Judaism – A short Introduction

The Jews are one of the world’s most ancient peoples. Our history goes back nearly 4000 y e a r s . We are descended from our patriarchs Abraham, Issac and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. The Jews are proud of being an ancient people and have a strong sense of their own history. The basic tenet of Judaism is Monotheism – the belief in one God. In ancient times, this set the Jews apart from the neighbours who believed that the crops, rainfall, illness, childbirth and death were controlled by different gods. God is the Creator of the universe and all things. He is: Omnipotent – all powerful Omniscient – all knowing, and Omnipresent – everywhere at the same time. Jews believe that God is Holy, completely Good, Merciful and Just and He in turn expects human beings to strive to be the same. Whilst omnipotent, God holds back and allows people to express free will – the freedom of choice to choose between good and evil. The relationship between man and God is direct, with no intermediary. Man com- municates by prayer and God always hears prayers. God is the God of all humankind. Guidelines are set down for human behaviour in the Noahide Laws, which provide the basic framework for a moral and spiritual life. The Noahide Laws consist of 7 principles – they forbid idolatry, b l a s p h e m y, murder, theft, sexual malpractice and cruelty to animals and promote justice, thus encouraging people to live together in harmony. In Jewish thinking, these are the basics of civilised life. Jews are sometimes called the chosen people. This should not 59Review of Religions – July 2002 Judaism – a short introduction By David Grunweg – President of the Sheffield Jewish Congregation. This is the text of a speech given at a multi-religious function. be taken to mean that God has favourites. In Jewish thinking, all human beings have the respon-sibility to serve God by keeping the Noahide Laws. Jews, on the other hand, have the added responsibility to keep 613 commandements or Mitzvot. This is a form of covenant between Jews and God – by keeping God’s c o m m a n d e m e n t ’s, they bring holiness into the world and prepare it for the time when all human beings will know Him. The 613 Mitzvot include the Ten Commandments and the 7 Noahide Laws. They comprise of 248 positive and 365 negative commands, and cover all kinds of religious activities and observance, rules of the Sabbath and festivals, but also the conduct of personal and industrial relations, trials, divorce proceedings and food and dietary rules. Keeping these Mitzvot is seen to be indicative of leading a disciplined life and is character-building. Jews do not try and convert other people to their religion, because they believe that there are many paths to God. Jews believe in the coming of the Messiah, including the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, where all nations will go to worship G o d . A l l nations will then live in peace and harmony and God’s presence will be felt by everyone. The rules referred to above are followed in a literal manner by Orthodox Jewish communities throughout the world. In modern times, other Jewish movements have developed which do not uphold all the traditional practices and there are in addition to Orthodox, Liberal, reform and Masorti congre-gations. I n Sheffield, there is an Orthodox Community, with around 350 members, a Reform Congregation with around 100 members and a number of unaffiliated Jews. 60 Judaism – A Short Introduction Review of Religions – July 2002