The Jewish Belief




The Jewish Belief


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The Jewish Belief


The Jewish Belief


A World Religion


Religion is obviously a central point for describing Jews.  Anyone who believes in the Jewish God, follows Jewish traditions and obeys the religious laws can become a Jew.  But someone whose mother was Jewish is also considered to be Jewish themselves.  This means that even those who are not necessarily religious are included as Jews.


There was a Jewish nation in ancient times, but this title is no longer accurate.  Not even the state of Israel can be called a Jewish nation for not all of its citizens are Jews.  In any case, most of the world’s Jews live outside the state of Israel.  They are citizens of the countries in which they live, not Israeli citizens.


Perhaps the best and most useful way of describing Jews is to call them a people. This can include those who are firm believers in the Jewish religion and those who support the progress of Israel as a Jewish homeland.  It also includes those Jews who are not religious and do not support Israel, but who are very aware of their Jewish roots.


Jewish Beginnings


Although Moses is the most important of the Jewish leaders, Judaism has no single founder, unlike many of the other religions of the world. Throughout its long history the Jewish religion has had many leaders and prophets, whose ideas have been moulded into a single pattern. They all lived thousands of years ago during the time of such great empires as Egypt, Babylon and Rome.  The empires have long since crumbled but the religion continues to flourish.


Abraham is not only important for Jews but also for Christians and Muslims – in fact, he is the father of all three religions.  He is believed to be the fist to teach that there is only one God, who created the world, and that only God should be worshipped.


Centuries after Abraham another leader, called Moses, emerged.  He had the task of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land of Israel.


Another leader was Ezra who inspired the people to rebuild their temple after it was destroyed when Jerusalem was invaded by the Babylonians.  Two people from later Jewish writings are particularly famous.  These are called Hillel and Akiva.


The Basic Beliefs


The Jewish belief about God is simple.  There is only one god and he alone is prayed to.  He is the creator of the universe but he is also near to every creature and listens to their prayers.


Although there is only one God, the Jewish religion has many names for God.  God’s real name is so holy that it is never mentioned – and its pronunciation is unknown.  Other names are used instead, such as God, Lord, Father or a phrase which means ‘The Holy One, Blessed be He’.


Judaism teaches that because God is good, so people should be good.  The Jewish religion demands that Jews should love both God and all people.  However, since God has given humans the ability to choose what they do, there will be times when people do bad, even evil things.  They believe that god will always forgive sins as long as people are truly sorry and show that they will try to put things right.


The Jews regard themselves as God’s chosen people.  They believe that since God chose them to give his laws to they have special duties and obligations to perform and only if they remain faithful to their religion do they believe that they will keep the special relationship that God has made with them.


The Jewish people see themselves as a ‘light to the nations’ which means teaching the world about God and his laws.  But this does not mean that Jews want everyone to become Jewish and, although many people do convert to Judaism, it is not a religion that seeks converts.   Muslims and Christians already share the same view of God and Judaism simply asks that all people, whatever their beliefs, should live their lives with love, respect and care for other people.


Another important teaching is concerned with a future event.  The Jews believe that a special leader will be sent by God to bring peace to the world.  He is called the Messiah or the Annointed One.  The Messiah has not yet come according to the belief of the Jews and they consider that when he does come he will bring everlasting peace and truth to the world.


In common with other beliefs, Jews believe that death is not the end.  There is a future eternal existence.  They also believe that life on earth is important and that it should be given as much meaning and importance as possible.



The Synagogue


At first the synagogue was a meeting place: that is what the original Greek word means.  (The Hebrew term, with the same meaning, is beit ha-knesset).  Later the synagogue also became a place of study and prayer – in fact, an institution for the whole Jewish people.  It is used as a community centre.


Many Jews today refer to their house of worship as a Synagogue but some prefer the Yiddish word ‘Shul’.  In a few countries (such as the United States) a popular name is ‘temple’.




Synagogues are found wherever Jews live and their size and style will often depend upon local needs.  Some will be no larger than a room but others are able to seat hundreds of worshippers.




Some features are found in all synagogues and it is these which make them Jewish places of worship.  Central to any synagogue is the Holy Ark which houses the Torah Scrolls.  The Ark is covered by an embroidered curtain and above it hangs the Eternal Light.  This is always burning as a reminder that God’s presence is in the Synagogue even when no service is taking place.


Either on the curtain, or above the Ark, are two tables with Hebrew letters on them.  The letters identify the first words of the Ten Commandments  Other quotations from the Bible are inscribed just above the Ark.


In the centre of the synagogue, facing the Ark, is a raised platform called the Bimah.  It is from here that services are conducted and readings from the Bible made.  In some synagogues the Bimah is directly in front of the Ark.


In some synagogues there are separate seats for men and women.






Many big synagogues have daily services both morning and evening as well as Sabbath and festival services.  When only a few people attend daily prayers, such services are often held in a smaller room.


There are also other activities held in the synagogue. Children go to adjoining rooms to learn Hebrew and to learn about their religion.  Adults also go to the synagogue for classes.  There are many occasions for concerts, lectures, parties and dances as well.




Prayer is important in nearly every religion and Judaism is no exception.  Prayer is a way of communicating with God.  Jewish people pray three times a day - evening, morning and afternoon.  Prayers must be said privately but Judaism encourages prayer in the company of others and for this reason Jews often try to come together to pray publicly.  A Jewish service may be held anywhere; not necessarily in a Synagogue.  Any room used for prayer assumes a certain holiness.


The oldest sacred book of the Jewish people is the bible.  Christians call it the Old Testament, but Jews usually call it the Tenach.


The first five books are considered the most important and in Hebrew they are called the Torah.  It is these books which are found in the Torah scrolls and part of them is read out in the synagogue each Sabbath.  Some other parts of the bible are also read.


The bible has many rules about food according to the Jews.  When the food fits all the rules it is called kosher.  Some food has a sign on the packet which guarantees that it is kosher.  One rule is that food with meat in it must be kept apart from food with milk or dairy products in it.  Kosher kitchens have two separate sets of plates, pots and cutlery; one for milk and one for meat foods.



Growing up a Jew


When Jewish children are born they are given both an ordinary name and a Hebrew name.  The ordinary name may be chosen from among those which are popular at the time and the Hebrew name may be given in memory of a relative.  The Hebrew name is used in the synagogue and also on religious documents such as wedding certificates.




A boy is given his name during a circumcision ceremony, which is a very important and ancient rite.  (Circumcision is important in other religions too; in fact, one seventh of the world’s male population is circumcised, most of them being Muslim).  Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis in males.  It is so important that it is always performed on the eighth day after birth, even if that day is a Sabbath.  It is performed by a Mohel, who is trained, not necessarily as a doctor or a rabbi, but is always a specially trained religious Jew.


Going to School


Most Jewish children go to two schools.  During the day they go to an ordinary school and on a Sunday morning and weekday evenings they go to religious school.  Here they learn Hebrew and also they learn about the customs and practices of their religion.


Growing Up


Boys must be able to read Hebrew well for their Bar Mitzvah, a ceremony which marks a boy’s entry into the adult community at the age of thirteen.  He must be able to chant or read a section from the Torah scroll.   At this stage of his life the boy is expected to observe all the Jewish laws.


Girls join the adult community at twelve instead of thirteen and some synagogues have a similar ceremony for girls called a Bat Mitzvah.






The Jewish Sabbath, called Shabat in Hebrew, is a very special day.   Jews always rest on the Sabbath but they may also use the day for worship, study and leisure.  All the preparation for the Sabbath is done in advance – even preparing the food.


Shabat begins a little before sunset on Friday night and ends at sunset on Saturday.  Shabat is welcomed in by the women of the house by lighting two candles.  In some homes men celebrate the start of Shabat at the synagogue.  There is a special meal which begins with a blessing of wine and bread and a blessing of the day.  The departure of the Sabbath is marked by a ceremony too.  This time a braided candle with many wicks is used.  A spicebox containing sweet smelling spices is displayed and the final act is to pour wine over the candle to put it out.  Then everyone wishes each other a good week.


Other celebrations


Some Jewish celebrations are:


New Year:  The Jewish New Year known as Rosh Ha-Shanah is celebrated in September or October,


Yom Kippur:  This is known as ‘The Day of Attonement’ in English.  Jews fast for twenty-five hours and spend most of that time in the synagogue praying for forgiveness.  This happens ten days after Rosh Ha-Shanah.


Succot:  This is a very happy festival.  Most families build a succah which is like a hut with no roof and it is decorated with foilage and fruit.  Many families eat their meals in it and sleep in it if the weather is fine.  Many synagogues also build a succah for everyone to enjoy.


Hanukah:  This is known as the Festival of Lights and falls in December.  Hanukah lasts for eight days and each day candles are lit in a special candlestick.  On the first day one candle is lit, then two the next night and so on until all eight are glowing on the final night.  Children play a Hunukah game with a spinning top, called a Dreidle and families eat potato pancakes know as Latkes.


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