Jewish religion

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Torah scroll with jad (pointer)

The Jewish religion is one of the great popular religions . Their teaching is universalistic - in other words: related to all people on earth - in fact it is exclusively linked to the ethnic-religious group of Jews . It is based on the religious traditions of the Jewish people and - since it goes back to the prophet Moses - is also referred to as the Mosaic religion . These traditions are divided into the written and the oral ( Mishnah , Talmud , Shulchan Aruch etc.) Torah. Although Judaism is not a large religious community with around 13.5 million followers (in comparison: Christianity around 2.1 billion, Islam around 1.3 billion), it is spread all over the world. Christianity and Islam are based on the traditions of Judaism recorded in the Torah. These three world religions are assigned to the Abrahamic , monotheistic religions .

The written teaching

According to the Jewish religion , Moses received the entire Torah from God ( YHWH , El , Adonai ) on Sinai . This consists of written and oral teaching. The written Torah (also called the “Five Books of Moses”: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) describes the covenant that God made with human beings and especially with the Jewish people. According to the Jewish doctrine, this covenant contains 613 Mitzvot (German: Commandments). These mitzvot determine the entire life of a devout Jew.

Oral teaching

According to the Jewish faith, Moses wrote the Ten Words on Sinai ( Hebrew עשרת הדיברות aseret ha-dibberot ) obtained from YHWH . They are formulated as a direct speech from God to his people, the Israelites , and summarize his will for behavior towards him and his fellow men. They are laid down as a series of commandments and prohibitions (Hebrew mitzvot ) of the God of Israel (YHWH) in the Tanach , the Hebrew Bible . It was passed down orally as a teaching for centuries by scholars and was only set down in writing in the Mishnah by Yehuda ha-Nasi (usually simply called Rabbi) around 220 AD .

This Mishnah forms the basis of the Talmud , in which rabbis' discussions about the Mishnah from several centuries were recorded. This part is called Gemara in the Talmud .

In addition to the Talmud (which consists of Mishnah and Gemara) all other later works by rabbis are also counted as oral teaching.

See also: Shulchan Aruch

The 613 Mitzvot (Commandments)

The Torah contains numerous mitzvot (German commandments ) to the Jewish people, which every Jew must observe at all times.

In the Talmud , the number of these mitzvot is given as 613, without listing them. Only later scholars have fixed these 613 Mitzvot in their works (the Ten Commandments are part of it). These 613 mitzvoting are divided into 248 commandments (according to the parts of the human body) and 365 prohibitions (according to the days of the year).

The best known work is Sefer HaMitzwot by Maimonides .

The Jewish Faith

Faith is not of central importance in Judaism , but, like other areas of life, is derived from doctrine and here in particular from the 613 Mitzvot . Nevertheless, various scholars have tried again and again to codify the Jewish faith or to formulate principles of the Jewish faith .

The Jewish religious tradition is a monotheistic religion whose God is also referred to as the God of Israel. In the orthodox understanding, this god is seen as the creator of the universe, who is still active today in the world (theism). A few Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages (Gersonides, Abraham Ibn Daud, influenced by Kabbalah and New Aristotelianism) and the modern age, especially after the Holocaust (Harold Kushner, William E. Kaufman , Milton Steinberg) tend to take a more distant position this God ( deism ) who has distanced himself from his creation.

In ancient Judaism, it was imagined that after death a person would enter a shadowy world, the Sheol (שאול), and continue to live there far from God. However, this life is not real life. It is therefore particularly important for a devout Jew to continue to live in his descendants.

Only in the book of Daniel, probably one of the most recent books of the Tanakh , are there references to “eternal life” with God: “Many who sleep underground will wake up, some to eternal life, others to eternal disgrace and Shame ”(Dan 12,2).

Life after death was controversial among Jewish scholars in Jesus' day. Today the belief that there is a resurrection of the dead is common in Judaism. In particular in Orthodox Judaism there is also the idea of ​​reincarnation.

The Jewish expectation of salvation is “earthly” shaped, which is also shown in the Messiah ideas . It aims at earthly justice and peace ( shalom ).

The Jewish year

Starting from the Torah, the years in Judaism are counted based on the creation of the world. The Jewish calendar is based on the moon ( lunar calendar ) when counting months , and since twelve moons are shorter than a solar year , this is offset by additional leap months. For this reason, the Jewish holidays always fall on different calendar days in the secular calendar.

The holidays

The Jewish year begins with Rosh Hashanah (New Year's Day), which is followed by Yom Kippur (German: Day of Atonement). One week after Yom Kippur, the Jews celebrate Sukkot (German: Feast of Tabernacles) and then in spring Passover (German: crossing, exiting), the festival of the Exodus from Egypt , which is followed by Shavuot (German: weeks) after seven weeks . These holidays all go back to the Torah. In addition, there are also public holidays, which were determined later by the rabbis . These include Purim (German: Lose) and Hanukkah (German: consecration).


Jewish holidays and festivals have a double character, which is also expressed in the different names they carry. They either have harvest names (harvest festival, reading festival) or historical names (hut festival , Passover). Even before Moses, the Israelites went into the desert to celebrate the feast of their God (Ex. 5: 3). From this one can conclude that it was probably an old custom to come together at least once a year for an annual festival to thank God and to pledge allegiance. In the first generations after the exodus from Egypt, these traditions were remembered and at the festivals also praised this God, who had apparently announced his power and grace for Israel to the mighty Egyptians. Over the centuries the number and character of the festivals changed. After the people settled in Canaan , the Jews were also a people with a peasant component. Therefore the festivals took on a more agricultural character. Little by little it became common that all men appeared before Yahweh three times a year. In the spring before the start of the harvest, in the summer after the harvest is over and in the autumn after the fruit and grape harvest is complete (Ex 23.14-17; 34.23) (Deut 16.16). They were not allowed to appear empty-handed and brought taxes from the harvest with them, which they sacrificed or consumed at the shrine. Only men were obliged to appear, but women and children were usually also taken.

The festivals of God (YHWH) thus had a double character, an historical and an agricultural one . They praised the God who had done such great miracles to Israel in the past, but also thanked the Lord of the land, who donated the goods of the earth in abundance year after year. All gifts, large and small, were attributed to God. The leaders and prophets of the people repeatedly admonished the Israelites not to forget the greater spiritual goods over their daily bread. One of the main ideas was that the people owed the goods of the land not to the primitive nature gods, who were countlessly revered in earlier times, but to their one and only god YHWH , the creator of heaven and earth.

The peasant life of the Israelite was in a certain way spiritualized, since one could say to oneself that sowing and reaping is also a part of divine life. Conversely, the exalted God also descended into the circle of natural life, not in such a way that he merged with nature, as was usually the case in antiquity , in the Canaanite cult of Baal or in the Greco-Roman mystery service , but as the king and father of his Gives food and clothing to faithful, humble servants and children .

See also: Jewish festivals , Jewish calendar

The fast days

Due to tragic events in the history of the Jewish people, the rabbis have established a few additional fast days in addition to Yom Kippur over time .

The day most dedicated to mourning in the Jewish year is Tisha beAv (9th day of the month of Av). According to tradition, on this day the first and second temples in Jerusalem were destroyed and the Jews were expelled from Spain by the Reconquista . Similar provisions apply to Tisha beAv as to Yom Kippur.

The smaller fasting days are Shiva Assar beTammus (17th Tammuz), Zom Gedalja (3rd Tishri) and Assara beTevet (10th Tevet ). These fasting days are also related to the destruction of the temples and Jerusalem.

In addition, the Jews fast one day before Purim , as do all the firstborn on the day before Passover .

Jewish life

Carl Spitzweg (around 1860): In the synagogue

Just like the year , the whole life of a devout Jew is based on the Torah .

On the eighth day after the birth of a boy, he is circumcised and this Brit Mila (circumcision covenant) is celebrated. Instead, the girls have an attribution in the synagogue . The firstborn must be triggered by Pidjon ha-Ben against a descendant of a priest.

Boys celebrate bar mitzvah on their 13th birthday and girls celebrate bat mitzvah on their twelfth birthday . From this moment on they are obliged to all 613 mitzvot in which they were introduced up to then.

A Jewish wedding mainly consists of the ketubba (marriage contract) and the ceremony that takes place at the handover. For this purpose, the bride and groom meet under the chuppah ( canopy ) and the groom, accompanied by seven brachot (blessings), gives the bride the ketubba and a gold wedding ring. Then a glass is crushed in memory of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the celebration begins.

When a Jew dies, the Chewra Kadisha (burial brotherhood) takes care of the dead and ensures that the burial is as quick as possible. This is followed by a 30-day mourning period, which allows the relatives to slowly say goodbye to the deceased.

See also: Jewish cemetery and death (Judaism)

The different directions of Judaism

The different directions have different ways of dealing with the Jewish tradition. Within orthodoxy , written and oral teaching are understood as the revelation of God and are therefore timeless.

In Reform Judaism , on the other hand, revelation is understood as an ongoing process, which is why changes to the tradition are possible and desirable. For this reason, Reform Judaism today differs from Orthodoxy in many ways, so women can also recite the Torah publicly and wear tefillin or tallit .

Since the changes in Reform Judaism went too far for some, there was a countermovement and conservative Judaism has moved closer to orthodoxy.

There are also numerous other directions, each with their own view of tradition.

See also: Religious currents in Judaism

The State of Israel

Many Jews have lived in the Jewish Diaspora since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 . But still Jews lived in the Holy Land ( Alter Yishuv ). Since the emergence of modern Zionism at the end of the 19th century and the re-establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948, there have been different views among ultra-Orthodox Jews as to whether the state may be founded by the people according to the Jewish rite. So represents z. B. the group " Neturei Karta ", which stands on the far right in the Orthodox camp, strictly believes that a man-made Jewish state must not exist, since the return of the Jews from the diaspora can only be directed by the Messiah.

Due to the successes of the state, especially since the Six Day War , some of the religious Jews (school of Rabbi A. Kook ) are of the opinion that the messianic era began.

In Israel, all religious holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah (New Year Festival), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Purim etc. and historical ones - Yom HaScho'a (Holocaust Remembrance Day ), Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day for the Fallen) and Yom HaAtzma'ut ( Independence Day) are celebrated as national holidays.

In Israel there is the Supreme Rabbinate, consisting of two rabbis: an Ashkenazi and a Sephardic. In Israel, only religious weddings ("Hupa") are possible.

See also



  • Chajm Halevy Donin: Jewish life. An Introduction to Jewish Change in the Modern World. Publishing house and book distribution Morascha, Zurich 1987.
  • Sylvie Anne Goldberg (ed.): Dictionnaire encyclopédique du judaïsme. Robert Laffont, Paris 1996, ISBN 2-221-08099-8 .
  • Samson Raphael Hirsch :חורב. Attempts at Jissroel's duties in the diversion. Initially for Jissroéls thinking youths and virgins. Johann Friedrich Hammerich, Altona 1837.
  • Johann Maier : Judaism from A to Z: Faith, History, Culture. Herder, Freiburg 2001, ISBN 3-451-05169-9 .
  • Leo Prijs : The world of Judaism. Religion, history, way of life. CH Beck, Munich, 4th edition 1996, ISBN 3-406-36733-X .
  • Walter Rothschild : 99 questions about Judaism. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh, 3rd edition 2005, ISBN 3-579-06423-1 .
  • Günter Stemberger : Jewish religion. CH Beck, Munich, 6th edition 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-45003-7 .

Jewish religion in everyday life

  • Maurice-Ruben Hayoun: Le Judaïsme moderne . Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1989, ISBN 2-13-042326-4 .
  • Elijahu Kitov: The Jewish Year . Publishing house and book sales Morascha, Zurich 1987–1990.
    • Vol. 1: Rosh Chodesch, Hanukkah, Tu Bishwat, Purim . 1987.
    • Vol. 2: Passover and the omer time . 1987.
    • Vol. 3: Shavuot and Tischa Beaw . 1987.
    • Vol. 4: Elul and the Holidays of Tishri . 1990.
  • Israel Meir Lau : How Jews Live. Faith, everyday life, celebrations. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh, 8th edition 2001, ISBN 3-579-02155-9 .
  • Heinrich Simon : Life in Judaism. Personal celebrations and memorable days. With an essay “The meaning and goal of human life from a Jewish perspective” (= Jewish miniatures , volume 8). New Synagogue Foundation Berlin, Centrum Judaicum. Hentrich and Hentrich, Teetz 2004, ISBN 3-933471-66-4 .
  • Simon Ph. De Vries: Jewish rites and symbols . Fourier, Wiesbaden 1981 (and other editions).

History of religion

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. “(...) If one can characterize other religions as a relationship between man and God, then it is true of Judaism that one must see it as a relationship between man and the Torah and God. The Jew never stands alone before the face of God; the Torah is always with him. (…) The Torah is not wisdom, but the fate of Israel, not our literature, but our being. (...) “ Abraham Joshua Heschel : God Seeks Man - A Philosophy of Judaism; in the series: Information Judentum, Volume 2, edited by Zehuda Aschkenasy, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich and Heinz Kremers, Neukirchener Verlag, 1992, p. 129.
  2. Salomon Almekias-Siegl: Why the Zizit Commandment stands for all 613 commandments. June 13, 2017, Jüdische Allgemeine October 31, 2019 - 2nd Cheschwan 5780 ( [1] on Accessed October 31, 2019)
  3. “(...) Judaism is a religion of history, a religion of time . The God of Israel was primarily not experienced in the natural process. He spoke through historical events, deities of other peoples connected with places or things, the God of the prophets is the God of events: the liberator from bondage [note: from slavery in Egypt], the revelator of the Torah. It shows itself in historical events and not in things or in places. (...) “ Abraham Joshua Heschel : God Seeks Man - A Philosophy of Judaism; in the series: Information Judentum, Volume 2, edited by Zehuda Aschkenasy, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich and Heinz Kremers, Neukirchener Verlag, 1992, p. 154.