November 25, 2012 6:39 pm

Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. It is one of the oldest religions, and it is based on the belief in one God. Judaism deeply influenced both Christianity and Islam. All three religions began in the Middle East.
The Bible is the sacred book of Judaism. Christians refer to the Jewish Bible as the Old Testament. It is a collection of many books. Some books of the Bible tell the history of the Jewish people and show how God was active in human events. Some books set down laws and rules. Other books consist of poetry or speeches.
The first five books of the Bible are especially sacred to Jews. These books are called the Torah. Religious Jews believe the Torah to be the word of God.
Jews consider the biblical figure Abraham to be the father of the Jewish people. According to Jewish belief, God made a covenant or agreement with Abraham. God promised to look after the descendants of Abraham as his chosen people. They, in turn, would believe in one God and obey his commands.
In the 1200s bc, the Jews were living as slaves in Egypt. A leader named Moses led them to freedom. On the way to the promised land of Canaan, Moses received a message from God. The message was the Ten Commandments, the most basic laws of Judaism. The Ten Commandments tell how people should behave toward one another as well as toward God. Judaism was one of the first religions to put ethics, or good behavior, at its center.
The Jews ruled a kingdom off and on for six centuries. Their great kings included Saul, David, and Solomon. Eventually, they lost their country, which they called Israel, and were forced to scatter. This scattering is called the Diaspora. It has continued for 2,500 years. Judaism has continued to develop during the period of the Diaspora, as the Jewish people focus on their communities, books, and religious ideas.
Some Jews believe that the Diaspora, or exile from the land of Israel, was a punishment from God for disobeying his laws. They believe that God will send a prophet or messiah to Earth one day. The world will then end and all the people who ever lived will face God’s final judgment.
Jews come together for prayer in a building called a synagogue. An important part of the synagogue is a cabinet that houses a scroll on which the Torah is written. A rabbi (Hebrew for “teacher”) conducts the worship service at the synagogue. The service includes prayers and readings from the Torah.
The Sabbath is a day of rest and prayer for religious Jews. The Jewish Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday evening and continues until sunset on Saturday. Religious Jews pray three times a day. They avoid doing any work on the Sabbath.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur comes ten days later. On this day, Jews fast (go without food) and pray for forgiveness of their sins.
Other Jewish holidays mark events in Jewish history. Passover, for example, celebrates the escape from slavery in Egypt.
Judaism today is divided into three branches. These branches offer different ideas about how to stay religious while living in the modern world. Orthodox Jews keep strictly to the ancient ways stated in Jewish sacred texts and Jewish law. Conservative Jews believe laws and traditions may change to fit the times, though not easily. Reform Jews believe individuals can choose which traditions to follow.
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