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Jewish civilization developed gradually after about 1800 B.C.E. and continues to flourish today.
The Israelites, sometimes called Hebrews, were the ancestors of the Jewish people. Judaism
is the religion of the Jewish people and is one of the world’s most influential religious
traditions.
The Torah contains written records and teachings of the Jews, and 613 commandments that direct
moral and religious conduct.
About 1800 B.C.E., according to the first book of the Torah, a famine forced many
Israelites to flee from Canaan to Egypt. For a while, the Israelites prospered in Egypt, but
eventually they were enslaved. In time, one of their leaders, Moses, led the Israelites in
their escape from Egypt.
By 1000 B.C.E., the Israelites had set up the kingdom of Israel in Canaan. Israel was ruled by King
David and then by his son, King Solomon.
Abraham is called the “father of the Jews.” One central idea of Judaism is the belief in a single God.
According to the Torah, it was Abraham who introduced this belief to the Israelites, ancestors of the
Jews
The greatest leader of the Israelites was Moses. The Torah tells how he led his people out of slavery in
Egypt.
The Torah tells how God gave Moses ten important commandments, or laws, engraved on two stone
tablets.
King David established Jerusalem as a holy city and the capital of Israel. King Solomon built
Jerusalem’s great First Temple
Some scholars believe that Abraham, originally named Abram (AY-brum), was born about 2000 B.C.E.
in Ur in Mesopotamia.
According to the Torah, the faith that would become Judaism began with a sacred agreement, or
covenant, between God and Abram.
God promised to love and protect Abram’s descendants, meaning Abram’s children and the
generations that would follow. In return, Abram agreed that he and his people would always devote
themselves to God.
According to the Torah, the Jewish people are descended from Abraham and Sarah, through their son
Isaac and his wife Rebekah.
The Exodus from Egypt By the time of Moses, in the 1300s B.C.E., a large group of Abraham’s
descendants were living in Egypt.
The Torah calls the flight from Egypt to freedom the Exodus, which means “departure.”
The Exodus became a central event in the history of the Jewish people. Jews still refer to it
today.
During this time, God gave Moses the laws and teachings that became the foundation of
Judaism. Some of these laws are called the Ten Commandments.
Some of the commandments listed the Israelites’ duties to God.
Other commandments laid down basic moral teachings (ideas about the right way to live)
The Ten Commandments stated some of Judaism’s basic teachings.
As it is told in the Hebrew Bible, David was not yet a grown man, but he was outraged at
Goliath’s mockery of God. Bravely, he stepped forward. His only weapon was a slingshot.
With one mighty throw, he felled Goliath with a stone.
David’s courage and faith were rewarded when he became king of the Israelites after the
first king, Saul, fell in battle.
As king, David completed the defeat of the Philistines as well as other enemies. He united
the Israelites into a single nation known as Israel.
David chose Jerusalem as the capital city.
Solomon Builds the Great Temple of Jerusalem After David’s death, his son, Solomon,
became king about 965 B.C.E.
Building the First Temple in Jerusalem was King-Solomon’s major achievement. He also
strengthened the kingdom of Israel by making treaties with neighboring kingdoms.
The kingdom of Israel split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom
of Judah after the death of King Solomon in about 930 B.C.E.
Israel was the first to fall. In 722 B.C.E., the Assyrians conquered the kingdom and took its
leaders to Mesopotamia. The people of Israel were sent to many lands. In 597 B.C.E., another
Mesopotamian power, Babylon, invaded Judah.
The Babylonian Exile was the start of the Jewish Diaspora (die-AS-puh-ruh). The word
diaspora means “a scattering over a wide area.” This was the first exile of most of the Jewish
people from their homeland.
Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion.
Judaism teaches that God is the source of morality (standards of right and wrong).
Following the teachings in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud (TAHL-muhd) is central to
Jewish life.
Among Judaism’s oldest laws and teachings are the Ten Commandments.
The commandments also lay down standards of right and wrong, such as “You shall not
steal” and “You shall not murder.”
Beginning with the Ten Commandments, Judaism has always been concerned with a code
of ethics, or moral values of right and wrong.
The invasion of Judah in 597 B.C.E. and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 586
B.C.E. threatened the survival of Judaism. Thousands of Jews were exiled in Babylon. By this
time, the Israelites had become known as Jews. Members of the Israelite tribe of Judah called
themselves “Judaeans,” and their homeland, Judah. The name was later shortened to “Jews.”
In 539 B.C.E., the Persians conquered the Babylonians. The Persian (Iranian) king, Cyrus,
ended the Jews’ exile.
For nearly 400 years, Judah was ruled by foreigners. After the Persians came the Greeks.
Often, the foreign rulers were harsh.
One Greek ruler, Antiochus (an-TIE-uh-kuhs), tried to force the Jews to worship idols of Greek
gods in the Second Temple. In 168 B.C.E., the Jews rebelled and started a war that spanned
more than 20 years. During that war, in the year 164 B.C.E., they drove the Greeks from
Jerusalem and reclaimed and rededicated the Temple. Jews today celebrate Hanukkah (HAHnuh-kuh) to honor this victory and the rededication of the Temple.
Rule by the Romans For about 80 years after the war with the Greeks, the Jews lived as an
independent kingdom in Judah, now called Judea. Then, in 63 B.C.E., they fell under
Roman rule.
In 22 B.C.E., the Romans appointed King Herod to rule all the Jews. Herod announced a
big project to expand the Second Temple in Jerusalem, on an even grander scale than
Solomon’s Temple. The work took 46 years to complete.
In 66 C.E., the Jews rose up against the Romans. For three years, they managed to keep the
Romans out of Jerusalem. Then, in 70 C.E., a Roman military leader named Titus led an army of
60,000 soldiers against the Jews. The Jews fought back fiercely, but they were hopelessly
outnumbered. They watched in horror as the Romans destroyed the great Temple in
Jerusalem. All that was known to remain of the Second Temple was its western wall. To this
day, Jews consider the Western Wall their most sacred place.
In 135 C.E. the Romans put down another Jewish revolt. This Roman victory began the
final exile of the Jewish people from their homeland. The Romans seized Jewish land and
forbade the Jews from entering Jerusalem. Although some Jews always remained in the land of
Israel, thousands were sent to other parts of the Roman Empire.