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Jews worship in synagogues, which rarely share common architectural elements in common with one another. Rather, the presence of the Arc within a synagogue remains one of the only features present in synagogues around the world. Some of the ultra-liberal synagogues from the Reform tradition may not even have an Arc.
Christian churches vary widely, too. Catholic Churches constructed in Europe during the height of the Church's power from the late Middle Ages through the Enlightenment often share some elements in common including cross-shaped floor plan and altar. Mosques may differ widely but most have minarets topped with the symbol of the crescent moon. Unlike Christianity, neither Judaism nor Islam tolerates the presence of any anthropomorphic representations within their holy places. Thus, the interiors of synagogues and mosques contain only geometric and abstract designs in contrast to the prolific imagery of Christ, the apostles, and the saints in Catholic churches.
The actual rites and rituals practiced by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam differ significantly even though they may share some elements in common. Only Muslims practice a form of prostration during public prayer in mosques; Jews and Christians usually sit in rows facing the central altar. Chanting, recitation from holy texts, and sermons are, however, common to the public worship practices in all three religions of the Book.
Divisions within each of these three faiths add diversity and complexity to the plethora of Western religious practices. For instance, modern Jews may be members of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist synagogues. Although the core teachings of Judaism unite these four approaches, their religious services differ in several ways. Orthodox and Conservative services are generally held in the Hebrew language, whereas Reform and Reconstructionist services usually entail services held in English or the national language of the host nation. Orthodox Jews follow the mitzvoth more diligently than any other variation of the faith, such as by honoring the Sabbath day by not working and refusing to operate any machinery or through strict adherence to the Jewish dietary codes.
Some conservative Catholics show a similar dedication to the religious traditions at the core of their faith. Above attending Church regularly, communing through the sacrament of the Eucharist, and confessing sins are among the religious practices common to the Catholic faith that are not only absent from Judaism or Islam but also from some of the Protestant denominations. All three faiths of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam value both public and private worship and prayer. The community is viewed as essential to cultivating harmonious social relationships but all three faiths avow inner reflection, contemplation, and prayer to help strengthen the spirit and heal the psyche.
Holidays, festivals, and celebrations are one of the key features of any religious tradition. Because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam stem from the same ancient root traditions, some of their holidays and festivities may resemble one another. Yet for the most part the Christian and Muslim divergences from the original Jewish holiday calendar far outweigh the similarities. The most striking concurrence between the Jewish and Christian calendars is the holiday celebrating Passover. Christ's Last Supper was a Passover meal; therefore the Christian holiday of Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Christ, concurs roughly with Passover. Easter can therefore correctly be considered a holiday that was derived from Passover and both Passover and Easter are celebrated in spring. All of Islam's major holidays focus on the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, and none concur with major Jewish or Christian festivals except by coincidence. For instance, the holy month of Ramadan during which Muslims fast until sundown of every day, usually falls close to both Christmas and Chanukah but has no thematic links to either holiday. Contrary to popular belief in the United States, Chanukah and Christmas have nothing to do with one another historically or theoretically other than that they both occur in winter. The Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims use different calendars, too, enhancing the differences between the faiths. By far the oldest of the three calendars is the Jewish one, which is a lunar calendar used for thousands of years by Semitic peoples. The Gregorian Christian calendar that has come into universal use is a solar-based calendar. Like the Jewish calendar, the Muslim calendar is also lunar but is centered entirely on the life of Muhammad: year one marks the Prophet's arrival at Medina.
The differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam seem glaring at times and trivial at others. Because these three faiths have had the greatest overall impact on modern society and especially modern Western society, they have helped craft secular and political life too. For example, the United States has been predominantly ruled by Protestant leaders and American politics, society, and history reflect the Protestant traditions. The Protestant work ethic, for example, characterized American secular life and Protestantism has had an indelible influence on American political ideology. Similarly, Catholicism has become ingrained into some European and South American nations so much so that laws reflect Catholic faith including bans on abortion in countries like Ireland. The influence of Islam on social and political law is apparent throughout Western Asia, where many nations are outright theocracies built upon Islamic law, custom, and faith. In spite of the common heritages shared by these three faiths and their roughly similar moral and theological beliefs, divergences between them have caused enormous civil strife.
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