An Introduction to Judaism

If you are interested in learning more about the Judaic faith, this article will introduce you to this system of belief with a collection of interesting facts about the religion that serves more than 14 million people across the world. Judaism was founded around 1300 BC in Mesopotamia by Abraham and is historically associated with the Jewish people. The principles and ethics of this system of belief are based upon the Hebrew Bible (called Tanakh) and are further explained in texts, such as the Talmud. Today, the religion is prominent in Israel, Europe, and in the United States.

Major Sects

Judaism is divided into three different sects: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Reform Judaism is seen as the most liberal expression of the modern belief system of Judaism. In the US, Americans have gathered under what is known as the Union for Reform Judaism (formerly referred to as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations). An estimated 1.5 million Jews spread across 900 synagogues identify with the Union for Reform Judaism. A hefty chunk of Jews residing in America consider themselves as Reform. It was 1875 that the Reform Judaism’s Hebrew Union College first got its start in Cincinnati. Founder Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise played an important role in the establishment of American Reform Judaism.

With Conservative Judaism (also referred to as Masorti Judaism outside of the United States) thrives as a moderate sect that likes to distance themselves from what they perceive as the extremes associated with Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Conservative Jews want to preserve the traditional aspects of the religion while still permitting a decent amount of modernization. This particular sect is based upon the teachings of Zacharias Frankel (1801-75), whose message has been used to develop the base of the Conservative Judaism belief. It was Frankel that strayed from the Reform movement that took place in Germany during the 1840s, where he heavily relied on the Torah and Talmud.

One of the most traditional aspects of modern Judaism is seen in the practice of the Orthodox belief system, which is based on the Torah and Talmud. They hold the belief that these significant pieces of the religion were given to Moses by God at Sinai and are followed in its entirety to serve as a structure for everyday life. Throughout North America, both American and Canadian Orthodox Jews organize under the Orthodox Union. Adherents worship in about 1,000 synagogues found in North America.

Sacred Text

The sacred text associated with Judaism is called the Tanakh and the Talmud. The Tanakh is separated into three traditional subdivisions: Torah (which includes the Five Books of Moses and translates into “teaching” or “law”), Nevi’im (translates into “prophets” and consists of books such as Samuel and Kings), and Ketuvim (translates into “writings” and is comprised of many different things like the “wisdom books” and “poetry books”). The Talmud serves as a record of conversations that rabbis have participated in regarding Jewish law, customs, ethics, and history. The religious Jewish texts were first written in their original language, which is Hebrew.

While other religious organizations meet on Sundays to worship, Jews worship on Saturday in synagogues (or “temples” if you are a Reform Jew), which is referred to as the Shabbat or Sabbath. The spiritual leader associated with Judaism is called a rabbi. If one follows the system of Hasidism, they refer to their spiritual leader as a ‘rebbe’.