A Comparison Of World Religions:
Judaism

And ye shall know the truth, and the
truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)



Judaism is the base upon which the Christian and Islamic faiths are built. All three faiths claim Abraham as their "father", the origin of their faith. The history of Judaism is found in the Old Testament, the only Scriptures accepted by most Jews (with the exception of Messianic Jews). They are descendants of Shem, the son of Noah.

The Jews do not use the same Gregorian calendar most of the world uses. The Jewish calendar uses a complex, modified lunar calendar that coordinates three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year). Since all three of these are used, the Jewish calendar does not have the same amount of months every year. There is an extra month every few years, sort of like the Gregorian calendar has a leap year every 4 years.

The Jewish calendar is based on the number of years since creation, which they have calculated by adding up the ages of people in the Bible back to the time of creation. Jews do not generally use the words "A.D." and "B.C." to refer to the years on the Gregorian calendar. "A.D." means "the year of our Lord," and they do not believe Jesus is the Lord. Instead, they use the abbreviations C.E. (Common or Christian Era) and B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). This year, 2008 by the Gregorian calendar, is the year 5769 on the Jewish calendar.

Today, there four branches of Judaism, each with some very important differences. These are: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Messianic. Orthodox Jews follow the letter of the law contained in the Torah, the Mishnah, and the Talmud. Conservative Jews have a more liberal interpretation of the Torah, believing the laws and traditions can be changed to suit the times, but still believe that the Law is vitally important. They also believe in preserving the Hebrew language and the traditions of Judaism.

Reform Judaism does not believe that the Torah was written by God, but by separate sources and then put together. Reform Jews retain much of the values and ethics of Judaism, but have moved away from following the letter of the law, believing that the principles are more important than practices, and that individuals can make choices about what traditions to follow. For instance, most Reform Jews do not observe the dietary laws.

Messianic Jews follow the traditions and teachings of orthodox Judaism, but have come to a higher knowledge: they believe in Jesus Christ, both as the Messiah, and as God's own Son, in whom Jew and Gentile alike receives forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life. They believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, and the resurrection. They believe in the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as the inspired Word of God.

The one thing most Jews agree on is the importance of observing the Sabbath, and the holy days. They have a saying: "More than Israel kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept Israel." The Sabbath begins at sundown Friday night, and continues until sundown Saturday. Conservative and Reform Jews go to the synogogue after dinner on Friday evening. Orthodox Jews go to synogogue on Saturday morning, and both Orthodox and most Conservatives go to another service that afternoon.

The High Holy Days of Judaism are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Chanukkah. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, observed in September or October. It is followed ten days later by Yom Kippur, the Day Of Atonement. The Passover observance is approximately around the time Christians observe Easter, and is a remebrance of of God's deliverance of the Jewish nation out of slavery in Egypt. Chanukkah is the festival of lights, commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. It occurs during the same time as the Christian celebration of Christmas, but Chanukkah is NOT the Jewish equivalent of "Christmas".

During the 12th century, the great Rabbi Maimonides wrote 13 Articles of Faith describing the beliefs of the Judaism. These still appear in Jewish prayer books today.

Who started this religion, and when?

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, known as the Patriarchs, and are both the physical and the spiritual ancestors of Judaism. They founded the religion now known as Judaism, and their descendants are the Jewish people. However, the terms "Jew" and "Judaism" were not used generally to refer to this nation until hundreds of years later.

What do they say about God?

Jews has such tremendous respect for the Almight God that they will not write His name on paper, writing "G-d" or "L-rd" instead. They believe:

God Exists, and is the Creator of Everything. All of creation is sufficient proof of the existence of God. God created the universe - It did not just happen with some cataclysmic event, such as the "Big Bang". Everything in the universe was created by God and only by God. Judaism rejects the idea that evil was created by Satan. All comes from God. One basis for this belief is found in Isaiah 45:6-7: "I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. I am the Lord, that does all these things."

God is One. The Shema, one of the primary prayers of Judaism, begins "Hear, Israel: The Lord is our God, The Lord is one." This simple statement encompasses several different ideas: God is a unity. He cannot be divided into parts, such as "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost". God is the only being to whom we should offer praise, or prayers.

God is Incorporeal. He has no physical body, and thus He is nither male nor female. God is described in masculine terms, both orally and in the written word, simply because the original language of the Scriptures had no neutral term. Jews are absolutely forbidden to represent God in a physical form. That is considered idolatry. The sin of the Golden Calf was not that the people chose another deity, but that they tried to represent God in a physical form.

God is Omnipresent, able to be in all places at all times. He is always near for us to call upon in need, and He sees all that we do. Closely tied in with this idea is the fact that God is universal. He is not just the God of the Jews; He is the God of all nations.

God is Omnipotent and Omniscient, He can do anything. God's children may not understand when it seems He does nothing to intercede for them, but God has a reason for allowing these things, whether or not His people understand His reason or His purpose. He knows all things, past, present and future. He even knows our hidden thoughts, and He knows our hearts' secrets.

God is Eternal. He transcends time. He has no beginning and no end. He is, and was, and ever will be. He will always fulfill His word.

God is Both Just and Merciful, both Holy and Perfect. Judaism has always maintained that God's justice is tempered by His mercy, the two qualities perfectly balanced. One of the most common names applied to God in the post-Biblical period is "Ha-Kadosh, Barukh Hu," The Holy One, Blessed be He.

God is our Father and our King. Judaism maintains that we are all God's children. The Talmud teaches that there are three participants in the formation of every human being: the mother and father, who provide the physical form, and God, who provides the soul, the personality, and the intelligence.

Who is Jesus Christ, and what did He do?

Jews believe in the same God as Christians, but with the exception of Messianic Jews, they do not believe in Jesus Christ as God's son, or in the Trinity, and they refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah they had been waiting for. Some believe Jesus was a teacher or even a prophet, but that's all. They were expecting a conqueror to deliver Israel from oprression, and instead, Jesus died a cruel death. The idea of an innocent, divine being who sacrificed himself to save us from the consequences of our own sins is a Christian concept having no basis in Judaism. While Christians maintain that the entire Old Testament points to Jesus Christ, Jews maintain that the Christian Bible has been biased to uphold that view.

Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come. When he does, they believe he will be a mighty military leader, and a wise judge. But more than that, they believe he will be a human being, not a god, demi-god or other supernatural being. They believe that someone is born in every generation who could potentially be the Messiah.

What do they base their teachings on? The Holy Bible, or something else?

Judaism is based on the teachings of the Torah,the Mishnah, and the Talmud. The Torah actually refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Penteteuch, but in it's broader sense, it refers to the whole body of Jewish Scripture, including the writings of famous rabbis that have been added through the ages. To Jews, there is no "Old Testament." The books that Christians call the New Testament are not part of Jewish scripture. The Mishnah is an early written compilation of Jewish oral tradition, the basis of the Talmud. The Talmud is the most important collection of the oral teachings of Judaism, handed down through the ages.

In addition, Judaism has the Zohar, the primary written work of their mystical tradition of Kabbalah. Although as old as Judaism itself, the science of Kabbalah is understood by very few, even though it has recently become a trendy doctrine popularized by various celebrities. In fact, Kabbalah is one of the most grossly misunderstood parts of Judaism. Many non-Jews refer to Kabbalah as "the dark side of Judaism," describing it as evil or black magic. These misunderstandings arise from the fact that the teachings of Kabbalah have been so badly distorted by mystics and occultists. Traditionally, rabbis have discouraged teaching the Kabbalah to anyone under the age of 40, because it is very easily misinterpreted by anyone without sufficient grounding in the basics of Judaism, the Torah and the Talmud.

What is sin, and how do they get forgiveness for it?

Forgiveness is obtained through repentance, prayer and good deeds. Prayer has replaced sacrifices as the way to obtain forgiveness. Although originally commanded by God to offer sacrifices for forgiveness of sin, Jews today do not offer any kind of sacrifice. For the most part, the practice of sacrifices stopped in the year 70 C.E., when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army, because God specifically commanded them not to offer sacrifices anywhere else, or they would be guilty of sin. Judaism teaches that such sacrifice was never the exclusive means of obtaining forgiveness, and was not in and of itself always sufficient to obtain forgiveness.

What happens when they die?

Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is one of the 13 Articles Of Faith of traditional Judaism. It has not always been so, however. It was a belief that distinguished the Pharisees from the Sadducees, which were two of the main sects of Judaism in ancient times. The Sadducees rejected the concept, because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. The Pharisees found the concept implied in certain verses, even though not mentioned specifically.

Traditional Judaism firmly believes that death is not the end of human existence. However, because their primary focus is on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism has little dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected. Likewise, Orthodox Jews can believe that the souls of the wicked are tormented by demons of their own creation, or that wicked souls are simply destroyed at death, ceasing to exist.

The spiritual afterlife is referred to in Hebrew as Olam Ha-Ba, the World to Come. The place of spiritual reward for the righteous is referred to Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). This is not the same garden where Adam and Eve were; it is a place of spiritual perfection. Only the very righteous go directly to Gan Eden.

The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom, or sometimes as She'ol. Some views see Gehinnom as one of severe punishment, like the Christian Hell. Others believe it is a time when one can see the actions of their lives objectively, see the harm they have done and the opportunities they missed, and experience remorse for their actions.

The time spent in Gehinnom usually does not exceed 12 months, and then one ascends to take his place in Olam Ha-Ba. Only the most vilely wicked remain in Gehinnom at the end of this period; however, there are differences of opinion once again on what happens to them at the end of those 12 months. Some say that the wicked soul is utterly destroyed and ceases to exist, while others say that the soul continues to exist in a state of consciousness and remorse.

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References:
Holy Bible, King James Version and New International Version
http://www.messianicjewishonline.com/page1002.html
http://www.jewfaq.org/index.htm
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah
http://www.arionline.info/kabbalah.php

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