The concept of Judaism can hardly be defined uniquely and finally. Unlike other world religions, Judaism is not limited with faith only; its sphere of influence is much wider. In fact, it regulates all areas of life of its followers, starting straight from the religious service itself and ending with everyday matters, up to table manners and marital relations.
What is Judaism?
Judaic faith is the most ancient among currently existing religions. It not only unites a number of dogmas, but also represents the world outlook of the Jewish people, their spiritual, national, ethical, moral, social, legal concept.
The Jewish way of life is inseparable from Judaism. In many languages, including Hebrew, these notions are marked with the same word. Such identity can be explained by a special attitude of the Jewish community to their own nationality. According to the words of the great teachers, everybody who was born a Jew should keep commandments and therefore, be a Yehudi.
The holy books, which the confession is based on, are as follows:
- Torah, or Pentateuch of Moses;
- Nevi’im (Prophets);
- Ketuvim (Writings).
All these books, numbering 24, compose Tanach. Jewish Bible describes how the world and the man were created, it includes the Godly covenant (the pact between Avraham and Hashem), the commandments, and also the history of the nation from the beginning of existence and till the times of the Second Temple. According to the beliefs, the holy books were given by the spirit of holiness.
Yehudi believe in one God Who has chosen the Jewish nation to bring service for Him. Religious Jews keep commandments, celebrate national holidays, keep kashrut.
The life style is regulated by a special religious law which bears the name “Halacha”. It is a code of laws and dogmas which define religious, social and family life.
Every non-Jew may become a Yehudi, so the religion is considered to be a world one. The ritual of conversion to Judaism is called “giyur”.
As the concepts of the Jewish nation and faith are inseparable, the history of nation and formation of its spiritual attitude are bound tightly in the same way. Practically all important aspects of the belief have a historical interpretation. One of the main peculiarities of the faith is that it was developing constantly, having changed according to new life conditions, but its essence has always remained the same. Every law or teaching originates from the ancient doctrines. And these lines can be traced clearly.
In Jewish history, four major periods can be marked out:
It is said in holy texts that the first Jew who has accepted one supreme God was Avraham. He left his home and family who refused believing in the Creator, and went out in the world to preach the veritable faith.
Avraham was exactly the one who has made a pact (bris or covenant) with Hashem, according to which his nation got a special Mission: to help the humanity become closer to the Creator. This is what the selectness of Jews consists in. A special position means even more responsibility. Unlike non-Jews keeping only the laws of sons of Noach (there are 7 of them), those who are chosen by God must keep all 613 mitzvos.
As it has been predicted during making of the pact, the sons of Avraham became slaves for 400 years. Moses the prophet appeared to be the savior of the oppressed Jewish nation. Moshe led the sons of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. During forty years of wandering in the desert all former slaves have died, leaving free people after them as their descendants. They stepped on the land of Israel.
The Sinai revelation is considered to be the starting point of Jewish faith and its acceptance by the Jews as veritable one. On mount Sinai Moshe the prophet has received Torah, the Godly law, from Hashem. The collection of holy commandments bears the name of the Pentateuch of Moses.
Jews have created the country of Israel. In its capital, the city of Jerusalem, King Solomon erected the Temple. This event initiated a new period in the history of the nation – the temple period. In the Temple of Jerusalem rituals were performed, Godly services were carried out. Priests (kohanim), who were descendants of Moshe’s brother Aharon, acted as key figures in performing rituals. This right belonged only to them, and important ceremonial functions, as well as additional prohibitions and laws, are entrusted to them until today.
The Temple was destroyed during the conquest of Israel by Babylonians leaded by the king Nebuchadnezzar the Second. At this time forcible resettlement of Jewish population to Babylonia took place. With Persian King Cyrus II Great coming to power the Babylonian captivity of the sons of Israel has ended. The Jews who returned to Judea have restored the Temple, calling it the Second. A new community of believers which consisted of former captives, headed by Ezra and Nehemiah, didn’t take Jews who have left in Palestine and didn’t experience the difficulties of the Babylonian capture to their ranks.
Start of the third period of the religion’s formation is correlated with destruction of the Second Temple during the Jewish war against rule of Romans. The Jews were banished from Jerusalem.
The stage of Talmudic Judaism is characterized by the completion of Talmud and its acceptance as an authoritative written interpretation of the Oral Torah. During this period temple faith becomes ritual, it is systematized, it gets rid of outdated rites like sacrifices. The only service possible in the Temple in Jerusalem is being replaced with congregations in synagogues which are guided by rabbis. They act as keepers of traditions and religious principals, and also as mentors and teachers. The rabbis have developed Halacha.
The formalization process of religious teaching which took place during the rabbinic period has given birth to branching of Judaic confessions. Some currents accepted Talmudism, the others rejected it or exposed it to their own transformations. The religion exists in such a form up to our days. Despite a diversity of beliefs within Judaism, the main principles are inviolable.
Main ideas of Judaism
Judaism is not a religion but a way of life
These are exactly the words which all religious Jews often repeat. And it is true, because every aspect of a Yehudi’s existence, both moral and spiritual, is regulated by religious laws.
The commandments are not just laws but a guide to right thoughts and actions, feelings and relations. There are 613 such directions in total. The mitzvos are divided into:
Relations with God and other people are defined by different laws. Unlike many other spiritual teachings of the world, Judaic faith doesn’t consider hermitage as a way of a righteous man. If Hashem had found the communication of His creations disgusting, He wouldn’t have created the world like this.
There are some commandments the observance of which should have permanent character, and the others are kept only on certain days. For example, the celebration of Shabbos takes place once a week.
The main principles of Jewish beliefs are based on the postulates stated by Rambam.
- God is One and perfect. He is the source of goodness and justice. The man is created in His image and likeness. God – Father loves His creation and strives to help it.
- The life of a person and a nation is a dialogue with God.
- A human’s life is valuable. The human is an immortal soul whose mission consists in endless self-improvement. This road is open to everyone as all people are equal in their relations with the Creator. The man has got two tools for self-improvement: will and Divine participation.
- The mission of Jewish nation is special. The ones who were chosen by God are obliged to bring the truth of faith to humanity.
- Spiritual dominates above matter. The material world is valuable in the sense that God is its undoubted Lord. The man is fulfilling his great purpose by getting control over material things from the Creator.
- Messiah will come. The dead will rise from the graves and will live on earth in the flesh.
The enlisted doctrinal basics are the foundation. They are the same for all currents and confessions, and thanks to that, while being unmatched in some points, the Jewish community creates a unity.
The diversity of Judaism
The general division of contemporary Judaic community can be presented as follows:
- Orthodox Jews;
The followers of orthodox doctrine are the adherents of a classic form of Judaism. The Halachic law is kept in its Talmudic form. Regardless of how the world is changing, the Godly commandments are eternal and inviolable – this is the position of Orthodox believers. They observe all rituals and customs, hold sacred the mitzvos and other rules.
The reformists, or progressive representatives of the believers, have denied religious postulates, having kept only the mental and ethical ones. According to them, the laws of God should develop together with the surrounding world, fitting into the contemporary society. A sub-trend of religious reformism – conservativism – suggests observance of customs and rituals (although belonging to the progressive current), however, not so severely as Orthodox Jews demand.
The Orthodox current, in its turn, is subdivided into several directions:
- Chassidism (based on Kabbalah, the hidden part of Torah, which is being practiced from the point of view of the emotional perception of God – the religious sense is more important than scholarship);
- the subgroup of Litvaks (native speakers of the Lithuanian dialect of Yiddish are adherents of the traditional Rabbinic teaching and the ritualism inherent to it);
- Orthodox modernism (integration of Judaism into modern culture, attempts to incorporate Torah harmoniously into the modern world);
- Religious Zionism (observance of Orthodox laws together with active participation in political, scientific, public life).
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