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Judaism

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Judaism is one of the oldest religions on Earth. It believes there is only one God. There are about 13 million followers of Judaism, called Jews. There are Jewish rules for most parts of life. These guidelines are taught in both written and oral traditions.

Contents

[edit] What Jews Believe

It is important to know that Judaism is a religion, but the words Jewish and Jew can mean both believers of this religion, or also to members of the national group of the Jewish people. Some Jews are religious, and believe in God, and follow the Jewish religious rules. Other Jews do not have religious beliefs, but consider themselves ethnically or culturally Jewish. There are also Jews who follow other religions besides Judaism.

As in other religions, many followers believe all the traditional beliefs, and others believe some of them, or none of them. For example, not all Jews agree on what happens to a person after he or she is dead. Many Jews believe in a Heaven, where God rewards good people, and Hell, where God punishes evil people, but some do not.

[edit] Orthodox Beliefs

A famous Jewish teacher of the 12th century had the name Moshe ben Maimon. (That means "Moses son of Maimon", and people also call him Maimonides or Rambam.) He made a list of 13 principles that cover the basic beliefs of Orthodox Judaism.

  1. God created everything, and continues to watch and control everything.
  2. There's only one God, and God is perfect in every way.
  3. God has no body, and is not like anything in the world.
  4. God has always existed, and will always exist.
  5. People should pray only to God.
  6. The words of the Jewish prophets are true.
  7. Moses' prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest prophet that will ever exist. (Not Maimonides, but the Moses who led the Hebrews out of Egypt)
  8. God gave the Torah to Moses.
  9. The Torah will not be changed, and there will not be another Torah.
  10. God knows the thoughts and actions of all people.
  11. God will reward the good, and punish the evil.
  12. The Messiah will come.
  13. The dead will come back to life.

[edit] The Messiah

The Messiah is an important belief of Judaism. Some Jews believe that a descendant of King David will become famous, defeat the enemies of Israel, set up a throne, and rule Israel. Because of his rule, other nations will learn to live in peace.

Several people have said they were the Messiah in the past. Most Jews do not believe anyone has done these things, although Christians (including some "Messianic Jews") believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus was a Jew who lived 2,000 years ago.

[edit] Mitzvot - Commandments

There are various important actions in Judaism. These are called mitzvot. A mitzvah is a commandment from God to the Jewish people. Most people think of a mitzvah as 'a good deed,' or 'a good thing to do.' There are 613 mitzvot that Jews are told to do. Some are for every-day life, and some are done at special times. Many of these 613 commandments can not be done now, because the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

[edit] The Ten Commandments

Religious Jews believe that Moses brought the Ten Commandments and the Torah down from Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments are special because they are the commandments which God told to all of Israel at Mount Sinai.

The Ten Commandments are

  1. Believe in God.
  2. Do not worship any other gods.
  3. Do not use God's name without a good reason.
  4. Follow the rules of the Sabbath day.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. Do not murder.
  7. Do not commit adultery.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not be a false witness.
  10. Do not want things which belong to other people.

[edit] Shabbat

One of the commandments is to keep the Jewish Sabbath or Shabbat. Shabbat starts every Friday at sunset and ends on Saturday at sunset. Shabbat is a day of rest to thank God for making the Earth. The tradition of resting on Shabbat comes from the Torah. According to the Torah, God created the world in six days and on the seventh day, Shabbat, he did no more work. Many Jews go to their temple or synagogue to pray on Shabbat.

Religious Jews follow special rules on Shabbat. These rules say that no work can be done on Shabbat. This includes many actions which you might not think are work. For instance, on Shabbat a Jew can not:

  • Drive a car (because the car will light a fire in the engine)
  • Turn on lights
  • Cook
  • Write

[edit] Kashrut - Jewish Food Laws

Jews who follow the religious rules called "kashrut" only eat some types of food. Food that a Jew can eat is called kosher food.

[edit] Kosher foods

  • Jews can eat any fruit or vegetable, as long as it is washed and checked to make sure there are no insects on it.
  • Jews can eat any fish that has scales and fins.
  • Jews can eat any animal that chews its cud, and has split hooves. For instance, cows, sheep, deer, and goats.
  • Jews can eat the birds that are listed by name in the Torah. There are some that say that the turkey, although not mentioned in the Torah, is kosher because it is similar to the birds that are listed.
  • For cooked food to be kosher, a Jew must check that it is okay for Jews to eat. In factories, many times a "mashgiach," or kosher watchman, simply uncovers the ingredients.
  • Honey is an insect product made by bees, but it is kosher.

[edit] Non-kosher foods

  • Nonkosher foods are called "treif" or "treifa." "Treif" really means "torn". This is because the Torah says not to eat an animal that has been killed or torn by another animal.
  • Jews can not eat animals that do not have split hooves and do not chew their cud. For instance, a pig has split hooves, but does not chew its cud. For this reason, it is not kosher. An elephant does not have hooves nor does it chew its cud, so it is not kosher.
  • Jews can not eat rodents, reptiles or amphibians.
  • Jews can not eat any sea animal that does not have scales and fins. For instance, sharks, eels, crabs, shrimp and lobsters are not kosher.
  • Jews can not eat birds that eat meat, which are mentioned in a list in the Torah.
  • Jews can not eat any insects, except for those that have jumping legs, like crickets.

[edit] Other Kosher Rules

There are other rules for kosher food as well.

  • Animals must be killed a certain way, using a fast strike across the neck with a very sharp blade to be sure that the animal dies quickly.
  • All the blood must be drained from an animal before the meat is eaten.
  • A Jew cannot eat food that has both meat and milk in it. This comes from the rule (in the Bible) that a Jew must not cook a young goat in its mother's milk. Because of this, Jews use separate dishes and utensils for foods that have meat in it, and foods that have milk in it. After eating meat, many Jews do not eat milk products before a time period of 6 hours has passed.

[edit] Important Points in a Jewish Life

  • Birth
  • Brit Mila (for boys) a naming ceremony when a boy is 8 days old. It includes cutting the skin off the end of the penis. This is called circumcision.
  • Pidyon haBen (for boys) is when a father does a special ceremony to claim his wife's first son from God. Levites (a tribe of Israel) and Cohanim (priests) do not do this ritual.
  • Bat Mitzvah (for girls) a 'coming of age' ceremony when a girl turns 12 or 13. After the ceremony the girl is thought to be a woman.
  • Bar Mitzvah (for boys) a 'coming of age' ceremony when a boy turns 13. It includes reading the Torah and special prayers. After the ceremony the boy is thought to be a man.
  • Marriage
  • Having Children
  • Death
  • Love

[edit] Kinds of Judaism

Today there are three main kinds of Judaism: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism. There are also kinds with a smaller number of people, such as Reconstructionist Judaism and Karaite Judaism. The different kinds of religions are called "sects". Christianity began as a sect of Judaism but is now a separate religion.


[edit] Names of God

Names are very important in Judaism. Many Jews believe that a name not only tells you who someone is, but also tells you something about them. That's why God's names are very special.

Adonai means "Lord." This name tells Jews about God's position. God is the King of the World, and his name Adonai lets us know that.

Elohim means "one who is strong enough to do everything." This name is used when talking about God's power to create or his justice. This tells us that God is the creator and that God rules the world with just laws.

Those names are so special that Jews use these names only when they pray and read the Torah. If they do not pray or read the Torah, they say "Hashem" (The Name) or "Elokim".

God - Some Jews write "God" by replacing the "o" with a dash, like this: "G-d". They do this because God's name is so holy they are not allowed to throw away a piece of paper with "God" written on it. However, if by accident "God" is written, then the paper can be disposed of in a special way and buried in a special place. Others say that "God" is just an English word, not Hebrew, and so it is not holy.

YHWH is the most sacred name of God in Hebrew, and is not pronounced by most Jews. No one knows where the name came from, or what exactly it means. It looks like the Hebrew word "hayah," which is the verb "to be." (According to Hebrew scripture, when Moses asked God who God was, God told Moses I am that I am.) Jews believe that the name YHWH shows that God is endless. Instead of trying to say it, most Jews say "haShem", which means "The Name." Some people pronounce this name as Yahweh, or Jehovah. Scholars of religion sometimes refer to "YHWH" as the Tetragrammaton, from Greek words meaning "four letters".

More at The Names of God in Judaism.

[edit] History

The Jewish scriptures say that Judaism began with a man named Abram who lived in the city of Ur. At this time, each city had its own gods and prayed to statues, but Abram strongly believed that there was really only one God who was not a statue, so he moved with his family away from Ur, started a new religion, and began to be called Abraham. These scriptures also say that Angels taught Abraham a new holy language, which Jews believe is the language today known as Hebrew. Hebrew has continued to be the language of Judaism until today. Abraham's grandson Jacob is said to be the one who first had the name of "Israel".

According to the scriptures, at one time, the Hebrew people lived in Egypt as slaves. God told the Hebrew leader Moses to help free them. God sent many terrible problems to the Egyptians to convince their Pharaoh to free the Hebrews. Finally, the Pharaoh permitted the Hebrews to go, but then decided to send the Egyptian army after them. The Hebrews escaped when God made the waters of the Red Sea open a path for them. The waters then returned and drowned the Egyptian army. The Scriptures say that after this, Moses met with God on the mountain called Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God.

The Hebrews or Israelites, in twelve tribes, began a country called Israel in the area where Abraham had lived. They fought many wars against other peoples in the area. The name 'Jew' actually only means the members of one of these tribes, Judah.

Later this country broke apart into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Israel was conquered by Assyria in the 8th century BC, and the people were taken away. Later Judah was conquered by Babylonia in the early 6th century BC, and its people were taken captive to Babylon. They were allowed to go home again when Babylon was conquered by Persia. Some Jewish people also lived in other countries.

By the time of Jesus, Judah (then called Judea) was ruled by the Roman Empire. During this time, the main language of Judea was Aramaic. The Jews did not like the Roman government or customs, and often made trouble for the Romans. About forty years after the death of Jesus, the Romans destroyed Judea's capital city, Jerusalem.

After this, the Jewish people did not have their own country for about 1,900 years. This time is called the Diaspora. They lived in many other countries. Jews living in Spain and Portugal used the language Ladino (also called Judeo-Spanish). Jews living in Germany, Poland, and Russia used the language Yiddish. Even today, Jews that do not live in Israel are often said to live in the Diaspora.

The Jewish people have always believed that they have a special mission from God. They do things in their own special ways, such as having special rules about food and eating, not working on the Shabbat -- from sunset on Friday, until sunset on Saturday -- keeping their own holidays, and not marrying people from other religions. Because of this, people in many different times and countries have thought that the Jews were strange, and maybe dangerous.

Many countries have made laws that the Jews could not work in some jobs or live in some places. Sometimes Jewish people were killed because of their religion.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazi, or National socialist government of Germany conquered most of Europe. They treated the Jews very badly, because they said that the Jews caused most of the problems in the world. The Nazi government killed more than six million Jewish people. Before they were killed, many of the Jews were made to be slaves, and some of them were forced to help in the killing and slavery of the others.

In 1948 after World War II, the United Nations made the country of Israel for the Jews in Palestine in the Middle East. The land had been part of the Ottoman Empire before World War I. Then Britain controlled the area under the oversight of the United Nations.

Many people who lived in the Middle East were angry because the land was given to the Jewish people. On 1948, the day Israel was created, many near-by Arab countries invaded to destroy Israel. Israel stopped the attackers. Israel now says more land in the area is part of their country. The Arab Palestinians disagree and say they are being occupied by Israel.

There have been many wars since, including in 1967, 1973, and current conflict between Palestinians and Israel. In the world today, there is still not peace between Israel and its neighbors.

[edit] Famous Jews

Many famous people have been Jewish or have come from Jewish families.

Some famous people from Jewish backgrounds are:

  • Sholem Aleichem – Promoted Yiddish literature.
  • Isaac Asimov – Famous science fiction writer.
  • Mayim Bialik – Actress.
  • Bob Dylan – Famous singer.
  • Noam Chomsky – Language professor and inventor of the Chomsky hierarchy.
  • Benjamin Disraeli – British Prime Minister.
  • Albert Einstein – Famous physics scientist. Developed the theory of general relativity.
  • Sigmund Freud – Famous psychologist.
  • Theodor Herzl – Founder and first president of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).
  • Flavius Josephus (Yosef Ben Matitya) – Historian.
  • Franz Kafka – Writer.
  • Henry Kissinger – United States diplomat. Played important role in foreign affairs of the United States of America.
  • Natalie Portman – Actress born in Israel. Played the role of Queen Amidala in the Star Wars movies.
  • Maimonides – Philosopher. (also known as RaMbaM)
  • Karl Marx – Philosopher.
  • Karl Popper – Philosopher.
  • Marcel Proust – Writer. Famous for his book, In Search of Lost Time.
  • Steven Spielberg – Famous Hollywood movie director.
  • Baruch Spinoza – Philosopher.
  • Adam Sandler – Comedian.
  • David Lee Roth – Musician.
  • Jonas Salk – the man who developed the polio vaccine.
  • Yigal Amir – the murderer of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
  • Elvis Presley – musician, known as the "King" had unbroken Jewish maternal history.
  • Anne Frank – Young diarist, killed in Germany during the Holocaust.
  • Jon Stewart – Comedian. Hosts the Daily Show on Comedy Central.
  • Mel Brooks – Comedian. Well-known actor and movie producer.
  • Fritz Haber – Chemist. Invented the Haber Process.