Along with Christianity and Islam, Judaism is one of the three major monotheistic religions of the world. With them, it has in common a belief in one God as creator and ruler of the universe and the lord of human history. Of the three, Judaism is much the oldest, having its roots in the history of Israel, a nation, or people, that traces its origins back at least 3,000 years to Abraham, the patriarch who is considered the father of the Jewish faith.

Ancient Israel dwelled in the land of Palestine in the Middle East, and the modern state of Israel, founded in 1948, represents a return of the people to a homeland that had been under other domination for more than 20 centuries. With the passing of centuries, any major religion develops within it a great deal of variety and numerous points of view.

The events of Israel's past are recounted in the Bible or, more properly, the Hebrew Bible, which the Christian church calls the Old Testament. The period covered by the Biblical narratives is a long one--from about 2000 BC to the end of the 6th century BC, with the addition of some few occurrences from a later period.

Within this time span, the story of Israel as a nation unfolds, beginning with the founding of the people by Abraham. Long after the time of Abraham, an agricultural crisis led the Israelites to move to Egypt, where they were originally made welcome but later turned into slaves.

After more than 400 years they were freed from Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses and led back to Palestine, or Canaan, as it was called then. This release from Egypt is believed to have taken place about the 13th century BC. Over the next several centuries Israel became a moderately powerful nation in the Middle East, particularly under its first three kings--Saul, David, and Solomon. We now jump to the 6th century BC

Some Jews were allowed to return to their homeland beginning in the 6th century BC. From that time on, however, the region was under the domination of one foreign power after another, with the exception of a brief period of independence in the 2nd century. In the 1st century BC, the region was incorporated into the Roman Empire as Palestine. Jewish revolts against Rome in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD proved fruitless, and from that time until the modern state of Israel, the Jewish people had no homeland.

The whole history of Israel may be viewed as the tale of a tiny nation caught up in the struggles between the great powers of the day. But Jews do not see it that way, and it is their view of Israel's past that sets them apart from other states and forged the nature of Judaism.

It is Israel's firm conviction that the one God, creator of the universe, was active in every phase of its history: God called Abraham and told him to go to Canaan to become the father of a nation. God released the people from Egypt and led them back to Canaan because He chose to select Israel from all the nations of the world and use it as the vehicle for bringing knowledge of Him to the rest of the nations. This arrangement between God and Israel is called a covenant (solemn agreement).

God promised to make Israel a great nation, and, in response, Israel was to be obedient to Him forever. Although there is a direct line of historical continuity from ancient Israel to modern Judaism, the two are not identical. The word Judaism is not to be found in the Hebrew Bible, nor is the word religion. Today it is impossible to do without the word religion when discussing the relationship of humans to God, but in ancient Israel life was not compartmentalized into the social, the political, the economic, and the religious.

The people of Israel believed that all human activity--both individual behavior and community action--was under God's guidance. The notion of religion would have been incomprehensible to them.

Modern Judaism originated in the period after the return to Palestine from the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC. The days of Israel's political power were over. The people began to reflect on the meaning of their existence, in the light of their whole history from Abraham to the Diaspora. What direction the nation should take was unclear, since there seemed to be no new directives from God. If there were no new directives, the Israelites had to rely on what they knew--their history as it had been compiled in the many books that now make up the Hebrew Bible.

Should Israel assert itself to become a political power again, or should it await some definitive action by God to restore its fortunes? Opinions were sharply divided, and, by the time of the early Roman Empire, a number of parties or sects had formed.

One party centered around the priestly cult of the Temple at Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of worship and sacrifice. Another major party consisted of the rabbis, teachers and interpreters of God's law. Some small sects withdrew from public life to await the coming of God's kingdom, while others organized to prepare a revolt against the Romans. When the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70 and ended Jewish opposition 60 years later, Jerusalem as the center of worship ceased to exist.

The rebellious sects were smashed, and those who had withdrawn into the desert to await the action of God were of no effect. The one group that was left to fill the breach and provide guidance for the Jewish people was the party of rabbis. The program of the rabbis replaced Temple worship and pilgrimages to Jerusalem with the study of God's law, prayer, and good works.

The new place of worship became the local synagogue (from a Greek word meaning "assembly"), where Jews could gather together and hear the Scriptures read and interpreted, sing the Psalms, and pray. The rabbis attempted to standardize religious practices for the dispersed community and to build up a large body of interpretation of God's law. This collection of rabbinical law, called the Mishna, became the primary reference source in all rabbinical schools and the core around which the Talmud the extensive commentaries on the Mishna were later compiled.

The rabbis also saw to it that the collection now known as the Hebrew Bible was carefully put together about the end of the 1st century AD.

The beliefs of Judaism rest upon the Hebrew Bible. Of particular significance is the Torah, the name of which comes from the Hebrew for "to point the way." The Torah is the first five books of the Bible. Commonly called the books of Moses, they contain the early history of Israel and the laws of God. Jewish doctrines concerning God, man, the nature of Israel, obedience, and the end of the world are derived from the Torah and other writings.

GOD: The foundation on which the whole course of Israel's faith rests is the conviction that the one God, creator of the universe and absolutely unknowable in Himself, revealed Himself (revelation) to Abraham and his descendants.

The concept of revelation is not an easy one to grasp: In the common understanding of the term, what is revealed is no longer hidden, but with reference to God, He always remains hidden in his revelation. He does not put Himself on display, but He acts within the course of events. His acts are perceived only by faith in those to whom He gives understanding. This means that all of His actions could be regarded from a completely secular point of view: There is no evidence available to the senses that can point to an event and say it is from God.

The promises made by God within the terms of the covenant were specific. They promised to make Israel a great nation with a land of its own. They also pointed to a time when Israel, under an ideal king, would draw all other nations together in a worldwide community of justice and peace under the guidance of God's law.

After the exile in Babylon and the evident failure of Israel to become a holy people and witness to all nations, speculation arose about how God would in fact fulfill His promises. The variety of speculation led to the emergence of a number of schools of thought.

One opinion held that there would be a gradual restoration of Israel to its Promised Land in Palestine. There, a divinely chosen ruler would exhibit his obedience to God and stimulate the obedience of the people. This holy community, in which economic, social, and political justice reigned, would be the inspiration to lure all nations to an imitation of Israel.

The origins of this local house of worship and community center are obscure. It probably first made its appearance in the years after the Babylonian captivity, when Jews were dispersed throughout much of the Middle East, and later throughout the entire Roman Empire.

The center of Israel's worship life was, of course, in the Temple at Jerusalem, and all Jews were expected to make at least one annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But to maintain the quality and continuity of religious life, it was necessary that those who were far from Jerusalem have some place where they could study the Scriptures and hear them explained. After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the synagogue became the locus of worship life.

FESTIVALS AND HOLY DAYS: Judaism has two cycles of festival days in the year. One, beginning in the spring, observes occasions of historical or agricultural interest. Passover, for instance, commemorates the escape from Egyptian bondage. Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, marks the end of the grain harvest as well as the giving of the law to Moses.

Succoth, or the Feast of Tabernacles, is an autumnal harvest festival. The last of these holidays, Simchat /Torah, marks the conclusion and new beginning of the annual cycle of Torah readings. The other cycle begins in the fall with Rosh Hashanah, the new-year, and a ten-day period of penitence that concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In early winter the feast of Hanukkah commemorates a successful war for independence in the 2nd century BC. Purim, later in the winter, celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from potential extermination in Persia, as told in the book of Esther. In the summer a fast day commemorates the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD 70. All of the festivals and holy days combine synagogue worship and family observances and rituals.

I will end here with an e-mail I received from a friend in Israel. This will give you an idea what Christians must endure not just from Muslims in Palestine, but, also from the orthodox Jew, both of whom we are trying to help.
Things have been quiet because Israel stopped eight suicide bombers before they could cause their destruction this past week. Some of you may remember the video project I talked about last summer. Well, so far one of the 'workers' was stabbed 6 times by an Ultra Orthodox Jew, and is still in the hospital. Two women escaped an attack as they jumped into a nearby taxicab. As a group of was handing out invitations to view the video Orthodox Jews surrounded them. One of the 'workers' phoned the police with his cell phone and they were spared of harm. It's not easy trying to give free videos in Jerusalem! The boy in the hospital (16-yr. old) is expected to be released in a couple of days. Four hundred people have asked to view the video. The reason I'm letting you know this is because there has been an increase of attacks on Christians here. Not only physically, but also by preventing Christians from re-entering the country or as my friends who were asked to leave in 14 days. Time is short and the enemy (Satan) is mad, so the work must go on and your prayers are so much appreciated! I am sending this info to you because Christians need to know the facts of what is going on in the Body.
Thank you again for your prayers.

Let us all pray constantly for our Jewish Brothers. Amen!

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