Judaism: Background

  • The three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam trace their roots to the biblical figure Abraham.
  • Of the three, Judaism is by far the smallest at only 1 to 2 percent of the size of the Christian and Muslim population.
  • There are only 14 million Jews around the world (that is half the population of Canada)
  • Judaism is also the first of the world’s monotheistic religions dating back 4000 years.
  • Judaism has managed to thrive despite its unprecedented persecutions; from the enslavement in Egypt to the horrifying peak of Anti-Semitism of the Holocaust in WWII which murdered over 6 million Jews.

Origins of Judaism

  • According to the biblical story, Abraham received a vision instructing him to leave his home
  • in Ur of the Chaldees, in southern Mesopotamia to Haran, in Northern Mesopotamia and
  • eventually to the land of Canaan – the West Bank.  (Genesis 12:1-8)
    • Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
    • I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
    • I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
    • So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
    • Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan,
    • Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
    • Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
    • From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord.

Map of Abrahams Journey

  • Abrahams vision did not come from many Gods (the polytheistic tradition) but from the monotheistic tradition (one god).
  • Abraham and his people became known as the Hebrews – the people who crossed river Canaan.  The Hebrews from then on saw themselves as a people newly born because of the specific command of their God.

Patriarchal Covenant of Judaism

  • The central organizing concept in Judaism is the Patriarchal Covenant or “berith” in Hebrew meaning contract.  The life of the Jews began to be defined by the special contractual relationship into which Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses entered into with God.

Terms of the Covenant:

  • God is to oversee the destiny of the people descended from Abraham.  All those who are party to the covenant become known as the ‘people of Israel.’
  • God (Hashem) demands complete obedience from the Israelites – to worship him only rather than many gods.
  • God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants.
  • Under Moses, the Hebrews could conduct their lives according to the absolute laws, established by God in the Ten Commandments, in order to live as a peaceful and faithful people.

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