Judaism – Concept, characteristics, beliefs and holy books

We explain what Judaism is, its origin, characteristics and beliefs. Also, its main streams and what are its holy books.

Judaism is considered the oldest form of monotheism.

What is Judaism?

The Judaism is the religion of the Jewish or Hebrew people, considered the oldest form of monotheism, with more than 4,000 years of history. It is one of the three great Abrahamic religions, along with Christianity and Islam. The latter means that they are heirs to the story of the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim), one of the three great biblical patriarchs, and that believe in the existence of a single creator God.

However, the term Judaism also refers to the complex phenomenon that is the Jewish culture and tradition, in which religion, justice and social organization are integrated into the Hebrew way of life, to which the Haredi or ultra-Orthodox communities strictly adhere. . So Judaism it is considered, at the same time, as a religion, a culture and a nation.

Perhaps that is why, unlike other religions, there is no homogeneous way of practicing Judaism. There is not even a single, universal, organized and systematized body of religious texts by which religion is guided.

However, the Torah and the Tanach (equivalent from a Christian point of view to the Biblical Old Testament) constitute the central holy books of this religion. In any case, there are different currents of Judaism among which the following stand out:

  • Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Also called haredi or haredi (Hebrew: “those who tremble before God”), practices a particularly devout and sectarian Judaism, which turns its back on modern society and embraces traditional Hebrew values. They are easily distinguishable by their dark clothes, characteristic hats, and huge families. This stream is divided into two groups: the yazidis and the mitnagdim.
  • Orthodox Judaism. Strictly adhering to Jewish laws or halachaThis is one of the main and majority currents of Judaism. In it, ultra-Orthodox Judaism can even be classified (as a particularly fanatic vision), as well as other aspects such as modern Orthodox Judaism, much more willing to update its beliefs to suit the contemporary world, or religious Zionism, which defends the creation of a Jewish state through religious arguments.
  • Reform Judaism. Also called “progressive” or “progressive” Judaism, it is heir to the liberal Judaism that emerged in Germany during the Enlightenment (18th century), and has reconciled the bourgeois values ​​of liberalism with the Jewish religion, thus building a modern and intellectual, which has often been called “the Jewish enlightenment.”
  • Conservative Judaism. Also called masorti, emerged in 19th century Germany as a counter reaction to Reform Judaism, proposing a return to Jewish law (masoret and halacha), but without turning away from the context of the modern world and democracy, and embracing Zionism as politics.
  • Secular Judaism. In this current are considered all those who belong to the Jewish tradition for family or cultural reasons, but who practice religious rites little or nothing and are not governed at all by Jewish laws, but who have embraced the morality of the modern world.

As will be seen, Judaism has a rich and complex cultural history, since it is a religion and a way of life of the oldest that survive today. There are Jewish temples (called synagogues) of greater or lesser size in hundreds of countries, and in them the Jewish congregation meets to receive spiritual and moral guidance from a rabbi.

Characteristics of Judaism

Judaism characteristics
For Judaism, Shabbat (Saturday) is the day of rest.

The general features of Judaism can be summarized as:

  • It is an Abrahamic and monotheistic religion, that is, that it postulates the existence of a single God, omnipresent, creator of the universe, and who receives the name of Yahweh. This same God would have manifested himself to all the prophets of antiquity, such as Abraham, Moses, Noah, among others.
  • The religion It is represented through the Star of David, a sign that the Israelite King David placed on his flag and his coat of arms, and on the menorah or ritual seven-branched candelabrum, installed in the first Jewish temples in Jurasalem.
  • Jewish rites and their celebrations are governed by a calendar that combines the lunar and the solar, whose origins come from ancient times. According to this calendar, Saturdays (sabbat or shabbat) are holy days of the week dedicated to rest, during which no work should be carried out.
  • The Jewish world is governed by Jewish law or halacha, contained in the Talmud, the main legal corpus of religion. This corpus is made up of the Torah and the Mishnah, while the religious cult obeys what is established in the Tanakh.
  • The ritual language of this religion is Hebrew, considered as a sacred language. In this language all the Jewish sacred texts are written. However, there are also communities in which the liturgy is given in Yiddish or in Latin.
  • Non-jews (“Gentiles” or goyim) can convert to religion at will, and in that case they are considered legal Jews by the rest of the community. For this, male circumcision, a purification bath in a mikveh, and the approval of a rabbinical court are essential.
  • The Judaism adhere to a kosher diet, which prohibits the intake of pork and other “impure” animals, and requires the preparation of meats by a specific bleeding method. In addition, it prohibits any approximation between blood and milk.

Origin of Judaism

The Judaism originated in the remote antiquity of the Middle East, around 4,000 years ago. According to its own founding myths, it begins with the patriarch Abraham, who was summoned by God to leave his homeland of Ur (Mesopotamia) and march to a region of present-day Israel, known at that time as Canaan, which would be his promised land.

Abraham, together with his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, began a nomadic shepherd life along with his tribe, until they were reduced to slavery by the Egyptian Pharaoh.

Then a new prophet was anointed by God: Moses, who led his people back to Canaan, in an exodus through the Red Sea that lasted 40 years in the desert. Finally, the Jews settled in Jericho, in the agricultural area of ​​Canaan, and there the Jewish kingdom of Israel originated, of which twelve tribes were part: Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Ephraim, Dan, Benjamin, Reuben, Judah and Simeon.

It is important to note that the religious origin of Judaism coincides with the origin of the Hebrew people and their history.

Main beliefs of Judaism

judaism beliefs moses
For Judaism, the ten commandments were sent by God to guide the Jews.

The main beliefs of Judaism can be summarized as:

  • There is one and only God (Yahweh), creator of the universe, and his chosen people is the Hebrew, with whom he has a pact since ancient times. For that reason, the Jewish people must be “light among the nations” and carry God’s message to the world.
  • The ten biblical commandments were dictated by God himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, so that through them he would rule the Jewish people and bring them closer to salvation.
  • A messiah will come to rule the Jewish people and the rest of the world, who will be the last prophet of the Jewish tradition. Unlike Christianity, which believes in Jesus of Nazareth as said messiah, Judaism is still waiting.
  • The content of the Torah was dictated to the prophets by God Himself and it is a faithful reflection of his divine will.

Holy books of Judaism

Judaism has the Tanakh as its holy book, which corresponds to the 24 books of the Old Testament of Christians, and which is composed of:

  • The so-called pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Bible, known to the Hebrews as Torah.
  • The book of the prophets or Neviim.
  • The Book of Writings or Ketuvim.

Furthermore, the Hebrews govern their laws by two additional books:

  • The Mishnah, collection of the oral narratives of the Torah, delivered to Moses directly by God.
  • The Talmud or Gemara, an immense corpus of commentaries and interpretations of the Mishnah, carried out by the Amorites of the second century.