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JUDAISM
Size: Estimated 14 million people worldwide
Main areas of representation: United States – 48%, Israel –21%,
USSR – 12%,
Main festivals: Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Hannukah
Main place of Pilgrimage: The Western Wall in Jerusalem
Sacred Texts: Tenakh (incorporating the Torah) Talmud.
Great Jewish Leaders: Abraham was the first & lived about 4000 yrs ago
Moses received the Torah about 3500 yrs ago
Junior Focus August 2001
The word Judaism came into common use only in the 19th century when it
needed to distinguish itself from Christianity and Islam. A great deal of
Jewish religion is based on the home and the family. This has helped it
survive in different countries and cultures, particularly at times when it was
forbidden and persecuted.
Judaism can reasonably be regarded as one of what is called the
“monotheistic family” of religions, along with Christianity and Islam. (They
believe in one God). In terms of both geographical origins and theological
beliefs, these three religions have much in common.
This belief in one God, in ancient time set Jews apart from their neighbours,
who believed that the crops, rainfall, illness etc had different Gods. Each
day Jews recite a prayer called the Shema. It contains the most important
belief. It’s opening sentence “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord
is One” Deuteronomy 6:4. A belief in one God.
Judaism centres on faith, the faith of the people of Israel in God. This God
Jews believe is not absent or indifferent God, but one who conveyed his will
to humanity. This will is discovered in the Torah, God’s direction for living.
Judaism teaches that God rewards those who keep the commandments and
punishes people who disobey or lead wicked lives. The Jewish people
believed that one day God will send a Messiah, or deliverer, who will bring
peace, prosperity and happiness to the world and, that doing good brings the
Messianic age nearer. They believe that they have a special part to play in
this bringing of the Messiah, and the Torah has been given to them for the
benefit of the world. They are the vehicle for communicating God’s will.
“Judaism is thus a world faith, not only in its geographical spread,
but in its horizons. It is a faith that the world is God’s and
Humanity must conform to his will. “ Pilkington 1995
Let’s now look more closely at the library of books written by the Jewish
people and in particular to The Torah. The word Torah often interpreted as
law is better rendered as teaching and direction. It contains laws which
govern all aspects of a Jew’s life. The Talmud, also known as the Oral Torah
or Rabbinic writings, interprets the Torah. Both are used by Jews to guide
them in the practice of their faith.
TENAKH
(Book of the Jewish Scriptures- Written Torah)
NEVI 'IM (The Book of the Prophets)
KETUVIN (Holy Writings)
TORAH
(The Laws)- MITZVOT
Oral Torah-Talmud
Written Torah - Tanach
The five books of Moses
Mishnah
Germara
Mishrash
Borayshit (Genesis) – Creation, wickedness, Noah –
Noachide Laws Jewish Ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
Shemot (Exodus) – enslavery, Moses birth, leaving, Reed
Sea, Mount Sinai received the Torah.
Vayikra (Leviticus) – Food laws, Festivals, Mitzvots,
Holiness code
Bemidbar (Numbers) – Rebellion against Moses, Hostile
nations, Route taken from Egypt to Promise Land
Devarim (Deuteronomy) – Mishneh Torah, many laws and
ethical teaching. Moses death.
As the Written Torah story unfolds, it describes how people became
increasingly wicked, and how God destroyed them with a great flood. Noah
was chosen by God to survive the flood and to start the human race anew.
Noah and his descendants were to live by 7 rules that God wanted people to
keep. These 7 laws became known as NOAHIDE CODE. It is believed they
are the minimum requirements for building a moral and spiritual life. Jews
call them sheva mitzvot.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Do not worship idols
Do not blaspheme
Do not murder
Do not steal
Do not commit immoral act
Do not be cruel to animals
Set up and maintain courts of justice
As the generations came and went, people slid back into wickedness. God
spoke to Abraham, another righteous man, and said if you live by my rules
your descendants will become a great nation. After several generations God
sent a great prophet Moses, to set the Israelites (Jews) free from slavery
and to lead them to the Promise Land. Whilst on their journey Moses when
up Mount Sinai to speak to God and returned with two blocks of stone. Cut
into them were the 10 commandments. These form part of the 613-mitzvot
laws, which are found in the Torah today.
–
248 are positive commandments (Imperatives) – i.e. things Jews are
commanded to do. – The number of bones in a human body.
–
365 are negative commandments (Prohibitive) – i.e. things Jews are
commanded not to do. – The number of days in the year.
The mitzvot cover every area of life. They include those things that people
usually associate with religion, like praying or observing the festivals as well
as industrial relations, the conduct of trial, what you may or may not eat.
The five books of Moses, the Torah, are also known as Pentateuch, the
Greek word for five. They are regarded as the most important part of the
Tanach. Each week in synagogues, a section known as the sidra is read to the
congregation. The cycle of reading begins with Genesis and ends with
Deuteronomy twelve months later. The Simchat Torah is used for this final
reading and to celebrate the commencement of another cycle the scroll is
carried in a procession around the synagogue. Children sing, dance and carry
flags and are given apples and sweets.
As we have seen the five books of Moses became the law books of the
Jewish people. Life however, doesn’t stand still. The Jewish people found
themselves under the rule of other nations such as the Persians, Greeks and
Romans. Jews, although loyal to the Torah, were influenced by some of their
ideas. So new laws were needed if the Jewish religion was to develop and
prosper.
For a long time new laws and traditions were not written down but handed
from father to son by word of mouth. One son named Judah, together with
the best scholars in the country wrote down all the laws they could
remember. This was completed around 200 CE and he called it Mishnah
meaning to repeat or study. The Mishnah is divided into 6 sections called
Sedarim. Each section contains laws about different parts of Jewish life.
For example, one section tells of farming and sharing food with the poor
people whilst another explains the calendar.
But life changed even more, and the teachers and leaders found they needed
to adapt some rules and add others. Their new writings included proverbs
and parables, facts of science, medicine. All this finally developed into a
very large work which they called the Gemara, which means completion.
Finally, the last part of the Oral Torah, the Midrash. Whilst the Talmud is
mainly a legal text, dealing with laws and codes of behaviour the Midrash is a
large area of literature which developed much of its material in the form of
stories. These stores were used to illustrate a law or to provoke thought.
Torah scrolls are very precious because they contain the word of God and
also because they are very expensive. It can take a scribe several years to
complete one as they are handwritten. If an error is made it can be correct
by erasing the ink with a knife and pumice stone. However if the error is
one of the names of God, this must not be rubbed out. Instead, the faulty
piece of parchment is cut out and buried in a Jewish cemetery. Jewish
communities are very careful with their Torah scrolls. They are kept in a
special cupboard called the Ark. This is the holiest part of the synagogue.
Each scroll is “dressed” in beautiful covers and has silver ornaments and
bells.
Before any of the Torah is read from a scroll, the scroll is taken in a
procession around the synagogue, which is sometimes called a shul, so that
every one can see it. After its covers have been taken off it is held up high
so that people can see the writing in it. Some people kiss the mantle with
the fringes of their tallit (prayer shawl). These white shawls have black or
blue stripes at the end and tassels and fringes. The 613 strands and knots
which make up the tassels represents the number of laws in the Torah.
Finally let us consider the Torah in Jewish symbols. There are two objects
connected with the Torah. These are often known as the “outward signs” and
have the Torah in them.
Firstly, if you look carefully, you can normally recognise a Jewish house by a
mezuzah. It is a small parchment, with 22 lines from the book of
Deuteronomy, 6: 4-9 and 11: 13 –21. These verses are hand written by a
scribe and form the watchword of faith for the Jewish people – the belief in
one God. The piece of parchment is carefully rolled up and then placed into
a small case, which is fixed on the upper third of the right doorpost, its top
slanting slightly inward.
Secondly when an Orthodox boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah, he is expected to
put on tephilin every day, except for Shabbat or festival. Tephilin consist of
two cube-shaped boxes, about one cubic inch in size. Like a mezizah, both
boxes contain the verses for Deuteronomy. In addition tephilin boxes
contain verses from Exodus 13: 1-10 and 11-16. One box is placed on the left
arm, the nearest the heart, and the strap is twined seven times around the
arm; the other box is placed on the forehead. This is a reminder for the
Jews to direct their thoughts and mind to God.
In conclusion the Torah is never far away from the Jewish people and their
way of life. Life revolves around it and morality exists through it. The
Torah is universal and for everyone as the following statement form the
Talmud shows:
“The Torah was given in the third month, the zodiac symbol
of which is Gemini, to show that it was for both Jacob (Jew)
and Esau (non-Jew).
[the famous twins mentioned in the first book of the Torah]”
I wish to finish with a few words of advice, dare I say wisdom, from the
Talmud or Oral Torah to all up and coming great teachers.
“Do not limit a child to your own learning,
for he was born in another time”
TALMUD. Charing 93