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History of Judaism Religion Research Paper

History of Judaism

Judaism is not only a religion, but is a way of life for the Jews. It has had a history over of over 4000 years, with its origin found in the creation story. Judaism has founded other religions like Islam and Christianity. Abraham has been noted to be the first Jew after declining of his ancestral polytheist way of life. As a result, he was promised many blessings from God and among them a child (Isaac) and a promised land (Canaan).

As was stated to Abraham, the children of Israel were exiled but finally redeemed by Moses. After being saved from slavery in Egypt, Moses led the Israelites to Mt. Sinai where God gave them the Torah before proceeding to Canaan, the Promised Land. God chose Aaron, Moses’ brother to officiate at the tabernacle, before the descendants officiating at the temple.

After some time, the Israelites demanded for a king like the other nations, something that God was against. However, with their persistence Saul was anointed as their first king by Samuel (James 2010 pp 56). After committing a sin, David was appointed as the next king. Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem during his reign.

The kingdom split into two after Solomon’s death, to form Israel and Judah. With so much idolatry, God caused Assyria to attack and take Israel into exile. The temple was invaded and destroyed by the Babylonians after increased idolatry. The Israelites were taken to captivity in Babylon but as per the promises of God, they redeemed after seventy years under the leadership of Ezra, who also rebuilt the temple. The second temple was however destroyed by the Roman emperor, Titus.

Traditions of Judaism

Orthodox Judaism

It is a historic Jewish faith whose main emphasize is the observation of traditional customs of the religion. It claims that both the Torah (comprising of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and Oral Torah (interpretive Talmud) are fixed with authoritative laws. These laws are to be followed as they are, with no alterations. Their observations include dietary laws, daily worship and study of the Torah as well as gender segregation. A strict code of dressing is also observed.

Reform Judaism

This tradition was formed to modernize the faith of the early 19th century. It believes that the heritage of the faith has embraced change over the centuries and will continue to change. It is committed to Judaism but adapts to the changes that come along. Gender equity especially for women is highlighted. They are committed to social justice and to the principle of inclusion and not exclusion.

Conservative Judaism

It was formed as a result of a dissatisfaction of both Orthodox and Reform Judaism. The movement, organized by Dr. Schenter, had an aim of some implementations. It wanted to implement K’lal Yisrael (whole Jewish community) as well as to incorporate the experiences of the North America into the Jewry. A modern living and Torah –devoted were to be implemented too. Flexibility was emphasized since they believed that all the scripture came from god but transmitted by humans.

Beliefs of Judaism

Concerning God

They believe in an all-knowing, all-understanding, supreme and powerful God. It is this belief that made the Jews very unique and different from other ancient communities. This is because most of the ancient communities believed and worshipped many visible gods whom they moved around with.

Concerning the Messiah

The Jewish people believe in the coming of their savior whom they referred to as Messiah. This savior will come and bless the righteous people as well as judge the evil and wicked. Moreover, he will restore peace to the whole world.

Concerning Human Nature

The Jews believe that the human being has a personal connection with God. This is portrayed in Genesis 2:7 that says that God formed man and hence the relationship between man and God.

Concerning Life after Death

The Jewish doctrines have not mentioned much about life after death. This contradicts the strong belief of its existence in the Islam and Christian religions, since both have foundations in Judaism.

The Jewish Service

Overview of the Shabbat

Shabbat is a holy and festive day observed by the Jews, observed once a week. The preparations begin at around 2p.m on Friday afternoons. It is like preparing for a guest’s arrival. The preparation involves thorough cleaning of the house, bathing of family members and dressing up, the best dishes and table cloths also set. Finally, a festive meal is prepared. Things are prohibited during Shabbat are done in advance. This involves the setting of lights and appliances.

For instance, light bulbs in refrigerators are removed so that they don’t turn on when the fridge is opened. According to the creation story in Genesis chapter 1, the Shabbat begins at sunset. The specific verse states “And there was evening and then morning, one day”. This makes the Jews believe that a day begins in the evening.

The woman of each house lights two Shabbat candles and a blessing recited eighteen minutes before the sunset, to officially mark its beginning. The whole family then recites a prayer for eating bread. The bread comprises two loaves of challah, shaped in a braid (Yeshayuhu 2011 pp.89).

Recitation of the birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) is performed after dinner. It is done in a leisurely manner to contrast the usual grace prayers of the week. Shabbat commences at 9a.m till noon the next day. A typical meal consists of a slowly cooked stew known as cholent. By 2p.m, the birkat ha-mazon will have been performed. During the afternoon, the family engages in several activities like talking, going for a walk, having a nap or playing. As per the traditions, the family has a third meal comprised of light foods before ending the Shabbat.

The appearance of three stars at night marks the end of the Shabbat. This normally occurs forty minutes after sunset. Havdalah (separation or division) is a ritual performed to conclude Shabbat. Blessings regarding division of working days from the Shabbat are recited to officially mark the end of it (Bovee 2005 pp. 67).

The Kippah

It is a special cap that covers only the skull, worn by Jewish men during prayers. Nowadays, women too have been noted to be wearing kippo (kippah in plural). The kippah can be of any variation of color. However, wearing a black one would signify impurity or mourning. A white one would signify spiritual purity or festivity. It is worn as a sign of religious piety. The Jews believe that they make them be like high priests, apart from making them holy. The covering of head also symbolizes humility and acknowledgment of the God above them (Chambers 2000 pp 38).


Special, but not necessarily costly, clothes are worn to celebrate Shabbat. New clothes during the week must be worn for the first time during the celebration. All washing and ironing of Shabbat wear are to be done before candle lighting. For women, wearing of long pants, skirts above the knee, sleeveless tops, bare backs and low necklines are prohibited.

Instead, they are expected to cover their bodies. Shabbat robes or loose and comfortable dresses are recommended. Scarves are worn to reinforce the candle lighting. Single women are not to cover their hair, unlike the widowed, divorced or married. Men are not to wear jeans or shorts.

Rituals performed

Rituals performed during Shabbat include: Sabbath Blessings that marks the beginning of the Shabbat, Blessing the candles during the Shabbat, Peace unto You a hymn called Shalom Aleikhem. A woman of valor as found in Proverbs 31:10-31- describes an ideal wife and is a ritual for the men to appreciate the work of their wives during the week. Blessing the Children is performed by parents to demonstrate their love and responsibility over their children.

Blessing the Wine is performed by reciting a prayer after a Kiddush cup is filled with grape juice, to signify sanctification. No talking is to take place between the blessings of the drinking. Ritual washing of hands follows the blessing of wine. The right hand is poured on first three times and then three times again on the left hand making sure that all the water is used up. A benediction known as Nitilut Yadayim, is recited while the hands are being dried. (Breuilly, Joanne & Martin 1997 pp.98).

Blessing the bread comes after this. Two challah loaves represent the double portions of manna collected by the Israelites at the desert, are placed on the Shabbat table. As per the traditions, the challar is to be covered until when the blessing reciting of the bread is about to performed. After the uncovering, a blessing called the Motzi is recited over the bread as a thanksgiving to God.

Next is the Festive Meal whereby words of Torah and songs of praised are part of the Shabbat meal. Finally, Grace after Meals is performed. In accordance to Deuteronomy8:10, the Blessing for Sustenance, known as Birkat Hamazon, is recited at the end of meals. The prayer consists of four parts. The first is a thanksgiving for the food.

The second is for to thank God for giving the Israelites a good land. The third is a thanksgiving for the restoration of the Jerusalem city and the forth is thanking God for not letting the Israelites perish despite their stubbornness.

Prohibitions during Shabbat

Various practices are not allowed during the Shabbat. They include: preparation and cooking of food. This is because cooking is viewed as work. Boiling of water on its own is perceived as work by the Jewish law. Accompanying this law is the prohibition of lighting fire.

Carrying of any furniture or anything out of the house is not allowed at all. Work by other house holds, even if they are non-Jews, is prohibited since the Sabbath is a day to rest. This is gotten from the creation story when God rested after completing his creation (Burnett 2008 pp.45).

General understanding of the religious tradition

Judaism was the first religion to introduce monotheism and the existence of a Supreme God. Some Jews argue that God is the universe and that the universe is God. Others believe that God in greater than the universe. Bottom-line is that they believe in the existence of a strong being. It is more of a way of life since it emphasizes on the practices and living in this world instead of understanding the nature of God. A unique factor about Judaism is their arguing with God.

This was demonstrated by Abraham when he bargained with God concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are not people who just say “Yes God” and wait for judgment. Judaism encourages its members to explore and experience God’s presence through questioning. Their way of life is controlled by the observation of the Torah, made up of five books.

These books are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Generally, Judaism is a sophisticated religion that entails many practices to be followed as well as many restrictions. That is why the Reform and Conservative Judaism to modernize the religion.


Bovee, C. L. (2005) The World’s Great Religions. New York, Time, Inc.

Breuilly, E., Joanne O. & Martin P. (1997) Religions of the World. Sydney, Ash Publishers.

Burnett, M. (2008) Judaism: An analysis of Religions. Houston, Texas, Dane Publishers.

Chambers, H. (2000) Wider Perspective into Judaism. New York, Perseus Publishers.

James C. L. (2010) Anatomy of the sacred: an introduction to religion. London,Oxford Publishers.

Yeshayuhu, H. (2011) Sabbath Basics. Jerusalem, Halek Publishers.

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