Basic Knowledge About Judaism

Judaism is one of the oldest religions of the world, evolved in Egypt about 3,700 years ago. It believes in the unity and oneness of the universal Creator. Judaism is the religion, philosophy and way of life of the Jewish people.

History of Judiaism

  • According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was the leader of a tribe named Habiru (Hebrew) in Chaldea in about 2000 BC. He advocated the theory of monotheism and decided to move his tribe to Canaan (Palestine) to propound his theory. Here, the Hebrews mixed freely with local people and eagerly sought converts to their faith.
  • Abraham’s grandson Jacob had an encounter with a mysterious being who told Jacob that in future, his name would be known as ‘Israel’. The renamed Israel had 12 sons, who later became the progenitors of 12 tribes named after them. These tribes bore the collective name of Bene Israel or ‘Children of Israel’.
  • The Israelis grew in number and for approximately two centuries dwelt in Egypt, where they were enslaved. In about 1200 BC, under the leadership of Moses, they escaped and wandered in the wastes of Sinai (Egypt) for a long time. Here, Moses, the first Prophet of god, received revelation of the law, the Ten Commandments, which is today known as the Sefer Torah, the Jewish scripture.
  • After this, a kingdom was founded in Canaan with Jerusalem as its capital. In this city, a temple was built to perform sacred rites.
  • After King Solomon died, Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Southern Kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and called Judah with Jerusalem as its capital.
  • The remaining 10 tribes comprised the Northern Kingdom. When the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom, they scattered the Israelites to various parts of their empire, northeast of Israel. Today they are referred to as the ten lost tribes. The Scriptures suggest they will be identified and returned to Israel in the Last Days.

Beliefs and Practices in Judaism

The Jews believe in one god as was instituted by Abraham, Who they call Yahweh and from whom all creation flows. Judaism believes in prophets, of whom Moses was the first. According to tradition, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Every devout Jew follows these commandments till today.

The religion gives great importance to a good moral life and does not advocate asceticism, celibacy or self-imposed suffering, as it believes that the path to salvation is only through good deeds.

The religious scripture Sefer Torah consists of the first five books of the Old Testament. There are 613 percepts in the Torah to regulate the daily life of every Jew and this number is symbolised in the threads of the prayer shawls (tsisith) that every adult male Jew is enjoined to wear for prayers. The Talmud, the body of Jewish law, is considered Yahweh’s exclusive and immutable law. The Synagogue is the Jewish place of worship.

Jewish sects

The Jews have three principle sects: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformist.

  • The Orthodox cling to all ancient traditions and forms of religious worship and practices
  • The founder of the Reform movement adopted the philosophy of changing with the times, and religious services and rituals were considerably shortened.
  • The Conservative Jews followed a middle path, retaining some features of the Orthodox groups but permitting relaxation in certain cases.

Judaism in India

It is commonly accepted that the Jews have been in India for over 2,000 years ever since they first landed on the West coast of India. The Indian Jews are known as a peace-loving community. They follow the Hebrew calendar. The Indian Jews have a special thanks giving ceremony known as Eliyahoo-ha-Nabior i.e. ‘gratitude to Elijah the Prophet’, on festive occasions. Indian Jews fall into five categories:

  • Bene Israel – meaning Children of Israel. Marati speaking. Arrived in Maharashtra 2,100 years ago.
  • Cochin Jews – arrived in India 2,500 years ago and settled down in Kerala as traders.
  • Baghdadi Jews ­- Jews who came to India as traders from West Asia, mainly from Baghdad. They are settled mainly in Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata.
  • Bene Menashe – The Manipur Jews constitute a community which sees itself as descendants of the Manasseh (Menashe) Tribe (which is one of the 10 lost tribes of Jews).
  • Bene Ephraim – also called “Telugu Jews”. They are a small group who speak Telugu. Their observance of Judaism dates to 1981.