Introductions to World Religions by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
An Overview of Judaism
Some Helpful Websites on Judaism:
Information on Judaism - FAQs, informative answers, well-organized overviews; from Temple Emanu-El in San Jose, CA
Judaism 101 - very helpful materials at various levels of detail (introductory to advanced); maintained by Tracey R. Rich
Torah.org - part of "Project Genesis"; lots of good practical info at various levels; see esp. their "Basics" and "Judaism Primer"
AskMoses.com - ask a live rabbi about Judaism; lots of answers on file too
Chabad.org - official website of the Lubavitcher Movement; lots of good info from a Hasidic (Ultra-Orthodox) perspective
Jewish Virtual Library - lots of materials on history, politics, religion, etc.; seems like a high-level academic site
Wikipedia: Judaism - very comprehensive site, with sections on Jewish denominations, history, philosophy, texts, holidays, buildings, liturgies, etc.
But caution: some portions are excellent, but others are very poorly written!
What Is Judaism? Who Is Jewish? What are Hebrews, Israelites, Israelis, etc.?
Judaism = the religion of the Jews
Jews = ethnic group? cultural heritage? religious body? political nation?
all of these?
The word "Jew" is derived from "Judea" = 1st century Roman Province (later renamed Palestine),
which is itself derived from "Judah" = one of the 12 sons/tribes of Jacob/Israel (also the territory of the Southern Kingdom of Judah)
Hebrews = the people of the pre-monarchial era of ancient Israel (esp. around the time of Moses)
Hebrew = the ancient language used in most of the Bible; also the language of modern Jews and the State of Israel
Israel = grandson of Abraham; originally named Jacob; the territory of all 12 Tribes of Israel; later only the 10 Northern Tribes
Israelites = members of the (ancient) tribes of Israel
vs. Israelis = citizens of the (modern) State of Israel
Total between 13 and 15 Million Jews worldwide in 2000 (but population estimates vary greatly)
Obeying Torah ethics, but not most ritual commands.
Somewhat between the Reform & Conservatives
Observing Torah, adapted to modern times.
Observing Torah as much as possible.
Observing the whole Torah joyfully, as applicable.
Seminaries in USA
Cinc.; NY; LA:
Hebrew Union College
Jewish Institute of Religion
NY: Jewish Theological Sem.
LA: University of Judaism
NT: Yeshiva University
[more coming someday...]
[more coming someday...]
The Hebrew Bible:
Important Terms: Bible, Scripture, Canon, Testament, Covenant; also Tanak, Torah, Nevi'im, Khetuvim, Mikra (and their English counterparts; see my Biblical Glossary page)
Range of Interpretations:Using our standard conceptual schema (Far Left, Center Left, Center Right, Far Right - but usually in reverse order), we can classify the following opinions about the relationship between the Bible and history:
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Fundamentalist/Literalist Christians: Everything in the Bible is 100% factual and accurate.
Orthodox & Conservative Jews, Traditionalist Christians: The Bible is substantially accurate, but not all historical or scientific details are meant to be taken literally (e.g. the six "days" of creation could be "eras"; the extreme ages of the first humans could be meant figuratively; etc.)
Reform Jews, Progressive Christians, Mainstream Scholars: The Bible is a collection of writings of many different literary genres with a complex composition history; it has a historical core, but historical facts are often difficult to distinguish from narrative and theological shaping.
Radical Skeptics among Jews, Christians, and secular scholars: The Bible may be inspirational literature, but has little to no historical basis; the theological emphases make it virtually impossible to know if there is any historicity behind the stories.
Levels of Composition: Most modern biblical scholars (in the third group above) maintain that it is important to distinguish between various historical levels in the composition of each biblical book and in the collection of the Bible as a whole.
Events: The time of the events narrated in the stories.
Sources: The time of the first written accounts or sources.
Redaction: The period of editing and expanding individual books.
Compilation: The period of compiling books into smaller collections.
Translation: The translation of the biblical books into other languages.
Canonization: The final authorization or canonization of the Hebrew Bible.
Section of HB
Contents / Events / Eras Covered
When Written / Edited
half narratives; half laws
Gen 1-11: Pre-historic Foundations (not datable)
Gen 12-50: Abr & Patriarchs (ca. 1800-1700 BCE)
Exod-Deut: Moses, Exodus, Sinai (ca. 1300/1250)
Few sources back to 1200's;
Mostly 800's to 500's BCE
variety: poetry, proverbs,
prayers, wisdom lit., etc.
Job/Ps/Prov/: mostly undated and undatable
Ezra/Neh/Chron: post-exilic restoration (536-400's)
Pre-1000 to post-200 BCE
[in flux up to 90 CE]
Tanakh (as a whole)
(all of the above)
from pre-Abraham to post-Babylonian Exile
span of about 1000 years
not until ca. 90 CE
Early Jewish Literature beyond/after the Hebrew Bible:
Second-Temple or Inter-Testamental Literature: Jewish writings of various types, mostly composed after the books that became part of the Hebrew Bible but before or during the first Christian century, when the New Testament was also composed. Broadly, these categories include:
Septuagint, including Apocrypha / Deuterocanonical Books; Pseudepigrapha; Dead Sea Scrolls;
Philo (Jewish philosopher); Josephus (Jewish historian); New Testament (Jewish Christian writings)
Struggle of Good vs. Evil Inclinations: Yetzer ra vs. Yetzer tov
The Jewish Calendar, Feasts, and Festivals:
The basis of the Hebrew calendar is Lunar: It has 12 months of 29 or 30 days each (since the "lunar month" is 29.53 days).
Yet the calendar is adjusted to keep it Solar: To keep the month of Tishri in the Fall, Nissan in the Spring, etc., an additional month of 30 days, called Adar II, is added periodically (in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 of each 19-year cycle).
The calendar is also adjusted so that Yom Kippur does not fall on a Shabbat/Sabbath (since the "Day of Atonement" is a day of fasting, but fasting is prohibited on the "Sabbath"). Thus, normal years can have a total of of 353, 354, or 355 days, while leap years can be 383, 384, or 385 days long (for more details, see the "Jewish Calendar" page at Judaism 101).
Thus, particular days on the Jewish calendar can shift within about one month of the Gregorian Calendar. For, example, the following charts shows the equivalent Gregorian/Western dates for Rosh HaShanah (1 Tishri, the Jewish New Year), in the current 19-year cycle:
Special Days and Years:
SHABBAT / Sabbath (Synagogue Services; Special Family Meals) - Torah readings each week (broken up into 54 sections, so the entire Torah is read each year); corresponding readings from the Prophets for each week (called Haftorahs); blessings and prayers, taken especially from the Psalms.
New Moons, Sabbath Years, Jubilee Years
Categories of Annual Feasts and Festivals:
HIGH HOLY DAYS: Ten days from Rosh HaShanah (New Year) to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
Main Pilgrimage Festivals: Pesach/Passover, Shavuot/Weeks, Sukkoth/Booths
Other Celebrations & Commemorations: Purim, Hanukkah, Simchat Torah, Tisha B'Av, etc.
Five Minor Fast Days: esp. commemorating the two destructions of Jerusalem and its Temple.
National Holidays of Modern Israel: Holocaust Remembrance, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Jerusalem Day