What is Judism?


Jewish tradition teaches that a child born to a Jewish mother is a Jew without question. This means that a child born to a Jewish father and gentile mother is not a Jew, even if this child goes to the synagogue and keeps the Jewish traditions.

The English word Jew comes from the Hebrew word Jehudi meaning from the tribe of Judah. Judah was the son of Jacob ad gave his name to one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites. By the tenth century BCE, the twelve tribes had been divided into two, the Northern called Israel and the Southern called Judah.


                                                                               Who are the Jews?


1)      The Jews are a race of people. The Nazis reckoned that they were an inferior race and slaughtered 6 million between 1939 and 1945. Yet they are not one race, they are on every continent of the world.


2)      The Jews are a religious community. While there are some that have very strong religious views, there are some that do not believe in God at all. These are called secular Jews and are still proud of their Jewishness.


3)      The Jews are a nation. This cannot be really true as only 25% of the worlds Jews live in Israel. Here just over 3 million share citizenship with Christians and Muslims. At 5 million plus, there are probably more in the USA.


4)       The Jews are a people. This is the most helpful and accurate since it includes all Jews both in Israel and the world who believe in one God of Abraham and Moses and the ones who dont.




                                                                    Orthodox Jews


Orthodox Jews fall into two groups, Ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews.




Ultra-Orthodox Jews refer to themselves as the Hasidiam meaning those who fear God There are two main principles of believing that.


1)       The world is a dangerous place for those who believe in God and so must be kept at arms length. Within the home, tv is either banned or rationed. Children are only sent to special schools where boys and girls are educated differently. Boys follow a curriculum laid down over 2000 years ago and the girls are shown how to be good mothers and homemakers.

2)       Everything is based on the laws found in the first five books of the Jewish scriptures the Torah. All these laws must be kept exactly with no variation.


Traditional Jews


Orthodox Jews like to call themselves Traditional because they believe their religion has remained unchanged for centuries.  They live by the teachings of the Tenakh the Jewish Bible, the Talmud and the Midrash. All of them are said to be the word of God and so binding. Which means they believe


1)       That one God created the world and keeps it and brought the humans into being.

2)       The God who called Abraham and Moses and through them created Israel. The covenant still applies today. God said that he would be their God if they kept the laws and remained faithful to him.

3)       The God who gave Moses the law. No part of the Torah can be changed. Its 613 instructions must be interpreted and obeyed. These cover everything including food.




Celebrating the Shabbot is an important element in Orthodox Jews. The fact that work is banned on the Shabbot is kept unless life is at risk. Only men and boys go to the synagogue on Friday evenings for prayer and the whole family on the morning of Shabbot. However, the women and girls sit in the gallery and take no part in the service.


                                                                        Reform Jews


Reform Jews do not claim to go back to the beginning of Judaism. They trace theirs only to the 18th century and the Haskalah movement.

The first Reform synagogue was inHamburg in 1818 and was called the Hamburg temple. Until then all Jews had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The early Reform Jews said this was a false hope.


Reform Beliefs


They believed in sweeping out old and outdated laws and rituals. This led to new ideas some of which seemed top radical. One group wanted to abolish circumcision but few were prepared to do this.  The new beliefs were


1)       A new understanding of revelation the way God makes himself known to his people.  They speak of a gradual revelation with God leading them into a new understanding of the Torah.

2)       They allow important work to be done on the holy day while still saying that it is a day of rest.

3)       Refusal to accept the laws of the Torah relating to purity. This includes the one that says you must not go near a woman who is menstruating. Orthodox still have a Mikveh, a pool in which the woman immerses herself after a period before being allowed to have sexual relations. The Reform Jews believe this has no place in modern times.

4)       A change relating to marriage and divorce.




Although the word means hatred of all things Jewish, it was coined until 1875, it is clear that such hatred has existed almost since the beginning of Judaism itself. Greek and Latin authors laughed because they wouldnt worship the ancient Gods of Greece or Rome. One of the earliest examples was that the Israelites were driven out of Egypt because they were lepers.  Another was that they kept the Shabbot because they were lazy and scared of work.


                                                Christian Church and the Jews


Most of the early followers of Jesus were Jews and for a long time, Christianity remained part of Judaism. This changed when Jesus was killed, whom they regarded as the son of God. Later the Jews were accused of killing Christian babies and using their blood in unleavened bread used in Pesach. This charge, made in Norwich in 1154 became known as the blood libel and the direct cause of thousands of Jews being put to death by Christian mobs in the 12th and 13th centuries. Then in the time of the Black death, Jews were accused of poisoning wells and bringing the deaths of the Christians. Of these claims were of course nonsense.


                                                                 In Europe


By the middle ages, anti-Semitism was rife throughout Europe. The Crusaders slaughtered thousands of Jews and by the 13th century, Jews had been expelled from most of western Europe. In the 16th century, because the Jews wouldnt go along with him, Martin Luther wrote leaflets that incited Christians to burn down Jewish synagogues and show them no mercy.

In the years that followed, his wishes were put into practice. The Nazis used him to enforce their beliefs and tried to the total elimination of Jews from the face of the earth.



                                                            The Holocaust


No-one knows who coined the phrase Holocaust but the Jews had two others names for it. Shoah Catastrophe and Hurban Desolation.

Unbelievably there are still people who deny the Holocaust ever took place.


The Facts 6 million Jews were murdered in the Concentration Camps in 6 years. At the end there were only 11 million Jews left and 5 million of these lived in the States, 250,000 were living in Displaced camps and 1.5 million were without a home. 650,000 of these went to live in the new Israel.

I million of those who died were children.

There were 28 camps at the height of the war and the most horrific of these were Auschwitz and Treblinka, killing over 5,000 a day.


The Reasons

These numbered many, including the fact they held positions of power, they were successful in business, they thought they thought more of their religion than their country. People found it easy to be jealous, envious and even afraid of people who were different in any way. Added to this was the fact that Hitler wanted a pure Aryan race. Also killed along side the Jews were Gypsies and gays.




For the average person in Britain and elsewhere they were shocked at what had been going on. The Jews were keeping silent from shock. From then on it was decided that this could never happen again and memorials were erected and the camps were opened so that people could see what happened. A memorial was built at Yad Vesham in Jeruselem and it means a place and a name the names of different camps are on the floor. A line of trees called the Avenue of the Righteous commemorates all the Gentiles that risked their lives to help Jewish men and women during the Holocaust.



A whole series of events have led to many Jewish people to abandon the traditional Jewish understanding of God. How could God, if he is good and allpowerful as Jews believe, allow an event like the Holocaust take place This has made many Jews conclude that there is no God. Many of them still want to keep their Jewish identity and be part of the Jewish community.




This is described as how Abram came from a city in which many Gods were worshipped and that he and his family believed that only ONE God spoke to him. This is the vocal point of the Jewish scriptures and believes that One God created the universe and that only ONE God reveals himself.


God in the World


The Jewish faith teaches that the universe did not create itself nor has it always existed. The is not the result of chance or an accidental collision of atoms. It was created by God. This why they praise God each morning with the words. Praised are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe. You fix the circles of light and darkness, you ordain the order of all creation, you cause light to shine over all the earth. Your radiant mercy is upon its habitants, praised are you, o Lord, creator of the heavenly bodies


They see the reality of God in all the force, the wonder of nature. God has infinite power and authority, he did not come into existence since nothing or no-one could possibly create God. God is eternal, there was never a time when he did not exist.


With Abram He created a Covenant and in this he promised that he would remain faithful to the descendants of Abraham, the Jews and would treat them as special people. They in turn would be expected to serve him, keep his laws and remember him at all times.


The Shema


Each morning and evening Jewish people recite a prayer called the Shema meaning hear. This is the closest they come to expressing their belief in God.


1)       Deuteronomy 6.4-9 There is one God and no other. Everything that a Jew believes about God is based on this core of belief. Throughout the Scriptures they are forbidden from making any idol of this God to worship. God is way beyond human understanding and thought, how can he be represented in stone, wood or gold.

2)       Deuteronomy 11.13-21 God has entered into a binding agreement with the Jewish people and this still exists today.

3)       Numbers 15.37-41 It was God who delivered the Jews from slavery in Egypt and gave them their promised land of Canaan, Gods purpose for the Jews is still being worked out.



                                                                     The Synagogue


This is a place where the Jews meet to worship God. It is also a place of assembly, a community centre and place of study, and a house of prayer. But having said that, they are not strictly places of worship as most people do that at home.

It seems that the first Jews began to build these places when they were exiled to Babylon in the 6th century BCE. Jews went to Jerusalem three times a year for festivals. When the temple was finally destroyed by the Romans in the first century CE it was never rebuilt.


Inside the Synagogue


The Ark is the focal point of the place and is in the eastern wall facing towards Jerusalem. The scrolls of the Torah are stored in the Ark and are hidden from view by curtains. Each of the scrolls have been copied in Hebrew by hand and are mounted on two rollers with silver heads and bells which represent Gods power. The scroll is wrapped in velvet with a plate representing the High Preist in biblical times. When a scroll becomes too worn it is not destroyed but buried like a human.

There is a raised platform call the Bimah from where the scroll is read during the service. This is in the middle of the synagogue  but in Reform and more liberal ones, it is on the same level as the Ark.

Above the Ark is the ner tamid the lamp of perpetual light. This light burns all the time to represent the continuity of the Jewish people and that God is always present.


Somewhere in the synagogue you are also likely to see two tablets of stone which contain the first two Hebrew words for each of the ten sayings.


                                                                        The Shema


This is not so much a prayer but a statement of the belief in God. It is found in the Torah.

The Shema Deuteronomy 6.4-7, 11.13-21 and Numbers 15.37-41 makes two statements. The first is that there is only one God and it is important that everything else stems from it.

The second is one which people are expected to respond completely to the one God and show their total commitment.


In Life and Worship


It is the custom to teach children to say the first words of the Shema as soon as they begin to talk. From then on it is an important part of everyday life. It is said that you should say it when you lie down and when you rise. This is taken to mean in the morning and evening.

At home or in the synagogue the Jews cover their eyes while they recite the Shema to help them concentrate on the theme of God. Some sit while they say the words and whisper them quietly. Other though shout them to get people to listen to what they are saying.

It is said that some recite the Shema as they are going to their deaths and hope that these are the last words they will speak when they know their soul is leaving their body.




A Jewish person is reminded of the Shema in two ways.


1)       It is on one of the scrolls included in the Tefillin that he wears as he prays

2)       It is in the Mezuzah, a small scroll about 7.5 centimetres long, encased in wood or metal and secured on the doorposts of all Jewish homes. Inside the scroll the Shema is written in Hebrew to symbolize Gods presence in the home.


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