Jewish faith and God
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The relationship with God
Jews believe that there is a single God who not only created the universe, but with whom every Jew can have an individual and personal relationship.
They believe that God continues to work in the world, affecting everything that people do.
The Jewish relationship with God is a covenant relationship. In exchange for the many good deeds that God has done and continues to do for the Jewish People…
- The Jews keep God’s laws
- The Jews seek to bring holiness into every aspect of their lives.
Judaism is the faith of a Community
Jews believe that God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world.
Jewish life is very much the life of a community and there are many activities that Jews must do as a community.
- For example, the Jewish prayer book uses WE and OUR in prayers where some other faiths would use I and MINE.
Jews also feel part of a global community with a close bond Jewish people all over the world. A lot of Jewish religious life is based around the home and family activities.
Judaism is a family faith
Judaism is very much a family faith and the ceremonies start early, when a Jewish boy baby is circumcised at eight days old, following the instructions that God gave to Abraham around 4,000 years ago.
Many Jewish religious customs revolve around the home. One example is the Sabbath meal, when families join together to welcome in the special day.
Who is a Jew?
Jews believe that a Jew is someone who is the child of a Jewish mother; although some groups also accept children of Jewish fathers as Jewish. A Jew traditionally can’t lose the technical ‘status’ of being a Jew by adopting another faith, but they do lose the religious element of their Jewish identity.
Someone who isn’t born a Jew can convert to Judaism, but it is not easy to do so.
Judaism means living the faith
Almost everything a Jewish person does can become an act of worship.
Because Jews have made a bargain with God to keep his laws, keeping that bargain and doing things in the way that pleases God is an act of worship.
And Jews don’t only seek to obey the letter of the law – the particular details of each of the Jewish laws – but the spirit of it, too.
A religious Jew tries to bring holiness into everything they do, by doing it as an act that praises God, and honours everything God has done. For such a person the whole of their life becomes an act of worship.
Being part of a community that follows particular customs and rules helps keep a group of people together, and it’s noticeable that the Jewish groups that have been most successful at avoiding assimilation are those that obey the rules most strictly – sometimes called ultra-orthodox Jews.
Note: Jews don’t like and rarely use the word ultra-orthodox. A preferable adjective is haredi, and the plural noun is haredim.
It’s what you do that counts…
Judaism is a faith of action and Jews believe people should be judged not so much by the intellectual content of their beliefs, but by the way they live their faith – by how much they contribute to the overall holiness of the world.
The Jewish view of God
A summary of what Jews believe about God
- God exists
- There is only one God
- There are no other gods
- God can’t be subdivided into different persons (unlike the Christian view of God)
- Jews should worship only the one God
- God is Transcendent:
- God is above and beyond all earthly things.
- God doesn’t have a body
- Which means that God is neither female nor male.
- God created the universe without help
- God is omnipresent:
- God is everywhere, all the time.
- God is omnipotent:
- God can do anything at all.
- God is beyond time:
- God has always existed
- God will always exist.
- God is just, but God is also merciful
- God punishes the bad
- God rewards the good
- God is forgiving towards those who mess things up.
- God is personal and accessible.
- God is interested in each individual
- God listens to each individual
- God sometimes speaks to individuals, but in unexpected ways.
The Jews brought new ideas about God
The Jewish idea of God is particularly important to the world because it was the Jews who developed two new ideas about God:
- There is only one God
- God chooses to behave in a way that is both just and fair.
Before Judaism, people believed in lots of gods, and those gods behaved no better than human beings with supernatural powers.
The Jews found themselves with a God who was ethical and good.
God in the Bible
But how do Jews know this about God?
They don’t know it, they believe it, which is different.
However, many religious people often talk about God in a way that sounds as if they know about God in the same way that they know what they had for breakfast.
- For instance, religious people often say they are quite certain about God – by which they mean that they have an inner certainty.
- And many people have experiences that they believe were times when they were in touch with God.
The best evidence for what God is like comes from what the Bible says, and from particular individuals’ experiences of God.
God in the Bible
Quite early in his relationship with the Jews, God makes it clear that he will not let them encounter his real likeness in the way that they encounter each other.
The result is that the Jews have work out what God is like from what he says and what he does.
The story is in Exodus 33 and follows the story of the 10 commandments, and the Golden Calf.
Moses has spent much time talking with God, and the two of them are clearly quite close…
The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.
But after getting the 10 commandments Moses wants to see God, so that he can know what he is really like. God says no…
you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.
Then the LORD said,
There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.
Two sides of God
Jews combine two different sounding ideas of God in their beliefs:
- God is an all-powerful being who is quite beyond human ability to understand or imagine.
- God is right here with us, caring about each individual as a parent does their child.
A great deal of Jewish study deals with the creative power of two apparently incompatible ideas of God.
Jewish Christian Liturgical Calendar
Jewish Ritual Objects: a guide
Jewish practice involves a number of special objects, referred to as ritual objects or Judaica. Many people like to use, or even collect, beautifully crafted objects, honoring the concept of hiddur mitzvah, beautification of the mitzvah.
The objects in this document are listed in alphabetical order.
Mitzvah: A Commandment
There are 613, not just 10, commandments, or mitzvot.
One often hears someone Jewish saying, “It’s a mitzvah!” usually referring to a charitable, beneficial act performed by another person. However, the Hebrew word mitzvah does not mean “a good deed” in that sense.
Mitzvah literally means “commandment.” In fact, Jewish tradition understands exactly 613 mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) to be derived from the Hebrew Bible. The 613 are listed in Maimonides‘ Sefer Hamitzvot (Book of the Commandments), divided into “positive” and “negative” commandments.
Inside a Synagogue – I wonder series from the BBC -UK.
What do you need to know?
- The House of Prayer
- Follow the Rules
- Understanding the Synagogue (Interactive display)
- What are the important Jewish festivals?
Islam at a glance
The word Islam means ‘submission to the will of God’.
Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over 1 billion followers.
- Muslims believe that Islam was revealed over 1400 years ago in Mecca, Arabia.
- Followers of Islam are called Muslims.
- Muslims believe that there is only One God.
- The Arabic word for God is Allah.
- According to Muslims, God sent a number of prophets to mankind to teach them how to live according to His law.
- Jesus, Moses and Abraham are respected as prophets of God.
- They believe that the final Prophet was Muhammad.
- Muslims believe that Islam has always existed, but for practical purposes, date their religion from the time of the migration of Muhammad.
- Muslims base their laws on their holy book the Qur’an, and the Sunnah.
- Muslims believe the Sunnah is the practical example of Prophet Muhammad and that there are five basic Pillars of Islam.
- These pillars are the declaration of faith, praying five times a day, giving money to charity, fasting and a pilgrimage to Mecca (at least once).
Inside the Mosque – I wonder series from BBC – UK
- Place of Prostration
- The mosque revealed (interactive)
- Mosques from across the globe.
The Prophet Muhammad
Muslims believe that Islam is a faith that has always existed and that it was gradually revealed to humanity by a number of prophets, but the final and complete revelation of the faith was made through the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE.
Muhammad was born in Mecca in Saudi Arabia in 570.
He was a deeply spiritual man, and often spent time in meditation on Mount Hira.
The traditional story of the Qur’an tells how one night in 610 he was meditating in a cave on the mountain when he was visited by the angel Jibreel who ordered him to recite.
Once Jibreel mentioned the name of Allah, Muhammad began to recite words which he came to believe were the words of God.
During the rest of his life Muhammad continued to receive these revelations. The words were remembered and recorded, and form the text of the Holy Qu’ran, the Muslim scripture.
Believing that God had chosen him as his messenger Muhammad began to preach what God had revealed to him.
The simple and clear-cut message of Islam, that there is no God but Allah, and that life should be lived in complete submission to the will of Allah, was attractive to many people, and they flocked to hear it.
Muhammad’s popularity was seen as threatening by the people in power in Mecca, and Muhammad took his followers on a journey from Mecca to Medina in 622.
This journey is called the Hijrah (migration) and the event was seen as so important for Islam that 622 is the year in which the Islamic calendar begins.
The return to Mecca
Within ten years Muhammad had gained so many followers that he was able to return and conquer Mecca.
From this time on he was generally accepted by the faithful as the true final Prophet of God.
Muhammad continued to lead his community both spiritually and in earthly matters until his death in 632.
The significance of Ramadan
It was in the ninth month in 610CE when Muslims believe the Qur’an was first revealed by God to his messenger on Earth, the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims decided this event should be commemorated with a period dedicated to extra worship. The key tenet became fasting.
The first fast is believed to have occurred in 624CE when the Prophet Muhammad persuaded the residents of Medina, in modern-day Saudi Arabia, to forgo their food and give it to poor worshipers who had followed him from Mecca.
How we practise today
Muslims try to purify body and mind during Ramadan. Besides fasting from dawn to sunset, Muslims also abstain from sex, smoking and avoid gossip to concentrate on personal reflection and prayer.
When the sun has set, we break our fast with friends and family, in a ceremony known as the iftar. After 30 days the end of Ramadan ushers in a festival known as Eid al-Fitr. This is when Muslims can collectively end their period of fasting with a celebratory party.