Main locations: Israel, Eastern Europe, USA
Date founded: 1800 BCE (Abraham); 6th century BCE (Pentateuch); or 70 CE (destruction of Second Temple)
Place founded: Modern-day Israel, Palestine, and Jordan
Founders: Abraham, Moses
Beliefs: One God, who chose the people of Israel and who requires worship, ethical behavior, and rituals. A Messiah will come.
Practices: Circumcision at birth, bar/bat mitzvah at adulthood, Sabbath observance, prayer services
Holidays: Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Purim, Yom Kippur, Passover
Texts: Hebrew Bible, Talmud
Symbols: Star of David
Judaism was founded around 2000 BCE as the religion of Abraham and the small nation of Hebrews. Through thousands of years of persecution, dispersion, and the occasional victory, Jewish religion and culture has been profoundly influential.
Today, 14 million people self-identify as Jews, and 3.5 billion others follow belief systems directly influenced by Judaism, including Christianity, Islam, and the Baha'i faith. Modern Judaism incorporates both a nation and a religion, and it often combines strict adherence to ritual laws with a more liberal attitude towards religious doctrine.
The central religious belief of Judaism is that there is only one God. Monotheism was uncommon at the time, but according to Jewish tradition, God himself revealed it to Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people. Judaism teaches that God took special care of the Hebrews (later, called the Jews). After rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, together with other religious and ethical guidelines in the Torah ("the Law").
Divisions within Judaism, known as "movements," have developed in modern times as responses to secularism and modernity. Orthodox Judaism retains nearly all traditional rituals and practices. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Reform Jews take a liberal approach to many Jewish beliefs and practices. Conservative Judaism lies in the middle of the spectrum.
To recognize the role of God and the Jewish community in each person's life, numerous life cycle events are observed with traditional rituals. Eight days after birth, baby boys are circumcised. Children become Bnei Mitzvah, or "Children of the Commandment," at age 13. The youth’s first public reading of the Torah in the synagogue marks the occasion.
The Sabbath is observed on Saturday. Religious Jews spend the day in worship at the synagogue and at home with family. The study of Torah and other Jewish scriptures is central, and many Jewish children attend Hebrew school so they can study it in its original language. In everyday life, traditional Jews eat only foods that God has designated "kosher." Prohibited foods include pork, shellfish, and meals combining dairy with meat.
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