Judaism is one of the world’s largest and oldest monotheistic religions. Its followers believe in one God, who came to them through ancient prophets. Judaism is characterized by its rich culture and traditions.
The three branches of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, though many Jewish people formulate their informal version of Judaism and do not fit strictly into any of these categories.
Founded over 3,500 years ago in the Middle East, Judaism is based on the belief in the covenant. The covenant was a special agreement made by God whereby they promised to obey God’s laws.
Jewish people believe that the ancient Hebrew prophets first made a covenant with God.
Jewish people believe there’s only one God who made this particular agreement with them, and this God communicates to believers through prophets, rewarding good deeds and punishing evil.
Abraham is believed to be the first prophet to make a covenant with God and the father of the Jewish people. Jewish people believe God named Abraham’s grandson Israel; this is why Hebrews became known as Israelites. Jewish people believe God chose Abraham and his descendants to form a great nation.
Over 1,000 years later, Moses saved the Jewish people from persecution in Egypt, leading them to safety across the Red Sea. Jewish people believe God gave Moses laws to follow, including the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Therefore, Moses is considered the essential Jewish prophet.
The origins of Judaism are founded in this belief, as revealed by the Torah.
What are Jewish places of worship? Jewish people worship in synagogues. Synagogue means “bringing together” or “assembly,” and Jews believe it is good to pray together. A minimum of ten people must be present for specific prayers, which is called a minyan. Services are led by a rabbi, a Jewish religious leader who studies or teaches Jewish law.
Shabbat, the most critical time of the week for Jewish people, is a time for rest and prayer, remembering God and his world’s creation, resting on the seventh day. In Judaism, God’s day of rest was on Saturday, so Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday.
During Shabbat, people will worship at their synagogue and discuss the Torah. Orthodox and Conservative Jews may refrain from performing physical labor or using electronics.
What are the different levels of Judaism?
There are several variations, or levels, of Judaism. Each level of Judaism has slightly different customs and practices. Although these other groups exist, they are not strict, and many Jewish people do not subscribe to a single group. This is because Judaism and Jewishness are not the same things. Judaism refers to the religion that (most) Jews practice; however, some Jewish people choose different elements from Judaism, and some don’t practice Judaism at all and refer to themselves as Jewish. There are even some Jewish people who have embraced other religions, such as Buddhism.
The three branches of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, and within these branches, several substrates exist. Moreover, since Judaism was first practiced over 3,500 years ago, many differing traditions have developed, forming several more branches of Judaism.
The different levels of Judaism are:
Orthodox Judaism is a strict belief and practice of Jewish law and rituals. It is a diverse type of Judaism, as there are different subgroups. These subgroups include Hasidic Jews (first founded in Eastern Europe in the 1700s).
Progressive/Reform Judaism: is characterized as having a strong belief in the ethical traditions of Judaism rather than a strict adherence to Jewish law.
Conservative Judaism: Places a high value on Jewish traditions but has become more modernized than Orthodox Judaism.
Re-constructionist Judaism: The belief that Judaism is an evolving civilization/religion and adjusts depending on the place and time.
Humanistic Judaism: This level celebrates the Jewish people’s history and culture rather than emphasizing the work of a divine being.
The Jewish Holy Book
The holy book of Judaism is the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh includes the same passages included in the Old Testament in the Christian Bible but in a different order. The word Tanakh comes from the first letters of the three parts of the book:
- The Torah is the first five books of the Tanakh. It outlines the laws Jewish people must follow.
- The Nevi’im are the books of the prophets, like Joshua and Isaiah.
- Ketuvim is a collection of the sacred text.
The most important commandment included in the Torah is the Ten Commandments; this collection of commandments is called mitzvah.
The Torah is so sacred that it cannot be touched. So instead, the Torah is placed in an ark within the Jewish temple; a stick called a yad is used to follow the words.
Prayer builds a relationship between God and human beings. When people pray, they spend time with God. Jewish prayer involves total concentration on God; nothing else should be on the person’s mind. The prayer should also be entirely from the heart. Jews pray in many ways:
- They pray to reach out to God
- They pray to express their beliefs
- They pray as part of a worshipping community and share the experience
- They pray to obey God’s commandments.
Why do Jews pray three times a day?
Jews pray three times a day – in the morning, afternoon and evening. Praying regularly helps the person improve their relationship with God. There are three different types of prayers, and Jewish people will use them. These are called:
- Prayers of thanksgiving – thanking
- Prayers of praise – praising
- And prayers that ask for things – requesting.
Jews need to pray three times a day because:
- Praying can change the person and their faith
- Praying from the heart, mind, and soul takes a person into a particular state of being
- Prayer brings a person closer to God
- Prayer improves relationships with other Jews and brings them closer
- Prayer in a synagogue helps Jews to remember the fundamentals of Judaism
Jews will also recite written services out loud in a synagogue – this is called a public prayer. Praying in public is important because it shows that the person is a community member. Praying in public is also considered an act of togetherness with all Jewish people worldwide. Attending regular services is essential for Jews and helps them learn spiritual teaching, which is another reason Jews pray three times a day.
There are many important events in the Jewish calendar. Here are a few examples:
One of the most important Jewish holidays, Passover, celebrates the freedom of Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Celebrations last seven or eight days and families join with the Feast of Passover.
This is the holiest day of the year; Jewish people will fast and pray during the “Day of Atonement.” Yom Kippur is celebrated in September or October in the UK. It is a time for reflection and asking for God’s forgiveness for any sins. Yom Kippur is celebrated ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, marking the world’s creation.
Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after its destruction over 2,000 years ago.
What are Mitzvah celebrations? Mitzvahs are important events celebrating children becoming adults in the eyes of God. When a Jewish boy turns 13, he has a Bar Mitzvah. When a Jewish girl turns 12, she has a Bat Mitzvah.
After his Bar Mitzvah celebration, a Jewish man will sometimes wear a kippah cap to remind him of the commandments. The kippah is a head covering worn to show respect to God.