• Judaism has been described as a religion, a race, a culture, and a nation

• All of these descriptions have some validity

• The Jewish people are best described as an extended family

Torah: In its most limited sense, "Torah" refers to the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. But the word "torah" can also be used to refer to the entire Jewish bible (the body of scripture known to non-Jews as the Old Testament and to Jews as the Tanakh or Written Torah), or in its broadest sense, to the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.

• Judaism does not have a formal mandatory beliefs

• The most accepted summary of Jewish beliefs is Rambam's 13 principles of faith

• Even these basic principles have been debated

• Judaism focuses on the relationships between the Creator, mankind, and the land of Israel

13 Principles of Faith

The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely-accepted list of Jewish beliefs is Rambam's thirteen principles of faith. These principles, which Rambam thought were the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, are:

  1. G-d exists
  2. G-d is one and unique
  3. G-d is incorporeal
  4. G-d is eternal
  5. Prayer is to be directed to G-d alone and to no other
  6. The words of the prophets are true
  7. Moses' prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets
  8. The Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings now contained in the Talmud and other writings) were given to Moses
  9. There will be no other Torah
  10. G-d knows the thoughts and deeds of men
  11. G-d will reward the good and punish the wicked
  12. The Messiah will come
  13. The dead will be resurrected


        Orthodox: Preserves traditional Judaism: Torah and Talmud word of God: Messiah will restore the Jewish Kingdom; physical resurrection after death; males and females still separate in worship        

Reform: Sought to modernize Judaism once Jews freed from ghettos in 19th century, hoped to reduce assimilation. Believe that law is evolving, many views of God accepted; no teaching of a personal afterlife; Messianic Age is fulfillment of human progress; modern worship using English and Hebrew, men and women sit together.

        Conservative: Share many  Reform ideas, but think Reform led to more not less assimilation. More reverence to scripture and tradition (e.g., dietary laws); more theistic.      

Key Holidays: Rosh ha-Shanah (New Year); Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement); Hannukkah (lights); Passover

Rites of Passage: circumcision; Bar (Bat) Mitzvah; wedding; sitting shiva

Other terms: phylacteries (boxes on arms),

mezuzahs (boxes on doorframes),

keeping kosher,

observing Sabbath;

kippah/yarmulke (head covering)


synagogue/rabbi replaces temple worship;

Talmud (Mishnah + Gemara: commentaries on Torah and commentaries on the commentaries…)

Caballa: Jewish mysticism (demons, charms, numerology, dream interpretation…);                                      

Sephardim: Jewish refugees from Spain to Ottomans

Ashkenazim: Eastern European Jews (Yiddish)

Hasidim: Ultra-Orthodox charismatics: simple faith in   reaction to legalism initially  

Zionism: return to Israel

Discussion Questions

1. Share with your group any religious discussions you’ve had with Jewish friends, and/or Jewish services/ceremonies that you have attended.

2. Despite the extensive overlaps with Christianity, where do you see the key divergences?

3. Why do you think anti-Semitism has been so persistent and widespread?

(See: http://www.jewfaq.org/judaism.htm)