When learning about a religion one of the first questions people ask is: What do members of that religion believe? Although it is difficult to capture the beliefs of every single member of a faith, usually there are overarching tenets that most members of the group adhere to in some fashion. The same can be said of Judaism. However, it is important to note that Judaism does not have an official credo that all Jews must accept in order to be Jewish. Judaism is not a religion of absolutes.
While individual Jews have different views about things like kashrut and halahkah, in general most Jews believe in some form of the following:
Judaism is a monotheistic faith, meaning that Jews believe there is only One God. Often this God is beyond our ability to comprehend, but God is nevertheless present in our everyday lives. How individual Jews choose to understand this manifestation of the divine varies. Some connect with God through prayer, others see the divine in the majesty of the natural world, others may not think about God on a daily basis. Each individual's relationship with God is unique and personal.
Humankind Was Created In the Divine Image
Judaism teaches that every person (Jewish and non-Jewish) was created "b'tzelem Elohim," which is Hebrew for "in the image of God." For this reason every person is equally important and has an infinite potential to do good in the world. People have the freewill to make choices in their lives and each of us is responsible for the consequences of those choices.
Judaism believes that Jews are uniquely connected with each other. Regardless of where we live in the world, all Jews are part of a global Jewish community.
The Torah is Judaism's most important text. It contains stories and commandments that teach us about life and death. It contains the 10 Commandments as well as the 613 commandments (mitzvot). All Jews consider the 10 Commandments to be the most important commandments in the Torah, though not all Jews adhere to the 613 mitzvot (one of the main differences between the different branches of Judaism).
The Ten Commandments:
- I am the Lord your God
- You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence
- You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain
- Remember the day of shabbat to keep it holy
- Honor your father and your mother
- You shall not murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- Do not give false testimony against your neighbor
- You shall not covet your fellow's possessions
The Land of Israel
The Torah tells us that the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) was part of the covenant made between God and the Jewish People at Mount Sinai. However, there is no one view of Israel among modern day Jews. Some strongly support Israel, while others feel conflicted by the politics of the region. The only thing that can be said across the board is that Israel is part of every Jew's worldview, in one way or another.
Judaism teaches that one day a Messiah (a person from God) will unite the world and bring peace to humanity. The concept of the Messiah is not a central part of every Jew's belief system, but tradition does teach that the Messiah will be descended from the family of King David.
Judaism On One Foot - Summing Up Judaism
There is a story in the Talmud that is often told when someone is asked to summarize the essence of Judaism. During the first century B.C.E. a great rabbi named Hillel was asked to sum up Judaism while standing on one foot. He replied: "Certainly! What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary, now go and study." (Talmud Shabbat 31A.) Hence, at its core Judaism is concerned with the well-being of humanity. The particulars of every Jew's individual belief system is the commentary.