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The Star of David (Hebrew magen david "shield of David") is one of the symbols of Judaism.

Under Judaism (translation from Greek ἰουδαϊσμός ioudaismos, Hebrew יהדות jahadut ) one understands on the one hand the religion , the traditions and way of life , the philosophy and mostly also the cultures of the Jews (Judaism) and on the other hand the entirety of the Jews. The latter is also called Jewry .

The Jewish religion is the oldest of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions . It has a history of more than 3000 years in which it evolved. The Jewish monotheism is called "ethical monotheism": "In Judaism God is the epitome of ethical will."

Historically, a distinction is made between Ashkenazi , Mizrachian and Sephardic Judaism. Since the breakthrough of the Jewish Enlightenment, there have been additional religious subdivisions into Reform Judaism , conservative and Orthodox Judaism with different currents.

The basis of Judaism is the Torah (here German “law”), these are the five books of Moses, which form the most important part of the Hebrew Bible ( Tanakh ) for Judaism , as well as the rabbinical writings explaining the Torah, traditionally known as the “oral Torah "Are designated.

In 2010 there were around 13.5 to 15 million Jews worldwide, most of them in Israel and the United States of America . 10 to 15 percent of them are classified as belonging to Jewish Orthodoxy.

Concept history

The German term "Jew" goes back to the Latin term judaeus , then the Greek term ioudaios and Aramaic and Persian equivalents back to the Hebrew word yehudi . This initially referred to the members of the tribe of Judah and the inhabitants of its territory. During the reign of David (about 1000 B.C.E.) in Hebron, this area was called the "Kingdom of Judah" ( 2 Sam 5 :LUT ). Under Rehoboam it was split open. The southern part was called Judah , the northern part Israel . The expression “Judean” was used both for members of the tribe as well as other inhabitants, for example also for members of the tribe of Benjamin ( 1 Kings 12 : 16-21  LUT ). The northern kingdom of Israel only existed until 722 BC. After that, yehudi and its equivalents were used indiscriminately, also as a designation for members of a specific religion ( mityahadim , cf. Est 8.17  LUT ); religious, political and national aspects cannot be differentiated terminologically. This usage is - manifest u. also later in New Testament texts - mainly external names; As a self-designation, yisrael (people of Israel) predominates , presumably in order to stabilize national identity through memory of early history.

According to halachic law, a Jew is anyone who is the child of a Jewish mother or who has properly converted to Judaism ( Gijur ). Since the middle of the 20th century in particular, this definition has not been accepted in some cases, for the following reasons, among others:

  • Conversion requires a commitment to the foundations of the Jewish faith and compliance with its rules. However, many secular Jews do not obey this.
  • The National Socialists regarded six million people as Jews and murdered them, of whom hundreds of thousands would not have been counted as Jews according to halachic law (see the National Socialist terms " half-Jew " and " Jewish mongrel )".
  • Many residents of today's State of Israel are brought up in the spirit of a Jewish national consciousness and, for example, have to do military service for Israel, but are not considered Jews according to the halachic definition.

ID cards speak of le'om, which includes can be represented with " nationality ". In 1958 a controversy in the Israeli cabinet under Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion came to a head as to how this term should be used: in the sense of an identification with the State of Israel or in the sense of halachic law. Ben-Gurion had reports obtained from Jewish scholars, the majority of whom were in favor of following the halachic definition. In 1968 , the Israeli Supreme Court proposed that the state government amend the law in response to a lawsuit brought by Benjamin Shalit , chief psychologist in the Israeli army. After the government did not comply, the court ruled on January 23, 1970 by five out of nine votes that what was credibly stated by the applicant should be included in the passport. Some of the judges noted that le'om was non-religiously definable. This judgment would not have had any further consequences, e.g. B. for marriages before rabbinical courts. After massive protests, however, the law was changed again in line with the halachic definition; conversions before non-Orthodox rabbis were also permitted.

A Jew according to the halachic definition mentioned above could also follow another religion. Such cases, however, have been debated controversially for centuries, also in connection with " apostates ".

Another problematic case is conversion for non-altruistic reasons, for example for the purpose of a valid marriage. According to halachic law, this should be invalid. However, it was also proposed to allow conversions in which there was just no knowledge of the Jewish regulations, but these were not explicitly rejected.

Who are the Jews?

As a rule, those who identify themselves as Jews are counted in the statistics . Norman Solomon defines Jews as "all members of that group today who relate positively to the traditions defined by the rabbis of the Talmud ". In Orthodox and Conservative or Liberal Judaism, a Jew is defined as anyone who has Jewish parents or who has converted to Judaism . If only one parent is Jewish, then according to Jewish law based on Mishnah and Talmud ( Halachah ), membership is based on the mother; Children of Jewish fathers who do not have a Jewish mother must convert to Judaism in order to be considered Jews. In American Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the United States since the end of the 20th century , every child is considered to be a Jew who has a Jewish parent, provided that they are raised in a Jewish way.

Jewish history

In the stories of the Torah, the five books of Moses, the story of the people of Israel begins with the covenant that God made with Abraham ( Genesis 12  LUT ). The Jewish tradition sees Abraham as the founder of monotheism , the belief in a single, invisible God. God continues this covenant with Abraham's son Isaac and his son Jacob , who has been called Yisrael since the wrestling match on the east bank of the river Jabbok ( Gen 32  LUT ) .

Jacob had twelve sons who are considered the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel ( Israelites ). These move from Canaan , today's Palestine or Israel, to Egypt, where their descendants are enslaved by the Pharaoh. The Hebrews led by Moshe (Moses) are freed from this slavery by God, who reveals the written and oral Torah to them on Mount Sinai . Although the people often fail in this task, which the later prophets repeatedly complain about, the covenant with God remains unbroken.

The history of Judaism in Iraq began with the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC . In the Hellenistic period developed in the Jewish diaspora , the Hellenistic Judaism . At least since the conversion of the Jewish kingdom into a Roman province in the 1st century AD under Tiberius , the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus under Emperor Vespasian and the Hadrianic re-establishment under the name of Aelia Capitolina , the Jews finally dispersed and settled as a regionally tangible and cohesive people in large part within the Roman Empire . Another significant part lived in the Persian Empire , where in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages the intellectual focus lay with the academies of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia , at that time part of the Sassanid Empire .

The remaining followers of Judaism spread to other parts of Europe in the High Middle Ages , in the late Middle Ages , in the course of the plague pogroms and the expulsion, for example from France, especially to Eastern Europe, further to the Islamic world and then, expulsion from Spain in 1492, back to the present day Palestine as well as the New World. Jews were often persecuted, but in some places they were able to establish themselves as an integral part of local societies while maintaining faith and tradition .

Jewish religion

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 in the world today ( theism ). A few Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages ( Gersonides , Abraham ibn Daud ), influenced by Kabbalah and New Aristotelianism , and of the modern times, Harold Kushner (especially after the Holocaust ), however, tend towards a more distant positioning of this God ( Deism ), who removed from his creation .

The Jewish religion is based on the religious traditions of the Jews . These traditions are divided into a written teaching, which is set down in the Torah (written Torah), and an oral teaching, also: oral Torah, which is discussed in the Talmud . Historically, this is divided into Mishnah and Gemara . Halacha , the Jewish law, is based on both . The Halacha is also based on rabbinical laws and responses that have been made over time. Numerous attempts have been made over the centuries to summarize the Halacha; one of the most famous examples of this is the Shulchan Aruch .


The term Jewish faith refers to the religious traditions of Judaism in recent history, in the biblical and pre-biblical times and in the diversity of its currents. The Judaism of the present that carries , preserves and teaches these religious traditions is called rabbinical . Often this term is used by the in the sense of Jewish faith principles speaking, in English-speaking Jewish principles of faith are called. In contrast to Christianity , however, these are not generally defined and therefore not dogmatic. Belief in the existence of God is also not dogmatic in Judaism, in contrast to the Islamic creed, the Shahāda, for example . Judaism has no catechism .

Jewish beliefs

In the history of Judaism, a number of fundamental beliefs arose, the observance of which Jews are more or less expected to be in harmony with the Jewish religious community and beliefs, the exact number of which, however, is not certain and is still debated. The severity and scope of these demands vary among different Jewish communities. See currents of Judaism , particularly Orthodox Judaism , Liberal Judaism, and Reconstructionism . Rabbi Josef Albo counts three beliefs in the Sefer ha-Ikkarim .

Maimonides formulated some basic principles of the Jewish faith in both halachic and religious-philosophical works, including the belief in God as the highest and first cause and creator of everything, in God's unity, incorporeality and others. This codification was widely received. Other authors of Jewish scholasticism before and after Maimonides make similar emphases.

It is also pointed out that a whole people who had just become a witness of God at the cutting of the covenant on Mount Sinai (in Christianity: about a dozen apostles , in Islam only Mohammed, also with the Mormons only one person, their founder ).

In contrast to Christianity and Islam, Judaism refrained from proselytizing people of different faiths, with a brief exception in ancient history . Judaism does not regard it as a sin or, for example, as an exclusion criterion for the conception of salvation through God (see: Resurrection ), if non-Jews and other peoples maintain their deviating religions or beliefs. Judaism is of the opinion that members of other religions can also participate in the afterlife if they have led an ethical life. See Noachidian Commandments .

The circumcision of boys is an elementary commandment of Judaism and a constitutive characteristic of Jewish identity.

Religious leadership

Jewish communities are spiritually and legally headed by a rabbi . Sephardic Jews and the Karaites also refer to their spiritual leader as Chacham (sage). In Yemeni Jews the term Mori (my teacher) in use. The services are generally led by a cantor ( chasan ) or, more generally, by a prayer leader; a quorum or (Hebrew) minyan , i. H. the assembly of ten religiously adult Jewish persons (only men in Orthodoxy) is required. The general, secular leadership of a Jewish community, on the other hand, lies with a community board to be elected by the community members.

Religious currents in Judaism

There are various currents within religious Judaism at the present time. The groupings do not differ primarily, but also with regard to ideas of God and belief . A distinction is made between orthodox and non-orthodox Jewish currents. In a broader sense, the non-orthodox currents can also be described as progressive , reformed or liberal (whereby here liberal is not derived from political liberalism). The conservative Judaism that formed in the 19th century occupies a middle position between Orthodoxy and liberal Judaism .

One of the fundamental differences between Orthodox Judaism and the non-Orthodox currents is the understanding of the Revelation on Mount Sinai , whereby Orthodoxy is based on the literal meaning of the Torah received from Moses as an absolutely valid instruction. Non-Orthodox Judaism does not understand this revelation as absolute, but as an ongoing process of God's dialogue with his people, in time and in cultures. In the context of this historical-critical interpretation of Revelation, all non-orthodox currents of Judaism emerged. Since they all emphasize development, they belong to progressive Judaism in the broadest sense. In the narrower sense, progressive Judaism includes all groups of Reform Judaism that have come together in the World Union for Progressive Judaism .

All religious Jewish currents of the present have their origin in the impulses of intellectual history, especially in Germany and Europe from the end of the 18th century. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the focus of the scientific and theological development of Judaism has shifted to the USA. The contributions from Germany to the development of Jewish thought and spiritual life after the Shoah are insignificant. This is slowly developing, however, with the immigration of Jewish people from the former USSR, from the diaspora of Eastern Europe and Asia.

Most important religious currents in Judaism:

Minor religious currents:

Secular currents:

Under the influence of some free churches, the group of so-called messianic Jews (self-designation) or modern Jewish Christians , who profess Christianity , emerged in the USA . Most of these are evangelical converted Jews who hold on to their Jewish identity and maintain a few Jewish traditions and are mainly found in the USA. According to the understanding of all other currents of Judaism (orthodox, conservative, liberal, reformed) in the religious sense, “Messianic” Judaism is not Judaism, since its interpretation of tradition is Christian. This is where self-perception and external perception differ.

Current context

For thousands of years, Judaism has often been exposed to religious, ideological and political hostility, as well as pogroms and persecution. The Shoah , on the other hand, is unique in history , the attempt to systematically and quasi-industrial extermination of the “ Jewish race ” by National Socialist Germany.

In 1934 there were 17 million Jewish people in the world. Six million people who had previously been classified as "Jews" by the National Socialists fell victim to the Shoah. After the collapse of the Third Reich, this accelerated the implementation of Zionist aspirations and in 1948 led to the establishment and international recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish home.

Today's State of Israel is a secular democracy based on the Western model, but its domestic politics are still strongly religious in some areas. Civil marriage is still not possible in Israel, as family law is subject to the respective religious groups. In the event of a divorce , for example, this can lead to problems for women if the husband refuses to give the wife the letter of divorce (Get) . A compulsory detention can be ordered by the rabbinical court against a husband who permanently prevents a divorce for no reason , but according to traditional Jewish law, without a get, the wife who has been separated from her husband remains “bound” and cannot marry again.

Due to the special history and tradition of Judaism, there is a strong understanding of a Jewish identity that relates to a common fate and is not necessarily based on religion. Many Jews consider themselves to be British or US-Americans at the same time, and until 1933 also as patriotic Germans who fought in the First World War.

Division into ethnic groups

Genetic studies make it possible to distinguish populations that consider themselves Jewish according to religion and tradition to be divided into different ethnic groups. For example, today's Jewish population in Eastern Europe comes genetically from Caucasian, European and Semitic proportions.

A distinction is made primarily between the following ethnic groups:

Smaller groups (mostly counted among the Mizrahim) are:

The position of the following groups is controversial:

Historical Jewish groups

Almost all modern Jews follow the oral law contained in the Mishnah and Talmud ; they are called Rabbinic Judaism . There are different directions within rabbinic Judaism, such as Orthodox or Reform Judaism.

  • The small group of Karaites represents a split from the majority of Jews. They reject the teachings contained in the Mishnah and Talmud.
  • The Samaritans have a version of the Torah , the Memar Markah, as well as their own liturgy , laws and interpretative writings as holy scriptures . Much of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) is not considered to be inspired by them. In contrast to Judaism, the Psalter of the Samaritans has 155 psalms; Judaism and Christianity only know 150. They also reject the authority of the Mishnah and Talmud. There are only a few followers of the Samaritan religion left.

Jewish culture

The Jewish culture is in strong interaction with the cultures in which the respective Jewish community develops its cultural life, so that it can hardly be viewed in isolation. Religion plays a different role.

As a result of the division of European Jewry into Ashkenazi and Sephardim , two cultural areas, which also differ in language, have developed here.

See also: Sabbath , Jewish dietary laws , List of Jewish festivals , Jewish calendar , Jewish cuisine , Kippah , medicine in Jewish culture


Hebrew is the language of the oldest Jewish scriptures and was the colloquial language of the Jews during the ancient period of their independence. After centuries it was superseded by Aramaic as a colloquial language , but has remained the language of worship up to our day, and in some cases also the language of scholars. Aramaic is a language very similar to Hebrew, which also influenced the written Hebrew of later Jewish works. Some passages in the writings of the Tanach were already written in Aramaic, for example the book of Daniel changes from Hebrew to Aramaic. Jesus and his fellow Jews spoke Aramaic. The Bible of the Ethiopian Jews is written in Old Ethiopian .

In the Diaspora , Jews adopted the languages ​​of the countries in which they lived (see Jewish languages ). In some cases, due to historical and cultural circumstances, the Jewish communities have developed these languages ​​partly into autonomous ethnolects and partly into independent languages; Examples are:

In everyday life, the vast majority of Jews speak the language of the country in which they live; in Africa they also speak the language of their respective ethnicity. See also: African languages

The ivrith , which is spoken in Israel today, represents a successful revival of ancient Hebrew, which has been expanded to include a modern vocabulary and the grammar has also been adapted. Today it continues to evolve in living use like other languages.




Reform Judaism


  • Peter Schäfer: The birth of Judaism from the spirit of Christianity, five lectures on the emergence of rabbinic Judaism. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2010, ISBN 3-16-150256-6 .
  • Monika , Udo Tworuschka : Religions of the world. Basics, development and importance in the present. Munich 1996, ISBN 3-572-00805-0 .



  • Julius Carlebach, Michael Brocke (eds.): The rabbis of the emancipation period in the German, Bohemian and Greater Poland countries 1781–1871 (Biographical Handbook of Rabbis 1). Edited by Carsten Wilke . KG Saur, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-598-24870-9 .
  • Julius Carlebach, Michael Brocke (Hrsg.): The Rabbis in the German Empire 1871-1945 (Biographisches Handbuch der Rabbiner 2). Edited by Katrin Nele Jansen, Jörg H. Fehrs, Valentina Wiedner. KG Saur, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-598-24874-1 .
  • Salomon Wininger : Great Jewish National Biography. 1925-1936.

reference books

Other literature

  • Leonard H. Ehrlich : Questionability of the Jewish existence. Philosophical research on the modern fate of the Jews (Fermenta philosophica). Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1993, ISBN 3-495-47750-0 .
  • Max Weber : Collected essays on the sociology of religion , Volume 3: The ancient Judaism. Tübingen 1921, ISBN 3-8252-1490-7 .


Web links

Portal: Judaism  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of Judaism
Commons : Judaism  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Judaica  - Sources and full texts
Wikiquote: Judaism  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Judaism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Judaism.online . German-language portal on the subject of Judaism from a Jewish-Orthodox perspective, with many rabbis as authors. Read Torah online, current commentaries on Jewish life, Jewish law.

Individual evidence

  1. Renate Wahrig-Burfeind (Ed.): Brockhaus Wahrig German Dictionary . Wissenmedia, Gütersloh 2011, ISBN 978-3-577-07595-4 , p. 794 .
  2. Judenheit, die , Duden online , accessed on October 29, 2016.
  3. Louis Jacobs: Judaism . In: Michael Berenbaum, Fred Skolnik (Ed.): Encyclopaedia Judaica . 2nd Edition. tape 11 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007, pp. 511-520 ( online: Gale Virtual Reference Library - English).
  4. Gerd Theißen, Annette Merz: The historical Jesus . Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1996, ISBN 978-3-525-52198-4 , p. 126 .
  5. Norman Solomon: Torah from Heaven. The Reconstruction of Faith . Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, Oxford 2012, ISBN 978-1-906764-13-5 , pp. 19-31 (English).
  6. Cf. on this and on the previous YM Grintz: Art. Jew, Semantics. In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd edition, Vol. 11, pp. 253 f.
  7. Grintz, 253.
  8. See Mishnah Kiddushin 3:12, 68b; Yadayim, Issurei Biah 15: 3-4. Maimonides : Mishneh Torah, Kedushah, Issurei Biah 12–15, esp. 12.7; 15.3-6. Shulchan Aruch , Eben Ha-Eser 4,5; 19th
  9. Above and below closely based on Raphael Posner: Art. Jew, Halakhic Definition. In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd Edition, Vol. 11, pp. 254-255.
  10. See for example Talmud, Mishnah, Berakhot 30b; Keritot 9a; Yevamot 46a-b.
  11. See the documentation in Sidney B. Hoenig, Baruch Litvin (ed.): Jewish Identity: Modern Responsa and Opinions on The Registration of Children of Mixed Marriages - David Ben-Gurion's Query to Leaders of World Jewry. Philip Feldheim, New York 1965.
  12. Above paragraph from Posner, 254.
  13. See Posner, 254 f.
  14. See for example J. Blidstein: Who Is Not A Jew? The Medieval Discussion. In: Israel Law Review 11/3 (1976), 369-390; Edward Fram: Perception and Reception of Repentant Apostates in Medieval Ashkenaz and Premodern Poland. In: AJS Review 21/2 (1996), pp. 299-339.
  15. Cf. Posner, 255 with reference to Moshe Feinstein .
  16. Norman Solomon: Judaism. A short introduction (=  Reclams Universal Library . No. 18653 ). 5th edition. Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-15-018653-4 , pp. 12 f . (Translation from English. Original title: Judaism).
  17. Yehoshua M. Grintz, Raphael Posner: Jew . In: Michael Berenbaum, Fred Skolnik (Ed.): Encyclopaedia Judaica . 2nd Edition. tape 11 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007, pp. 253-255 ( online: Gale Virtual Reference Library - English).
  18. ^ Dana Evan Kaplan: Reform Judaism . In: Michael Berenbaum, Fred Skolnik (Ed.): Encyclopaedia Judaica . 2nd Edition. tape 17 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007, pp. 172 f . ( online: Gale Virtual Reference Library - English).
  19. See e.g. B. the first of the 13 Iqqarim, Misc. Commentary on Sanhedrin, X; the beginning of Sefer ha-Mitzvoth; Mishneh Torah, 1st book Sefer ham-Madda.
  20. ^ Statement by Dr. Dieter Graumann on a criminal complaint against a mohel. Central Council of Jews in Germany , August 22, 2012, accessed on January 6, 2020 .
  21. Nicole Sagener: Where does the origin of the European Jews lie? In: Wissenschaft Aktuell. January 18, 2013, accessed January 6, 2020 . English original: Eran Elhaik: The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses . In: Genome Biology and Evolution . tape 5 , no. 1 . Oxford University Press, Jan 2013, ISSN  1759-6653 , pp. 61–74 , doi : 10.1093 / gbe / evs119 (English).
  22. Cf. Nathanael Riemer: M. Brocke et al. (Ed.): Die Rabbiner im Deutschen Reich 1871-1945. In: H-Soz-Kult . March 17, 2010, accessed January 6, 2020 . Review of Michael Brocke, Julius Carlebach (Hrsg.): Die Rabbiner im Deutschen Reich 1871-1945 (=  Biographisches Handbuch der Rabbis . Volume 2 ). Saur, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-598-24874-0 .