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Chapter 4
The Story of Judaism
Judaism in Canada
• Canada has the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world, after the
United States, Israel, and France.
Approximately 330 000 Canadian Jews today trace their origins back to
Russian and Eastern European Jews who emigrated to escape
persecution during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Others are descended from the 40 000 Holocaust survivors who came to
Canada in 1945, after WWII.
In the 1950s, another wave of Jewish immigrants came from French
colonies in North Africa.
Most settled in large cities such as Montréal and Toronto.
Many of the first Jewish Canadians were fur traders or members of the
British Army stationed in the province of Québec.
Today, the largest number of Jews in Canada live in Toronto and
Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Calgary also have large Jewish
The History of Judaism
Origins of Judaism
• Judaism traces its origins back 3800 years to Abraham and Sarah, patriarch
and matriarch of Hebrews or Israelites.
• The story of Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants is told in Jewish
• It is the story of a covenant (promise) made between God and Abraham.
Links to the Past
• The area we now know as Israel was once divided into two kingdoms: the
kingdom of Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah in the south.
• The religion is called Judaism because the Jewish people trace their heritage
to the Hebrew people who lived in the kingdom of Judah.
• Throughout its sacred texts, Judaism has maintained continuity with its
distant past.
• Even though Judaism’s roots date back to ancient times, over the centuries it
has evolved and changed from the practices of early Hebrews.
The Birth of Modern Judaism
• The Judaism of King David and King Solomon was different from the Judaism of
The destruction of the Temple in the 1st century of the Common Era had an
enormous impact on Judaism because it had been the centre of all Jewish
worship and sacrifice.
In 66 CE, Judea was under the Roman Empire.
Zealots (Jewish revolutionaries) rebelled, and the Romans laid siege to
Jerusalem, destroying the city and the Temple.
3000 people perished when the Temple fell.
Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism survived, but were changed by the events.
• The destruction of the Temple forever changed a Jewish movement that had
begun with Jesus of Nazareth about 40 years earlier.
• The movement included Jews and non-Jews who had accepted Jesus as the
Jewish Messiah or Christ.
• Conflict developed between Christian Jews and Rabbinic Jews (Pharisees).
• The two groups parted ways at the end of the 1st century.
Rabbinic Judaism
• It was begun by Pharisees.
• It found a new focus in sacred writings.
• It encouraged people to gather in synagogues or study houses to study the
• Torah is the “teaching” or guidance of God.
• Studying and interpreting the Torah became an important way of helping
Jewish people follow the laws of the covenant, wherever they lived.
• Interpreters were known as scribes or rabbis, thus the name Rabbinic
Jews in the Diaspora
• In 135 CE, the Romans expelled the Jews from Judea, forcing them to take
refuge in other countries.
• Diaspora means “dispersion” or “scattering.”
• This scattering among nations and the constant desire to return to Israel and
Jerusalem is a key aspect of the history of Jews and their faith.
Jews in Christian Europe
• In the Diaspora, Jews became divided into two major groups: the Ashkenazim in
northern, central, and eastern Europe, and the Sephardim around the
• Both groups had an immeasurable influence on the intellectual, economic,
cultural, and spiritual life of every country they lived in.
• Jews were considered “the other” and were set apart in many cases.
• In Christian countries of Europe, they were often unjustly accused of being the
killers of Jesus the Messiah and were treated as unbelievers.
The Kabbalah and Hasidism
• Several Jewish mystical movements became popular in the Middle Ages.
• Mystics search for God through a life of prayer, meditation, and reflection.
• The main Jewish mystical teachings are Kabbalah (12th century), and
Hasidism (18th century).
• Kabbalah’s teachings are found in many texts, including the Zohar.
• According to Kabbalah, the true nature of God is indescribable.
• It is known as Ein Sof, meaning “without end.”
• God has no boundaries in time or space.
• Founder was Israel ben Eliezer (1698–1759), also known as Ba’al Shem Tov
• He taught that communion with God happened through prayer, good deeds,
humility, and joy.
• He is best known for his humorous stories of people encountering God while
doing simple chores.
The Enlightenment, the Holocaust (Shoah), and
Modern-Day Israel
• Three events have shaped Judaism in the past three centuries: the
Enlightenment, the Holocaust (Shoah), and the founding of the State of Israel.
The Enlightenment
• In the 17th century, a new way of knowing began to dominate Western Europe:
• Before that, mysticism and religion were ways of knowing and understanding
• The Enlightenment emphasized intellectual freedom.
• Only what could be known by reason was acceptable; everything else was
People became skeptical of traditional political, social, and religious beliefs.
Less emphasis was placed on religion, and Jews in some parts of Europe
became more accepted.
The Enlightenment also caused divisions within Judaism.
Ashkenazi Jews split into three traditions: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.
Reform Judaism
• This branch attracted Jews who had mixed more frequently with the rest of the
They wanted to enjoy freedoms like everyone else, participate in intellectual
life, and work with non-Jews.
They began to interpret scripture with more modern methods.
They became less concerned with traditional purity laws, kosher laws, and the
desire to return to the homeland.
Today, Reform Jews use a combination of Hebrew and English for religious
Men and women sit together in the synagogue.
Women are ordained as rabbis.
Many, but not all, believe as long as one parent is Jewish, the children are
Individualism is encouraged: each person must decide what beliefs and
practices are key to his or her spiritual life.
They often accept secular moral values (the values of society in general), but
live by traditional values as well.
They stress tikkun olam—repairing the world through social action.
Conservative Judaism
• The Conservative movement arose as a reaction to Reform Judaism.
• It follows many, but not all, of the 613 commandments of the Torah, and old
traditions such as the order of prayers, the use of Hebrew, and some dietary
It is open to modern historical methods of study, but considers Reform Judaism
too loose in its interpretation of the scripture.
The needs of the community and its Jewish identity always come before
individual wants and needs.
Active participation in synagogue is very important.
Like Reform Jews, Conservatives stress tikkun olam.
Men and women sit together in the synagogue.
Women are sometimes ordained as rabbis.
It is the largest branch of Judaism in Canada.
Orthodox Judaism
• Orthodox Jews continue to observe all the ancient rules and practices.
• They want to avoid “watering down” the Jewish faith.
• They believe God gave the whole Torah—oral and written—to Moses at Mount
• Some Orthodox Jews accept some secular moral values, but being Orthodox
means following the commandments of the Torah, strictly observing the Sabbath
and other Jewish holy days, using Hebrew in the synagogue, dressing modestly,
and following dietary laws.
• Men and women sit separately in the synagogue.
• Judaism can only be passed down to children by the mother.
The Holocaust (Shoah)
• During WWII, between 16 and 20 million people were killed in concentration
and labour camps by German Nazis and their allies.
About 6 million of these victims were Jews.
Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany in 1933.
Even though German Jews were well integrated into European society, Hitler
considered them an “inferior race” and declared them enemies of the state.
He blamed Jews for Germany’s loss in WWI (1914–1918) and Germany’s
economic problems during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Many Jews were alarmed by Hitler’s actions and tried to leave Germany.
But many countries limited the number of immigrants they would allow in
during the Great Depression.
Anti-Semitism was widespread, even in Canada, which contributed to other
countries’ not wanting to take them in.
The Nazis deliberately set out to exterminate all Jews in Europe; this is known
as the Holocaust.
Jews were imprisoned, starved, forced to do heavy manual labour, medically
experimented on, tortured, and killed.
The Jewish population of Europe was reduced from 9.5 million to 1.6 million in
just 12 years.
Effects of the Holocaust on the Jewish Community
• After the horrors of the war, the faith of many Jews was shaken.
• They wondered if God was punishing them for their lack of faithfulness.
• This is a question still faced by many modern Jews.
• The fact that Judaism lives on is a testimony that came from this struggle to
For others, the traditional Jewish belief that God is with us in good times and
bad remains strong.
They believe goodness and love will prevail and God’s reign will triumph at the
end of history.
The central message of the Torah is “What is hateful to you, do not do to
This is the rallying cry for many Jews of all denominations in response to the
Greater emphasis on the tikkun olam has been a Jewish response to the
cruelty of WWII.
The Mishnah (oral Torah) teaches that Adam was created single to teach
people that the destruction of any person’s life is the same as destroying a
whole world, and the preservation of a single life is the same as preserving a
whole world.
Life is sacred because it is from God; for many Jews, preserving life is a key
response to the Holocaust.
Zionism and the State of Israel
• The persecution Jews experienced in Europe fuelled a desire to return to the
land God had promised them.
By the late 1800s, many Jews supported Zionism, a movement to establish a
national Jewish state in Palestine.
Some Zionists began to emigrate to Palestine.
Arabs who lived there objected to the Jews coming to what they saw as their
homeland and fighting broke out several times.
After WWII, many Western countries began to support Jewish struggles for a
homeland in Palestine.
Zionism (cont’d)
• Britain, which controlled the region, submitted the issue to the United Nations.
• In 1947 the UN voted to divide Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state with
Jerusalem under international control.
Arabs felt betrayed by the Western countries, whom they had supported during
the war.
Palestinian Arabs felt particularly betrayed by the British who, in 1915, had
promised them independence in Palestine.
On May 14, 1948, Jews proclaimed the independent State of Israel.
The next day, Israel’s neighbouring Arab nations invaded in attempt to destroy
the new Jewish state.
When the war ended about eight months later, Israel controlled its part and
about half of the land the UN had planned for the new Arab state.
The rest was annexed by Arab neighbours.
Almost a million Palestine Arabs left the country or were expelled by the
Most became refugees living in the Arab-controlled part of Palestine.
Marking Time
Shabbat (the Sabbath)
• Shabbat is the day the Lord rested and is the most sacred day for Jews.
• Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday.
• It is celebrated in the synagogue.
• It focuses on the family.
• It celebrates the heavens and Earth and everything on Earth as gifts from God.
Pesach (Passover)
• Passover is one of the most important feasts of Jewish year.
• It is celebrated in the first month of the year, on the 15th day of Nisan.
• Like Easter, it happens around the first full moon after spring equinox.
• It celebrates the freedom won by Jewish slaves when they escaped from the
Egyptian Pharaoh over 3000 years ago.
• The most important part of the festival is the Passover Seder, a ritual meal
during which Jews recall the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur: The Days of Awe
• Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year.
• It is celebrated in the synagogue.
• People declare God king again for the coming year and pray for God’s protection
and blessing.
One of the most exciting rituals is the sounding of the shofar, or ram’s horn, to
herald the start of the new year.
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the Days of
During this time, Jews turn inward and remember God will be their judge at the
end of time.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.
It is a solemn day of fasting, when Jews seek reconciliation with God.
They atone for their sins by asking forgiveness from God and anyone they have
sinned against over the previous year.
Life-Cycle Rituals
Brit Milah or Bris
• The Brit Milah, or Bris, is the rite of circumcision.
• It is performed when a baby boy is 8 days old.
• The circumcision is a sign on the body of God’s covenant with Abraham.
• It is also the time when a baby is given his Hebrew name.
• Parents of a baby girl can have a Simchat Bat–a ceremony in the synagogue
where the baby receives her Hebrew name.
Betrothal and Marriage
• Judaism strongly encourages people to marry.
• Before a wedding, a marriage contract is prepared to ensure that the husband will
treat his wife respectfully and fulfill his obligations to her.
• The couple exchange rings under a canopy, which symbolizes the home they will
make together.
• The ceremony ends with the recitation of seven blessings for the marriage.
• When a parent dies, a son or daughter recites a special prayer of sanctification
called the kaddish every morning and evening for 11 months after the death.
• For seven days after a burial, mourners gather at one home and receive visitors,
who often bring food so the grieving family does not have to worry about
ordinary activities like cooking.
The Jewish Community
• When the Temple was destroyed, Jews no longer had a centre of worship or a
role for the high priest.
• There is no one person who can give a final interpretation of the Jewish tradition.
• Most Jews choose a rabbi or join a more structured community to help them
observe their religion.
The Synagogue
• After being exiled to Babylon, the Jews were dispersed among other nations.
• They set up synagogues so they would not be dependent on the Temple in
When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, more synagogues were built.
Synagogues have two purposes:
– they are places were Torah is taught
– they are places of worship outside Jerusalem
The synagogue contains an ark, or cabinet, where the Torah scrolls are kept.
The ark is usually on the eastern wall so the congregation face Jerusalem when
they face the ark.
The Torah is read from a raised platform, and the rabbi speaks from a pulpit to
explain the Torah.
A lamp is kept burning at all times to remind people that God is present.
Central Beliefs
• The Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one,” is the most
important confession of faith in Judaism.
• Jewish morning and evening prayers are built around this prayer.
• It sums up the Jewish scriptures, or Tanakh.
• The Tanakh has three parts: Torah (or Teaching), Neviim (or Prophets), Ketuvim
(or Writings).
The Torah
• The Torah presents the teachings of Judaism in the form of a story.
• Genesis, the first book of the Torah, contains the two stories of creation.
• In the first story, God creates the world in 6 days, creates humans on the 6th
day, and rests on the 7th day, making that day holy.
• In the second story, God creates Adam and Eve, then banishes them from the
garden of Eden when they eat the fruit of the forbidden tree.
The Story of Abraham
• Genesis also tells the story of Abraham and his wife Sarah.
• God asks Abraham (then called Abram) to leave his home and go to a new land,
where God will make him the father of a new people.
• Abram’s faith in God is tested many times, but never wavers.
• The rest of Genesis tells the story of God’s faithfulness to his covenant with
The Story of Moses
• The second book of the Torah is Exodus.
• The story picks up when Abraham’s descendants, the children of Israel, had
become slaves to the Egyptians.
Moses was called by God, through the burning bush, to lead God’s people out
of slavery.
Moses showed Pharaoh the power of the Lord through the 10 plagues, then
Pharaoh agreed to let people of Israel go.
When Pharaoh sent his chariots after them, the Red Sea parted to let the
Israelites through, but drowned Pharaoh’s men.
At Mount Sinai, God made a covenant with Moses and gave him the Ten
Commandments and the rest of the Law.
The Ten Commandments contain the most important instruction on how to live
the covenant.
The Story of David
• The story of David is in the book of Kings.
• David was Israel’s second king and he united all the tribes into one kingdom.
• David’s son Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Talmud
• The Talmud is the second most important Jewish sacred writing.
• It is a huge book of civil and religious laws and ethical teachings.
• It contains layer upon layer of interpretations of the Torah made by rabbis
between the 1st and 5th centuries.
It is a written record of the oral Torah (the Halakhah).
The Halakhah contains prescribed ways to apply the commandments in the
Torah to daily life.
It includes laws about ritual purity, such as what foods cannot be eaten, and
other impure things to avoid.
These laws were first kept by priests in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Later, the Pharisees also kept them, and these ritual laws of purity became part
of Jewish life.
After the second defeat by the Romans in 135 CE, the rabbis began to write
down and interpret the oral Torah, and this written material became the
This process happened in two different places by different rabbis, so there are
two versions of the Talmud.
The more extensive, most commonly used version is called the Babylonian
The Ten Commandments
• Jewish moral life is a response to God’s covenant with the Jewish people at
Mount Sinai.
• Keeping the covenant means following God’s mitzvot, or guidance.
• The Ten Commandments are at the heart of this guidance.
• Religious Jews also try to follow as many of the other mitzvot as they can, from
the Torah, oral law, Talmud, and Rabbinic law.
• Sinning is a failure to follow the mitzvot.
• It is a breaking of the covenant.
• In the days of the Temple, rituals and sacrifices were carried out to repair the
covenant relationship.
• Today, Jews atone and repent for sin on Yom Kippur.
• All forms of Judaism see sexuality as a blessing from God.
• The Halakhah states that sexuality is to be celebrated and enjoyed only in
• The Talmud permits abortion only when the mother’s life is in danger.
• Reform Jews usually share some of the sexual values of the culture they live in.
Family Life
Shabbat in the Home
• The Shabbat meal and prayers take place in the home at sunset on Friday.
• The mother lights two Shabbat candles and says a silent prayer for the well•
being of her husband and children.
Before the meal, a parent holds a special cup of wine and recites the kiddush, a
prayer that welcomes and sanctifies Shabbat.
At the end of Shabbat on Saturday night, a blessing is recited thanking God for
the division between Shabbat and the rest of the week.
There are many rules to be followed on Shabbat, such as: no work is to be done,
and no lights or electrical devices are to be switched on or used.
Orthodox Jews strictly observe these rules, while Conservative Jews interpret
them more loosely and Reform Jews may not feel bound to observe them.
Keeping Kosher
• There are many rules about how to keep a kosher diet.
• They include not eating pork or shellfish, and not eating dairy products and
meat in the same meal, among others.
• Some homes that keep kosher have separate sets of dishes, pots, and utensils
for dairy and meat.
• Kosher laws are complex but are second nature to Jews who have grown up
with them.
The Jewish Family and Community: Welcome
and Outreach
• Hospitality is a key feature of Judaism.
• For Jews, it is an honour to welcome guests into the home.
• Jews also practise hospitality by helping others in the community and being
active in causes that benefit all people.
• Judaism emphasizes the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Interreligious Dialogue:
Judaism and the Catholic Church
• Christianity understands itself as coming out of Judaism.
• Christianity has many common links with Judaism, such as through scripture,
rituals, and values.
• Judaism must be Christianity’s first partner in dialogue.
• Christianity has found joy in rediscovering Judaism, its older relative.