1. Judaism Is Based on the Torah

The foundation of all Jewish beliefs, practices and scholarship is the Torah, known as the Five Books of Moses. Next come the Prophets and Writings (Neviim and Ketuvim in Hebrew). Together, they form the Written Torah, AKA the Hebrew Bible. These written books were given to us by G‑d (through His prophets) along with oral traditions that interpret and elucidate their sometimes cryptic teachings. These oral traditions were collected into what became the Midrash and Talmud. The Written Torah cannot be fully understood without the Oral Torah.

2. Jews, Israelites, and Hebrews Are the Same People

Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was called a Hebrew. His grandson Jacob was renamed Israel by G‑d, and his children were known as the People ("Children") of Israel. In time, descendants of King David, from the tribe of Judah, ruled over the bulk of the Israelites living in the Land of Israel, and the people took the name Yehudim (Jews). These three names are generally used interchangeably, depending on the time and place.

3. There Is Just One G‑d

Judaism believes in the one invisible Creator of Heaven and Earth. He has no children and needs no helpers. Nor does anything have independent power (even Satan is just an angel with a unique job description). G‑d does, however, go by several names, which are so sacred that Jews only use them in prayer. In everyday speech, they generally refer to Him as Hashem, which is Hebrew for “The Name.”

4. Mitzvahs Are How Jews Live Jewishly

In the Torah, G‑d tells the Jewish people to follow His commandments, all 613 of them. These are known as mitzvahs (“instructions”). For the Jewish person, these are not suggestions or just good ways to gain Divine favor. Rather, they are life itself, just like eating and drinking, as well as our path to connecting to G‑d.

5. To Be Jewish Is to Learn Torah

Knowledge is power, and to know G‑d’s ways is to connect to Him in the deepest way possible. That’s why Jewish people invest hours, days and years into learning Torah and Talmud, plumbing their inexhaustible depths for more meaning and insight.

6. The Jewish People Began as Slaves

The Book of Exodus recounts how the Jewish people began as slaves in Egypt before being freed by G‑d (through his agent Moses, who brought 10 plagues upon the Egyptians). This formative experience has given the Jewish people empathy for others less fortunate and conditioned them to accept the Torah’s communal ethic where charity (called tzedakah) and kindness to the stranger are central tenets.

7. Shabbat: G‑d’s Gift to the Jews

It is now taken for granted in most Western countries that people deserve to take a break from work at the end of every week. This has its roots in the very dawn of the Jewish peoplehood. Right after the Exodus from Egypt, G‑d told the people to take a day off from creative work. Known as Shabbat, the day is dedicated to prayer services, festive meals with family and friends, and rest. On Shabbat we acknowledge that G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

8. Who Is a Jew?

Anyone born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, regardless of one’s religious involvement or beliefs. A person can also become Jewish through conversion under the auspices of a recognized rabbinical court. The conversion process includes unconditionally accepting to observe the mitzvahs, immersing in a mikvah (ritual pool of water), and circumcision (for males).

9. The Temple and the Synagogue

For most of the first millennium of the Jewish people’s history, there was a Holy Temple where (animal) sacrifices were brought and the people came to worship (at least) three times a year. After the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in the first century, the nexus of Jewish life shifted to the synagogues, where communities gather for regular prayer services.

Jewish synagogue with a dome structure and candelabras

10. The Land of Israel Is the Beating Heart of the Jewish People

Nearly four millennia ago, G‑d promised Abraham (the first Jew) that his children would inhabit the land. Even as the Jews were exiled to the farthest corners of the earth, we have never stopped praying for our return to Israel as a united nation under G‑d. In Israel, the holiest city is Jerusalem. Within Jerusalem, the most sacred spot is the Temple Mount, where Jews generally may not pray today. Thus, the Western Wall of the Temple mount is the focal point of our prayers and our national consciousness.

11. Rabbis Are Learned Jews

Rabbi is Hebrew for “master” or “teacher,” and a rabbi is a learned Jew who guides other Jews in their Torah study, mitzvah observance, and service of G‑d. The rabbi interprets and applies the traditions and principles of Judaism as he received them from those who came before him.

12.Women Are King (Queen)

Judaism is a tradition passed down from generation to generation, and the Jewish woman is the artery through which Judaism is transmitted. When G‑d communicated the Torah at Sinai, he spoke to the women first.

13. Judaism’s Message for Non-Jews

Judaism does not believe in proselytizing to non-Jews or encouraging others to become Jewish. Each and every human being (indeed, every single creature) has a part in the grand chorus of life. However, Judaism does have a message to all people: to live a moral, just and G‑dly life as outlined in the 7 Noahide Laws: (1) to acknowledge G‑d and not to worship idols; (2) not to murder; (3) not to commit adultery; (4) not to eat the limb of a living animal (or otherwise torture G‑d’s creatures); (5) not to blaspheme; (6) not to steal; and (7) to respect the rule of law. Any non-Jew who follows these guidelines is rewarded in the World to Come.

14. The Best Is Yet to Come

Ever since G‑d created the world, we have been building up toward the climax, a time of peace and G‑dly awareness. This era is known as the time of Moshiach (Messiah).

© Davora Lilian
© Davora Lilian

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