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Judaism, the religious culture of the Jews, claims over fourteen million followers throughout the world. It is the oldest living religion in the Western world. Historically, Judaism served as the model for Christianity and Islam, the other two great monotheistic religions, which together with Judaism claims half the world s population as followers. The basic source of Jewish belief is the Hebrew Bible (called the Old Testament by Christians) especially its first five books called the Torah or the Pentateuch. The Torah was traditionally regarded as the primary revelation of God and his law to humanity. It is considered as valid for all time. Its laws were clarified and elaborated in the oral Torah, or the tradition of the elders, and were eventually written down in the Mishnah and Talmud. Thus Judaism did not stop developing after the bible was completed. The traditional Jewish Prayer book is an important result of changing conditions. The study of Torah is also considered an act of worship in rabbinic Judaism. Passages from scripture Mishnah and Talmud are recited during daily morning services. On Monday and Thursday mornings, a hand written parchment scroll of the Torah is removed from the ark at the front of the synagogue and read, with cantillation before the congregation. The major liturgical Torah readings take place on Sabbath and festival mornings. In the course of a year, the entire Torah will be read on Sabbaths. The annual cycle begins again every autumn at a celebration called Simhath Torah ( rejoicing in the Torah ) which falls at the end of the Sukkot festival. Torah readings for the festivals deal with the themes and observances of the day. Readings from the prophets with appropriate themes are read along with the Torah readings on Sabbaths and festivals. The public reading of scripture thus constitutes a big part of synagogue worship. In fact, this appears originally to have been the primary function of the synagogue as an institution. Historically, and as related in the Old Testament of the Bible, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob received the revelation of the one, true God, who promised special protection to the Israelite tribes (of whom there were 12 descended from the twelve sons of Jacob, who was also called Israel). Israel existed first as a union of tribes and then as a kingdom, celebrating its formation when the Israelites were freed from Egyptian bondage and conquered and settled the land of Canaan (the land of Israel). Its God was Yahweh, the god of the patriarchs. Yahweh had redeemed the Israelites from Egypt and brought them into the promised land. The Israelite religion was intimately bound to the land, its climate, and the agricultural cycle of the year. Israel thus saw itself as dependent on God for its livelihood and responded with sacrificial offerings of gratitude. The sacrificial cult was centralized in the royal sanctuary of Jerusalem, which later was rivaled by the northern sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan. The exile of the Judeans to Babylonia in 586 BC was a major turning point in Israelite religion. The prophets Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah believed that Yahweh had used the Babylonian Empire to punish the Israelites for their sins, and He therefore had the power to redeem them from captivity if they repented. A truly monotheistic religion developed, the God of Israel now being seen as the God ruling universal history and the destiny of all nations. During the Maccabean period beginning with the conquests of Alexander the Great in 331 BC, there was the introduction of Greek culture into Israel. The Maccabean revolt and the resulting political and cultural turmoil had a major impact on religion. The earliest apocalyptic writings were composed during this period. Bodily resurrection at this time of God s Last Judgment was promised for the first time to those righteous Jews who had been slain in the conflict. The Maccabean victories started an 80 year period of political independence, but it was filled with religious turmoil. Such groups as the Qumran community known to modern scholars from the Dead Sea Scrolls, believed that the Jerusalem temple had been profaned. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and other ancient writers identified the Qurmran group with the Essenes. Josephus also described two other groups, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. No identifiable first hand sources have been found for this. The Sadducees an aristocratic priestly group disputed the Pharisees who were the lineal forerunners of the rabbinic movement after AD 70. All religious groups of this period particularly those opposed to the temple administration appealed to the authority of Scripture to which each gave its own distinctive interpretation. Judean political independence was brought to an end by Roman legions in the middle of the 1st century BC and climaxed in the outbreak of an unsuccessful revolt against Rome in AD 66-67. (Christianity began as one of these movements.) Many 19th-century scholars held that monotheism gradually emerged out of Polytheism, the evolution being complete with the great prophets in the 8th century BC and later. Today many are convinced that monotheism was already a reality in the days of Moses and that later prophets developed more fully only the ethical and spiritual implications of the belief. All the Israelite tribes agreed on the worship of one God named Yahweh; they shared the memory of slavery in Egypt, the deliverance under Moses, and the Mosaic covenant and revelation at Sinai. Although some practices were borrowed from surrounding peoples (agricultural, festivals, civil jurisprudence), the Israelite religion was kept pure of paganism through the strenuous efforts of the prophets. Unlike any other Near Eastern religion are Judaism s prohibition of images, observance of the Sabbath, dietary laws, legislation guaranteeing support of the poor as a matter of right, and protection of slaves and animals against cruelty. A loose tribal union was replaced by a national state under King Saul and David a national Temple in Jerusalem helped unify the people spiritually. After the division of the kingdom following the death of Solomon, the northern kingdom of Israel also had national shrines. The prophets exercised decisive influence on all development in Israel. Starting with the prophet Samuel in the 11th century BC, they ceased to be mere soothsayers and became more and more national leaders, speaking in the name of God. The most mature and eloquent expression of a prophet s ideals is found in the recorded speeches of the later prophets beginning in the 8th century BC with the prophet Amos. The beliefs of Judaism have never been formulated in an official creed. Judaism stresses conduct rather than doctrinal correctness. Its followers have a considerable measure of latitude in matters of belief, especially concerning the messianic future and immortality. Judaism is a this world religion; its objective is a just and peaceful world order on earth. This hope is assured by the belief that God is the Lord of history as well as of nature.

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