The Forefathers of the Jewish People

The Jews are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They became a people through a covenant with G‑d over 3,300 years ago.

Abraham was the first to proclaim to the world that there is only one G‑d. He believed in a G‑d who is everywhere and yet beyond all things. He taught that G‑d desires justice and compassion in His world and holds people accountable for what they do.

Abraham faced many challenges and risked his life to publicize his beliefs. His son, Isaac, followed in his path, as did Isaac’s son, Jacob, who G‑d named Israel. And so they were promised that their children would be given the Land of Canaan, which is today called the Land of Israel. They would be a chosen people to continue the mission of their forefathers.

Read more: Where Do Jews Come From?

G‑d Chooses the People of Israel

Jacob and his children were forced to leave Canaan for Egypt due to a famine. Their descendants became enslaved there. After many years, G‑d sent Moses to liberate them and return them to the land He had promised to their fathers. Along the way, at Mount Sinai, Moses acted as G‑d’s agent to arrange a covenant between the people and the Creator of all that is.

G‑d told the people they would be a nation of priests and a holy people. The entire people, men and women, leaders and laborers, stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. They heard G‑d’s voice speaking directly to each of them, telling them the 10 basic rules of this covenant. G‑d then engraved these words upon two sapphire tablets.

Over a 40 year period in the Sinai Desert, G‑d taught many laws to Moses. He would teach and explain all that he was taught to the people. They, in turn, were told to discuss these laws and teach them to their children. Moses wrote down all that G‑d told him to write in five books. At the end of the 40 years, everyone was told to make their own copies of these books and study them. These five books that Moses wrote, together with the unwritten laws and explanations that were transmitted orally, are called Torah, which means “teaching.”

Read: Moses, Man of G‑d

Torah: The Creed of the Jews

The Torah covenant established a society that was radically different from other societies of the time. For one thing, the rulers were held to the same law as everyone else.

Every child had to be educated in the law. Equality before the law placed all citizens on equal ground. Furthermore, all members of society became responsible for the welfare of one another. And G‑d was understood to be equally accessible to all who call upon Him—especially to the oppressed and downtrodden.

This covenant was never closed. Anyone who accepts all its requirements before an established Jewish tribunal court is considered a Jew. But Jews do not look for converts. It is not necessary to become a Jew to be a good person. The covenant of Noah, who lived before Abraham, is a small set of common civil laws for all humankind. Whoever keeps them is considered a righteous person.

Learn more about the 7 Noahide laws here.

After Moses, there were many prophets who inspired and rebuked the people to keep the Torah. The words of many of these prophets are recorded in the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. Much of the traditional explanation and elaboration of the Bible was recorded later, in collections called the Mishnah and the Talmud.

In the time that has past since that covenant was made, the Jewish people have been exiled twice from their land and have inhabited almost every place in the world. Today, there are an estimated 15 million Jews spread throughout the world. Wherever G‑d has brought them, they have reached back into their Torah and discovered how it applies in every circumstance.

Other religions have arisen that accept the Hebrew Bible and its prophets—Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah and many others. But the Jewish People continue in the path of the Hebrew Bible and their original covenant with G‑d, unbroken and unchanged.

Some Jewish Values

From the ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans, to the Arabs and the Europeans, great nations and empires gradually adopted many Jewish laws and values. By now, the entire world has been transformed by the teachings of the Torah, either directly or indirectly. Here are some of the basic values that the Torah contributed to the world:

  • That we are all accountable to a single G‑d who demands from us justice and compassion.
  • That this world is essentially good and that life has purpose.
  • That we are the earth’s stewards, placed here to care for it and perfect it.
  • That the value of human life cannot be put on a scale and measured.
  • That G‑d grants every person the power to choose between good and evil.
  • That every child must be given a moral education.
  • That G‑d loves those who earn a living through their own toil.
  • That all citizens have rights to their property.
  • That the rights of the individual come before the power of the state.
  • That there is no authority above the law.
  • That we are all responsible to care for those in need.
  • That we must respect those who are different from us and do not practice our religion.
  • That all nations must learn to live in peace with one another.

Learn more: What Are Jewish Values?

The Jewish People look forward to a time promised by the prophets, a time in which all Jews will return to their homeland, the world will dwell in harmony, and the entire occupation of humankind will be to know G‑d. It is clear that we are rapidly approaching such an era. May it blossom sooner than we can imagine.

Learn more about Moshiach here.