When describing the identity of Judaism, it is necessary to describe simultaneously a people, a territory and a covenant.
The Jews: Like the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Phoenicians and the Arabs they are a Semitic people. During the time when they were nomadic they were given the name of Hebrew. The name Jew derives from Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Abraham, Noah’s great-great grandson, is generally acknowledged as the first Jew. Later, the name Israel, meaning “He who strives with God” was said to have been given by God to Jacob, and henceforth, Jews took the name of the Children of Israel. In the language of Semitic peoples, the word expressing the concept of God is almost the same: Ilu, Il, El, Elahim… Allah. Three great monotheist religions arose from the Semitic temples. Judaism holds a belief in a single God, who chose the Children of Israel to be the ones to spread this belief, so the Jews believed themselves to be members of God’s Chosen People, a duty which carried great responsibilities.
Palestine, the country known as the Holy Land or the Promised Land, lies in the Eastern Mediterranean region, between the River Jordan, and the coasts of the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. At the present time, Palestine is divided between Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Syria. God told Abraham, the acknowledged father of the nation, while he was in Harran, to go forth from there to Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey, which he had promised to Abraham’s descendants. Furthermore, God ordered all the males under Abraham’s command to be circumcised, and this would be a sign of His covenant with him and his descendants, rather than with the whole of mankind.
God took unto Himself a single community. In accepting what was written in the Torah, the Children of Israel agreed to help make God’s world a better place and made a covenant with God to that effect. As God’s Chosen People, Jews believe that they should keep all the laws which form part of this covenant with God, and they recognise their duty to bring to other peoples the knowledge of the One True God. This covenant between the people and God is the cornerstone of Israel’s existence.
It is impossible to separate the religion of the Children of Israel from their history. The Tanach, the Jewish Bible which Christians call the Old Testament, is the sacred history of Israel, comprising of three divisions of Torah (the Law), Nebi’im (Prophets), and Ketubim (Writings).
The Torah, the body of law, or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, or the first five books of Moses, are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Judaism is not a religion founded upon a sudden revelation to a single prophet, but rather the result of a long-drawn-out evolution. The Torah probably underwent changes at different times.
Their God is Yahveh, (YHVH- pronouncing this name is forbidden), One and Unique, Creator of the universe and everything in it. He created Man in His own image, granting him freedom of thought.
God created the earth in six days. On the first day He created light, on the second the heavens, and on the third day He created the seas and dry land, grass and fruit-trees to produce seeds and fruit. On the fourth day God created the sun, the moon and the stars, and on the fifth, all creatures that moved in the seas and in the air. On the sixth day He created animals and insects, and finally Man after His own likeness, also Woman, and these two were to rule over every living thing, and be fruitful and multiply. On the seventh day God rested and blessed and sanctified that day which is called the Sabbath.
Abraham’s son, Ishmael, born of his wife Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar, is taken to be the progenitor of the Arabs, while his son Isaac, born of his wife Sarah, is accepted as the forefather of the Jews.
Isaac’s son, Jacob, had twelve sons, who were the forebears of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob, while wrestling with God, displaced his thigh-bone, and God changed his name to Israel. From this time on, because God had touched Jacob’s thigh-bone, the Children of Israel never eat the flesh of this bone.
One of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt, where he attained an important rank at the Pharaoh’s court. When the land of Canaan was afflicted with famine, Jacob and all his tribe settled in Egypt where they flourished and multiplied.