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Description of Judaism

Jewish history and texts

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Star of David
The Star of David Jewish symbol

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The term "G-d" is used in this essay to respect the Jewish prohibition against spelling the name or title of the deity in full. Dates listed which are prior to the 4th century BCE are approximate.

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Early History of Judaism, according to the Hebrew Scriptures:

Circa 2000 BCE, the G-d of the ancient Israelites established a divine covenant with Abraham, making him the patriarch of many nations. The term Abrahamic Religions is derived from his name. These are the three or four major religions which trace their roots back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i Faith. The Baha'i faith is often not included among the Abramic religions. Also, smaller non-Jewish groups such as Falashas, Karaits, Mandaeanism, Rastafarians, Samaritans, etc. trace their spiritual roots back to Abraham.

The book of Genesis describes the events surrounding the lives of the  three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Joseph, who is recognized as a fourth patriarch by Christians is not considered one by Jews). Moses was the next major leader of the ancient Israelites. He led his people out of captivity in Egypt, and received the Mosaic Law from G-d. After decades of wandering through wilderness, Joshua led the tribes into the promised land, driving out the Canaanites through a series of military battles.

The original tribal organization was converted into a kingdom by Samuel; its first king was Saul. The second king, David, established Jerusalem as the religious and political center. The third king, Solomon built the first temple there.

Division into the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah occurred shortly after the death of Solomon in 922 BCE. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE; Judah fell to the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The temple was destroyed. Some Jews returned from captivity under the Babylonians and started to restore the temple in 536 BCE. (Orthodox Jews date the Babylonian exile from 422 to 352 BCE). Alexander the Great invaded the area in 332 BCE. From circa 300 to 63 BCE, Greek became the language of commerce, and Greek culture had a major influence on Judaism. In 63 BCE, the Roman Empire took control of Judea and Israel.

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Jewish developments during the 1st century CE:

About 24 religious sects had formed by the 1st century CE of which the largest were the Basusim, Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots. Many anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, a religious-political-military leader who was expected to drive out the Roman invaders and restore independence.

Christianity was established initially as a Jewish sect, centered in Jerusalem. The group followed the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth, who is now commonly referred to by Christians as Jesus Christ. The group was led by James, one of Jesus' four brothers. They are generally referred to as Jewish Christians. Paul broke with this tradition, created an alternative belief system of Pauline Christianity and spread the religion to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in much of the Roman Empire. A third religion, Gnosticism, emerged in a number of forms, such as Christian and Jewish Gnosticism.

Many mini-revolts led to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. The Jewish Christians were mostly wiped out and a few were scattered at this time. However, the movement started by Paul flourished and quickly evolved into the religion of Christianity. Jews were scattered throughout the known world. Their religion was no longer centered in Jerusalem; By the middle of the second century CE, Jews were prohibited from setting foot there. Judaism became decentralized and stopped seeking converts. The local synagogue became the new center of Jewish life. Animal sacrifice was abandoned. Authority shifted from the centralized priesthood to local scholars and teachers, giving rise to Rabbinic Judaism.

The period from the destruction of the temple onward give rise to heavy persecution by Christians throughout Europe and Russia. Many groundless stories were spread, accusing Jews of ritual murder, the desecration of the Catholic host, and continuing responsibility for the execution of Jesus. Unsubstantiated rumors continue to be circulated today. In the 1930s and 1940s, Adolph Hitler and the German Nazi party drew on centuries of Christian-based anti-Semitism, and upon their own psychotic beliefs in racial purity. They organized the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of all Jews in Europe. About 6 million were killed in one of the world's largest examples of religious and racial intolerance.

The Zionist movement was a response within all Jewish traditions to centuries of Christian persecution. Their initial goal was create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The state of Israel was formed on 1948-MAY-18.

There are currently about 18 million Jews throughout the world. They are mainly concentrated in North America (about 7 million) and Israel (about 4.5 million).

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Jewish Texts

The Tanakh corresponds to the Jewish Scriptures, (often referred to as the Old Testament by Christians). It is composed of three groups of books:

bulletthe Torah (aka Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

bulletthe Nevi'im: Joshua, Judges, Samuel (2), Kings (2), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and MalachiIsaiah.

bulletthe Ketuvim, the "Writings" including Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles (2).

The Talmud contains stories, laws, medical knowledge, debates about moral choices, etc. It is composed of material which comes mainly from two sources:

bulletthe Mishnah's, 6 "orders" containing hundreds of chapters, including series of laws from the Hebrew Scriptures. It was compiled about 200 CE.

bulletthe Gemara (one Babylonian and one Palestinian) is encyclopedic in scope. It includes comments from hundreds of Rabbis from 200 - 500 CE, explaining the Mishnah with additional historical, religious, legal, sociological, etc. material. It often records many different opinions on a topic without giving a definitive answer.

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This topic is continued in a following essay

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Copyright 1995 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-AUG-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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