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Judaism is one of the oldest organised religions of the world, which evolved in Egypt about 3,700 years ago and advocates the unity and oneness of God. Jews believe that Abraham, who was the leader of the Habiru (Hebrew) tribe in Chaldea in about 2000 B.C., postulated the theory of monotheism and moved his tribe to Canaan (Palestine) to propound his theory. Here, the Hebrews mixed freely with the local people and eagerly sought converts to their faith. Abraham’s grandson Jacob had an encounter with a mysterious being who revealed that in future Jacob would be known by the name ‘Israel’. The renamed Israel had twelve sons, who later became the progenitors of the twelve tribes referred as ‘Bene Israel’ or ‘Children of Israel’. They gradually grew in number and resided for nearly two centuries in Egypt before being enslaved. In about 1200 B.C., under the leadership of Moses, they escaped and wandered in the Sinai region of Egypt for a long time. Here, Moses, the first Prophet of god, received revelation of the law or the ‘Ten Commandments’, which are today known as the ‘Sefer Torah’. Later, a kingdom was founded in Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital and a temple was constructed to perform sacred rites.

After the death of King Solomon, Israel was split into two kingdoms – the Southern Kingdom called ‘Judah’ comprising of the Judah and Benjamin tribes with Jerusalem as its capital and the Northern Kingdom comprising of the remaining ten tribes – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Ephraim and Manasseh. Following the invasion of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians, the Israelites were scattered to various parts and these tribes are often referred as the ten “lost tribes”. In the past 2,700 years, historians and Bible scholars have searched for these ten lost tribes. It is believed that these tribes would be ultimately identified and returned to Israel.

Fundamental Beliefs of Judaism:

The Jews believe in one God called ‘Yahweh’ as was instituted by Abraham. Moses, who is considered as the first prophet of Jews, received the ‘Ten Commandments’ from God, which form part of the ‘Sefer Torah’, the Jewish scripture, and are followed devoutly by all Jews. The Jews believe that after death, the soul goes to heaven or first to hell if it has been sinful. On the Day of Judgement, the Messiah will appear on earth and the dead shall physically arise to an eternal life. The Jewish place of worship is known as ‘Synagogue’.

Holy Scriptures of Jews :

The ‘Sefer Torah’ consists of the first five books of the Old Testament. There are 613 precepts in the Torah to regulate the daily life of every Jew and this number is symbolised in the ‘tsisith’ (threads of the prayer shawls) that every adult male Jew is required to wear during prayers. The ‘Talmud’, which is the central text of the Jewish law, is considered as God’s divine and immutable law.

Main Sects of Jews:

The Jews have three principle sects: ‘Orthodox’, ‘Conservative’ and ‘Reform’. The Orthodox Jews adhere to all the ancient customs, traditions and religious practices. The Reform Jews adapted their religious services and rituals to changing times and considerably shortened them. The Conservative Jews followed a middle path, retaining some features of the Orthodox groups while permitting relaxation in certain cases.

Jews of India:

Jews have been living in India for over 2,500 years ever since they first landed on the Malabar Coast of India. Indian Jews fall into five categories: ‘Bene Israel’, ‘Cochinis’, ‘Baghdadi Jews’, ‘Bene Menashe’ (“Manipur Jews”) and ‘Bene Ephraim’ (“Telugu Jews”). The ‘Cochinis’ form a small Jewish community in Kochi, Kerala and represent the earliest settlement of Jews in India.   { Read More }

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