Judaism is around 3500 years old and is one of the oldest of the world’s monotheistic religions—religions with only one god. It’s also the smallest, with only about 12 million followers around the world. In ancient times Jewish people were called Hebrews or Israelite. Abraham is believed to be the father of the Jewish people. The story of Abraham is told in the Torah or what Christians call the Old Testament. Jerusalem is their most holy city and the capital of Israel—the only nation where Jewish people are the majority of the population.
The most important person in Judaism is Moses. According to the Torah, Moses is the leader who freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt. However, there is no written evidence of this enslavement story in Egyptian writing. According to Jewish writing, when Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt they traveled through the Sinai Peninsula. One night he climbed Mount Sinai and it is believe that God gave him the 10 Commandments that eventually became part of the Old Testament. The 10 Commandments provided the Jewish people guidelines of how to live their lives. The most holy Jewish books are the Torah (Old Testament), which is part of the TeNaKh–an acronym for Torah (teachings), Nevi’im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). Another book called the Talmud provides instructions on how to follow Jewish teachings.
The Jewish word for god is Yahweh. Jews worship in synagogues (sin-uh-gogs). Men and women usually sit separately in the synagogues. Men are required to cover their heads with a hat called a yarmulke (yam-moo-ka). In most cases, worship takes place in the Hebrew language. The Jewish spiritual leaders are called rabbis (rab-eyes). Unlike leaders in many other faiths, a rabbi is not a priest and has no special connection with god. Another difference is the belief in the afterlife. Jewish holy books mainly talk about life in Earth, and rarely mention anything similar to a heaven or hell.
Part of Jewish life revolves around eating the correct food. Kosher foods are those that follow Jewish law. This means no mixing of dairy and meat, no pork or pork products and no shellfish. Jews can eat meat from any animal that chews its cud and has a split hoof such as cows, goats, and sheep—rabbit, pig, horse, dog, and cat are not kosher. Jews may eat fish that have both fins and scales that are detachable from the skin.
Just like any religion, there are different levels and types of belief or different denominations such as Orthodox, Reform, and Liberal Jewish faiths. There are special ceremonies when Jewish boys (aged 13) and girls (aged 12) become adults. Bar mitzvah is for boys and Bat mitzvah is for girls. Traditionally, Jews say prayers three times daily, with a fourth prayer added on holidays. Yom Kippur is the most important Jewish holiday. Jews traditionally observe this holiday with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue.
The Old Testament says the “Messiah” will come to Earth and save the Jewish people. Jesus was born into the Jewish religion. There were certain things about Judaism that he thought were wrong, so he began preaching new ideas. He was thought of as a rebel preacher, however some people thought he was the Messiah. After Jesus was killed, his followers went on to start a new religion called Christianity. That is why Christianity and Judaism share religious writing, characters, and beliefs.
The confusing thing about being Jewish is that it is more than just a religion. It is also an ethnic group. People can be Jewish even if they don’t follow the religion. According to traditional Jewish Law, a Jew is anyone born of at least one Jewish parent OR someone who has converted to the religion of Judaism.