Judaism is the religion and culture practiced by the Jewish people and one of the monotheistic faiths that had been recorded earliest. The tenets and history of Judaism constitute important historical foundations and pillars of many other religions, including both Christianity and Islam faiths. Judaism does not well fit into general Western categories like religion, race, culture or ethnicity. This is so since Jews understand Judaism in terms of its history going for over 4,000. Throughout this period, Jews have faced slavery, anarchic and theocratic self-government, invasion, occupation, and also exile; they have come in contact, and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism. Judaism faith is founded on strict Unitarian monotheism, the belief in one supreme deity. God is conceived of as immortal and eternal, the creator of the universe, and the resource of morality.
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Ancient Jewish History
Judaism started at about 3,500 years ago. Abraham who is believed to have been the first Jew, was a mature 99 years old elder at that time. It is a common belief that God made a covenant with Abraham that a time would come when the descendents of Abraham would reach the Promised Land in the land of Canaan in exchange for their worship, loyalty and obedience to that God. Unlike the men of his days, Abraham believed in one God rather than in many idols. Abraham lived in present-day Iraq at around 1800 B.C. later His son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob, also became patriarchs of Judaism serving the same God as their father’s. Jacob twelve s descendants became the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Their whole story is found in the Hebrew Bible, section of the old testament of which is the holy book to Christians. The narration goes that the Hebrews went to Egypt due to a famine in their homeland and then later became slaves to Pharaoh and to Egyptians.
By 1200 B.C., Moses, sent by God, asked the Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh could hear none of it, and therefore God sent ten horrible plagues to the Egyptians as a mean of punishing them so they could let the Israelites go. With the death of all firstborn sons, including Pharaoh’s own, he finally let the slaves go, but later changed his mind and sent his soldiers to go after the Israelites. According to the Bible, the Red Sea split into walls of water swallowing all the pharaohs’ soldiers. The Israelites escaped to Canaan and went to settle in the promised land of Canaan. This exodus was just one of many that Jews had ton make at various times in their entire history. Once in Canaan, The Israelites faced new problems. The Canaanites worshiped idols. Later the Israelites formed a dominant kingdom headed by King David around 1000 B.C. His son, Solomon, built the first temple for their God in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, it was under Solomon that the Israelites split into two kingdoms who fought against each other.
Despite these acts of violence in their lives, Jews had one massive triumph at this time. In 500 B.C all of their holy scriptures were collected volume of a book called the Talmud.For the first two eras the history of the Jews is similar to that of Palestine. It begins among those groups of peoples which inhabited the region lying between the Nile River on the eastern side and the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers on the western side. Surrounded by antique seating of culture in Egypt and Babylonia, by the wildernesses of Arabia, and by the highlands of Asia Minor, the land of Canaan then later Judea, then Palestine, and then Israel was a melting place for civilizations. The land was traversed by old-established trade routes caravans and possessed important harbors on the Gulf of Akaba and on the Mediterranean coast. Traditionally Jews world over claim descendance mostly from the ancient Israelites who are also known as Hebrews, who settled in the land of Israel.
The Israelites traced their common lineage to the biblical patriarch -Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Jewish tradition states that the Israelites were the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons including one of which was named Judah, who settled in Egypt. Their direct descendants respectively sub-divided into twelve tribes, who were made into slave’s pharaoh Ramses II. In the Jewish faith the exodus which is the emigration of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan, led by the prophet Moses, marks officially the formation of the Israelites as a people. Jewish tradition has it on the records that after forty years of wandering to and in the desert, the Israelites arrived in Canaan and under the command o Joshua invaded it and conquered then divided the land among the twelve tribes. After a period of rule by rulers given the name Judges, a kingdom was established under Saul then later under King David and King Solomon. King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital.
After Solomon’s reign the state split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Led by prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, after the subsequent invasion of Babylonia by the Persians. Already at this point the tremendous fragmentation among the Israelites was evident, with the formation of political-religious factions, the most important of which were later referred to as the Sadducees and Pharisees. Judea under Roman rule was the first place of an independent Jewish kingdom, but gradually the rule over Judea became less and less Jewish, until it came under the direct rule of Roman administration and they renamed it the province of Judaea. (Johnson, P. Collin, H. 1998).
The Roman rule was often callous and vicious in its treatment of its Judean subjects. In AD 66, Judeans began to revolt against the Roman rulers of Judea. The revolt was defeated by the Roman emperors Vesesapian and Titus Flavius. The Romans destroyed much of the Temple in Jerusalem and, according to some accounts they also looted some artifacts from the temple like the Menorah. Judeans continued to inhabit their land in considerable numbers, and practice of their religion was allowed until the 2nd century at the time when Julius Severus ravaged Judea while putting down the bar Kokhba revolt. After BC135, Jews banned from entering into the city of Jerusalem, although this ban must have been at least partially lifted, since at the destruction of the rebuilt city by the Persians in the 7th century, Jews are said to have lived there. Many of the Judaean Jews were sold into slavery while others became citizens of other parts of the Roman Empire. This is the traditional explanation to the diaspora.
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 general (later emperor) Titus. This is the state in which it is to remain until a descendant of David arises to restore the glory of Israel.
Core beliefs of the Judaism
God is one
The idea of God being a duality or trinity is sacrilegious for Jews to hold; it is considered analogous to polytheism. Interestingly, while Jews hold that such perceptions of God are incorrect, they generally are of the view that gentiles that hold such beliefs are not to be held culpable.
God is all-powerful
Most rabbinic works present God as having the properties of omnipotence, omniscience and omni benevolence which means being all good. This is still the crucial ways that most Orthodox and many non-Orthodox Jews observe God. The issue of theodicy was raised again, especially after the extreme horrors of the Holocaust and several theological responses came out. The central questions they tackle are whether and how God is all mighty and all good, given the subsistence of evil in the world and particularly the Holocaust.
God is personal, and cares about humanity
Harold K., who was a Conservative Jewish teacher or a rabbi, writes that God shows His love for us by reaching down to link the immense divide between Him and us (Bernard, 2005). God shows His love for us by inviting us to enter into a pledge with Him, and by sharing with us His Torah. Collins (1998) seems to endorse this view to some degree. On the other hand, some ancient Jewish philosophers rejected completely the idea of a personal God.
Judaism Holy Books
The Torah given on Mount Sinai was summarized in the five books of Moses and along 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. The Tanakh and the Talmud are the major holy books in Judaism. The Tanakh contains the Written Torah, the writings of the Major and the Minor Prophets, and the writing of The Talmud contains Judaism’s oral law.
Judaism does not easily fit into common Western categories, such as religion, race, ethnicity, or culture. This is because Jews understand Judaism in terms of its 4,000-year history. During this duration of time Jews have gone through slavery, anarchic self-government, theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, exile among other things; they have been in contact, and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements and activities such as the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism. (Paul, 1998).
Paul Johnson and HarperCollins. A History of the Jews, London.1988.
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Jack Wertheimer. A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America, Brandeis Univ. Press, 1997.
Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1984).
Thelemapedic “Judaism.” The encyclopedia of thelema and magick. Free online encyclopedia. (2005). Web.