DRAFT -- The Nature and Central Themes of Judaism

A. What is Judaism?
B. What is the nature of Judaism?
C. The interrelationship of Judaism with the Jewish people and Israel.

A. What is Judaism?

DEFINITION I propose that we view religion as a distinctive life style and as a recognized set of beliefs, as applied to a defined social entity. Judaism is the religion of the Jews. The word Jew comes from the name of the ancient southern kingdom of Judah, whose people gave their name to Judaism. Kabbalah and Modern Life - Living with the Times: Judah is the king (the "first") of the tribes of Israel. His name means to give thanks, in speech (the sense of Nissan). The king rules his people by the power of his speech, as is said "for the word of the king is his rule." The month of Nissan is "the new year for kings" (Mishnah Rosh HaShana 1:1).1

Judaism is
one of the world's oldest living religions, and was the first religion based on monotheism, the belief in one God.
Judaism traces its origins to Abraham and has its spiritual and ethical principles embodied chiefly in the Bible -the Old Testament for the Christians- and the Talmud. It was the first religion based on ethical monotheism.

Judaism influenced the development of Christianity and Islam, and had a major influence on Western civilization - Christianity, the eventually dominant religious faith of the West, was in large part a child of the Hebrew religion. When we speak of the Judeo-Christian heritage of Western civilization, we refer not only to the concept of monotheism, but also to ideas of law, morality, and social justice that have become important parts of Western culture. All of the major Western religions found their roots in Judaism.

HISTORY The Patriarchs and the Origins of Judaism

The cultural and religious continuity of the Israelites since ancient times is indicated by attitudes in the modern state of Israel and by the monotheistic roots of modern religion. They maintained their identity throughout years of conquest and slavery. The Hebrew people have retained a commitment tio God and his law despite having experienced conquest, exile and dispersal.

Geography - The land

In ancient times, three peoples -the Hebrews, the Phoenicians and the Lydians- lived in the western end of the Fertile Crescent. This narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea today forms portions of nations of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. The southern section had different names during the course of history, including Canaan (KAY-nun), Israel and Palestine.

Canaan -south of Phoenicia- lay between Asia and Africa, and consisted of two regions:
1. the Jordan Valley watered the northern valley -fertile soil;
2. desert covered most of the southern region, around and south of the Dead Sea -high salt content of water killed all marine life. Canaan.

The earliest known inhabitants of Palestine were the Caananites, a people who urbanized around the third millennium C.E. (Common Era), and established several city-states, one of which was Jericho. Later invaders to the area included the Hebrews, a group of Semitic tribes from Mesopotamia, & the Philistines, an Aegean people of Indo-European origin, around 1400 B.C.E. The area was also later to be submitted to Persian, Roman, Arab Caliphates, Ottoman, and British rule.

The greatest influence from this period on civilization did not come from the powerful and prolonged kingdoms of Mesopotamia and Egypt or from the warlike successor states that from time to time held sway in the area, but rather from a group that came to inhabit a part of early Palestine. That influence developed from a comparatively small group of people, the Hebrews, whose existence would have passed unnoticed were it not for the uniqueness of their religious belief and practice.

I. The Hebrews: “The Children of Israel” 1800 B.C.E.

The Hebrews, the ancestors of the Jews, were a small group, yet their influence in world history was great. The Hebrews/Israelites, who did not create large empires, made an important contribution to Western civilization in religion: Judaism/ ethical monotheism. They were responsible for a religious revolution founded on the concept of a single, universal God. This innovation became the basis of Christianity and Islam.

The Early Israelites - Originally herders from Mesopotamia, the Hebrews, group of nomadic Semitic-speaking people, were descendants of the patriarchal leader Abraham, who had migrated from Sumer to Canaan and the land of Palestine, where they were called the ‘Children of Israel.’ Between 1800 and 1500 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era=B.C. Before Christ) the Hebrews entered
Canaan from the east. Because of famine the Hebrews migrated to Egypt, and settled there until a pharaoh enslaved them.

1. The Patriarchs http://www.jewfaq.org/origins.htm

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
, known as the Patriarchs, are both the physical and spiritual ancestors of Judaism. They founded the religion now known as Judaism, and their descendants are the Jewish people. The history below is derived from written Torah, Talmud, Midrash and other sources.

a. Abraham
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born under the name Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE). He was the son of Terach, an idol merchant, but from his early childhood, he questioned the faith of his father and sought the truth. He came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator, and he began to teach this belief to others.

Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship. One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, "The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones." His father said, "Don't be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can't do anything." Abram replied, "Then why do you worship them?"

The b'rit - covenant. Eventually, the one true Creator that Abram had worshipped called to him, and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then G-d would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this offer, and the b'rit (covenant) between G-d and the Jewish people was established. (Gen. 12).

The idea of b'rit is fundamental to traditional Judaism: we have a covenant, a contract, with G-d, which involves rights and obligations on both sides. We have certain obligations to G-d, and G-d has certain obligations to us. The terms of this b'rit became more explicit over time, until the time of the Giving of the Torah (see below). Abram was subjected to ten tests of faith to prove his worthiness for this covenant. Leaving his home is one of these trials.

Abram, raised as a city-dweller, adopted a nomadic lifestyle, traveling through what is now the land of Israel for many years. G-d promised this land to Abram's descendants. Abram is referred to as a Hebrew (Ivri), possibly because he was descended from Eber or possibly because he came from the "other side" (eber) of the Euphrates River.

But Abram was concerned, because he had no children and he was growing old. Abram's beloved wife, Sarai, knew that she was past child-bearing years, so she offered her maidservant, Hagar, as a wife to Abram. This was a common practice in the region at the time. According to tradition Hagar was a daughter of Pharaoh, given to Abram during his travels in Egypt. She bore Abram a son, Ishmael, who, according to both Muslim and Jewish tradition, is the ancestor of the Arabs. (Gen 16)

When Abram was 100 and Sarai 90, G-d promised Abram a son by Sarai. G-d changed Abram's name to Abraham (father of many), and Sarai's to Sarah (from "my princess" to "princess"). Sarah bore Abraham a son, Isaac (in Hebrew, Yitzchak), a name derived from the word "laughter," expressing Abraham's joy at having a son in his old age. (Gen 17-18). Isaac was the ancestor of the Jewish people.

b. Isaac
Isaac was the subject of the tenth and most difficult test of Abraham's faith: G-d commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. (Gen 22). This test is known in Jewish tradition as the Akeidah (the Binding, a reference to the fact that Isaac was bound on the altar).

But this test is also an extraordinary demonstration of Isaac's own faith, because according to Jewish tradition, Isaac knew that he was to be sacrificed, yet he did not resist, and was united with his father in dedication.

At the last moment, G-d sent an angel to stop the sacrifice. It is interesting to note that child sacrifice was a common practice in the region at the time. Thus, to people of the time, the surprising thing about this story is not the fact that G-d asked Abraham to sacrifice his child, but that G-d stopped him.
Judaism uses this story as evidence that G-d abhors human sacrifice. Judaism has always strongly opposed the practice of human sacrifice, commonplace in many other cultures at that time and place.

Isaac later married Rebecca (Rivka), who bore him fraternal twin sons: Jacob (Ya'akov) and Esau. (Gen 25).

c. Jacob (Israel)
Jacob and his brother Esau were at war with each other even before they were born. They struggled within Rebecca's womb. Esau was Isaac's favorite, because he was a good hunter, but the more spiritually-minded Jacob was Rebecca's favorite.

Esau had little regard for the spiritual heritage of his forefathers, and sold his birthright of spiritual leadership to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. When Isaac was growing old, Rebecca tricked him into giving Jacob a blessing meant for Esau. Esau was angry about this, and about the birthright, so Jacob fled to live with his uncle, where he met his beloved Rachel. Jacob was deceived into marrying Rachel's older sister, Leah, but later married Rachel as well, and Rachel and Leah's maidservants, Bilhah and Zilphah. Between these four women, Jacob fathered 12 sons and one daughter.

After many years living with and working for his uncle/father-in-law, Jacob returned to his homeland and sought reconciliation with his brother Esau. He prayed to G-d and gave his brother gifts. The night before he went to meet his brother, he sent his wives, sons, and things across the river, and was alone with G-d. That night, he wrestled with a man until the break of day. As the dawn broke, Jacob demanded a blessing from the man, and the "man" revealed himself as an angel. He blessed Jacob and gave him the name "Israel" (Yisrael), meaning "the one who wrestled with G-d" or "the Champion of G-d." The Jewish people are generally referred to as the Children of Israel, signifying our descent from Jacob. The next day, Jacob met Esau and was welcomed by him.

2. Children of Israel

Jacob fathered 12 sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin. They are the ancestors of the tribes of Israel, and the ones for whom the tribes are named. Joseph is the father of two tribes: Manasseh and Ephraim.

Joseph's older brothers were jealous of him, because he was the favorite of their father, and because he had visions that he would lead them all. They sold Joseph into slavery and convinced their father that Joseph was dead. But this was all part of G-d's plan: Joseph was brought into Egypt, where his ability to interpret visions earned him a place in the Pharaoh's court, paving the way for his family's later settlement in Egypt.

II. The Exodus and the Giving of the Torah, 1300 B.C.E.

As centuries passed, the descendants of Israel became slaves in Egypt. They suffered greatly under the hand of later Pharaohs. But G-d brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. In the 13th century, about 1300-1250 BC, during Ramses II, the Hebrews, led by Moses raised at the pharaoh’s court, fled across the desert of the Sinai (SY-ny) Peninsula (= northern boundary of Red Sea and desert home of Moses) back to Canaan. Their flight from Egypt is known as the exodus. The books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in the Bible describe Moses and the flight from Egypt. The history below is derived from written Torah, Talmud, Midrash and other sources. Where information comes directly from the Bible, I have provided citations.


Moses was the greatest prophet, leader and teacher that Judaism has ever known. In fact, one of Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith is the belief that Moses' prophecies are true, and that he was the greatest of the prophets. He is called "Moshe Rabbeinu," that is, Moses, Our Teacher/Rabbi. Interestingly, the numerical value of "Moshe Rabbeinu" is 613: the number of mitzvot that Moses taught the Children of Israel! He is described as the only person who ever knew G-d face-to-face (Deut. 34:10) and mouth-to-mouth (Num. 12:8), which means that G-d spoke to Moses directly, in plain language, not through visions and dreams, as G-d communicated with other prophets.

Moses was born on 7 Adar in the year 2368 from Creation (circa 1400 BCE), the son of Amram, a member of the tribe of Levi, and Yocheved, Levi's daughter (Ex. 6:16-20). Amram married Yocheved, and she conceived, and she gave birth to Moses (Ex. 2:1-2). The only unusual thing about his birth is Yocheved's advanced age: Yocheved was born while Jacob and his family were entering Egypt, so she was 130 when Moses was born. His father named him Chaver, and his grandfather called him Avigdor, but he is known to history as Moses, a name given to him by Pharaoh's daughter.

The name "Moses" comes from a root meaning "take out," because Moses was taken out of the river (Ex. 2:10). Some modern scholars point out that the root M-S-S in Egyptian means "son of" as in the name Ramases (son of Ra), but it is worth noting that Moses's name in Hebrew is M-Sh-H (Moshe), not M-S-S. According to one Jewish source, Pharaoh's daughter actually named him Minios, which means "drawn out" in Egyptian, and the name Moshe (Moses) was a Hebrew translation of that name.

Moses was born in a very difficult time: Pharaoh had ordered that all male children born to the Hebrew slaves should be drowned in the river (Ex. 1:22). Yocheved hid Moses for three months, and when she could no longer hide him, she put him in a little ark and placed it on the river where Pharaoh's daughter bathed (Ex. 2:2-3). Pharaoh's daughter found the child and had compassion on him (Ex. 2:6). At the suggestion of Moses's sister Miriam, Pharaoh's daughter hired Yocheved to nurse Moses until he was weaned (Ex. 2:7-10). Yocheved instilled in Moses a knowledge of his heritage and a love of his people that could not be erased by the 40 years he spent in the court of Pharaoh.

Little is known about Moses's youth. The biblical narrative skips from his adoption by Pharaoh's daughter to his killing of an Egyptian taskmaster some 40 years later. One traditional story tells that when he was a child, sitting on Pharaoh's knee, Moses took the crown off of Pharaoh's head and put it on. The court magicians took this as a bad sign and demanded that he be tested: they put a brazier full of gold and a brazier full of hot coals before him to see which he would take. If Moses took the gold, he would have to be killed. An angel guided Moses's hand to the coal, and he put it into his mouth, leaving him with a life-long speech impediment (Ex. 4:10).

Although Moses was raised by Egyptians, his compassion for his people was so great that he could not bear to see them beaten by Pharaoh's taskmasters. One day, when Moses was about 40 years old, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and he was so outraged that he struck and killed the Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-12). But when both his fellow Hebrews and the Pharaoh condemned him for this action, Moses was forced to flee from Egypt (Ex. 2:14-15).

He fled to Midian, where he met and married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest (Ex. 2:16-21). They had a son, Gershom (Ex. 2:22). Moses spent 40 years in Midian tending his father-in-law's sheep. A midrash tells that Moses was chosen to lead the Children of Israel because of his kindness to animals. When he was bringing the sheep to a river for water, one lamb did not come. Moses went to the little lamb and carried it to the water so it could drink. Like G-d, Moses cared about each individual in the group, and not just about the group as a whole. This showed that he was a worthy shepherd for G-d's flock.

G-d appeared to Moses and chose him to lead the people out of Egyptian slavery and to the Promised Land (Ex. Chs. 3-4). With the help of his brother Aaron, Moses spoke to Pharaoh and triggered the plagues against Egypt (Ex. Chs. 4-12). He then led the people out of Egypt and across the sea to freedom, and brought them to Mount Sinai, where G-d gave the people the Torah and the people accepted it (Ex. Chs. 12-24):

During their journey, Moses, a strong leader, unified the Hebrew tribes under a jealous god, Yahweh, and a complex code of ethically based laws. According to the Torah -1st 5 books of the Tanakh, Moses climbed to the top of Mt. Sinai and returned bearing the Ten Commandments -the set of moral laws revealed to him by the Hebrew God. The Torah explains how Yahweh made a covenant -pact, with the sons of Abraham and gave his “chosen people” a set of laws by which to live. The Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40-years.

G-d led them on a journey through the wilderness to Mount Sinai. Here, G-d revealed Himself to the Children of Israel and offered them a great covenant: if the people would hearken to G-d and observe His covenant, then they would be the most beloved of nations, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Ex 19). G-d revealed the Torah to his people, both the written and oral Torah, and the entire nation responded, "Everything that the L-rd has spoken, we will do!" According to Jewish tradition, every Jewish soul that would ever be born was present at that moment, and agreed to be bound to this covenant.

G-d revealed the entire Torah to Moses. The entire Torah includes the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) that Moses himself wrote as G-d instructed him. It also includes all of the remaining prophecies and history that would later be written down in the remaining books of scripture, and the entire Oral Torah, the oral tradition for interpreting the Torah, that would later be written down in the Talmud. Moses spent the rest of his life writing the first five books, essentially taking dictation from G-d.

After Moses received instruction from G-d about the Law and how to interpret it, he came back down to the people and started hearing cases and judging them for the people, but this quickly became too much for one man. Upon the advice of his father-in-law, Yitro, Moses instituted a judicial system (Ex. 18:13-26).

Moses was not perfect. Like any man, he had his flaws and his moments of weakness, and the Bible faithfully records these shortcomings. In fact, Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land because of a transgression (Deut. 32:48-52). Moses was told to speak to a rock to get water from it, but instead he struck the rock repeatedly with a rod, showing improper anger and a lack of faith (Num. 20:7-13).

Moses died in the year 2488, just before the people crossed over into the Promised Land (Deut. 32:51). Moses was 120 years old at the time that he died (Deut. 34:7). That lifespan is considered to be ideal, and has become proverbial: one way to wish a person well in Jewish tradition is to say, "May you live to be 120!" He completed writing the first five books of the Bible(Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) before he died. There is some dispute as to who physically wrote the last few verses of Deuteronomy: according to some, Moses wrote these last few verses from a vision of the future, but according to others, the last few verses were added by Joshua after Moses's death. In any case, these verses, like everything else in the Torah, were written by G-d, and the actual identity of the transcriber is not important.

As important as Moses was to the Children of Israel, it is always important to remember that Moses himself was not the deliverer or redeemer of Israel. It was G-d who redeemed Israel, not Moses. Moses was merely G-d's prophet, His spokesman. The traditional text of the Pesach haggadah does not even mention Moses's name. In order to prevent people from idolatrously worshipping Moses, his grave was left unmarked (Deut. 34:6).

Moses's position as leader of Israel was not hereditary. His son, Gershom, did not inherit the leadership of Israel. Moses's chosen successor was Joshua, son of Nun (Deut. 34:9).


Aaron was Moses's older brother. He was born in 2365, three years before Moses, before the Pharaoh's edict requiring the death of male Hebrew children. He was the ancestor of all koheins (priest in Hebrew), the founder of the priesthood, and the first Kohein Gadol (High Priest). Aaron and his descendants tended the altar and offered sacrifices. Aaron's role, unlike Moses's, was inherited; his sons continued the priesthood after him (Num. 20:26).

Aaron served as Moses's spokesman. As discussed above, Moses was not eloquent and had a speech impediment, so Aaron spoke for him (Ex. 4:10-16). Contrary to popular belief, it was Aaron, not Moses, who cast down the staff that became a snake before Pharaoh (Ex. 7:10-12). It was Aaron, not Moses, who held out his staff to trigger the first three plagues against Egypt (Ex. 7:19-20; Ex. 8:1-2 or 8:5-6; Ex. 8:12-13 or 8:16-17). According to Jewish tradition, it was also Aaron who performed the signs for the elders before they went to Pharaoh (Ex. 4:30).

Aaron's most notable personal quality is that he was a peacemaker. His love of peace is proverbial. In fact, Aaron loved peace so much that he participated in the incident of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32), constructing the idol in order to prevent dissension among the people. Aaron intended to buy time until Moses returned from Mount Sinai (he was late, and the people were worried), to discourage the people by asking them to give up their precious jewelry in order to make the idol, and to teach them the error of their ways in time (Ex. 32:22). Aaron, like Moses, died in the desert shortly before the people entered the Promised Land (Num. 20).

Miriam was Aaron and Moses's older sister. According to some sources, she was seven years older than Moses, but other sources seem to indicate that she was older than that. Some sources indicate that Miriam was Puah, one of the midwives who rescued Hebrew babies from Pharaoh's edict against them (Ex. 1:15-19).

Miriam was a prophetess in her own right (Ex. 15:20), the first woman described that way in scripture. According to tradition, she prophesied before Moses's birth that her parents would give birth to the person who would bring about their people's redemption.

Miriam waited among the bulrushes while Moses's ark was in the river, watching over him to make sure he was all right (Ex. 2:4). When the Pharaoh's daughter drew Moses out of the water, Miriam arranged for their mother, Yocheved, to nurse Moses and raise him until he was weaned (Ex. 2:7-9).

Miriam led the women of Israel in a song and dance of celebration after the Pharaoh's men were drowned in the sea (Ex. 15:20-21). She is said to be the ancestress of other creative geniuses in Israel's history: Bezalel, the architect of the mishkan (the portable sanctuary used in the desert) (Ex. 31:1-3) and King David.

According to tradition, because of Miriam's righteousness, a well followed the people through the desert throughout their wanderings, and that well remained with them until the day of Miriam's death. ... Like her brothers, Miriam died in the desert before the people reached the Promised Land (Num. 20:1).

III. The Israelite Monarchy, 1000-538 B.C.E.

Finally, ca. 1220 BC. a new generation of Hebrews returned to the land of Canaan, which they believed God had promised them. Organized in 12 tribes, they entered in conflict with the Canaanites, and the Philistines, warlike people who lived along the southern coast of Canaan (from their name the land became known as Palestine), and who defeated the Israelites in 1050 BC (David & Goliath). In the 11th century, about 1000 BC the Hebrew tribes united under the rule of one king, establishing a monarchy - the kingdom of Israel.

Political Aspirations & Frustrations
The 1st king of the kingdom of Israel was Saul (c. 1020-1000). Brief period of anarchy. The 2nd king, David, Saul’s lieutenant, (1010?-960?) reunited the Hebrews, defeated the Philistines, and established control over all of Palestine. He conquered Jerusalem, which became the capital (psalms: book of Hebrew religious hymns).

Under David’s son, Solomon (c. 971-931), the Hebrew kingdom reached its greatest height of power and prosperity. His most popular contribution to the Hebrew society was the construction of the great Temple for God, the symbolic center of the Hebrew religion and society, in Jerusalem.

After Solomon died, the kingdom split in two. The northern part, called Israel with 10 tribes, was eventually conquered in 722 BC by Assyrians who burnt its capital -Samaria. The southern part along the Dead Sea, Judah with 2 tribes, was conquered in 586 by Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean ruler of Babylon, who destroyed Assyria. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon’s Temple, burnt Jerusalem, and exiled several 1000s of Hebrews, to Babylon = the Babylonian Captivity. The Israelites were tragically dispersed, though late, they managed to obtain partial independence in Palestine for occasional periods.

When the
Persians conquered Babylon in 538 BC, they allowed the exiles, now called Jews, to return home to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem (word Jew comes from the name of the southern kingdom of Judah, whose people gave their name to Judaism, the religion of Yahweh). The revived kingdom of Judah was conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.

IV. Spiritual Dimensions of Israel

a. The conception of God - YHWH: Yahweh as God
The Hebrews’ concerns were religious & moral. They believed in one omnipotent transcendent God -Yahweh (means: ‘he causes to be’) who was eternal, ageless, & supreme.
- he is the creator of the world but not an inherent part of nature
- he is totally sovereign, all peoples of the world were subjects to him
- he would punish those not following his will

The Hebrew spiritual perspective also emphasized individual worth. each person possessed of moral freedom, had the ability to choose between good & evil, and to follow or not to follow God’s Law. Through Moses & other holy men, God had made known his commandments, his ideal of behavior. The Hebrew conception of God was related to 3 aspects of the Hebrew religion tradition: the covenant, the law, and the prophets.

b. Covenant & the Law
The covenant between God & the people was central to Hebrew religious thought. It place a heavy responsibility on the Hebrews as a ‘chosen people’ to become the moral teachers of humanity The Hebrews believed their deity, whose name was spelled YHWH made a formal covenant -pact, with the tribes of Israel, through Moses, during the exodus. The Hebrews promised to obey Yahweh -the law of God, and follow the Mosaic laws, or Ten Commandments, which they had received on Mount Sinai, & moral laws. In return, Yahweh promised to take special care ofthem. .
The Law has many dimensions, but ethical concerns stood at center of the law, and are expressed in decrees that regulated the economic, social, & political life of the community. these laws made no class distinctions & emphasized the protection of the poor, widows, orphans, & slave.

c. The Prophets
Over time, Judaism was shaped by a series of social critics, prophets ‘holy men’ ‘men of God’ with special communion with God - messenger sent to reveal God’s message & will -his voice: they preached. They were also a series of scholars who organized the sacred writings of Judaism. The golden age of prophecy began in the mid-eighth century, and continued when the Hebrews were threatened by the Assyrians and Chaldeans.
Prophets played a crucial role in Hebrew society by calling social injustices to attention. They emphasized corruption, moral reform, peace and a redeeming Messiah.
- Isaiah’s and Amos’ prophecies of Israel’s destruction at the hands of its enemies
- their condemnation of suffering caused by Israel’s class differences
- their adaptation of message to make the Hebrews more hopeful in times of exile & captivity

Out of the word of prophets came came new concepts - a notion of universalism & a yearning for social justice, that enriched the Hebrew tradition & Western civilization. The prophets embraced a concern for all humanity, and depicted a vision of peace for all nation. In the word of the prophet Isaiah: ‘He will judge between the nation & settle disputes for many people. They shall beat their swords into plowshares...’ The prophets also expressed a new individualism by their assumption of personal responsibility for their thoughts and by their conception of a personal relationship between the individual & God

B. What is the nature of Judaism?

Judaism, which refers to the religious culture of the Jewish people, can be called a religious culture because it includes both a world view (beliefs) and a way of life (halacha). The Torah is the primary source of this world view and way of life.

I. What is the Torah?

: Law; literally meaning "teaching." The term also refers to the parchment scroll containing the first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) of the Tanakh, used in a synagogue during services.

The Torah consists of the first Five Books of the Bible (also known as the Pentateuch), and which forms the first part of -what the Christians call- the Old Testament.
The Torah (means teaching) is God's revealed instructions to the Jewish People. It teaches Jews how to act, think and even feel about life. It encompasses every aspect of life, from birth through death.

The Torah contains 613 commandments (mitzvot). Ohr Somayach provides a online list of the 613 commandments. These 613 commandments govern Jewish law covering such areas as philanthropy, sacrifices, prayer, ritual purity, dietary laws, and observances of the Sabbath and other holy days. The Ten Commandments are considered the most important commandments of the Torah. The Torah also contains stories that teach us about God's relationship with the Jewish People. There are two parts to the Torah:
a. Written Torah
b. Oral Torah

1. Written Torah - Tanakh

The Written Torah is often called the Tanakh - the Bible to the Jews/the Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. Tanakh is an acronym for for
(T), Torah - Law
(N) Nevi'im - prophets, and
(K), Ketuvim - Writings, 39 books of Hebrew Scriptures
The Written Torah contains:
1. Five Books of Moses (Chumashe Torah)
2. Prophets (Nevi'im)
3. Writings (Ketuvim)

1. The Five Books of Moses (Chumashe Torah) were given to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai during their exodus from Egypt approximately 3500 years ago. They include Genesis (Beresheet), Exodus (Shemot), Vayikra (Leviticus), Numbers (Bamidbar), and Deuteronomy (Devarim). The first 5 books of the Tanakh are the source for much of early Hebrew history.

2. Prophets (Nevi'im) are direct prophecies or recordings of what God said to the prophets. Writings (Ketuvim) are books written by the prophets with the guidance of God.

The Torah has been supplemented by oral law and interpretations of the law which comprise the Talmud. The Jewish system of law, also referred to as Halacha, includes a civil and criminal justice system which is followed by observant Jews. Halacha regulates Jewish life, such as marriage and divorce, burial, relationships with non-Jews and education.

2. Oral Torah

The Oral Torah, explanations of the Written Torah, was originally passed down verbally from generation to generation.

After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was decided the Oral Torah should be written down so it would not be forgotten. In the 2nd century C.E.(Common Era), Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and a group of Sages compiled the Mishnah. The Mishnah is a written outline of the Oral Torah.

Over the next few centuries, Jewish scholars studied the Mishnah. Their discussions, questions and decisions became known as the Gemara. The Gemara is commentaries elaborating on the Mishnah.

The Talmud is the combination of the Mishnah and Gemara together; it is the oral tradition of Jewish law which has been written down and serves as the authority in Jewish law. In the 4th century, the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in Israel. In the 5th century, the Babylonian Talmud was compiled in Babylon. The Babylonian Talmud is studied and used more than the Jerusalem Talmud because it is more comprehensive.

II. What are Judaism's basic beliefs?

1. Judaism is a monotheistic religion

God The Jewish People believe there is one God who created and rules the world. This God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (in all places at all times). God is also just and merciful. the conception of one supreme, omnipotent, universal deity who made strong ethical demands on human beings.

2. Judaism is an ethical religion - Ethical Monotheism

Judaism traditionally emphasizes ethical conduct and the treatment of others "as one would wish to be treated themselves." Ethical monotheism involves a moral code of conduct, and means two things:
1. There is one God from whom emanates one morality for all humanity.
2. God's primary demand of people is that they act decently toward one another.

If all people subscribed to this simple belief—which does not entail leaving, or joining, any specific religion, or giving up any national identity—the world would experience far less evil.

When the Israelites accepted the Ten Commandments from God at Mount Sinai, they committed themselves to following a code of law which regulates both how they worship and how they treat other people.

The Ten Commandments

1.I am the Lord your God
2.You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence
3.You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain
4.Remember the day of shabbat to keep it holy
5.Honor your father and your mother
6.You shall not murder
7.You shall not commit adultery
8.You shall not steal
9.Do not give false testimony against your neighbor
10.You shall not covet your fellow's possessions

3. What Do Jews Believe?

This is a far more difficult question than you might expect. Judaism has no dogma, no formal set of beliefs that one must hold to be a Jew. In Judaism, actions are far more important than beliefs, although there is certainly a place for belief within Judaism. The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely-accepted list of Jewish beliefs is Rambam's thirteen principles of faith. Who is Rambam?

Rambam (Maimonides; Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) (1135-1204 C.E.)

One of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars. Also known as Maimonides. A physician born in Moorish Cordoba, Rambam lived in a variety of places throughout the Moorish lands of Spain, the Middle East and North Africa, often fleeing persecution. He was a leader of the Jewish community in Cairo. He was heavily influenced by Greek thought, particularly that of Aristotle.

Rambam was the author of the Mishneh Torah, one of the greatest codes of Jewish law, compiling every conceivable topic of Jewish law in subject matter order and providing a simple statement of the prevailing view in plain language.

Rambam is also responsible for several important theological works. He developed the 13 Principles of Faith, the most widely accepted list of Jewish beliefs. He also wrote the Guide for the Perplexed, a discussion of difficult theological concepts written from the perspective of an Aristotelian philosopher. Rambam's thirteen principles of faith, which he thought were the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, are:

Rambam's thirteen principles of faith
1. G-d exists.
2. G-d is one and unique.
3. G-d is incorporeal.
4. G-d is eternal.
5. Prayer is to be directed to G-d alone.
6. The words of the prophets are true.
7. Moses was the greatest prophet, and his prophecies are true.
8. The Torah was given to Moses.
9. There will be no other Torah.
10. G-d knows the thoughts and deeds of men.
11. G-d will reward the good and punish the wicked.
12. The Messiah will come.
13. The dead will be resurrected.

G-d: A way of avoiding writing a name of G-d, to avoid the risk of the sin of erasing or defacing the Name.
As you can see, these are very basic and general principles. Yet as basic as these principles are, the necessity of believing each one of these has been disputed at one time or another, and the liberal movements of Judaism dispute many of these principles.

It is believed that each person is created in the image of one God. Therefore, all people are created equal. Furthermore, our likeness to God is in our intellectual ability to understand. Judaism believes that people have freewill and are responsible for the choices made.

The Covenant

A central tenet of Judaism is that God, the Creator of the World and the universal Creator of all humanity, made a special agreement called a covenant (Brit in Hebrew) with Abraham, from whom the Jewish people descended. The covenant provided that the Jews would be blessed with God's love and protection if they remained true to God's law and faithfully worshipped Him, and be accountable for sins and transgression against God and His laws.

The Messiah - Mashiach

The tenets of Judaism include a belief in a coming Messiah (derived from the Hebrew, meaning, "the anointed one") who will unite the Jewish people and lead them under a Kingdom of God on earth and bring peace and justice to all mankind.
Jews believe the Messiah (Mashiach) will be a person (not a god), from the family of King David, who will lead the world to unity and peace. Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm: Unlike many other religions, Judaism does not focus much on abstract cosmological concepts. Although Jews have certainly considered the nature of G-d, man, the universe, life and the afterlife at great length (see Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism), there is no mandated, official, definitive belief on these subjects, outside of the very general concepts discussed above. There is substantial room for personal opinion on all of these matters, because as I said before, Judaism is more concerned about actions than beliefs.

Judaism focuses on relationships: the relationship between G-d and mankind, between G-d and the Jewish nation, between the Jewish nation and the land of Israel, and between human beings. Our scriptures tell the story of the development of these relationships, from the time of creation, through the creation of the relationship between G-d and Abraham, to the creation of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, and forward. The scriptures also specify the mutual obligations created by these relationships, although various movements of Judaism disagree about the nature of these obligations. Some say they are absolute, unchanging laws from G-d (Orthodox); some say they are laws from G-d that change and evolve over time (Conservative); some say that they are guidelines that you can choose whether or not to follow (Reform, Reconstructionist). For more on these distinctions, see Movements of Judaism.

So, what are these actions that Judaism is so concerned about? According to Orthodox Judaism, these actions include 613 commandments given by G-d in the Torah as well as laws instituted by the rabbis and long-standing customs. These actions are discussed in depth on the page regarding Halakhah: Jewish Law and the pages following it.

So, what are these actions that Judaism is so concerned about? According to Orthodox Judaism, these actions include 613 commandments given by G-d in the Torah as well as laws instituted by the rabbis and long-standing customs. These actions are discussed in depth on the page regarding Halakhah: Jewish Law and the pages following it.

The following famous story from the Talmud best summarizes the essence of Judaism. A non-Jew asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him all about the Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel said: "What is hateful to you, don't do unto your neighbor. The rest is commentary. Now, go and study."


Faith vs. Law. Who Are the Jews?(audio) The Guiding Hand What is a Rabbi? check:

Judaism 101: This site is created, written and maintained by Tracey Rich:.
http://www.jewfaq.org/ http://www.jewfaq.org/toc.htm

Judaism 101: http://www.jewfaq.org/ http://www.jewfaq.org/toc.htm
Israel: http://countrywatch.altavista.com/av_topic.asp?TOPIC=PEOPL&vCOUNTRY=083
A. Judaism Basics
: Katz: http://judaism.miningco.com/religion/judaism/library/intro/bl_intro.htm

B. What are Judaism's basic beliefs? About Human internet, Katz:
Ethical Monotheism
then on: 1. Ethical monotheism. Dennis Prager; or go directly to:
2. Articles of Faith
3. What Do Jews Believe?
What Do Jews Believe? http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm

C. The interrelationship of Judaism with the Jewish people and Israel
Click on: http://www.jewfaq.org/defs/israel.htm
See: The Land of Israel
The Patriarchs and the Origins of Judaism - Abraham
The Patriarchs and the Origins of Judaism - Jacob (Israel)

1 http://www.inner.org/times/nissan/nissan.htm

2 http://countrywatch.altavista.com/av_topic.asp?TOPIC=PEOPL&vCOUNTRY=083