Judaism is the religion, philosophy and way of life of the Jewish people. Judaism is a monotheistic religion originating in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Tanakh ) and explored in later texts, such as the Talmud . Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenantal relationship God established with the Children of Israel.
Judaism claims a historical continuity spanning more than 3,000 years. Judaism has its roots as a structured religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age. Of the major world religions, Judaism is considered one of the oldest monotheistic religions. The Hebrews / Israelites were already referred to as “Jews” in later books of the Tanakh such as the Book of Esther, with the term Jews replacing the title “Children of Israel”. Judaism’s texts, traditions and values strongly influenced later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i Faith. Many aspects of Judaism have also directly or indirectly influenced secular Western ethics and civil law.
Jews are an ethnoreligious group and include those born Jewish and converts to Judaism. In 2010, the world Jewish population was estimated at 13.4 million, or roughly 0.2% of the total world population. About 42% of all Jews reside in Israel and about 42% reside in the United States and Canada, with most of the remainder living in Europe. The largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism. (35)
At its core, the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) is an account of the Israelites’ relationship with God from their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 535 BCE). Abraham is hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people. As a reward for his act of faith in one God, he was promised that Isaac , his second son, would inherit the Land of Israel (then called Canaan). Later, Jacob and his children were enslaved in Egypt, and God commanded Moses to lead the Exodus from Egypt.
At Mount Sinai they received the Torah — the five books of Moses . These books, together with Nevi’im and Ketuvim are known as Tanakh, as opposed to the Oral Torah, which refers to the Mishna and the Talmud.
Eventually, God led them to the land of Israel where the tabernacle was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years to rally the nation against attacking enemies. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the tabernacle. The people of Israel then told the prophet Samuel that they needed to be governed by a permanent king, and Samuel appointed Saul 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.
The United Monarchy 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 theKingdom 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 Khabur River 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 . 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. Hellenistic Judaism spread to Ptolemaic Egypt from the 3rd century BCE. After the Great Revolt (66–73 CE), the Romans destroyed the Temple. Hadrian built a pagan idol on the Temple grounds and prohibited circumcision; these acts of ethnocide provoked the Bar Kokhba revolt 132–136 CE after which the Romans banned the study of the Torah and the celebration of Jewish holidays, and forcibly removed virtually all Jews from Judea. This became known as the Second Jewish Diaspora . In 200 CE, however, Jews were granted Roman citizenship and Judaism was recognized as a religio licita (“legitimate religion”), until the rise of Gnosticism and Early Christianity in the fourth century.
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 the community (represented by a minimum of ten adult men) and the establishment of the authority of rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities.
Historical Jewish Groupings (to 1700)
Around the 1st century CE there were several small Jewish sects: the Pharisees , Sadducees , Zealots , Essenes , andChristians . After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, these sects vanished.
- Christianity survived, but by breaking with Judaism and becoming a separate religion.
- The Pharisees survived but in the form of Rabbinic Judaism (today, known simply as “Judaism”).
- The Sadducees rejected the divine inspiration of the Prophets and the Writings, relying only on the Torah as divinely inspired. Consequently, a number of other core tenets of the Pharisees’ belief system (which became the basis for modern Judaism), were also dismissed by the Sadducees.
- The Samaritans practiced a similar religion, which is traditionally considered separate from Judaism.
Like the Sadducees who relied only on the Torah, some Jews in the 8th and 9th centuries rejected the authority and divine inspiration of the oral law as recorded in the Mishnah (and developed by later rabbis in the two Talmuds), relying instead only upon the Tanakh.
Over a long time, Jews formed distinct ethnic groups in several different geographic areas — amongst others, theAshkenazi 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. Many of these groups have developed differences in their prayers, traditions and accepted canons; however these distinctions are mainly the result of their being formed at some cultural distance from normative (rabbinic) Judaism, rather than based on any doctrinal dispute.
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. (35)