The Survival of Judaism

Religion exists in our lives for two main reasons, being support and order. We need a psychological crutch to depend on in times of need, and the order that maintains our beliefs also maintains society and how we treat each other. Judaism, one of the world's oldest faiths, has provided this support and order for over five thousand years mainly because of the tightly knitted structure of the Jewish community.

Judaism believes in one God, the Creator, omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (existing everywhere all the time). However, an important part of this belief is that although God has the power to do whatever He wishes, He usually holds back His power and gives people the freedom to choose whether they will do good or evil. Jews also believe in tolerance for other religions, as there are other paths to God. They also see that warfare will end in nothing but destruction and that peace is God's way.

Throughout history the Jews have been harassed and persecuted, starting from the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Roman emperor Nero up until the Holocaust under Adolf Hitler. This has left the Jewish population without a true home country and without a true government, so the only thing that keeps the people alive is their religion. This is perhaps the best explanation for the deep emphasis on Judaism and regulation. As Judaism is practiced in the home and then in the synagogue, it is no wonder why the synagogues are where the Jewish law is interpreted and carried out, much like a small state in itself.

Judaism is not only just a religion, but over time it has derived into a culture and a lifestyle by itself. In Basic Judaism, Milton Steinberg writes that in Jewish civilization, there are seven strands that weave together to form the complex rope of Judaism:
1. A doctrine between God and mankind;
2. A morality for the individual and society;
3. A regimen of ceremonies and practices;
4. A law to obey and to enforce;
5. A sacred text;
6. Institutions - synagogues - for the people to unite religiously and socially,
7. The people of Israel, perhaps the most important strand of all.

The home has always been the true center of Judaism, for mothers teach their children the prayers and way of life at a very young age. Eventually the children join the rest of the community at the synagogue, and their lives are already centered around their faith so they can not be broken easily. Synagogues are also small in size and many in number, so to destroy each and every one is impossible. This is the secret to the religion's survival in times of persecution.

The synagogue's role is just as important as that of the home. David Aronson, in Living the Jewish Life, states that "it is and has always been the heart and mind of Judaism." Synagogues were established shortly after the destruction of the Temple, and since then have become a bet ha-t'filah, a bet ha-k'neset, and a bet ha-midrash, meaning a "house of prayer," a "house of assembly," and a "house of study."

The Mitzvoth - better known as the Ten Commandments - accompanied by the Torah and the Talmud as well as many others, are the main sources from which rules and restrictions of Jewish life are derived. The contents of these texts also provide for the social rules and expectations of Jews in the community as well as actual laws to be enforced in Jewish courts. Jews study these texts along with various prayers - all written in Hebrew - for different times of day and special occasions, and these contribute to the deep rooting of the Jewish faith within the individual as well as the entire community.

Judaism has countless rituals and ceremonies that take place everyday, and special holidays are huge in number. However, the most important of them all is Shabbat, or the Sabbath, every Saturday. Shabbat is a day of peace and bliss at the home where the family comes together in prayer. As mentioned in Examining Religions: Judaism by Arye Forta, there are certain things that Jews are forbidden to do, which mainly involve changing - creating, moving, or destroying - things. This is done in the belief that God rested on the seventh day and created nothing new (Genesis 2:1-3). In times of turmoil, Shabbat would be used to discuss with the family any pending problems that were presented at the synagogue earlier in the week. But in general Shabbat is meant to be a happy and peaceful day. Other equally important holidays include the New Year festival Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, Pesach or Passover, Hanukkah, the equivalent of Christmas, and Bar and Bat Mitzvah, the coming of age.

In general, Judaism does not place any specific roles on individuals, as it is believed that everyone has the same duties to God. However, the rabbi is often seen as the most important and the leader of the community. More scholar and counselor than priest, the rabbi is well learned in Hebrew texts and traditions. He is expected to encourage the community to be good Jews and to give advice to those in need of help. Of course, there are also special priests called shazan to lead the community in prayer, butchers known as sochet, and scribes or sofers amongst other specific tradesmen.

Each individual contributes to the well being of the community, for in each other they find support. This is how the Jews have kept together and survived all these centuries. Religion is their only means of unification, and so it has been incorporated into their daily lives. This in turn strengthens the ties that bind, in terms of faith and of society. And these regulations are what will preserve the Jewish faith for centuries to come.

Works Cited

Aronson, David. The Jewish Way of Life. United States: American Book - Stratford Press, Incorporated. 1957.
Forta, Arye. Examining Religions: Judaism. Madrid: Heinemann Educational Publishers. 1995.
Steinberg, Milton. Basic Judaism. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Incorporated. 1947.

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Copyright (c) 1998 by Gemma Truman
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For my final project in American Literature I chose to read and study Jewish-American literature, like that of Chaim Potok and Herman Wouk. I read The Promise and I Am the Clay by Potok, and later focused on Judaism as a religion and way of life. My teacher was most impressed. And to top it off, after this project I continued my studies on Judaism into an independent study. Now if only I can study Hebrew...