The Practices, History, and Beliefs of Judaism
Judaism is a monotheistic religion. This means to believe in one god. The laws and teachings of God are set out in the Torah. The Torah teaches Jewish people "how to act, think and even feel about life and death" (What is the Torah). Moses was given the Torah by God.
The Torah consists of two parts; these parts are known as the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The written Torah contains three parts which are called the Five Books of Moses, Prophets, and Writings. The Five Books of Moses "were given to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai during their exodus from Egypt approximately 3500 years ago" (What is the Torah). Prophets are "direct prophecies or recordings of what God has said to the prophets" (What is the Torah). Writings are written works by the prophets that were guided and inspired by God.
The Oral Torah is the verbal explanation of the Written Torah. These have been passed down from generation to generation for many years. In order for the Oral Torah to not be altered by word of mouth a written outline for it was constructed in the "2nd century C.E." (What is the Torah). This outline is called the Mishnah. "Over the next few centuries, Jewish scholars studied the Mishnah. Their discussions, questions and decisions became known as the Gemara" (What is the Torah). Together the Mishnah and the Gemara are known as the Talmud which is studied today.
Jerusalem plays a big part in Judaism. King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel during his reign, and his son, King Solomon, built the first temple there. The Arc of the Covenant was to be kept in the temple, and the Israelites would have a holy place to worship their God. In 70 CE. the Romans captured and demolished the temple, and it was never rebuilt there. The foundation left standing was a place of Jewish pilgrimage until 132-135 when their was a destructive revolt. After this, Jewish people were persecuted. They were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem when it was rebuilt as a roman city and were left without a place of worship that was sacred to them.
Israel was created in 1948 when the United Nations sectioned Palestine into two parts. One part became the independent Jewish state of Israel, and the other was to be controlled by the Arabs. The surrounding Arab nations were not happy with this decision and conflict ensued. Although the odds were against the Israelites; they managed to take control of more land than they originally had. Israel is considered the promised land to Jewish people, but the Arab people feel this is unfair. To this day there is still conflicts in Israel and the surrounding nations. There is still war and suffering, but hopefully overtime there can be peace.
There are many different sects of Judaism. Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah was given to Moses and contained 613 commandments that are to be obeyed. "Modern Orthodox Jews strictly observe halakhah (Jewish Law), but still integrate into modern society" (Branches of Judaism). Ultra Orthodox people firmly follow Jewish Law and do not mix with society by wearing purposefully different clothing and living apart from society. Conservative Jews believe that the Torah was from God, but was written down by human hands contains a human element. Conservative Jews believe that the values of the Torah should be kept intact while some laws should be adjust in order to adapt to the times."Reform Judaism believes that the Torah was written by different human sources, rather than by God, and then later combined" (Branches of Judaism).
Reconstructionist Jews do "not believe in a personified deity that is active in history and does not believe that God chose the Jewish people" (Branches of Judaism). Humanistic Jews believe in a Jewish lifestyle that was not bound by supernatural authority. "Humanistic Judaism embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with adherence to humanistic values" (Branches of Judaism).
During World War II over 6 million European Jews were murdered. This catastrophic event was called the Holocaust. The amount of people murdered consisted of "over a third of the Jewish people in the world and half of all Jews in Europe"(Judaism). Adolf Hitler led the Nazi party on a mission to remove all the Jews from Europe. He blamed the Jews for all the problems in Germany, and as he conquered other territories he continued his war against the Jews. "By 1942, large-scale death camps had been set up by the Nazis to facilitate the "Final Solution"-the total extermination of all Jews in Europe, a population the Nazis estimated at 11 million" (Judaism). Jews were taken from their homes, worked, starved, tortured, experimented on, and eventually murdered. This was a truly horroific even in not only Jewish history, but the history of the world.
There are many Sacred Practices in Judaism. Boys are taught to write and read Hebrew; they are also taught how to interpret the scriptures. They are taught to respect and follow the commandments and consider God in every aspect of life. What a person eats is also important because certain foods are considered dirty. "For example, the only ritually acceptable, or kosher, meats, are those from warmblooded animals with cloven hoofs which chew their cuds, such as cows, goats, and sheep. Poultry is kosher, except for birds of prey, but shellfish is not. Meat is also kosher only if it has been butchered in the traditional way with an extremely sharp, smooth knife by an authorized Jewish slaughterer. Great pains are taken to avoid eating blood; meat must be soaked in water and then drained on a salted board before cooking. Meat and milk cannot be eaten together, and separate dishes are maintained for their preparation and serving" (Judaism).
Prayers are also a very important sacred practice and prayers are traditionally said in the morning and before bedtime.
There are many sacred holidays in Judaism. Rosh Hashanah is the New year which is meant to celebrate "spiritual renewal in remembrance of the original creation of the world" (Judaism). It is celebrated around the time of the fall equinox. Yom Kippur is meant to celebrate "renewing the sacred covenant with God in a spirit of atonement and cleansing" (Judaism). This is a time for cleansing the soul of sins. This is when one should confess to their wrongdoings and seek forgiveness and penance.
Sukkot is a festival of harvest in the fall. An outside dwelling is built for 7 days in order to remind people that God is their true home. "Near the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, comes Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication. Each night for eight nights, another candle is lit on a special candle holder. The amount of light gradually increases like the lengthening of sunlight" (Judaism).
"Judaism, like all modern religions, has struggled to meet the challenge of secularization: the idealization of science, rationalism, industrialization, and materialism" (Judaism). There are many different groups and sects of Judaism like I mentioned earlier, and there are many conflicts between them. The differing belief and focuses on the scriptures and Jewish Laws lead to conflicts amongst different Jewish sects. Time has put a strain on these different groups because some choose to uphold Jewish law on different levels of strictness where others have chosen to change the law to adapt to the day and age. These differing opinions do not unify Jewish people, but there are still many people who believe in Judaism.
What is the Torah. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2007, from http://judaism.about.com/cs/torah/f/torah.htm
Branches of Judaism. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2007, from http://judaism.about.com/od/denominationsofjudaism/p/branches.htm
Judaism, Living Religions Sixth edition. (2005)