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Sabbath lamp
Basic beliefs: 1) Monotheism; 2) Covenant with Israel; 3) Revelation of Torah; 4) Obedience to God s Law; 5) Historical Providence; 6) Redemption. 7) The soul (nefesh) of the deceased is thought to return to God. [Source: BBC |::|]

Jews believe that: 1) God is creator and absolute ruler of the universe, and there is only one all powerful god. 2) Man has free will, he is not inherently sinful, and he has the ability to choose between good and evil, and even choose to rebel against God. 3) The Jewish people have a special relationship with God because he revealed the “Torah” to them at Mt. Sinai. By obeying God's law they will be a special witness of God's mercy.

4) God communicates with humanity through revelation and humanity speaks to God through prayer. 5) The laws of God are written in the Torah. 6) The creation of God's kingdom on earth will be heralded the coming the Messiah. 7) There will be a physical resurrection of the dead and immortality. 8) The worship of God is something that arises out of love not fear. 9) The belief that early patriarchs were considered the fathers of Jews. 10) All men are equal in the sight of God.

11) Jews have no special views on the afterlife. 12) The believe in living a good life in this world and performing good deeds that will help in the here and now not the hereafter. 13) Jews have no concept of original sin and salvation. 14) The concept of righteousness is important. A good Jew, or righteous Jew, is one who fulfills his duties with a full heart and incorporates Jewish laws, ethics and morality into his or her everyday life. “Without the Temple there is no way to fulfill many of the religious obligations such as ritual sacrifices, that the Torah requires. In Orthodox theology, that means that all Jews are stuck in a state of impurity, and are therefore unable to be in the presence of God."

According to the BBC: "Problem of graven images: 1) Were all images forbidden by Second Commandment, or only those that could be worshipped? In Palestine observed very strictly, as indicated by archeological evidence, and historical events: e.g., opposition to introduction of Roman eagle standards in Jerusalem. Different from Rabbinic period. 2) Certain images (e.g., vines, Jewish religious symbols) were considered acceptable. Problem of using foreign coins.Sun worship among Essenes? Belief in supernatural beings (angels, demons, etc.). |::|

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Cain and Able
Theology of offerings Relations between ritual and spiritual aspects: 1) Purification and cleansing. 2) Atonement and repentance. 3) Thanksgiving and honouring God. 4) Communion with God. 5) Petition; 6) For the welfare of the whole world; 7) Participation in communal occasions. |::|

Cleanliness and purity are important aspects of religious practice and everyday life as they are in Islam and other religions. In ancient times "cleanliness was equated with moral purity." According to Jewish law, the hands must be ritually cleansed after rising from sleep, touching a corpse, urinating or defecating and before eating, praying, or performing rituals such as lighting candles.

Websites and Resources: Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Virtual Jewish Library jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research yivoinstitute.org ;

Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Holocaust Museum ushmm.org/research/collections/photo ; Jewish Museum London jewishmuseum.org.uk ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org

Jewish Covenant, the Chosen People and the Rabbanite Tradition

The Jews believe that they have a special covenant (promise with God) and are his Chosen People. The title of Chosen People does not connote a position of superiority rather it means they have the responsibility of passing on their knowledge about the one true God to other peoples of the world.

The vast majority of Jews are Rabbanites. the alternative, the Karaites are a very small minority (See Karaites). The Rabbinites trace their origins back to the Pharisees of Judea, during the Maccabeean and Roman periods. The Pharisees and their successors developed a tradition of interpretations of the laws of Moses which became codices in the Talmudic literature.

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Many features of contemporary Judaism — including the substitution of fines and payments of compensation for body mutilations to enforce “lex taliois” , lighting of candles to begin the Sabbath and holidays, the Seder ceremony to mark Passover, the Hebrew prayer book and Talmudic study and argumentation — stem from the Rabbanite tradition.

Thirteen Articles of Faith

The Thirteen Articles of Faith of Maimonides are regarded as the basic dogma of Judaism. They are: 1) The existence of God, the Creator of All Things; 2) His absolute unity; 3) His incorporeality; 4) His eternity; 5) The obligation to serve and worship him alone; 6) The existence of prophecy; 7) The superiority of the Prophecy of Moses above all others; 8) The “Torah” is God’s revelation to Moses; 9) “The Torah” is immutable; 10) God’s omniscience and foreknowledge; 11) Rewards and punishments according to one’s deeds; 12) The coming of the Messiah; 13) The resurrection of the dead.

The Unity of God and the Obligation to worship him alone are core beliefs in monotheism. The incorporeality and eternity of God are reference to undescribable and unfathomable aspects of God and his existence beyond time and space. Prophecy is regarded as concrete manifestation of the Jewish religion and according to some Jewish thinkers a fate that Jews alone have.

The idea that the “Torah” is immutable addresses claims by other religions, particularly Christianity that it goes a step further than Judaism. Inherent in the belief of God’s Omniscience is a belief that God knows everything including our innermost thoughts and righteousness is not necessarily based on displays and actions.

Monotheism and Contradictions

Judaism is a monotheistic (one god religion). According to high Jewish doctrine, Jews are in the world to be witnesses to the claim that there is one God with whom humans can have contact: God has chosen them to act as messengers, whose task it is to pass on these details to the rest of the world.

According to the BBC: 1) Monotheism: A) Exclusive monotheism: Denial of other gods. B) Diaspora Jews had more tolerant tradition. 2) Creation and its implications: A) Sabbath; B) God s control of individuals and history, including tragedies. 3) Attitudes towards dualism Range of approaches: A) Dualism: Role of Satan; B) Children of Light vs. Children of Darkness (ruled by Angel of darkness ); c) Evil comes from God. 4) Determinism: Differences among three parties. Implication with respect to accountability (reward and punishment) . [Source: BBC]

Israelite monotheism is interesting in that God was seen as universal but that the demand to worship was not. Only the Jews were expected to serve him. They believed God takes a special interest in mankind and demands that they listen and obey him in a way that serves god’s interest. In turn God selected a small group of people in Ur then in Egypt to form a covenant with. In some passages Israel is described as God’s spouse.

God is viewed by Kabbalists as having different aspects but ultimately is regarded as one. Angels sometimes appear in the liturgy as messengers to God but ths view is controversial.

The Old Testament is full of contradictory messages as are the New Testament and the Koran and other religious text. In Deuteronomy worshippers of Yahweh are told: “You shall annihilate them — the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebsuites — just as the Lord your God has commanded.” While in the book of Judges, an Israelite military leader proposes more tolerance towards the Ammonites: “Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones who possess everything that our god Yahweh has conquered for our benefit.”

The Koran arguably is filled with even more contradictions. In one part of the Koran, Muslims are told to “kill the polytheistic wherever you find them.” But in a another passage they are told: “To you be your religion; to me my religion.”

Jewish Beliefs About God

Jews believe that there is a single God who not only created the universe, but with whom every Jew can have an individual and personal relationship. They believe that God continues to work in the world, affecting everything that people do. The Jewish relationship with God is a covenant relationship. In exchange for the many good deeds that God has done and continues to do for the Jewish People. The Jews keep God's laws. The Jews seek to bring holiness into every aspect of their lives. [Source: BBC |::|]

the original Jewish word for God

A summary of what Jews believe about God: 1) God exists; 2) There is only one God; 3) There are no other gods; 4) God can't be subdivided into different persons (unlike the Christian view of God); 5) Jews should worship only the one God; 6) God is Transcendent: God is above and beyond all earthly things; 7) God doesn't have a body; 8) Which means that God is neither female nor male; 9) God created the universe without help; 10) God is omnipresent; 11) God is everywhere, all the time; 12) God is omnipotent; 13) God can do anything at all; 14) God is beyond time; 15) God has always existed; 16) God will always exist; 17) God is just, but God is also merciful; 18) God punishes the bad; 19) God rewards the good; 20) God is forgiving towards those who mess things up; 21) God is personal and accessible; 22) God is interested in each individual; 23) God listens to each individual; 24 ) God sometimes speaks to individuals, but in unexpected ways. |::|

According to the BBC: “The Jews brought new ideas about God. The Jewish idea of God is particularly important to the world because it was the Jews who developed two new ideas about God: 1)There is only one God; and 2) God chooses to behave in a way that is both just and fair. Before Judaism, people believed in lots of gods, and those gods behaved no better than human beings with supernatural powers. The Jews found themselves with a God who was ethical and good. |::|

“Jews combine two different sounding ideas of God in their beliefs: 1) God is an all-powerful being who is quite beyond human ability to understand or imagine. 2) God is right here with us, caring about each individual as a parent does their child. A great deal of Jewish study deals with the creative power of two apparently incompatible ideas of God.” |::|

God and the Scriptures

YHWH on the Mesha Stele from 840 BC

“But how do Jews know this about God? According to the BBC: “They don't know it, they believe it, which is different. However, many religious people often talk about God in a way that sounds as if they know about God in the same way that they know what they had for breakfast. For instance, religious people often say they are quite certain about God - by which they mean that they have an inner certainty. And many people have experiences that they believe were times when they were in touch with The best evidence for what God is like comes from what the Bible says, and from particular individuals' experiences of God. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Quite early in his relationship with the Jews, God makes it clear that he will not let them encounter his real likeness in the way that they encounter each other. The result is that the Jews have work out what God is like from what he says and what he does. The story is in Exodus 33 and follows the story of the 10 commandments, and the Golden Calf. |::|

“Moses has spent much time talking with God, and the two of them are clearly quite close. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. But after getting the 10 commandments Moses wants to see God, so that he can know what he is really like. God says no...you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. Then the LORD said, There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” |::|

Mitzvot: Jewish Commandments

Dara Lind of Vox wrote: “Judaism is a religion of commandments. There are, famously, 613 commandments in the Torah alone (at least as counted by one of the authors of the Talmud, one of the major books of Jewish law). In Hebrew, these are the mitzvot — the plural of mitzvah, which is one of those Hebrew words that's crossed into English via Yiddish. In English-via-Yiddish, a mitzvah sounds like a favor: "It would be a mitzvah if you did the dishes after Seder." That's because Yiddish is an irony-heavy language and American Jews are masters of the guilt trip. A mitzvah is really a commandment, just like tzedakah — often translated as "charity" — is really an obligation to give. [Source: Dara Lind, Vox, April 22, 2016 |=|]

“Kosher dietary restrictions — the year-round kind, not the Passover kind — forbid the eating of shellfish? Think about it — shellfish can often make you sick in hot climates, especially at certain times of the year, and it was probably safer to avoid them. Judaism forbids graven images? Think about it — the earliest Jews lived among polytheistic tribes with idols for everything; worshiping only one god, a god too powerful to have a face, was certainly one way to set themselves apart. |=|

“Later, as an anthropology student in college, I'd learn that this sort of thinking was called structural functionalism — the determination to see a culture as an organism, evolving in response to its environment to keep its members alive and its community cohesive — and that there were other ways to make meaning out of society. But it worked as far as it went. The problem is that some rules simply cannot be logicked. You cannot logic your way into the rules of kitniyot” (Passover dietary restrictions). |=|

Judaism and the Law

Dara Lind of Vox wrote: “Judaism is also a religion of jurisprudence. Often, that's a fancy word for arguing — one of the stories in the Haggadah, the script for the Passover Seder, ends with the so-called "punchline" of four rabbis being interrupted in a heated discussion by their students telling them the sun has risen and it's time for breakfast. (The real punchline is that subsequent Jewish scholars have tried to explain away the unfunniness of this joke by dissecting its symbolism in the margins of the Haggadah.), [Source: Dara Lind, Vox, April 22, 2016 |=|]

Moses with the Ten Commandments

“Remember, though, that the default state of Jews is diaspora: the dispersion of Jewish peoples throughout the world, and the term used for any Jew living outside of Israel (which described every Jew until the modern Israeli state was created in the late 1940s, and describes most of us today). Diaspora gave rise to the Askhenazi tradition of Eastern Europe and Russia, and the Sephardi tradition of the Mediterranean — distinctions of culture that nonetheless gave rise to certain differences of interpretation. "Among Conservative Jews (and those of us less observant still), the question is simply how many of the rules we ignore". |=|

“In diaspora, jurisprudence is a crucial tool: a way for rabbis to try to make sense of new experiences and edge cases that the five books of Torah didn't cover or anticipate. We can abide by it unquestioningly, for the simple reason that if it was good enough for our ancestors it is good enough for us. (You might be familiar with the song "Tradition" from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, but you might have forgotten that this too is ironic — "Why do we do these things?" narrator Tevye asks the audience. "Nobody knows.") |=|

“We can try to carve out exception upon exception to rule upon rule, using the law against itself. (Faced with the difficulty that multi-story apartment buildings posed to the rules against operating machines on the Sabbath, the rabbis and the engineers devised a solution: Pressing an elevator button was forbidden, but riding in an elevator programmed to stop on every floor would work.) We can kvetch about it. (Moses hears a voice from the heavens: "Thou shalt not boil the kid in its mother's milk." "Aha," says Moses, "you mean we can't mix milk and meat during meals!" The voice repeats: "Thou shalt not boil the kid in its mother's milk." "Aha," says Moses, "we have to use separate dishes for meat and milk and wait six hours between the two!" Etc. Finally, the voice sighs thunderously: "Fine. Have it your way...") |=|

“Or we can simply ignore it. Among Conservative Jews (and those of us less observant still), the question is simply how many of the rules we ignore. It can be hard to grasp that the distinctions among various sects of Judaism (not to mention the wide and growing variety of Jewish practices outside established synagogues) aren't about theology but about observance: how many, and which, rules are followed. The technical term for this is orthopraxy — correct actions, as opposed to orthodoxy (correct thoughts). It's a key distinction between Judaism (and Islam, for that matter) and Christianity. |=|

“The education, deliberation, and questioning inherent in the tradition of Jewish arguing and jurisprudence — these are unquestionably Jewish values. So is the commitment to social justice inherent in the obligation of tzedakah. No one would argue that these values are unique to Judaism. But their expression within Judaism is a big part of why they're so important in so many Jewish homes — and to many people who grow up in those homes.” |=|

Views on Following Jewish Laws Sincerely or Simply Going Through the Motions

Israeli soldier with tefilin

Dara Lind of Vox wrote: Some jews believe that “the point of their Judaism wasn't what they believed but what they did. To orthodox Jews, this is monstrous: a sickness of modernity. They can't abide the idea of Jews going through the motions to serve a deity in whom they may not believe; to them, this is precisely how Judaism gets reduced from a religion to a culture. [Source: Dara Lind, Vox, April 22, 2016 |=|]

“And to many Jews who grew up being told to follow at least some of the commandments without any way of reconciling those actions with their beliefs — Jews like my father and the parents of the kids he taught at Sunday school, Jews like many of my peers — it's pointless. They find no meaning in the rituals themselves, and "because your ancestors did it" doesn't carry much more weight than "because I said so." To them, this is the religion they abandon, even if they acknowledge at least some of Jewish culture — the food, the kvetching, the Yiddish — as their own. But few people are introspective enough to know the precise origins of every trait they've inherited from their parents or been raised with in their homes. People can't always judge what, in their upbringing, was Jewish and what was not. |=|

“When people slough off orthopraxy as meaningless ritual, they're putting practices and customs in a mental attic, in a box labeled "Judaism" — and leaving it at that. They're cutting off an alternative mode of inquiry: thinking about what they have inherited because of Judaism. "I'm far more Jewish during Passover than I am during any other time of year" This sounds like trivializing Judaism, the faith of my ancestors, a culture that has sustained my people for thousands of years. I'd argue that even if it were trivializing, it wouldn't be less so than simply foregoing the practice entirely and dooming it to die. |=|

“But it isn't. It's orthopraxy. Judaism roots its values in obligations. You must give tzedakah. You must honor the Sabbath as a day of rest and study. You must be present in the temple on the High Holidays to seek forgiveness for the misdoings of the past year. You must, for eight days, eat matzah — "the bread of affliction" that is also the bread of freedom. And sure, you can put peanut butter on it. You can spend eight days eating quinoa and rice. As for me, I'd need a better reason to abandon the stricter rules about kitniyot than that following them is hard.” |=|

Jewish Laws and Doctrines

Kosher Gummi Bears
The primary responsibility of a Jew has traditionally been to unquestioningly follow Jewish laws. Jews were expected to rejoice in following these laws and constantly be looking for new ways to apply them in their everyday life, with rabbis acting as lawyers.

Jews place great importance on abiding by the laws and rules set forth in the Torah and regard it as a religious duty to follow them. Jewish Law is called the “Halakah” , which literally means “that by which one walks.” It is comprised of the laws laid out in the Torah and Talmud and interpretations of these laws. “Torah she-bi-khtav” is the written law.

Judaism was originally a theocratic religion like Islam in which there was a set of religious laws for a Jewish kingdom. After the diaspora, laws and rules were established that became a way of defining and uniting Jewish communities.

Almost every aspect of a Jew’s life and every act of everyday living — from eating to dressing to working — has some religious aspect attached to it. Almost all aspect of life are governed by strict religious practices and rules. Jews regard it as a duty to observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, eat certain foods, performing specific rituals like the lighting of candles, and attending the synagogue. The are special blessing that are uttered when an Jew eats, smells a flower or puts on clothes in the morning.

See Justice System

Jewish Ideas About Salvation and End of the World

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Kabbalah Tree of Life
For Jews the equivalent of salvation is “t’shwa” , turning towards God. For Christians salvation combines redemption and the revelation of God. For Jews the are two distinct things: the emphasis has traditionally been placed on redeeming oneself in this life with revelation coming in the end. Man’s duty is to listen and follow God. Speculating about the hereafter are regarded as a distraction that keep one from one’s duties.

The Talmudic scholar Jacob Neusner told Newsweek, “The Torah teaches that the kingdom that matters is not in heaven, but the one we find ourselves in now: sustaining life, sanctifying life, in the here and the now of home and family, community and society.”

Jews, Christians and Muslims all have end of the world scenarios foretold by natural disasters and other calamities and feature the accession to heaven by the faithful or something similar. Hindus and Buddhist read life as cyclical and they have no end of the world scenarios.

Jewish end of the world scenarios are closely tied with the coming of the Messiah, who according to the medieval philosopher Maimodnides, will be a great leader who will preside over Israel for a thousand years. Mystics view the period as time when "flesh will no longer exist and there will be pure spiritual reality."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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