keeping Kosher: Jewish Dietary Laws
One of the most well-known Jewish religious practices is that of eating kosher foods. The laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) may be
puzzling or meaningless to the outsider, but they have held great meaning for the Jewish people throughout their history. Not only are they
an opportunity for obedience to God, they also strongly contribute to Jewish unity and identity.

The Jewish People

One of the Amarna letters found at
the site of Amarna (commonly
known as el-Amarna or incorrectly
as Tel el-Amarna).
Possibly the first written record of a Hebrew people dates from approx. 1398 - 1350 BCE where
mention is made in the Egyptian el-Amarna letters of a desert-dwelling “Habiru” in the cities of
Canaan. As far as we know, these were bands of mercenaries and artisans, independent people
regarded by many as part of the underclass.
About 1250 BCE, a group of Caananite refugees fled slavery in Egypt – the Exodus that is celebrated
to this day at Passover. In their minds, their God had triumphed over the might of Egypt and allowed
Moses to lead his people to safety. The traditional story is that Moses then receives God’s laws on
Mount Sinai and brings them down to the people, only to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf.
Moses becomes angry and smashes the tablets on which the laws are written. Admonishing Israel, he
returns to the mountain and obtains a new set of tablets which he gives to the people, placing them in
the Ark of the Covenant for safekeeping. Thereafter, the Ten Commandments served as a sacred bond
between the Israelites and their God.

Ba’al with raised arm,
14th - 12th Century BCE found
at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit),
The Hebrew Bible has several contradictory accounts of which laws the Israelites were given, how
many they received, and where and when they got them. This version, above, was recorded at least
six centuries later, during the Axial Age.
In around 1225 BCE, under extreme threat from foreign peoples, the tribes united to form the
Kingdom of Israel. Three centuries later civil war split Israel into two states, Israel and Judah, that
collectively became known as am Yahweh – the people of God. Yahweh was their divine warrior and
these were warring times. But, as is typical of pre-Axial societies, the vast majority also turned to
other gods for solutions to different problems. King Ahab, under the influence of Jezebel his Queen,
allowed Phoenician gods to infiltrate the land, especially the goddess Astarte and Ba’al, the god of
harvests. In spite of the admonitions of prophets such as Elijah insisting on the exclusive worship of
Yahweh, the Israelites would not become a monotheistic people until the height of their Axial period in
the late 6th century BCE.

The Axial-Age Prophets
The early 8th century BCE was a more peaceful time with both states expanding and trade flowing
freely between them. The practice of religion was now completely external and superficial, the regular
performance of ritualistic obligations and sacrifices the only requirement. Over this period, the rich
became extremely so and their good fortune was interpreted as evidence that the divine Yahweh
rewards materially those who regularly perform the prescribed ritual obligations. The poor, they
claimed, were so because they did not do so and thus they deserved their lot. In reality the poor were
exploited by the rich and a corrupt political and legal system made it impossible for them to achieve a
better life.

Amos the Prophet: interpretation
by Gustav Doré.
Into this situation entered the prophet Amos, a common man who came from Tekoa not many miles
from the city of Jerusalem. Amos made his living raising sheep and sycamore trees and selling them in
the market towns and villages of the northern kingdom of Israel. He became deeply troubled by the
disparity he saw between the rich and poor and by the way in which political and religious leaders
tried to justify it.
Dreams and visions convinced Amos that Israel would collapse as a consequence of its behavior. He
saw that Yahweh was not impressed by empty ritual and festivals but instead wanted justice to “flow
like water and integrity like an unfailing stream.” He felt that Yahweh would destroy Israel, its king
and the lands surrounding Israel. And Israel would suffer the most because the Israelites knew God.
Attributing the power of any god beyond its normal territory was an unusual idea at the time. But to
Amos, Yahweh was the only god, and not subject to the boundaries of any country, He is the God of
all, and His demands are universal and affect all nations.
The prophet Hosea was active 753 - 725 BCE, just a few years later, but by this time Israel’s
monarchy was unstable and invasion by Assyrian armies seemed, and was, imminent, only kept at bay
by enormous tariffs paid resentfully by the people. Like Amos, Hosea was certain that Yahweh cares
nothing at all for ritual services, but for Hosea Yahweh is primarily a God of Love. His power and
justice, though essential, are subordinate to His love and mercy. He desires correct understanding and
morality from the people who are “destroyed from lack of knowledge.”

Russian icon of the prophet Hosea, 18th
century (Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia).
To Hosea, Yahweh’s punishments are remedial, not retribution, and as such they are an expression of
His love, and used as a last resort to teach lessons that people refuse to learn in any other way. He
warns that the people of Israel will be captured, but in captivity will be an opportunity for them to gain
a better understanding of Yahweh and how to worship him. From this point on it seems that the
Hebrew people understood that Yahweh would never leave them, and that any suffering, tragedy or
hardship they encountered was an opportunity for learning.
Hosea’s words imply an individual relationship with Yahweh and a responsibility of the self which is
Axial in thinking: “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? Prudent, and he shall know
them? For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall
fall therein” (Hosea 14:9). Both saints and sinners must learn that “it is time to seek the
Lord” (10:12).
Isaiah was active in Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the 740s and prophesied for at
least 40 years. Although privileged himself, he was, like Amos, an outspoken voice for the common
people who were being victimized by the rampant corruption of the ruling class. Like Hosea, Isaiah did
not predict the final or complete destruction of the nation as did Amos, but instead saw the Assyrian
invasion that conquered Israel in 722 BCE as an inevitable punishment from Yahweh, that would result
in a change in the moral leadership of Israel and in an increase in his people’s
spiritual strength.

The Prophet Isaiah, by Ugolino di Nerio,
(c. 1317 - 1327, National Gallery, London).
The prophecies of Isaiah clearly express Israel’s messianic hope for the first time. The term Messiah
means “anointed one,” or one who has been chosen by Yahweh for a specific purpose. In Isaiah’s
prophecies, the Messiah is portrayed as an ideal king and judge who will understand the plight of the
poor and will ensure that their rights are protected and that they are justly treated. The concept of a
coming Messiah took on a number of different meanings during the centuries that followed and
became one of the most important
ideas of Judaism.
In 597 BCE Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba,
violently ransacked Judah and took the young king Jehoiachin and 8,000 of his people, including royal
and aristocratic families, prisoners to Babylon. Babylon would invade and capture Judah on two more
occasions, but it was this first group, wrenched from their homeland and Temple, who created a new
Axial Age vision for the Jews.

The Jews were treated well in Babylon. They were allowed to live together in towns and villages along
the Chebar River, where they could farm, earn a living, and practice their way of life and religion. They
were encouraged in letters from the Prophet Jeremiah to “build houses and live in them, take wives
and have sons and daughters, but seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile for in
its welfare you will find your welfare.”

An engraving inside an onyx-stone-eye in a
Marduk statue that depicts Nebuchadnezzar II.

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In Babylon they learned that Yahweh could be worshiped away from the Temple in Jerusalem, even in
a foreign land. He could be worshipped in their way of life anywhere. Like Amos and Hosea, Jeremiah
told them to examine their own conduct. Morality and justice were imperative, but the essential
element of religion was the individual’s personal relationship between himself or herself and
Yahweh. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are
accustomed to doing evil.” Human beings follow their desires not their intellect, so personal
transformation depends upon sincerity and a change of heart and, above all, on Yahweh’s help: “I will
put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My
people” Jeremaiah 31:33.
Like Amos, Hosea and Isaiah before him, Jeremiah agreed that the external forms of worship were
meaningless, unless, he said, they helped to bring the individual closer to Yahweh.
The prophet Ezekiel, active in the Chebar River area at the time, also saw that the suffering of exile
must lead to a deeper personal relationship with Yahweh. Ezekiel emphasized that the “sins of the
fathers” will not be visited on the children, and that each person will be judged by God on the basis of
his or her own righteousness or sin.

The prophet Ezekiel, Sistine Chapel.
It was while in exile in Babylon, quite possibly as part of their effort to preserve their identity and
ensure that they were not assimilated into Babylonian way of life, that Jewish scholars began to collect
and redact the memories, stories and events, some from written and some from oral tradition, that
would create what we know today as the Bible. With the aid of a new order of “scribes” they
completed the bulk of the first five books known as The Torah (the Teaching). These books trace
Jewish genealogy back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and to an ancient place which was the
start of all their memories – Eden, a garden watered by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates which
according to the Torah was the original human’s birthplace. It was the birthplace of Adam (whose
name means “human being” – from the word “adama” which means “red” and “earth,” perhaps the
red earth from which man was created).
The Torah is often called the Tanakh, which stands for Torah (T), Neviim (N) and Ketuvim (K). The
Torah contains:
Five Books of Moses (Chumashe Torah)
Current Title
and Translation
Original Hebrew Title
and Translation
English Title
(“In the beginning”)
Maaseh B’reshit
(the account of the beginning)
(“the names of”)
Yesi’at Misrayim
(the going out from Egypt)
Torat Kohanim
(the law of the priests; the priestly code)
(“in the wilderness”)
(counting, census)
(“the words”)
Mishneh Torah
(the repeated/second law [see Deuteronomy 17:18: “a copy
of this law”])

Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet,
helped the Hebrew exiles to resettle
and rebuild Jerusalem, earning him an
honored place in Judaism.
The Babylonian Captivity taught the Jews to hate idol worship and to rely on the word of the one true
God. It was now available through scribes and scholars who taught and preserved the scriptures and
produced the rabbinical literature known as the Mishna (God’s laws allegedly passed down orally and
not recorded in Scripture), theGemara (a commentary on the Mishna and a compilation of accepted
traditions), and two volumes that were later added to and combined to form the Talmud. Now with no
temple, the Babylonian Jews instituted places for assembly or “synagogues” in which to conduct
formal Jewish worship and to provide schools for study and Jewish education.
In 539 BCE, King Cyrus absorbed the land of Babylon and surrounding areas into the Persian Empire,
which spread across the Fertile Crescent reaching as far as Greece. The exiled peoples under
Babylonian rule were allowed to return home. To some, the Persians, therefore, seemed the bearers of
divine forgiveness. Many stayed on in Babylon but others in 538 BCE arrived back to the destroyed
city of Jerusalem, to its ruined buildings and fallow fields.