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Judaism One Of The World's Oldest Religious Traditions

1590 words - 6 pages

Judaism - One of the World's Oldest Religious Traditions

The terms Judaism and religion do not exist in premodern Hebrew. The
Jews spoke of Torah, God's revealed instruction to Israel, which
mandated both a worldview and a way of life-Halakhah. Halakhah derives
from the Hebrew word "to go" and has come to mean the "way" or "path."
It encompasses Jewish law, custom, and practice. Premodern Judaism, in
all its historical forms, thus constituted (and traditional Judaism
today constitutes) an integrated cultural system encompassing the
totality of individual and communal existence. It is a system of
sanctification in which all is to be subsumed under God's rule-that
is, under divinely revealed models of cosmic order and lawfulness.
Christianity originated as one among several competing Jewish
ideologies in 1st-century Palestine, and Islam drew in part on Jewish
sources at the outset. Because most Jews, from the 7th century on,
have lived within the cultural sphere of either Christianity or Islam,
these religions have had an impact on the subsequent history of

Judaism originated in the land of Israel (also known as Palestine) in
the Middle East. Subsequently, Jewish communities have existed at one
time or another in almost all parts of the world, a result of both
voluntary migrations of Jews and forced exile or expulsions (see
Diaspora). In the late 1990s the total world Jewish population was
14.1 million, of whom 5.9 million lived in the United States, 4.6
million in Israel, and 700,000 each in France and Russia, the four
largest centers of Jewish settlement. About 500,000 Jews lived in
Ukraine, 350,000 in Canada, 300,000 in the Great Britain, 250,000 in
Argentina, and 100,000 in South Africa. These figures indicate that 42
percent of the Jewish population resides in North America, followed by
Asia with 29 percent, Europe (including Russia) with 18 percent, Latin
America with 8 percent, Africa with 2 percent, and Oceania with 1


As a rich and complex religious tradition, Judaism has never been
monolithic. Its various historical forms nonetheless have shared
certain characteristic features. The most essential of these is a
radical monotheism, that is, the belief that a single, transcendent
God created the universe and continues providentially to govern it.
Undergirding this monotheism is the teleological conviction that the
world is both intelligible and purposive, because a single divine
intelligence stands behind it. Nothing that humanity experiences is
capricious; everything ultimately has meaning. The mind of God is
manifest to the traditional Jew in both the natural order, through
creation, and the social-historical order, through revelation. The
same God who created the world revealed himself to the Israelites at

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