Introduction, Beliefs & Sources of Authority

Introduction, Beliefs & Sources of Authority

religious studiesThere are three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Judaism is the oldest with origins going back more than 3,500 years. All of the Abrahamic faiths originated in the Middle East and have prophets in common including Abraham and Moses. Judaism is a monotheistic religion, believing in one all-powerful God.

The most important religious text for Jews is the Tenakh. Jews worship in synagogues and their religious leaders are called Rabbis. Jews can be divided into the Orthodox and Progressive (Reform and Liberal) traditions, although all share common beliefs and values. The central event for Judaism in recent history is the Holocaust, when the Nazis tried to wipe out European Jews and succeeded in murdering 6,000,000.

It’s worth remembering that some Jews are not religious, but still consider themselves Jews. The terms observant for believing Jews and non-observant for non-believing Jews are often used.


Beliefs and Sources of Authority

religious studyThe main source of belief for Jews is the Hebrew Bible, called the Tenakh. The Tenakh has three parts, the Torah, the Nevi’im and the Ketuvim. The Torah has five books, Bresheit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayicra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and Devarim (Deuteronomy). According to Jewish belief, God gave Moses the Torah atop Mount Sinai. The Torah describes the code that Jews should live by. There are 613 commandments in the book, and the best known are called the Ten Statements.

The second part of the Tenakh, the Nevi’im is given over to the words of 14 prophets, with four called the Former prophets and ten called the Latter prophets. The Former prophets include Joshua and Samuel, and among the Latter prophets are Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zephaniah.

The third section of the Tenakh is the Ketuvim which contains text that has less authority than recognised prophecy. Its contents are described as writings and it was created between the fifth the second centuries BC.

The Talmud, written in the second century AD, contains the body of Jewish Law which was formerly in oral form. The Talmud has two parts, the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the written version of the oral law while the Gemara records discussions about interpretation. Jewish law is called the Halakah. The Responsa are written decisions from scholars, the Bet Din is the court of law and the Yeshiva is a school where students study law and religious texts.

Jews believe that they have a Covenant, or agreement, with God, going back to the time of Abraham that means they are His chosen people. The Shema is a prayer said throughout Jewish services ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One’.

Some Jews believe in a Messianic Age when a Messiah will come from God and rule the world. Jews do not accept that Jesus was the Messiah, as Christians do.