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Judaism is one of the largest and oldest monotheistic religions being practiced today. It is a set of ideas and beliefs that shape the lives of those who follow it. It is the origin of two of the most abundant religious groups in the world: Christianity and Islam. , Believers of this religion are called Jews. According to the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, there were 13.1 Jewish people in the world in 2007. Most of these Jews are residing in the US and in Israel. In 2001, statistics showed that 0.5 percent of the UK population considers themselves as Jewish. Technically, Judaism was founded in the Middle East at approximately 3500 years ago. It was founded by Moses but the Jews attribute their history back to Abraham. They believe in only one God whom they have a covenant with and in exchange for all the good things that God has given them, they follow strict rules and laws that try to bring holiness in their lives. Judaism has many abundant history of texts from which the most important and the main religious document is Torah. Torah is also known as the old testament in the Christian religion. There is also a religious traditional oral law that interprets the laws of the Torah which is called halakhah. Their spiritual leaders are called Rabbis and they worship in a place called synagogues (Judaism at a glance, 2009). There are many people who identify themselves as Jews but are not believers of Judaism as a religion or faith. There are many other existing definitions and descriptions of Judaism such as it is a race, a culture, a nation, or a family (What is Judaism, n.d.). In this paper, Judaism as a religion, its practices, its beliefs, its traditions, etc. will be discussed further using an interview with a practicing Jew. Furthermore, a comparison and contrast of Judaism with Catholicism will be discussed to further our understanding about Judaism as a religion.
The interviewee is Avi Ben Simchon, who is a practicing Jew in a synagogue here in Alton, IL. The interview took place on July 16, 2010 at a local synagogue. The interviewer is a devout Catholic in practice.
Conversion to Judaism
There are many suggested ways and rules on how to convert to Judaism. It is not an easy task. Basically, the person who wants to be converted should have a great understanding about the religion. He must deal with himself on what is the purpose of his conversion. It must be accepted that Judaism is a major commitment that will affect every aspect of his life. It is a religion that will be in effect for as long as he lives and may be transferred to his children. Furthermore, there are 10 commandments and 13 fundamental principles that are needed to be followed as the foundation of one's faith. One must be sure of the decision of converting into Judaism. He must be comfortable in leaving his previous religion if he has one. He must talk about it to his family so that understanding and acceptance from the family will be gained.
If the reason for conversion is marriage, there are three main branches of the faith that can be converted into, all with differing levels of observance and ritual: (1) Orthodox, which is the most traditional way of conversion, (2) Conservative - called 'Reform' or 'Masorti' in Europe, and (3) Reform - called 'Progressive' or 'Liberal' in Europe, which is the least traditional of all the ways of conversion.
At the decision of conversion, consultation with a Rabbi is a must. At first, he will try to dissuade or push the individual away to test that individual's commitment and will to convert to the faith. If the Rabbi sees the individual's persistence and commitment, he may decide to start the conversion. The Rabbi is the one who decides whether who is fit to be converted into the faith. Conversion to Judaism, unlike other religions, is not an easy task. An individual needs to study the Jewish history, Hebrew language and live a Jewish life for at least a year to be able to finish the conversion. After the studying, a Jewish court (Beit Din) will test the individuals learning and knowledge towards what he has studied. The individual will be questioned about the adherence of Halacha, which is a part of the conversion proceedings. After these steps, a conversion ceremony will be scheduled. This conversion ceremony includes a ritual bath which is a full-body immersion in a Mikveh. If the individual is not circumcised, he will be circumcised as part of the proceedings. Furthermore, children who are born before the conversion will not be converted into Judaism. They will have to undergo the same process as their parents at the age of 13, if they want to be converted. On the other hand, children born after the woman is converted will automatically earn conversion. These are the some of the possible issues regarding the conversion of individuals to Judaism.
Food Restrictions in Judaism
Judaism restricts food varieties that can be eaten. It can be summed up into these simple rules: (1) Some animals cannot be eaten at all, this includes their eggs, milk, flesh and organs, (2) Before eating an animal, they must be killed first and it is a strict procedure to drain out all the blood that is present in its system. Also, some parts of the animals that can be eaten are not allowed to be eaten, (3) Fruits and vegetables can be eaten but certain procedures must be applied to clean the fruits and vegetables. It is a must that bugs cannot be eaten, (4) There are certain foods that cannot be eaten alongside other foods such as fish cannot be eaten along with meat, (5) Utensils that have come in contact with meat cannot be used with dairy. Also, when the utensils come in contact with non-kosher foods cannot be used for kosher foods. (6) Grape products from a non-Jew may not be eaten. These are some of their laws. They follow these laws for the simple reason that the Torah says so. Specifically, the Torah does not have any other explanations regarding these laws. For a Torah-follower, traditional Jew, no other reasons are needed. Following God means obeying his orders such as these without complaining about the reason behind its purpose; although, there some Jews probe deeper into the reasons for such laws.
Judaism's views on God
Judaism views God as a single being that does not have a body, does not have a gender, and cannot be divided into different personas. God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. He created the universe. He is interested in each individual and hears each individual. He is merciful but just. God is personal and can speak to an individual in many ways. He chooses to act according to ways that are just and right.
Judaism's views on death, heaven and hell
Judaism stresses the fact that death is a natural cycle of life and its role in giving life its meaning. Jewish thinkers believe that they have to focus their life in doing good and improving the world and to allot less time in thinking about death, heaven and hell until the proper time. Some Jewish thinkers believe that death and afterlife is a manifestation of God's justice. On the other hand, many traditional Jews believe that individuals are rewarded or punished in the afterlife. Gehenna is the place where souls are punished. Furthermore, there are so many different descriptions and definitions of heaven. One of these definitions is that paradise is the place where individuals finally gains understanding of what the true nature of God is. Generally, the idea of heaven and hell does not have clear, precise definitions. What is important is the individual ethical behavior of man. Heaven and hell are known to be the manifestation of the ultimate judgment of God to man.
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Judaism has a total of fourteen holidays. Two of these holidays are: (1) Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It is basically a ten-day repentance period. The purpose and belief on this holiday is that God will purify an individual who repents for that individual to have a good life and an abundant life at that. The two general themes for this holiday are repentance and confession. (2) Sukkot, which is an agricultural festival that is basically a pilgrimage to celebrate the fall harvest.
Tanakh is Judaism's most sacred text. It is the Hebrew bible. It consists of the Torah, which is known in the Christian bible as the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch. It is the core sacred writings of the ancient Jews which include: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
There are also traditions that the Jews are strict about. These important traditions mark their way through the years. One important tradition is the Bar Mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah is a traditional ritual of the passing from childhood to adulthood of a Jewish individual. It is accepted that children do not need to observe Jewish laws and commandments until they are in the right age, which is 12 for girls and 13 for boys. "At this age, they have right to take part in leading religious services, to count as a member of the synagogue, to form binding contracts, to testify before religious courts and to marry"
The Sabbath of the Jews is the most known tradition in the Jewish religion. It is also the least understood because of its complicated restrictions. It is a gift from God that allows individuals to rest and set aside all the work for the whole week. Furthermore, it is a commandment of God. It is the fourth of the Ten Commandments that God addressed to Moses. The idea of this Jewish observance is that when God created the universe, he rested on the seventh day. That is why the Jews rest on a Sabbath day. Sabbath in Hebrew means rest. In addition, the Sabbath begins at nightfall on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday. In practical terms the Sabbath starts a few minutes before sunset on Friday and runs until an hour after sunset on Saturday, so it lasts about 25 hours (Sabbath, 2009). It is also considered to be family time such that families get together in their homes and just enjoy the presence of God and the company of each other. No one is allowed to work or do chores on a Sabbath day. This is to keep the day special (Sabbath, 2009).
Challenges in practicing the religion
There are many challenges that a Jew faces in practice of his religion. Judaism is his life. It defines him. One is that there are existing stereotypes of the Jews that makes it hard for him to go about his life. Some people think that he does not look like one, because of his outside appearance. Furthermore, some people make jokes about the Jews that are offensive and rude. These are just some of the challenges in practicing of the religion according to the interviewee.
Judaism and Catholicism
There are many important similarities and distinctions of Judaism and Catholicism. Catholicism is a denomination of Christianity that differs from the general Christianity in the sense that it strictly observes the canon law. Catholicism is basically belonging to a "universal" church while Christianity believes in belonging to Jesus. Catholicism is a religion that was derived from Judaism. Both share the same basic beliefs such as the existence of only one God. Furthermore, they both use the Old Testament as their sacred texts. There are many differences between Judaism and Catholicism. These include: (1) Judaism believes that there is only one persona of God. It cannot be divided into different parts. God is only one entity. On the other hand, Catholicism believes in the trinity, which is a tri-persona of God. They believe that God consists of God the father, God the son, and God the spirit. (2) Catholics follow the teachings of Jesus through the New Testament while the Jews reject the existence of Jesus as a God. The Jews believe that Jesus is a false prophet (Comparison of Christianity and Judaism, n.d.). (3) Catholics believe that there is an original sin, and there are mortal sins, and these are codified as violations of the Ten Commandments while the Jews do not believe in the original sin. The Jews believe that when people are born, they are not inclined to either good or bad. They have the free will to choose what they make of their life (Attard-Bezzina, n.d.). (4) The Jews believe in the guidance and supervision of the Rabbis, while the Catholics believe in the supremacy and guidance of the Pope. Catholics believe that the Pope is God's messenger and representative in giving His message to the people. There are many other differences in the Catholic and Jewish faiths. The points discussed above are just some of the basic comparison and contrast in both faiths.
Judaism is a very strict religion which follows many ancient traditions that traces back to thousands of years back. It is a very dense religion that is built with the foundations of history and faith. There are many beliefs and practices in Judaism that are hard to swallow and understand. For a Jew, Judaism is his life. It defines him as an individual. Furthermore, being a Jew is not an easy task, many challenges are faced by a Jew every day in order to protect his life. Judaism brought forth different religions such as Christianity and Islam. Comparison and Contrast of Judaism and Catholicism enlighten the true nature of both religions. It helped strengthen the understanding towards both religion regarding its beliefs and practices.
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