The Impact Of Judaism Essay

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Judaism is the Jewish religion. It is one of the oldest of the great world religions, and is the mother religion of both Christianity and Islam. Judaism was not founded by one towering personality, as were most other religions. Abraham and Moses are not regarded as founders. Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people and Moses was the law-giver.

            With the destruction of Solomons temple at Jerusalem in 586 B.C. began the scattering of the Hebrews over many lands. From then on Judaism developed as a religion without the priestly class of the ancient temple.  Moreover, Judaism is one of the oldest beliefs that are still observed and practiced up to the present and considered as one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths. The Jewishs values and history are the main part of the foundation of different Abrahamic religions like Christianity, Islam, Samaritanism and the Bahai Faith. In 2006, Judaisms devotees are approximately 14 million that makes Judaism faith as the eleventh-biggest organized religion globally.

Unlike with other religions, Judaism is totally distinct in such a way that its central authority is not vested in any person or group but it abides in its writings and traditions. This would mean that Judaism religion does not have a head or a leader that oversees them but they rather obey what is written in its writings and traditions.

Moreover, the Judaism church is continually bound to a number of religious practices and beliefs, specifically its belief that there is one, omnipotent, omni benevolent, transcended omniscient God who made the heavens and the earth and continually have its control over mankind. The conventional Jewish belief stated that the God who made the universe had made a covenant with the Jewish people only and gave his laws and commandments through Torah. Judaisms belief and practices are focused on these laws and commandments (see Asheri, Michael. Living Jewish: the Lore and law of the Practicing Jew, 1999).

            According to Jewish law, anyone who has a Jewish mother counts as a Jew, even if he or she is not religious. Many Jews do, however, actively follow the religious practices of Judaism. Judaism is one of the worlds oldest religions, beginning some 3,500 years ago in the Middle East. Today, there are about 18 million Jews. They live all over the world, but mostly in the United States, Europe and Israel. There are many different groups of Jews with different ways of practicing their faith. The main groups are Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jews (see Jacobs, Louis. The Book of Jewish Belief (Behrman House, 2000).

            The intents of this paper are to: (1) know what Judaism is and how it started; and (2) to know its impact in the American culture.

            According to the Jewish holy books, the first Jew was a man called Abraham, who is known as the father of the Jewish people. He was the leader of a group of nomadic people, called the Hebrews. At that time, the Hebrews worshipped many different gods. Abraham taught his people that there is only one God and that they should worship only him. Jews believe that God made a covenant, or agreement, with Abraham. If Abraham and his people worshipped God and lived good and just lives, God would look after them and give them a land of their own to live in. This was the Promised Land of Canaan (see Shenker, Israel. Coat of many Colors: Pages from Jewish Life (Doubleday, 2001).

            The Jews settled in Canaan but centuries later, famine forced their descendants to move to Egypt in search of food. They worked for the Egyptians but were treated like slaves and their lives were extremely miserable. God remembered his promise to Abraham and sent a man called Moses to lead the Jews to freedom. Several times, Moses asked the Pharaoh to let the Jews go, but each time he refused. Only after God sent ten terrible plagues to Egypt did the Pharaoh change his mind. Moses led the Jews out of Egypt and into the desert. After 40 years of wandering, God guided the Jews back to the Promised Land (see Prager, Dennis, and Joseph Telushkin. Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

            The Jewish scriptures are called the Tenakh. They are divided into three parts”the Torah (5 Books of Teaching), the Neviim (21 Books of the Prophets) and the Ketuvim (13 Books of Writings). The initials of the three parts”T, N and K”give the word Tenakh. For Jews, the Torah is the most important part of their scriptures because it contains the rules that teach Jews how to live their lives. These are the teachings that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai during the Jews journey through the desert. They are summed up by ten rules, or commandments (see Musaph-Andriesse, R.G. From Torah to Kabbalah: a Basic Introduction to the Writings of Judaism (Oxford University, 1998).

            Copies of the Torah are handwritten on scrolls and kept in the synagogue, the Jewish place of worship. Traditional Jews follow the Torah exactly and believe that its teachings should not be changed. Less traditional Jews believe that the teaching of the Torah can be adapted to make them more suitable for modern life.

            Jews can worship anywhere but many choose to pray with other Jews at the synagogue. The word synagogue means meeting place. Synagogues are not only places of worship but also centers for study, celebration and for the community to meet.

            Large synagogues have services every day but many Jews go to the synagogue only on the Sabbath (called Shabbat in Hebrew) (see below) and special holy days. The service on the morning of the Sabbath lasts for about two hours.

A service includes prayers, blessings and readings from the Torah and is led by a teacher, called a rabbi. Readings from the Torah are given from a raised platform, called a bimah, in the centre of the synagogue. When they are not in use, the scrolls of the Torah are kept in a special alcove, called the Holy Ark. This is the holiest part of the synagogue. Everyone faces the Ark as they pray (see Musaph-Andriesse, R.G. From Torah to Kabbalah: a Basic Introduction to the Writings of Judaism (Oxford University, 1998).

            At services in the synagogue, Jewish men wear a small cap, called a kippah, to show respect for God. At some services, men also wear a prayer shawl that reminds the person wearing it of God. Traditional Jews may also wear two small leather boxes, called tefillin. One is worn on the middle of the forehead; the other is tied to the arm, facing the heart. Inside the boxes are tiny scrolls on which passages from the Torah are written. The tefillin remind Jews that they should love God with their whole hearts and minds (see Musaph-Andriesse, R.G. From Torah to Kabbalah: a Basic Introduction to the Writings of Judaism (Oxford University, 1998).

III. Discussion

            Judaism has no catechism or dogmas that must be accepted but does have certain ideas that are basic in the faith. The cardinal principle of Judaism is the affirmation, or prayer: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One (Deuteronomy 6:4). It is called the Shema from its first word, meaning hear! This belief in and worship of the one and only God is monotheism. Another basic idea is that the Jews are a people chosen by God to be the bearers and teachers of monotheism. God chose Israel to be a priest-people to all nations. The special is called the Covenant, or agreement. The concept of the chosen people does not mean a favored people, but rather a people charged with a responsibility to all mankind. It means that Jews must keep themselves distinct as a priest-people until all Gods children have entered the kingdom of God.

            The Torah, or law, is the commandment of God to His chosen people.  The Torah originally referred to the Ten Commandments, and later to the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses. Ina broad sense, Torah now includes all the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the whole of the sacred tradition from Biblical times to the present. In this sense, the Torah includes the Talmud, which interprets biblical commandments and deals also with many fields of knowledge.

            Furthermore, the Law has 613 mitzvot, or commandments, to guide the Jew through every moment of his life. Every male is circumcised on the eighth day of his life. By tradition, when a boy reaches 13 he participates in a ceremony through which he becomes bar mitzvah. It then is his duty to take on the religious responsibilities of an adult Jew. In some congregations, there is a similar ceremony, bat mitzvah, for girls.

            Various prayers are to be recited in the morning, afternoon, and evening”at home or in a synagogue or temple. The holy day of the week is the Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. (All other Jewish holidays also begin at sundown).

Orthodox, Conservative, and some Reform Jews observe strict dietary laws. Foods that are permitted to be eaten are said to be kosher. In addition, the spiritual leader of a congregation is the rabbi, who decides questions of Jewish law and ritual. A hazzan (cantor) chants the service. Each congregation is independent, but is usually affiliated with a national organization representing one of the branches of Judaism.

            Christianity is the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It began in Palestine and was proclaimed the fulfillment of Jewish teaching regarding the coming of the messiah, promised by God to redeem man from sin. Jesus taught the doctrine of the Hebrew prophets that the Jews were Gods chosen people and therefore had the right to hear the message of the Gospel before all others.

However, his teachings had a universal objective and were destined to reach every man and nation (see McCollister, J.C. The Christian Book of Why (Jonathan David, 2000). Christianity is a missionary religion, holding that Christs message was intended for the whole world, not just for a particular area of people. In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus is quoted as saying:

            Go ye into the entire world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved¦

            Christianity has been not only a religious force, but also a social and political one. Often it has been imposed by military power that hardly seems in keeping with the precepts of the gentle Jesus. Nevertheless, the moral lessons taught by Christianity have had  a profound effect in teaching man to deal justly with his fellows and to observe the pleas of Jesus to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 19:19).

             About one-fourth of the worlds people are Christians. Christian churches have an estimated world membership of more than 1.6 billion”more than twice the membership of any other religion.

            The original basic beliefs of Christianity are stated in the Apostles Creed. It affirms that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that God sent him to earth to live as a man and to suffer and die for the redemption of mankind. It also states the belief that Jesus, after being crucified, arose from the dead and ascended to heaven, from which he will return to earth to judge the living and the dead. Belief that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and that there is a life for man after death are essential parts of the creed (see McCollister, J.C. The Christian Book of Why (Jonathan David, 2000).

            Mans need for help from a higher power was stressed in religions earlier than Christianity. The concept of God as benevolent and forgiving”rather than as vengeful” is a main tenet of the Christinas faith. Another Christian belief is that even though man has sinned seriously and separated himself from the love of God, he can be saved by repentance. The necessity, and therefore the possibility, of communion between God and man are accepted by all Christians (see Wiggins, James, and R.S. Ellwood. Christianity: a Cultural Perspective (Prentice-Hall, 2002).

            At first, the gospel of Jesus was spread by his disciples, followers who remembered his sayings. As gentiles (non-Jews) as well as Jews entered the church, the influence of other minds began to be seen in the interpretation of doctrines. In this work, early Christian theologians borrowed ideas from the teachings of the Greek philosophers. At the same time, national traits and customs began to affect rituals and observances.

Even within each of the three great divisions of the Christian church”Roman Catholic, Protestant, and eastern Orthodox”there are variations of practice. This is particularly true of the Protestants. The sacrament of baptism provides an example. Baptists hold that the convert must be completely immersed in water; Methodists believe that sprinkling water on the head is sufficient. Most denominations baptize infants, but some insist that the individual be old enough to understand the meaning of the sacrament (see Walker, Williston. A History of the Christian Church, 4th edition (Sribners, 1998).

            There are other differences. The Disciples of Christ and certain other Protestant groups insist upon using the Bible alone as a source of guidance. The doctrine of the Trinity”the belief that God is three beings (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one divine nature”is accepted as basic by most Christians, but is rejected by Unitarians and Universalists (see Wiggins, James, and R.S. Ellwood. Christianity: a Cultural Perspective (Prentice-Hall, 2002).

            Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans recognize seven sacraments, while most Protestants recognize only those of Holy Communion (also called the Eucharist or Lords Supper) and baptism. Catholics believe that the priest by the sacrament of the Eucharist changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Most Protestants see in the ritual only a spiritual representation of the presence of Jesus (see Wiggins, James, and R.S. Ellwood. Christianity: a Cultural Perspective (Prentice-Hall, 2002).

            The method of church government us a common cause of differences between denominations. The Roman Catholic Church places final authority in the pope, whom it calls the Vicar of Christ. The Episcopal form of church government is headed by bishops of equal authority. Authority over the churches in the Presbyterian form of government is exercised by boards, called presbyteries, ministers and elected laymen. In churches with the congregational type of government, each congregation has complete local rule (see Walker, Williston. A History of the Christian Church, 4th edition (Sribners, 1998).


            Judaism is the United States has four branches: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist. The total membership of the four branches is lower than the estimated total number of Jews in the United States, because many Jews are not outside the United States and Canada are Orthodox. Orthodox Jews advocate strict observance of traditional rituals and customs. Hasidic Jews form a small, extremely orthodox, mystical group. Many orthodox synagogues are members of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Reform Jews have abandoned many rituals and customs that they consider unsuited to modern life.

They stress the prophetic ideas of the Bible rather than the Law, and emphasize the mission of the Jews to spread godliness throughout the world. The reform movement began early in the 19th century in Germany and is now centered mainly in the United States. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations is an association of reform congregations.

Conservative Jews hold a middle ground between the orthodox and the reform. In the United States, this movement began during the 1890s. The United Synagogue of America is the national organization of Conservative congregations. Reconstructionist Jews observe many of the traditional rituals and customs, but reject supernaturalism and divine revelation. Reconstructionist Judaism was founded by Mordecai Kaplan in the 1920s as a movement within the Conservative branch. With the establishment of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1968, it emerged as a separate branch of Judaism.



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