Tag Archives: Judaism

Very Basic Introduction to Judaism

Information/terms to assist you with the reading (I created this brief summary for my NRM students who needed some supplemental background information regarding why many American NRMs were invoking terms sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and what these concepts signified for the older “mother” traditions.)

This summary written by Katherine Daley-Bailey.

Judaism: (Jews) This religion is an ancient tradition spanning thousands of years. Jews see themselves as descendants of the Hebrews (a nomadic people), the ancient Israelites (belonging to the kingdom of Israel dating to around 1000 b.c.e), and the people of Judah (people of Judah= Jews). For Jews, this religious history, documented in their Bible, tells the story of their ancestors and explains their unique relationship with the God of the Hebrews. The Bible tells of a relationship between the God of the Hebrews and the patriarch Abraham. God promises Abraham many descendents and a special land if Abraham will worship only Him. Jews view themselves as descendents of Abraham and thereby heirs to this promise and land. The “promised land” that Jews believe was given to them is roughly the same space as the current nation of Israel.

Texts: Jews are often referred to as “the people of the book” because of the central role sacred texts play in their religion. The core of these sacred texts is called the TaNaKh (an acronym which stands for Torah (“the Law”, the 1st 5 books in this text), the Nevi’im (the Prophetic texts), and the Ketuvim (the other writings). (To be continued)

Leaders: The Bible speaks of a time when the Jews had a temple in the city of Jerusalem. This temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 c.e. and has never been rebuilt. The temple had been run by temple priests, specially trained officials. After the temple was destroyed, Judaism no longer needed a priesthood and the religion became dominated by very wise, learned, Jewish men named Rabbis. After the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, more emphasis was placed on the local community centers of Jews, called synagogues.

Time: Judaism has been credited with pioneering the concept of linear time (meaning that time has a definitive beginning and will have a definitive end). Prior to this concept, most scholars believe that a majority of people worshipped nature gods and goddesses and believed time was cyclical (modeling the agricultural cycle). Believing that their God acts in history, when they fell on hard times and they saw no way out, Jews have historically believed that God would intervene on their behalf in some way.

Identity: Just as Jews believe that their God gave them a “promised land”, they also believe that their God has picked them as His “chosen people.” This means there are special laws (behavioral- diet, ritual, etc.) that they must follow. Sometimes Judaism is described as a religion and an ethnicity… and a way of life. Some Jews believe you must have a Jewish mother to be Jewish, although this is a matter of debate.

References to this “promised land”: Zion, Israel, Judah, the “land of milk and honey”, etc.

Exodus: After many generations, the descendents of Abraham, known then as the Hebrews ended up as state slaves in Egypt. The God of the Hebrews heard of their suffering under slavery and called upon a man name Moses to help liberate them. After much back and forth with the Egyptian ruler, the pharaoh, Moses was able to lead the “children of Israel” out of slavery in Egypt. However, as they were traveling, the pharaoh changes his mind and sends chariots after the slaves. Moses is left leading the Hebrew slaves into a barren wilderness with the Egyptian chariots at their back. They come to the Red Sea and Moses calls upon God to help them. The Hebrew God parts the Red Sea, allowing the Hebrew slaves to run through to the other side and then He lets the sea crash upon the Egyptian chariots. The Hebrew slaves are now free but they are tired, hungry, and not sure where this “promised land” is that they are supposed to find. Moses is leading them but they grumble against him. While Moses is talking to the Hebrew God on Mount Sinai, the slaves decide to make an idol to worship. This makes God and Moses extremely upset because their agreement with God is worship only Him. The Hebrew God kills some of those who participated and tells the rest that because of their sin, they will spend 40 years in the wilderness before they can enter the land he promised them. After 40 years, Moses dies, and Joshua, his successor, leads the Hebrew slaves into the “promised land.” However, there are other people living in this land. Joshua and the Hebrew slaves must drive out the other inhabitants. This is referred to as the “conquest for Canaan.” This land will become the ancient kingdom of Israel and the center of the kingdom will be Jerusalem. These ideas and images will be invoked again and again by Jews and Christians. Each group will depict themselves as the “chosen ones of God”, “the children of Abraham”, the true Israel, and will believe this story to be THEIR story. For American movements often the “promised land” is not Jerusalem but there is a NEW Jerusalem, America itself.

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Filed under Lectures (Academic Study of Religion), Lectures (Judaism), Lectures (New Religious Movements)