What is Judaism? - There is a clear distinction between Jewish people and the religion of Judaism. Not all Jewish people are religious and some are either agnostics or atheists. When choosing a religion to follow, most Jewish people will choose according to their culture and choose one branch of Judaism. Judaism is not the same as the OT religion practiced by Moses and the OT patriarchs. Both Judaism and Christianity came out of OT religion. The term “Judaism” refers to the religion of the rabbis that began developing in about 200 B.C. (In the middle of the 400 silent period between the OT and NT). The religion as it is practiced today crystallized after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 when the priesthood and sacrificial system was done away with. When this happened, new institutions arose in the Jewish faith that included: The Synagogue- house of worship and study; The Yeshivot- religious academies for the training of rabbis; and the Rabbi- a leader and teacher holding religious authority (Halverson, p. 123).
Statistics - There are approximately 13.5 million Jews in the world. 5 million Jews are in the U.S. 5 million Jews are in Israel. 3.5 million Jews have spread across the world. 76% of these Jews are part of the three major branches of Judaism. 24% of these Jews are secular (p. 124). Key Figures/Date of Origin/Place of Origin - The key figures in Jewish History are Abraham and Moses. The date of Origin of the Jewish faith is 2000 B.C. The place of origin of the Jewish faith is the Middle East (p. 125). Key Writings – These writings include: The Tanakh- Old Testament, especially the Torah- first five books of the Old Testament; The Talmud- commentary on the Tanakh (OT); and various teachings of each branch's sages and teachers, such as Maimonides (Smith, 245).
Branches - The original form of Judaism (100- 400 A.D.) that was labeled “Orthodox” in reaction to the Reform movement in the late 1700’s. They held to a strict observance of the law of Moses as interpreted by Rabbis. Orthodox Jews make up 6% of all American Jews. Hasidic Judaism, an ultra-orthodox movement within Judaism, is characterized by strict observance of the law of Moses, mystical teachings, and socially separatism. Their leader is called the Rebbe and religious leadership is passed down from father to son. Reform Judaism began in Germany in the late 1700’s. It sought to modernize outmoded ways of thinking. Reform Jews make up 38% of all American Jews. Conservative Judaism is an American movement that began as a reaction to the Reform movement’s Liberal views in the early 1800’s. It is considered a middle ground branch that modernized and kept traditions. Conservative Jews make up 35% of all American Jews (p. 246-51).
Views on Worship - An Orthodox synagogue is a house of prayer and study. Men and women sit separately. The Rabbi faces same direction as congregation. All prayers are in Hebrew. An Reform/Conservative synagogue is called a Temple and is primarily a social gathering place. Both branches have modernized and abbreviated their services and utilize both Hebrew and English. Men and women sit together. Organs and choirs are used in Reformed services. Conservative services focus on form over doctrine (Halverson, 127).
Views on Scripture - Orthodox Judaism considers the Torah (5 books of Moses) to be the essential truth and is considered higher than the rest of OT. This Torah includes both the “written and oral Torah” (believed to have been given to Moses along with the written Torah). Reform Judaism considers the Old Testament to be merely a human document preserving history, culture, legends and hopes. It is valuable only for morals and ethics. Conservative Judaism considers the Old Testament and the rabbinic writings to be the work of God and man. They are not inspired directly by God but indirectly through man’s talents and gifts of writing. It is valuable for morals, ethics, and is a good model for religious practice (p. 129).
Views on God - Orthodox Judaism believes that God is one, God is spirit, and that He is personal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal. Reform Judaism has various views of God including those of mystics, naturalists, supernaturalists, and religious humanists. Reform beliefs closely resemble agnosticism and hold to the belief that “the truth is we don’t know the truth/” Conservative Judaism has a flexible view of God that varies from the Orthodox to Reform positions within its members. It has an impersonal and uninvolved deity much like that of Deism (p. 131).
Views on Man - Orthodox Judaism believes man to be morally neutral with a good and evil nature. They can become perfect by observing the law perfectly. Reform Judaism believes man's human nature to be basically good but also that the environment creates the problems in the world. Education, encouragement, and natural evolution will perfect the person. Conservative Judaism beliefs are very similar to Reform without being human centered. Humanity is in partnership with God (p. 132).
Views on Sin – Orthodox Judaism believes that man has no original sin. Sin is breaking the commandments of the law. Reform Judaism believes that man has no original sin. Sin is only a problem of society. Conservative Judaism believes that man has no original sin. Sin is moral and social mistakes (p. 133).
Views on Salvation - Orthodox Judaism does not have salvation as a concept. Orthodox Jews presume a good standing with God because of the fact that they are “God’s chosen people.” Reform Judaism believes that salvation is obtained through the betterment of society. Conservative Judaism believes that salvation is obtained through the betterment of society and and through maintaining a Jewish identity (p. 134).
Views on Messiah – Orthodox Judaism believes that the Messiah is a human being that is not divine. He will restore the Jewish kingdom. He will righteously judge and right all wrongs. Both Reform and Conservative Judaism believes that the Messiah is not a human or a divine being. Humanity is progressing toward a utopian age sometimes called the “Messianic age” (p. 135).
Views on Life after Death- Orthodox Judaism believes in a physical resurrection of the dead. The Righteous will live with God. Some believe in Hell but others believe in Annihilation for unrighteous. Both Reform and Conservative Judaism believes that a person lives on in the accomplishments or in the minds of others. Some in the Reform movement believe that souls merge into one great impersonal life force (p. 136).
Lifestyle Practices – Judaism has several lifestyle practices that make them unique. The Brit Milah is the practice of circumcision for their sons on the eighth day after birth. The Bar Mitzvah (boys) Bat Mitzvah (girls) is a coming of age ceremony at age thirteen that consists of a synagogue service and elaborate reception/meal. The Sabbath/Shabbat is observed every Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. During this time they abstain from work, driving, and lighting a fire. Some within Judaism wear Tefillin/phylacteries (small black boxes containing scripture portions) that are wrapped around arm and forehead on certain days of the year. Some within Judaism have a Mezuzah (a small rectangular box containing scripture) attached to the doorpost of their home. Some within Judaism are considered Kosher because they keep the dietary laws. They believe that they shouldn't eat any pork or mix meat and milk from the same animal at one meal. Food making processes are overseen and blessed by Rabbi (p. 137-41).
Holidays - Judaism has a variety of unique holidays throughout the year that they celebrate. Rosh ha-Shannah is the Jewish New Year (Sept-Oct). They attend synagogue services to begin the ten-day period of High Holy days. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement (Sept-Oct) that ends the High Holy days. Day of recitation of prayers for forgiveness, sometimes accompanied by a 24 hour fast. Hanukkah (Nov/Dec) is an eight day festival that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian armies in 175 B.C. Menorahs are lit and gifts are given to celebrate each of the eight days. Purim (Feb/March) is a celebration that recounts the story of Esther in comedic play form. Passover (March/April) is a week long holiday that celebrates and remembers the events surrounding the Exodus from Egypt. The Seder is a ceremonial meal held on the first two nights of Passover (Smith, 247-51).