The Jewish Nation Began With a Single Couple

Judaism originates nearly 4,000 years ago in the Middle East with a couple named Abraham and Sarah, whom G‑d selected to start a new people, the chosen nation. G‑d commanded them to relocate to a new land (which would eventually become the Land of Israel) that He would show them. In exchange for their devotion, G‑d promised Abraham that they would be blessed with many children and that they would be a source of blessing for others as well.

As recorded in the Book of Genesis, G‑d Himself attests that “I have known [Abraham] because he commands his children and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the L‑rd to perform righteousness and justice, in order that the L‑rd bring upon Abraham that which He spoke concerning him.”

Jews Were Slaves

Years later, the great-great-grandchildren of Abraham and Sarah (by now having developed into the 12 Tribes of Israel) descended to Egypt, where they were enslaved by the cruel king, Pharaoh.

After the Jews (or Israelites or Hebrews, as the Jews are also known) endured generations of suffering, G‑d sent two brothers named Moses and Aaron to take them out of Egypt.

Torah Is the Creed of Judaism

Ten miraculous plagues and one split sea later, the Israelites found themselves at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, amidst thunder, lightning, and a thick cloud, G‑d gave them the Torah, His instruction book for how they and their descendants are to live their lives.

The Torah is the foundation upon which all of Jewish practice is based, both the physical and the spiritual aspects of life. It contains 613 mitzvahs (commandments), including the Shabbat (Sabbath), Jewish holidays, the kosher laws, the basis of Jewish marriage and divorce, the Holy Temple procedures, and more.

The Rabbis and the Talmud

As the situation of the Jewish people changed, the rabbis of old (charged by G‑d with the task of safeguarding the Torah) added several key components such as the liturgy, which took on an added layer of importance when the Jews were exiled from Israel and deprived of the services that once took place in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The expanded (and ever-expanding) corpus of Jewish scholarship, tradition, and law was eventually recorded in the Talmud. The main text of the Talmud is the Mishnah, a collection of terse teachings written in Hebrew, redacted by Rabbi Judah the Prince in the years following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Over the next several hundred years, the rabbis continued to teach and expound upon the Mishnah. Many of those teachings were collected into two great bodies, the Jerusalem Talmud, containing the teachings of the rabbis in the Land of Israel, and the Babylonian Talmud, featuring the teachings of the rabbis of Babylon. These two works are written in the Aramaic dialects used in Israel and Babylonia respectively.

Jews and Judaism

In time, Jewish people were scattered all over the world, and they learned the languages of host countries. Thus, Hebrew was retained as a sacred language, while everyday affairs were conducted in (variations of) the languages of their host countries, giving rise to Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) and Judeo-German (Yiddish).

Yet, despite the challenges endured, the Jews remain the same people, devoted to G‑d like Abraham, steeped in His teachings like Moses, and dedicated to living in accordance with His will.