Judaism is a religion whose roots go far back into recorded history. Judaism is thought to be 3500 years old, and began in the Middle East, when God made a covenant with Abraham that his descendants would be the chosen people, in return for which they would have to keep God’s laws.
Although Christians base much of their faith on the same Hebrew Scriptures as Jews, there are major differences in belief. Jews generally consider actions and behavior to be of primary importance; Christians hold that belief is most important. Jewish belief does not accept the Christian concept of original sin and does not recognize a savior as an intermediary between people and God.
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, one of the most important Jewish scholars from medieval times, wrote a list of thirteen principles of faith.
This list has been generally accepted by Jews for centuries as a brief summary of the Jewish faith and includes the following tenets: God exists and is one, unique, incorporeal, and eternal; prayer is to be directed to God alone and no other; the words of the prophets are true, and Moses was the greatest of all the prophets; the written and oral Torahs were given to Moses; there will be no other Torah; God knows the thoughts and deeds of men; God will reward the good and punish the wicked; the Messiah will come, and the dead will be resurrected.
Jews celebrate several annual festivals during the year, to commemorate important times in their history. Passover is held each spring to recall the Jews’ deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. A ritual Seder meal is eaten in each observing Jewish home at this time. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the anniversary of the completion of creation and is held in the fall.
The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are days of fasting and penitence. Hanukkah is an 8-day Feast of Dedication, which recalls the war fought by the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. It is typically observed in December. Originally a minor Jewish holy day, it has become more important in recent years.
There are currently about 18 million Jews throughout the world. The majority, about 7 million, are concentrated in North America, with about 4.5 million in Israel.