Judaism is a one of the oldest religions known to people. Judaism
was born about 4000 years ago. Many famous people have been Jewish
such as Moses, Jesus, Mahler, Marx, Freud, and Einstein.
Judaism is a monotheistic religion, which means that Jewish people pray to only one g-d. There weren’t too many religions like this when it originated which made Judaism very unique at the time. Most of the religions of that period were polytheistic, which means that they prayed
to more then one G—d.
The history of Jewish people hasn’t been that easy. From the slavery
in Egypt to the Holocaust in Europe, the Jewish people have lived a life
filled with prejudice. It began with Abraham, the first Jewish person.
It is Jewish belief that he made a covenant with G-d and was promised that
he would be the father of a great nation. That nation
became the Jewish people. Abraham and his sons and grandsons were called the “patriarchs”. They were Isaac, his son, and Jacob, his grandson. Jacob’s favorite son Joseph was also an important part of the early history. It was because of Jacob’s sons and their wrongdoings that Joseph ended up in Egypt, eventually leading many Jewish people into the land of Egypt. Moses was one of the most famous Jewish prophets. He led the Jewish people out of slavery, led them to Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments, a set of rules that people even today still follow.
After Moses, the Jewish people had different leaders called judges, and then kings such as David and Solomon to guide them in the land called Israel. Jewish people lived in the land of Israel until 586BCE when they were exiled by the Babylonians. It wasn’t until 1948, about 2000 years later, that Jewish people were able to return to that land.
Customs and Traditions
The Jews have many customs and traditions. Among them are circumcision,
bar or bat mitzvah, special rites and prayers to be said during a wedding
and during death and mourning. Circumcision is done because of a
Commandment by G-d to Abraham, as a sign of commitment of Jewish people.
Bar or bat mitzvah is when a child reaches the age of maturity, 13 for
boys, and 12 for girls, and is ready to become an adult their community.
At that age, a child becomes responsible for his actions. During
a Jewish wedding, the bride and groom get married under
a special cloth called a “chuppah” or special canopy. Another tradition that is followed during a Jewish wedding is the breaking of a small glass at the end of the ceremony. This is to symbolize that even though this is a happy event, people should still remember the hardships that
were faced before the Jewish people got to that place in time. During death and mourning, a Jewish family will sit “shiva” which is sitting in mourning for seven days after the death of a loved one.
Some other customs are wearing a kippah on the head in a synagogue or wearing a tallit, a prayer shawl, while praying.
There are many Jewish holidays. All of the holidays begin at sunset
the day before the actual holiday. They are Tu B’shvat, the birthday
the trees, Purim, the story of Esther, Passover, the story of Moses, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, Shavout, receiving the Ten Commandments, Tisha B’av, remembering
the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah which are called the High Holidays. They are part of the Jewish New Year. One of the Ten Commandments is to remember that the Sabbath is holy and to celebrate it every week. One
way to celebrate is to light candles and eat a special twisted bread called challah. The last holiday of the secular year is called Hanukah, a remembrance of a small band of Jewish people who fought against the Syrian Greeks who had taken over the land of Israel.
Branches of Judaism
There are different branches of Judaism depending on where a person came
from or how strong their belief is. A person from Spain, North Africa
and the Near East is considered Sephardic. A person from Eastern
and Western Europe in countries like Italy, France, Poland, Russia and
Germany was considered Ashkenazi. In Europe, Ashkenazi people were mostly
Orthodox, or very traditional,
religious Jewish people. Until recently, all Jewish people were orthodox, but in the last 100 years or so, Jewish people have branched out into other types of Judaism, Conservative and Reform. Conservative Judaism is similar to Orthodox; however, it is less rigid, less structured by the law, but just as important. In Reform Judaism, it is even less rigid and the practice covers not just Jewish traditions, but also human culture as well.
Jewish people have endured many hardships in their history but they have
survived and made lives in places in Israel and other countries.
They have a strong belief in the importance of education therefore Jewish
people have made contributions in many fields such as the arts, entertainment,
literature, education and science and medicine. Although they have
always had to face conflict from other people and other countries or governments,
they have always managed to unite themselves and persevere, despite the
fact that even now there are so many problems going on in the Middle East.
They have developed a strong sense of character that has kept them alive
for thousands of years.