Living Judaism : The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-02-10
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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Why is the Torah central to the Jewish faith? How did the Talmud originate? What do Jewish holidays celebrate? What goes on a synagogue worship service? How to kosher dietary laws work? Why is the land of Israel so important for Jews? These are just a few of the questions Rabbi Wayne Dosick answers in this masterly overview of Jewish faith and tradition, now available in a handsome paperback edition. Writing in short, accessible chapers that cover Jewish beliefs, people, literature, holidays, worship, and living, he captures the essence of Judaism, honoring and explicating the diversity of Jewish thought and observance, from Reform and Conservation to Orthodox. With a timeline of Jewish history and thought-provoking essys on the Jewish idea of God, good and evil, the messiah, believing in the Bible, prayer, right and wrong, the Holocaust, and Israel, Living Judaism is the definitive introduction to one of the world's great religions.

Table of Contents

In the Beginning
The Foundations of Judaism: God, Torah, and Israel
Jewish Beliefs
The Jewish People
Jewish Literature
Jewish Days and Holidays
Jewish Worship
Jewish Living
The Jewish Life Cycle
The Jewish Land
Highlights of Jewish History
The Last (But Really the First) Jewish Word
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.


Living Judaism
The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice

Chapter One

In the Beginning

An old Jewish legend:

In the beginning-before the beginning-God's light filled the entire universe.

When God decided to create the world, He had to withdraw some of His light from the universe, so that there would be space for the land and the seas, the trees and the corn stalks, the butterflies and the lions, the ladybugs and the sea otters.

So God breathed in some of the Divine light, so that there would be room for all the things He wanted to create.

But what was God to do with the light-with the light of His Being that had filled the whole universe-now that He had breathed it in?

God put the light into jars, heavenly vessels that would hold His radiance.

And then God began to create: the sky and the earth, the dry lands and the waters, the fiery sun, the shimmering moon and the twinkling stars, the forests and the deserts, the creepy crawly things and the birds of the air, the fish of the seas and the animals roaming from here to there.

Everything was going so well. Creation was shaping up just perfectly. God was having a wonderful time!

But in the heavens, there was trouble.

God's light, which He had put into the vessels, could not be hidden away. For no vessel-not even a heavenly vessel-could contain the radiant light of God. The glory of God's splendor was accustomed to filling the universe, not being hidden away in little jars.

So it wasn't too long until-with a blazing flash-God's light burst out of the heavenly vessels.

The force of the mighty impact caused the jars to shatter into millions of little pieces.

And the light itself splintered into billions of little sparks.

The broken pieces of the vessels fell to the newly formed earth and became the ills and the evils that beset the world-little pieces of anguish and travail that, one day, will have to be collected, repaired, and made whole again.

And what happened to the billions of little shards of light?

Each of the little shards of light, the sparks of God, became the soul of a human being.

That which makes the lump of clay that is a human body into a living, breathing, person-a person capable of thinking and knowing, reasoning, and remembering, a person capable of doing justly and feeling compassion-is the soul. And the human soul is a tiny piece of God, a tiny fragment of God's light, a spark of the Divine that burst forth from the heavenly vessels and showered the universe.

God declared that the crowning works of creation were these human soulsman and woman, created in His image, created with a spark of His Divine Being. And to man and woman, God assigned a divine task and a sacred mission.

Each person, then and now, is to joyfully share the universe with God, to be His companion and helpmate, His resident caretaker and earthly steward.

And each person, then and now, is to be a partner with God in healing and transforming the universe: picking up the little pieces of the shattered vessels, repairing them, and making them-and the world-healthy and whole.

In every generation, in every time and place, human beings have developed religious and philosophical systems to seek and find God, to understand and fulfill God's word, to share with God in the ongoing process of the daily re-creation and transformation of the world, to enrich and ennoble their own lives.

For almost 4,000 years, Judaism has been-and continues to be-a wise and rewarding pathway to God; a clear channel for understanding and doing God's will, and for enhancing cosmic and personal existence. Judaism is a religion that is intellectually honest, emotionally satisfying, and spiritually uplifting. And Judaism creates a faith community that is deeply rooted, strongly bonded, and passionately loyal.

This book is your invitation into the world of Judaism.

Here you will learn about Judaism's basic beliefs and practices-the ideas and the observances that shape and mold Jewish life and lifestyle.

Here you will learn how an age-old community in contemporary garb understands and follows God's mandate to make life personally satisfying and fulfilling, and undertakes God's mission to bring the world toward justice, righteousness, and peace.

Here you will celebrate the greatness and the grandeur of the Jewish experience: being a child of God-created with a spark of the Divine-seeing God's light in every encounter, reflecting God's light at every moment.

Here is Judaism.

The Foundations of Judaism: God, Torah, and Israel

Religion is a system of thought and belief operating not only from philosophical reason, but from intuition and faith. It acknowledges and celebrates the existence of thehighest power, a Supreme Being (or Beings) who created, ordered, and controls theuniverse.

Religion developed out of the human need to seek answers to the mysteries ofexistence: to help people understand and somehow tame the mighty forces of the uni-verse; to help people define their place and purpose, by putt putting them in touch withtheir primordial beginnings, by finding a connection to creation and the Creator.

Religion helps people to face the unknown, to find meaning and value in daily existence, to understand pain and suffering and evil, to live life and to confront death.

In ancient times, people sought to influence and control the diverse elementsthat affected their everyday lives. So they paid tribute to and prayerfully worshipedthe sun, the moon, the mountain, the tree, the river, or the rain. They fashioned idolsout of stone and precious metals, and imbued them with extraordinary powers. Theyoffered sacrifices of animals, of grains, of first fruits, and of firstborn sons, in thehope that the forces to whom they ascribed divinity would deal kindly with them-giving them food to eat, water to drink, sun and rain in their seasons, protectionfrom danger and harm. Each tribe, each locale, each household, had one or manySods, to whom awe-inspired homage was exaltingly and often lovingly proclaimed.

The ancient world may have been theologically naive, but it was far from unsophisticated.

The recorded history of humankind--which begins some 6,000 years ago--documents advanced civilizations growing up and flourishing: the Sumerians in Babylon, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Akkadians in Mesopotamia, the Chaldeans, and the numerous kingdoms scattered throughout the region that is now called the ancient Near East. Advanced societies were also developing and flourishing throughout the known world: in China, in Asia Minor, along the Mediterranean, in Crete and Greece, in Europe, in settlements in India and Japan. These diverse societies created highly sophisticated agricultural settlements, built ships and wheeled vehicles for transport and traded , crafted pottery and wove cloth, made metal coins as legal tender, and metal mirrors to reflect beauty.

They developed not only pictographic signs, but early forms of alphabet and writing; they amassed large collections of prose, poetry, and epic tales, played finely crafted musical instruments, and made precise calendars and maps. The Babylonian king Hammurabi, in setting out laws for his kingdom, established the first systematic legal code.

The firm foundation of civilization was already well in place when, in approximately 1800 B.C.E.--when the now-6,ooo-year-old recorded history of humankind had already passed its one-third mark-a man named Abraham entered the world stage. He came into this world in ancient Mesopotamia, the area of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that came to be called the Fertile Crescent, the modern-day Middle East of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt.

The Dating of History

The secular calendar that is currently in use throughout most of the world is based on a Christian counting of time.

In this system, there are two major periods of time: A.D., meaning anno Domini, the Year of our Lord, designating the period of time counting forward from the birth of Jesus (using the popular designation of the year of the birth of Jesus as year 1); and B.C., meaning Before Christ, designating the period of time counting backward from before the birth of Jesus.

By this calculation, 8oo years before the birth of Jesus is known as the year 8oo B.C. This book is being published in the year A.D. 1995, meaning 1,995 years since the birth of Jesus.

Judaism, not wanting its time designations delineated by Christianity, and modern academic scholarship not wanting its designations influenced by any one religious motif, changed the designations: B.C. is identified as B.C.E., Before the Common Era, and A.D. is identified as C.E., the Common Era.

For a concise timeline and a fully annotated reference-listing of the most important events of Jewish history, see chapter 9, Highlights of Jewish History.

Living Judaism
The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice
. Copyright © by Wayne D. Dosick. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice by Wayne D. Dosick
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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