Introduction to Jewish Beliefs

January 13, 2013 Back

While Judaism has a few core beliefs that are essential to being considered Jewish, a large portion of what Jews believe is up for debate and there are considerable differences between sects of Judaism of what a Jew is supposed to believe.

One G-d

Regardless of the sect, all Jews believe in a single, indivisible G-d who is involved in mankind’s daily lives.  A Jew’s relationship with G-d is personal and may be expressed in different ways.  Orthodox Jews achieve this personal relationship by performing the various Mitzvot described in the Torah and Rabbinic literature along with prayer and Torah Study.  Other sects of Judaism also perform the commandments, although not always to the extent of Orthodox Jews.  Some Jews use the concept of “Tikkun Olam”, or perfecting the world the way to connect with G-d.

Divinity of Mankind and Free Will

Jews believe that all people were created in the image of G-d.  In addition, man is believed to have has free will.  This means that Judaism takes the view that a man is inherently good, but has the ability to make his own choices as to how he will live his life.  However, this belief also means that man must take responsibility for the consequences of his choices, whether those consequences are positive or negative.  In this way, Judaism is a religion that believes in personal responsibility.  This belief is shared by all Jews, regardless of sect.

Torah from Sinai

The Torah is a divine text and contains the history of the Jewish people.  It also contains the Mitzvot which Jews are expected to perform during their lifetimes.  The term Torah actually includes the Written and Oral Law.  Traditionally, it was accepted as fact that Moses received the entire Torah from G-d on Mount Sinai in a public revelation of which will never be repeated over the course of history.  Today there is considerable difference regarding the divinity of the Torah, with Orthodox Jews till maintaining the traditional belief and many non-Orthodox sects believed that the Torah had multiple authors or was simply divinely inspired but has no inherent holiness to it.  It should be noted that many of these non-Orthodox beliefs are considered to be heretical in Orthodox Judaism.

Israel

Traditionally, Israel was considered to be an integral part of Judaism.  Israel is the land that was promised to the forefathers, specifically Abraham.  In addition, many of the Mitzvot can only be performed when in Israel and as a result, many commandments cannot be performed by Jews living outside Israel.  Today, there are different views regarding the land of Israel and the modern State of Israel, with many believing that Jews should be in Israel and supporting Israel.  However, there are also many who view the modern state as being an aberration or minimally do not wish to associate themselves with the land because of politics.

Maimonides’ 13 principles

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, also Maimonides composed a list of thirteen articles of faith that Jews must believe on some level.  These beliefs cover most of the above core beliefs but also add a few extra aspects to them as well.  The principles, in summary are the following:

There is only one G-d with no corporeal form and is indivisible with no equal.  G-d is the first and last of all and one should only pray to G-d.  All of the words of the prophets are true and Moses was the greatest prophet of all time.  The Torah – both Written and Oral portions – was given on Sinai and is immutable.  G-d knows the actions of all and directly rewards or punishes people for their actions.  The Messiah will eventually come and the resurrection of the dead will occur when G-d deems it appropriate.

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