By Laurence B. Brown
Judaism, Christianity and Islam constitute the three Abrahamic faiths. Although familiar by name, Judaism and Christianity prove surprisingly difficult to define. But define them we must, if we are to engage in any significant analysis.
Islam is the least understood and the most maligned of the Abrahamic faiths in Western civilization, but is relatively easy to define once stripped of its mystique and negative image.
The pages that follow lay the foundation for subsequent discussion by clarifying the essence of these three Abrahamic faiths.
The term Jew originated as an ethnic definition of the descendants of the tribe of Judah, with Judaism being a contraction of Judah-ism.
Orthodox Judaism defines a Jew as one born of a Jewish mother or one, independent of bloodline, converted to the Judaic faith.
More liberal movements of Judaism (e.g., Reform) deny the necessity of the maternal bloodline, and propose that a child born of a Jewish father is equally considered a Jew, if raised Jewish.
Although modern definitions vary, most include, implicitly or explicitly, adherence to Mosaic Law as expressed in the Torah and Talmud.
Historically, however, even this was not agreed upon, for the Sadducees believed only the written law and prophets to be binding, and rejected the Talmud.
Ideological differences divide Orthodox from Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements, all of which possess smaller sectarian subdivisions.
Geographic origins distinguish the Sephardim (from Spain) from the Ashkenazi (from Central and Eastern Europe); religious/political differences divide Zionists from non-Zionists (such as the Neturei Karta Jews); and Hasidic Jews are dissociated from non-Hasidic (also known as Misnagdim, or “opponents”) on the basis of their practices, extreme religious zeal, and devotion to a dynastic leader (known as a rebbe).
Although considering themselves a nation, present-day Jews are not united upon culture or ethnicity, are not a race in the genetic sense of the term, and do not unanimously agree upon a creed.
Nonetheless, the most widely accepted tenets of Jewish faith are probably those defined by the twelfth-century rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), known as his Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith:
- God is the Creator and Ruler of all things.
- God is One and unique.
- God is incorporeal, and there is nothing like unto Him.
- God is eternal.
- Prayer is to be directed to God alone.
- The words of the prophets are true.
- Moses was the greatest of the prophets.
- The Written Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament) and Oral Torah (teachings now codified in the Mishna and Talmud) were given to Moses.
- The Torah will never be changed, and there will never be another given by God.
- God knows the thoughts and deeds of men.
- God will reward the good and punish the wicked.
- The Messiah will come.
- The dead will be resurrected.
Other definitions of Jewish creed exist, but in general the variations are minor, and for the purposes of this article the above list is considered the most representative model.
Source: The article is taken from the authors’ MisGod’ed: A Roadmap of Guidance and Misguidance Within the Abrahamic Religions.