Judaism (from the Latin Iudaismus, derived from the Greek Ioudaïsmos, and ultimately from the Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, "Judah"; in Hebrew: יַהֲדוּת, Yahadut) is a set of beliefs and practices originating in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh, and explored and explained in later texts such as the Talmud. Jews consider Judaism to be the expression of the covenantal relationship God developed with the Children of Israel—originally a group of around a dozen tribes claiming descent from the Biblical patriarch Jacob and later the Jewish people. According to most branches, God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. However, Karaite Judaism maintains that only the Written Torah was revealed, and liberal movements such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic.
Judaism claims a historical continuity spanning well over 3000 years. It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions, and the oldest to survive into the present day. Its texts, traditions and values have inspired later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i Faith. Many aspects of Judaism have also directly or indirectly influenced secular Western ethics and civil law.
Jews are an ethnoreligious group that includes those born Jewish and converts to Judaism. In 2007, the world Jewish population was estimated at 13 million, of which about 40% reside in Israel and 40% in the United States. The largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism. A major source of difference between these groups is their approach to Jewish law. Orthodox and Conservative Judaism maintain that Jewish law should be followed, with Conservative Judaism promoting a more "modern" interpretation of its requirements than Orthodox Judaism. Reform Judaism is generally more liberal than these other two movements, and its typical position is that Jewish law should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than as a list of restrictions whose literal observance is required of all Jews. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the many rabbis and scholars who interpret these texts.
- 1 Religious doctrine and principles of faith
- 2 Jewish religious texts
- 3 Jewish identity
- 4 Jewish denominations
- 5 Jewish observances
- 6 Community leadership
- 7 History
- 8 Judaism and other religions
- 9 References
Religious doctrine and principles of faith
13 Principles of Faith:
Judaism is a monotheistic religion based upon principles and ethics embodied in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), as further explored and explained in the Talmud and other texts. According to Jewish tradition, Judaism begins with the Covenant between God and Abraham.
While Judaism has seldom, if ever, been monolithic in practice, it has always been fiercely monotheistic in theology - although the Tanakh records significant periods of apostasy, among many Israelites, from Judaism's beliefs.
Historically, Judaism has considered belief in the divine revelation and acceptance of the Written and Oral Torah as its fundamental core belief, but Judaism does not have a centralized authority dictating religious dogma. This gave rise to many different formulations as to the specific theological beliefs inherent in the Torah and Talmud. While some rabbis have at times agreed upon a firm formulation, others have disagreed, many criticizing any such attempt as minimizing acceptance of the entire Torah. Notably, in the Talmud some principles of faith (e.g., the Divine origin of the Torah) are considered important enough that rejection of them can put one in the category of "apikoros" (heretic).
Over the centuries, a number of formulations of Jewish principles of faith have appeared, and though they differ with respect to certain details, they demonstrate a commonality of core ideology. Of these formulations, the one most widely considered authoritative is Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith, formulated in the XII century. These principles were controversial when first proposed, evoking criticism by Hasdai Crescas and Joseph Albo. Maimonides thirteen principles were ignored by much of the Jewish community for the next few centuries. Over time two poetic restatements of these principles ("Ani Ma'amin" and "Yigdal") became canonized in the Jewish prayer book, and eventually became widely held.
According to Maimonides, any Jew to reject even one of his 13 principles would have to be considered an apostate and a heretic. Although many Jewish scholars have held points of view diverging in relatively minor ways from Maimonides' 13 principles, and Judaism has never known any one normative and binding creed of faith, these 13 principles as formulated by the Rambam are the closest anyone has ever come to creating a widely accepted list of Jewish beliefs.
Joseph Albo and the Raavad have criticized Maimonides' list as containing too many items that, while true, were not fundamentals of the faith, and thus placed too many Jews in the category of "heretic", rather than those who were simply in error. Many others criticized any such formulation as minimizing acceptance of the entire Torah (see above). As noted however, neither Maimonides nor his contemporaries viewed these principles as encompassing all of Jewish belief, but rather as the core theological underpinnings of the acceptance of Judaism. Along these lines, the ancient historian Josephus emphasized practices and observances rather than religious beliefs, associating apostasy with a failure to observe Jewish law and maintaining that the requirements for conversion to Judaism included circumcision and adherence to traditional customs.
Jewish religious texts
Judaism has at all times valued Torah study, as well as other religious texts. The following is a basic, structured list of the central works of Jewish practice and thought. For more detail, see Rabbinic literature.
- Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and commentaries
- Works of the Talmudic Era (classic rabbinic literature)
- Midrashic literature:
- Halakhic Midrash
- Aggadic Midrash
- Halakhic literature
- Jewish Thought and Ethics
- Siddur and Jewish liturgy
- Piyyut (Classical Jewish poetry)
Jewish legal literature
The basis of Jewish law and tradition (halakha) is the Torah (also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses). According to rabbinic tradition there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Some of these laws are directed only to men or to women, some only to the ancient priestly groups, the Kohanim and Leviyim (members of the tribe of Levi), some only to farmers within the Land of Israel. Many laws were only applicable when the Temple in Jerusalem existed, and fewer than 300 of these commandments are still applicable today.
While there have been Jewish groups whose beliefs were claimed to be based on the written text of the Torah alone (e.g., the Sadducees, and the Karaites), most Jews believed in what they call the oral law. These oral traditions were transmitted by the Pharisee sect of ancient Judaism, and were later recorded in written form and expanded upon by the rabbis.
Rabbinic Judaism (which derives from the Pharisees) has always held that the books of the Torah (called the written law) have always been transmitted in parallel with an oral tradition. To justify this viewpoint, Jews point to the text of the Torah, where many words are left undefined, and many procedures mentioned without explanation or instructions; this, they argue, means that the reader is assumed to be familiar with the details from other, i.e., oral, sources. This parallel set of material was originally transmitted orally, and came to be known as "the oral law".
By the time of Rabbi Judah haNasi (200 CE), after the destruction of Jerusalem, much of this material was edited together into the Mishnah. Over the next four centuries this law underwent discussion and debate in both of the world's major Jewish communities (in Israel and Babylonia), and the commentaries on the Mishnah from each of these communities eventually came to be edited together into compilations known as the two Talmuds. These have been expounded by commentaries of various Torah scholars during the ages.
Halakha, the rabbinic Jewish way of life, then, is based on a combined reading of the Torah, and the oral tradition - the Mishnah, the halakhic Midrash, the Talmud and its commentaries. The Halakha has developed slowly, through a precedent-based system. The literature of questions to rabbis, and their considered answers, is referred to as responsa (in Hebrew, Sheelot U-Teshuvot.) Over time, as practices develop, codes of Jewish law are written that are based on the responsa; the most important code, the Shulchan Aruch, largely determines Orthodox religious practice today.
Jewish philosophy refers to the conjunction between serious study of philosophy and Jewish theology. Major Jewish philosophers include Solomon ibn Gabirol, Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, and Gersonides. Major changes occurred in response to the Enlightenment (late 1700s to early 1800s) leading to the post-Enlightenment Jewish philosophers. Modern Jewish philosophy consists of both Orthodox and non-Orthodox oriented philosophy. Notable among Orthodox Jewish philosophers are Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and Yitzchok Hutner. Well-known non-Orthodox Jewish philosophers include Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Emmanuel Lévinas.
- Torah databases (electronic versions of the Traditional Jewish Bookshelf)
- List of Jewish prayers and blessings
Origin of the term "Judaism"
The earliest known instance of the term used to mean "the profession or practice of the Jewish religion; the religious system or polity of the Jews," is Robert Fabyan's The newe cronycles of Englande and of Fraunce a 1513. As an English translation of the Latin, the first instance in English is a 1611 translation of the Apocrypha, 2 Macc. ii. 21 "Those that behaved themselues manfully to their honour for Iudaisme."
Distinction between Jews as a people and Judaism
According to Daniel Boyarin, the underlying distinction between religion and ethnicity is foreign to Judaism itself, and is one form of the dualism between spirit and flesh that has its origin in Platonic philosophy and that permeated Hellenistic Judaism. Consequently, in his view, Judaism does not fit easily into conventional Western categories, such as religion, ethnicity, or culture. Boyarin suggests that this in part reflects the fact that much of Judaism's 4,000-year history predates the rise of Western culture and occurred outside the West (that is, Europe, particularly medieval and modern Europe). During this time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic and theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile; in the Diasporas, they have been in contact with and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment (see Haskalah) and the rise of nationalism, which would bear fruit in the form of a Jewish state in the Levant. They also saw an elite convert to Judaism (the Khazars), only to disappear as the centers of power in the lands once occupied by that elite fell to the people of Rus and then the Mongols. Thus, Boyarin has argued that "Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension."
In contrast to this point of view, practices such as Humanistic Judaism reject the religious aspects of Judaism, while retaining certain cultural traditions.
What makes a person Jewish?
According to traditional Jewish Law, a Jew is anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism in accord with Jewish Law. American Reform Judaism and British Liberal Judaism accept the child of one Jewish parent (father or mother) as Jewish if the parents raise the child with a Jewish identity. All mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts, although conversion has traditionally been discouraged. The conversion process is evaluated by an authority, and the convert is examined on his or her sincerity and knowledge. Converts are given the name "ben Abraham" or "bat Abraham", (son or daughter of Abraham).
Traditional Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever. Thus a Jew who claims to be an atheist or converts to another religion is still considered by traditional Judaism to be Jewish. However, the Reform movement maintains that a Jew who has converted to another religion is no longer a Jew, and the Israeli Government has also taken that stance after Supreme Court cases and statutes.
The question of what determines Jewish identity in the State of Israel was given new impetus when, in the 1950s, David Ben-Gurion requested opinions on mihu Yehudi ("who is a Jew") from Jewish religious authorities and intellectuals worldwide in order to settle citizenship questions. This is still not settled, and occasionally resurfaces in Israeli politics.
The total number of Jews worldwide is difficult to assess because the definition of "who is a Jew" is problematic; not all Jews identify themselves as Jewish, and some who identify as Jewish are not considered so by other Jews. According to the Jewish Year Book (1901), the global Jewish population in 1900 was around 11 million. The latest available data is from the World Jewish Population Survey of 2002 and the Jewish Year Calendar (2005). In 2002, according to the Jewish Population Survey, there were 13.3 million Jews around the world. The Jewish Year Calendar cites 14.6 million. Jewish population growth is currently near zero percent, with 0.3% growth from 2000 to 2001. Intermarriage and the declining birthrate have influenced Jewish population figures, although conversion to Judaism may help to offset this slightly.
It has been noted by some writers that the apparent prominence of Jews is disproportionate to the size of their population. One example, Mark Twain comments:
If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.
The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
In the late Middle Ages, when Europe and western Asia were divided into Christian and Islamic countries, the Jewish people also found themselves divided into two main groups. Jews in Central and Eastern Europe, namely in Germany and Poland, were called Ashkenazi. Sephardic Jews can trace their tradition back to the Mediterranean countries, particularly Spain and Portugal under Muslim rule. When they were expelled in 1492, they settled in North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, the Far East, and northern Europe. The two traditions differ in a number of ritual and cultural details, but their theology and basic Jewish practice are the same.
Over the past two centuries the Ashkenazi Jewish community has divided into a number of Jewish denominations; each has a different understanding of what principles of belief a Jew should hold, (although belief plays a lesser role than practice and observance in Judaism) and how one should live as a Jew. To some degree, these doctrinal differences have created schisms between the Jewish denominations. Nonetheless, there is some level of Jewish unity. For example, it would not be unusual for a Conservative Jew to attend either an Orthodox or Reform synagogue. The article on Relationships between Jewish religious movements discusses how different Jewish denominations view each other. Many non-Ashkenazi Jews, especially in the United States, are members of congregations affiliated with the various movements, although they may not specifically identify themselves as members of that denomination. They frequently do so out of convenience, and are likely to describe their religious practice as "traditional" or "observant", as opposed to "Orthodox" or "Conservative".
- Orthodox Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Torah were divinely revealed to Moses, and that the laws within it are binding and unchanging. Orthodox Jews generally consider commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch (a condensed codification of halakha that largely favored Sephardic traditions) such as the Moses Isserlis's HaMappah and the Mishnah Berurah, to be the definitive codification of Jewish law, and assert a continuity between the Judaism of the Temple in Jerusalem, pre-Enlightenment Rabbinic Judaism, and modern-day Orthodox Judaism. Most of Orthodox Judaism holds to one particular form of Jewish theology, based on Maimonides' 13 principles of Jewish faith. Orthodox Judaism broadly (and informally) shades into two main styles, Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism. The philosophical distinction is generally around accommodation to modernity and weight placed on non-Jewish disciplines, though in practical terms the differences are often reflected in styles of dress and rigor in practice. According to most Orthodox Jews, Jewish people who do not keep the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov (the holidays), kashrut, and family purity are considered non-religious. Any Jew who keeps at least those laws would be considered observant and religious.
- Modern Orthodox Judaism emphasizes strict observance of religious laws and commandments but with a broad, liberal approach to modernity and living in a non-Jewish or secular environment. Modern Orthodox women are gradually assuming a greater role in Jewish ritual practice, which is not acceptable in the Haredi community.
- Haredi Judaism (also known as "ultra-Orthodox Judaism", although some find this term offensive) is a very conservative form of Judaism. The Haredi world revolves around study, prayer and meticulous religious observance. Some Haredi Jews are more open to the modern world, perhaps most notably the Lubavitch Hasidim, but their acceptance of modernity is more a tool for enhancing Jewish faith than an end in itself.
- Hasidic Judaism is a stream of Haredi Judaism based on the teachings of Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer (The Ba'al Shem Tov). Hasidic philosophy is rooted in the Kabbalah, and Hasidic Jews accept the Kabbalah as sacred scripture. They are distinguished both by a variety of special customs and practices including reliance on a Rebbe or supreme religious leader, and a special dress code particular to each Hasidic group.
- Conservative Judaism, known as Masorti Judaism outside of the United States and Canada, was founded in Europe and the United States in the 1800s by rabbis and scholars who were disaffected from either Reform or Orthodox Judaism as adequate responses to the Enlightenment. It is characterized by a commitment to following traditional Jewish laws and customs, including observance of Shabbat and kashrut, a deliberately non-fundamentalist teaching of Jewish principles of faith, a positive attitude toward modern culture, and an acceptance of both traditional rabbinic modes of study along with modern scholarship and critical text study when considering Jewish religious texts. Conservative Judaism teaches that Jewish law is not static, but has always developed in response to changing conditions. It holds that the Torah is a divine document written by prophets inspired by God and reflecting his will, but rejects the Orthodox position that it was dictated by God to Moses. Similarly, Conservative Judaism holds that Judaism's Oral Law is divine and normative, but rejects some Orthodox interpretations of the Oral Law. Accordingly, Conservative Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Law may be interpreted by the rabbis to reflect modern sensibilities and suit modern conditions, although great caution should be exercised in doing so. There is no absolute uniformity within Conservative Judaism and the communities that retain more traditional practices are sometimes called Conservadox.
- Reform Judaism, called Liberal or Progressive in many countries, originally formed in Germany in response to the Enlightenment. (Note that in the United Kingdom, there are two distinct congregational unions, Reform and Liberal. The former is significantly more traditional than the latter, but both hold to similar theoretical positions.) Its defining characteristic with respect to the other movements is its rejection of the binding nature of Jewish ceremonial law as such and belief instead that individual Jews should exercise an informed autonomy about what to observe. Reform Judaism initially defined Judaism as a religion, rather than as a race or culture, rejected most of the ritual ceremonial laws of the Torah while observing moral laws, and emphasized the ethical call of the Prophets. Reform Judaism developed an egalitarian prayer service in the vernacular (along with Hebrew in many cases) and emphasized personal connection to Jewish tradition over specific forms of observance. Today, many Reform congregations encourage the study of Hebrew and traditional observances, while a smaller number continue to espouse the liberal ethos of the classical reformers of the nineteenth century.
- Reconstructionist Judaism started as a stream of philosophy by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, originally an Orthodox rabbi who had come to teach at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and later became an independent movement emphasizing reinterpreting Judaism for modern times. Like Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism does not hold that Jewish law, as such, requires observance, but unlike Reform, Reconstructionist thought emphasizes the role of the community in deciding what observances to follow.
- Jewish Renewal, a recent North American movement, was begun by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Hassidic rabbi, in the 1960s. Jewish Renewal focuses on spirituality and social justice, but does not address issues of Jewish law. Men and women participate equally in prayer.
- Humanistic Judaism. A small nontheistic movement that emphasizes Jewish culture and history as the sources of Jewish identity. Founded by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, it is centered in North America and Israel but also has affiliated groups in Europe and Latin America.
Jewish denominations in Israel
Even though all of these denominations exist in Israel, Israelis tend to classify Jewish identity in ways that are different than diaspora Jewry. Most Jewish Israelis classify themselves as "secular" (hiloni), "traditional" (masorti), "religious" (dati) or Haredi. The term "secular" is more popular as a self-description among Israeli families of western (European) origin, whose Jewish identity may be a very powerful force in their lives, but who see it as largely independent of traditional religious belief and practice. This portion of the population largely ignores organized religious life, be it of the official Israeli rabbinate (Orthodox) or of the liberal movements common to diaspora Judaism (Reform, Conservative).
The term "traditional" (masorti) is most common as a self-description among Israeli families of "eastern" origin (i.e., the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa). This term, as commonly used, has nothing to do with the official Masorti (Conservative) movement.
There is a great deal of ambiguity in the ways "secular" and "traditional" are used in Israel. They often overlap, and they cover an extremely wide range in terms of ideology and religious observance.
The term "Orthodox" is not popular in Israeli discourse, although the percentage of Jews who come under that category in Israel is far greater than in the diaspora. Various methods of measuring this percentage, each with its pros and cons, are the proportion of religiously observant Knesset members, the proportion of Jewish children enrolled in religious schools, and statistical studies on "identity".
What would be called "Orthodox" in the diaspora includes what is commonly called dati (religious) or haredi (ultra-Orthodox) in Israel. The former term includes what is called "Religious Zionism" or the "National Religious" community, as well as what has become known over the past decade or so as haredi-leumi (nationalist haredi), or "Hardal", which combines a largely haredi lifestyle with nationalist ideology. (Some people, in Yiddish, also refer to observant Orthodox Jews as frum, as opposed to frei (more liberal Jews)).
Haredi applies to a populace that can be roughly divided into three separate groups along both ethnic and ideological lines: (1) "Lithuanian" (non-hasidic) haredim of Ashkenazic origin; (2) Hasidic haredim of Ashkenazic origin; and (3) Sephardic haredim. The third group is the largest, and has been the most politically active since the early 1990s.
Other expressions of Jewish identity fall outside of this conservative-liberal continuum.
Unlike the above denominations, which were ideological reactions that resulted from the exposure of traditional rabbinic Judaism to the radical changes of modern times, Karaite Judaism did not begin as a modern Jewish movement. The followers of Karaism believe they are the remnants of the non-Rabbinic Jewish sects of the Second Temple period, such as the Sadducees, though others contend they are a sect started in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Karaites (or "Scripturalists") accept only the Hebrew Bible and what they view as the Peshat: "Plain or Simple Meaning"; and do not accept non-biblical writings as authoritative. Some European Karaites do not see themselves as part of the Jewish community, while most do. It is interesting to note that the Nazis often did not associate Karaites with Jews, and therefore several Karaite communities were spared in WWII and exist to this day even in places such as Lithuania where Jewish communities were completely devastated. In other areas, such as Greece, the Nazis deemed Karaites as belonging to a greater Jewish tradition and abused them accordingly.
Another historical division among ethnic Jews are the Samaritans, who maintain a distinct cultural and religious identity from mainstream Judaism, and are located entirely around Mount Gerizim in the Nablus/Shechem region of the West Bank and in Holon, near Tel Aviv in Israel.
A kippah (Hebrew: כִּפָּה, plural kippot; Yiddish: יאַרמלקע, yarmulke) is a slightly-rounded brimless skullcap worn by many Jewish men while praying, eating, reciting blessings, or studying Jewish religious texts, and at all times by some Jewish men. In non-Orthodox communities, some women have also begun to wear kippot. Kippot range in size from a small round beanie that covers only the back of the head, to a large, snug cap that covers the whole crown.
Tzitzit (Hebrew: צִיציִת) (Ashkenazi pronunciation: tzitzis) are special knotted "fringes" or "tassels" found on the four corners of the tallit (Hebrew: טַלִּית) (Ashkenazi pronunciation: tallis), or prayer shawl. The tallit is worn by Jewish men and some Jewish women during the prayer service. Customs vary regarding when a Jew begins wearing a tallit. In the Sephardi community, boys wear a tallit from bar mitzvah age. In some Ashkenazi communities it is customary to wear one only after marriage. A tallit katan (small tallit) is a fringed garment worn under the clothing throughout the day. In some Orthodox circles, the fringes are allowed to hang freely outside the clothing.
Tefillin (Hebrew: תְפִלִּין), known in English as phylacteries (from the Greek word φιλακτέριον, meaning fortress or protection), are two square leather boxes containing biblical verses, attached to the forehead and wound around the left arm by leather straps. They are worn during weekday morning prayer by observant Jewish men and some Jewish women.
A kittel (Yiddish: קיטל), a white knee-length overgarment, is worn by prayer leaders and some observant traditional Jews on the High Holidays. It is traditional for the head of the household to wear a kittel at the Passover seder, and some grooms wear one under the wedding canopy. Jewish males are buried in a tallit and sometimes also a kittel which are part of the tachrichim (burial garments).
Traditionally, Jews recite prayers three times daily, with a fourth prayer added on Shabbat and holidays. At the heart of each service is the Amidah or Shemoneh Esrei. Another key prayer in many services is the declaration of faith, the Shema Yisrael (or Shema). The Shema is the recitation of a verse from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4): Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad—"Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is One!"
Most of the prayers in a traditional Jewish service can be recited in solitary prayer, although communal prayer is preferred. Communal prayer requires a quorum of ten adult Jews, called a minyan. In nearly all Orthodox and a few Conservative circles, only male Jews are counted toward a minyan; most Conservative Jews and members of other Jewish denominations count female Jews as well.
In addition to prayer services, observant traditional Jews recite prayers and benedictions throughout the day when performing various acts. Prayers are recited upon waking up in the morning, before eating or drinking different foods, after eating a meal, and so on.
The approach to prayer varies among the Jewish denominations. Differences can include the texts of prayers, the frequency of prayer, the number of prayers recited at various religious events, the use of musical instruments and choral music, and whether prayers are recited in the traditional liturgical languages or the vernacular. In general, Orthodox and Conservative congregations adhere most closely to tradition, and Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues are more likely to incorporate translations and contemporary writings in their services. Also, in most Conservative synagogues, and all Reform and Reconstructionist congregations, women participate in prayer services on an equal basis with men, including roles traditionally filled only by men, such as reading from the Torah. In addition, many Reform temples use musical accompaniment such as organs and mixed choirs.
Jewish holidays are special days in the Jewish calendar, which celebrate moments in Jewish history, as well as central themes in the relationship between God and the world, such as creation, revelation, and redemption.
Shabbat, the weekly day of rest lasting from shortly before sundown on Friday night to shortly after sundown Saturday night, commemorates God's day of rest after six days of creation. It plays a pivotal role in Jewish practice and is governed by a large corpus of religious law. At sundown on Friday, the woman of the house welcomes the Shabbat by lighting two or more candles and reciting a blessing. The evening meal begins with the Kiddush, a blessing recited aloud over a cup of wine, and the Mohtzi, a blessing recited over the bread. It is customary to have challah, two braided loaves of bread, on the table. During Shabbat Jews are forbidden to engage in any activity that falls under 39 categories of melakhah, translated literally as "work". In fact the activities banned on the Sabbath are not "work" in the usual sense: They include such actions as lighting a fire, writing, using money and carrying in the public domain. The prohibition of lighting a fire has been extended in the modern era to driving a car, which involves burning fuel, and using electricity.
Three pilgrimage festivals
Jewish holy days (haggim), celebrate landmark events in Jewish history, such as the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, and sometimes mark the change of seasons and transitions in the agricultural cycle. The three major festivals, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot, are called "regalim" (derived from the Hebrew word "regel", or foot). On the three regalim, it was customary for the Israelites to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple.
- Passover (Pesach) is a week-long holiday beginning on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan (the first month in the Hebrew calendar), that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. Outside Israel, Passover is celebrated for eight days. In ancient times, it coincided with the barley harvest. It is the only holiday that centers on home-service, the Seder. Leavened products (chametz) are removed from the house prior to the holiday, and are not consumed throughout the week. Homes are thoroughly cleaned to ensure no bread or bread by-products remain, and a symbolic burning of the last vestiges of chametz is conducted on the morning of the Seder. Matzo is eaten instead of bread.
- Shavuot ("Pentecost" or "Feast of Weeks") celebrates the revelation of the Torah to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. Also known as the Festival of Bikurim, or first fruits, it coincided in biblical times with the wheat harvest. Shavuot customs include all-night study marathons known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, eating dairy foods (cheesecake and blintzes are special favorites), reading the Book of Ruth, decorating homes and synagogues with greenery, and wearing white clothing, symbolizing purity.
- Sukkot ("Tabernacles" or "The Festival of Booths") commemorates the Israelites' forty years of wandering through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. It is celebrated through the construction of temporary booths called sukkot (sing. sukkah) that represent the temporary shelters of the Israelites during their wandering. It coincides with the fruit harvest, and marks the end of the agricultural cycle. Jews around the world eat in sukkot for seven days and nights. Sukkot concludes with Shemini Atzeret, where Jews begin to pray for rain and Simchat Torah, "Rejoicing of the Torah", a holiday which marks reaching the end of the Torah reading cycle and beginning all over again. The occasion is celebrated with singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls.
High Holy Days
The High Holidays (Yamim Noraim or "Days of Awe") revolve around judgment and forgiveness.
- Rosh Hashanah, (also Yom Ha-Zikkaron or "Day of Remembrance", and Yom Teruah, or "Day of the Sounding of the Shofar"). Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year (literally, "head of the year"), although it falls on the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Tishri. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the 10-day period of atonement leading up to Yom Kippur, during which Jews are commanded to search their souls and make amends for sins committed, intentionally or not, throughout the year. Holiday customs include blowing the shofar, or ram's horn, in the synagogue, eating apples and honey, and saying blessings over a variety of symbolic foods, such as pomegranates.
- Yom Kippur, ("Day of Atonement") is the most solemn day of the Jewish year. It is a day of communal fasting and praying for forgiveness for one's sins. Observant Jews spend the entire day in the synagogue, sometimes with a short break in the afternoon, reciting prayers from a special holiday prayerbook called a "Mahzor". Many non-religious Jews make a point of attending synagogue services and fasting on Yom Kippur. On the eve of Yom Kippur, before candles are lit, a prefast meal, the "seuda mafseket", is eaten. Synagogue services on the eve of Yom Kippur begin with the Kol Nidre prayer. It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur, especially for Kol Nidre, and leather shoes are not worn. The following day, prayers are held from morning to evening. The final prayer service, called "Ne'ilah", ends with a long blast of the shofar.
Hanukkah, חנוכה, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday that starts on the 25th day of Kislev (Hebrew calendar). The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of lights on each of the festival's eight nights, one on the first night, two on the second night and so on.
The holiday was called Hanukkah meaning "dedication" because it marks the re-dedication of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Spiritually, Hanukkah commemorates the "Miracle of the Oil". According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days - which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate new oil.
Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Bible and was never considered a major holiday in Judaism, but it has become much more visible and widely celebrated in modern times, mainly because it falls around the same time as Christmas and has national Jewish overtones that have been emphasized since the establishment of the State of Israel.
Purim (Hebrew: פורים Pûrîm English: "Lots") is a joyous Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the plot of the evil Haman, who sought to exterminate them, as recorded in the biblical Book of Esther. It is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, mutual gifts of food and drink, charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal (Esther 9:22). Other customs include drinking wine, eating special pastries called hamantashen, dressing up in masks and costumes, and organizing carnivals and parties.
Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, which occurs in February or March of the Gregorian calendar.
Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha'atzmaut
Holocaust Rememberance Day and Israeli Independence Day, respectively, commemorating events of the 1940s. Those are not traditional holidays, but they help Jews commemorate recent events.
Holiday of mourning commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
The core of festival and Shabbat prayer services is the public reading of the Torah, along with connected readings from the other books of the Tanakh, called Haftarah. Over the course of a year, the whole Torah is read, with the cycle starting over in the autumn, on Simchat Torah.
Synagogues and religious buildings
Synagogues are Jewish houses of prayer and study. They usually contain separate rooms for prayer (the main sanctuary), smaller rooms for study, and often an area for community or educational use. There is no set blueprint for synagogues and the architectural shapes and interior designs of synagogues vary greatly. The Reform movement mostly refer to their synagogues as temples. Some traditional features of a synagogue are:
- The ark (called aron ha-kodesh by Ashkenazim and hekhal by Sephardim) where the Torah scrolls are kept (the ark is often closed with an ornate curtain (parochet) outside or inside the ark doors);
- The elevated reader's platform (called bimah by Ashkenazim and tebah by Sephardim), where the Torah is read (and services are conducted in Sephardi synagogues);
- The eternal light (ner tamid), a continually-lit lamp or lantern used as a reminder of the constantly lit menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem
- The pulpit, or amud (Hebrew, a lecturn facing the Ark where the hazzan or prayer leader stands while praying.
Dietary laws: Kashrut
The Jewish dietary laws are known as kashrut. Food prepared in accordance with them is termed kosher, and food that is not kosher is also known as treifah or treif. People who observe these laws are colloquially said to be "keeping kosher".
Many of the laws apply to animal-based foods. For example, in order to be considered kosher, mammals must have split hooves and chew their cud. The pig is arguably the most well-known example of a non-kosher animal. Although it has split hooves, it does not chew its cud. For seafood to be kosher, the animal must have fins and scales. Certain types of seafood, such as shellfish, crustaceans, and eels, are therefore considered non-kosher. Concerning birds, a list of non-kosher species is given in the Torah. The exact translations of many of the species have not survived, and some non-kosher birds' identities are no longer certain. However, traditions exist about the kashrut status of a few birds. For example, both chickens and turkeys are permitted in most communities. Other types of animals, such as amphibians, reptiles, and most insects, are prohibited altogether.
In addition to the requirement that the species be considered kosher, meat and poultry (but not fish) must come from a healthy animal slaughtered in a process known as shechitah. Without the proper slaughtering practices even an otherwise kosher animal will be rendered treif. The slaughtering process is intended to be quick and relatively painless to the animal. Forbidden parts of animals include the blood, some fats, and the area in and around the sciatic nerve.
Rabbinic Judaism forbids the consumption of meat and dairy products together. The waiting period between eating meat and eating dairy varies by the order in which they are consumed and by community, and can extend for up to six hours. Based on the Biblical injunction against cooking a kid in its mother's milk, this rule is mostly derived from the Oral Torah, the Talmud and Rabbinic law. Chicken and other kosher birds are considered the same as meat under the laws of kashrut, but the prohibition is Rabbinic, not Biblical.
The use of dishes, serving utensils, and ovens may make food treif that would otherwise be kosher. Utensils that have been used to prepare non-kosher food, or dishes that have held meat and are now used for dairy products, render the food treif under certain conditions.
Furthermore, Orthodox Judaism forbids the consumption of processed grape products made by non-Jews, based on ancient pagan practices of using wine in rituals. Conservative Judaism, a branch that maintains a more modernist interpretation of halakha, has challenged this.
The Torah does not give specific reasons for most of the laws of kashrut. However, a number of explanations have been offered, including maintaining ritual purity, teaching impulse control, encouraging obedience to God, improving health, reducing cruelty to animals and preserving the distinctness of the Jewish community. The various categories of dietary laws may have developed for different reasons, and some may exist for multiple reasons. For example, people are forbidden from consuming the blood of birds and mammals because, according to the Torah, this is where animal souls are contained. In contrast, the Torah forbids Israelites from eating non-kosher species because "they are unclean." The Kabbalah describes sparks of holiness that are released by the act of eating kosher foods, but are too tightly bound in non-kosher foods to be released by eating.
Laws of ritual purity
The Tanakh describes circumstances in which a person who is tahor or ritually pure may become tamei or ritually impure. Some of these circumstances are contact with human corpses or graves, seminal flux, vaginal flux, menstruation, and contact with people who have become impure from any of these.
From a Rabbinic Jewish perspective, modern Jews are in a very high state of ritual impurity because removing any impurity conferred by the dead (tum'at meit) required the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, now no longer standing, and a ritual involving a sacrificed red heifer. Karaite Judaism maintains that in the absence of a Temple, ordinary washing should be substituted for the red heifer ritual—Karaites believe this was the practice before the Temple was built. For this reason, many of the laws of avoiding tum'at meit are no longer considered relevant in Rabbinic Judaism, but are still followed by observant Karaite Jews. However, even in Rabbinic Judaism, Kohanim, members of the hereditary caste that served as priests in the time of the Temple, are still mostly restricted from entering grave sites and touching dead bodies.
An important subcategory of the ritual purity laws relates to the segregation of menstruating women. These laws are also known as niddah, literally "separation", or family purity. Vital aspects of halakha for traditionally observant Jews, they are not usually followed by Jews in liberal denominations.
Especially in Orthodox Judaism, the Biblical laws are augmented by Rabbinical injunctions. For example, the Torah mandates that a woman in her normal menstrual period must abstain from sexual intercourse for seven days. A woman whose menstruation is prolonged must continue to abstain for seven more days after bleeding has stopped. The Rabbis conflated ordinary niddah with this extended menstrual period, known in the Torah as zavah, and mandated that a woman may not have sexual intercourse with her husband from the time she begins her menstrual flow until seven days after it ends. In addition, Rabbinical law forbids the husband from touching or sharing a bed with his wife during this period. Afterwards, purification can occur in a ritual bath called a mikveh.
Traditional Ethiopian Jews keep menstruating women in separate huts and, along with Karaite Jews, do not allow menstruating women into their temples because of a temple's special sanctity. Emigration to Israel and the influence of other Jewish denominations have led to Ethopian Jews adopting more normative Jewish practices.
Life-cycle events, or rites of passage, occur throughout a Jew's life that serve to strengthen Jewish identity and bind him/her to the entire community.
- Brit milah - Welcoming male babies into the covenant through the rite of circumcision on their eighth day of life. The baby boy is also given his Hebrew name in the ceremony. A naming ceremony intended as a parallel ritual for girls, named zeved habat, enjoys limited popularity.
- Bar mitzvah and Bat mitzvah - This passage from childhood to adulthood takes place when a female Jew is twelve and a male Jew is thirteen years old among Orthodox and some Conservative congregations. In the Reform movement, both girls and boys have their bat/bar mitzvah at age thirteen. This is often commemorated by having the new adults, male only in the Orthodox tradition, lead the congregation in prayer and publicly read a "portion" of the Torah.
- Marriage - Marriage is an extremely important lifecycle event. A wedding takes place under a chupah, or wedding canopy, which symbolizes a happy house. At the end of the ceremony, the groom breaks a glass with his foot, symbolizing the continuous mourning for the destruction of the Temple, and the scattering of the Jewish people.
- Death and Mourning - Judaism has a multi-staged mourning practice. The first stage is called the shiva (literally "seven", observed for one week) during which it is traditional to sit at home and be comforted by friends and family, the second is the shloshim (observed for one month) and for those who have lost one of their parents, there is a third stage, avelut yud bet chodesh, which is observed for eleven months.
See also:-Yetzer harah
The role of the priesthood in Judaism has significantly diminished since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, when priests attended to the Temple and sacrifices. The priesthood is an inherited position, and although priests no longer have any but ceremonial duties, they are still honored in many Jewish communities. Many Orthodox Jewish communities believe that they will be needed again for a future Third Temple and need to remain in readiness for future duty.
- Kohen (priest) - patrilineal descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses. In the Temple, the kohanim were charged with performing the sacrifices. Today, a Kohen is the first one called up at the reading of the Torah, performs the Priestly Blessing, as well as complying with other unique laws and ceremonies, including the ceremony of redemption of the first-born.
- Levi (Levite) - Patrilineal descendant of Levi the son of Jacob. In the Temple in Jerusalem, the levites sang Psalms, performed construction, maintenance, janitorial, and guard duties, assisted the priests, and sometimes interpreted the law and Temple ritual to the public. Today, a Levite is called up second to the reading of the Torah.
From the time of the Mishnah and Talmud to the present, Judaism has required specialists or authorities for the practice of very few rituals or ceremonies. A Jew can fulfill most requirements for prayer by himself. Some activities—reading the Torah and haftarah (a supplementary portion from the Prophets or Writings), the prayer for mourners, the blessings for bridegroom and bride, the complete grace after meals—require a minyan, the presence of ten adults (Orthodox Jews and some Conservative Jews require ten adult men; some Conservative Jews and Reform Jews include women in the minyan).
The most common professional clergy in a synagogue are:
- Rabbi of a congregation - Jewish scholar who is charged with answering the legal questions of a congregation. This role requires ordination by the congregation's preferred authority (i.e. from a respected Orthodox rabbi or, if the congregation is Conservative or Reform, from academic seminaries). A congregation does not necessarily require a rabbi. Some congregations have a rabbi but also allow members of the congregation to act as shatz or baal kriyah (see below).
- Hazzan (note: the "h" denotes voiceless pharyngeal fricative) (cantor) - a trained vocalist who acts as shatz. Chosen for a good voice, knowledge of traditional tunes, understanding of the meaning of the prayers and sincerity in reciting them. A congregation does not need to have a dedicated hazzan.
Jewish prayer services do involve two specified roles, which are sometimes, but not always, filled by a rabbi and/or hazzan in many congregations. In other congregations these roles are filled on an ad-hoc basis by members of the congregation who lead portions of services on a rotating basis:
- Shaliach tzibur or Shatz (leader—literally "agent" or "representative"—of the congregation) leads those assembled in prayer, and sometimes prays on behalf of the community. When a shatz recites a prayer on behalf of the congregation, he is not acting as an intermediary but rather as a facilitator. The entire congregation participates in the recital of such prayers by saying amen at their conclusion; it is with this act that the shatz's prayer becomes the prayer of the congregation. Any adult capable of reciting the prayers clearly may act as shatz. In Orthodox congregations and some Conservative congregations, only men can be prayer leaders, but the Conservative and Reform movements now allow women to serve in this function.
- The Baal kriyah or baal koreh (master of the reading) reads the weekly Torah portion. The requirements for being the baal kriyah are the same as those for the shatz. These roles are not mutually exclusive. The same person is often qualified to fill more than one role, and often does. Often there are several people capable of filling these roles and different services (or parts of services) will be led by each.
Many congregations, especially larger ones, also rely on a:
- Gabbai (sexton) - Calls people up to the Torah, appoints the shatz for each prayer session if there is no standard shatz, and makes certain that the synagogue is kept clean and supplied.
The three preceding positions are usually voluntary and considered an honor. Since the Enlightenment large synagogues have often adopted the practice of hiring rabbis and hazzans to act as shatz and baal kriyah, and this is still typically the case in many Conservative and Reform congregations. However, in most Orthodox synagogues these positions are filled by laypeople on a rotating or ad-hoc basis. Although most congregations hire one or more Rabbis, the use of a professional hazzan is generally declining in American congregations, and the use of professionals for other offices is rarer still.
Specialized religious roles
- Dayan (judge) - An ordained rabbi with special legal training who belongs to a beth din (rabbinical court). In Israel, religious courts handle marriage and divorce cases, conversion and financial disputes in the Jewish community.
- Mohel (circumciser) - An expert in the laws of circumcision who has received training from a previously qualified mohel and performs the brit milah (circumcision).
- Shochet (ritual slaughterer) - In order for meat to be kosher, it must be slaughtered by a shochet who is an expert in the laws of kashrut and has been trained by another shochet.
- Sofer (scribe) - Torah scrolls, tefillin (phylacteries), mezuzot (scrolls put on doorposts), and gittin (bills of divorce) must be written by a sofer who is an expert in Hebrew calligraphy and has undergone rigorous training in the laws of writing sacred texts.
- Rosh yeshiva - A Torah scholar who runs a yeshiva.
- Mashgiach of a yeshiva - Supervises the emotional and spiritual welfare of students in a yeshiva, and gives lectures on mussar (Jewish ethics).
- Mashgiach - Supervises manufacturers of kosher food, importers, caterers and restaurants to ensure that the food is kosher. Must be an expert in the laws of kashrut and trained by a rabbi, if not a rabbi himself.
At its core, the Tanakh is an account of the Israelites' relationship with God from their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 535 BCE). Abraham is hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people. As a reward for his act of faith in one God, he was promised that Isaac, his second son, would inherit the Land of Israel (then called Canaan). Later, Jacob and his children were enslaved in Egypt, and God commanded Moses to lead the Exodus from Egypt. At Mount Sinai they received the Torah - the five books of Moses. These books, together with Nevi'im and Ketuvim are known as Torah Shebikhtav as opposed to the Oral Torah, which refers to the Mishna and the Talmud. Eventually, God led them to the land of Israel where the tabernacle was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years to rally the nation against attacking enemies. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the tabernacle. The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they needed to be governed by a permanent king, and Samuel appointed Saul 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 King David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple, and as a reward for his actions, God promised David that he would allow his son, Solomon, to build first permanent temple and the throne would never depart from his children.
Rabbinic tradition holds that the details and interpretation of the law, which are called the Oral Torah or oral law, were originally an unwritten tradition based upon what God told Moses on Mount Sinai. However, as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, these oral laws were recorded by Rabbi Judah haNasi (Judah the Prince) in the Mishnah, redacted circa 200 CE. The Talmud was a compilation of both the Mishnah and the Gemara, rabbinic commentaries redacted over the next three centuries. The Gemara originated in two major centers of Jewish scholarship, Palestine and Babylonia. Correspondingly, two bodies of analysis developed, and two works of Talmud were created. The older compilation is called the Jerusalem Talmud. It was compiled sometime during the fourth century in Israel. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled from discussions in the houses of study by the scholars Ravina I, Ravina II, and Rav Ashi by 500 C.E., although it continued to be edited later.
Some critical scholars oppose the view that the sacred texts, including the Hebrew Bible, were divinely inspired. Many of these scholars accept the general principles of the documentary hypothesis and suggest that the Torah consists of inconsistent texts edited together in a way that calls attention to divergent accounts. Many suggest that during the First Temple period, the people of Israel believed that each nation had its own god, but that their god was superior to other gods. Some suggest that strict monotheism developed during the Babylonian Exile, perhaps in reaction to Zoroastrian dualism. In this view, it was only by the Hellenic period that most Jews came to believe that their god was the only god, and that the notion of a clearly bounded Jewish nation identical with the Jewish religion formed.
The origins of Yahweh himself may be rooted in earlier Canaanite religion, which was centered on a pantheon of gods much like the Greek pantheon. Ba’al is the most recognized of this pantheon, mentioned over sixty times in the Bible. Ba’al was the storm-god and the god of fertility to whom worship is repeatedly forbidden in the Tanakh. In a society focused on survival, fertility represented the ultimate good. He was not, however, the head of the pantheon. That title belonged to El, the Compassionate. According to a theory originally posited by Mendenhall, a group of oppressed and self-marginalized people, the ‘apiru (a term for people who stood outside the established order, also possibly the origin of the word Hebrew) began to worship El as their primary deity.
The worship of the god known as Yahweh, not originally a Canaanite god, was probably developed in south of the Levantine region, in Midian and brought to the region of the Levant by a group of nomads from the south (slaves from Egypt, according to biblical tradition). The foreign god Yahweh is believed to have become amalgamated with the native god El and taken on many of his characteristics: an aged god; a wise god; even the creator god. As further evidence for the amalgamation, the Tanakh uses the word “El” for God. Notably, the Priestly source uses the term “El-Shaddai” for God. El-Shaddai most likely means “El, the mountain one,” in reference to El's terrestrial dwelling.
Israel as a new, established ethnic group is generally thought to have consolidated in the twelfth century BCE, although some archaeologists, notably Israel Finkelstein, reject the claim that Israel was a coalition of oppressed peoples, arguing that the emergence of the Jewish people as a distinct ethnos did not occur until the ninth or eighth century BCE.
Eventually, Judaism dropped all associations with other gods and goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon and become monotheistic. When exactly this occurred, however, is also debated. Plausible cases have been made for the continued worship, or veneration, of Asherah by the Israelites, as Yahweh's consort, well after the amalgamation of Yahweh and El and the official orthodoxy of that preached Yahweh-alone. Asherah, El's consort in the Canaanite pantheon, is mentioned over forty times in the Tanakh, usually within the context of a condemnation of the worship of her or the use of her cult symbol, believed to be that of a stylized tree. Not quite a graven image, it is believed to have been generally-tolerated (amongst the people if not the official orthodoxy) as a common tool of worship among Israelite women.
Inscriptions from Kuntillet‘Ajurd and Khirbet el-Qom refer to “Yahweh and his Asherah”. It is debated whether the inscriptions refer to Asherah the goddess or “the Asherah,” a symbol of Asherah's cult. In either case, Yahweh is undoubtedly associated with Asherah. Just as Yahweh took up many traits of El's; it is perceived as likely that he also took up El's consort.
A likely influence on the final purge of Asherah and all Canaanite gods from Israelite religion was Josiah’s reformation, believed to have taken place in 621 BCE.
The United Monarchy was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon with its capital in Jerusalem. After Solomon's reign the nation split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel (in the north) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the south). The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Sargon II in the late 8th century BCE with many people from the capital Samaria being taken captive to Media and the Habor valley. The Kingdom of Judah continued as an independent state until it was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BCE, destroying the First Temple that was at the center of ancient Jewish worship. The Judean elite were exiled to Babylonia and this is regarded as the first Jewish Diaspora. Later many of them returned to their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians seventy years later, a period known as the Babylonian Captivity. A new Second Temple was constructed, and old religious practices were resumed.
During the early years of the Second Temple, the highest religious authority was a council known as the Great Assembly, led by Ezra of the Book of Ezra. Among other accomplishments of the Great Assembly, the last books of the Bible were written at this time and the canon sealed. Hellenistic Judaism spreads to Ptolemaic Egypt from the 3rd century BC, and becomes a notable religio licita throughout the Roman Empire, until its decline in the 3rd century parallel to the rise of Gnosticism and Early Christianity.
After a Jewish revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE, the Romans all but destroyed Jerusalem. Following a second revolt, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem and most Jewish worship was forbidden by Rome. Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, prayer took the place of sacrifice, and worship was rebuilt around rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities (see Jewish diaspora).
Historical Jewish groupings (to 1700)
Around the first century CE there were several small Jewish sects: the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, and Christians. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, these sects vanished. Christianity survived, but by breaking with Judaism and becoming a separate religion; the Pharisees survived but in the form of Rabbinic Judaism (today, known simply as "Judaism"). The Sadducees rejected the divine inspiration of the Prophets and the Writings, relying only on the Torah as divinely inspired. Consequently, a number of other core tenets of the Pharisees' belief system (which became the basis for modern Judaism), were also dismissed by the Sadducees. (The Samaritans practiced a similar religion, which is traditionally considered separate from Judaism.)
Like the Sadducees who relied only on the Torah, some Jews in the 8th and 9th centuries rejected the authority and divine inspiration of the oral law as recorded in the Mishnah (and developed by later rabbis in the two Talmuds), relying instead only upon the Tanakh. These included the Isunians, the Yudganites, the Malikites, and others. They soon developed oral traditions of their own, which differed from the rabbinic traditions, and eventually formed the Karaite sect. Karaites exist in small numbers today, mostly living in Israel. Rabbinical and Karaite Jews each hold that the others are Jews, but that the other faith is erroneous.
Over time Jews developed into distinct ethnic groups—amongst others, the Ashkenazi Jews (of central and Eastern Europe), the Sephardi Jews (of Spain, Portugal, and North Africa), the Beta Israel of Ethiopia and the Yemenite Jews, from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. This split is cultural, and is not based on any doctrinal dispute, although the distance did result in minor differences in practice and prayers.
Antisemitism arose during the Middle Ages, in the form of persecutions, pogroms, forced conversion, expulsions, social restrictions and ghettoization.
This was different in quality to any repressions of Jews in ancient times. Ancient repression was politically motivated and Jews were treated no differently than any other ethnic group would have been. With the rise of the Churches, attacks on Jews became motivated instead by theological considerations specifically deriving from Christian views about Jews and Judaism.
Hasidic Judaism was founded by Yisroel ben Eliezer (1700–1760), also known as the Ba'al Shem Tov (or Besht). It originated in a time of persecution of the Jewish people, when European Jews had turned inward to Talmud study; many felt that most expressions of Jewish life had become too "academic", and that they no longer had any emphasis on spirituality or joy. His disciples attracted many followers; they themselves established numerous Hasidic sects across Europe. Hasidic Judaism eventually became the way of life for many Jews in Europe. Waves of Jewish immigration in the 1880s carried it to the United States.
Early on, there was a serious schism between Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews. European Jews who rejected the Hasidic movement were dubbed by the Hasidim as Misnagdim, (lit. "opponents"). Some of the reasons for the rejection of Hasidic Judaism were the overwhelming exuberance of Hasidic worship, its untraditional ascriptions of infallibility and alleged miracle-working to their leaders, and the concern that it might become a messianic sect. Since then differences between the Hasidim and their opponents have slowly diminished and both groups are now considered part of Haredi Judaism.
The Enlightenment and Reform Judaism
In the late 18th century CE, Europe was swept by a group of intellectual, social and political movements known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment led to reductions in the European laws that prohibited Jews to interact with the wider secular world, thus allowing Jews access to secular education and experience. A parallel Jewish movement, Haskalah or the "Jewish Enlightenment", began, especially in Central Europe, in response to both the Enlightenment and these new freedoms. It placed an emphasis on integration with secular society and a pursuit of non-religious knowledge such as reason. The thrust and counter-thrust between supporters of Haskalah and more traditional Jewish concepts eventually led to the formation of a number of different branches of Judaism: Haskalah supporters founded Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism, while traditionalists founded what is called Orthodox Judaism, and Jews seeking a balance between the two sides founded Masorti and Conservative Judaism. A number of smaller groups came into being as well.
In most industrialized nations with modern economies, such as the United States, Israel, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina and South Africa, a wide variety of Jewish practices exist, along with a growing plurality of secular and non-practicing Jews. For example, according to the 2001 edition of the National Jewish Population Survey, in the United States' Jewish community—the world's second largest—4.3 million Jews out of 5.1 million had some sort of connection to the religion. Of that population of connected Jews, 80% participated in some sort of Jewish religious observance, but only 48% belonged to a synagogue.
Religious (and secular) Jewish movements in the USA and Canada perceive this as a crisis situation, and have grave concern over rising rates of intermarriage and assimilation in the Jewish community. Since American Jews are marrying later in life, and are having fewer children, the birth rate for American Jews has dropped from over 2.0 to 1.7 (the replacement rate is 2.1). (This is My Beloved, This is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate relations, p. 27, Elliot N. Dorff, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1996). Intermarriage rates range from 40-50% in the US, and only about a third of children of intermarried couples are raised as Jews. Due to intermarriage and low birth rates, the Jewish population in the US shrank from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2001. This is indicative of the general population trends among the Jewish community in the Diaspora, but a focus on total population obscures growth trends in some denominations and communities, such as Haredi Judaism.
The Baal teshuva movement is a movement of Jews who have "returned" to religion or become more observant.
Judaism and other religions
Christianity and Judaism
Historians and theologians regularly review the changing relationship between some Christian groups and the Jewish people; the article on Christian-Jewish reconciliation studies one recent issue.
Islam and Judaism
Islam and Judaism have a complex relationship. Traditionally Jews living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis, were allowed to practice their religion and to administer their internal affairs, but subject to certain conditions. They had to pay the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males) to the Muslim government. Dhimmis had an inferior status under Islamic rule. They had several social and legal disabilities such as prohibitions against bearing arms or giving testimony in courts in cases involving Muslims. Many of the disabilities were highly symbolic. The most degrading one was the requirement of distinctive clothing, not found in the Qur'an or hadith but invented in early medieval Baghdad; its enforcement was highly erratic. Jews rarely faced martyrdom or exile, or forced compulsion to change their religion, and they were mostly free in their choice of residence and profession. Indeed, the period 712-1066 under the Ummayads and the Abbasids has been called the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. The notable examples of massacre of Jews include the killing or forcibly conversion of them by the rulers of the Almohad dynasty in Al-Andalus in the 12th century. Notable examples of the cases where the choice of residence was taken away from them includes confining Jews to walled quarters (mellahs) in Morocco beginning from the 15th century and especially since the early 19th century. There were some forced conversions in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and al-Andalus as well as in Persia.
Standard antisemitic themes have become commonplace in the propaganda of Arab Islamic movements such as Hizbullah and Hamas, in the pronouncements of various agencies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and even in the newspapers and other publications of Refah Partisi.
Syncretic movements incorporating Judaism
There are some organizations that combine elements of Judaism with those of other religions. The most well-known of these is the Messianic Judaism, a Christian movement which was developed as a better attempt at evangelizing Jews, it members include ethnic Jews, but mostly gentiles (non-Jews), historically sponsored and funded almost exclusively by Christian Evangelical organizations, who promote the belief that Jews have to accept Jesus as the Messiah, for Second Coming of Jesus to occur. These groups typically combine Christian theology and Christology with a thin veneer of Jewish religious practices. The most controversial of these groups is the American Jews for Jesus which actively proselytizes ethnic Jews through numerous missionary campaigns in major American cities.
Other examples of syncretism include Judeo-Paganists, a loosely-organized set of Jews who incorporate pagan or Wiccan beliefs with some Jewish religious practices, like Messianic Judaism; Jewish Buddhists, another loosely-organized group that incorporates elements of Asian spirituality in their faith; and some Renewal Jews who borrow freely and openly from Buddhism, Sufism, Native American religion, and other faiths.
The Jewish mystical practice of Kabbalah has given rise to a movement, represented by the Kabbalah Centre. This center uses teachers from multiple religions.
Jews and Judaism
- Ashkenazi Jews
- Jewish ethnic divisions
- Jewish population
- Jewish religious movements
- Judaism by country
- List of notable converts to Judaism
- Secular Jewish culture
- Sephardi Jews
Jewish law and religion
- Jewish views on homosexuality
- Lashon hara
- Women in Judaism
- Sephardic Judaism
- Who is a Jew?
- Methods and Categories: Judaism and Gospel
- AskOxford: Judaism
- Torah.org: What is the oral Torah?
- Karaite Jewish University
- Society for Humanistic Judaism
- BBC - Religion & Ethics - Judaism
- The 3 Monotheistic Religions - Essays - Noel12
- Judaism page, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
- Jewish Contributions to Civilization: An Estimate (book)
- See, for example, Deborah Dash Moore, American Jewish Identity Politics, University of Michigan Press, 2008, p. 303; Ewa Morawska, Insecure Prosperity: Small-Town Jews in Industrial America, 1890-1940, Princeton University Press, 1999. p. 217; Peter Y. Medding, Values, interests and identity: Jews and politics in a changing world, Volume 11 of Studies in contemporary Jewry, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 64; Ezra Mendelsohn, People of the city: Jews and the urban challenge, Volume 15 of Studies in contemporary Jewry, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 55; Louis Sandy Maisel, Ira N. Forman, Donald Altschiller, Charles Walker Bassett, Jews in American politics: essays, Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, p. 158; Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, p. 169.
- Percent of world Jewry living in Israel climbed to 41% in 2007 - Haaretz - Israel News
- Jewish Population By Region
- ReligionFacts - Jewish Denominations
- ReligionFacts - Reform Judaism
- What is Reform Judaism?
- Britannica Online Encyclopedia: Bet Din
- Rietti, Rabbi Jonathan. "How Do You Know the Exodus Really Happened?". Archived from the original on 2004-09-18. http://web.archive.org/web/20040918062910/http://jewishinspiration.com/tape.php?tape_id=41. The word "emunah" has been translated incorrectly by the St. James Bible as merely "belief" or "faith", when in actuality, it means conviction, which is a much more emphatic knowledge of God based on experience.
- Rabbi S. of Montpelier, Yad Rama, Y. Alfacher, Rosh Amanah.
- M. San 10:1.
- Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought, Menachem Kellner.
- "Maimonides’ 13 Foundations of Judaism". Mesora. http://www.mesora.org/13principles.html. "However if he rejects one of these fundamentals he leaves the nation and is a denier of the fundamentals and is called a heretic, a denier, etc."
- Rabbi Mordechai Blumenfeld. "Maimonides, 13 Principles of Faith". Aish HaTorah. http://www.aish.com/sp/ph/48923722.html. "According to the Rambam, their acceptance defines the minimum requirement necessary for one to relate to the Almighty and His Torah as a member of the People of Israel"
- Daniel Septimus. "The Thirteen Principles of Faith". MyJewishLearning.com. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Theology/Thinkers_and_Thought/Doctrine_and_Dogma/The_Middle_Ages/Principles_of_Faith.shtml.
- "Jewish principles of faith - Maimonides' 13 principles of faith". Global Oneness web site. http://www.experiencefestival.com/jewish_principles_of_faith_-_maimonides_13_principles_of_faith. "However, unlike most Christian denominations, the Jewish community has never developed any one binding catechism."
- Ronald L. Eisenberg (2004). The JPS guide to Jewish traditions. Jewish Publication Society. p. 509. ISBN 0827607601. http://books.google.co.il/books?id=_qGHi_9K154C&pg=RA13-PA509&lpg=RA13-PA509&dq=Maimonides'+thirteen+principles+of+faith&source=bl&ots=TJOnG20ODX&sig=wojSBmSHzGwOIQsqzs3tf5M-1bY&hl=en&ei=IE_jSZTULIaGsAa98qzfCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4. "The concept of "dogma" is ... not a basic idea in Judaism."
- "What Do Jews Believe?". Mechon Mamre. http://www.mechon-mamre.org/jewfaq/beliefs.htm. "The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely-accepted list of Jewish beliefs is Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith."
- The JPS guide to Jewish traditions, page 510, "The one that eventually secured almost universal acceptance was the Thirteen Priciples of faith"
- "Judaism 101: A Glossary of Basic Jewish Terms and Concepts". Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America. April 12, 2006. http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/tanakh.htm.
- The Oxford English Dictionary.
- Boyarin, Daniel (October 14, 1994). "Introduction". A radical Jew: Paul and the politics of identity. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. pp. 13–38. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/0-520-08592-2 LCCN 93-36269|0-520-08592-2 LCCN 93-36269]]. http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft7w10086w&chunk.id=introduction&toc.depth=1&toc.id=introduction&brand=ucpress. Retrieved 2006-06-15. "Paul was motivated by a Hellenistic desire for the One, which among other things produced an ideal of a universal human essence, beyond difference and hierarchy. This universal humanity, however, was predicated (and still is) on the dualism of the flesh and the spirit, such that while the body is particular, marked through practice as Jew or Greek, and through anatomy as male or female, the spirit is universal. Paul did not, however, reject the body—as did, for instance, the gnostics—but rather promoted a system whereby the body had its place, albeit subordinated to the spirit. Paul's anthropological dualism was matched by a hermeneutical dualism as well. Just as the human being is divided into a fleshy and a spiritual component, so also is language itself. It is composed of outer, material signs and inner, spiritual significations. When this is applied to the religious system that Paul inherited, the physical, fleshy signs of the Torah, of historical Judaism, are re-interpreted as symbols of that which Paul takes to be universal requirements and possibilities for humanity."
- Boyarin, Daniel (October 14, 1994). "Answering the Mail". A radical Jew: Paul and the politics of identity. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. pp. 244. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/0-520-08592-2 LCCN 93-36269|0-520-08592-2 LCCN 93-36269]]. http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft7w10086w&chunk.id=ch10&toc.depth=1&toc.id=ch10&brand=ucpress. Retrieved 2006-06-15. "Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension with one another."
- Weiner, Rebecca (2007). "Who is a Jew?". Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/whojew1.html. Retrieved 2007-10-06.
- Reform's Position On...What is unacceptable practice?
- Heschel, Susannah (1998) Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 157. ISBN 0226329593
- "Law of Return 5710-1950". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2007. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1950_1959/Law%20of%20Return%205710-1950. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Mark Twain ("Concerning The Jews", Harper's Magazine, 1899, The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, Doubleday  pg. 249
- Robert Gordis. "Torah MiSinai:Conservative Views". A Modern Approach to a Living Halachah. Masorti World. Archived from the original on 2007-07-13. http://web.archive.org/web/20070713183805/http://masortiworld.org/faq/theology-+beliefs/torah-misinai.html. "The Torah is an emanation of God... This conception does not mean, for us, that the process of revalation consisted of dictation by God."
- "Conservative Judaism". Jewlicious. http://www.jewlicious.com/2005/06/conservative-judaism/. "We therefore understand this term as a metaphor to mean that the Torah is divine and that it reflects God’s will."
- "Tefillin", "The Book of Jewish Knowledge", Nathan Ausubel, Crown Publishers, NY, 1964, p.458)
- "Shabbat". Judaism 101. April 12, 2006. http://www.jewfaq.org/shabbat.htm.
- Chaya Shuchat. "The Kosher Pig?". http://www.meaningfullife.com/torah/parsha/vayikra/shemini/The_Kosher_Pig.php. "It is also the most quintessentially “treif” of animals, with its name being nearly synonymous with non-kosher ... Although far from alone in the litany of non-kosher animals, the pig seems to stand in a class of its own."
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- Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah, (87:3)
- Elliot Dorff, "On the Use of All Wines"PDF, YD 123:1.1985, pp. 11–15.
- Kashrut Facts
- Vayyiqra (Leviticus) 11
- Chabad: Judaism and the Art of Eating
- Jewish life in WWII England: "there was a...special dispensation...that allowed Jews serving in the armed services to eat "non-kosher" when no Jewish food was available; that deviation from halacha was allowed 'in order to save a human life including your own.'"
- Y. Lichtenshtein M.A.. "Weekly Pamphlet #805". Bar-Ilan University, Faculty of Jewish Studies, Rabbinical office. http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/shmini/lict.html. "...certain prohibitions become allowed without a doubt because of lifethreatening circumstances, like for example eating non-kosher food"
- Vayyiqra (Leviticus) 15.
- Bamidbar (Numbers) 19.
- Vayyiqra (Leviticus) 22:6.
- Yaron, Y.; Joe Pessah, Avraham Qanai, Yosef El-Gamil (2003). An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice and Culture. Albany, New York: Qirqisani Center. ISBN 978-0970077547.
- OU.org Torah tidbits
- Rutta, Matt (30 March 2008). "Shemini/Parah (The smell of burning death)". Rabbinic Rambling. http://mattrutta.blogspot.com/2008/03/dvar-torah-s3-sheminiparah-smell-of.html. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
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- Encyclopedia.com: Karaites
- Wasserfall, Rahel (1999). Women and water: menstruation in Jewish life and law. Brandeis University Press.
- Yehezkal Kauffman, The Religion of Israel
- Robert Alter The Art of Biblical Poetry
- E. A. Speiser Genesis (The Anchor Bible)
- John Bright A History of Israel
- Martin Noth The History of Israel
- Ephraim Urbach The Sages
- Shaye Cohen The beginnings of Jewishness
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 68
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 70
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 15
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, pages 17 - 20
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 32
- J.P.M. Walsh The Mighty From Their Thrones, page 30
- Finkelstein 1996: 209
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 42
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 57
- William G. Dever Did God Have a Wife?, pages 209 - 251
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 49
- John Day Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, page 229
- Langmuir, Gavin (1993). History, religion, and antisemitism. University of California Press. ISBN 0520077288.
- Lewis (1984), pp.10,20
- Lewis (1987), p. 9, 27
- Lewis (1999), p.131
- Lewis (1999), p.131; (1984), pp.8,62
- Lewis (1984), p. 52; Stillman (1979), p.77
- Lewis (1984), p. 28
- Lewis (1984), pp.17,18,94,95; Stillman (1979), p.27
- Muslim Anti-Semitism by Bernard Lewis (Middle East Quarterly) June 1998