Basic beliefs of Judaism
- Thirteen Principles of Faith
Maimonides was a famous Jewish teacher of the 12th century. He listed thirteen of the main beliefs in Judaism. These were called the “Principles of Faith.”
- God is the Maker and the King of the world.
- There is only one God, and He is the only one who is and will ever be God.
- God has no body or physical form and nothing else is like Him.
- God is eternal – He has always existed and will live forever.
- Only God can answer people’s prayers and people must only pray to Him.
- The words of the Prophets are true.
- Moses was the greatest of the Prophets.
- God gave the whole Torah to Moses.
- God will not change the Torah and will not give another Torah.
- God knows the actions and thoughts of people.
- God rewards and punishes people for the things they do.
- The Messiah will come.
- God will make dead people live again when He chooses to.
The most important teachings of Judaism is that there is one God, who wants people to do what is just and compassionate. Judaism teaches that a person serves God by learning the holy books and doing what they teach. These teachings include both ritual actions and ethics. Judaism teaches that all people are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The three main beliefs at the center of judaism are Monotheism, Identity and covenant.
These are some of Judaism’s main teachings:
The main teachings of Judaism about God are that there is a God and there is only one God. Only God created the universe and only He controls it. Judaism also teaches that God is spiritual and not physical.
Jews believe that God is one – a unity: He is one whole, complete being. He cannot be divided into parts and people cannot say how He looks in words; they can only say how He is and what He does.
Jews believe that all goodness and morality is from God. God is interested in what people do and He watches what they do.
Judaism teaches that all people are made in the image of God. This is why people must be treated with dignity and respect. A person serves God by being like God. This means that they must do what is fair and just, show mercy, and behave with kindness and love for people.
Judaism says that God exists forever, that He is in every place, and that He knows all things. He is above nature (“supernatural”) but He is in the world and He hears people who pray to Him and can answer them. God is the main power in the universe.
Judaism teaches that God allows people to choose what to do – this is called “free will.” A person is responsible for their actions. God rewards people who do good actions and punishes people who do bad actions. God gives a person a reward or a punishment in this world, but He gives the final reward or punishment to the soul of the person after they die.
Jews believe that God made an agreement called a “covenant” with Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people. The Bible says that God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants if they worshipped God and were faithful to him. God made this covenant with Abraham's son, Isaac, and with Isaac's son, Jacob. God gave Jacob another name – Israel. This is how Jacob’s descendants got the name the “Children of Israel” or “Israelites.” God later gave the Torah to the Israelites through their leader, Moses. The Torah told the Israelites how to live and build their . God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and other laws in the Torah.
The Jews are sometimes called the “Chosen People.” This is because the Bible says God told them “you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) and “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord chose you to be His own special nation out of all peoples on the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2). Jews understand this means that they have special duties and responsibilities commanded by God. For example, Jews must build a just society and serve only God. Jews believe that this covenant works in two ways: if they follow God’s laws, He will give them his love and protection, but they are also responsible for their sins – bad actions – and not doing what God told them. Jews believe that they must teach other people that God exists and that God wants all people to do good actions. Jews believe that their job in the world is to be "a light to the nations" (Isiah 49:6) by showing the people of the world ways to make the world a better place.
Jews believe that God has given them a special job to repair the world. Their job is to make the world a better place with more good in it. They must use the things in the world to increase good and come closer to God. They call this “tikkun olam” – repairing the world. Jews see themselves as God’s partner to repair the world in any way they can – to find ways to lessen suffering of people and animals, to make more peace and respect between people, and protect the earth’s environment from destruction.
Jews do not try to convince other people to believe in Judaism. Jews believe they have a special job to show all peoples that God exists, but people do not have to be Jewish to follow God. All people can serve God by following the Seven Commandments (rules) given to Noah. But, Judaism accepts people who choose to change their religion to Judaism.
Torah and Mitzvot
Jews believe that God tells them in the Torah the way of life that they must follow. The Torah says God wants the people of Israel to walk in His ways, to love Him, and to serve Him, and to keep God’s commandments (Deut. 10:12–13). Actions are more important than beliefs and beliefs must be made into actions.
These actions are called “mitzvot” in Hebrew (singular: a mitzvah). Sometimes they are called “laws,” "rules" or “commandments”. Many people think of a mitzvah as "a good act," or "a good thing to do." There are 613 mitzvot in the Torah. Jews believe that the Torah gives mitzvot for all people; all people must keep seven laws that were taught to Noah and his children after the flood. The Jews must keep 613 mitzvot, which are listed in the Torah. The rabbis counted 365 mitzvot that Jews must not do (negative mitzvot), and 248 mitzvot that Jews must do (positive mitzvot). Some mitzvot are for everyday life, and some are only for special times, such as Jewish holidays. Many of the 613 mitzvot are about the
Holy Temple in Jerusalem and cannot be done now, since the Temple was destroyed.
Some of the mitzvot are about how people must act to other people. For example, they must give charity to a poor person, or help a person who is in danger. They must not steal or lie. These are ethical and moral mitzvot.
Some mitzvot are about how people must act towards God. For example, they must respect God’s name, or not work on the Sabbath. These are religious or ritual mitzvot. Jews believe that God tells them to do both ethical and religious acts.
Jews see mitzvot as acts that sanctify – bring holiness – to the world and bring people and the world closer to God. Jews do the mitzvot to sanctify the physical world and the things in it, such as food and drink, clothing, and natural activities such as sex, work, or seeing beautiful sights. Before doing many acts, such as eating, Jews say a blessing – a short prayer – that God makes and gives a person the things that they need for life. In Judaism, life is most holy and important. A Jew must stop doing other mitzvot of the Torah to help save another person’s life.
Jews believe that they must do the mitzvot with happiness and joy because the Bible says “Serve God with joy; come before God with singing” (Psalms 100:2). Doing a mitzvah helps a person come close to God and that makes the person happy. A group of Jews called the Hasidim say this is the best way to live. They say that worrying takes people away from joy and they will not see the beauty and good in the world.
Many mitzvot in the Torah are about the Land of Israel. The Talmud and later books call these mitzvot “commandments connected to the Land” because Jews can only do them in the Land of Israel. For example, Jews give gifts to the poor or the priests from their fields every year, take fruit or animals to the Temple in Jerusalem, and must stop working on the land every seven years (the “shmittah” – sabbatical year).
The Land of Israel
The Land of Israel is holy in Judaism. A Jewish belief is that God created the Earth from
Mount Moriah in Jerusalem in the Land of Israel, and He is always closest to this land. Jews believe that this land is where God told the Jewish people to build a society to serve Him, and many mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah are about the Land of Israel.
The Jewish people believe their history as a nation begins with Abraham. The story of Abraham in the Torah begins when God tells Abraham to leave his country. He promises Abraham and his descendants a new home in the land of Gen 17:8).
The rabbis of the Talmud understood from the Torah (Num 33:53) that it is a “mitzvah” for Jews to live in the land of Israel. They saw living outside of Israel as not natural for a Jew. Jews often called the land outside of Israel "galut." This is usually translated as "diaspora" (a place where people are scattered), but the word more closely means "exile".
The Messiah and saving the world
The story of going out of Egypt, called the Exodus, is very important in the way the Jewish people understand the world. The Torah tells how God took a group of slaves – the Israelites – from slavery, and tells them how to be His partner to build the world. Jews see this story as a model for the whole world. In the future, the whole world will change, and all the people of the world will serve the one God. This will be God’s kingdom on Earth. The whole of Jewish history – and world history – is part of this process.
The prophets taught that God would send a person to the world who would help all the people of the world see that God is the maker, king of the world and has supreme power. This person is called the Messiah. The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew word mashiah, which means "the anointed one". The Book of Isaiah says the Messiah will be a just king who will unite the Jewish people and lead them in God's way. The Messiah will also unite all the people of the world to serve God. People will act with justice and kindness, and the whole world will be filled with peace.
Jews still wait for the Messiah to come. They believe that this will be a person. Other Jews believe in a future time when justice and peace will come through the cooperation of all people and the help of God.