Religion Facts: What Is Judaism?

Exploring Judaism and Conversion

Who is a Jew?

A Jew is a follower of the oldest monotheistic religion, that is the religion that has just committed a single God.

Who was born of a Jewish mother is automatically a member of the Jewish community and therefore a Jew.

A Jew is characterized by Toratreue (Torah = the Holy Scripture, prayer book) and a life according to the Halacha from. He understood beyond the religious, in the national sense, as a member of the people of Israel. The “Jew be” does not refer to a country or a state.To be a Jew means to live the Jewish religion, it does not matter what country you live. You do not necessarily live in Israel, to be recognized as a Jew as a Jew.

In Nazism we saw in Judaism a “biological race”, where you have to add that one race is not governed by religion and this National Socialist definition is wrong therefore if you consider how much suffering was thereby done to the Jewish people.

Even someone who has converted to the Jewish faith and lives according to Jewish customs and traditions, may be called a Jew.



Currents of Judaism

Since the mid-19th century, there were differences of opinion within Judaism, whether and how far they should open the secular life and must. In the emerging trends in each other answers to the question are found, how to make the relationship between tradition and assimilation.

Reform Judaism

originated in the 19th century in Germany (in the wake of the Enlightenment and emancipation; inspired among other things by Moses Mendelssohn)

Notion that the Torah was written by people who were led by God

ritual laws are accepted, but are no more than absolutely binding

a concern is the transformation of synagogue worship (chorales with trained choir, organ, preaching in German)

First Reformed worship 1810 in Seesen / Thuringia, in 1815 in Berlin (in private)

the equality of women is in Reform Judaism promoted faster than in other streams

Conservative Judaism

Religious flow between Reform Judaism and Orthodoxy, which has established itself since the mid 19th century in Germany

Objective: Preservation of traditional Jewish customs and at the same time modest opening in the light of modern knowledge and life circumstances (Jewish ritual laws are complied with, the Sabbath and other festivals are celebrated in a traditional way, but, for example, men and women can sit together in the synagogue)

of central importance is a careful study of the religious tradition

1851 founding “Monthly Journal of the History of Science of Judaism” by Zacharias Frankel (1854 director of “Jewish Theological Seminary” in Breslau) as the major international body of Jewish Studies – today is the “Jewish Theological Seminary” in New York spiritual center of Conservative Judaism (model was Breslau Seminary, the first academic school for rabbis in Germany)

Zacharias Frankel – 1801-1875

Zacharias Frankel - 1801-1875

Zacharias Frankel – 1801-1875

Orthodox Judaism

= “Law-abiding” Judaism after the Torah from God at Mount Sinai was revealed

Belief is that the Messiah (“Savior”) appear and bring a golden age for Israel

because it is seen in the Torah of the direct will of God, one pays careful on strict observance of all the commandments (synagogues without organ, particularly law-abiding rabbi, strict separation of women from men in the synagogue, Hebrew is the only liturgical language)

reject emancipation and assimilation of Jews and advocate a strict separation of religious and secular sphere

What can General tell to Judaism?

Distribution on the ground: 1995 13.9 million Jews

6.1 million in the US and Canada

2.5 million in Europe (0.3 million in the UK, 0.6 million in France;

1.25 million in the former Soviet Union)

4,4 Mio. in Israel

0.45 million in South America

0.2 Mio. in Afrika

Rest scattered all over the world

The Jewish religion are, in global terms, only a small number of followers. In spite of the religious and historical significance of faith of Judaism is extremely large because Judaism is the origin of Christianity and Islam. Judaism is the smallest world religion, today it comprises approximately 13.9 million faithful, equivalent to 0.4% of the world population. Of these, about half live in the Americas, one quarter is in Europe and Asia (primarily Israel) spread. The difficulty with this religion is that throughout history the Jews were scattered all over the world, is in this case Jewish identity primarily an issue of religious affiliation. The peculiarity of this religion is that the Jews are a people with its own religion since ancient times.



The emergence of Judaism 3,000 years ago amounted to a religious revolution. For the first time believed humans no longer a multitude of deities, but only to a single creator. Thus begins the time of writing religions. Although they are only a small people, the tribes of Israel establish a world religion, which is also the source and point of reference for Christianity and Islam.

What is Judaism?

Jewish symbols.

Symbols of a world religion

In the world more than seven billion people live. Of these, an estimated two billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims. In contrast to these huge numbers are currently worldwide between 13 and 15 million Jews.One reason for the low expansion is that Jews do not proselytize, so advertise any new followers of their religion.

The extermination of the Jews in the Third Reich has also left enormous wounds to this day: The Shoah fell approximately six million Jews victim. Today, nearly six million Jews live in the US, more than five million in Israel. In Germany there are about 100,000 Jews.

It can not be answered clearly, who is ultimately a Jew. Even in Judaism itself, this is a very controversial issue to this day. While you can, under certain conditions transgressed as a non-Jew to the Jewish religion, just as one can assume the commitment of other religions. But a Jew is one first born again. Jew’s, whose mother is Jewish.

Some Orthodox Jews with beards, hats and dressed in black, standing in front of a residential building on the sidewalk. Another sitting at a table, which is also on the sidewalk.

Jews in New York

But the Jews are not only a religious community, but also a nation. Only since the mid-20th century, there is again a Jewish state, the State of Israel. For centuries the Jews had but no nation-state territory and therefore belong to different nations today.

Judaism can therefore be described with words like religion, people, culture, belief, faith, fate or tradition community. The Jewish religious scholar Ruth Lapide has to the question “Who is a Jew?” the following answer: “Jew is, if one is born a Jew, or not hinauskonvertiert hineinkonvertiert.”

Judaism – a scriptural religion

A boy wearing a kippah on his head leaning over a Torah scroll and read.

Source of Jewish life is the Torah

Judaism is a religion of Scripture. It has neither a clergy, as it exists in the Christian churches, nor a spiritual leader like the Pope.Even priests – a mediator between God and men – are alien to Judaism. Instead, there are the rabbis, especially scholarly, pious and wise Jews. They carry as community leaders responsible for their parishioners and advise them in religious, personal and everyday things.

The Jewish Scriptures, the Tanakh, consists of three books: Torah (Hebrew: transfer), Nebi’im (prophets) and Ketubim (writings). There is also the Talmud, the rabbinical interpretation of the Torah and its laws. Center and source of Jewish life is the Torah. It includes the five books of Moses. For Christians these five books of the Old Testament.

The Orthodox Jews believe that the words of the Torah are the words of God, which he passed on Mount Sinai to Moses 3,000 years ago. It is the early history of the Jewish religion and the people of Israel. In addition, the Torah regulates many aspects of Jewish daily life. You will always be treated with reverence. Specially trained writers transfer their text on parchments which are stitched together to form rolls and the Liturgy of the Word in the synagogue brought out.

A small community is changing the world

Painting: Abraham just want to cut your throat screaming his son with a knife, but is held back by an angel.

God puts Abraham to the test

In the Koran (Sura 21, 51-67), there is a very significant story (which, incidentally, finds himself neither in the Torah nor in the Bible), which makes clear that the history of Israel, a new era has come. The story is about Abraham, one of the Jewish patriarchs, which plays an important role in Islam and in Christianity.

God appears the nomadic Abraham and expected of him fidelity and loyalty. But Abraham lives worshiping at a time in which people are not one God (monotheism), but many gods (polytheism). Abraham’s father does not believe in the One God, but sells small idols and gods statues.

Abraham smashes his father’s complete inventory, only one of the statues – and the largest – he spared. This he sticks his dick in his hand, and does so as if the destructive work of these idol statue assumed. On one hand, Abraham wants to lead his people in mind so that the belief in false gods is useless. On the other hand, the story is a picture that tolerates one God, the God of Abraham, have no other gods beside him.

This is precisely the pioneering cultural achievement, which is assumed by the Jewish people. The God of the Jews will displace all other gods, the Jewish religion have a large impact on the world’s religions. Abraham and his descendants that should have lived nearly 4000 years ago and the tribes of Israel have established, were only a small nation – but with great effect.

The mighty civilizations of the globe, the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, Sumerians and Babylonians, the Greeks and Romans have long since passed. Just belong to their religious beliefs and faith worlds, their many gods of the past.However, the little Jewish people, the politically never was a superpower, but was heavily suppressed by Egyptians and Romans, has survived with his religious beliefs to this day. And not only that: Judaism is a starting point for Christianity and Islam.

Different directions of Judaism

Judaism knows today a variety of different trends and understandings of piety.During the Enlightenment (18th century), the idea of ​​a reform movement began to enforce, examined the new contemporary forms of Jewish worship. This should be done in accordance with the needs and circumstances of the former presence of the Reformer’s view.

The critical analysis of the long-standing traditional material of Jewish culture and its integration into the modern world led to different currents that ran in a conservative, a liberal and a further orthodox direction.

Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Jews understand the Torah as directly revealed by God. The Halacha, Jewish religious law is complied with in everyday life. Orthodox Jews always eat kosher and strictly observe a large number of ritual and liturgical rules, such as the observance of the Sabbath.

Liberal / Progressive Judaism

translates the progressive Judaism and interpreted the Torah in the present. The religious commandments are not recognized as in Orthodoxy as given by God, but as understood man-made. Therefore Scripture and bids can be re-interpreted and explained also by man. The mitzvot that Jewish laws are loosely according to the progressive reading or not handled.

Several Orthodox Jews in black clothes, wearing hats and beards. Some of them carry a corpse, which is wrapped in a white cloth.

Orthodox Jews at a funeral

Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism – an important flow especially in the United States – sees itself as a middle ground between Orthodox and Progressive Judaism. It seeks to preserve Jewish tradition, but then prevail with the Jewish religious law compatible modernization.

The various Jewish piety movements were organizationally adopted in Germany under the umbrella of “unified community”. Before the Holocaust, the group of progressive Jews formed the majority, which decisively influenced the development of progressive communities in other European countries. So the Jews persecuted during the Third Reich still recognized a liberal rabbi Leo Baeck, as representatives of the entire German Jewry to. Since World War II, is mostly influenced orthodox Jewish life in Germany in its orientation.

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