Compiled this as part of a philosophy course that I taught
1. How old is Judaism?
Judaism is about 3500 years old which makes it the oldest of the monotheistic religions.
2. What are the principle beliefs in Judaism?
Main beliefs are:
• The existence of one God who is all-powerful, all-present, complete and perfect. God has many names (often represents attributes) and transcends time and space. God is ‘Ein Sof’ – Without an end.
• God created everything including human beings. Human beings have free will to choose between good and evil.
• God wants us to choose the good and ethical path but the choice is ultimately ours.
• Happiness is achieved by following God’s commandments (mitzvot), duplicating his kindness and improving yourself as a human being both spiritually and in your dealings with others.
• Man is a partner with God in creation. Man has a duty to heal the misery of the world through Tikkun OIam (repairing the world).
• God has chosen the Jewish people to help others in this manner. The guidelines for living are supplied in the Torah (Five Books of Moses or Pentateuch).
3. Who are the Patriarchs?
• These are the fathers of the Hebrew/Jewish people. They are Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob.
• Their wives Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are known as the Matriarchs.
• The same figures appear in the Christian Old Testament.
4. Why is Moses so important?
• Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt in the Exodus. He is considered the greatest prophet. God revealed the Torah to all the Hebrews at Mont Sinai (after the Exodus) but it was Moses who was entrusted with transcribing it.
• Moses is a prophet in Christianity and Islam as well.
5. What are the principle books in Judaism?
All the commandments (there are 613 are contained in the Torah or Pentateuch). The Torah sits at the epicenter of Jewish thought. In addition to the Torah there is the Prophets (Jeremiah, Samuel, Micah, Joel, Ezekiel etc) and the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastics, Esther, Ruth, Lamentations etc). The Torah + Prophets + Writings = Tanakh. The Tanakh is roughly equivalent to the Christian New Testament.
Judaism also has the Talmud which is made up of the now codified Oral law (Mishna) and the Rabbinical interpretations (Gemara). The Talmud is unique to Judaism although it has influenced Christian thought.