What are the principles of Judaism

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Jews believe in one God who created the universe. The Jews have to fulfill his commandments through their covenant with God - how strict, many see it as a matter of interpretation.

“Schma Israel” (Hear Israel) is the most important prayer in Judaism, which at the same time bears the characteristics of a creed. A generally valid and binding creed is alien to Judaism, however. The 13 Articles of Faith of Moses Maimonides may come closest to one of these. In the 12th century, the Jewish philosopher and legal scholar tried to summarize the contents of the Jewish faith. Although the text was included in the prayer books in abbreviated form, it was not given the status of a creed.

Torah as the main source of faith

At the center of Jewish religious life is the Torah, which includes the five books of Moses. Together with the "Nevi'im" (prophets) and the "Ketuvim" (scriptures), the Torah forms the "Tanach". The texts compiled therein are considered normative for the Jewish religion.

In addition to the Tanach, there is also the Talmud, the center of which is the Mishnah. According to traditional Jewish understanding, this is the written oral teaching that Moses received from God in addition to the written teaching - the Torah. The Mishnah primarily contains provisions on the Jewish religious law.

Different interpretations of the scriptures

How relevant the understanding of Scripture is for the Jewish religion can be seen in the three major currents of Judaism. They differ precisely in their understanding of Scripture. Orthodox Judaism holds that both the Torah and the Mishnah were revealed and written by God. Reform Judaism sees the Torah as a revelation from God, but it was written by people. Scripture and commandments can therefore also be interpreted anew. Conservative Judaism treads a middle path. It has a similar understanding of revelation as Reform Judaism, but more strongly adheres to commandments and traditions.

The tripartite division is, however, not to be understood as absolute. In addition, there are a large number of smaller denominations that do not feel they belong to any of the directions and Jews who do not belong to any particular tendency.

Covenant with God obliges to keep the commandments

Nevertheless, the understanding of the Torah must be seen as determining the understanding and interpretation of the commandments. 613 “Mitzvot” (plural of “Mitzvah” = command) can be found in the Torah according to the Talmud. This includes food regulations as well as purity laws and the commandment to keep the Shabbat. If the Torah is understood to be literally given by God, then all of its commandments must be followed precisely. If one sees divine revelation in human form, the validity of the commandments can also be discussed.

According to the orthodox understanding, the prohibitions and commands are definitely binding for all Jews. From the age of 13, a Jewish boy is obliged to keep the commandments of God, girls from the age of twelve. Boys then become "bar mitzvah" (son of the commandment), girls become bat mitzvah (daughter of the commandment).

Circumcision as a sign of the covenant

Behind the idea of ​​a divine law is the belief that God has made a covenant with his people - a belief that can be found in numerous passages of the Jewish scriptures: from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to Moses and the prophets. The idea of ​​the divine covenant became the determining factor for the Jewish religion. For example, the circumcision of newborn boys, which was widespread among many peoples of the Orient, was interpreted in Judaism as a sign of the covenant with God.

Creator God, approachable in prayer

During the time of the Babylonian exile (597 to 539 BC), YHWH (“YHWH” is God's ineffable proper name) became a monotheistic God and creator of the entire cosmos. Humans are also understood as God's creatures and owe their existence to YHWH. This may not be shown in pictures, nor should its name be pronounced. Nevertheless, he is not only understood as a distant Creator God, but also thought of as personal and approachable in prayer. His work is evident in the history of his people. The history of the people of Israel is therefore also interpreted as the history of God's actions.

The doctrine of resurrection emerged relatively late

This is probably one of the reasons why notions of the hereafter played no role in Israel's faith for a long time. YHWH was the God of the living and death was primarily characterized by separation from God. The Jewish underworld (“Sheol”) is first and foremost an indefinite place of shadow. The idea of ​​the resurrection also arises relatively late. It was only in the book of Daniel, which was probably written around the middle of the second century BC, that echoes of a doctrine of the resurrection and a post-mortem judgment can be recognized. The fact that the Jewish expectation of salvation is primarily an earthly one is also expressed in the idea of ​​the Messiah ("the anointed").

No original sin in Judaism

Even in apocalyptic ideas, the Messiah never becomes a redeemer figure. Because unlike in Christianity, people in Judaism do not need redemption from original sin. While every person sins in the course of his life, sincere repentance brings reconciliation with God with it.

Likewise, there was and is no mission in Judaism. The close intertwining of national community and religion stood in the way of such endeavors. Of course, at the latest under a fully developed monotheism, the question arose as to how the relationship between God and non-Jews is shaped. The rabbis derived the seven Noachidic commandments from the Noah story (according to the Torah, Noah lived before Abraham and therefore could not be a Jew) and the covenant between God and Noah described there. These should apply to all non-Jews. Anyone who adheres to this as a non-Jew is also considered a “Zaddik” (righteous) in Judaism.

Further review articles on Judaism