Our Path to God



Judaism espouses belief in a monotheistic God, who is creator of the universe and who leads His people, the Jews, by speaking through prophets. Judaism is, in essence, the Law of God given to Moses. Fundamental to Judaism is the belief that the people of Israel are God's chosen people, who must serve as a light for other nations. God made a covenant first with Abraham around 2000 BC, and then renewed it with Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. This means that Judaism is a religion that focuses on the group and the group's needs, rather than on individuals. Individuals are important only as their actions affect the group. The expectancy of a Messiah who will bring universal peace and Jerusalem will be his capital center. Jews believe that the human condition can be improved, that the letter and the spirit of the Torah must be followed, and that a Messiah will eventually bring the world to a state of paradise. The word of God (G-d) is revealed in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament), especially in that part known as the Torah. The Torah also contains, according to rabbinic tradition, a total of 613 biblical commandments, including the Ten Commandments, which are explicated in the Talmud. Main Scriptures: Tanakh, Torah, Talmud, Mishna.

There are three main groups who vary in their interpretation of those parts of the Torah that deal with personal, communal, international, and religious activities:

  • The Orthodox community: which views the Torah as derived from God, and therefore absolutely binding. This the oldest, most conservative, and most diverse form of Judaism. Modern Orthodox, Chasidim and Ultra Orthodox share a basic belief in the derivation of Jewish law, even as they hold very different outlooks on life. They attempt to follow the original form of Judaism as they view it to be. They look upon every word in their sacred texts as being divinely inspired.
  • The Reform movement: They are a liberal group, followed by many North American Jews. The movement started in the 1790's in Germany. They follow the ethical laws of Judaism, but leave up to the individual the decision whether to follow or ignore the dietary and other traditional laws. They use modern forms of worship. There are many female rabbis in reform congregations.
  • The Conservative Jews: who follow most of the observances set out in the Torah but allow for change in the face of modern life. This began in the mid-nineteenth century as a reaction against the Reform movement. It is a main-line movement midway between Reform and Orthodox. It was brought to America by Solomon Schechter, and it is called the United Synagogue of America.

Jewish Texts

  • The Tanakh corresponds to the Jewish Scriptures, (often referred to as the Old Testament by Christians). It is composed of three groups of books:
    • the Torah (aka Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
    • the Nevi'im: Joshua, Judges, Samuel (2), Kings (2), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and MalachiIsaiah.
    • the Ketuvim, the "Writings" including Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles (2).
  • The Talmud contains stories, laws, medical knowledge, debates about moral choices, etc. It is composed of material which comes mainly from two sources:
    • the Mishnah's, 6 orders containing hundreds of chapters, including series of laws from the Hebrew Scriptures. It was compiled about 200 CE.
    • the Gemara (one Babylonian and one Palestinian) is encyclopedic in scope. It includes comments from hundreds of Rabbis from 200 - 500 CE, explaining the Mishnah with additional historical, religious, legal, sociological, etc. material. It often records many different opinions on a topic without giving a definitive answer.

The Mishnah (original oral law written down) is divided into six parts which are called Sedarim, the Hebrew word for order(s).

  • Zera'im (Seeds), is about the laws on agriculture, prayer, and tithes
  • Mo'ed (Festival), is about the sabbath and the festivals
  • Nashim (Women), is about marriage, divorce and contracts - oaths
  • Nezikin (Damages), is about the civil and criminal laws, the way courts operate and some further laws on oaths
  • Kodashim (Holy Things), is about sacrificing and the laws of the Temple and the dietary laws
  • Toharot (Purities), is about the laws of ritual purity and impurity.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i faith all originated with a divine covenant between the God of the ancient Israelites and Abraham around 2000 BCE. The next leader of the Israelites, Moses, led his people out of captivity in Egypt and received the Law from God. Joshua later led them into the promised land where Samuel established the Israelite kingdom with Saul as its first king. King David established Jerusalem and King Solomon built the first temple there. In 70 CE the temple was destroyed and the Jews were scattered throughout the world until 1948 when the state of Israel was formed.

Jews believe in one creator who alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe. He monitors peoples activities and rewards good deeds and punishes evil. The Torah was revealed to Moses by God and can not be changed though God does communicate with the Jewish people through prophets. Jews believe in the inherent goodness of the world and its inhabitants as creations of God and do not require a savior to save them from original sin. They believe they are God's chosen people and that the Messiah will arrive in the future, gather them into Israel, there will be a general resurrection of the dead, and the Jerusalem Temple destroyed in 70 CE will be rebuilt.

Ancient Israel

According to Genesis, the Jews are the descendents of the Patriarch Jacob, to whom God gave the name "Israel." Because of this, Jacob's twelve sons were called the "sons of Israel." Thus the term "sons of Israel" or "Children of Israel" is meant literally. In English, we often use the term "the people Israel" to designate them and their descendents. Jacob's twelve sons were named: Reuben, Simeon, Asher, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Naphtali, Gad, Benjamin, Dan, Zebulun and Joseph. All of them, except for Joseph, became the heads of tribes; Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, also became the leaders of tribes. The latter two tribes are called "half-tribes" so that the number of tribes will work out as twelve. However, since Ephraim and Manasseh were the second and third most numerous and powerful tribes (after Judah), there were really thirteen tribes.

Modern Day

One of the major organizing events of contemporary Judaism is the Holocaust. This happened during World War II, when Nazi Germany decided to do away with the Jews and other people they considered to be undesirable (like gypsies and Poles). Before the war was over, the Nazis managed to kill over six million Jews. For further information about the holocaust, visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's brief history of it.

  • 13 Articles of Faith
  • God exists
  • God is one and unique
  • God is incorporeal
  • God is eternal
  • Prayer is to God only
  • The prophets spoke truth
  • Moses was the greatest of the prophets
  • The Written and Oral Torah were given to Moses
  • There will be no other Torah
  • God knows the thoughts and deeds of men
  • God will reward the good and punish the wicked
  • The Messiah will come
  • The dead will be resurrected

Holidays, Ceremonies and Life Style (Rites)

The High Holy Days, observed in September or October, centering on atonement from sin. They consist of Rosh ha-Shanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Rosh ha-Shanah is marked by the blowing of a ram's horn, the shofar . Yom Kippur, 10 days later, is characterized by fasting and praying to God for the forgiveness of sins. After five more days comes Sukkot (Tabernacles), a joyful holiday marked by the construction of a sukkah (booth) decorated with festive fruit and plants. Yom Kippur and Sukkot go back to the Old Testament, the latter as a reminder that the people lived in tents as they journeyed to the Promised Land.

In November or December falls Hanukkah, a holiday that commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the pagan desecrators of the Temple in the year 165 B.C. The New Testament mentions this holiday in John 10:22. During the week of Hanukkah, the menorah (candelabrum) is lit each night and potato pancakes are eaten.

In February or March, a carnival-like holiday called Purim is observed, recounting the events of the Book of Esther.

Passover, the most popular of all the Jewish holidays, falls in March or April and commemorates the Israelites' deliverance from slavery in Egypt as narrated in the Book of Exodus. This holiday is characterized by the eating of matzoh (unleavened bread) during the entire week and the observance of the Seder, or Passover meal, at the beginning of the week. The Last Supper of Jesus and the disciples was a Passover meal.

The holiday of Shavuot (Weeks) falls in May or June, with themes of springtime and harvest. Traditionally, this holiday was the day when God gave the Law to Israel at Mount Sinai.

Ceremonies and life style

There are various distinctive lifestyle events that characterize the lives of most Jewish people. Three of these are

  • Circumcision of sons on the eighth day after birth called the bris.
  • Bar mitzvah (for boys) and bat mitzvah (for girls - not traditional). This is the coming of age ceremony at age 13, consisting of a synagogue service followed by a reception.
  • Jewish weddings take place under a chuppah (canopy). One high point is the smashing of a glass wrapped in a cloth to symbolize the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • Sabbath, the weekly day of rest (Friday). Some affix to their doorposts a mezuzah, a small box containing various Scripture portions. Many observe the dietary laws: Kosher


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