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Judaism: Basic Terms and Concepts

Judaism: Basic Terms and Concepts

Judaism has been correctly depicted as a religion, a race, a culture, and a nation. To be a member of the Jewish people, a person needs either to have been born to a Jewish mother or to have converted to the Jewish faith by one of the generally acknowledged movements within Judaism.


1.  Far more than just a person with the gift of prophecy, a ‘prophet’ is fundamentally a “spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on God's behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to God. They set the standards for the entire community” (“Prophet,” n.d.).

2. Moses is another great figure in Judaism. In Hebrew, he is called ‘Moshe Rabbenu’ (‘Moses our teacher’).

3. Concerning Jewish poetry, a Jewish liturgical poem, customarily designated to be sung, chanted, or recited during religious services, is called ‘piyyut’ or ‘piyut’ (plural ‘piyyutim’ or ‘piyutim’). Piyyutim are usually written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and most follow certain poetic scheme, like an acrostic following the order of the Hebrew alphabet or spelling out the name of the author. Piyyutim are said to have been written since Temple times.

4. Mishnah is the first major work of Rabbinic literature.

5. The so-called ‘Ten Commandments’ refer to the first ten of the 613 commandments given by God to the Israelites. These form the basis of Jewish morality, conduct, and social and religious responsibilities. These commandments are stated in order twice in the Torah, once each in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

6. The God of the Israelites revealed His name to Moses as four Hebrew consonants called the ‘tetragrammaton.’ The four Hebrew consonants is transliterated as ‘YHWH’ and commonly pronounced as ‘Yahweh.’

7. ‘Orthodox Judaism’ refers to the approach to religious Judaism which is distinguished by its keeping of the traditional forms of worship in the Hebrew language, and of the traditional observances as recommended by the Torah. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately, and women do not participate in some of the rituals. 

8. By faith, Abraham unquestionably agreed to a pact with God, which formed the foundation of the ‘b'rit’ (covenant) between God and Abraham's descendants. This ‘b'rit’ is central to Judaism.

9. Talmud (literally, “study”) is the generic term for the documents that comment and expand upon the Mishnah. It is “the comprehensive written version of the Jewish oral law and the subsequent commentaries on it. It originates from the 2nd century CE (“Talmud,” n.d.).

10. ‘Conservative Judaism,’ on the other hand, adopts the practice of traditional Judaism while espousing some modernity. Developed during the twentieth century in the United States, it comes midway between Orthodoxy and Reform,

11. ‘Anti-Semitism’ refers to hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or racial group. It is the hostile belief or behavior toward Jews just because they are Jewish.

12. In holocaust, Jews were systematically murdered in the deadliest genocide in history. The persecution and genocide were executed in stages, concluding in what Nazis termed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (‘die Endlösung der Judenfrage’), an agenda to exterminate Jews in Europe:

13. ‘Zionism’ is also referred to as the Jewish national liberation movement campaigning for the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionism has included the movement for the development of the State of Israel and the security of the Jewish nation in Israel through support for the Israel Defense Forces (“Zionism,” n.d.).

14.  In the ‘Fiddler in the Roof,’ we can see the traditional Jewish dress. The men wear hats to cover their heads as according to their tradition, they must not forget that they are less than God above. They also wear striped undergarments with fringes on them, as commanded in Numbers 15:37-38. They also do not shave the hair on their face that they have beards and moustaches, as ordered in Leviticus 19:27. Moreover, the married women cover their heads too, as according to their tradition, women’s hair should not be seen in public.

15. Abraham (‘Avraham’) is considered in this religion as the first Jew, the founder of Judaism, the physical and spiritual ancestor of the Jewish people, and one of the three Patriarchs (‘Avot’) of Judaism.

16. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses died within sight of the Promised Land that God had promised them. The escape of the Hebrews from Egypt is commemorated by Jews every year in the festival of Passover.

17. ‘Judaism 101,’ an online encyclopedia of Judaism, admits that the word ‘Torah’ is a “tricky one” as it can mean various things in different contexts. It can be used to refer to three (3) different but interrelated meanings.

18. Reform Judaism accepts the Torah as God inspired, a living document that enables Jews to confront the timeless and timely challenges of everyday lives. It believes that Judaism must change and adapt to the needs of the day to survive. 

19. The Pharaoh decreed all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed in order to lessen the population of the Israelites. Moses’ Hebrew mother, Jochebed, secretly hid him.

20. ‘Navi,’ the Hebrew word for a prophet, comes from ‘niv sefatayim’ meaning “fruit of the lips,” which emphasizes the prophet’s role as a speaker.
 
The following information are also important in studying Judaism as a religion:
 
1. Judaism refers to the monotheistic religion of the Jews. Judaism is the name of the religious faith and set of practices that are shared by the Jewish people.

2. Shas refers to the Jewish sacred text Talmud. Shas is a Hebrew abbreviation for the expression ‘Shishah Sedarim’ or the six orders or parts into which the Mishnah is divided.

3. In its most limited sense, ‘Torah’ refers to (1) the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). But the term ‘torah’ can also be used to refer to (2) the whole Jewish bible, the body of scripture known to non-Jews as the ‘Old Testament’ and to Jews as the ‘Tanakh’ or Written Torah. In its broadest sense, ‘torah’ refers to (3) the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.

4. Being a ‘prophet’ in Judaism refers not just to the ability to see the future. Far more than just a person with the gift of prophecy, a ‘prophet’ is fundamentally a “spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on God's behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to God. They set the standards for the entire community” (“Prophet,” n.d.).

5. The Mishnah or Mishna (which etymologically means “study by repetition”) is the first major written ‘redaction’ of the Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah.” Redaction means the process of editing text for publication. Mishnah is the first major work of Rabbinic literature

6. Talmud (literally, “study”) is the generic term for the documents that comment and expand upon the Mishnah. It is “the comprehensive written version of the Jewish oral law and the subsequent commentaries on it. It originates from the 2nd century CE (“Talmud,” n.d.).

7. Some Jews, especially the Orthodox ones, make it part of their practice to study a page of the Talmud every single day. This is known as ‘Daf Yomi’ which is the Hebrew expression for ‘page of the day.’ One of its aims is to bring Jewish people together.

8. The so-called ‘Ten Commandments’ refer to the first ten of the 613 commandments given by God to the Israelites. These form the basis of Jewish morality, conduct, and social and religious responsibilities. These commandments are stated in order twice in the Torah, once each in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

9. The tradition that 613 is the number of commandments or ‘mitzvot’ in the Torah started in the 3rd century CE, when Jewish Rabbi Simlai mentioned it in a sermon that is recorded in Talmud Makkot 23b. These 613 being referred to are principles of Biblical law sometimes called connections or commandments (‘mitzvot’) and recognized collectively as the "Law of Moses," "Mosaic Law," "Sinaitic Law," or simply "the Law". The word ‘mitzvot’ is plural for the singular term ‘mitzvah.’

10. ‘Orthodox Judaism’ refers to the approach to religious Judaism which is distinguished by its keeping of the traditional forms of worship in the Hebrew language, and of the traditional observances as recommended by the Torah. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately, and women do not participate in some of the rituals. 

11.  ‘Conservative Judaism,’ on the other hand, adopts the practice of traditional Judaism while espousing some modernity. Developed during the twentieth century in the United States, it comes midway between Orthodoxy and Reform,

12.  ‘Reform Judaism’ (also called ‘Liberal Judaism’ or ‘Progressive Judaism’) is another major Jewish denomination which “emphasizes the evolving nature of the religion, the superiority of its ethical aspects to the ceremonial ones, and a belief in a continuous revelation not centered on the theophany at Mount Sinai” (“Reform Judaism,: n.d.). It is marked by a lesser emphasis on ritual and personal observance, treating Jewish Law as of essentially non-binding nature, and pronounced openness to external influences and progressive values. Having its greatest center today is in North America, Reform Judaism started in Germany in the 19th-century. Its early principles were framed by Rabbi Abraham Geiger and his associates.

13. ‘Anti-Semitism’ refers to hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or racial group. It is the hostile belief or behavior toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of a religious teaching that states the assumed inferiority of Jews, for instance, or a political campaign to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also consist of prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.

14. The ‘Holocaust,’ as this systematic mass extermination between 1941 to1945 has become known, resulted in the death of about six million Jews. The victims in this genocide perpetrated by Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators included 1.5 million children and represented about two-thirds of the nine million Jews in Europe that time. The killings happened throughout Nazi Germany, German-occupied territories, and territories held by allies of Nazi Germany.

15.‘Zionism,’ on the other hand, generally refers to the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, ‘Eretz Yisrael,’ or Zion, the Jewish synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. In 1890, the term ‘Zionism’ was coined by Nathan Birnbaum. The name ‘Zionism’ comes from the hill Zion, the hill on which the Temple of Jerusalem was situated. Followers of the movement are called ‘Zionists.’
 

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