|"What really determines the credibility of any one religion or belief system is the underlying foundation upon which it is built."
The World's Religions
How did the world's major religions come into being?
- The primary source of information regarding the origin
of Judaism is found in the Tanakh (the Old Testament portion
of the Christian Bible). The story of the first Jewish
person, Abraham, who is considered the father of the Jews, is
told in the Old Testament biblical Book of Genesis. According
to the account, God declared Abraham righteous because
of his faith (Gen. 15:6). God chose Abraham and made a
covenant with him: Abraham would be the father of not just
one nation, but a multitude of nations with descendants as
numerous as the stars. This covenant was to be everlasting
from generation to generation. God also promised Abraham
that his descendants would have their own land (some of which
is modern Israel). As a sign that they had accepted the covenant,
Abraham and his descendants were to circumcise each male among them. This covenant was confirmed through
Abraham’s second son, Isaac, and through his descendants,
who are today’s Jews.
- Today, a Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew. It is
important to note, however, that being Jewish does not necessarily
have anything to do with what one believes or what one
does. A person born to non-Jewish parents who believes everything
that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and
custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the
most liberal movements of Judaism. A person born to a Jewish
mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion
is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox. In this
sense, being Jewish is more like a nationality than a religion.
- Jews regard actions as more important than beliefs, although
there is certainly a place for belief within Judaism. The
closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely accepted
list of Jewish beliefs is Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith.
Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith, which he thought were
the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, are as follows:
- God exists.
- God is one and unique.
- God is incorporeal [having no material body or form].
- God is eternal.
- Prayer is to be directed to God alone and to no other.
- The words of the prophets are true.
- Moses' prophecy supercedes that of any other prophet.
- The Written Torah and Oral Torah were given to Moses (teachings that are contained in the Tanakh and other Jewish writings).
- There will be no other Torah.
- God knows the thoughts and deeds of men.
- God will reward the good and punish the wicked.
- The Messiah [Savior] will come.
- The dead will be resurrected.
- These are very basic and general principles. Yet as basic
as these principles are, the necessity of believing in each one
of them has been disputed at one time or another by various
Jewish movements; the liberal movements of Judaism dispute
many of them. All movements of Judaism, however, forbid
belief in the Christian Bible’s New Testament; only the Bible’s
Old Testament portion (known as the Tanakh) is accepted,
along with the Talmud (a collection of Jewish law and commentary).
- Although beliefs are important within Judaism, actions
are regarded as more important. According to Orthodox Judaism,
these actions include 613 commandments given by
God in the Tanakh, as well as laws instituted by the rabbis
(the Jewish religious teachers), and long-standing customs such
as the well-known Bar Mitzvah that almost every 13-year-old
Jewish boy experiences.
- The most famous of these 613 commandments are the
Ten Commandments, which the Bible states God himself supernaturally
engraved on tablets of stone. Many of these commandments,
such as “Do not murder” and “Do not steal,”
serve to form the basis of morality in almost all cultures today.
- The biblical Book of Exodus contains one of the most
famous stories of the Bible, a story which has recently been
dramatized by Hollywood in the feature film The Prince of
Egypt. Around the second millennium B.C., when the Hebrews
had become slaves in the land of Egypt, God came to the
rescue. Through a man named Moses, God performed many
wondrous miracles which compelled the stubborn Egyptian
ruler to finally let the Hebrews go free. Here is a brief description
of these miracles, in chronological order:
- Water turning into blood.
- Vast hordes of frogs sweeping across Egypt, so many that
even ovens and beds were filled with them.
- Dust turning into swarms of gnats.
- Swarms of flies sweeping through Egypt (as with the
frogs), but not in Goshen (where the Hebrews lived).
- A deadly plague afflicting only Egypt’s livestock (horses,
donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep), but not the Hebrews’s
- Animals and people of Egypt breaking out with terrible
- A severe hailstorm covering only Egypt (but not where
the Jews lived), worse than any in Egypt’s history, destroying
everything in the fields — people, animals, trees,
and crops alike.
- Locusts covering the entire country — so many that
people couldn’t see the ground — and devouring everything
that escaped the hailstorm.
- A terrible darkness descending on the land of Egypt for
three days, with the exception of the Hebrew areas.
- A deathly plague killing all the first-born sons of every
family in Egypt, with the exception of Hebrew families,
who were unaffected by this plague (this event is known
today as the Jewish holiday called Passover, when death
“passed over” the Hebrews and only killed the Egyptians).
- And finally, the escape of the Hebrews through the Red
Sea, where a path opened up before the people through
the water, and all the people walked through on dry ground.
- The Exodus account states that God caused these miracles
to happen so that the people might see His power, and so that His fame might spread throughout the earth (Exod. 9:16), causing people to believe in Him.