What is Judaism?
Judaism is the religion and culture of the Jewish People and the first recorded monotheistic faith.
Judaism believes that God created the world for the purpose of having people upon whom to bestow kindness. He gave us commandments in order that they should deserve the kindness he bestows and that it not be charity.
He created Adam and Eve and gave them only one commandment which they transgressed and thus were deserving of death, however, because they repented, their death was delayed. As time went on, although there were always righteous people, the vast majority denied God's authority. God sent Noah to build an ark so that the world would see and repent, but when they did not do so, he brought a flood and destroyed the world, leaving only Noah and his children whom he gave seven commandments.
Although Noah's son Shem and Shem's grandson Ever remained righteous and maintained a yeshiva for the purpose of teaching Torah, the vast majority of the world began to worship idols. Abraham, although born in a world of idol worship, determined that there must be a single power who is in control of the world whereupon God made himself known to him.
Abraham dedicated his life to denouncing idolatry. This is why he is called the first Jew; he was the first to take on the world and proclaim the folly of idolatry. As a result, God promised he would have children from Isaac who would carry on his work and inherit the land of Israel (then called Canaan) after having been exiled and redeemed. As such, he gave Isaac's son Jacob the title Israel, and dedicated his children to be his nation.
He sent Jacob and his children to Egypt, and after they had been enslaved, he sent Moses to redeem them from slavery, take them to Mount Sinai, give them the Torah which is comprised of 613 commandments, and take them to the land of Israel.
also see: What is Passover? - Ten Plagues
Because the Jews would sin, he set aside the children of Aaron to be priests, and gave them a temple where they could bring offerings to assist in the atonement for their sins. Until the children of Israel were settled in their land this was a tent that traveled around with them. Once they had settled, the tent 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 after he sent enemies to attack them. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the temple in Shiloh.
see Jewish Holidays
|The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they had reached the point where they needed a permanent king like other nations had. God knew this was not best for the Jews, but acceded to this request and had Samuel appoint 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 David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple. As a reward, God promised David that he would allow his son to build the temple and the throne would never depart from his children. David's son Solomon built the first permanent temple according to God's will, in Jerusalem.
After Solomon's death, the kingdom was split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Israel had a variety of kings, but after a few hundred years, because of the rampant idolatry God allowed Assyria to conquer it exile its people. The kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem and contained the temple, remained under the ruler ship of the house of David. However, idolatry increased to the point that God allowed Babylon to conquer it, destroy the temple which had stood for 410 years and exile its people to Babylon, with the promise that they would be redeemed after seventy years.
After seventy years the people were allowed back into Israel under the leadership of Ezra, and the temple was rebuilt. This second temple stood for 420 years after which it was destroyed by the Roman king Titus. This is the state in which it is to remain until a descendant of David arises to restore the glory of Israel.
The Torah given on Mount Sinai was summarized in the five books of Moses and together with the books of the prophets is called the Written Torah. The details which are called the Oral Torah were to remain unwritten. However as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, they were recorded in the Mishna, and the Talmud, as well as other holy books.
Principles of faith
Main article: Jewish principles of faith
A number of formulations of Jewish principles of faith have appeared; most of them have much in common, yet they differ in certain details. A comparison of them demonstrates a wide array of tolerance for varying theological perspectives. Below is a summary of Jewish principles of faith. A more detailed discussion of these beliefs, along with a discussion of how they developed, is found in the article on Jewish principles of faith.
- Monotheism - Judaism is based on strict unitarian monotheism, the belief in one God. God is conceived of as eternal, the creator of the universe, and the source of morality.
God is one - The idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical for Jews to hold; it is considered akin to polytheism. Interestingly, while Jews hold that such conceptions of God are incorrect, they generally are of the opinion that gentiles that hold such beliefs are not held culpable. [also see: shema]
- God is all powerful (omnipotent), as well as all knowing (omniscient). The different names of God are ways to express different aspects of God's presence in the world. See the entry on The name 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.
- To God alone may one offer prayer. Any belief that an intermediary between man and God could be used, whether necessary or even 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. Rabbinic Judaism holds that the Torah is the same one that was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah that we have today is exactly the same as it was when it was received from God by Moses with only minor scribal errors. Due to advances in biblical scholarship, and archaeological and linguistic research, most non-Orthodox Jews reject this principle. Instead, they may accept that the core of the Oral and Written Torah may have come from Moses, but the written Torah that we have today has been edited together from several documents.
- 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 God; the description of this covenant is the Torah itself. Contrary to popular belief, Jewish people do not simply say that "God chose the Jews." Jews believe that they were chosen for a specific mission; to be a light unto the nations, and to have a covenant with God as described in the Torah. This idea is discussed further in the entry on the chosen people. Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the concept chosenness as morally defunct.
- The messianic age. There will be a moshiach (messiah), or perhaps a messianic era.
- The soul is pure at birth. People are born with a yetzer ha'tov, a tendency to do good, and with a yetzer ha'ra, a tendency to do bad. Thus, human beings have free will and can choose the path in life that they will take.
- People can atone for sins. The liturgy of the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) states that prayer, repentance and tzedakah (dutiful giving of charity) atone for sin. A more detailed discussion of the Jewish view of sin is available in the entry on sin.
|Also see: Kabbalah - Chassidus the Weekly Parasha