Thursday, December 4, 2008

UNDERSTANDING JUDAISM


Judaism, the religion of the Jewish people, is monotheistic and has its practices embodied in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), further explored and explained in the Talmud and other Hebrew sacred texts. Judaism began with the covenant between God and Abram (ca. 2000 B.C.E), the father and ancestor of the Jewish people whose name changed to Abraham later on. The central religious belief of Judaism is that there is only one God and that the earliest followers were called Hebrews later to be referred to as Jews. The Torah (the law) comprises the writings and the prophets. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are the main five books sacred to Judaism. The Book of Genesis details how God created the heavens and the earth in six days from a formless void covered by darkness.

From the first verse to the sixth, Genesis documents the creation of the heavens and the earth in chronological order as outlined below:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis).

The 20th verse of Genesis documents the creation of creatures. It begins as such:
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the sea, and let birds multiply on the earth. And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.”

The book of Genesis shades light on the creation of man. The first man, Adam, was created from dust by his Lord and made to dwell in the Garden of Eden in the East which contained every tree that was pleasant to eat. In the Garden of Eden there was a river flowing out of it to water the garden thereafter dividing into four other rivers namely: Pishon which flowed around the whole of Havilah with bdellium and onyx stone found there; the second river, called Gihon, is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush; Tigris is the name of the third river while Euphrates is the fourth river. From there on, according to Genesis, God created a woman out of Adam’s rib later to become his partner.

Eve conceived and bore “a man” whom they named Cain who was to become tiller of the ground. Next she bore his brother Abel who became keeper of the sheep. Schisms about offerings to the Lord led Cain to kill his brother Abel. Adam fathered a son named Seth when he was eight hundred years old. Besides Seth, Adam had other sons and daughters. In all, Adam lived nine hundred thirty years. While one hundred five years old, Seth became the father of Enosh. Seth died at nine hundred twelve years. Enosh was the father of Kenan; Kenan was the father of Mahalalel; Mahalalel was the father of Jared; Jared was the father of Enoch; Enoch was the father of Methuselah; Methuselah was the father of Lamech; Lamech was the father of Noah. Those days, people lived long lives as can be seen from the years inhabited on earth by Adam and his direct descendants.

Abraham is widely regarded as the patriarch of monotheism and Judaism. From the Aramaic words “Aba Rama”, the name Abraham stands for “High Father” while in Hebrew “Av” means “Father” while “Raham” in Arabic implies to mean “Nations or Multitude.” Abraham’s father was Terah while his grandfather was called Nahor. Abraham’s brothers were named Nahor and Haran. Abraham was born in the Chaldean city of Ur in Mesopotamia. At birth he was named Abram by his father Terah. According to Genesis, Abraham was brought by God from Mesopotamia to the land known as Canaan. Abraham was born during the Sumero-Akkadian Empire of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Ur-Nammu took the title "King of Sumer and Akkad"; his mightiest work was the erection of the great ziggurat at Ur which was known as "the hill of heaven" or the "mountain of God" by the people of old.

Abraham gave up the ways of his people, the Hebrews, and sought the mercy of his Lord, for the Lord God revealed himself unto Abraham with the promise ‘I will be your guide” therefore “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.” The Lord God told Abraham that he would make him a great nation. God told Abraham that he would bless him and that he would also bless those who blessed him (Abraham) while cursing those who cursed Abraham.

Abraham and his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot left Haran for a land called Canaan. At this time there was a great famine so Abraham went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien. Fearing that the Egyptians would kill him because his wife Sarai was exceptionally beautiful in appearance, Abraham instructed Sarai to maintain that she was his sister and not his wife. Seeing the gorgeousness of Sarai, the Egyptians reported to the Pharaoh who ruled over Egypt about the good looks of Sarai and the cantankerous Pharaoh took Sarai unto him. Then the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with plagues because of taking Sarai forcefully against her wishes and those of Abraham. The Pharaoh returned Sarai to her husband, Abraham, where, accompanied by Lot they left for Negeb and then to Bethel where they pitched tent. Scuffles over grazing land between the herders of the livestock of Abraham and Lot led them to separate where Lot settled in the Jordan plain and Abraham in the land of Canaan. So Abraham settled by the Oaks of Mamre, which were at Hebron where he built the Lord an altar. After living ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai gave Abraham an Egyptian slave girl called Hagar who resided in their house. Hagar conceived a son they named Ishmael and Sarai looked at her servant in contempt. Thereafter, the Lord gave Sarai a son whom they named Isaac. Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight years old. Isaac appears in Genesis 70 times and 33 times elsewhere.

Jacob (also called Israel) was the son of Isaac with Rebekah, the twin brother of Esau, and grandson of Abraham. According to Genesis, Joseph or Yosef, a major figure in the Hebrew Bible, was the 11th son of Jacob and Rachel’s first. Joseph was thrown into a well by his brothers and was retrieved by an Ishmaelite caravan who sold him in Egypt to Potiphar who was an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, and an Egyptian. Joseph became a victim of false accusations when his master’s wife asked him for sexual favors. Despite his innocence, Joseph was sent to jail where he became interpreter of dreams. He was placed as an overseer of the provisions. Later on Joseph was reunited with his brothers and also with his father and mother.

In Judaism, ritual purity or ablution, as emphasized in the Mitzvah, is an important ritual practice and an integral part of the holy observance of the Jewish people that sets it apart from other polytheistic religions. This practice, though most commonly observed in Orthodox Judaism, is not normally acted upon in Reform Judaism while in Conservative Judaism; the practices are normative with certain exemptions and lenience. Besides the rituals, the Jewish traditions of celebrating special religious holidays have been in the records for millenniums. Customarily, all Jewish holidays begin at sunset and end at sundown. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, it is also the Day of Judgment and also when the creation of the world was completed. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement; Sukkot is the Festival of Tabernacles; Hanukkah, preserved in the books of the first and second Maccabees, marks the defeat of the Seleucid Empire; while Passover commemorates the freeing of Israelis as slaves from the hands of the Egyptians.

Today, there is a nation in the Middle East called Israel which proclaimed independence on the 14th of May, 1948. David Ben-Gurion became the first Prime Minister of Israel. The parliament of Israel is called the Knesset. The last Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, took over the highest office in Israel after Ariel Sharon suffered severe hemorrhagic stroke in 2006. Israel has fought several wars mainly over land in the Middle East spanning roughly one century of political tensions. Conflicts over territorial ambitions kicked off after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

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