Only about 0.2% of the world’s population or 14 million people follow Judaism but it is an enormously influential religion being the foundation of the two most popular religions of the world – Christianity and Islam.

History:

2,600BCE: Judaism is about 4,000 years old originating from the ‘father’ of the Jewish nation, Abraham, of the city of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Early Jews were polytheistic but after Abraham and their greatest prophet,

1250BCE: Moses, they became Monotheistic, believing in One God with whom they had a Covenant, by which the Jewish people would be especially favoured as long as they maintained the instructions given by their God and summarized in the 10 Commandments given to Moses on Mt Sinai whilst he was leading the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan (modern Israel).

922-738BCE: Jewish civilization prospered after the Exodus led by powerful Kings – Saul, David, and Solomon, who built the first great temple in Jerusalem which became the focus of faith as it contained the Arc of the Covenant, containing the original tablets of the Ten Commandments.

586BCE: the Babylonians overran Jerusalem and destroyed the first temple causing a crisis of faith for many Jews as they thought their God had been defeated by the Babylonian gods when their temple was destroyed. The prophets Isiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel said that the disasters had happened because the people had broken aspects of their Covenant with God and were being punished for their sins. 539BCE: the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, allowed 40,000 Jewish people to return from Babylonian captivity. 538BCE: the second temple was built by Solomon but the burden on the people was great which caused the united kingdom established under Saul and David to be divided into two kingdoms – Judah in the south and Israel in the north.

539BCE-70CE: Restoration of ancient institutions and leadership; Temple rebuilt (515BCE).  Emergence of classical Judaism cantered on the law (revelation) and its interpretation (traditions). Rise of Greek power and dominance of Palestine and Syria. Alexander the Great, of Macedon conquers Persian Empire in 332BCE. Development of different groups of Jews, Essenes around the Dead Sea, and beginning of Hellenized Jewish philosophy. Emergence of Pharisees as dominant religious movement and its consolidation of the ideals of scholarship and piety. Rise of the Roman empire and Roman conquest of Palestine in 63 BCE.

70-700 CE: Development of Rabbinic Judaism. Destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Bible settled into its present format (ca. 622). Compilation of the Mishnah. Development of the Talmud.

700-1750 CE: Jewish life spreads from Middle East to Europe and US (the Jewish Diaspora). Persecutions of Jews, as in Rhineland (1040) and England (1190), and exile from England (1291), France (1309), Spain (1492), Portugal (1496).

1759-present: Development of new patterns of Jewish life in response to the European Enlightenment and modernity. New reform movements develop such as Hasidism (18th century), Reform and Conservative Schools. Revival of Jewish nationalism in the Zionist movement (founded 1897) and first resettlements in Palestine. Murder of six million Jews in Nazi death camps of World War II. State of Israel founded in 1948. Evolving and continuous conflict with Palestinian people and surrounding Arab states.

Key Beliefs: there is no formal body or organization that represents all of Judaism today. Nor is there any authoritative body or person whose decisions are binding on all adherents of Judaism. The Jewish world allows a variety of opinions.

Monotheism: One God, Yahweh, transcendent, omnipotent, and just. He reveals Himself to, but does not become, human.

Covenant: a formal agreement with God by which the Jewish people would be especially favoured by Yahweh as long as they maintained the instructions given by Him.

Prayer: we can develop a relationship with God through prayer. A conversation with God.

People are made in God’s image: there is no original sin in Judaism.

Messiah: a Saviour or Messiah will come and establish peace on the earth. This has not yet happened.

Core Texts: Torah (Pentateuch) or the first five books of the Bible received by Moses on Mt Sinai; the Talmud: the written interpretation and development of the Hebrew scriptures; Mishnah: the book of oral traditions and laws which Jewish people are to follow; Books of Midrash: commentary on the Torah; Jewish Prayer Book.

Legal System: Halakha: the legal component of Jewish tradition; Aggada: covers pretty much everything outside of Halakha. Codified in the Mishna (220CE).

Kosher (meaning ‘Suitable’): strict dietary laws observed especially by Orthodox Jews.

Three Main groups within Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and, Reformed: all practice festivals which are the key events in the history of the Jewish people.

Schools of Judaism: Sadducees; Pharisees; Essenes; Hasidism.

Mysticism: Kabbalah; Zohar.