Judaism is the mother-faith from which Christianity and Islam developed. All three date back to Abraham, who discovered the one, true, invisible God. At Mount Sinai, several centuries later, Moses and the Israelites received the Torah (teaching), which revealed the way God wished to be served. Belief in one God, as taught by Moses, is the basic principle of Judaism.
Judaism is based around the idea that God is supreme; the creator of all things and the powerful being whom we communicate with through prayer. God appears on almost every page of the Jewish Bible. He is present all through the Jewish liturgy: in the Siddur (prayer book), Passover Haggadah and various songs and poems, to name a few.
TORAH AND TALMUD
The great book of Judaism is the Torah. Strictly speaking, the Torah consists of the first five books of the Scriptures, known as the Five Books of Moses. But the name Torah has come to stand for the teachings of Judaism as a whole.
The Torah gave rise to many commentaries, interpretations and codes of conduct, at first passed on by word of mouth (‘the Oral Law’). Much of this material was written down in the 5th century in the Talmud (‘Learning’), a great work in 63 volumes. Apart from the ethical and theological teaching, the Talmud contains closely reasoned discussions on Judaism, stories about the sages, and information on legal, historical, social and even scientific matters.
13 PRINCIPLES OF FAITH
These principles of the Jewish faith were formulated by Moses Maimonides (12th century):
- God created all things;
- There is only one God;
- God has no bodily form;
- God is eternal;
- We must pray only to God;
- All the words of the prophets are true;
- Moses was the greatest of the prophets;
- The Torah we have is the same that was given to Moses;
- The Torah will never be changed;
- God knows human deeds and thoughts;
- God rewards good and punishes evil;
- The Messiah will come to redeem Israel and the world;
- There will be a resurrection of the dead.
THE JEWISH WAY OF LIFE
Judaism contains duties to God, especially modes of worship and rituals, and to human beings, especially truth, justice and peace. Jewish ethics stress business, professional, public and personal morality. Marriage and the family are especially important to Judaism, as are education and charity.
While it believes it is the true faith, Judaism respects other religions and upholds freedom of conscience and belief for all human beings.
JEWISH DIETARY LAWS (KASHRUT OR KEEPING KOSHER)
Observant Jews eat only kosher foods. Kosher meat must come from a permitted animal or bird (ham, bacon, pork and shellfish, for example, are not kosher), carefully slaughtered by a pious person. The meat is soaked in water and then salted and rinsed in order to remove the blood.
Meat and dairy foods are not cooked, served or eaten together. Kosher homes have separate meat and dairy utensils.
Jews pray three times a day, though spontaneous prayer may be offered at any time. God accepts prayer in any language, but the official language of Jewish prayer is Hebrew.
In ancient times, Jews had a temple in Jerusalem, which will one day be rebuilt. The Jewish place of worship is the synagogue, where prayer takes place facing Jerusalem. Public worship requires a minyan (quorum) of ten males aged 13-plus. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately and the service is conducted by males.
THE JEWISH CALENDAR
The Sabbath is a day of rest from work, lasting from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday. Features of the day are the synagogue services and the family gathering at home. Sabbath candles are lit before sunset, and prayers of sanctification are said over wine and bread.
Pesach (Passover) lasts eight days and marks the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On the first two evenings there is a home ceremony with symbolic foods recalling the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom. The main Passover food is unleavened matzah, eaten to recall the “bread of affliction” in Egypt. Passover is the time of the barley harvest in Israel.
Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover. On Shavuot God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai, so that it is an occasion for renewed dedication to the Divine law. It is the time of the wheat harvest in Israel.
Rosh HaShanah (the New Year) is the anniversary of creation when God reviews His world and examines the deeds of human beings. The shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) is blown as a call to spiritual wakefulness.
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is a 25-hour fast largely spent in prayers for forgiveness and in making resolutions for the future. Yom Kippur falls ten days after Rosh Hashanah.
Sukkot comes at the end of the fruit harvest in Israel. The sukkah or harvest booth recalls the portable homes of the Israelites in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The sukkah symbolises the fragility of life and the need for God’s protection.
THE JEWS TODAY
The Jewish population of the world today is about 15 million. Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust, when great sages and outstanding centres of learning and piety were devastated. For most of the time since the Holocaust, the United States had the world’s largest population of Jews (currently about 6 million Jews live in he United States). However, this has recently been overtaken by Israel, the spiritual and cultural centre of world Jewry, and which had a Jewish population of 6.1 million as at the end of 2015 (the total population for Israel at that time was 8.15 million; this figure does not include the ‘West Bank’). Jews have been in Australia since the First Fleet and, despite their small numbers, have made many contributions to national life.
The word ‘Israel’ is used to describe the Jewish people as well as their land, ‘Eretz Yisrael’ (The Land of Israel).
Eretz Yisrael has always been a very special place for the Jewish people. The famous commentator Rashi explains that the Bible begins with the story of creation in order to show the world belongs to God, who in turn is entitled to give part of it (Israel) to the Jewish people. One of the first stories in the Torah describes how God told Abraham (the first Jew) to leave his home and migrate to the land of Canaan (known today as Israel).
Many of the mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah can only be carried out in Eretz Yisrael as it is here that the Temple once stood and where thousands of years of Jewish history took place.
Ever since the exile (just over 2000 years ago), Jews have yearned to returned to Israel, also known as ‘Zion’. The theme of returning to the Jewish homeland is consistently reflected in Jewish literature: songs, daily prayers and other sources. Religious Jews and Zionists believe that all Jews from all around the world will one day return to the land of their ancestors, the land that is a central theme in Judaism.
SOME LEADING JEWISH AUSTRALIANS
Sir John Monash – World War 1 commander-in-chief.
Sir Isaac Isaacs – Chief Justice of the High Court; first Australian-born Governor-General.
Sir Zelman Cowen – prominent academic; a former Governor-General.
Sir Asher Joel – Parliamentarian; National event organiser.
Samuel W. Cohen – Educator.
Sydney D. (‘Syd’) Einfeld – Parliamentarian; Consumer advocate.
Judy Cassab – Artist.
Felix Werder – Composer.
George Dreyfus – Composer.
Harry Seidler – Architect.
Nancy Keesing – Author.
Frank Lowy – Businessman; philanthropist.
Ruby Rich-Schalit – Pioneer feminist.
Leo Port – Lord Mayor of Sydney; inventor.