Judaism 101

Judaism 101

January 14, 2013 Back

Most people have heard of Judaism and Jews and the contributions of Judaism to the world, especially that of monotheism.  In addition, most people are familiar with widely celebrated Jewish Holidays such as Passover, Rosh HaShanah and Hanukkah.  But most people are unaware of what Judaism is to its practitioners, the symbols that are considered important and basic beliefs.

What is it?

Judaism is a set of beliefs and practices that originated in the Hebrew Bible known as the Tanakh and is explained in later texts such as the Mishna, Talmud and Mishneh Torah amongst many other texts.  The terms Judaism comes from the Latin Iudaismus, which came from the Greek Iouda?smos and the Hebrew Yehudah, which means “Judah” and refers to the fact that most Jews today are from the tribe of Judah.  The terms “Jew” and “Jewish” likewise come from this term.

Important Symbols

Judaism has several symbols that are considered to be important.  These symbols are linked to religious rituals and practices as well as core beliefs and mysticism.

The Torah

The Sefer Torah and Tablets known as the Luchot are items and symbols.  The Sefer Torah is the most important text in Judaism and is considered to be inherently holy.  The Tablets represent the Ten Commandments, which are considered by many to be amongst the most important commandments in the Torah.  The Sefer Torah is made up of parchment wrapped around two wooden rollers and is often decorated with colorful covers, crowns, pointers and breastplates.

Menorahs and Wisdom

The Menorah is symbolic of enlightenment in Judaism.  According to some interpretations, the six branches of the menorah symbolize the different area of human knowledge and the seventh middle branch symbolizes G-d’s all encompassing knowledge.  In fact, when the Sages said, “He who wishes to be wise should face south” (Bava Batra 25b), many commentaries explain this as referring to the Menorah that faced south in the temple.

The Star of David

The Star of David, also known as a Magen David in Hebrew, is a six pointed star that has been used to identify Jews as Jewish since the 17th century and likely has been in use since the 14th century.  The Star was at first used in amulets that served as protection much like Mezuzot.  The Star of David is not a religious symbol, however and is generally not treated as such.

Core Beliefs

Judaism maintains that there is one indivisible god who is always involved with world events and is directly influences the events that surround a Jewish person’s life.  In addition, the Torah is considered to be immutable, can never be changed, is G-d’ direct message to the Jews and the rest of the world and its divine nature makes it holy.  Moses and the prophets recorded in the Tanakh are considered to be holy men and Moses is considered to be the greatest of prophets.  However, many of these beliefs were not canonized until the 12th century when Maimonides articulated the core beliefs of Judaism in the 13 Principles of Faith.

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