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The Jewish People

Not a race, but much more than a religion, the Jewish People is often described as being at the center of a triangle consisting of one God, the Land of Israel, and their sacred text, the Bible.

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Jewish people

 

Not a race, but much more than a religion, the Jewish People is often described as being at the center of a triangle consisting of one God, the Land of Israel, and their sacred text, the Bible.

 

The Bible has been the source of the great impact this small people (numbering approximately 13 million) have made on world culture and faith. Its first five books are known as the Torah, which means teaching, a term that has expanded to include an enormous amount of Jewish wisdom transcribed over the centuries. However, for many Jews, their teachings are distilled into one commandment, first uttered by a Jewish sage some 2,000 years ago: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” 

 

The Bible contains the Ten Commandments (in the biblical book of Exodus 20:1-13), moral teachings including, among others, not only prohibitions on murder and stealing, but also the commandment to keep a weekly day of rest, the Sabbath, a hallmark of Jewish faith and culture, and the commandment to honor one's father and mother. The Bible is the foundation for the teachings of Jesus and Christianity and for the New Testament.

 

Over the centuries, Jews added the Talmud to their sacred texts. This is a commentary on the Bible that developed mainly after the Jewish People were exiled from their homeland of Israel (see below) yet struggled to maintain connections to each other, to God, and to their land. Learning Bible and Talmud, and study in general, became an important element of Jewish culture, as did the ancient Hebrew language of the Bible, which was renewed in modern times.

 

The Bible

 

Perhaps the most famous Bible story is the Exodus, in which Moses led the people, then called Israelites and divided into 12 tribes, from Egyptian slavery to freedom. The Israelites eventually entered the Land of Israel, which according to the Bible, God promised to the first Patriarch, Abraham. The Twelve Tribes are descended from Abraham through his grandson, Jacob, who was also called Israel.

 

The best known event in Abraham’s life was when God tested him by calling on him to sacrifice his son Isaac, although God did not let Abraham actually do so. 

 

Eventually, the Israelites established a kingdom in the land of Israel, led by Saul, David, Solomon and other kings. The kingdom eventually split into northern and southern branches. The northern part was exiled by the Assyrians in 721 BCE and its tribes disappeared, becoming known as the Ten Lost Tribes.

 

David is also a significant Jewish religious figure. He is the forefather of the longed-for redeemer (the Messiah), and the writer of some of the Bible’s most moving religious poetry, the Psalms. David also made Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish People, purchasing the land on Mount Moriah where Abraham had been tested, where later the great shrine known as the Temple would be built.

 

Mount Moriah is today known as the Temple Mount. Solomon built the First Temple there in around 950 BCE, which was destroyed by the Babylonians, who exiled the Jews from their land in 586 BCE. But some 50 years later, Jews returned and built the Second Temple, which was embellished by King Herod around the time of Jesus. It, too, was destroyed, in 70 CE by the Romans.

 

The Temple Mount, on which the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque now stand, is one of the best known sites in Israel, as is the Western Wall, the last remnant of Herod’s Temple and a great Jewish holy place.

 

In the 19th century, Theodore Herzl, whom many called a modern-day Moses, founded a modern political movement to bring Jews back to the ancient land. The movement was named Zionism, from the word “Zion,” a name for Jerusalem mentioned in the Bible. Thus throughout the centuries of their exile, the Jews never forgot their Holy City. When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, Jerusalem became its capital.

 




 

 

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Jewish Themes