Judaism was one of the first monotheistic religions, dating back to around 2000 BC. Judaism is the first Abrahamic faith, tracing its origins to Abraham, as can the religion of Christianity. The core of the Judaism as it exists today took shape from a later time period when Moses led the Hebrews from Egypt and climbed Mount Sinai, bringing back the Ten Commandments.
The five books of Moses—the Torah—in which the Mosaic Law is found, are generally considered to be the core of the Jewish Scripture, and are supplemented by the works of the prophets and other writings. The works of the prophets are grouped under Nevi'im, and the other writings are known as Ketuvim. The first letters of each part combined were used to create the name of the full Hebrew Bible: the Tanakh, which Christians call the Old Testament. The Talmud is another ancient Jewish writing considered by some Jews to contain traditions dating back to Moses himself, yet the Talmud also contains discussion by rabbis involving extensive disagreement and lively discussion, over interpretation of these traditions. The Talmud is not part of the Bible and the degree to which the Talmud itself is considered to be inspired varies across Judaism, with the Orthodox generally giving it the most weight. Most Muslims and Christians, including Messianic Jews, however, consider the theological findings and argumentation of the Talmud to be invalid after the advent of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Tikkun Olam—to help "repair the world"—is a Hebrew phrase originated in the early rabbinic period.
- 1 Sabbath
- 2 Branches within Judaism
- 3 Ethnicities
- 4 Main Holidays
- 5 Calendar
- 6 Jewish Scripture
- 7 The Twelve Tribes of Israel
- 8 Post Biblical Jewish Development and Literature
- 9 Dietary laws
- 10 Life cycle
- 11 Jewish Identity
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Many Jews observe a weekly day of rest (the Sabbath) that begins shortly before sundown on Friday and ends after sunset on Saturday. During this time no work may be done, business transactions are forbidden, and light switches are not to be turned on or off. Jews celebrate the Sabbath by lighting candles before the Sabbath, singing songs, going to synagogue, commonly referred to as shul, and learning. This is based on the fourth commandment of the old testament, although the rules have been expanded upon beyond what is commanded.
Branches within Judaism
There are many different branches of Judaism. There are five large branches:
There has been much controversy as to whether Messianic Judaism is truly Judaism, or a branch of Christianity which respects and practices Jewish customs. However, Messianic Judaism celebrates traditional Jewish holidays and does not celebrate Christmas or Lent, as like Jehovah's Witnesses they believe these holidays to be paganistic in origin. There are also certain theological differences between Messianic Judaism and traditional Christianity.
- Sephardi Jews.
- Ethiopian Jews
- Mizrahi (sometimes spelled Mizrachi) Jews.
- Yemenite Jews
- Ashkenazi Jews.
The traditional explanation, and the one given in the Torah, is that the Jews are a nation. The Hebrew word, believe it or not, is "goy." The Torah and the rabbis used this term not in the modern sense meaning a territorial and political entity, but in the ancient sense meaning a group of people with a common history, a common destiny, and a sense that we are all connected to each other.
"Diaspora" (Greek meaning "seeded throughout") is the term used to refer to the various dispersions of the Jews throughout the world through the eras of history. Its Hebrew linguistic forerunner is "Galut" meaning the "uncovering", betraying the understanding that being exiled from the Land of Israel is an exposing of Israel to vulnerability and danger. Some commonly known "Galuyot" (plural for Galut) are:
- the forced exile and assimilation among other peoples of the Northern Tribes of Israel by the Assyrians in 721, 722. Modern Israel has recognized among the in-gathering of this exile (Kibbuts Galuyot) the Bnei Menashe (Sons of Manessaeh) of northern India. These members of the "Lost Tribe" are now allowed to freely immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. (see Religion in India)
- the Falashas of Ethiopia, among whom, like the Bnei Menashe, Jewish practices such as circumcision at eight days and the keeping of Passover are maintained by those eligible for citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return. The are racially native African in appearance. They believe themselves to have become Jewish from the days of Solomon and the Queen of Ethiopia. That was the basis for the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selase (Holy Trinity) taking the title "Lion of the Tribe of Judah".
- The Galut of Babylon, the so-called "Iraqis" exiled by the Babylonians at the time of their conquest of Judah and Jerusalem (c. 538 B.C.) This Galut developed a rival to Palestinian Jewry of the first centuries and provided the second corpus of religious literature to the developing Talmud. This was in the common language of Babyon at the time - Aramaic. This corpus came to be called the Gemara ("completion"). The Gemara dates from about 200 A.D. to 500 A.D. The Gemara and the earlier Palestinian Hebrew corpus, the Mishna, dating from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. comprise the Talmud, which regulated most of Jewish internal life, until the western European "emancipation" and assimilation of the Jews - starting in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Talmud is still regulatory for Orthodox Jews.
- The Galut of the Jews by the Roman Titus after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. They were triumphantly displayed in Rome and dispersed in the lands along the Rhine Valley known in the Hebrew tongue as Ashkenaz - which is known now as Germany. There they learned the language of the land which developed into Modern German. The Jews called their language, the early stage of German, Yiddish. From the Rhine, many of the "Ashkenazis" moved (were moved) to Eastern Europe, many fleeing from there, to America, to Israel, to Latin America, etc. learning new languages, but also speaking their old language, not Hebrew, but Yiddish. This, with the common religion, enabled the fostering of unity and brotherhood.
- the 1492 A.D. exile from Spain, where the Jews had previously settled in the time of the Moors and some attaining to high positions and appointments as physicians, prime ministers, and poets under the Islamic conquest. This was the Golden Age of Jewry in Spain. At their expulsion ("gerush") from Spain they settled mainly around the Mediterranean basin - North Africa, Greece, Turkey, and also many going to Holland and from there to the American Colonies. The first synagogue in America was created due to this dispersion. These Jews soon were speaking the language of the their host countries - Arabic, Turkish etc. but also speaking the language of Old Spain. "Spain" in Hebrew is Sefarad, so the language is Sephardic and the dispersion is of the Sephardim (sometimes spelled Sepharadim).
- the Yemenites (Temanim). Yemen means "right (direction)" in Semitic languages. When facing the temple from the west, the "right" points south. Therefore, "Teiman" also means "south". This dispersion is the southerly dispersion to what is now Yemen, gaining momentum during the Himyaritic Kindom in Yemen which had adopted Judaism. With the founding of the Modern State of Israel, most Yemenite Jews have immigrated to Israel and speak Arabic as well as Hebrew.
The term "Mizrachi" means "easterner" and it covers a number of eastern dispersions as opposed to the Ashkenazi who were westerners - from Europe. Coming into Israel during Ottoman Turk rule (1517-1917), many immigrating Jewish families who were not European were given the name Mizrahi by the Turkish immigration authorities as they were all "lumped together" as Easterners.
The Return of the Jews to Israel is seen as a fulfillment of the Scriptures and is called Kibbutz Galuyot, the ingathering of the Exiles. Here are some of the scriptures that both tell about the ingathering of the exiles and which have provided a major influence for the some of the dispersions to return to the Land of Israel:
" I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west, To the north I will say 'Give them up', and to the south, 'Do not hold them'. Bring back my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth. Isaiah 43: 5,6
"Those whom Adonai has redeemed return, they come to Zion shouting for joy. everlasting joy in their faces, joy and gladness go with them, sorrow and lament are ended." Isaiah 51:11
"He who has scattered Israel, gathers him, He guards them as a shepherd guards his flock...they shall come back from the enemy country, There is hope for your descendants" Jeremiah 31: 10,16
"The Lord says this: 'I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations, where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation and into My own land and on the mountains of Israel.'" . Exekiel 37:21,22
For a more detailed treatment, see Jewish holidays.
- Rosh Hashanah—New Years. Marks the creation of the world.
- Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. Observant Jews consume no food or drink for the entire day.
- Pesach—celebrating the liberation from Egyptian slavery. Observant Jews hold a special festive meal, called a Seder, on the first and second night of Passover and do not eat leavened bread for the duration of the festival.
- Shavuot— Pentecost or Feast of Weeks. Traditionally celebrates God's giving the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.
- Sukkot —Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. Observant Jews eat and sleep in temporary shelters shaded by cut vegetation.
- Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah—The day after Sukkot is a separate holiday, known as the "Eighth Day Feast." It also marks the completion of the cycle of reading the Torah in synagogues. The end of Deuteronomy is read, followed by the first chapter of Genesis.
- Purim—celebrates the thwarting of a plot to kill all Jews it is recorded in the Book of Esther, which is read aloud in its entirety in the synagogue.
- Tisha B'Av—also known as the Ninth of Av, 9th of Av, is a fast day that mourns the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Chanukah (there are several English spellings)—celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple after the revolt against the Greeks recorded in the Talmud and other non-Biblical texts. Jews light candles each night for eight nights, adding one candle each night. Chanukah is not a holiday recorded in the Bible and is considered a minor holiday from a religious standpoint, however from a secular Jewish perspective it has taken on a position of great prominence in modern times passing all other holidays as far as degree to which it is celebrated.
The Jewish calendar combines lunar and solar features. During Temple times, months began when the new moon was sighted in Jerusalem. An extra month was added when needed to keep the Pesach festival in the spring. Today a complex algorithm, over a thousand years old, is used to determine when months begin. As a result, the dates of the Jewish holidays in the civil calendar vary from year to year. A day on the Hebrew calendar lasts from one sundown to the next, so for purposes of religious observances a day begins at sundown of the preceding civil day.
Jewish Scripture consists of 24 books, broken down into three sections:
- Torah—The Five Books of Moses: Genesis (Bereshit), Exodus (Shemot), Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers (Bamidbar) and Deuteronomy (Devarim).
- Nevi'im —The Prophets: Joshua (Yehoshua), Judges (Shoftim), Samuel (Shmuel), Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets
- Ketuvim—The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Chronicles.
The Torah is divided into portions that are read during synagogue services over the course of the liturgical year. Jews refer to all 24 scrolls as the Tanakh, an acronym of the names of the three sections. The Old Testament is the Tanakh, except with some different naming and a different ordering than the Jewish version. Some Jews find the term Old Testament to be offensive, as its meaning can be interpreted to mean the covenant of God with the Jews has been superseded and no longer applies.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
The most famous of the tribes of Israel is Judah. From this tribe came King David “your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” 2 Samuel 7:16, Acts 13:34. No matter what tribe you originate from, all are considered Israeli.
Jacob, grandson of Abraham and son of Isaac, came to be known as the father of Israel, for it is written that God changed his name to Israel. The descendants of these twelve 'sons' of Jacob became the twelve tribes of Israel.
In Northern Israel Gad, Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun and Joseph. In Southern Israel, the tribes Benjamin and Judah. The Levi were to serve as the priests and their assistance for all tribes having their own levitical cities within the other tribes while having no land as inheritance for themselves.
Each tribe was composed of a group of families, united by blood ties and constituting a social and political unit. As time went on, the stronger tribes tended to absorb the weaker ones. After the death of King Solomon, and in the time of his son, Rehoboam, the twelve tribes divided into two camps. The south was known as Judah with Jerusalem as their capital, while the ten northern tribes made up the kingdom of Israel whose capital was Samaria. In 721/2 B.C. , the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and the elite and powerful taken away by the Assyrians (leaving the weak and powerless) and resettled among various client kingdoms of their empire. The Assyrians, in like manner, settled other conquered peoples in various places of conquered Israel in order to dilute and weaken the population causing them to be compliant to the Assyrian overlords. This is how the "Samarians" were to arise, present in the time of Jesus and present to this day - a mixed semi-Judaized population with their religious center on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria rivaling Jerusalem. The northern dispersion came to be called popularly "the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel". But some of the "10 Lost Tribes" were not lost. At the time of Assyrian conquest of Israel, archaeology reveals, the city walls of the capitol city of the Southern Kingdom, Jerusalem, were suddenly and greatly expanded. This is because, it is thought, of the sudden influx to the southern brothers of the fleeing northerners. See also in the Diaspora section above, the Bnei Menashe, and see 
The Southern Kingdom was conquered by Babylonians in 586/7 B.C. with much population taken to Babylon, which was to become a center for Judaism (and the Babylonian Talmud) rivaling Jerusalem itself. Cyrus, Emperor of Persia was to allow the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland, but many Jews preferred to remain in Babylon (most of these "Iraqis" would return to Israel with the erection of the modern State of Israel).
Alexander the Great, 333 B.C. would wrest the Middle East, and "Judah" with it, from the hands of the Persians, and after him, at the breakup of his Empire into Seleucid (northern) and Ptolomaic (southern) parts, the Seleucids took control of the Judah and Galilee (bringing "Hellenism" - the amalgamation of Greek with local cultures), and the occasion for the revolt of the Jews against Seleucid overlord Antiochus and the beginning of the celebration among the Jews of Hanukah - the remembrance of the successful revolt, the setting up once again of a Jewish Kingdom in the promised land, and the re-dedication ("Hanukah") of the Temple (which had been desecrated). In 63 A.D., Pompey and the Roman rule would wrest power from the Hellenistic Greeks, and thus the Roman rule in the Land at the time of Jesus. The Kingdom of Judah, with its King Herod, was intended by Rome to be a buffer state between Rome and its hated adversary Kingdom - that of Persia. In this context there arose, another movement, followers of "the way" of Jesus, the forefront of another Kingdom, that was not of this world, the leading servants of which, would sit on the seats of the now 12 tribes of Israel, and knowing themselves, as the "Israel of God".
Note: Among modern Jews, there is no knowledge of descent from any of the particular tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel, except Jews with the family name of Levi or Cohen (and a very few others). "Levi" is from the tribe of Levites and means "accompanier", that is the ones who accompany the priest and offering assistance in the service of the Temple. "Cohen" means priest. With the last great dispersion from the Holy Land, that of 70 AD at the hands of the Romans, with its destruction of "the House" - the Temple of God, the levitical and priestly families, now exiled to Rome and Italy were careful to record and remember their genealogies back to the tribe of Levi, as it would be they who would once again be called to function when God when would make possible the return to the Land of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple.
Post Biblical Jewish Development and Literature
The Jewish canon of Scripture was defined at the Council of Jamnia (Yavneh) on the Mediterranean coast of Israel at 90 A.D., about two decades after the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. Jews now also lived in great numbers outside of the Land of Israel, particularly in Mesopotamia (the Land between the Rivers of the Euphrates and the Tigris), and in Alexandria, Egypt. Mesopotamian Jewry, with its large core from the exile to Babylon continually added to, was mainly Aramaic speaking while Egyptian Jewry was Greek speaking. Aramaic Jewry began the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic, this came to be known as the Peshitta ("simple" or common). This development was accelerated particularly when the queen of Adiabene, Helena (Shlomzion HaMalka), converted with others to Judaism. The Old Testament Peshitta (there is also the New Testament Peshitta as believers in Jesus translated the Greek New Testament into Aramaic) contains influence from the Jewish literature known as the Targum. Queen Helena was buried in Jerusalem around 70 A.D.
The Alexandrian Jews also translated, even earlier, the Torah into their language, Greek. Later books were added to the Septuagint by anonymous translators. This is known as the Septuagint (translated by 70 or 72 Jewish scholars). The Septuagint was used by Greek speaking Jews and was naturally turned to by the Greek speaking believers in Jesus. Later Jewish scholars retranslated the Bible into Greek, as the Septuagint was seen as having issues in translations of words, these translations were done by Symmachus, Aquilas, and Theodotios, all converts to Judaism. Around the same time of this process, the Rabbinical School at Jamnia (Yavneh) under Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, decided that what was canonical for Judaism was only those books which had already been accepted as Scripture and were found in the Hebrew language. This eliminated most of the Apocrypha which was found mostly in Greek and Latin (but the book of Ecclesiasticus - "Ben Sirach" - has now been found in Hebrew and considered canonical by the Dead Sea community of Jews) as well as elevating the Hebrew Scriptures over just the Scriptures of Israel no matter in which language. Eventually over time, not only did the Septuagint drop out of Jewish usage, but so did the other Greek translations.
They were replaced by various translations of the Bible into Aramaic, one of the best known of these was the translation by Onkelos, a convert to Judaism, although Jewish scholars still used the Hebrew translation of the Bible, the laity preferred the Aramaic translations because Hebrew became out of use expect for Jewish scholars.
"Jamnia" and Protestantism
Though the connection of Jamnia and Protestantism is little known, it is a real one and one that exerted much influence on the developing Protestant Church and its outlook. The Hebrew canon of Scripture with its emphasis on Hebrew language originals sanctioned at Jamnia, which would exclude the Jewish but Greek language books we now know as Intertestamental or Apocryphal, would be the basis of a continuing textual study and amendation according to the passing on of readings and comments by succeeding Jewish authorities, scholars, and rabbis. This work would be carried on through the fifth century, the time of the Masoretes - the "tradition (of Scripture) bearers". The receiving and handing on of how Scripture texts were to be read and sung, and what they meant.
When the Renaissance took hold in Europe, great interest was shown in the rediscovering both of the Greek classics, entailing the renewed study of Greek for this purpose, and the study of Hebrew language. Here now was the possibility for many scholars, and the emerging Protestant ones among them, to study the Hebrew Scriptures directly in the original language instead of the necessity of working through the Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate) translations. But the Hebrew source resorted to by these scholars was the Masoretic text - following the School of Jamnia - without the Apocrypha. From then on, the heritage and perspective of the Protestant Reformation churches was that the Bible excluded the Apocrypha, though some of the churches would use the Apocrypha as "secondary" readings.
In Israel, there arose a literature, mainly in the common Hebrew of the day. It is known as the Mishna ("secondary"). This was primarily the recordings of discussions of Biblical laws with view to application to the present life and experience of Jews in Israel and in the diaspora. Changing conditions required more current applications. The Mishna developed over four centuries (200 B.C. to 200 A.D.) and is divided into 6 orders, numerous tractates, and smaller units (mishnayot). Most of the Mishna is comprised of "Halakha"- that is, legal discussions, decisions, having, in many cases, enforceable applications either by the Jewish community directly or by the Roman or otherwise authorities. The non legal aspects of the Mishna - the anecdotes, stories, remembrances of the rabbinic lives, etc. are called Aggadah ("the telling").
The Palestinian Hebrew Mishna, having spread to Mesopotamia, came to be regulatory to the Babylonian Jews, and, as the Mishna had become a "commentary" on the Hebrew Bible, so the Babylonian Jews developed a commentary on the Mishna itself. This was called the Gemara ("completion") and is in their own language, Aramaic. The formation of the Gemara took from 200 A.D. to 500 A.D. The whole Talmud then was a work of 700 years. The Mishna and the Gemara together is called the Talmud ("the Learning"). The Talmud then became regulatory until modern times for Jewish life elsewhere with but a few non-mainstream groups not accepting it.
The process of G-d sanctioned and ordained commentary (the Talmud) on the Scriptures is a legacy of the one movement that survived the first century Roman destruction of the temple and Jewish authority in Israel. The Saduccees disappeared as did the Essenes and the Herodians. But not so the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed that with the written Torah given to Moses on Sinai, there was also an Oral Torah given to him, by which the written was to be interpreted and applied. According to this tradition this Oral Torah was transmitted to others - Joshua, then the seventy, the prophets, and then to certain pairs (Zugot) finally finding its expression through the discussions and decisions embodied in the Talmudic literature. Through this the Jews created over 600 laws that they had to obey. Having a "portable" law and, so to speak, a "constitution" in the Talmud, Jews then were able to survive as Jews when they no longer had a land to live in and define them.
Observant Jews follow a strict and complex set of rules governing what they may eat and drink. Permissible foods are called kosher. Per Biblical commandments, only animals that chew their cud and have cloven hooves may be eaten and they must be properly slaughtered. Additionally, all birds other than "birds of prey" are kosher, so long as they are properly slaughtered. Anything which comes from the sea must have fins and scales. According to most traditions, dairy products cannot be mixed with meat from animals or birds. Vegetables must be checked for insects, as insects are considered "treyf," meaning not kosher. Additional rules apply during Pesach.
Jewish boys are circumcised eight days after birth, in a ceremony called a bris where the circumcision is performed by a specially trained rabbi, termed a moyl. They become adults for religious purposes when they turn 13, an event marked by a ceremony called a Bar Mitzvah. Similar ceremonies for girls when they turn 12, called Bat Mitzvah, were introduced in the 20th century.
Jewish law only recognizes marriages between Jews. Divorce is permitted, but there are exacting rules that must be followed for the divorce to be valid, including the husband presenting a bill of divorce (Get) to his wife.
Jewish law requires bodies to be buried promptly, preferably no later than the day after death. Cremation is not permitted. There are prescribed stages of mourning for the first year after the death of a close relative (parent, sibling, spouse of child). The anniversary of such a death is observed with gifts to charity and the recitation of a prayer, Kaddish, praising God's name.
Definitions of Jewish identity have changed over the years, and among the various Jewish religious and cultural groupings. Whereas, the Old Testament, stresses the importance of the male side of the family for the most important aspects of cultural decision and prerogatives, thus furthering identity through the Father (male) and his clan, present Orthodox Jewish identity is defined as coming through the mother. If the mother is Jewish, regardless of the father's religion, then the child is Jewish. Reformed Judaism disregards the Orthodox Jewish definition and stresses that Judaism is equally applicable as a religious designation whether through the mother or the father, in line with de-emphasizing the racial, cultural, and genetic background in favor of stressing the ethical content in Judaism. This is in line with Reform Judaism's stress on equality between the sects even in the house of worship. The Orthodox Jewish emphasis on the parentage through the mother as constituting Jewish identity, has brought about paradox and contradiction with Judaism's own sources. Whereas it is clear from Scripture that faith in the revealed will of God and His movement in History is what constituted the people, starting from Abraham, as a People, and then as a Nation and the formation, consequently, of identity, Orthodox Judaism recognizes as Jews those who are atheistic or agnostic, free thinkers, repudiators of all religious, and even those who have become members of other religions. These are considered still Jewish, howbeit, Jews who are not good Jews. The only exception possibly in the Jewish conception of acceptability under the definition of "Jewish" are Jews who have become Christians or members of Messianic Judaism. Yet, even these, though considered apostate, are considered Halakhically (according to Jewish orthodox religious law) as being Jewish. The modern state of Israel exhibits a contradiction in the question of Jewish identity. Orthodoxy is the accepted form of Judaism, and consequently, a non Jew having converted to Judaism under Reformed Jewish rite or Conservative Jewish rite are not considered Jewish for purposes of becoming citizens of Israel under Israel's Right of Return law. But neither are Messianic Jews eligible (Israeli Supreme Court decision) for citizenship under the Law of Return, even if they be born to a Jewish mother. This is in violation of halakhic definition but is in accord with common Israeli sentiment. What is rapidly being destroyed in the modern state of Israel and which does hearken back to the predominant Biblical definition is the purely racial and cultural categorizing as to who might be considered a Jew. This is because of the immensity and varliagation in the origins of new immigrants to Israel - Ethiopia (Falasha origin), Iraq (6th cent. exile from Jerusalem), Turkey and Greece (1492 expulsion from Spain origin), Argentinia, China, India (both the long known B'nei Israel and the recently emerged B'nei Menasha of the Northern Kingdom dispersion), the former Soviet Union, the United States, Yemen (Himyaritic Kingdom conversion origin), etc.
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- Heeb magazine. The New Jew Review.
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