After you have read the material in the textbooks, write a short essay explaining why Jews believe they are God’s chosen people, even though they have been dispersed all over the world, often suffering significant persecution. What are they chosen to do? Give specific historical examples. Remember: Answer the question the way a Jewish person would (from the information you read this week). Judaism is an ancient world religion. In terms of numbers, it is actually rather small, and although Jews live everywhere in the world, most Jews live either in the United States or in the country of Israel. Judaism traces it heritage back to around 1700BCE in the Middle East. The reputed founder of the religion was Abraham who was called by YHWH (or Jehovah) to follow this one all wise, all knowing, all powerful God of the universe. Judaism is, therefore, a monotheistic (one God) religion which made it very different from the religious beliefs of those peoples who inhabited the area along with the Israelites who were also known as Hebrews because of their language. According to Jewish teaching, God made a covenant with Abraham who promised to follow the dictates of Yahwah in exchange for becoming His “chosen people.” Jews believe very strongly in history as it pertains to them although many do not believe the stories in the Bible (Old Testament, but Jews do use the term “Bible” which is Greek for “books”) are literally true. For these Jews, the “truth” of the stories is in the overall concept of the covenant with Abraham and God’s redemption of the Jewish people rather than with the specific details of the historical events. They accept the laws of God found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Strictly speaking, Jews are not a race; there are African Jews (Falasha), Chinese Jews, Japanese Jews, Indian Jews. But racially, most Jews are Caucasians, closer, in a sense, to an ethnic identity like Irish, Italians, or French. In addition, many Jews consider themselves Jewish by ethnicity, but who are not religious and do not practice Judaism. All Jews consider Abraham their “father” and affirm a kind of familial or kinship acceptance of customs and traditions based on a common heritage of shared historical experiences. One key “event” in Jewish history is the story of Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt, and the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian domination. Scholars and archaeologist differ greatly in their belief in the literacy of this event. Some think it occurred as written in the Old Testament while many others, archaeologists in particular, think it is a legend that illuminates the eternal truth of Judaism that from this point on, the Jews had a new vision of their destiny. YHWH said that the first born son of every family in Egypt would die if lamb’s blood was not placed on the doorframe. Jews put the blood on the door, the angel of death passed over their houses, but the Egyptians, including the Pharaoh, lost their sons. The Jews left Egypt under the protection of their God. No matter how Jews regard the story individually, one of the major events of the Jewish calendar is the yearly celebration of the Passover, the night the angel of death passed over their households. In spite of their achievement of liberation, Jews were often conquered by other peoples, but they continued to believe their God was always watching over them. They saw their God as universal, the Almighty, the Great Holy One, the Lord of Hosts, the King of Kings. Their God was transcendent—beyond human reason or description or experience, but one who was concerned about them as individuals, a personal God who dwelt with them and in them. Finally, the Jewish homeland of Palestine was conquered by the Romans. At the end of the Roman period, Jews were scattered all over the Mediterranean region. In this early period, Jews usually got along well with Muslims, but were often persecuted by Christians, so they were constantly moving. Wherever they went, they were often leaders in science, medicine, philosophy, and literature. After the Jews in Spain were expelled in 1492, they fled to such far flung places as Morocco and Turkey, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, and England. Unfortunately, they continued to be persecuted in Christian Europe. Jews who went to Turkey became known as Sephardim with their own language, mainly Spanish mixed with Hebrew, and Jews who moved to Eastern Europe were called Ashkenazim with Yiddish as their language, a combination of Hebrew and German. Jews, because of intolerance, were often required to live in confined quarters called ghettos with very restricted daily lives. During the period known as The Enlightenment and after the French Revolution, Jews were finally allowed to mingle freely with their neighbors and to pursue whatever professions they wanted. But even during this time, in some areas, particularly Russia and Eastern Europe, Jews often suffered a “pogram,” a massacre of men, women, and children just because they were Jews. This kind of extreme persecution culminated in the Holocaust, the methodical extermination of European Jewry by Nazi Germany. Jews had been calling for a homeland, a return to their ancestral area of Palestine, for many years. This movement, known as Zionism, fulfilled its destiny after World War II with the creation of the country of Israel. So, for Jews, history is not just a chronology of events, it is a representation of the acts of God in His special covenant with His “chosen people.” As with other religions, all Jews don’t think alike. Judaism has several different major groups. Orthodox Jews try to follow the ancient laws of the Bible and the Talmud (a sacred text of interpretations of God’s laws). These Jews maintain the dietary restrictions, kosher, such as not eating pork or avoiding eating meat and dairy products on the same dishes with the same utensils. This group observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday not only by going to the synagogue, but also doing no work at all during that time period. While at the synagogue, both men and women cover their heads and sit in separate areas. Conservative Jews follow many of the same traditions, but are less strict. They use vernacular languages in their services rather than Hebrew and are far more concerned than Orthodox Jews in interpreting the scriptures in light of scientific discoveries. Reform Judaism is very modern and Jews who belong to this group do not practice the old observances except on special occasions as affirmation of cultural rather than religious identity. They do not follow strict Sabbath or dietary regulations. Like Conservatives, they use the vernacular language in services, but they do not sit separately or cover their heads. Jewish tradition teaches that at some point in history a Messiah or Savior will appear who will redeem humanity by bringing in an era of perfect peace. Some Jews believe this Messiah will be a human being, not divine, since for Jews there is only one God who always remains outside of human history. Others believe that the Messiah is not a person at all, but a time period when the whole earth comes together in peace, tolerance, and justice and all live in harmony—that is the Kingdom of God. In addition to the festival celebrating Passover which comes in the spring, most Jews—even non-religious ones–will have their sons circumcised as a mark of the covenant and a Bar Mitzvah for the boy when he turns thirteen to introduce him into the adult Jewish community. Some American Jews have created a ceremony for their daughters called a Bat Mitzvah, but this event is not universally practiced. Jews try to bury a deceased person within twenty-four hours unless a Sabbath or a holy day intervenes. After burial, there is a seven day period of mourning called a Shiva which is for only the immediate or closest family members. Rosh Hashanah is a High Holy Day and is the beginning of the Jewish New Year. It usually falls in September or October. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement that comes at the end of the ten day period of penitence that follows Rosh Hashanah. On this day, Jews pray for forgiveness from God and from their family. One other holiday that is often recognized by non-Jews is the Festival of Lights called Hanukkah, celebrated around the time of the Christian Christmas. This holiday commemorates a battle for religious freedom in 165 BCE and entails the lighting of candles for eight consecutive nights. The biggest change in Judaism in modern times is the position of women. Traditionally women were not active participants in Jewish services, sat apart, sometimes even hidden by a curtain, and remained primarily focused on their familial duties. Also, a man could divorce his wife whenever he wanted to, but a woman could not divorce her husband against his will. Today Jewish women are more demanding of their rights and in some Jewish groups are even allowed to be rabbis (Orthodox Jews, by the way, are very opposed to this). In spite of the diaspora, the dispersal of Jews all over the world, most Jews have tried to maintain their ethnic identity and many religious traditions. But in modern America, Jews have often married into other ethnic groups and religious backgrounds. Even under those circumstances, however, many Jews like to teach their children about their cultural heritage.