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Judaism refers to the faith worship and life of the Jewish people. Its origins go back to the second millennium BC. Although Israel as a political entity is important to Jewish life and thought, through most of their history, most Jews have lived outside of the land of Israel.  Judaism evolved from the religion of ancient Israel.
Pivotal Beliefs
  • Monotheistic: Summed up in the shemah:  "Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.
  • The one God has entered into a covenant (agreement) with the whole people of Israel. 
  • God reveals himself in and through history.
  • Through Israel the one God reveals himself to all peoples.
As part of that covenant God has given Israel the gift of Torah ("law/instruction") to guide all of life. Note that Torah is used in several different ways within Judaism.
  • It refers to the first five books (Genesis through Deuteronomy) in the scriptures of Judaism (the Tanak).
  • It can be used generally to refer to any instruction.
  • It includes both the written Torah and the oral Torah which many Jews believe was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The oral Torah was not committed to writing until the second century A.D.  The Mishnah is the core of the oral Torah.  The Mishnah along with additional rabbinic interpretations is known as the Talmud.


Rites and Festivals
Jewish worship and life centers on the synagogue (sometimes called a temple or schule).

Judaism teaches and re-experiences the central events of its history and faith through numerous festivals.

  • The most important of these is Passover (Pesach) which commemorates God's deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery.
  • Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (New Years and the Day of Atonement) are very important and solemn occasions of repentance and renewal.

Additionally, Judaism usually observes several rites of passage such as the Bar Mitzvah and Bas Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah).

Three Branches of Judaism

As always, trying to make things fit neatly into two or three categories is an oversimplification.  Nevertheless, it is safe to say that there are three main branches of Judaism:

  • In general emphasizes the authority of the Tanakh and the Talmud
  • Traditional rabbinical interpretation of the Torah is the way to achieve closeness to God.
  • Great diversity exists within the orthodox branch of Judaism
  • Some Orthodox groups withdraw from world, but others engage the world and extend the message to as many as possible.
  • Worship services are completely in Hebrew


  • Believe that Jews have always searched and added to their laws, liturgy, and beliefs to keep them relevant and meaning in changing times.
  • Largest Jewish movement in the United States.
  • Worship is largely Hebrew along with the language spoken by the people


  • Believe that Judaism is an evolving, open-ended religion.
  • Emphasize universalism of Jewish values
  • Worship is usually in the language spoken by the people.