The Religion of Judaism

Discover the profound depth and diversity of Judaism, an ancient faith shaping millions of lives worldwide. Explore its origins, practices, holidays, and various cultural traditions. Understand its impact on the world religions of Christianity and Islam. Delve into the multifaceted world of Judaism with us. Learn more about this influential monotheistic religion!

Judaism is the reli­gion of more than 14 mil­lion peo­ple around the world. As the old­est liv­ing reli­gion in the West­ern world, it pro­vid­ed the foun­da­tion for Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam, the oth­er two major monothe­is­tic reli­gions. Togeth­er, these three faiths account for half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

Origins and Beliefs

Judaism intro­duced monotheism—the belief in one God—to the world. This con­cept is encap­su­lat­ed in the She­ma, a prayer recit­ed dai­ly by Jews: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteron­o­my 6:4). Jews believe that God’s prov­i­dence extends to all peo­ple, but that a spe­cial covenant exists between God and the Israelites. This covenant, how­ev­er, is not per­ceived as pro­vid­ing spe­cial priv­i­leges but rather a duty to exem­pli­fy God’s mes­sage to human­i­ty.

The idea of a com­ing Mes­si­ah has been a source of opti­mism for Jews. How­ev­er, the core beliefs of Judaism are not laid out in an offi­cial creed, empha­siz­ing con­duct over doc­tri­nal cor­rect­ness. Judaism affords con­sid­er­able lat­i­tude in mat­ters of belief, par­tic­u­lar­ly regard­ing the mes­sian­ic future and immor­tal­i­ty. This faith is deeply root­ed in earth­ly life, seek­ing a just and peace­ful world order.

Sacred Texts and Observances

The foun­da­tion of Jew­ish belief is the Hebrew Bible, par­tic­u­lar­ly its first five books known as the Torah. The Torah is revered as the pri­ma­ry rev­e­la­tion of God’s law to human­i­ty, rel­e­vant for all times. These laws were clar­i­fied and expand­ed upon in the oral Torah, even­tu­al­ly writ­ten down in the Mish­nah and Tal­mud.

Many Jew­ish prac­tices include adher­ence to dietary laws (kosher), rules about mar­i­tal rela­tion­ships, dai­ly prayer and study, and the recital of bless­ings. The Sab­bath and fes­ti­vals are observed both at home and in the syn­a­gogue, the cen­tre for prayer and instruc­tion in Judaism. Obser­vant Jews wear phy­lac­ter­ies (tefill­in) dur­ing morn­ing prayers and affix a mezuzah, a box con­tain­ing Torah pas­sages, to their door­posts.

Jewish Calendar and Holidays

The Jew­ish cal­en­dar is based on lunar months, adjust­ed to align with the solar year through the addi­tion of a 13th month six times in a 19-year cycle. Days are reck­oned from sun­set to sun­set, with the Sab­bath observed from Fri­day evening to Sat­ur­day evening.

Key hol­i­days in the Torah include Rosh Hashanah (New Year), Yom Kip­pur (Day of Atone­ment), Passover, Shavuoth (Feast of Weeks), and the Feast of Taber­na­cles. Oth­er hol­i­days include Chanukah and Purim. On the eighth day after birth, male chil­dren are cir­cum­cised in a cer­e­mo­ny known as a brit milah. At 13, a boy becomes respon­si­ble for per­form­ing com­mand­ments, marked by a Bar Mitz­vah cer­e­mo­ny, while girls have a sim­i­lar cer­e­mo­ny called a Bat Mitz­vah.

Diversity in Judaism

Judaism is more than a reli­gion; it’s a civ­i­liza­tion with diverse cul­tures, lan­guages, and his­to­ries. Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties around the world each have unique cus­toms and tra­di­tions, from Ashke­nazi Jews of East­ern Europe and Ger­many, to Sephardic Jews of Spain and Por­tu­gal, and Mizrahi Jews of the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

There is also diver­si­ty with­in reli­gious prac­tices. Judaism spans from Ortho­doxy, which is influ­en­tial in Israel’s reli­gious and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions, to Con­ser­v­a­tive and Reform Judaism. Even with­in these cat­e­gories, prac­tices can vary great­ly.

The Bottom Line

Judais­m’s rich tapes­try of beliefs, cus­toms, and tra­di­tions has evolved over mil­len­nia. Despite numer­ous chal­lenges, Judaism has thrived due to its diver­si­ty and adapt­abil­i­ty. Amidst this diver­si­ty, Jews world­wide share a com­mon faith, tra­di­tions, and a sense of con­nec­tion to the Jew­ish peo­ple. Their col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence con­tin­ues to shape Judaism and its role in the world today.