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UNDERSTANDING JUDAISM

UNDERSTANDING JUDAISM

Judaism is the millennial civilization that begins with Abraham, founder of the three great monotheistic religions. 

Its center of gravity is Torah, the five books that, according to Jewish tradition, God handed down to the people of Israel through the prophet Moses. This text is known as the Jewish Bible, or Pentateuch, what the Christian world calls the Old Testament. 

For the Jews, the Torah is not merely a reference book to be studied and commented on throughout one's life, it is also a code of laws to be respected and a cosmos within which existence itself is set. 

To the Torah is added, as reference texts, those texts recounting the lives of the Prophets and the Kings of Israel along with some Hagiographical Writings. Together these writings are called the Tanach, an acronym which stands for Torah, Neviim (or Prophets) and Chetuvim (or Writings). 

In addition to the Written Law (Torah), the Jews have handed down the oral law (Mishnah) which was, in turn, transcribed in six tractates and commented on over the centuries (from the first and second centuries of the common era), until it became another fundamental text of Jewish culture, the Talmud: a rich compendium of questions, answers and commentary by rabbis and masters, gathered over the centuries, still consulted by Jews today to interpret and resolves the problems of everyday life.

Always few in number, for around two thousand years – from destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and after its destruction by the Romans in the year 70 CE – the Jews have lived dispersed among different cultures, languages and regimes: this is the historical phenomenon called “diaspora” (in Greek, dispersion), the identifying feature of Jewish history for many centuries. Only with the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 did the Jews re-established a territorial hub for their own culture.

The Jews are the people that spread the idea of monotheism and the founding values of our civilization, based on the Ten Commandments handed down by God to the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai (as the Torah tells us) and addressed to all of humanity. The Ten Commandments represent the Law, at the core of Judaism, a guide to the events of daily life – both great and small – for individuals and for society as a whole. Judaism thus emerges as a succession of generations in which each step is a small but indispensable link ensuring continuity, as is evident, for example, in the Talmud.

Equally central to the Jews is the idea of individual responsibility: in compliance with the law, but also in the concept of mutual compassion, which is a social principle. Everyone is involved in – and in some ways determinant to – the fate of others. Likewise, Jews feel involved in the destiny of all seventy nations of the earth.

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