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Introduction to Judaism
• Judaism began as a COVENANT (holy agreement)
starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Patriarchs,
or Fathers, of Judaism), and continuing down to
• the covenant promised that if the Israelites obeyed
God’s Law (or Torah), they would be His people.
• because of the Covenant, the Jews are understood to
be God’s Chosen People, charged with bringing God’s
message to the world.
• they are called to live as a nation, or people, with a
group identity.
• new problem: not all Jews like the religious aspects of
• two categories – “religious” (observant) and “cultural”
The Jewish View of God
• God revealed His name to Moses – “I AM” or
Yahweh (YHWH) because observant Jews consider
His name so sacred, they do not pronounce or write it;
instead the say The Lord or Master of the Universe.
• God is:
– ONE – there is only one God
– FAITHFUL – He will not abandon the covenant
– SAVING – He will save them, even if they are
– PERSONAL – He is involved in the welfare of
humans and all creation.
– ABOVE ALL – He is above creation, all-powerful,
all-knowing, everywhere
• a prayer, called the Shema (“hear”), which is recited
twice daily, states Judaism’s basic theology: “Hear, O
Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Dt 6:4)
• this statement of monotheism was radical at the time it
was first formulated, as most of Israel’s neighbors were
• it is one of Judaism’s major contributions to the world.
Jewish Scripture
“instruction” – literal
translation; refers to the
will of God as revealed to
“law” – loose translations;
the revelation of God’s
will that guides proper
human conduct
the first five books of the
Bible, believed to be
directly revealed to Moses
by God.
The Written Torah
TANAK – the Hebrew Bible, containing 3 major parts:
• first five books of the Bible directly revealed to Moses by
God, with special importance on a central code of
holiness, with 613 specific laws, with the most famous
being the Ten Commandments (Ex 20)
• each synagogue (Jewish house of worship) contains a scroll
of entire torah, kept in a vessel called the ark
• Prophets
• books including both historical accounts of
ancient Israel and proclamations of God as
spoken by His prophets (“one who speaks for”)
• charismatic, courageous religious figures
• highly diverse books
– proverbs, poetry,
historical accounts,
• overall, the most
recently written.
The Oral Torah
• complements written Torah; material taught
and transmitted by Judaism’s great rabbis
• recorded in Mishnah and Talmud
• addresses the changing circumstances and day
to day life of the Jews
– does not replace the Written Torah
The Mishnah
• Written down in about
200 CE, though its
teachings had been
passed down orally for
approximately four
• is seen as sacred, a
starting point for the
study of the oral Torah
The Talmud
• highly significant, based directly on the Mishnah
• cites small portions of the Mishnah, followed by
intricate commentary, supported by Biblical
• interpretation of God’s will – both oral and
written Torah
• was interpreted for
centuries, most importantly
during the Middle Ages.
• still being interpreted
The History of Judaism
• originally the Jews were descendants of the ancient
Israelites (Hebrews); at the time of the Babylonian Exile,
they became known as Jews, with religion called Judaism,
because their country was called Judah.
• There is no Jewish “race”; instead, the Jews are an ethnic
group with a common history and religion.
• History is seen as a record of God’s will as manifested in
the events of the world.
• The Jews, as the Chosen People,
have a responsibility to live up to
the covenant; the history of the
Jews reflects how faithful they were
to the covenant.
Classical Judaism
• end of the first century C.E – seventh century.
(Muslim invasion)
• oppression by the Romans
• the Jews revolted; in 135 CE, the
Romans ended the revolt, and kicked
the Jews out of Palestine.
– This was not a new thing;
– the history of the Jews has many examples of being
• despite this, the traditions and teachings of the
Pharisees (religious leaders who focused on the
study of the Torah rather than Temple
Worship) survived, which meant that Jews had
a religious tradition on which they could rely
without the Temple.
• The Jews had learned to live without a
homeland after the Babylonian Exile (587 –
538 BCE): called the Diaspora (dispersion),
because the Jews were, for the first time, forced
to disperse throughout the world.
Medieval Judaism
• 8th mid 18th century
• variety of political and social conditions.
• Most Jews lived under the control of Muslims
(Africa, Spain, Near East) and Christians
– generally, were free to practice their religion,
conduct own codes of law, and were assured
security of life and property.
– Conditions varied considerably
– Early centuries – Jews developed a
reputation as money lenders; this led to
resentment for their economic success
– Jews also seen as the “sons of the
crucifiers” who rejected Jesus.
– This led to open and violent persecutions
•Blood libels (false accusations of killing Christian
•Large-scale expulsions in France, England, Spain
•Blamed for the bubonic plague Therefore massacres
•Spanish Inquisition
• mass migration to Poland, where they were persecuted as
• persecution for some, great prosperity for others,
especially in Muslim Spain.
Maimonides (Moses Ben Maimon) (1135
– 1204)
• Jewish philosopher; applied the
philosophy of Plato and Aristotle to the
biblical tradition, creating a new Jewish
• Composed the most famous Jewish
The Kabbalah
• Jewish mysticism that states that God is
best known with the heart, through love
– God can be found looking inward.
• most famous text of mysticism, incorporating
rich symbolism based on numerology and
esoteric language.
• Teaches that the Torah can be interpreted on
different levels.
Modern Judaism
• great period of change
• “Enlightenment” or “Age of Reason” – period of social
theories asserting the equality of all; monarchies replaced
by government of the people.
• Also affected Judaism – new challenges that gave rise to
different forms of modern Judaism.
Hasidism (pious)
• arose in 18th century in Eastern Europe
• based on Kabbalist tradition – God is
imminent and known first and foremost with
• emphasizes relationships with God and the
community rather than the study of the Torah and
• Centre of each community – zaddik – a holy man
believed to have a close relationship with God.
• movement to re-establish a Jewish homeland (from the biblical
name for Jerusalem – Zion) that originated in the late 19th
• 1948 – Israel became the official homeland for Jews
• today, Zionism refers to support Israel.
• Reaction to anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews)
Holocaust (Shoah “mass destruction”)
• systematic murder of 6 million Jews by
the Nazis from 1938 – 1945
• led to questioning as to why God would
allow this to happen
• some Jews maintain it was a punishment, especially for
abandoning traditional Judaism
• others believe God broke the Covenant others worked harder
to establish Israel
The State of Israel
• the rise of Zionism increased the number of people
(Jews) immigrating to Palestine
• Hebrew language restored, land
reclaimed for agriculture, farming
communities and cities were built
• 1948 – Israel was granted statehood
• today – Israel provides a great deal
of unity for Jews (political and cultural)
• there are many diverse problems today
• conflict with Palestine's over ownership
of the land.
• Divisions between religious and
non-religious Jews