Judaism

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Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. Historically, there have been a variety of discrete and interlocking Judaisms. The most prevalent form of Judaism was shaped by Jewish teachers and leaders, known as rabbis, during the First and Second centuries, C.E. Accordingly, Judaism today is known as rabbinic Judaism. Traditionally, rabbinic Judaism believes itself to be the legitimate successor to the Israelite Religion of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, rabbinic Judaism may be distinguished from pre-rabbinic forms, such as Hellenistic Judaism, and non-rabbinic schisms, such as the Karaites. In the modern era, Judaism has fractured into several denominations, most notably the Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform.

Judaism is one of the first recorded monotheistic religions and among the oldest religious traditions still in practice today. Jewish history and doctrines have influenced other Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, Samaritanism and the Bahá'í Faith.

Terminology

Judaism is a relatively late term, mentioned e.g. in the Greek Septuagint, where it is used as an abstract noun for Jewish religious behavior and customs in the second century BCE.

In the Hebrew Bible the Jewish people usually were called "Hebrews" (Ivrim) or "the Children of Israel" or Israelites (B'nei Israel), with "Israel" designating the patriarch Jacob.[1] The terms "Judean" or "Jew" (Yehudi) are used in later prophetic books of the Jewish Bible, such as the Book of Nehemiah, the Book of Esther and the Book of Daniel. The Graeco-Roman historian Cassius Dio mentions the Jewish "customs" and "observances" as a common signifier and doesn't classify the Jews as an ethno-geographic group. The origin of the name "Jews" (Ἰουδαῖοι) was unknown to Dio, and he did not argue for an etymological and historical origin from Judaea (Ἰουδαία), which was a name that had been "acquired" and used for a region in ancient Palestine.[2]

The term "Judaism" (yahadut) does not appear in the Hebrew Bible,[3] only in the Greek Septuagint as Ιουδαϊσμος (Ioudaismos).[4] In inscriptions from Hellenistic and Roman antiquity, the terms "Hebrew" and "Jew" (yehudi) are used occasionally. The term "Judaism" has only been found once, and it seems “reserved for the religious sphere into which one can be born and to which one can convert.”[5] The term is also used in the New Testament.[6]

As a Greek technical term from the Septuagint, "Judaism" was part of the widespread Hellenistic Jewish culture, whereas it is uncertain, if it was native to Hebrew Jewish culture, since the term is seldom used in ancient and medieval Rabbinic literature.[7]

In the modern West attention turned to religion as a broad social construct and belief system, separate from a people or from shared customs and rites, only after the Protestant Reformation.[8] Thus, the current meaning of Judaism as a full-fledged religion is a product of modern sensibilities, although the term had always had religious meaning. Yiddishkeit also may mean Judaism in Ashkenazi circles, though with more of a folkways orientation.[9]

Traditional view of the development of Judaism

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Scenes from the Book of Esther decorate the Dura-Europos synagogue dating from 244 CE

Traditionally, Judaism is based on narratives, the laws and practices of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and the Talmud. According to Jewish tradition, the history of Judaism begins with the Covenant between God and Abraham (ca. 2000 BCE), the patriarch and progenitor of the Jewish people.

At its core, the Hebrew Bible is an account of the Israelites' relationship with God from their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 350 BCE). This relationship is often a contentious one, as the Israelites struggle with their faith in God and attraction to other gods. Among the larger-than-life figures we meet in the Bible are the Patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who wrestled with their beliefs (sometimes literally, as in Genesis 32) —- and Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Abraham, hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people, rejected the idolatry that he saw around him and embraced monotheism. As a reward for this act of faith in one God, he was promised many offspring: "Look now toward heaven and count the stars/So shall be your progeny." (Genesis 15:5) Abraham's first child was Ishmael and his second son was Isaac, whom God said would continue Abraham's work and inherit the Land of Israel (then called Canaan), after having been exiled and redeemed. God sent the patriarch Jacob and his children to Egypt, where after many generations they became enslaved. God later commanded Moses to redeem the Israelites from slavery triggering the Exodus from Egypt, when God led the Israelites to Mount Sinai in 1313 BCE (Jewish Year 2448) and gave them the Torah, summarized in the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books, together with Nevi'im and Ketuvim are known as Torah SheB'Ksav: literally the "Written Torah", in contradistinction to the Oral Torah. Eventually, God led them to the land of Israel.

God designated the descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother, to be a priestly class within the Israelite community. They first officiated in the tabernacle (a portable house of worship), and later their descendants were in charge of worship in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Once the Israelites had settled in the land of Israel, the tabernacle was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years during which time God provided great men, and occasionally women, to rally the nation against attacking enemies, some of which were sent by God as a punishment for the sins of the people. This is described in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the tabernacle in Shiloh.

The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they had reached the point where they needed to be governed by a permanent king, as were other nations, as described in the Books of Samuel. Samuel grudgingly acceded to this request and appointed Saul, a great but very humble man, to be their King. When the people pressured Saul into going against a command conveyed to him by Samuel, God told Samuel to appoint David in his stead.

Once King David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple, and as a reward for his actions, God promised David that he would allow his son to build the temple and the throne would never depart from his children (David himself was not allowed to build the temple because he had been involved in many wars, making it inappropriate for him to build a temple representing peace). As a result, it was David's son Solomon who built the first permanent temple according to God's will, in Jerusalem, as described in the Books of Kings.

File:Western wall jerusalem night.jpg
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is a remnant of the wall encircling the Second Temple. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.

After Solomon's death, his Kingdom was split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. After several hundred years, because of rampant idolatry, God allowed Assyria to conquer Israel and exile its people. The southern Kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, home of the Temple, remained under the rule of the House of David, however, as in the north, idolatry increased to the point that God allowed Babylonia to conquer the Kingdom, destroy the Temple which had stood for 410 years, and exile its people to Babylonia, with the promise that they would be redeemed after seventy years. These events are recorded in the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Jeremiah.

After seventy years the Judahites were allowed back into Judaea under the leadership of Ezra, and the Temple was rebuilt, as recorded in the Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah. The Second Temple stood for 420 years, after which it was destroyed by the Roman general (later emperor) Titus. The Israelite temple is to remain in ruins until a descendant of David arises to restore the glory of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbinic tradition holds that the details and interpretation of the law, which are called the Oral Torah or oral law, were originally an unwritten tradition based upon what God told Moses on Mount Sinai. However, as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, these oral laws were recorded by Rabbi Judah haNasi (Judah the Prince) in the Mishnah, redacted circa 200 C.E. The Talmud was a compilation of both the Mishnah and the Gemara (Aramaic for tradition), rabbinic commentaries redacted over the next three centuries. The process of "Gemara" took place in the two major centers of Jewish scholarship, Palestine and Babylonia. Correspondingly, two bodies of analysis developed, and two works of Talmud were created. The older compilation is called the Jerusalem Talmud. It was compiled sometime during the fourth century in Israel. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled from discussions in the houses of study by the scholars Ravina I, Ravina II, and Rav Ashi by 500 C.E., although it continued to be edited later.

Critical historical view of the development of Judaism

In contemporary scholarship, several different forms of Judaism emerged from the Israelite religion found in the Hebrew Bible. In the period of the Second Temple, for instance, there were several Judaisms. Rabbinic Judaism is the predominant religion that persevered after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.

In contrast to the traditional Jewish view, scholars often differentiate rabbinic Judaism from the Bible's Israelite religion.

Critical biblical scholars argue that the Torah consists of a variety of inconsistent texts edited together in a way that calls attention to divergent accounts (see Documentary hypothesis).

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ATorah scroll in the synagogue with the Holy Ark in the background

Religious doctrine and Principles of Faith

For more information, see: Jewish principles of faith.


Historically, Judaism has considered belief in the divine revelation and acceptance of the Written and Oral Torah as its fundamental core belief, but Judaism does not have a centralized authority dictating religious dogma. This gave rise to many different formulations as to the specific theological beliefs inherent in the Torah and Talmud. While some rabbis have at times agreed upon a firm formulation, others have disagreed, many criticizing any such attempt as minimizing acceptance of the entire Torah.[10] Notably, in the Talmud some principles of faith (e.g., the Divine origin of the Torah) are considered important enough that rejection of them can put one in the category of "apikoros" (heretic).[11]

Over the centuries, various formulations of Jewish principles of faith have appeared, and though they differ with respect to certain details, they demonstrate a commonality of core ideology. Of these, the one most widely considered authoritative is Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith. These principles were controversial when first proposed, evoking criticism by Hasdai Crescas and Joseph Albo. The thirteen principles were ignored by much of the Jewish community for the next few centuries. (Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought, Menachem Kellner). Over time two poetic restatements of these principles ("Ani Ma'amin" and "Yigdal") became canonized in the Jewish prayer book, and eventually became widely held. Today most Orthodox authorities hold that these beliefs are obligatory, and that Jews who do not fully accept each one of them are potentially heretical:

  1. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the Creator and Guide of everything that has been created; He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
  2. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is One, and that there is no unity in any manner like His, and that He alone is our God, who was, and is, and will be.
  3. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is not a body, and that He is free from all the properties of matter, and that there can be no (physical) comparison to Him whatsoever.
  4. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the first and the last.
  5. I believe with perfect faith that to the Creator, blessed be His Name, and to Him alone, it is right to pray, and that it is not right to pray to any being besides Him.
  6. I believe with perfect faith that all the works of the prophets are true.
  7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, peace be upon him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both of those who preceded him and of those who followed him.
  8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses, our teacher, peace be upon him.
  9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be any other Law from the Creator, blessed be His name.
  10. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, knows all the deeds of human beings, and all their thoughts, as it is said: “[He] that fashioned the hearts of them all, [He] that comprehends all their actions.”
  11. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, rewards those that keep His commandments and punishes those that transgress them.
  12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, with all this I wait every day for his coming.
  13. I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, blessed be His name, and exalted be His Name forever and ever.

Some, such as Rabbi Joseph Albo and the Raavad, criticized Maimonides' list as containing too many items that, while true, were not fundamentals of the faith, and thus placed too many Jews in the category of "heretic", rather than those who were simply in error. Many others criticized any such formulation as minimizing acceptance of the entire Torah (see above). As noted however, neither Maimonides nor his contemporaries viewed these principles as encompassing all of Jewish belief, but rather as the core theological underpinnings of the acceptance of Judaism. Along these lines, the ancient historian Josephus emphasized practices and observances rather than religious beliefs, associating apostasy with a failure to observe Jewish law and maintaining that the requirements for conversion to Judaism included circumcision and adherence to traditional customs.

Jewish literature

Rabbinic literature

Jews are often called a "People of the Book," and Judaism has an age-old intellectual tradition focusing on text-based Torah study. The following is a basic, structured list of the central works of Jewish practice and thought. See Rabbinic literature.

Legal literature

For more information, see: Halakha.

The basis of Jewish law and tradition ("halakha") is the Torah (the five books of Moses). According to rabbinic tradition there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Some of these laws are directed only to men or to women, some only to the ancient priestly groups, the Kohanim and Leviyim (members of the tribe of Levi), some only to farmers within the land of Israel. Many laws were only applicable when the Temple in Jerusalem existed, and fewer than 300 of these commandments are still applicable today.

While there have been Jewish groups which claimed to be based on the written text of the Torah alone (e.g., the Sadducees, and the Karaites), most Jews believed in what they call the oral law. These oral traditions were transmitted by the Pharisee sect of ancient Judaism, and were later recorded in written form and expanded upon by the rabbis.

Rabbinic Judaism has always held that the books of the Torah (called the written law) have always been transmitted in parallel with an oral tradition. To justify this viewpoint, Jews point to the text of the Torah, where many words are left undefined, and many procedures mentioned without explanation or instructions; this, they argue, means that the reader is assumed to be familiar with the details from other, i.e., oral, sources. This parallel set of material was originally transmitted orally, and came to be known as "the oral law".

By the time of Rabbi Judah haNasi (200 CE), after the destruction of Jerusalem, much of this material was edited together into the Mishnah. Over the next four centuries this law underwent discussion and debate in both of the world's major Jewish communities (in Israel and Babylonia), and the commentaries on the Mishnah from each of these communities eventually came to be edited together into compilations known as the two Talmuds. These have been expounded by commentaries of various Torah scholars during the ages.

Halakha, the rabbinic Jewish way of life, then, is based on a combined reading of the Torah, and the oral tradition - the Mishnah, the halakhic Midrash, the Talmud and its commentaries. The Halakha has developed slowly, through a precedent-based system. The literature of questions to rabbis, and their considered answers, is referred to as responsa (in Hebrew, Sheelot U-Teshuvot.) Over time, as practices develop, codes of Jewish law are written that are based on the responsa; the most important code, the Shulchan Aruch, largely determines Orthodox religious practice today.

Jewish philosophy

For more information, see: Jewish philosophy.


Jewish philosophy refers to the conjunction between serious study of philosophy and Jewish theology. Major Jewish philosophers include Solomon ibn Gabirol, Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, and Gersonides. Major changes occurred in response to the Enlightenment (late 1700s to early 1800s) leading to the post-Enlightenment Jewish philosophers. Modern Jewish philosophy consists of both Orthodox and non-Orthodox oriented philosophy. Notable among Orthodox Jewish philosophers are Samson Raphael Hirsch and Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Other modern Jewish philosophers include Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Emmanuel Lévinas.

Related Topics

Jewish identity

Distinction between Jews and Judaism

According to Daniel Boyarin, the underlying distinction between religion and ethnicity is foreign to Judaism itself, and is one form of the dualism between spirit and flesh that has its origin in Platonic philosophy and that permeated Hellenistic Judaism.[13] Consequently, in his view, Judaism does not fit easily into conventional Western categories, such as religion, ethnicity, or culture. Boyarin suggests that this in part reflects the fact that most of Judaism's 4,000-year history predates the rise of Western culture and occurred outside the West. During this time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic and theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile; in the Diasporas, they have been in contact with and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment (see Haskalah) and the rise of nationalism, which would bear fruit in the form of a Jewish state in the Levant. They also saw an elite convert to Judaism (the Khazars), only to disappear as the centers of power in the lands once occupied by that elite fell to the people of Rus and then the Mongols. Thus, Boyarin has argued that "Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension."[14]

What makes a person Jewish?

For more information, see: Who is a Jew?.


According to traditional Jewish Law, a Jew is anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted in accord with Jewish Law. American Reform Judaism and British Liberal Judaism accept the child of one Jewish parent (father or mother) as Jewish if the parents raise the child as a Jew by Progressive standards. All mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts.

In traditional Judaism, a Jew retains their Jewish status continuously, whether by birth or conversion. A Jewish atheist or Jewish convert to another religion is still a Jew, albeit not in good religious standing. For example, a person who denies the core Jewish principles of faith may be considered a heretic, yet still be considered Jewish.

The question of what determines Jewish identity was given new impetus when, in the 1950s, David Ben-Gurion requested opinions on mihu Yehudi ("who is a Jew") from Jewish religious authorities and intellectuals worldwide. The question is far from settled, and occasionally resurfaces in Israeli politics.

Jewish denominations

For more information, see: Jewish denominations.

In the late Middle Ages, when Europe and western Asia were divided into Christian and Islamic countries, the Jewish people also found themselves divided into two main groups. Jews in Central and Eastern Europe, namely in Germany and Poland, were called Ashkenazi. Sephardic Jews can trace their tradition back to the Mediterranean countries, particularly Spain and Portugal under Muslim rule. When they were expelled in 1492, they settled in North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, the Far East, and northern Europe. The two traditions differ in a number of ritual and cultural ways, but their theology and basic Jewish practice are the same.

Over the past two centuries the Jewish community has divided into a number of Jewish denominations; each has a different understanding of what principles of belief a Jew should hold, and how one should live as a Jew. To some degree, these doctrinal differences have created schisms between the Jewish denominations. Nonetheless, there is some level of Jewish unity. For example, it would not be unusual for a Conservative Jew to attend either an Orthodox or Reform synagogue. The article on Relationships between Jewish religious movements discusses how different Jewish denominations view each other.

  • Orthodox Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Torah were divinely revealed to Moses, and that the laws within it are binding and unchanging. Orthodox Jews generally consider the Shulchan Aruch, to be the definitive codification of Jewish law, and assert a continuity between the Judaism of the Temple in Jerusalem, pre-Enlightenment Rabbinic Judaism. and modern-day Orthodox Judaism. Most of Orthodox Judaism holds to one particular form of Jewish theology, based on Maimonides' 13 principles of Jewish faith. Orthodox Judaism broadly (and informally) shades into two main styles, Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism. The philosophical distinction is generally around accommodation to modernity and weight placed on non-Jewish disciplines, though in practical terms the differences are often reflected in styles of dress and rigor in practice. According to most Orthodox Jews, Jewish people who do not keep the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov (the holidays), kashrut, and family purity are considered non-religious. Any Jew who keeps at least those laws would be considered observant and religious.
    File:Hasidim.jpg
    Hasidic Jews wearing black frock coats and fur shtreimels
    • Modern Orthodox Judaism emphasizes strict observance of religious laws and commandments but with a broad, liberal approach to modernity and living in a non-Jewish or secular environment. Modern Orthodox women are gradually assuming a greater role in Jewish ritual practice, which is not acceptable in the Haredi community.
    • Haredi Judaism (sometimes called "ultra-Orthodox Judaism", though this phrase is considered pejorative) is a very conservative form of Judaism. The Haredi world revolves around study, prayer and meticulous religious observance. Some Haredi Jews are more open to the modern world, perhaps most notably the Lubavitch Hasidim, but their acceptance of modernity is more a tool for enhancing Jewish faith than an end in itself.
  • Conservative Judaism, known as Masorti Judaism outside of the United States and Canada, developed in Europe and the United States in the 1800s as Jews reacted to the changes brought about by the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation. It is characterized by a commitment to following traditional Jewish laws and customs, including observance of Shabbat and kashrut, a deliberately non-fundamentalist teaching of Jewish principles of faith, a positive attitude toward modern culture, and an acceptance of both traditional rabbinic modes of study along with modern scholarship and critical text study when considering Jewish religious texts. Conservative Judaism teaches that Jewish law is not static, but has always developed in response to changing conditions. It holds that the Torah is a divine document written by prophets inspired by God, but rejects the Orthodox position that it was dictated by God to Moses. Similarly, Conservative Judaism holds that Judaism's Oral Law is divine and normative, but rejects some Orthodox interpretations of the Oral Law. Accordingly, Conservative Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Law may be interpreted by the rabbis to reflect modern sensibilities and suit modern conditions, although great caution should be exercised in doing so.
  • Reform Judaism, called Liberal or Progressive in many countries, originally formed in Germany in response to the Enlightenment. (Note that in the United Kingdom, there are two distinct congregational unions, Reform and Liberal. The former is significantly more traditional than the latter, but both hold to essentially the same theoretical position.) Its defining characteristic with respect to the other movements is its rejection of the binding nature of Jewish ceremonial law as such and instead believing that individual Jews should exercise an informed autonomy about what to observe. Reform Judaism initially defined Judaism as a religion, rather than as a race or culture, rejected most of the ritual ceremonial laws of the Torah while observing moral laws, and emphasized the ethical call of the Prophets. Reform Judaism developed a prayer service in the vernacular (along with Hebrew in most cases) and emphasized personal connection to Jewish tradition over specific forms of observance. Today, many Reform congregations encourage the study of Hebrew and traditional observances.
File:ReformJewishService.jpg
A Reform synagogue with mixed seating and equal participation of men and women
  • Reconstructionist Judaism started as a stream of philosophy by Mordechai Kaplan, a Conservative rabbi, and later became an independent movement emphasizing reinterpreting Judaism for modern times. Like Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism does not hold that Jewish law, as such, requires observance, but unlike Reform, Reconstructionist thought emphasizes the role of the community in deciding what observances to follow.
  • Jewish Renewal, a recent North American movement, was begun by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Hassidic rabbi, in the 1960s. Jewish Renewal focuses on spirituality and social justice, but does not address issues of Jewish law. Men and women participate equally in prayer.
  • Humanistic Judaism. A small non-theistic movement that emphasizes Jewish culture and history as the sources of Jewish identity. Founded by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, it is centered in North America and Israel but also has affiliated groups in Europe and Latin America.

Jewish denominations in Israel

For more information, see: Religion in Israel.
See also: Zionism

Even though all of these denominations exist in Israel, Israelis tend to classify Jewish identity in ways that are different than diaspora Jewry. Most Jewish Israelis classify themselves as "secular" (hiloni), "traditional" (masorti), "religious" (dati) or Haredi. The term "secular" is more popular as a self-description among Israeli families of western (European) origin, whose Jewish identity may be a very powerful force in their lives, but who see it as largely independent of traditional religious belief and practice. This portion of the population largely ignores organized religious life, be it of the official Israeli rabbinate (Orthodox) or of the liberal movements common to diaspora Judaism (Reform, Conservative).

The term "traditional" (masorti) is most common as a self-description among Israeli families of "eastern" origin (i.e., the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa). This term, as commonly used, has nothing to do with the official Masorti (Conservative) movement.

There is a great deal of ambiguity in the ways "secular" and "traditional" are used in Israel. They often overlap, and they cover an extremely wide range in terms of ideology and religious observance.

The term "Orthodox" is not popular in Israeli discourse, although the percentage of Jews who come under that category in Israel is far greater than in the diaspora. Various methods of measuring this percentage, each with its pros and cons, are the proportion of religiously observant Knesset members, the proportion of Jewish children enrolled in religious schools, and statistical studies on "identity."

What would be called "Orthodox" in the diaspora includes what is commonly called dati (religious) or haredi (ultra-Orthodox) in Israel. The former term includes what is called "Religious Zionism" or the "National Religious" community, as well as what has become known over the past decade or so as haredi-leumi (nationalist haredi), or "Hardal," which combines a largely haredi lifestyle with nationalist ideology.

Haredi applies to a populace that can be roughly divided into three separate groups along both ethnic and ideological lines: (1) "Lithuanian" (non-hasidic) haredim of Ashkenazic origin; (2) Hasidic haredim of Ashkenazic origin; and (3) Sephardic haredim. The third group is the largest, and has been the most politically active since the early 1990s.

Karaites and Samaritans: Non-Rabbinic Judaisms

Today, two religious groups observe what might be understood as a form of non-rabbinic Judaism.

Karaite Judaism did not begin as a modern Jewish movement. The followers of Karaism believe they are the remnants of the non-Rabbinic Jewish sects of the Second Temple period, such as the Sadducees, though others contend they are a sect started in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Karaites (or "Scripturalists") accept only the Hebrew Bible and what they view as the Peshat: "Plain or Simple Meaning"; and do not accept non-biblical writings as authoritative. Some European Karaites do not see themselves as part of the Jewish community, while most do. It is interesting to note that the Nazis often did not associate Karaites with Jews, and therefore several Karaite communities were spared in WWII and exist to this day even in places such as Lithuania where Jewish communities were completely devastated. In other areas, such as Greece, the Nazis deemed Karaites as belonging to a greater Jewish tradition and abused them accordingly.

The Samaritans constitute another historical division among Jews. Samaritans maintain a distinct cultural and religious identity from mainstream Judaism, and are located entirely around Mount Gerizim in the Nablus/Shechem region of the West Bank and in Holon, near Tel Aviv in Israel.

Major Jewish practices

Traditionally, Jewish practices can shape nearly every aspect of life. As may be expected, the Jewish religion involves prayer and holy days, including the weekly Sabbath. Observant Jews wear special garments and eat kosher food. Jewish practices also address the home, the synagogue, the workplace, the urban environment, and even Jewish activities in natural or wilderness settings. In this section, a few major practices are described.

Religious clothing

A kippah (Hebrew: כִּפָּה, plural kippot; Yiddish: יאַרמלקע, yarmulke) is a slightly-rounded brimless skullcap worn by most Jewish men while praying, eating, reciting blessings, or studying Jewish religious texts, and at all times by some Jewish men. Some Jewish women have also begun to wear kippot. Kippot range in size from a small round beanie that covers only the back of the head, to a large, snug cap that covers the whole crown.

Tzitzit (Hebrew: צִיצִת (Biblical), צִיציִת (Mishnaic)) (Ashkenazi pronunciation: tzitzis) are "fringes" or "tassels" found on a tallit (Hebrew: טַלִּית) (Ashkenazi pronunciation: tallis), or prayer shawl. Observant Jewish men wear a tallit throughout the day, sometimes beneath their shirts. A tallit is worn over their clothes by most Jewish men and by some Jewish women during appropriate prayer services.

Tefillin (Hebrew: תְפִלִּין), also called phylacteries, are two boxes containing biblical verses and the leather straps attached to them. They are worn during weekday morning services by observant Jewish men and by some Jewish women.

A kittel (Yiddish: קיטל), a white knee-length overgarment, is worn by observant Jews on the High Holidays and by service leaders on certain other occasions. Both the tallit and kittel form part of the tachrichim, the burial garments.

Prayers

For more information, see: Jewish services.
File:YemeniJew1914.jpg
A Yemenite Jew at morning prayers, wearing a kippah skullcap, prayer shawl and tefillin.

Traditionally, Jews recite prayers three times daily, with a fourth prayer added on Shabbat and holidays. At the heart of each service is the Amidah or Shemoneh Esrei. Another key prayer in many services is the declaration of faith, the Shema Yisrael (or Shema). The Shema is the recitation of a verse from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4): Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad — "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is One!"

Most of the prayers in a traditional Jewish service can be said in solitary prayer, although communal prayer is preferred. Communal prayer requires a quorum of ten adult Jews, called a minyan. In nearly all Orthodox and a few Conservative circles, only male Jews are counted toward a minyan; most Conservative Jews and members of other Jewish denominations count female Jews as well.

In addition to prayer services, observant Jews recite prayers and benedictions throughout the day when performing various acts. Prayers are recited upon waking up in the morning, before eating or drinking different foods, after eating a meal, and so on.

The approach to prayer varies among the Jewish denominations. Differences can include the texts of prayers, the frequency of prayer, the number of prayers recited at various religious events, and whether prayers are recited in the traditional liturgical languages or the vernacular. In general, Orthodox and Conservative congregations adhere most closely to tradition, and Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues are more likely to incorporate translations and contemporary writings in their services. Also, in most Conservative synagogues, and all Reform and Reconstructionist congregations, women participate in prayer services on an equal basis with men, including roles traditionally filled only by men, such as reading from the Torah.

Jewish holy days

For more information, see: Jewish holiday.
File:Gottlieb-Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur.jpg
Jews praying in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, from an 1878 painting by Maurice Gottlieb

Jewish holy days celebrate central themes in the relationship between God and the world, such as creation, revelation, and redemption.

Shabbat

For more information, see: Shabbat.


Shabbat, the weekly day of rest lasting from shortly before sundown on Friday night to shortly after sundown Saturday night, commemorates God's day of rest after six days of creation.[15] It plays a pivotal role in Jewish practice and is governed by a large corpus of religious law. At sundown on Friday, the woman of the house welcomes the Shabbat by lighting two or more candles and reciting a blessing. The evening meal begins with the Kiddush, a blessing recited aloud over a cup of wine, and the Mohtzi, a blessing recited over the bread. It is customary to have challah, two braided loaves of bread, on the table. During Shabbat, Jews are forbidden to engage in any activity that falls under 39 categories of melakhah, translated literally as "work." In fact the activities banned on the Sabbath are not "work" in the usual sense: They include such actions as lighting a fire, writing, using money and carrying in the public domain. The prohibition of lighting a fire has been extended in the modern era to driving a car, which involves burning fuel, and using electricity.

Three pilgrimage festivals

For more information, see: Shalosh regalim.


Jewish holidays (haggim), celebrate landmark events in Jewish history, such as the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, and sometimes mark the change of seasons and transitions in the agricultural cycle. The three major festivals, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot, are called "regalim" (derived from the Hebrew word "regel," or foot). On the three regalim, it was customary for the Israelites to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple.

  • Passover (Pesach) is a week-long holiday beginning on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan (the first month in the Hebrew calendar), that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. Outside Israel, Passover is celebrated for eight days. In ancient times, it coincided with the barley harvest. It is the only holiday that centers on home-service, the Seder. Leavened products (chametz) are removed from the house prior to the holiday, and are not consumed throughout the week. Homes are thoroughly cleaned to insure no bread or bread by-products remain, and a symbolic burning of the last vestiges of chametz is conducted on the morning of the Seder. Matzo is eaten instead of bread.
  • Shavuot ("Pentecost" or "Feast of Weeks") celebrates the revelation of the Torah to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. Also known as the Festival of Bikurim, or first fruits, it coincided in biblical times with the wheat harvest.
  • Sukkot ("Tabernacles" or "The Festival of Booths") commemorates the wandering of the Israelites through the desert. It is celebrated through the construction of temporary booths called sukkot (sing. sukkah) that represent the temporary shelters of the Israelites during their wandering. It coincides with the fruit harvest, and marks the end of the agricultural cycle. Jews all around the world eat in their sukkot for seven days and nights. Sukkot concludes with Shemini Atzeret, where Jews begin to pray for rain and Simchat Torah, the holiday in which Jews finish reading the Torah and start over at the beginning. Jews read the end of the Torah, celebrate with singing and dancing, and then read the beginning of the Torah.

High Holy Days

For more information, see: High Holidays.


The High Holidays (Yamim Noraim or "Days of Awe") revolve around judgment and forgiveness.

  • Rosh Hashanah ("[Jewish] New Year" or Yom Ha-Zikkaron - "Day of Remembrance," or Yom Teruah - "Day of the Sounding of the Shofar"). Although Rosh Hashanah means "new year" (literally, the "head [of] the year") it falls on the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Tishri. It also marks the beginning of the 10-day period of atonement period leading up to Yom Kippur. During this period, Jews are commanded to search their souls for sins they may have committed, intentionally or not, throughout the year, and if possible, make amends.
  • Yom Kippur, ("Day of Atonement") is centered on redemption; a day of atonement and fasting for sins committed individually and communally during the previous year. Many consider this the most important Jewish holiday. Yom Kippur is both a solemn day marked by self-scrutiny, when Jews should "afflict" themselves (by fasting), and a celebratory day, as Jews reflect on God's mercy.

Other holidays

Hanukkah

Hanukkah, חנוכה, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight day Jewish holiday that starts on the 25th day of Kislev (Hebrew calendar). The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of lights on each of the festival's eight nights, one on the first night, two on the second night and so on.

The holiday was called Hanukkah meaning "dedication" because it marks the re-dedication of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Spiritually, Hanukkah commemorates the "Miracle of the Oil". According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days - which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate new oil.

Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Bible and was never considered a major holiday in Judaism, but it has become much more visible and widely celebrated in modern times, mainly because it falls around the same time as Christmas and has national Jewish overtones that have been emphasized since the establishment of the State of Israel.

Purim

Purim (Hebrew: פורים Pûrîm English: "Lots") is a joyous Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the plot of the evil Haman, who sought to exterminate them, as recorded in the biblical Book of Esther. It is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, mutual gifts of food and drink, charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal (Esther 9:22). Other customs include drinking wine, eating special pastries called hamantashen, dressing up in masks and costumes, and organizing carnivals and parties.

Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, which comes out in February-March.

Torah readings

For more information, see: Torah reading.

The core of festival and Shabbat prayer services is the public reading of the Torah, along with connected readings from the other books of the Tanakh, called Haftarah. During the course of a year, the full Torah is read, and the cycle begins again every autumn during Simchat Torah (“rejoicing in the Torah”).

Synagogues and Religious Buildings

For more information, see: Synagogue.


Synagogues are Jewish houses of prayer and study; they usually contain separate rooms for prayer (the main sanctuary), smaller rooms for study, and often an area for community or educational use. There is no set blueprint for synagogues and the architectural shapes and interior designs of synagogues vary greatly, so a synagogue may contain any (or none) of these features:

  • an ark (called aron ha-kodesh by Ashkenazim and hekhal by Sephardim) where the Torah scrolls are kept (the ark is often closed with an ornate curtain (parochet) outside or inside the ark doors);
  • a large elevated reader's platform (called bimah by Ashkenazim and tebah by Sephardim), where the Torah is read (and from where the services are conducted in Sephardi synagogues);
  • an eternal light (ner tamid), a continually-lit lamp or lantern used as a reminder of the constantly lit menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem; and,
  • (mainly in Ashkenazi synagogues) a pulpit facing the congregation to preach from and a pulpit or amud (Hebrew for "post" or "column") facing the Ark for the Hazzan (reader) to lead the prayers from.

In addition to synagogues, other buildings of significance in Judaism include yeshivas, or institutions of Jewish learning, and mikvahs, which are ritual baths.

Dietary laws: Kashrut

For more information, see: Kashrut.


The laws of kashrut ("keeping kosher") are the Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with Jewish law is termed kosher, and food not in accord with Jewish law is termed treifah or treif. From the context of the laws in the book of Leviticus, the purpose of kashrut is related to ritual purity and holiness, as well as health. Kashrut involves the abstention from consuming animals that eat other animals, and that roam the sea floor eating the excretions of other animals, therefore excluding birds and beasts of prey and seafood other than fish, respectively. Meat and milk are not eaten together, based on the biblical injunction against cooking a kid in its mother's milk.

Although sometimes rationalized by reference to hygiene, its stated purpose is perhaps better understood as providing certainty that food eaten is prepared and partaken only from sources which are confirmed to have been spiritually appropriate and which avoided spiritual "negatives" such as pain, sickness, unclean animals or abusive practices in its preparation.

Family purity

For more information, see: Niddah.


The laws of niddah ("menstruant", often referred to euphemistically as "family purity") and various other laws regulating the interaction between men and women (e.g., tzniut, modesty in dress) are perceived, especially by Orthodox Jews, as vital factors in Jewish life, though they are rarely followed by Reform or Conservative Jews. The laws of niddah dictate that sexual intercourse cannot take place while the woman is having a menstrual flow, and she has to count seven "clean" days and immerse in a mikvah (ritual bath) following menstruation.

Life-cycle events

Life-cycle events, or rites of passage, occur throughout Jewish life. Most events apparently serve to strengthen Jewish identity, reinforce commitment to Torah, and integrate individuals within the larger Jewish community. These events include:

  • Brit milah - Welcoming male babies into the covenant through the rite of circumcision on their eighth day of life. The baby boy is also given his Hebrew name in the ceremony. A naming ceremony intended as a parallel ritual for girls, named zeved habat, enjoys limited popularity.
  • Bar mitzvah and Bat mitzvah (B'nai mitzvah) - This passage from childhood to adulthood takes place when a female Jew is twelve and a male Jew is thirteen years old among Orthodox and some Conservative congregations. In the Reform movement, both girls and boys have their bat/bar mitzvah at age thirteen. This is often commemorated by having the new adults, male only in the Orthodox tradition, lead the congregation in prayer and publicly read a "portion" of the Torah.
  • Marriage - Marriage is an extremely important lifecycle event. A wedding takes place under a chupah, or wedding canopy, which symbolizes a happy house. At the end of the ceremony, the groom breaks a glass with his foot, symbolizing the continuous mourning for the destruction of the Temple, and the scattering of the Jewish people.
  • Death and Mourning - Judaism has a multi-staged mourning practice. The first stage is called the shiva (literally "seven", observed for one week) during which it is traditional to sit at home and be comforted by friends and family, the second is the shloshim (observed for one month) and for those who have lost one of their parents, there is a third stage, avelut yud bet chodesh, which is observed for eleven months.

Community leadership

Classical priesthood

The role of the priesthood in Judaism has significantly diminished since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, when priests attended to the Temple and sacrifices. The priesthood is an inherited position, and although priests no longer have any but ceremonial duties, they are still honored in many Jewish communities. Many Orthodox Jewish communities believe that they will be needed again for a future Third Temple and need to remain in readiness for future duty.

  • Kohen (priest) - patrilineal descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses. In the Temple, the kohanim were charged with performing the sacrifices. Today, a Kohen is the first one called up at the reading of the Torah, performs the Priestly Blessing, as well as complying with other unique laws and ceremonies, including the ceremony of redemption of the first-born.
  • Levi (Levite) - Patrilineal descendant of Levi the son of Jacob. In the Temple in Jerusalem, the levites sang Psalms, performed construction, maintenance, janitorial, and guard duties, assisted the priests, and sometimes interpreted the law and Temple ritual to the public. Today, a Levite is called up second to the reading of the Torah. Levites also have a number of other minor duties in traditional synagogues, including washing the hands of the kohanim before they say the priestly blessing.

Prayer leaders

From the time of the Mishnah and Talmud to the present, Judaism has required specialists or authorities for the practice of very few rituals or ceremonies. A Jew can fulfill most requirements for prayer by himself. Some activities — reading the Torah and haftarah (a supplementary portion from the Prophets or Writings), the prayer for mourners, the blessings for bridegroom and bride, the complete grace after meals — require a minyan, the presence of ten adults (Orthodox Jews and some Conservative Jews require ten adult men; some Conservative Jews and Reform Jews include women in the minyan).

The most common professional clergy in a synagogue are:

  • Rabbi of a congregation - Jewish scholar who is charged with answering the legal questions of a congregation. This role requires ordination by the congregation's preferred authority (i.e. from a respected Orthodox rabbi or, if the congregation is Conservative or Reform, from academic seminaries). A congregation does not necessarily require a rabbi. Some congregations have a rabbi but also allow members of the congregation to act as shatz or baal kriyah (see below).
    • Hassidic Rebbe - rabbi who is the head of a Hasidic dynasty.
  • Hazzan (note: the "h" denotes voiceless pharyngeal fricative) (cantor) - a trained vocalist who acts as shatz. Chosen for a good voice, knowledge of traditional tunes, understanding of the meaning of the prayers and sincerity in reciting them. A congregation does not need to have a dedicated hazzan.

Jewish prayer services do involve two specified roles, which are sometimes, but not always, filled by a rabbi and/or hazzan in many congregations. In other congregations these roles are filled on an ad-hoc basis by members of the congregation who lead portions of services on a rotating basis:

  • Shaliach tzibur or Shatz (leader — literally "agent" or "representative" — of the congregation) leads those assembled in prayer, and sometimes prays on behalf of the community. When a shatz recites a prayer on behalf of the congregation, he is not acting as an intermediary but rather as a facilitator. The entire congregation participates in the recital of such prayers by saying amen at their conclusion; it is with this act that the shatz's prayer becomes the prayer of the congregation. Any adult capable of speaking Hebrew clearly may act as shatz (Orthodox Jews and some Conservative Jews allow only men to act as shatz; some Conservative Jews and Reform Jews allow women to act as shatz as well).
  • Baal kriyah (master of the reading) reads the weekly Torah portion. The requirements for acting as a baal kriyah are the same as those for the shatz. Additionally, in many congregations, the baal kriyah is known as the baal koreh, although this is grammatically incorrect.

Note that these roles are not mutually exclusive. The same person is often qualified to fill more than one role, and often does. Often there are several people capable of filling these roles and different services (or parts of services) will be led by each.

Many congregations, especially larger ones, also rely on a:

  • Gabbai (sexton) - Calls people up to the Torah, appoints the shatz for each prayer session if there is no standard shatz, and makes certain that the synagogue is kept clean and supplied.

The three preceding positions are usually voluntary and considered an honor. Since the Enlightenment large synagogues have often adopted the practice of hiring rabbis and hazzans to act as shatz and baal kriyah, and this is still typically the case in many Conservative and Reform congregations. However, in most Orthodox synagogues these positions are filled by laypeople on a rotating or ad-hoc basis. Although most congregations hire one or more Rabbis, the use of a professional hazzan is generally declining in American congregations, and the use of professionals for other offices is rarer still.

Specialized religious roles

  • Dayan (judge) - expert in Jewish law who sits on a beth din (rabbinical court) for either monetary matters or for overseeing the giving of a bill of divorce (get). A dayan always requires semicha.
  • Mohel - performs the brit milah (circumcision). An expert in the laws of circumcision who has received training from a qualified mohel.
  • Shochet (ritual slaughterer) - slaughters all kosher meat. In order for meat to be kosher, it must be slaughtered by a shochet who is expert in the laws and has received training from another shochet, as well as having regular contact with a rabbi and revising the relevant guidelines on a regular basis.
  • Sofer (scribe) - Torah scrolls, tefillin (phylacteries), mezuzot (scrolls put on doorposts), and gittin (bills of divorce) must be written by a sofer who is an expert in the laws of writing.
  • Rosh yeshiva - head of a yeshiva. Somebody who is an expert in delving into the depths of the Talmud, and lectures the highest class in a yeshiva.
  • Mashgiach of a yeshiva - expert in mussar (ethics). Oversees the emotional and spiritual welfare of the students in a yeshiva, and gives lectures on mussar.
  • Mashgiach over kosher products - supervises merchants and manufacturers of kosher food to ensure that the food is kosher. Either an expert in the laws of kashrut, or (generally) under the supervision of a rabbi who is expert in those laws.

Jewish religious history

For more information, see: Jewish history.


As Judaism is an old religion with a long tradition of documentation, Jewish history is an extensive topic; this section will cover the elements of Jewish history of most importance to the Jewish religion and the development of Jewish denominations.

Ancient Jewish religious history

Jews trace their religious lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham, who established a covenant with God and moved to Canaan with his followers around 1800 BCE according to the Bible, through Isaac and Jacob, and they consider Abraham to be the founder of Judaism. Around 1600 BCE, as a result of famine, many Israelites migrated to Egypt, after a few hundred years of living freely in Egypt they were eventually held in slavery until the 13th century BCE, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and established a covenant with God around 1280 BCE, starting the religious tradition of Judaism. After the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews came back to Canaan around 1200 BCE, and settled the land. A kingdom was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon with its capital in Jerusalem. After Solomon's reign the nation split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel (in the north) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the south). The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Sargon II in the late 8th century BCE with many people from the capital Samaria being taken captive to Media and the Habor valley. The Kingdom of Judah continued as an independent state until it was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BCE, destroying the First Temple that was at the center of ancient Jewish worship. The Judean elite were exiled to Babylonia and this is regarded as the first Jewish Diaspora. During this captivity the Jews in Babylon wrote what is known as the "Babylonian Talmud" while the remaining Jews in Judea wrote what is called the "Palestinian Talmud". These are the first written forms of the Torah and the Babylonian Talmud is the Talmud used to this day. Later many of them returned to their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians seventy years later, a period known as the Babylonian Captivity. A new Second Temple was constructed, and old religious practices were resumed.

During the early years of the Second Temple, the highest religious authority was a council known as the Great Assembly, led by Ezra of the Book of Ezra. Among other accomplishments of the Great Assembly, the last books of the Bible were written at this time and the canon sealed.

After a Jewish revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE, the Romans all but destroyed Jerusalem. Following a second revolt, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem and most Jewish worship was forbidden by Rome. Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, prayer took the place of sacrifice, and worship was rebuilt around rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities (see Jewish diaspora). The destruction of the Second Temple marks a major turning point in the transition to rabbinic Judaism as it is known and practiced today.

Historical Jewish groupings (to 1700)

Around the first century CE there were several small Jewish sects: the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, and Christians. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, these sects vanished. Christianity survived by gradually breaking with rabbinic Judaism and becoming a separate religion. The Sadducees rejected the divine inspiration of the Prophets and the Writings, relying only on the Torah as divinely inspired. Consequently, the Sadducees dismissed a number of other core tenets of the Pharisees' belief system. It was the Pharisees who apparently persisted in their transition into Rabbinic Judaism, known simply as Judaism today.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, not unlike the ancient Sadducees, some Jews rejected the authority and divine inspiration of the rabbinic Oral Law and sought to rely instead only upon the Tanakh. These included the Isunians, the Yudganites, the Malikites, and others. They soon developed oral traditions of their own, which differed from the rabbinic traditions, and eventually formed the Karaite sect. Karaites exist in small numbers today, mostly living in Israel. Rabbinical and Karaite Jews each hold that the others are Jews, but that the other faith is erroneous.

Over time Jews developed into distinct ethnic groups — amongst others, the Ashkenazi Jews (of central and Eastern Europe) the Sephardi Jews (of Spain, Portugal, and North Africa), the Beta Israel of Ethiopia and the Yemenite Jews, from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. This split is cultural, and is not based on any doctrinal dispute, although the distance did result in minor differences in practice and prayers.

Persecutions

For more information, see: Persecution of Jews, Antisemitism, and History of antisemitism.

Antisemitism arose during the Middle Ages, in the form of persecutions, pogroms, forced conversion, expulsions, social restrictions and ghettoization.

This was different in quality to any repressions of Jews in ancient times. Ancient repression was politically motivated and Jews were treated no differently than any other ethnic group would have been. With the rise of the Churches, attacks on Jews became motivated instead by theological considerations specifically deriving from Christian views about Jews and Judaism.

Hasidism

For more information, see: Hasidic Judaism.


Hasidic Judaism was founded by Yisroel ben Eliezer (1700-1760), also known as the Ba'al Shem Tov (or Besht). It originated in a time of persecution of the Jewish people, when European Jews had turned inward to Talmud study; many felt that most expressions of Jewish life had become too "academic", and that they no longer had any emphasis on spirituality or joy. His disciples attracted many followers; they themselves established numerous Hasidic sects across Europe. Hasidic Judaism eventually became the way of life for many Jews in Europe. Waves of Jewish immigration in the 1880s carried it to the United States.

Early on, there was a serious schism between Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews. European Jews who rejected the Hasidic movement were dubbed by the Hasidim as Mitnagdim, (lit. "opponents"). Some of the reasons for the rejection of Hasidic Judaism were the overwhelming exuberance of Hasidic worship, its untraditional ascriptions of infallibility and alleged miracle-working to their leaders, and the concern that it might become a messianic sect. Since then differences between the Hasidim and their opponents have slowly diminished and both groups are now considered part of Haredi Judaism.

The Enlightenment and Reform Judaism

For more information, see: Haskalah and Reform Judaism.


In the late 18th century CE, Europe was swept by a group of intellectual, social and political movements known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment led to reductions in the European laws that prohibited Jews to interact with the wider secular world, thus allowing Jews access to secular education and experience. A parallel Jewish movement, Haskalah or the "Jewish Enlightenment," began, especially in Central Europe, in response to both the Enlightenment and these new freedoms. It placed an emphasis on integration with secular society and a pursuit of non-religious knowledge. The thrust and counter-thrust between supporters of Haskalah and more traditional Jewish concepts eventually led to the formation of a number of different branches of Judaism: Haskalah supporters founded Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism, while traditionalists founded what is called Orthodox Judaism, and Jews seeking a balance between the two sides founded Conservative Judaism. A number of smaller groups came into being as well.

The Holocaust

For more information, see: The Holocaust.


While the Holocaust, the genocide of millions of Jews under Nazi Germany in World War II, did not directly affect Jewish denominations, the discrimination, moves to flee the Nazis, and great loss of life it caused resulted in a radical demographic shift, ultimately transforming the makeup of organized Judaism into its current form. (For example, various Hasidic rebbes and their central followers moved to the United States, settling in New York City and other urban centers.) A Jewish day of mourning, Yom HaShoah, was inserted into the Hebrew calendar commemorating the Holocaust.

The present situation

In most industrialized nations with modern economies, such as the United States, Israel, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina and South Africa, a wide variety of Jewish practices exist, along with a growing plurality of secular and non-practicing Jews. For example, in the world's second largest Jewish community, the United States, according to the 2001 edition of the National Jewish Population Survey, 4.3 million out of 5.1 million Jews had some sort of connection to the religion. Of that population of connected Jews, 80% participated in some sort of Jewish religious observance, but only 48% belonged to a synagogue.

Religious (and secular) Jewish movements in the USA and Canada perceive this as a crisis situation, and have grave concern over rising rates of intermarriage and assimilation in the Jewish community. Since American Jews are marrying at a later time in their life than they used to, and are having fewer children than they used to, the birth rate for American Jews has dropped from over 2.0 down to 1.7 (the replacement rate is 2.1). (This is My Beloved, This is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate relations, p. 27, Elliot N. Dorff, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1996). Intermarriage rates range from 40-50% in the US, and only about a third of children of intermarried couples are raised as Jews. Due to intermarriage and low birth rates, the Jewish population in the US shrank from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2001. This is indicative of the general population trends among the Jewish community in the Diaspora, but a focus on total population obscures growth trends in some denominations and communities, such as Haredi Judaism.

In the last 50 years there has been a general increase in interest in religion among many segments of the Jewish population. All of the major Jewish denominations have experienced a resurgence in popularity, with increasing numbers of younger Jews participating in Jewish education, joining synagogues, and becoming (to varying degrees) more observant. Complementing the increased popularity of the major denominations has been a number of new approaches to Jewish worship, including feminist approaches to Judaism and Jewish renewal movements. The Baal teshuva movement is a movement of Jews returning to observant Judaism. Though this gain has not offset the general demographic loss due to intermarriage and acculturation, many Jewish communities and movements are growing.

Judaism and other religions

Christianity and Judaism

For more information, see: Judaism and Christianity.
See also: Judeo-Christian, Christianity and anti-Semitism, Jewish view of Jesus, Cultural and historical background of Jesus, and Christian-Jewish reconciliation

Since the Holocaust, there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christian groups and the Jewish people; the article on Christian-Jewish reconciliation studies this issue.

Islam and Judaism

For more information, see: Islam and Judaism.
See also: Muslim Jew, Islam and anti-Semitism, and Similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an

Under Islamic rule, Judaism has been practiced for almost 1500 years and this has led to an interplay between the two religions which has been positive as well as negative at times. The period around 900 to 1200 in Moorish Spain came to be known as the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain.

The 20th century animosity of Muslim leaders towards Zionism, the political movement of Jewish self-determination, has led to a renewed interest in the relationship between Judaism and Islam.

Judaism and Zoroastrianism

For most of its early history, Jews lived under the Zoroastrian Persian Empire. Some scholars believe Judaism started off as a western branch of the state religion of the Persian empire, as evidenced by the fact that Cyrus the Great, the first king of the Persian empire, and subsequent Iranian kings funded the construction of the second temple.

Syncretic beliefs incorporating Judaism

There are some religious beliefs that combine elements of Judaism with those of other religions. The most well-known of these is the Messianic Judaism movement (closely related to Hebrew Christianity), groups of ethnic Jews and gentiles who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. These groups typically combine Christian theology and Christology with Jewish religious practices. The most controversial of these groups is the American Jews for Jesus. The Jew-to-Gentile ratio of adherents is unknown and can vary widely between bodies of believers.

Other examples of syncretism include Judeo-Paganists, a loosely-organized set of Jews who incorporate pagan or Wiccan beliefs; Jewish Buddhists, another loosely-organized group that incorporates elements of Asian spirituality in their faith; and some Renewal Jews who borrow freely and openly from Buddhism, Sufism, Native American religion, and other faiths. Some Rastafarian traditions emphasize a connection to Judaism and believe that Africans are the true "lost tribe" of Israel.

See also

Jews and Judaism

Jewish law and religion

Comparative

References

  1. Genesis 25–50.
  2. Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae 37.16.5–17.1.
  3. Even-Shoshan concordance; in the book of Esther there is a verb that means "to become a Jew" (Esth. 8:17, mityahadim (‏מתיהדים): "to Judaize", "to become Jewish", "to become Jews"), a passage which however only describes the conversion of non-Jews to Jewish belief out of fear. The Septuagint parallel clarifies this act of conversion by mentioning the circumcision (περιτέμνω) and by using the verb Ἰουδαΐζω ("to live like a Jew"), which in the context of conversion out of fear would rather have to be translated as "to side with the Jews" or "to imitate the Jews" (cf. Liddell-Scott-James, "Ἰουδαῖος").
  4. 2 Macc. 2:21; King James Bible translation: "Judaism".
  5. Smith, Jonathan Z. "Fences and Neighbors: Some Contours of Early Judaism". In: Imagining Religion, p. 18.
  6. Ep. Gal. 1.13.
  7. EJ 10:383.
  8. Cp. Brerewood, Edward. Enquiries touching the diversity of languages and religions through the chiefe (sic) parts of the world (1614); cf. also Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755); see also Smith, J.Z. "Religions, Religions, Religious" in Critical Terms for Religious Stuides (Taylor ed.).
  9. EJ op. cit.
  10. Rabbi S. of Montpelier, Yad Rama, Y. Alfacher, Rosh Amanah.
  11. M. San 10:1.
  12. Judaism 101: A Glossary of Basic Jewish Terms and Concepts, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America, April 12, 2006.
  13. Boyarin, Daniel (October 14, 1994). “Introduction”, A radical Jew: Paul and the politics of identity. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, pp. 13–38. ISBN 0-520-08592-2 LCCN 93-36269. Retrieved on 2006-06-15. “Paul was motivated by a Hellenistic desire for the One, which among other things produced an ideal of a universal human essence, beyond difference and hierarchy. This universal humanity, however, was predicated (and still is) on the dualism of the flesh and the spirit, such that while the body is particular, marked through practice as Jew or Greek, and through anatomy as male or female, the spirit is universal. Paul did not, however, reject the body — as did, for instance, the gnostics — but rather promoted a system whereby the body had its place, albeit subordinated to the spirit. Paul's anthropological dualism was matched by a hermeneutical dualism as well. Just as the human being is divided into a fleshy and a spiritual component, so also is language itself. It is composed of outer, material signs and inner, spiritual significations. When this is applied to the religious system that Paul inherited, the physical, fleshy signs of the Torah, of historical Judaism, are re-interpreted as symbols of that which Paul takes to be universal requirements and possibilities for humanity. 
  14. Boyarin, Daniel (October 14, 1994). “Answering the Mail”, A radical Jew: Paul and the politics of identity. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, p. 244. ISBN 0-520-08592-2 LCCN 93-36269. Retrieved on 2006-06-15. “Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension with one another. 
  15. Shabbat, Judaism 101, April 12, 2006.