Who are the Jewish people and what do they believe?
Unlike other religions, Judaism is more than a set of beliefs but is also an ethnicity. While it is possible for a Gentile to convert to the religion of Judaism, if you have a Jewish mother you are considered a Jew whether or not you are religious. There are two basic strains of ethnic Jews–Ashkenazic and Sephardic. The Ashkenazic Jews originate mainly from Easter Europe while Sephardic Jews would have their origins in Spain and the Middle East.
The nation of Israel began with the patriarch Abraham in the 7th Century BC and he is considered the father of all Jewish people. We find the beginning of this history in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tenach. This is the portion of the Bible referred to by Christians as the Old Testament; here we find the history and beginnings of the Jewish people, see God’s dealings with Abraham, Isaac, and Moses, and find the records of the Law God gave to Moses which the Jewish people still follow today.
Judaism is a monotheistic religion strongly opposed to the Christian idea of a Trinity. They have many religious texts and the study of these texts is a central part of every religious Jew’s daily life. Their holy books include the Tenach, the Talmud, the Mishnah, and the Gamarah. The Tenach is what Christians would know as the Old Testament and is divided into several parts. The Torah consists of the first five books of Moses followed by the Nevi’im (Prophets) and the Ketuvim (Writings).
Where do Jews Live?
Largely due to intense persecution, the Jewish people have been scattered all over the world, but they have still retained their identity as a people with many shared traditions and practices. Jews can be found in nearly every country, but in 1948 with the creation of the State of Israel, they once again have a place to officially call home. Outside of Israel the US is home to the largest population of Jews, and New York City, Los Angeles, and South Florida are where many of them reside. For more information regarding demographics check out http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
What does it mean to be Jewish?
Judaism is full of beautiful traditions and practices with a strong emphasis on family and community. Like the Mennonites and Amish, many inside jokes can be made about the culture. If you are Jewish you know all about matzo ball soup, challah bread, the matchmaker, what to do and not do on Shabbat, Jewish mothers, and how to say a blessing over everything from tying your shoe to washing your hands. Being Jewish is more than just a religion or ethnicity, it is an entire identity that permeates every part of life.
Like the Anabaptists there are several strains of Judaism and the three most basic are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. These groups vary in the intensity of their religious observance and their integration into mainstream culture with different branches and synagogues following the rules, guidelines, and teachings of many different Rabbis (teachers). However, while specifics may vary, the common thread of a shared identity runs strong through every Jewish individual.
For more information on Jewish life, culture, and beliefs visit these sites.