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About Judaism

The world's oldest of the biggest monotheistic religions

Judaism is the oldest of the world's three biggest monotheistic religions, which includes Christianity and Islam. According to a “World Jewish Population” report 2015 on the Berman Jewish Databank, there are 14.4 million Jewish people in the world, making it also the smallest. Judaism originated in the Middle East over 3500 years ago. Although Jews trace their history back to Abraham, the religion was founded by Moses who was their leader, freeing them from slavery in Egypt. Monotheism was rare at the time Judaism began however, Jews believe it was God himself that revealed it to Abraham. Jews believe that there is only one God with whom they have a covenant. This was a sacred agreement between God and the Jewish people whereby Israel was to be faithful to God and obey his commandments, and God in turn was to protect and bless his faithful people. (God’s chosen people). As a symbol of this covenant, Jewish baby boys are circumcised eight days after birth.

    Jerusalem And The Torah

    Jerusalem is an important place of pilgrimage for Jewish people. The Western Wall is thought to be the only remaining part of the Second Temple. The wall is not from the Temple itself, but what remains of the wall that would have surrounded the Temple. The first Temple was destroyed around 587 BCE, after many Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians and exiled to Babylonia. The Second Temple was built by the Jews once they returned from Babylonia when Jerusalem was ruled by the Persian King Cyrus and completed in 515 BCE. It was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans.

    The Torah, (Jewish Law), the Talmud, and other Jewish writings are precious sources of Jewish history and divine commandments. The Torah is the most important religious book in Judaism which was given to them by the Prophet Moses about 3,300 years ago. The interpretation of the laws of the Torah is called Halakha. Spiritual leaders are called Rabbis and Jews worship in Synagogues. A rabbi is not a priest and has no special religious status.

    The Ten Commandments

    According to Exodus in the Old Testament, God issued the Ten Commandments. Moses outlined a basis for morality which has lasted over 3,000 years.

    1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me
    2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
    3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
    4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy
    5. Honor thy father and thy mother
    6. Thou shalt not kill
    7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
    8. Thou shalt not steal
    9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour
    10. Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s

    The symbol of the Jewish people is the Magen David (Star of David). The Menorah is another symbol of the Jewish faith. It is a candelabrum with seven candle holders displayed in Jewish synagogues, symbolising the burning bush as seen by Moses on Mount Sinai.

    A mezuzah is found on doorposts in Jewish homes which are a little case, containing a tiny scroll from the bible, in Hebrew. It says that Jewish people should love God and keep his rules.

    Distinction Between Jews

    Judaism is not a race as Jews do not share one common ancestry. For instance, although Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews are both 'Jewish', Ashkenazi Jews come from Europe and Sephardic Jews originate from the Middle East via Spain or Morocco.

    Some of the main Jewish religious denominations, include the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform branches.

    More Information

    The Jewish calendar begins with the day when Adam and Eve were created. It starts with Rosh Hashanah, two days Jewish New Year. Jews also celebrate the Feast of Passover, to commemorate the liberation of the Children of Israel who were led out of Egypt by Moses.

    Sabbath is the most important day of the week. This is a holy day for Jews who abstain from work. A Bar Mitzvah and a Bat Mitzvah are special ceremonies where Jewish boys aged 13 and girls turning 12, respectively are considered an adult under Jewish law and thereafter, are expected to obey all commandments from that point on.

    Some of the other important Jewish festivals are:

    • Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement
    • Hanukkah – Jewish Festival of Lights
    • Yom Hashoah – Jews remember the Holocaust on this day

    The first written record of Jewish settlement in England dates from 1070. Jews faced much persecution over the next few centuries until, in 1290 when they were banished altogether. Oliver Cromwell’s decision in 1656 to allow Jews to settle in England marked the foundation of the modern Jewish community in this country.