Judaism Definition Part I

Judaism Definition 1

Judaism, term for the religion of the “people of Israel” and for all of those who belong to it as an ethnic and religious community.

The Jewish faith is the oldest existing monotheistic religion and mother religion of Christianity and Islam.

Concept history

In the Bible, the Hebrew word “jehudi” originally referred to the residents of the kingdom of Judah (e.g. 2 Kings 16: 6; Jeremiah 32, 12) or the province of Judea (e.g. Esther). Due to the leading position of Judea after the Babylonian exile, Jew became the general name for the members of Israel, but the self-designation remained Israel and Israelite (for example in the biblical books Tobias, Judith, Jesus Sirach). The term “Jew” was initially only used by non-Jews and only became a Jewish self-designation in the Diaspora, when it was adapted to the prevailing linguistic usage. In the diaspora, the name Hebrews also came up on – generally as an archaic honorific name of the Jews, in the narrower sense as a designation for the Aramaic-speaking Jews of Palestine in contrast to the Diaspora Jews. According to rabbinical tradition, a Jew is someone who is descended from a Jewish mother or who has converted to the Jewish religion according to orthodox norms (“rite”). Liberal conversions are sometimes called into question by the Orthodox side. The connection between nationality and religion is no longer undisputed since the Enlightenment. While more liberal tendencies understand Judaism only as a religious community to this day, v. a. In some Zionist circles, the national aspect was brought to the fore. The conservative and Orthodox Judaism that dominates Israel today, however, represents the traditional unity of nationality and religious affiliation.

According to usvsukenglish.com, the self-image of the Jews and the religious and cultural development of Judaism are shaped by the permanent existence as a minority due to the diaspora. The necessary confrontation with the non-Jewish environment (as demarcation or assimilation) resulted in different forms of Judaism, each with special linguistic, cultural and liturgical characteristics: In the Middle Ages, the division into oriental, Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern Europe) that still exists today was formed. and Sephardic Judaism (Spain) out; The isolated Jewish communities in Yemen, India (Beni Israel), China and Ethiopia ( Falascha) on. In the 19th century, in Europe (and secondarily also in destination countries for European-Jewish emigration), due to the different attitudes towards emancipation and the Enlightenment, there was a contrast between Western and Eastern Judaism, with the liberal Reform Judaism dominating in the West and conservative Judaism in the sense of the Enlightenment for opened up extensive assimilation, while the orthodoxy prevailing in Eastern Europe clung to traditional orientations and strict Torah piety.


Despite the emphasis on common ancestry and religious-social isolation, the complicated diaspora history of Judaism resulted in large ethnic regional differences with changing emphases. Initially, Palestine, Egypt, Babylonia dominated, then Babylonia, North Africa, Spain and southern France in the High Middle Ages, and finally Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages and modern times. In the 19th century, due to the Russian pogroms from 1882 onwards, there was a strong migration from Eastern Europe to the USA and a weaker Palestine settlement movement. Around 6 million Jews were murdered under the National Socialist rule (1933–45); only a few managed to emigrate to unoccupied European states, overseas or Palestine. After the establishment of the State of Israel (1948), many Jews from Eastern Europe and most of the Jews from Arab countries emigrated to Israel. a. in the USA. Of the 14.8 million Jews around the world today (2010), around 5.6 million live in North America (including around 5.1 million in the USA), around 5.4 million in Israel and over 1.1 million in the countries of the EU (especially in France and Great Britain) and more than 0.3 million in Russia and the Ukraine; the Jewish communities in Germany have over 100,000 members.

Judaism: key data

Number of Jews worldwide *)
around 14.2 million, including around 5.4 million in Israel
large Jewish communities (up to 200,000 Jews) outside Israel
USA (approx. 5.1 million)
France (approx. 630,000)
Canada (approx. 480,000)
Great Britain and Northern Ireland (around 290,000)
Russia (approx. 190,000)
Argentina (approx. 500,000)
Main directions
orthodox judaism
conservative Judaism
Reform Judaism
Reconstructionism (“Reconstructionism”)
Main festivals
Rosh Hashanah (New Year, celebrated on 1st / 2nd Tishri; September / October)
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, celebrated on Tishri 10; September / October)
Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles; September / October)
Simchat Torah (Feast of the joy of the Torah, celebrated on 22/23 Tishri; September / October)
Hanukkah (Festival of Lights; December)
Purim (festival of the lot; February / March)
Passover (Feast of Unleavened Bread; March / April)
Shavuot (weekly festival; May / June)
holy places (selection)
Jerusalem (Western Wall)
Hebron (tombs of the patriarchs in the cave of Machpelah)
Bethlehem (Tomb of Rachel)
Carmel (cave of the prophet Elias)
important memorials of Jewish history in Israel
Tiberias (graves of eminent Jewish scholars)
Yad Vashem
*) Status: 2010

Judaism Definition 1