1. Religion & Spirituality
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

All About Judaism

10 Of the Most Commonly Asked Questions About Judaism

By

All About Judaism
Getty Images/Ed Honowitz

1. What do Jews believe? What are the basic beliefs of Judaism? Judaism does not have a specific credo that Jews must accept in order to be considered Jewish. Nevertheless, there are a few overarching tenets that most Jews accept in some form. These include a belief in only One God, a belief that humanity was created in the Divine Image, a feeling of connection to the greater Jewish community and a belief in the pivotal importance of the Torah, our most holy text. Learn more about these and other Jewish beliefs in: What Do Jews Believe?

2. What does the term “chosen people” mean? The term “chosen” is one that has often been misinterpreted as a statement of superiority.  However, the Jewish concept of a “chosen people” has nothing to do with Jews being better than anyone else. Rather, it refers to God’s relationship with Abraham and the Israelites, as well as receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.  In both cases, the Jewish people were chosen to share the word of God with others. Learn more about the term “chosen people” in: What Does It Mean for Jews to Be the Chosen People?

3. What are the different branches of Judaism?  The various branches of Judaism are sometimes called denominations and they include: Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism and Humanistic Judaism. In addition to these official branches, there are of individual forms of Judaism (e.g. a person's individual practice) that are not affiliated with an overarching Jewish movement. Learn more about the denominations of Judaism in: Branches of Judaism.

4. What does it mean to be Jewish? Is Judaism a race, a religion or a nationality? Though some might disagree, many Jews believe that Judaism is not a race or nationality but rather a cultural and religious identity. Learn more about the concept of Judaism as a cultural and religious identity in: What is “Jewish?”

5. What is a Rabbi? A rabbi is the spiritual leader of a Jewish community. In Hebrew, the word “rabbi” literally means “teacher,” which illustrates how a rabbi is not only a spiritual leader but also an educator, role model and counselor. A rabbi performs many important functions in the Jewish community, such as officiating at weddings and funerals and leading High Holy Day services on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Learn more about the role of the rabbi in: What Is a Rabbi?

6. What is a synagogue? The synagogue is a building that serves as a house of worship for members of a Jewish community. Though the appearance of every synagogue is unique, they usually have certain features in common. For instance, most synagogues have a bimah (raised platform at the front of the sanctuary), an Ark (which contains the congregation’s Torah scrolls) and memorial boards where the names of loved ones who have passed on can be honored and remembered. Learn more about the Synagogue in: A Guide to the Synagogue

7. What is Judaism’s most sacred text? The Torah is Judaism’s holiest text. It contains the Five Books of Moses as well as the 613 commandments (mitzvot) and the Ten Commandments. The word “torah” means “to teach.” Learn more about this important text in: What Is the Torah?

8. What is the Jewish view of Jesus? Jews do not believe that Jesus was the messiah.  Rather Judaism views him as an ordinary Jewish man and preacher who lived during the Roman occupation of the Holy Land during the first century C.E. The Romans executed him - and also executed many other nationalistic and religious Jews - for speaking out against Roman authority. You can learn more about the Jewish view of Jesus in: Who Was Jesus?

9. What do Jews believe about the afterlife? Judaism does not have a definitive answer to the question of what happens after we die. The Torah, our most important text, does not discuss the afterlife at all. Instead it focuses on “Olam Ha Ze,” which means “this world” and reflects the importance of living a meaningful life here and now. Nevertheless, over the centuries possible descriptions of the afterlife have been incorporated into Jewish thought. From Gan Eden and Gehenna to Olam Ha Ba, learn more about the Jewish afterlife in: Jewish Views of the Afterlife.

10. Do  Jews believe in sin? In Hebrew the word for “sin” is “chet,” which literally means “missing the mark.” According to Judaism, when someone “sins” they have literally gone astray. Whether they are actively doing something wrong or even not doing something right, the Jewish concept of sin is all about leaving the correct path. There are three kinds of sin in Judaism: sins against God, sins against another person and sins against yourself. Learn more about the Jewish concept of sin in: Do Jews Believe in Sin?

  1. About.com
  2. Religion & Spirituality
  3. Judaism
  4. Judaism Basics
  5. All About Judaism

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.