The Jewish Faith Today


The origin and development of Judaism is traced in the Old Testament. Moses was not the founder of Judaism since YAHWEH (normal rendition of the unpronounceable name for God) was worshipped by the
Hebrew nation long before Moses was born. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are references for God’s reverence before Moses. The INFINITE and PERSONAL God of the Old Testament revealed Himself to man from the very beginnings of Genesis and progressively revealed more as time and dispensations (periods of time where God acts toward mankind in specific patterns) occurred.

One of the central figures around which Judaism is built is the covenant relationship established with Abraham (est 2085 B.C.) The Lord singled out this man and covenanted that his descendants would be
a holy nation, set apart from the rest of the world to God.

The chosen line ran from Abraham through Isaac to Jacob. Then it continued through Jacob’s 12 sons and their descendants, the 12 tribes of Israel. During the time of bondage in Egypt, the people of Israel grew from a small band to a full nation. At the end of this time YAHWEH revealed Himself to Israel in action through the EXODUS and in words (COMMANDMENTS given to Moses at Mt. Sinai).

The PENTATUCH (or TORAH as Judaism refers to it), which was written by Moses, remains THE primary document of Judaism.  The Old Testament outlines the early history of Israel in detail; so we need not repeat it. The synopsis is thus. The conquest of Canaan under Joshua, the period of the Judges, the united monarchy under Saul, David and Solomon, and the divided kingdoms of Israel (The Northern Kingdom of 10 tribes) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom of 2 tribes). The Northern Kingdom was overthrown by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.; the Southern Kingdom was destroyed by Babylon in 586 B.C. The Babylonian captivity (exile) lasted 70 years in accordance with God’s Sabbath for the Land, and many Jews returned to Palestine afterwards.  YAHWEH revealed much to the Israelites before, during and after the exile through the prophets (the 39 Books of the Old Testament are generally accepted by Judaism as Scripture.)

Many modern writers have speculated that early Jewish religion was polytheistic, idolatrous and primitive; However, there is no evidence that can support these theories. These theories are built on anti-supernatural evolutionary presuppositions rather than solid factual data. Actually, the earliest books of the Old Testament reveal an advanced ethical monotheism without parallel in ancient literature. From the very beginning the God of the Old Testament is seen as a God of unlimited power, love, goodness, and justice. He is the infinite and personal Creator of all creation.

In God’s covenant relationship with Israel, He made high moral demands, saying that blessing was dependent on social and moral justice. YAHWEH constantly used the prophets to bring reform in the
political and personal lives of His people.

The sacrificial system was given to show that sin REQUIRED atonement. Israel had to be a REDEEMED people in order to enjoy fellowship with the HOLY God. In contrast, the gods of the other nations were immoral and indifferent. The Old Testament teaching is that ultimately God will bless all the Nations of the earth through Israel. A MESSIAH, who is a descendant of King David, will come to REDEEM mankind and to reign as King over all the nations of the earth.  However; the Judaism of today is very different from Old
Testament Judaism. In the centuries following the Babylonian exile, a number of important changes began to appear. Meeting places known as Synagogues were instituted during the exile. Even when the Temple was rebuilt in Ezra’s time, the synagogues continued to be the worship centers for most of the Jews. When the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army in 70 A.D., the synagogues became the official rallying points for Judaism.

With the end of the temple came the end of the sacrificial system. The synagogues substituted ritual, prayer, and the study of the Law for the sacrifices. The Levitical priesthood was replaced by teachers of the Law, many of whom were Pharisees who had developed an elaborate oral tradition based on the Mosaic Law. The Law was applied in a complex way to every detail of life. External things like Sabbath observance, food preparation, dietary rules and holy days were stressed. These Pharisaic teachers came to be known as rabbis (teachers).

About 200 A.D., the oral rabbinic traditions were finally written down. The result is known as the MISHNAH (repetition). The Mishnah is placed ALMOST on par with the Mosaic Law. It is so important that lengthy commentaries on the Mishnah, known as the Gemaras, were also written. The Babylonian Gemara (A.D. 500) is longer and more popular than the Palestinian Gemara (A.D. 200). The combination of the Mishna and the Babylonian Gemara is known as the Palestinian Talmud. The Talmud fills many volumes and contains Jewish folklore, traditions and scholarly teachings.

The Romans drove the Jews out of Palestine in A.D. 135. Judaism was able to survive this dispersion only because JEWISH communities had already been established in many countries. Each such community
had at least one synagogue, and each synagogue was directed by a rabbi. Any Jew could become a rabbi if he acquired a good knowledge of the Law and was accepted as such by the congregation. The rabbis applied the Law and the talmudic teachings to the changing conditions of daily life.

With the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system gone, synagogue teachers stressed the idea that every Jew had an immediate access to God. As a Jew he needed no conversion or redemption.  Instead, a Jew could reach salvation by obedience to the Torah (The Law AND the rabbinic interpretations of the Law). The rabbis broke the Law down into 613 precepts – 365 negative precepts and 248 positive precepts. Each of these precepts has been elaborated in rabbinic teachings down to the FINEST details. The result is that Jewish life can become a carefully controlled ritual from the cradle to the grave.

In the 12th century, a Jewish philosopher named Maimonides produced a creed which is generally regarded as the basis of Orthodoxy. This creed emphasized the omnipotence, omniscience, eternality, and oneness of God. God is an invisible spirit Being. As the only Creator and Source of Life, He alone should be worshipped.  Maimonides held Moses to be the greatest of the prophets and the Law to be the highest revelation. He also taught rewards and punishments, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead.

Judaism rejects the doctrine of original sin, saying that sin is an act, not a state. Thus, man has the ability to live according to the Law. If he fails, he only needs to come to God in repentance. With this view of sin, Judaism has eliminated the need for a Savior. Many Jews do not anticipate the coming of a personal Messiah at all, but a messianic age. Those Jews who do expect a Messiah usually think of Him as a political and social deliverer, not a Savior from sins.  One of the most important facets of Judaism is the series of
festivals and holy days in every year. Rosh Hashanah is the new year marked by 10 days of penitence and solemnity. The 10th day of penitence is the Day of Atonement, when Jews acknowledge their sins and pray for forgiveness. Also important are the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth or Booths), Passover (Commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt), the Feast of Weeks (Shabuoth or Pentecost), Hanukkah (Festival of Light), and Purim. These special days commemorate the joys and sorrows of Jewish history and serve as the main link to the past.  They illustrate Judaism’s concept of history as the meaningful product of God’s activity.

Today Judaism is divided into three main branches. ORTHODOX, REFORM (not reformED) and CONSERVATIVE. Within ORHODOXY, there is also a movement known as the Hasidic Movement. Orthodox Judaism has changed little in the last 20 centuries. It follows the Talmudic teachings and precepts about Sabbath observance, kosher dietary rules and religious isolation.

One reason for the absence of change over the centuries is the introspective tendency in Judaism. Atrocities and oppression have dogged the Jews in many countries, and this has forced them to maintain cultural and religious isolation.

In the last century; However, Jewish people have shown increasing desire to adapt themselves to modern society. This is especially true in America, where they have been given more freedom and respect than
in most countries. This has led to the rise of REFORM Judaism, the talmudic practices and precepts have been put aside. REFORM synagogues are usually called temples, and the Sabbath observance in many cases has been changed to Sunday. REFORM Judaism has rejected spiritual doctrines such as the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the body. All that remains is an ethical system based on a monotheistic philosophy.

The third branch of Judaism is CONSERVATIVE. This is an intermediate position between the Orthodox and Reform extremes.  CONSERVATIVE Judaism retains the feasts and many of the Jewish traditions in an attempt to hold to the essentials of Judaism. At the same time it cautiously reinterprets the Law in order to make it relevant for modern thought and culture. CONSERVATIVE Jews are very progressive and active in the intellectual community.

Judaism also has its mystical and esoteric school of thought known as the CABALA (other spellings: CABBALA, CABBALAH or KABBALAH).  Practitioners of this PANTHEISTIC system seek a mystical experience of oneness with the cosmic whole.

Judaism, then, covers a wide range of beliefs and practices. There is nothing one must believe in order to be a Jew. In fact, there is a rapidly increasing secularization of Jews today. More and more of the Jewish population is moving away from all forms of Jewish religious practices. This has led to confusion in defining what makes a person Jewish. The Biblical teaching is that the Jews are a race of people, descendants of Abraham through Jacob.


Judaism essentially denies the sin NATURE and minimizes man’s need for redemption. Repentance (Turning BACK to God) is ALL that is needed when one fails to live according to the Law.

Most expressions of Judaism are built upon culture and traditions. Practice is usually emphasized MORE THAN BELIEF. It is an ETHICAL system and a WAY OF LIFE with a transcendent God in the background.

The ONLY and KEY issue is THE PERSON and WORK of JESUS of NAZERETH, who claimed to be the Messiah and whose life fulfilled many messianic prophecies. Christians can use many Old Testament messianic texts to support the New Testament claims about Jesus BEING THE CHRIST. The Old Testament tells where the messiah would be born, when he would be cut off, and how and WHY He would die. Concentrate on Isaiah 53.

Note that the first Christians were Jews. JESUS WAS A JEW. Most of the New Testament was written by Jews. Christianity has erroneously been pictured as a GENTILE religion. Jews often think that to be “converted” to Christianity, they must give up their Jewishness and become Gentiles. The New Testament; However, teaches that the great divide is between non-Christian and Christian – not Jew and Gentile. There are gentile Christians and there are Hebrew Christians. A Jew does not have to abandon his or her heritage to become Christian.

When we deal with Jews, FOCUS on the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death and the FACT of His RESURRECTION. The Old Testament makes it clear that God has chosen blood to be the means for the
forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 16 and 17). Isaiah 53 tells us the Messiah HAD TO DIE to provide ONCE-FOR-ALL blood sacrifice for sin.  Rabbinic teaching has traditionally held that there must be two
messiahs: Messiah, the Son of Joseph (a suffering Saviour who would die), and Messiah, the Son of David (A victorious King who would establish the messianic kingdom on earth). The New Testament resolves
this Old Testament paradox by combining the two Messiahs into one Person who comes two times.

Christians acknowledge the FACT that Christ came once to be, as John the Baptist stated, “the Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the World.” We also KNOW that the FACTS of the RESURRECTION stand on their OWN HISTORIC MERIT regardless of anyone’s belief in them. This being true – Christians are to witness to all “living creatures” and this certainly includes the Jewish People.

Computers For Christ – San Jose