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Religion Library: Judaism

Quick Facts

Formedc. 2000 B.C.E.
OriginCanaan
Followers14,000,000
DeityGod (monotheistic)
Sacred TextsTorah, Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures), Talmud
HeadquartersNone

Judaism is a religious tradition with origins dating back nearly four thousand years, rooted in the ancient near eastern region of Canaan (which is now Israel and Palestinian territories). Originating as the beliefs and practices of the people known as "Israel," classical, or rabbinic, Judaism did not emerge until the 1st century C.E. Judaism traces its heritage to the covenant God made with Abraham and his lineage — that God would make them a sacred people and give them a holy land. The primary figures of Israelite culture include the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophet Moses, who received God's law at Mt. Sinai. Judaism is a tradition grounded in the religious, ethical, and social laws as they are articulated in the Torah — the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Jews refer to the Bible as the Tanakh, an acronym for the texts of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. Other sacred texts include the Talmud and Midrash, the rabbinic, legal, and narrative interpretations of the Torah. The contemporary branches of Judaism differ in their interpretations and applications of these texts. The four main movements within Judaism today are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist, respectively ranging from traditional to liberal to religiously progressive in their application of Torah. While diverse in their views, Jews continue to be unified on the basis of their common connection to a set of sacred narratives expressing their relationship with God as a holy people. Judaism tends to emphasize practice over belief. Jewish worship is centered in synagogues, which completely replaced the Second Temple after its destruction in 70 C.E. Jewish religious leaders are called rabbis, who oversee the many rituals and ceremonies essential to Jewish religious practice.

 

Quick Fact Details:

  • Formed: Though the Jewish calendar goes back more than 5000 years, most scholars date the beginning of the religion of the Israelites to their forefather in faith, Abraham, whose life is generally dated to circa 2000-1800 B.C.E.
  • Origin: Canaan is the biblical name for the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, approximately the equivalent of what today comprises the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories.
  • Followers: The worldwide count of adherents of Judaism is difficult, as some Jewish movements dispute the legitimate Jewish identity of others. Many do not affiliate with any particular branch, and may then be left out of census reports.
  • Sacred Texts: Tanakh is an acronym of Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim. Torah is the name given to the first five books — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy — also called the Pentateuch. The Nevi'im and Ketuvim are the books of history, prophecy, poetry, and other sacred writings. The Talmud is also called the Oral Torah, and is comprised of rabbinical commentary and interpretation on the Torah.
  • Headquarters: While Jerusalem remains the center of Jewish spirituality, the lack of a Temple or any administrative or jurisdictional authority prevents it from being an organizational center.

 

Quick Fact Sources include www.adherents.com, www.bbc.co.uk/religion, The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions (2006), The Encyclopedia of Religion (2005), the Religious Movements Page at the University of Virginia, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions (2002), and the Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999).

 

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