Judaism is possibly the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, founded over 3500 years ago in the Middle East. Jews believe that there is a single God who not only created the universe, but with whom every Jew can have an individual and personal relationship. But Jews equally believe that they have a covenant with God as a people. This belief is a thread running throughout the Bible, and one of the vital pillars of Judaism. Jews believe that God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world.
Jews trace their history back to Abraham, regarded as the first Patriarch of the Jewish people. The story of Judaism begins when God promised him that he would be the father of a great people. Judaism as a religion was founded by Moses who on Mount Sinai received laws from God. In response to all the good that God has done for the Jewish people, Jewish people keep God’s laws and try to bring holiness into every aspect of their lives
Judaism has a rich history of religious texts, but the central and most important religious document is the Torah, the first part of the Jewish Bible. Jewish traditional or oral law, the interpretation of the laws of the Torah, is called halakhah. The Talmud is the comprehensive written version of the Jewish oral law and the subsequent commentaries on it.
The synagogue is the Jewish place of worship, but is also used as a place to study, and often as a community centre as well. Spiritual leaders are called Rabbis.
Jews worship in Synagogue and at home. They observe a number of Holy Days and Festivals including the Sabbath, a weekly reminder that God created the world and that it must be cared for in his spirit. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year festival and commemorates the creation of the world. It is also the start of the 10 days of Penitence. Jews believe that on Rosh Hashanah God will provisionally determine man’s fate for the year to come including who will live and who will die. The final decision is made on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the most sacred and solemn day of the Jewish year, and Jews are required to fast for 25 hours. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Jews will repent of their sins in the hope that God will inscribe them in the Book of Life in the year to come.
Passover commemorates the end a long period of slavery in Egypt when Pharaoh was forced to let the Jews leave. The Torah recounts the events in detail including the 10 plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea. Shevuot, which is celebrated 7 weeks after Passover, marks the time that the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Sukkot, also known as Tabernacles, commemorates the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, living in temporary booths or huts. Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It dates back to two centuries before the beginning of Christianity. Purim commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by the courage of a young Jewish woman called Esther.
Brit Milah (‘Covenant of Circumcision’) is celebrated when a baby boy is eight days old. This is when the baby is named. Girls are blessed and named the first time the parents attend the synagogue after the birth. Children are often given a name in the memory of a deceased loved one. Bar Mitzvah (Son of the Commandment) is celebrated when a boy reaches the age of 13 and Bat Mitzvah (Daughter of the Commandment) and is celebrated when a girl reaches the age of 12. Both girls and boys are then obliged to keep the Commandments.
Jews have often been a persecuted people. During the first half of the 13th century in France the attitude of the Church towards Jews hardened and in 1306 King Philip IV expelled all Jews from his kingdom. A particularly intense sequence of pogroms – anti-Jewish massacres – took place before all Jews were expelled from England in 1290. Jews were allowed back into England in 1656. In the 20th Century six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust in an attempt to wipe out Judaism. Following this, a Jewish homeland, Israel, was established in the Middle East.
Within Judaism there are many different schools of thought and practice such as Orthodox, Liberal, Conservative, Modern and Reform. There are many people who identify themselves as Jewish without necessarily believing in, or observing any Jewish law.
There are almost 15 million Jewish people in the world, most of them in the USA and Israel. According to the 2021 census, 271,000 people in the UK said that their religious identity was Jewish, about 0.5% of the population.
For more detailed information on Judaism go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/
For local contacts see The Directory of Northamptonshire Faith Groups