What Is Judaism?
Judaism is an Abrahamic and monotheistic religion that encompasses the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Jewish people. Adherents to Judaism range between 14.5 and 17.4 million people around the world. Judaism spans more than 3,000 years. Judaism has its roots as a structured religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age. Judaism is considered one of the oldest monotheistic religions. The Hebrews and Israelites were already referred to as “Jews” in later books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) such as the Book of Esther, with the term Jews replacing the title “Children of Israel”.
Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. Judaism includes a wide corpus of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud (Wiki).Different groups of Jews believe different things. Judaism has three main denominations—Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform–though many other subgroups and philosophies exist within and beyond these (including Reconstructionism, Hasidim, Jewish Renewal, and others). To some extent, all these groups regard the Torah–the Five Books of Moses–as the central book of Judaism. Some Jews value its stories. Others derive their beliefs and their customs and traditions from the Torah’s laws (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism/ ).
Judaism has many practices and ethical teachings. Almost all Jews celebrate some form of Jewish holidays, from attending a Passover seder to lighting the candles on Hanukkah. Some Jews keep kosher (the Jewish dietary laws), and only eat certain foods, or foods prepared in certain ways. Many Jews celebrate Shabbat every Friday night and Saturday, and will attend synagogue and listen to the Torah being read, a different portion each week.
Following is a brief outline of some of the more important rituals that are traditionally observed: Candles are lit before sunset on Friday. Festive clothes are worn. Following Kabbalat Shabbat Services in shul (synagogue), and prior to the first festive meal, we traditionally sing Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the Shabbat into our homes. Many also sing Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valour). Parents bless their children by placing their hands on the heads of their children and invoking the Priestly Benediction. The head of the household recites the Kiddush (formal Sanctification) over wine or grape juice. Following Kiddush, everyone prepares for the meal with ritual hand-washing using a special cup, and reciting the blessing ‘al netilat yadayim’. We refrain from speaking until the blessing over the challah (Hamotzi) is made, pieces are distributed, and everyone partakes.
The meal, which should be as elaborate as one can afford, is the first of three festive meals. Traditionally, Zemirot (Shabbat songs) are sung during the meals prior to Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals). A different Kiddush, called Kiddusha Rabba, is recited prior to the second meal, following Shacharit and Mussaf prayers in the morning. Shabbat, as the day we refrain from work – and indeed all creative activities – is the ideal time to devote to Torah study as well as communal prayer. The third Shabbat meal follows Mincha, the afternoon prayers. With the conclusion of the day after dark on Saturday evening, we bid farewell to Shabbat after Ma’ariv (evening prayer). By reciting Havdalah, which formally separates Shabbat from the mundane days of the week. For Havdallah we employ wine or grape juice, a multi-wick candle (candle-lighting begins and ends Shabbat) and fragrant spices to lift our spirits as the Shabbat departs.