Goffs School Religious Studies

Judaism

Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions and predates both Christianity and Islam. Jewish people believe in one God. This God created the world, humanity and gave us all a soul. Jewish people follow a holy book called the Torah. The Torah is often called the Hebrew Bible as it consists of the same first five books as the Christian Old Testament. There are many Jewish people in the UK and Jewish people live in countries as far apart as the United States, South Africa and Australia. The country with the most Jewish people is Israel, which is considered to be the ‘promised land’ for Jewish people. Jewish people sometimes refer to themselves as the ‘chosen people’ as God has chosen them to serve Him on Earth. Jewish people worship at a place called a ‘synagogue’.

 Jewish Beliefs

Torah

The Torah is very important to Jews. Jewish people believe it contains rules, or commandments, that they must follow to please God. The most famous are the 10 Commandments, but in total there are over 613. These rules are found in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. However, there are other important scriptures that Jewish people use. These include the writings of the prophets as well as other parts of the Old Testament, such as the Psalms. Jewish people also read commentaries on the Torah, which make up the Talmud. If a Jewish person wants to better understand the Torah, they can study at a Yeshiva, which is a religious school or college. They can also ask a rabbi, a religious teacher, for guidance or they can ask family and friends. 

Creation

The first book of the Torah is Genesis. In the first part of Genesis God creates the world in six days and has a rest on the seventh. On the first day God created light and called the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’. On the second day He created the sky to separate the waters above from the waters below. On the third day He created the oceans and land, as well as the trees and plants upon the land. On the fourth day God created the sun, the moon and the seasons. On the fifth day God created the ‘sea beasts’ and birds. On the fifth day He created the wild and tame land animals of the earth. On this day God also created the first human. He made ‘man’ in His own ‘likeness’.

In the second part of the creation story the first humans were given names. They were called Adam and Eve and were allowed to live in the Garden of Eden, which was paradise on Earth. The only rule was that Adam and Eve were not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life. However, Eve was tempted by a snake to eat the fruit. When she did both Adam and Eve were told to leave Eden. Until this point, humans were immortal (going to live forever), but after they left the Garden only their souls would last forever.

Abraham and the Covenant

Abraham is considered the ‘father of the Jewish people’ and their first leader. Abraham and his wife Sarah wanted to have children, but could not. However, God came to Abraham and promised him ‘as many decedents as the sand under his feet and as the stars in the sky’.  However, God asked Abraham to take his family to the ‘promised land’, which is called Israel today. Abraham was also asked to obey God and lead God’s ‘chosen people’ to the ‘promised land’. Abraham agreed and this is called the covenant by Jewish people. To mark this agreement Abraham was circumcised, which meant he cut off his foreskin. This mark of the covenant would last forever. Jewish people still circumcise young boys eight days after they are born. This is called Brit Milah.

As Abraham fulfilled this promise, God blessed Abraham and Sarah with the child they wanted. They called him Isaac and loved him very much. Nevertheless, God wanted to be sure of Abraham’s loyalty and as a test of his faith asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him.  Abraham obeyed with a heavy heart, but just before he was about to kill his son, God intervened and asked him stop. Abraham had done enough to prove his loyalty. Abraham and Sarah had other children and lived long lives. Their descendants have become the Jewish people.

Moses and the Exodus

Another important Jewish leader is Moses. Jewish people have been treated badly throughout history and one of these times is recounted by the Torah in the book of Exodus. Many, many years after the time of Abraham, the Jewish people found themselves forced out of the ‘Promised Land’. They lived during this time in Egypt. However, the Egyptian rulers, the Pharaohs, enslaved the Jewish people. They were not free and treated badly.

One of the pharaohs become worried that some Jewish children, called the Israelites in Exodus, would rise up against him, so he ordered the slaughter of all the Jewish baby boys. However, Moses mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile in order to save him from the Egyptian troops. He was later picked up by the pharaoh’s daughter and brought up in the pharaoh’s palace. Despite being saved and safe, Moses was later to kill an Egyptian who was mistreating slaves. Because of this, Moses had to leave the palace and hide in the desert where he became a shepherd. This was to change his life.

One day God spoke to Moses and appeared as a burning bush. Moses was told lead his people to freedom. He was to ask the pharaoh for their freedom. If the pharaoh refused, ten plagues would descend upon the Egyptian people as punishment from God. The plagues would be blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence (diseases that affect farm animals), boils, hail, locusts, darkness and, lastly, the angel of death and the death of every first born Egyptian son.  The pharaoh refused despite each plague. He only changed his mind after the angel of death passed over all of the houses killing the first born sons, including the pharaoh’s. The Israelites were spared as they put lambs blood on the doorframes of their houses. This is why the story is remembered by a festival called Passover (Pesach in Hebrew).

The Israelites had to leave Egypt quickly. Because of this they had to take unleavened bread with them as they had no time to properly bake their bread. As they left, the Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after the fleeing Israelites. The pharaoh’s men where almost in reach of the Israelites when they arrived at the edge of the Red Sea. However, Moses asked God for help and God parted the sea for them. This meant the Israelites could walk across the sea bed. As soon as the advancing Egyptians followed, the sea closed in on them. The Israelites were saved.

This story is remembered by the Jewish people during Passover with a symbolic meal called the Seder Meal. On a Seder Dish each piece of food represents a part of the story. There is salt water for the Israelites tears, bitter herbs for the bitterness of slavery and an egg to represent the new beginnings of their freedom from the Egyptians.

The 10 Commandments

As the Jews made their way away from the land of the pharaoh, some of the Israelites started to worship a Golden Calf instead of God. This meant God needed to speak again to Moses and make sure the Israelites remembered their loyalty to God as the chosen people.  Moses spoke to God on Mount Sinai and God gave him the 10 Commandments. Although Jewish people really follow 613 commandments, these 10 are considered the most important. They are:

  1. I am the Lord your God
  2. You shall have no other gods before me
  3. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  4. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
  5. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  6. Honour your father and mother
  7. You shall not kill/murder
  8. You shall not commit adultery
  9. You shall not steal
  10. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour, covet your neighbour’s wife nor covet anything that belongs to your neighbour.

The 10 Commandments are always displayed in Synagogues for all people to see. The first four are about the importance of the one God, the fifth is about the importance of remembering the day of rest from the creation story and the last five are moral rules. ‘Covet’ can be seen as another word for envy of jealousy.

Sabbat (Sabbath – the Jewish holy day)

Most Jewish people still observe Shabbat, which is the Jewish day of rest. As God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, Jewish people work for six days and rest on the seventh. Unlike the Christian Sabbath of Sunday, the Jewish Shabbat lasts from sundown on Friday evening to Sundown on Saturday. For many Jewish people this is a day off from work, but for stricter, more orthodox Jews, they cannot do anything that resembles work on this day, which includes cooking, cleaning and even driving a car. On Shabbat many Jewish families enjoy a meal together and thank God for what they have.

Bar and Bat Mitzvah

The Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies are ‘coming of age’ ceremonies for Jewish boys and girls. They represent the age when children become adults. The age for boys is 13 years old and the age for girls is 12 years old. The Hebrew word ‘mitzvah’ means commandment and the word ‘bar’ means son and ‘bat’ means daughter. A literal translation of Bar and Bat Mitzvah is ‘son of the commandments’ and ‘daughter of the commandments’. Before the Bar or Bat Mitzvah the boy or girl must attend special classes to learn a ‘portion’ of the Torah in Hebrew. They will read this portion in the synagogue. Many Jewish families celebrate the ceremony with parties afterwards where they invite family and friends. Importantly, after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah the young adult is responsible for their own actions and will be blamed if they sin. Before the ceremony the parents, especially the father, will be responsible for any wrong doing by the child. In the orthodox Jewish tradition girls cannot have a Bat Mitzvah, so they have a celebration called a Bat Chayil Instead. This ceremony does not involve reading the Torah and the girls do not take on the same responsibilities as the boys when they become men. 

Ganeden, Gehenna and Shoal

Like Christians and Muslims, Jewish people believe in an everlasting soul and a form of Heaven and Hell. In Judaism, Heaven is called Ganeden and Hell is called Gehenna. However, early scriptures in the Torah did not refer to Ganeden or Gehenna, but instead mentioned shoal, which was a dark place people went to after they die. Many Jews believe that Shoal is a waiting place for the Day of Judgement. On this day people will be resurrected. This means their souls and bodies will be reunited. God will then judge whether they will go to Ganeden or Gehenna. Importantly, many Jewish people say that the afterlife is not important as a Jewish person should focus on pleasing God in this life.

Kashrut Food – Deity Laws

Food is very important in Judaism and there are some things Jewish people are forbidden from eating. The rules or laws on food come from the Torah. They are commandments and must be obeyed. Food that Jewish people can eat is called kosher and food that they cannot eat is called triefer. The part of the Torah called Leviticus states that Jewish people should avoind eating pork, birds of prey, insects, seafood without fins and scales and blood. Food that is kosher can be eaten and includes beef, as any animal that has cloven hooves and chews the cud is acceptable, as well as fish with scales and fins.

Jewish people should also avoid mixing meat and dairy products as Leviticus states that the ‘kid should not be cooked in its mother’s milk’. Therefore, most orthodox Jewish people avoid foods like cheese burgers, which they can eat separately, but not together, as will many ‘progressive’ Jewish people. Many will wait for up to three hours before consuming either product after consuming the other. In some Jewish homes there are two sets of plates, cutlery and sinks in order to avoid mixing meat and dairy products.   

Holocaust – Shoah

Jewish people have been treated badly throughout history. There is even a term for describing hatred of Jewish people. This is called ‘anti-Semitism’. Countries such as England and Spain have forced Jews to leave at some point in their histories. Perhaps the most horrific example of anti-Semitism was the holocaust, which started before  the World War Two and ended at the end of the war. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party forced Jewish people from their homes into labour and concentration camps. Most Jewish people died in these camps. They died of disease, starvation, violence and the gas chambers. Around 6 million Jews died in these camps alongside homosexuals, Jehovour Witnesses, trade unionists, the mentally ill and other people that the Nazis took a disliking to. The word Holocaust means ‘burnt offering’ and many Jews prefer the term shoah, which is Hebrew for ‘great catastrophe’ of ‘great calamity’. Although the Holocaust happened over 60 years ago, Jewish people still experience anti-Semitism today.

 

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