Monday, February 16, 2015

Religion Survey: Judaism

This is turning out to be more a selection of links than a summary... but as I am not Jewish, I think that is probably better, to link to sources written by practitioners, and updated as needed.

Last week I discussed presenting a brief review of world religions, in order to foster respect for the diversity that religious pluralism in the U.S. brings.  It is not possible to convey the depth of a religious belief system in 500 words or less. These posts are intended to be a high-level introduction to the origin, founder (if any), holy book(s), principles, and major holy days or celebrations of each of these faiths. I will also attempt to provide references for deeper study.

Religion: Judaism

The ancient patriarchs, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, likely lived between 2000 and 1400 BCE.
Moses and the Exodus from Egypt may have occurred during the reign of Ramses II, ~1300 BCE.

Jewish practice traces back to the patriarchs, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, and their covenant with their God.

Holy Book(s): reference:

  • Written Torah, “The Law”, is, narrowly speaking, the first five books of the Bible.
    • In the broader sense, it refers to the entire Tanakh (Torah – Nevt’im – Kethuvim).
  •  Nevt’im, “The Prophets”, covers Joshua to Malakhi.
  • Kethuvim, “The Writings,” includes Psalms, Proverbs, and other books.
  • Oral Torah is the Talmudic tradition of multiple ways to interpret the Tanakh
    • When it was written down, it became known as the Mishnah.
  • The Gemara are additional commentaries on the Mishnah.

Judaism is more about one does, than about what one believes. Jews are asked to follow the 613 commandments, which include dietary restrictions.
Non-Jews are just asked to follow the 7 laws of Noah.

While I learned both of these from the “Taste of Judaism” course, this page gives further detail.

Major Holy Days / Celebrations:
Here’s a link to a Gentile’s guide to Jewish holidays

The Jewish calendar is lunar-solar, which means that it follows a lunar calendar with adjustments to keep the holy days approximately in line with the solar seasons.  Jewish holidays are celebrated on the same Jewish day every year, however because of the lunar-solar calendar, those days shift against the currently accepted civil months. 

Major groupings / divisions of the religion:
Judaism today has three major movements:

  • Orthodox
  • Conservative
  • Reform
There are also the cultural/geographic divisions, most notably the Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions. 

Conversion to Judaism is possible, but is neither necessary nor encouraged. 

To learn more (Jewish-centered):
It is better to learn about Judaism from the Jewish-centered perspective, hence the links. This way one learns most directly how they see themselves. Learning about Judaism from non-Jewish-centered sources will usually come across as a distortion of their message.

The Anti-Defamation League has a variety of education and outreach resources.

Here are a few Jewish websites that Google pulled up. I would love to hear recommendations for Jewish-centered resources in the comments.
  • Judaism 101 - most of the above links go to articles on this site. I like that it provides multiple perspectives.
  • - this site is for a non-profit apolitical educational network of centers, headquartered in Jerusalem
  • - this site began as a library of Jewish books developed by a Rabbi in Ohio, and has expanded into an international network for education.
In addition to online resources:
  • Contact your local synagogue. The Rabbis I have met have been willing to educate and inform.
  •  Look for opportunities to take a class like “A Taste of Judaism
    • When I took it, our session was co-taught by the Rabbis of the local Reform and Conservative synagogues.
For a Christian-centered perspective:
I am an American, and most of my readers are based in the United States. I have seen many concerns from Christians that learning even the rudiments of other religions might threaten their faith… and that is one of the reasons I’m even attempting this series.

For those who are not ready to look at things from a Jewish-centered perspective, these two books are Christian-centered overviews:
For a Historical perspective:
These were some of my textbooks from both undergraduate and graduate coursework in history of the Ancient (Western, <sigh>) World.
They are academic books, and not Jewish-centered. They help with putting the Tanakh in context with the other cultures of the region.
From the Religious Studies perspective:
These were textbooks in my undergraduate Religious Studies coursework: