Some Basic Facts
The names Judaism, Judea and Jew are all derived from Judah, the brother of Joseph and the fourth son of Jacob
Judaism in the present form was founded by Moses (1525 – 1405 BC)
Place of Origin:
The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), consists of 39 books including the five books of the Torah
Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year
Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement
Sukkot – the feast of Tabernacles
Simchat Torah – rejoicing of the Law
Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world and had significant influence on the development of two other monotheisms, Christianity and Islam. The central doctrine of Judaism is the Unity of God. But along with this doctrine goes the belief that the Jewish people are God’s chosen people, and that God wants them to be an example to all mankind.
Judaism, therefore, is an ethnic religion and its history is the history of the Hebrew people. These people trace their ancestry to the great patriarch, Abraham, who lived in Chaldaea around 2,000 BC. Chaldaea is in the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent which extends from the areas of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
The Chaldaeans used to worship idols and images, and Abraham revolted against this practice. Abraham used to receive revelations from God and during one of these revelations God made a Covenant with his people. In this Covenant, God promised Abraham’s descendents all the land of Canaan and God’s protection in exchange for their homage and allegiance. The followers of Judaism still call themselves the Sons of the Covenant or B’nai B’rith in Hebrew.
Abraham spoke the Hebrew language and his descendents, therefore, are called Hebrew people. But a grandson of Abraham, by the name of Jacob, was given the title of Israel by God in one of his revelations, and the descendents of Jacob began to be called Israelites. Jacob had twelve sons from whom descended the Biblical Twelve Tribes.
A son of Jacob, by the name of Joseph, was appointed a governor of a province of Egypt by a benevolent king. During his time many Israelites migrated to Egypt from their homeland in the Canaan Babylonia area. The later kings of Egypt, however, treated the Israelites badly who spent the next three hundred years in bondage and servitude under their Egyptian masters.
Some five hundred years after Abraham, one of his descendents by the name of Moses arose and unified the Israelites living in Egypt. Moses eventually led the Israelites out of Egypt towards the land of Cancan.
On the way to Canaan, Moses experienced a vision on Mount Sinai and received the famous Ten Commandments from God. These ten Commandments became the foundation on which the teachings of the Torah were later amplified. Although Judaism contains teachings going as far back as Noah and Abraham, its present form and structure was established essentially by Moses.
After the death of Moses and after their wanderings in the desert for nearly forty years, the Israelites finally settled down in the Canaan area. Here, in the year 1043 BC, the first Israelite kingdom was established by King Saul. Saul was followed by the two great prophet kings of the Israelites, David and his son Solomon. After the death of Solomon, the united kingdom of Israel broke up into two separate kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.
The northern kingdom of Israel lasted until 722 BC when its capital, Samaria, fell to the conquering Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah lasted till 586 BC when its capital, Jerusalem, fell to the conquering Babylonians. The Babylonians exiled the Jews from Jerusalem and destroyed their holy city. It was only when Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians in 539 BC that the exiled Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland and rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
The six hundred year period, from the start of the united kingdom to year 400 BC, is one of the most glorious periods in the Israelite history or, for that matter, the history of the world. It was during this period that most of the known prophets of the world appeared. One could even call this period the Age of the Prophets.
Some of the great prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Amos, Ezekiel, Job, Ezra and Malachi appeared in this period. It was also during this period that the founders of four other great religions, Mahavira, Buddha, Confucius and Lao tze, appeared in India and China. With the death of Malachi, the last of the Israelite prophets, the Old Testament comes to a close around 400 BC.
The Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible as the Jews prefer to call it, is the sacred book of Judaism. It contains not only the five books of Torah revealed to Moses, but many other books attributed to later prophets such as Joshua, Samuel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Zechariah and Malachi.
Besides the Hebrew Bible, there are two other texts considered sacred by the Jews: the Mishnah and the Talmud. The Mishnah is a collection of religious laws arranged in six orders which cover agricultural tithes, festivals, marriage, civil laws, sacrifices and ritual purity. The Mishnah was codified around 200 A.D. under Rabbi Judah the Prince. The Talmuds are commentaries on the Mishnah and were written by the middle of the sixth century A.D. in Aramaic, the everyday language of the Jewish people of the time.
The Essential Beliefs of Judaism
Although there are many beliefs in Judaism, there are 13 articles of faith considered essential. These are:
- The belief in God
- The belief that there is only one God
- The belief in the non corporeal nature of God
- The belief that God is the First and the Last
- The belief that God is All knowing, All Seeing and the Lord
- The belief that prayers should only be directed to God
- The belief that God rewards the good and punishes the bad
- The belief that all the words of the prophets are true
- The belief that Moses is the chief of all prophets
- The belief that the present Torah is the same as revealed to Moses
- The belief that the Law of Torah is the last law from God
- The belief in the coming of the Messiah
- The belief in the Resurrection
The central belief expressed in the Hebrew Bible concerns the Unity and love of God. This is evident from the Hebrew declaration of faith, the Shemah, which could be considered equivalent to the Islamic Kalima:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is One.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might
And these words which I command you shall be upon your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
The Codes for Social and Moral Conduct
The Hebrew Bible contains hundreds of codes and directives for the Israelites by which to conduct their spiritual and worldly affairs. Of these, the Ten Commandments are the most famous:
- You shall have no other gods besides Me
- You shall not make any image or likeness of anything in heaven above
- You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain
- Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy
- Honour your father and your mother
- You shall not commit murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not bear false witness
- You shall not covet anything that is your neighbour’s
Some additional directives besides the Ten Commandments are given below:
- You shall not oppress your neighbour
- You shall do no injustice in weight or in measure
- You shall seek no vengeance
- Open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor
- You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind
- You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial toward the poor, nor favour the mighty
- You shall not wrong the stranger. The stranger among you shall be as the home born among you, and you shall love him as yourself
Modes of Worship in Judaism
All acts of worship in Judaism are based on three principles which are:
- That God should be praised and worshiped
- That man should ask his Lord for all his needs
- That man can commune with God through prayer
The various acts of worship in Judaism including prayer, singing of God’s praise, fasting, observing the day of Sabbath, giving of sacrifices, are all based on the three fundamental principles given above. The various rituals followed in Jewish worship are:
1. The Prayer
There are three daily prayers which include the Shemah and other passages from the Hebrew Bible and the post Biblical works. The prayer also includes meditation and asking of individual favours and
blessings. The prayers are said in the morning, afternoon and evening, either at home or in the synagogue.
This is a small wooden case inscribed with the Shemah and another discourse from Deuteronomy. This case is fastened to the doorpost of one’s home and each time, upon going out or coming in, the Mezuzah is touched with the tips of two fingers, which are then kissed. The entire ritual is symbolic of remembering God in all goings in and goings out.
3. Feast of Passover
In this ritual, which takes place during the annual Feast of Passover, the entire family participates. The occasion marks the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The ritual celebrations include the invoking of blessings, singing of the fast chapter of Genesis and saying of prayers.
4. Observing the Sabbath
This is the Jewish weekly holy day and begins on Friday after sunset and ends with the sunset on Saturday. The day is essentially devoted to services in the synagogue and prayers. No work of any kind is permitted on this day. The orthodox Jews neither drive nor undertake any journey on this day.
5. Kosher Foods
It is a duty of the Jews to eat kosher food food fit according to Jewish dietary laws. According to these laws, meat and dairy products must not be served in the same meal. Only meat of certain animals is permitted; pork and shellfish are forbidden. Furthermore, the animals must be slaughtered in the proper Jewish way.
The Wisdom of Judaism
The following sayings are taken from the Hebrew Bible to give the reader some idea of the wisdom contained in this religion:
- “What does the Lord require of you? Only to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”
- “What is hateful to thee, do not to thy fellow man do”
- “He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker, but he who has mercy on the needy, honours Him”
- “One can enter the heavenly kingdom without diamonds, but not without honesty”
- “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away”
- “Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a roasted ox with hatred”
- “Say not anything which cannot be understood at once”
- “Separate not yourself from the community”
- “The price of wisdom is above pearls”
- “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins”
- “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?”
- “To the wise the path of life goes upward”
- “Where there is no vision, the people perish”
- “As he thinks in his heart, so is he”
- “Let justice flow like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream”
- “Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles”.
- “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink”
- “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die: a time to plant and a time to harvest”
While the beliefs and principles of Judaism are of universal appeal, its history has associated them with a national group, speaking a national language and living in their native land. Judaism, therefore, developed strictly as an ethnic religion for the descendents of Abraham and Jacob.
Despite being fairly ancient and ethnic, Judaism formalized some of the most basic principles of man’s religion, in a form not accomplished before. Two other faiths that are as old as Judaism Hinduism and Zoroastrianism both lack the sophistication in spiritual philosophy and in the social and moral codes, which we find in Judaism.
Of all the religions of the world, Islam is closest to Judaism. Both are strongly monotheistic, far more than Christianity. Both have a well developed law and social and moral codes. Both have more or less similar religious philosophies: beliefs in One God, the angels, the prophets, the Day of Judgment, and the carrying out of service to humanity. In fact, both religions trace their ancestries to Prophet Abraham; the Jews through Abraham’s son Isaac, and the Quraysh of Mecca through Abraham’s son Ishmael.
Basically, there are two differences that set these religions apart:
- The Jews believe in the finality of the Mosaic Law while the Muslims believe in the finality of the Quranic Law.
- The Jews do not believe in the prophethood of any one after the Prophet Malachi. The Muslims believe in the continuity of prophethood after Malachi in the persons of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad.
All other differences are either as a consequences of the above, or interpretational, and fundamentally non essential.
Although the Jews believe in the coming of the Messiah, they do not recognize him in the person of Jesus Christ. The reason for this is the statement in the Book of Malachi which prophesied the return of the Prophet Elijah before the coming of Messiah. The Jews take the returning of Elijah literally, and do not agree with the Christian or Muslim belief that Elijah has returned in the form of John the Baptist.