Description of Judaism
Jewish history and texts
The Star of David Jewish symbol
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.
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.
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
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
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).
The Tanakh corresponds to the Jewish Scriptures, (often referred to as the Old
Testament by Christians). It is composed of three groups of books:
|the Torah (aka Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
|the Nevi'im: Joshua, Judges, Samuel (2), Kings (2), Isaiah,
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum,
Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and MalachiIsaiah.
|the 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:
|the Mishnah's, 6 "orders" containing hundreds of chapters, including
series of laws from the Hebrew Scriptures. It was compiled about 200 CE.
|the 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.|
Copyright © 1995 to 2012 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-AUG-22
Author: B.A. Robinson