The Jewish religion is conceived as having originated with the divine call which bade Abraham leave his native land in order to become the father of the nation. Since then: Judaism has undergone many phases, absorbed and resisted many civilizations, and mill remains strong and vigorous after 4,000 years of history.
The Jewish religious experience is recorded in a series of sacred books; first and foremost among them is the Hebrew bible (first 24 books of the scriptures) which includes the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) as its focal point and the 613 commandments contained therein. Hand in hand with the scriptures came also their interpretations which were passed down by God to Moses and the nation of Israel; it is also referred to as the Oral Law and was later compiled into the Talmud; itself the fountain-head of commentaries and codes. Judaism views the body of Jewish law both scriptural and Rabbinic as sacred, eternal and immutable.
Judaism places the emphasis on practical religion rather than on dogma. The underlying principle of this premise is that first and foremost God created man so that through proper fulfillment of God’s will as enunciated in the Torah, he can elevate and permeate the world with Godliness. Right action rather than contemplation has been the central theme of Judaism. Notwithstanding the fact that contemplation does play a great part in us mystical tradition. It is noteworthy that schisms occurred in Judaism: not so much as a result of divergences in theology but from opposition to rules of conduct regulating the religious life.
The divine commandments are replete with religious significance made articulate in action rather than in words. The search for their deeper meaning fills the pages of many a philosophical and mystical tract, but what matters most is the religious fervor which the fulfillment of the divine commandments engendered in the hearts of simple, unsophisticated Jews throughout the ages.
That “God is one” is understood in terms of man’s surrender to God’s sovereign Will. Jewish philosophers and mystics interpreted the unity of God in terms of the Neoplatonic One, the absolute beyond “human comprehension”, However great emphasis is placed on the importance of respecting and honoring our fellow human being as the gateway to connect and unite with the divine.
Evil serves as a challenge to man’s own power for good by the exercise of his human potential for aiding God as it were in the act of revealing he Godliness inherent in every created being. The ultimate Jewish answer to the problem of evil is associated with the era of redemption and the coming of the messiah when evil will be eradicated forever.
It would appear that in spite of the considerable inroads which the modern age with its secularizing tendencies has made upon the Jewish way cf life, Jews still feel committed to their ancient faith. Judaism has been split into a variety of groups, ranging from strict orthodoxy, guardian of the unabridged tradition, to radical Reform.
Across the spectrum of Jewish denominations there remains a passionate affirmation of Judaism as a living faith destined to benefit not only Jews but the whole of the human race.