Interfaith Insights and Inspiration – Judaism

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Interfaith Insights and Inspiration


Interfaith Insights & Inspirations is a monthly series from the Ford Interfaith Network. The timing of this publication is intended to precede the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the Sinai revelation and the Giving of The Torah. This year’s observance of Shavuot falls on May 24th and May 25th. The word “Shavuot” literally means “weeks”, implying that the 7 weeks after Passover culminate in the Giving of the Torah, the purpose of Jews’ exodus from Egypt.

For more information about Shavuot, try these links:

Please enjoy the following interesting details written by the Ford Jewish Group about the world’s oldest monotheistic religion!

Judaism (from the Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, “Judah”); encompasses the religion, philosophy, culture and a way of life of the Jewish people. Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion, with the Torah as its foundational text (part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible), and supplemental oral tradition represented by texts such as the Midrashim, the Mishnah, and the Talmud that discusses and analyses the Mishnah.

Judaism focuses on relationships: the relationship between G-d and mankind, between G-d and the Jewish nation, between the Jewish nation and the land of Israel, and the relationship that humans have with each other. The Torah tells the story of the development of these relationships, from the time of creation, through the relationship between G-d and Abraham, between G-d and the Jewish people. The Torah also specifies the mutual obligations created by these relationships. So, what are these actions that Judaism is so concerned about? These actions include 613 commandments given by G-d in the Torah to Moses and the Jewish people as well as laws instituted by the rabbis (based on the Torah) and customs developed over the centuries in many different Jewish communities around the world.

Foundations of Jewish faith

The Jewish faith is based on the revelation at Sinai (3300 years ago), and 10 “utterances” of G-d that Jews experienced during the Sinai revelation, and 613 commandments, that are derived from the 10 “utterances”, which are also translated as commandments.

The 10 Commandments are statements of the relationship that G-d desires between mankind and G-d, and between human beings.  The first 5 commandments deal with the relationship with G-d: they prohibit idol worship and polytheism, misuse of G-d’s name, and institute the Sabbath.  The second 5 commandments deal with mankind: they prohibit murder, theft/kidnapping, lying/perjury, and coveting one’s neighbor’s property.

More broadly, the foundations of Jewish faith have been expressed by a 12th century Jewish leader, Rabbi and  scholar – Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides):

1. Belief in the existence of One Creator, who is simultaneously within and beyond everything that exists, and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.

2. The belief in G-d’s absolute and unparalleled unity, of which EVERYTHING is part of.

3. The belief in G-d’s non-corporeality, nor that He will be affected in any way by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.

4. The belief in G-d’s eternity.

5. The imperative to worship G-d exclusively and no foreign false gods.

6. The belief that G-d communicates with man through prophecy.

7. The belief in the primacy of the prophecy of Moses our teacher.

8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah.

9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah.

10. The belief in G-d’s omniscience and providence.

11. The belief in divine reward and retribution.

12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.

13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead during the Messianic era.

Major denominations or movements within Judaism:

Orthodox Judaism (0.4 to 1.0 million): To a large extent the Reform Movement is what gave “Orthodox Judaism” its name. Prior to the 1800s, there were no such divisions. Orthodox Jews observe the traditional precepts of Jewish law, as commanded in the Torah, both “written” and “oral” law, codified and further explained by the Rabbis. There are many streams of Orthodox Judaism, including Chassidism, Modern Orthodoxy, Sephardi, among others, which have varying traditions and distinctive religious and social cultures.

Reform Judaism (1.2 to 1.8 million): This movement started in 1819 in Germany; in America it started in 1824 in Charleston. Formal U.S. organization occurred in 1873. By 1880 almost all U.S. synagogues were reform. Considered as liberal Judaism. Reform Judaism focuses on ethics and social justice, while rejecting the primacy of halachah, traditional Jewish law.

Conservative Judaism (1.4 to 2.0 million): With some thinking Reform had gone too far (dropping belief in the Oral tradition, concept of Messiah, among others), in 1913 Conservative Judaism was organized. In general, it is the middle ground between Reform and Orthodox. Conservative Judaism accepts the role of halachah, but is open to significant reinterpretations based on modern ideals.

Who is a Jew?

According to Jewish Law (Halachah), a Jew is anyone who was either born of a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism in accordance with Jewish Law. All mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts, although conversion has traditionally been discouraged since the time of the Talmud (~600 C.E). Traditional Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever. Thus a Jew who claims to be an atheist or converts to another religion is still considered by traditional Judaism to be Jewish.

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