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Judaism is one of the four Abramic religions (faiths which recognize Abraham as a Patriarch). Although today Jews comprise a small percentage of the human population, Jewish influence on the world has been vast - far more than their numbers would suggest. There are currently about 18 million Jews throughout the world. They are mainly concentrated in North America and in Israel.

Origins of Judaism

Judaism began in Israel about 2000 BCE, when the God of the ancient Israelites established a divine covenant with Abraham. The book of Genesis describes the events surrounding the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was a great leader of the ancient Israelites. He led his people out of captivity in Egypt. After decades of wandering through wilderness, Joshua led the tribes into the promised land, driving out the Canaanites. Saul, David, and Solomon were ancient kings. Jerusalem became the kingdom's religious and political center and Solomon built the Great Temple. During the seventh and eighth centuries BCE, Israel was conquered by Assyria and the Babylonians and the temple was destroyed. Some Jews returned from captivity under the Babylonians. For several hundred years, the Greeks controlled the region and then in 63 BCE, the Roman Empire took control of Palestine.

Over the next several centuries, Jews were scattered throughout the world. Their religion was no longer centered in Jerusalem and Jews were even prohibited from setting foot there. Jews were heavily persecuted. The Holocaust happened during the twentieth century when the Nazis tried to exterminate all Jews in Europe. About 6 million people were killed in one of the world's most tragic episodes of religious intolerance. In response to these centuries of persecution, the Zionist movement formed to create a Jewish homeland. The state of Israel was formed in 1948.

Jewish Sacred Texts

The Tanakh are the Jewish Scriptures and is composed of three groups of books: the Torah, the Nevi'im, and the Ketuvim. (Together, these are referred to by Christians as the Old Testament.) A second major holy text is the Talmud. It contains stories, laws, medical knowledge, and debates. It's two parts are the Mishnah which was compiled about 200 CE and includes a series of laws; and the Gemara which includes the writings of hundreds of teachers from 200 - 500 CE.

Jewish Beliefs

Jews believe that God is the creator of all that exists; he is one, incorporeal (without a body), and he alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe. God has communicated to the Jewish people through prophets. He monitors the activities of humans and He rewards individuals for good deeds and punishes evil.

The Jews are often referred to as "God's chosen people". This means they were selected to receive more difficult responsibilities, and more onerous punishment if they fail.

Most Jews regard Jesus as a great teacher. Jews believe that the Messiah will arrive in the future and gather Jews once more into the land of Israel. There will be a general resurrection of the dead at that time and the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt.

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.