Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Abrahamic Religions » Judaism » Introduction to Judaism

Believed to be the first monotheistic religion, Judaism is one of three Abrahamic religions, the others being Christianity and Islam.

Among the problems in introducing Judaism to English-speaking non-Jews is the fact that the English language evolved in a Christian environment, and Christianity was formed in an atmosphere of opposition to Judaism. For this reason, it can be difficult for a non-Jew to view Judaism objectively or on the same terms as the Jews view themselves.

For example, Christians tend to approach Judaism in the light of how Jews feel about Jesus when Judaism does not define itself around Jesus. Many of the English terms that are used to describe religions, in general, are Christocentric, as well. Although the same words may be used to describe Jewish concepts, they are apt to mean something different to Christians or Muslims. They would carry different nuances.

The term "Jew" is an Anglicization, through Greek and Latin, of the Hebrew "Yehuda," which means Judah, the name of one of the Twelve Tribes of ancient Israel. After the Babylonian Exile of 586 BCE, Judah was the main surviving tribe and came to be synonymous with Israel as a whole.

Jewish identity used to be simpler than it is today, although there was never just one definition.

To Christians, they were "the chosen people," as it says in the Bible, but they had rejected Jesus and were therefore separated from Him. As Christianity became more powerful, Christians physically separated them, forced them to wear distinctive clothing, excluded them from guilds and professions, denied them the right of land ownership, vilified them from the pulpit, and accused them of all manner of evil, even while visiting evil upon them, including more than one attempt at genocide.

Where Muslims held power, the Jews were recognized as "People of the Book," but were subordinate to Muslims, who also carried out acts of violence against them.

The Jewish people internalized their social condition, interpreting it in the old biblical terms. They viewed themselves as God's chosen people and as a nation in exile.

Throughout the Middle Ages and later, the Jewish people did not have an identity problem. Their traditions and the surrounding cultures reinforced one another to draw sharp lines setting Jews apart from the people around them.

As the Jews gained civil rights in Europe and North America, becoming citizens of new nations, they were exposed to different values and cultures. In time, their identity became less clear.

Jewish scholars point to three factors as being contributory to the formation of modern Jewish identity: the Enlightenment, anti-Semitism, and the rise of the nation of Israel. These factors also led to the development of the several movements that exist in Judaism today.

Unlike Christianity, Judaism is used to refer to the religion of the Jews as well as to the Jewish people collectively, regardless of their religious practices.

Websites listed in this category are those designed to introduce Judaism to non-Jews or, to a lesser extent, Jewish converts or others who wish to learn more about the religion of Judaism, and to be better acquainted with the traditions and culture of the Jewish people.

Those which focus on the beliefs and practices, holy days, or rituals of Judaism should be submitted to the Beliefs & Practices category and likewise, those that are concerned largely with providing resources, such as in-depth studies, rabbinical writings, scholarly publications, and other Jewish texts, should be submitted to the Judaism Resources or Sacred Literature categories.



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