How many Jews are there in the world today?
About 14 million
Where do most Jews in the world live?
Israel, the United States, and Europe
In general terms, describe the 13 Articles of Faith.
Principles of faith that summarize the fundamental beliefs of Judaism
- Belief in the 13 Articles of Faith is the minimum requirement for being a Jew, according to medieval Jewish philosopher Rabbi Maimonides
- However, almost all have been challenged at one time or another by various Jewish sects
List Judaism's 13 Articles of Faith.
God is one and unique
God is incorporeal
God is eternal
Only God should be worshipped
The words of God's prophets are true
Moses was the greatest of the prophets
God gave his law (the Torah) to Moses on Mt. Sinai
There will be no other Torah
God knows the thoughts and deeds of men
God will reward the good and punish the wicked
The messiah will come
The dead will be resurrected
Although Judaism comprises a diverse group of beliefs, it is unified by some common traditions and characteristics. Name a few of them.
A quest for meaning in human existence and in the nature of God
A belief that the Hebrews are God's "chosen people"
The importance of history
More emphasis on practice than beliefs
More emphasis on life than on the afterlife
What are some of the sacred texts of Judaism?
Tanakh (which contains the Torah)
In Judaism, what is the Tanakh?
The Tanakh refers to the entirety of the Hebrew Bible
- The Torah is only the first part
- Second part: Nevi'im (Prophets)
- Third part: Ketuvim (Writings)
- Mostly the same material as the Christian Old Testament, but the books, and sometimes the verses, are ordered differently
In Judaism, what is the Torah?
The first section of the Tanakh
- Same as the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament
- Also called the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch
- Contains the Ten Commandments and other statements on ethics and proper worship of God
Name the five books of the Jewish Torah.
What are some of the major events described in the Jewish Torah?
The creation of the world
God's covenant with Abraham
The slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt and their subsequent exodus
The revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai
The Israelites' 40 years of wandering in the desert, followed by their conquest of Canaan
What are the 613 Commandments?
A collection of 613 commandments (mitzvot, singular mitzvah) mentioned throughout the Torah
- The number 613 comes from the Talmud
- Medieval Jewish philosopher Rabbi Maimonides (a.k.a. Rambam) wrote the most standard version of the 613 mitzvot
- Other versions do exist
- Many of the mitzvot are no longer applicable in modern times
What is the Talmud?
A body of commentary on the Torah and how to interpret and apply it
- Passed down orally for many centuries before being written
- Two parts: Mishnah (oral tradition written down in 2nd century A.D.) and Gemara (later commentary on the Mishnah)
- Some Jews believe Talmud was first taught to Moses by God; others reject the Talmud as an entirely human invention
What is the Midrash?
A large body of rabbinical material derived from homilies (spoken sermons)
- Tradition established in the 4th to 6th centuries B.C.E. and continues to this day
- Often in the form of stories -- many Midrash collections fill in gaps in the Biblical narrative
What are the three major movements within modern Judaism?
Orthodox: The most traditional of the modern movements. Strict observance of laws and customs set down in the Torah.
Conservative: Moderate sect. Holds to traditional customs while allowing some latitude for modernization.
Reform: The most liberal movement in modern Judaism. Rejects many practices that are perceived as outdated.
Briefly outline important events in the life of Abraham as narrated in the Bible.
Abraham seems to have been born in a place called Ur of the Chaldees around 1800 B.C.E.
God made a covenant with Abraham: if Abraham left his father's house to wander the desert of Israel, then he would have many descendants who would rule the land of Canaan
Abraham's wife Sarai had borne no children at age 90, so she offered her maidservant Hagar to Abraham
Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, whose descendants became the Muslims
Sarai later bore Isaac, whose descendants became the Jews
God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a test of Abraham's faith; at the last moment, God sent an angel to stop the sacrifice
Briefly summarize Jewish beliefs regarding the Messiah (mashiach).
Most practicing Jews believe that a messiah (mashiach, "anointed one") will one day appear on earth
The time of the mashiach will involve an ingathering of exiles to the Jewish homeland of Israel, and moral triumph on a universal scale
Jewish opinions about the mashiach's appearance and actions are diverse
Note: Christians believe the messiah has already come in the form of Jesus Christ.
Describe kosher dietary restrictions.
Among land animals, only those that chew their cud and have cloven hooves are allowed to be eaten (e.g. cows, goats, deer, sheep; not pigs)
Among aquatic animals, only fish with fins and scales are allowed to be eaten (lobsters, crabs, octopi, etc. are forbidden)
Birds of prey, insects, reptiles, and amphibians are forbidden
All animals except fish must be ritually slaughtered and drained of blood; blood may not be consumed because it contains the soul of the animal
Dairy and meat may not be mixed in a single meal
What does Passover (Pesach) celebrate?
Pesach commemorates the Jews' Exodus from Egypt, where they had been enslaved
- This event, narrated in the second book of the Torah (Exodus), is the single most important turning point in Jewish history
- It confirmed the status of the Hebrews as God's chosen people and established them as a nation
How is Pesach celebrated?
Pesach usually occurs in April and lasts for a week
- All leaven must be removed from Jewish households
- A ritual meal called a seder is shared on the first and (usually) second nights of Passover
- A seder involves various rituals and benedictions, including readings from a book called the Haggadah that tells the story of the Exodus
What is Rosh Hashanah?
The Jewish New Year
- Two days; falls in September or October
- A time to reflect on the past year and plan improvements for the coming year
- 100 notes from a shofar (ram's horn, blown like a trumpet) are sounded in the synagogue on each of the two days
- The practice of tashlikh (casting off): worshippers empty their pockets into flowing water to cast off their sins from the past year
What is Yom Kippur?
"Day of Atonement," the most holy and solemn of Jewish holidays
- One day, falls in September or October
- Last chance to repent for sins against God from the previous year
- Strict fasting, no work
- Bathing, anointing the body, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in sex are prohibited
What is Chanukkah?
A week-long Jewish holiday, usually falling in December
- Celebrates the victory of the Jewish revolt against the tyrannical Greek ruler Antiochus IV in the 2nd century B.C.E.
- Revolution was led by the Hasmonean family, a.k.a. the Maccabees
- The Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated after the victory
- There was only enough oil left in the Temple menorah to burn for one night, but God caused it to last eight nights
- Hence, the Chanukkah practice of lighting a new candle on the menorah each night
- Not a highly important religious holiday, but well-known due to its proximity to Christmas
What is Purim?
Celebration of the Jews' escape from extermination in Persia, as described in the Book of Esther
- One-day holiday, usually falls in March
- Purim service includes a reading of the Book of Esther
- Eating, drinking, merry-making, and carnival-like celebrations
What is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
Jewish coming of age rituals
- Bar mitzvah = son of the commandment; Bat mitzvah = daughter of the commandment
- Children are merely encouraged to obey the commandments, but a bar/bat mitzvah is required too
- Boys become a bar mitzvah at age 13; girls at age 12
- Term actually refers to the person who comes of age, but is colloquially used to refer to the ceremony
- The ceremony is not required by Jewish law and is a relatively modern invention
Briefly describe Jewish funeral customs.
After death, the body is never left alone until burial
No one may eat, drink, or perform a commandment in the presence of the body
The casket must be simple, and open caskets are prohibited
The body must be buried, not cremated, and burial must take place as soon as possible
"Shiva" period for seven days after burial: mourners gather in the home of the deceased, prohibited from partaking in any pleasurable activity
"Shloshim" period for 30 days after burial: mourners avoid parties, do not shave or cut their hair, and do not listen to music
What is Kabbalah?
The mystical branch of Judaism
- Explains the relationship between God and the universe
- Its central text is the Zohar
- Study of the "Tree of Life," a diagram of ten "spheres" or "emanations" that represent God's interactions with the universe
Briefly describe the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews.