World Religions Info

Overview of Judaism

Judaism is considered a smaller world religion, but  it is considered significant because it has provided a historical and philosophical foundation for Islam and Christianity. The early origins of Jewish people begin at the beginning of the book of Genesis, one of the 5 books of the Torah. Jewish people started to think this happened soon after the creation of the world. Traditionalists began to write that this took place  around 3800 B.C.E (Before the Common Era.) This religion was spread through the migration of Jews called the diaspora. These Jews had migrated from the Middle East.

The main book Jews follow by is called the Jewish Bible, which consists of three different parts. Part one is the Torah, which contains the first five books of the Christian Bible. These are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Torah is considered as the
Jewish Law. The second part is called the Neviim, known as The Prophets. The last part of the Jewish Bible is named the Ketuvim, known as The Writings which describe Jewish tradition, laws, priorities, religious ceremonies, and codes of conduct. The Jewish Bible is known as the Old Testament by Christians.  Another main writing is the Talmud, commentaries and tradtions. Also, the Midrash, interpretations of scripture. The Jewish also believe in the 10 commandments, which are a basic ethical code that all Jews follow.

The 10 Commandments

1. ‘You shall not have other Gods before me.’

2.’You shall not make for yourself a carved image- any likeness that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that us in the water under the earth.’

3.  ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.’

4. ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’

5.  ‘Honor your father and mother.’

6. ‘You shall not murder.’

7. ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

8. ‘You shall not steal.’

9.’You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’

10. ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.’

Jews sometimes see God as a being outside of this universe who hears prayers, controls lives, creates miracles, and judges. The Jewish believe that referring to God as a human should be taken as a poetic metaphor. Judaism was the first to teach the idea of monotheism- the belief that there is only one God. Jews focus more on the way in which you  practice and live in the world vs. the world analyzing God’s nature. It depends on who you are, but some Jews think God contains the universe vs. others think God is the universe. Yahweh is the name the Jews give God. Jews stress inward quality of religion as a personal relationship between each individual and God. Four major divisions of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstruction.

Jews have similarities with Islam and Christianity. All religions believe in one same God. They are also similar because Judaism provided a foundation for all three religions. Each religion believes in going to a community service, and praying.  Jews believe that their Messiah will come. They do not believe in major prophets such as Jesus Christ or Muhammad. Their New Years and holidays are different as well.  Some things that Jewish believe they need to do involve going to the synagogue and worshiping on the Sabbath. Most Jews also believe they can only eat kosher food. They must obey by the 10 commandments and follow the writings of the Torah.


History of Judaism

Way back to about 2000 B.C. is about where Judaism dates back. Jews roamed all about Arabia with freedom for centuries. Then Jews were enslaved by Egyptians. In the 13th century B.C. Moses arrived as a leader to help the Jews out of their enslavement. He was there to help them back to the ‘promised land’ filled with the Canaanites. Through the the Sinai desert, Moses then climbed Mount Sinai and received the 10 commandments. 40 years later the Jews finally crossed the Jordan River with Joshua as their leader. When they arrived, the also ran into the Philistines. They also were looking for the same place to go.

They continued to struggle for at least 200 years when King David finally succeeded and built a Jewish kingdom. Solomon, his son, built a large temple in Jerusalem. It was not long until the kingdom collapsed into two. Prophets took on responsibility for the character of Jewish religion. During the 6th century B.C. the Jews were shut out by the ruling Babylonians. The most important was in 587 when they destroyed Solomon’s temple. Judaism was majorly spread through migrations of Jews from the Middle East, spreading their religion. This is called the Diaspora. The diaspora was started by the exiles.

The Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews back to Jerusalem 70 years after  Solomon’s temple was destroyed. The Jews then built a new temple. In the 50th century B.C. a Jewish state was created  under the leading powers of Nehemiah and Ezra. Many different practices  of Jews were then merged into a single religion. In 332 B.C. Alexander conquered the region with the Greek civilization, against the Jews (in Palestine.) In 63 B.C. Pompey, the Roman general occupied Palestine as well as a Roman district. Jews took charge against Rome in A.D. 66 but they were brutally put down. They destroyed Jerusalem and burnt the Temple to the ground. Jews were exiled from Palestine and moved throughout Mediterranean Islands.

Jewish life then shifted towards Spain for centuries until the Muslims took over in the 8th century. Jews were kicked out in the 14th and 15th century when Christians began to take over Spain again. Jews became a constant threat to persecution with most European and Arab countries. During 1555 the pope made the Jews move into ghettos and gave them many restrictions. They began to to get angry and started to up rise, known as  pogroms. Eventually, they developed new languages such as Sephardim (a mix of Hebrew and Spanish) and Yiddish (a mix of Hebrew and German).  In the 18th century a movement known as Hasidism became popular among Eastern Europeans. During the 19th century, most restrictions on European Jews were removed.

Also, in the 19 century, some Jews experienced nationalism. With the leader of Theodor Herzl, Zionists never thought they would be treated  fairly in Europe and advocated creation of a Jewish nation. World War II broke out in Europe and Germany killed 6 million Jews in concentration camps. This is known as the Holocaust, this genocide convinced the world to allow Jews to make their own country in British Palestine. After the Israeli War, the Jews made Israel a religious state in 1948. Hundreds of Jews from Europe, United States, the Arab World, Russia, and Ethiopia have moved to Israel since.

Major Divisions of Judaism

Orthodox Jews- These Jews try to be as close to the biblical laws as possible. They will eat kosher foods, and the synagogues are separated for men and women.

Conservative Jews- These Jews have a more scientific view of the Bible than the other forms of Judaism. They are not as strict to following the Biblical laws and their religions services are held in a vernacular in Hebrew.

Reform Judaism- These Jews have a much less accurate responsibility of Biblical duties. Their religious services are held on Friday nights. The men and women can sit together and do not have to have their heads covered.

Reconstruction Judaism- These Jews view Judaism not only as a religion, but as a culture. They believe that the culture encompasses literature, art, music, and other non-religious views of the Jewish history.

10 Common Misconceptions

1.Jews are an ethnic group. Jews are an ethnic group, but being a Jew can also mean you are a follower of the religion of Judaism. You can be a Jew without being of Jewish ethnicity.

2.Jews think that they are the chosen people. Jewish people don’t think they are the chosen people. Some other religions refer to the Jewish to the “chosen people”, but Jews themselves don’t refer to themselves or their religion in that way.

3. Jews reject Jesus. The Jews do not reject Jesus; they just don’t worship Jesus and his teachings, just like Christians don’t worship Muhammad and his teachings.

4. You can’t convert to Judaism. Just as with any other religion, if you are a true believer of Judaism, you can convert to Judaism.

5. Keeping Kosher means just not eating pork. Certain foods such as pork are not allowed to be eaten, but there is more to it than that. Different foods have to be kept separate, such as you cut your meats on one cutting board and you cheeses on another. They cannot be mixed in a meal or for a certain time after your meal so that they don’t mix in your stomach.

6. Messianic Jews are the same as Jews. Jews and Messianic Jews are different in their beliefs. Jews don’t believe in the New Testament, and they also don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Messianic Jews believe in the New Testament and that Jesus was the Messiah.

7. Jews killed Jesus. The Jews did not kill Jesus, Romans did.

8. Reform Jews do not keep Kosher. The Reform Jews do keep Kosher.

Sabbath isn’t a holiday. Sabbath is a holiday to the Jews, even though it happens so often. Sabbath starts on Friday at sundown, and ends on Saturday at sundown. They celebrate the rest God took after creating the world.

10. Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas. Many people believe Hanukkah is like Christmas for Jews because it is around the same time of year, but they really have nothing in common. Hanukkah, or the festival of lights, celebrates the Maccabees victory over the Syrians some centuries ago.

Key Terms

Jewish Diaspora- The Jewish Diaspora was the process in which Jews from Israel spread out into other areas such as Persia and Egypt.

Kosher- A special way some Jews eat where you can’t mix meats and dairies together at a meal so that they don’t mix in your stomach.

Prophet- A specific person that is chosen to communicate with God and guide the people in Israel.

Torah- The text containing all Jewish literature, law, and teaching in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Jerusalem- Jesus, the son of God, was crucified on the cross in Jerusalem by the Romans.

Holocaust- The mass killings of the European Jews by the Nazis in concentration camps during World War II.

Talmud- A collection of the Jewish laws and traditions that contains the Mishnah and the Gemara.

Hanukkah- A holiday in early winter where Jews celebrate and perform the symbolic candle lighting for eight days to commemorate the Maccabees victory over the Syrians .

Bar Mitzvah- The ceremony that celebrates when a Jewish boy becomes recognized within the Jewish community as a man.

Bat Mitzvah- The ceremony that celebrates when a Jewish girl becomes recognized within the Jewish community as a woman.

Judaism Symbols:

Star of David


Star of David- a six pointed star made upon two triangles. Often called Magen David, it does not have much religious significance. However, it is one symbol commonly associated with Jews. Adolf Hitler required Jews to wear these on their clothing during the Holocaust.



A candle which is lit on Hanukkah, a celebration of the triumph of the Maccabees. Every single night for eight nights, a candle is lit. This is to remind them of the eight day miracle.

Spread of Judaism


Distribution of Judaism


To learn more go to...

Jewish Churches:

Jewish Fellowship of Grand Rapids:

Congregation Ahavas Israel:

Temple Emanuel Religious Schl:  (616) 459-5976

Chabad House of Western Mi:

Kingdom Hall-Jehovahs Witness:  (616) 459-7624