Origins of Judaism
Judaism is one of the earliest monotheistic religions (a religion that believes in one God) in the Middle East. It is documented as early as 1200 B.C. in a series of religious books known as the Torah (the five books of Moses, or the Old Testament). These books, written by many authors over a period of many centuries, explain the history of the Israelites as God's chosen people. The books of the Old Testament also describe the rise of the Israelites, their covenant with God (an agreement for both sides to be faithful to one another), and their journey (called the Exodus) to the land promised to them by God.
Spiritual Goals and Practices of Judaism
Judaism incorporates ritual observance, spirituality, and morality at the core of its belief system. Jewish rituals and observances enhance both daily and spiritual life. These rituals are practiced both at home and in the synagogue, the Jewish place of worship, and are essential because they embellish the festivals and holidays, making them a celebration of life, the week, the seasons, and the world.
Today, Judaism has several branches or movements. Four of the most common are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. The Orthodox are the most traditional in practice, while the Reform and Reconstructionist are more liberal in their interpretations. Within this spectrum is a wide variety of traditions, beliefs, ritual observance, and practice.
Although there are multiple movements, there are some basic beliefs held by most Jewish people. The most common principle is that there is one God, who created the universe and who is loving and just. This precept is affirmed in the Shema, which comes from the Torah and is one of the central prayers of the Jewish religion. The Torah, written in Hebrew, the universal and sacred language of Judaism, is the central text of Judaism. It is accompanied by a book called the Talmud, and together, they contain all of the laws and commandments that guide the Jewish people.