Judaism is one of the revealed religions of the world and like Islam and Christianity; this religion also endorses the concept of monotheism. Being one of the oldest monotheist religions, Judaism has a long history but throughout this history, its basic beliefs, traditions, sacred texts and rituals have remained more or less the same.
Monotheism in Judaism
Like Christianity and Islam, Judaism is one of the most well-known monotheist religions. Monotheistic means believing in one God. Unlike some other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, Jewish religion believes in the existence of one single God who is the source of all power in the world. In Torah, God says: "I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:6)
Jewish people tend to believe that there is one Supreme Being that controls the whole world and our destinies. Over the years, there has been no change in this one concept even though changes have emerged in the religion itself when it divided into Orthodox and Reformist Judaism. Most of the people in the land of Israel still follow the orthodox version of the religion while reformist are found in other parts of the world.
Jewish religion has five sacred texts with Torah being the name given to all five books of Hebrew Bible. It is believed that being one of the oldest books, it was revealed to Moses and existed on a scroll till it was formally printed. The book like Bible teaches the Jewish people about the way of life and guides their actions. Though there have been changes in the book, Torah is still the oldest and most sacred text of the Jewish religion. The five books with are called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The five books deal with different subjects and hence a mention of what they contain is important to understand what these books have to offer:
* Genesis (Bereisheet): It talks about how the world was created and how God created man. It also specifically speaks of the patriarchs and matriarchs such as Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and so on, and ends with the story of Jacob and how the Hebrew settlement in Egypt.
Exodus (Sh'mot,): It chronicles the revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai and ultimate departure from Egypt, which led to the Jewish journey into the wild.
* Leviticus (Vayikra): This book talks of some important ethical issues and offers guidance to Jewish people.
* Numbers (BaMidbar): It continues to chronicles the struggles of jewish people through the wilderness.
* Deuteronomy (D'varim"): This book contains many speeches of Moses and concludes with Moses' death and Jewish people's entry into Jerusalem.
Jewish religion like most major religions of the world has its own set of rituals and festivals that offer its followers a sense of belonging and help them attain greater sense of commitment to their religious beliefs. Let us begin the discussion Jewish death rituals. When a person dies, Jewish people consider it disrespectful to leave the body unburied for an extended period. They prefer that burial take place within 24 hours of the death following the important principle of k'vod ha-met.
When death appears close, and it is felt that the person might die soon, Jewish tradition entails that the ritual of vidu'i or the Shema be recited by the dying person and his family members. This is followed by tearing ritual, which takes place as the mourning period starts. Tearing one's garments is known as keri'ah and this act is performed to mark the loss of a loved one. This is based on some biblical instances such as Reuben, brother of Joseph, tore his garments when he felt that the latter had died (Genesis 37:29). Similarly Jacob, father of Joseph also performed the same act upon hearing about his son's possible death. (Genesis 37:34).
Today, in keeping with this tradition, a black ribbon is tied to the garment, which is removed as a loved one passes away. Funerals are generally held in funeral home or synagogue where body of the deceased is surrounded by friends and family. Flowers are not brought to the funeral and instead people are urged to make a donation for charity organizations in the name of the deceased. Deceased's body is covered in simple white cloth and is respectfully placed in a wooden casket. Following the commandment "unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:19), the dead body is buried in a grave. The death anniversary of a loved one is also commemorated by lighting yahrtzeit candle, giving tzedakah (donations) and reciting Kaddish.
Jewish rituals are not limited to death and birth. There are some that are performed on daily basis such as three prayers such as shaharith, minhah and maarib. Apart from these, some benedictions are also recited along with the synagogue service that some Orthodox Jewish still attends daily. However the more popular is the weekly ritual of Sabbath. Sabbath takes place on Friday and ends on Saturday- and during this time, Jewish people refrain from working. This is based on the belief that God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. The ritual is simple with three meals prepared in advance and eaten during the Sabbath. Women of the family start the Sabbath feast- parents bless their children, Kaddish is recited and this is how Sabbath is celebrated. This comes from Ten Commandments that play a pivotal role in Jewish religion and traditions.
In the Book of Moses known as the exodus, chapter 16 is believed to contain reference to Sabbath: "And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a Sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none." (Exodus: Chapter 16)
Sabbath is a popular weekly ritual followed closely by yearly festival of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year. This festival marks the beginning of Jewish new year and has an interesting history. It is widely believed that in ancient Israel, there was no New Year's Day as such. Still the first day of Tishre was considered important since it had appeared in a biblical command that instructed Jewish people to blow horn on this day. This day was also significant because of it being the first day of the seventh month and number seven has always been given prominence in Jewish religion. Sabbath falls on the seventh day, Shabuoth took place seven weeks after Passover; similarly every seventh year was considered a Sabbatical year etc. Jewish holidays are therefore not just a day of celebration with fun and feast but usually have historical significance. Rosh Hashanah for example is also believed to be the day when Joseph finally had his prison term terminated. There are many other legends surrounding this festival such as it being the day that marks the end of one season and beginning of another etc. But the fact remains that none of the holidays, festivals and rituals come without historical baggage.
"Jewish holidays are far from being merely religio-romantic functions. They are stimulating factors in Jewish history. Every holiday is a symbol, a symbol for the Jews of the lofty prophetic ideals and hopes. As extreme as some people may be in their attempt to shed their past and all it stands for, they nevertheless can not entirely suppress their innermost feelings, which may lie dormant for many years and suddenly burst into flame upon certain occasions. Modern art may perhaps be partly explained by the catalytic agent of these suppressed feelings. This clinging to the Jewish holidays, when they have already lost their inner meaning shows that within the Jewish heart there is a hunger, a longing which seeks redemption." (Unterman 15-16)
Rosh Hashanah is also an important day for ridding one's self of sins. It is believed that if the first day of Rosh Hashanah doesn't fall on Sabbath, then people should go to the seashore and cleanse themselves of their sins of the past one year. The casting away of sins has given rise to the ceremony of Tashlich which is based on the words of the prophet Micah, "Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." In this ceremony, sins are cast away in the sea. But as popular and important as this ceremony may have become, it doesn't appear in the Talmud, and the Gaonim have never mentioned it in any of their writings.
Yom Kippur is another important ritual. It is the Day of Atonement and falls on the 10th of the month of Tishri, the first month in Jewish calendar. Jews are urged to fast on this day and usually everyone except old or sick people…