Judaism What do Jews believe?
Jews, like Christians and Muslims, believe that God created everything and that he is the lord of the universe. They also believe that they have a Covenant, or solemn agreement, with God. In the Bible, about 4 000 years ago, God makes a promise to Abraham and his descendants and says, " I will be your God and you will be my people".
Jews believe that this covenant means that if they live according to God's laws, and are faithful to God, he will look after them and that they will go to a perfect future world.
Jews live their daily lives according to the rules of the Torah. These rules cover nearly every part of daily life. Some of the laws are about being honest, generous to the poor, clean and healthy. Other laws remind the Jews that they are a special people because of God's covenant.
An example of this is that Jews only eat "kosher" food. This means that the food is prepared according to the law. They do not eat pork, rabbits or shellfish. There are many things that remind Jews of God every day. Many keep their heads covered and may wear a prayer shawl, or tallit, which reminds them of the God's law.
There are two main Jewish groups. They are the Orthodox and Reformed Jews. Orthodox Jews follow all the laws strictly and only worship in Hebrew. Reformed Jews only came into being in the middle of the 1800's and they interpret the laws more freely. They also worship in Hebrew and their native language.
Jews outside Israel
In the Bible you can read about the Jews escaping from Egypt and slavery with God's help. This is called the Exodus and is celebrated during Passover. He also promised the Jews a land of their own where they could live forever. After many years of wandering through a desert the Jews found a land near the Jordan River. They defeated the people who were living there and made the area their own country called Israel.
Their king was called David and he made the Jerusalem the capital of his new country and his son, Solomon, built a beautiful temple there to worship God. King David lived around 1 000 BC and by 586 BC Israel had been destroyed and its people exiled to a city called Babylon. 40 years later they were allowed to return to their homeland, but many of them decided to stay in Babylon. These people were the first Jews to live outside Israel.
In 160 BC they regained their freedom, but were soon conquered by the Romans. The Jews decided to rebel against the Romans in 66 AD, but were defeated and Jerusalem was destroyed. After this the Jews scattered all over the world and had no homeland until modern Israel was created in 1948.
Image: many Jews travel to Jerusalem in Israel to pray at the Western Wall, which you can see in the foreground of this picture. Source: http://www.valerieandjoe.com/archives2/CRW_7893_E.jpg
Today Jerusalem and Israel is seen as the centre of the Jewish faith and Jews from all over the world travel there to visit the Western Wall in the city because it is the only part of the last great temple that still exists.
What are the Torah and the Hebrew Bible?
When the Jews escaped from Egypt they travelled in the desert for years until they came to Mount Sinai, which sits between the Nile River and Jordan. God called Moses, the leader of the Jews, to the top of the mountain and gave him the Torah. This is the first five books of the Bible and contains the rules for Jewish people to live their lives by. The most important of these rules are the Ten Commandments, but Jews observe 603 more rules from the Torah to guide them. Christians also follow the Ten Commandments.
What is the Sabbath?
The Sabbath is a day of rest, prayer, pleasure and the enjoyment of life through rest and refreshment. Jews celebrate their Sabbath every Saturday. They do this because, the first book of the Bible, Genesis, describes how God created the universe. He made everything in six days, and on the seventh day he rested. Sunday is seen as the first day of the week, so Saturday is the seventh day. Jews do not work from Friday evening to Saturday evening.
Jewish Festivals Yom Kippur/The Day of Atonement
This is the holiest day of the Jewish year and is the end of the festival that starts in September or October with the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is also known as Trumpets because a ram's horn is blown in the synagogue to call Jews to prayer. They also eat apple dipped in honey and to wish each other a "good and sweet year".
This festival takes place at the same time as the Christian celebrations for Easter. It celebrates the release of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. A special meal called seder, or "order", is held in every Jewish home. The story of the release is told, songs are sung and traditional dishes are eaten. On the evening of Passover every Jewish home is searched to make sure that there is no yeast in the house and flat, unleavened bread is eaten instead of normal bread.
Simchat Torah/Rejoicing in the Law
This is a joyful celebration to thank God for the Torah. These five books are read in the synagogue over the period of one and the scrolls of the law are carried around the synagogue accompanied by singing and dancing.
This festival takes place around the same time as the Christian Christmas. Jewish families light candles in a nine-branched candleholder similar to the Menorah with a candle being lit on each day of the festival (see symbols).
|The Menorah is one of the oldest Jewish symbols and is a seven-pointed candlestick that is used to symbolize the nation of Jews.|
|The Star of David is a very well known Jewish symbol. It has six sides to symbolize that god protects his people on six sides, north, south, east, west, up and down. The biblical King David used this symbol as a shield to show that God protected him in war.|
|Jews live all over the world and have rituals and traditions that make them unique. Israel is the homeland of all Jews. Some Jewish men wear a yarmulke, or small round hat made from cloth, to show their devotion.|