What is Judaism?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines Judaism as “the profession or practice of the Jewish religion; the religious system or polity of the Jew” (“Judaism”). Based on this definition, Judaism is a religion. Judaism is not a religion; it is more than that. Judaism is the combination of a religion, a culture, and a race. The history of Judaism dates back to the creation of the world and of mankind, and has shaped the Judaism into what it is today.
The history of Judaism began in the biblical book of Genesis. Abraham, who is considered the father of Judaism, created a covenant with God. God promised Abraham heirs who would be circumcised as a sign of the everlasting covenant (Neusner 594). From that point on, Abraham did God’s work on Earth. The next major event in the history of Judaism took place in Egypt. Because of a famine, the Hebrew people migrated to Egypt, where they were enslaved. God is said to have saved the Hebrew people from the Egyptians by enveloping Egypt with multiple plagues that targeted only the Egyptians (“The History of Judaism”). The Hebrew people were very grateful for the work of this divine figure, and they began to praise him. The faith in this divine figure came to be called Judaism, and evolved into a religion.
In order to classify Judaism as a religion, the reader must understand what a religion is. Religion can be defined as both “a particular system of faith and worship” and as “action or conduct indicating a belief in reverence for, and desire to please, a divine ruling power; the exercise or practice of rites or observances implying this” (“Religion”). Judaism contains all of the required elements of a religion.
Although there are many separate groups within Judaism, a number of basic beliefs and principles stand as common ground. The first and most important basic belief of all the groups within Judaism is that there is only one God, which classifies Judaism as monotheistic (Harrison 25). God created the Heavens, the Earth, and the inhabitants of the Earth in his image; so, we are all equal in God’s eyes. The second belief, which closely relates to the latter idea, is that because God created the Earth and all of its inhabitants, he is the father. The Jewish faith sees the people of the world as one big family because we are all God’s children. A third piece of common ground in Judaism is that for the most part, all Jewish people partake in the same festivals and celebrations; a number of common prayers are shared as well (Harrison 26). A very important, shared principle among the people who practice Judaism is that God forgives those people who are truly sorry for whatever they have done. Finally, every group within Judaism reads the Torah, which is a set of laws and guidelines showing people how they should live.
Each of the beliefs and principles that the Jewish people share are based on the idea that there is one god, who they can talk to whenever they want. The Jewish people pray to God to show him respect and give him praise at places called synagogues. The belief in a divine, ruling power and the fact that the Jewish people praise a higher being qualify Judaism as a religion, but Judaism is multifaceted in that it is more than just a religion. There are many cultural, fraternal, and philanthropic institutions that are associated with Judaism, and therefore, are considered part of the Jewish community. The members of these institutions don’t necessarily worship at the synagogues or believe what people of the Jewish faith believe, but they are still considered Jews (Harrison 33).
For many years, the word “Jew” has been used to describe both the people that practice Judaism and those people that are affiliated with Judaism in some other way. Because of how tightly-knit the Jewish communities are, it is easy to see why people would assume that “Jew” is a race. Technically, Jews are not a race of people. A person’s race is based on genetics, not on their actions or their faith (Rich 3). In the case of Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, in1987, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Jews are a race of people. This was meant to protect them from racial discrimination.
Judaism is a blend of a religion, a culture, and a race of people. Judaism began because of God’s actions in saving the Hebrew people. The Hebrew people praised him out of gratitude. Over the years, this new faith attracted millions of followers and grew to into more of a way of life than just a religion.
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- Anonymous. “The History of Judaism.” Religion Facts. 8 February 2007
- Harrison, Bernard. “Judaism.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and
Social Science 256 (1948): 25-35
- Neusner, Jacob. Religious Foundations of Western Civilization. Tennessee: Abingdon
- “Religion.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989
- Rich, Tracey R. “What is Judaism?” JewFAQ. 9 February 2008
- Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb. No. 85-2156. Supreme Ct. of the US. May 1987