Judaism is the Jewish religion. It is one of the oldest of the great world religions, and is the mother religion of both Christianity and Islam. Judaism was not founded by one towering personality, as were most other religions. Abraham and Moses are not regarded as founders. Abraham was the “father of the Hebrew people” and Moses was the “law-giver” (Prager & Telushkin 1999).
With the destruction of Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem in 586 B.C. began the scattering of the Hebrews over many lands. From then on Judaism developed as a religion without the priestly class of the ancient temple. Moreover, Judaism is one of the oldest beliefs that are still observed and practiced up to the present and considered as one of the first recorded “monotheistic” faiths. The Jewish’s values and history are the main part of the foundation of different Abrahamic religions like Christianity, Islam, Samaritanism and the Baha’i Faith. In 2006, Judaism’s devotees are approximately 14 million that makes Judaism faith as the eleventh-biggest organized religion globally (Jacobs 2000). Unlike with other religions, Judaism is totally distinct in such a way that its “central authority is not vested in any person or group” but it abides in its writings and traditions. This would mean that Judaism religion does not have a head or a leader that oversees them but they rather obey what is written in its writings and traditions. Moreover, the Judaism church is continually bound to a number of religious practices and beliefs, specifically its belief that there is one, omnipotent, omni benevolent, transcended omniscient God who made the heavens and the earth and continually have its control over mankind. The conventional Jewish belief stated that the God who made the universe had made a covenant with the Jewish people only and gave his laws and commandments through Torah (Asheri 1999). Judaism‘s belief and practices are focused on these laws and commandments.
Thesis statement: The purpose of this study is to discuss what Judaism really is and to present the Judaism gospel that will help everyone understands it.
A. Historical Monotheism
The connection between the fate of the Jews as a people and that of Judaism as a religion and way of life is not necessarily one of direct correlation. Developments favorable to individual Jews have frequently proved detrimental to Jewish group life, consequently to Judaism. The period of emancipation itself, from the late 18th century on, raised the economic and social status of millions of Jews by removing legal disabilities and special burdens (Musaph-Andriesse 1998). But this was also attended by the destruction of Jewish self- government and by a partial disintegration of traditional religious and cultural patterns.
For the Jews, as such, their religio-cultural heritage is vital because they have lacked those other basic elements of group life—territory, state, and language. Next to ties of common descent, it is primarily this heritage that makes Jews Jewish; particularly when they affirm Judaism with their conscious and voluntary allegiance, rather than accepting it as sheer accident of birth. Thus, in the interrelation between Jews and Judaism (Shenker 2001), the interplay between the social and religious forces appears to be of controlling significance.
The Jewish religion has been from the beginning a historical religion, in permanent contrast to all natural religions. The historical element was so predominant in the religious ideas of the Jewish people that historical, or historico- ethical monotheism may be regarded as their essential contribution to the history of human creeds. History is the dominant sanction for their most fundamental ideas; the concepts of Messianism, the “chosen people,” the Covenant with God, and the Torah. God created the world at a certain time, later He created man; still later He selected Israel as his nation of priests, and so forth (Jacobs 2000).
In most Jewish religious institutions, rituals, and doctrines, the historical reinterpretation of old customs is obvious. Judaism believed not only in the golden age of the first days of mankind, but also in the more enduring age of uninterrupted peace finally to be attained through human achievement guided by the will of God. This belief tended to make of the Jewish religion an essentially optimistic creed. For Judaism, the full realization of the great aims of religion will not come through the processes of political victory and conquest, or the vicissitudes of power; but rather through the progression of human achievements and frustrations, both apparent and hidden, guided by the inscrutable will of God (Asheri 1999). The concept of man’s role as a mere instrument of an Almighty Power to achieve the ultimate and decisive victory over nature—this is the core of Historical Judaism.
With this outlook, Judaism has sometimes been called a this-worldly religion. This is true insofar as Judaism’s central emphasis is upon the destinies of mankind, and, within mankind of the Jewish people, in this world. Judaism cared comparatively little about death. Both early and later Judaism, however, continuously emphasized a firm belief in the survival of the group, and in the eternal life of the Jewish people down to, and beyond, the Messianic age. With the emphasis on history went an affirmation of life as it realizes itself through history (Prager & Telushkin 1999).
The mainstream of Jewish law sanctified daily pursuits performed in the spirit of service to the family or nation. This gospel is far from the acceptance of things as they are. On the contrary, in the great conflict between history and nature, man is gradually to overcome nature. Jewish law often demands this struggle of man against both external nature and undisciplined human nature. Out of this struggle humanity emerges. Thus, morality becomes a man’s chief means of realizing the aims of history (Prager & Telushkin 1999). In this sense the historical monotheism of Judaism is also ethical monotheism, but only in this sense. A monotheism that is primarily ethical would appeal to the individual in the basis of his own ethical good: whereas Judaism stresses the general aims of the Jewish people to be realized in some unknown future by unknown miraculous means. This failure to relate the moral life of the individual to the ultimate and unknowable goal is intelligible only from the viewpoint of a historical monotheism. To this day, orthodox Jewish ethics has remained in its essence national rather than individual (Jacobs 2000).
Here lies the root of the law’s supreme power over the individual. Its great aims transcend the individual. It has underlying motives which may remain hidden to him. The individual may, like Maimonides and others, try to rationalize the law, but must not change it in the least. True, there were not lacking in Jewish history men who dared to question the very foundations of the system (Shenker 2001), but the main current proceeded unperturbed in the bed carved out for it by history.
This spiritual servitude, however, was never intended to be a forcible subjection. Compliance with the law was a matter of spontaneous, indeed, enthusiastic affirmation. The affirmative “fear of the Lord,” one of the cornerstones of Old Testament piety, found its highest expression not merely in repentance, but in the sinner’s complete, voluntary return, in his unequivocal retracing of his steps toward a reunion with God. Voluntary moral conduct in accordance with the divine law, as an act of self- assertion, is combined with wholehearted self- resignation as an instrument of God’s will. This is the essence of ancient Jewish ethics (Shenker 2001).
B. Concept of the Nation
We can now understand the deeper meaning of the concept of a “chosen people” in Israel’s religion. Not only is the nation the chief vehicle of history itself, but for this conquest of nature by history a selected group of men is indispensable. If these chosen few retain their individual life independent of one another, then religion remains an individual, not a group phenomenon (Musaph-Andriesse 1998). This would prevent it from ever becoming the religion mankind, the largest of groups.
A group religion, therefore, needs a selected body of men; this is the core of the idea of a “chosen people”. Hence, this is insistence upon a nation chosen for the special purpose of living the hard life of an exemplar. In this sense the Jews had to be Jews “contrary to all men” to quote Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:15). At the same time, they were being Jews, for all men (Musaph-Andriesse 1998).
The nation overshadowed the individual in other respects as well. What really matters in the Jewish religion is not the immortality of the individual Jew but of the Jewish people. Even when later Judaism adopted the belief in immortality of the soul and the resurrection, the central point remained the eternal life of the nation; hence, the extraordinary attachment to life manifested by orthodox Jews. Life on earth, the care of the sick and the poor, the duty of marriage and increase in family are stressed, so that the race and the people may be maintained. Because this religion was detached from nature (Jacobs 2000), it had to be divorced from every kind of concreteness; from imagery which tends to focus worship in a certain place or glorifies the local sanctuary or territory. According to tradition, the Jewish religion existed for a time with no sanctuary at all; then, in the days of Moses and the judges, with migrating sanctuary; until, after centuries the Jewish kings built the central temple in Jerusalem (Prager & Telushkin 1999).
As a conclusion, Judaism is the United States has four branches: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist. The total membership of the four branches is lower than the estimated total number of Jews in the United States, because many Jews are not outside the United States and Canada are Orthodox. Orthodox Jews advocate strict observance of traditional rituals and customs. Hasidic Jews form a small, extremely orthodox, mystical group. Many orthodox synagogues are members of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Reform Jews have abandoned many rituals and customs that they consider unsuited to modern life. They stress the prophetic ideas of the Bible rather than the Law, and emphasize the mission of the Jews to spread godliness throughout the world. The reform movement began early in the 19th century in Germany and is now centered mainly in the United States.
Asheri, Michael. Living Jewish: the Lore and law of the Practicing Jew, 1999.
Jacobs, Louis. The Book of Jewish Belief (Behrman House, 2000).
Musaph-Andriesse, R.G. From Torah to Kabbalah: a Basic Introduction to the Writings of Judaism (Oxford University, 1998).
Prager, Dennis, and Joseph Telushkin. Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism (Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Shenker, Israel. Coat of many Colors: Pages from Jewish Life (Doubleday, 2001).