Judaism is a major world religion, honored and practiced by at least ten million people around the world, probably more ("Jewish Population"). The vast majority of Jews live in the United States and Israel, but there is also a sizeable Jewish population in Europe too ("Jewish Population"). Judaism is also one of the oldest religions still practiced in the world today, and its historical origins date back to 1800 BCE ("Judaism," BBC). Thus, the religion is 3,500 years old and continues to thrive. Judaism is a monotheistic religion, meaning that its followers believe in and worship only one God as opposed to many different Gods as they do in religions like Hinduism.
The Old Testament and its History of Judaism: The Old Testament is called the Torah by the Jews, but is also referred to simply as the Hebrew Bible. Two other major world religions use the Old Testament in their religions: Christianity and Islam. However, the Old Testament is the primary text of the Jewish faith: for Christians it became the New Testament and for Muslims the sacred text is the Qu'ran. The Old Testament offers a history of the Jewish people that is disputed by many archaeologists but widely accepted by Jewish scholars. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the founding fathers, the patriarchs, of the Jewish religion. Their legacy and their lives are recorded in the books of the Old Testament. The first five books of the Old Testament are collectively referred to as the Pentateuch.
The Pentateuch records the origin of the Jewish religion and of the Jewish people. God selected Abraham to lead a group of people into a special covenant with God. The covenant between God and the Jewish people is the central tenet of the Jewish faith and is the reason why the Jews are called the "chosen people." The original Jews during the time of Abraham were nomadic people who lived in what is now a wide area in the Middle East including the land of Israel.
One of the earliest anecdotes in the Old Testament is the story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son at a holy altar, as a sign of Abraham's faith. Just as Abraham was willing to do so, God withdrew His request and honored Abraham for his obedience and faith in God's will.
Isaac was the father of two other key figures in Old Testament history: Jacob and Esau. Jacob emerged as the more pious and faithful of the two sons and it was Jacob who would carry the Jewish lineage of his father and his grandfather Abraham. Jacob wrestled with a man who turned out to be an angel of God, and the angel blessed Jacob, giving him the name of "Israel." The Jews were theretofore known as the children of Israel, literally the descendents of Jacob.
Jacob bore twelve sons who would become the patriarchs of the "twelve tribes" of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin. The twelve tribes endured persecution for years under the rule of the Egyptian pharaoh. With God's help, Moses then rescued the Jewish people from the tyranny of the pharaoh through such momentous events as the parting of the Red Sea. Leading the Jewish people under Moses, God delivered the Ten Commandments, the Torah and the rule of Jewish law to Moses at Mount Sinai. The country currently called Israel comprises much of what was known in the Old Testament as the "Promised Land," the region that God set aside for the Jewish people so that they could obey God's law in practice.
3. The Ten Commandments: The Ten Commandments are the most famous of the Jewish laws. However, God actually revealed more than 600 different commandments to Moses and the Jewish people instructing them in matters of hygiene and lifestyle as well as law, diet, and social structures. The Kosher dietary laws that many Jews follow from the commandments delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai.
The Ten Commandments are familiar to most Christian people as well as to Jewish people because they are a fundamental part of the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments according to the Jewish faith are as follows: "I am the Lord your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery," "You shall have no other gods but me," "You shall not take the name of your Lord in vain," "You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy," "Honor your father and mother," "You shall not murder," "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," and "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his bull, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's," ("Shavuot and the Ten Commandments").
4. Relationship with God: One of the Ten Commandments states "You shall have no other gods but me." This commandment encapsulates the concept of monotheism, the belief in only one God. Part of the Jewish people's covenant with God involved doing away with the pagan idols they worshipped before the time of Moses. Therefore, the relationship between the Jewish person and God is based on a monotheistic vision of the universe. Jewish people prefer not to refer to God by any name, and in fact, many Jews will write "God," rather than spell out the word "God." The name of God is said to be ineffable, or unspeakable.
The Hebrew God is all-powerful, all-encompassing, eternal, and is not anthropomorphic, meaning that God does not assume a human form. Rather, God is an inconceivably magnificent Creator. God is both personal and impersonal: while individuals may pray to the one God, God does not do whatever the petitioner requests. Rather, the will of God is as unknowable as God himself. God is usually referred to as "He" although God does not have a human form. Based on God's actions and presence in the Old Testament, the Jewish God is at once angry and loving and demands much in the way of faith and obedience.
5. Sacred Practices and Holidays: Another one of the Ten Commandments reads, "You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy." The tradition of honoring the Sabbath derives from the Creation story in the Book of Genesis, which states that God created the Heaven and the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh. Human beings too, should rest on the seventh day of each week. For the Jewish people, Saturday is the Sabbath day. However, in the Jewish tradition, the "day" officially begins at sundown of the night before, so Jewish people honor the Sabbath from Friday night through Saturday at sundown. On the Sabbath, religious Jews do not work. Some will not drive cars or operate any machine or electrical equipment or handle money. The Sabbath is supposed to be a true time of rest, during which the individual spends time with his or her family.
Jewish holidays are based partly on a lunar calendar, so Jewish holidays do not fall on the same date each year. The so-called "High Holy Days" in Judaism include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and occurs sometime during the autumn of the year. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and is the most solemn and serious of all the Jewish holidays. On Yom Kippur many Jewish people fast and pray, asking for forgiveness for their sins and from their ancestors. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also ten days of repentance. Other major Jewish holidays include Pesach, which is better known as Passover; Shavuot; and Sukkot. Of these, Passover is the most well-known in large part because Christians believe that Jesus's Last Supper was a Passover meal.
6. The nation of Israel and Jerusalem: The nation of Israel was officially created in its modern form in 1948. However, the Jewish people have recognized Israel as their homeland since the beginning of the religion 3,500 years ago. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, a state that remains at the center of continual violent conflict due to the way that the nation was created at the end of World War Two. Many official wars have been fought over territorial disputes in Israel and Jerusalem in particular and violence continues to plague the region. The Jews believe that Israel is their homeland and is the Promised Land referred to in the Bible (Rich, "The Land of Israel"). The movement calling all Jews to return to their homeland is known as Zionism.
7. The Holocaust: The Holocaust is one of the most revolting periods of human history during which Hitler and the Nazis killed millions of Jews using the gas chamber and other means of torture. It was largely because of the Holocaust and the continual persecution of the Jewish…