The Jews are known the world over. Through the centuries and millennia,
Judaism has held together in its belief in the Shema:
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."
That this expresses the heart of Judaism is seen in the fact that
this is repeated in every Jewish religious service. Judah, the father
of the Jews, is one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Others of the tribes
of Israel, such as Levi and Benjamin, have come to be associated
with "Judah", or the Jews. From the beginning, Israel was warned
against having any other gods before the true God. What does this
Deity itself is a picture of Diversity working in Unity. That is,
God has many diverse expressions of "himself", and yet all of these
facets of God work together in unity. Indeed, God is one, and yet
images of him can be seen in the macrocosm of the universe, the
microcosm of biology. He can be seen in the love a husband and wife
share for each other. God's tenderness and vulnerability can be
seen in a baby. The qualities of mercy, compassion and sacrifice
also show diverse aspects of God. And yet God is "one." So what
is meant by the having of "no other gods but the true God"? This
simply means to attach the name "God" to no entity, personality
or attribute that does not reflect the glory and goodness of the
The "Law"(1) is an attempt to express the
character of the one, true God. To rob, kill and steal, for example,
are things alien to the nature of God. And yet these negative qualities
have been assigned to foreign "gods." For thousands of years, the
Rabbis and scholars within Judaism have in noble fashion sought
the deep meanings of the various laws given to Israel. These have
often been faithfully passed down from generation to generation.
A distinctive quality of Judaism has been Sabbath observance: the
setting aside of one day in seven-specifically the seventh day-as
a day of rest and return to the things of God. Modern secular psychology
has stumbled onto the wisdom of this practice. We are all physical
as well as spiritual beings, and we all need the rest and time of
reflection that Sabbath observance provides.
A second grouping of Jewish literature is called the Prophets.
Lest anyone become bogged down in myriad laws, the Prophets expressed
the meaning of law within a social context. The prophets were not
tellers of the future as much as they were tellers for God! Often
a prophet would reduce the spirit of the law in a practical, livable
way. For example, Isaiah stated the attributes of a person who has
pondered the spiritual implications of the Law:
He who walks uprightly, and speaks sincerely, Who
scorns the gain that is won by oppression, Who keeps his hand free
from the touch of a bribe, Who stops his ears against hearing of
bloodshed, And closes his eyes against looking on evil.
The prophet Micah reduced the law to three great priorities:
You have been told, O man, what is good, And what
the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God.
Notice that these are "relational" attributes, having to do with
ones relationship to his neighbor and to his God. The prophets are
sometimes called social prophets in that they spoke directly to
the social problems of the day. Over and over the prophets warned
of "inequity" and the plight of the poor. Indeed, certain laws and
customs of Israel also spoke directly to these issues-even issues
involving the environment. The seventh year Sabbath land rest was
to be observed, lest the soil become depleted through over-cultivation.
With soil depletion would come erosion and the spread of the dessert.
Resting the land one year in seven was an act of faith and obedience-with
physical blessings for the agrarian society to follow.
The fifty-year festival, or Jubilee year is full of social implications.
This was to be a year of "release." Slaves gained their freedom
and family land lost to shrewder neighbors returned to the original
families. The Jubilee had a great social, leveling effect on Israel.
Tithing, a principle that was designed to include help for the "orphan
and widow", was another among many laws aimed at benefiting society.
That these laws were not kept was often a concern of the Prophets.
The Writings are a third section in the Jewish Bible. These include
the Psalms (spiritual songs and praises) and other books of poetry.
Often it is the "arts"-music, drama, poetry, etc.-that give highest
expression to our inner, spiritual selves. The Law by itself is
The Writings, such as the psalms, often give articulation to our
deepest fears and our deepest hopes. As such, the poets within any
religion should be sought after as being some of the best "theologians"
within that system of belief.
It is true that some Jews have thought of themselves as special
people-the "apple of God's eye." And yet we can all be special people
without being "exclusive." An anonymous prophet quotes God as saying:
"Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and
Israel my heritage." The more we know of God, the more that we understand
fairness and equity. God deals with each individual, with each nation,
uniquely. And without the strife born of exclusivism and competition.
A noble tenet of Judaism is its refusal to actively seek the conversion
of others. Somehow the Jews understand at some deep level that such
a thing is disrespectful of the unique paths others are taking:
that God loves and cares for all and deals with all in special,
Israel was also given seven annual "holy days" based on a lunar
calendar and sacred year. Beautiful imagery of planting and harvesting
are reflected in these annual "high" days. Indeed, two harvest times
are revealed in the days. The early spring barley harvest, a small,
or "first fruits" harvest is seen in the "Feast of Weeks." In the
Fall season, the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles was celebrated,
picturing the great fall harvest. This feast lasts seven days, at
the end of which is added a final holyday, the enigmatic "eighth
day of the feast." Some have thought that this final feast day represents
God's final harvest-the salvation of all who have not as yet received
The Kingdom of God is a hope and picture of a beautiful, future
time of redemption, shared by the "People of the Book." Conservative
Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in a literal "Kingdom of God"
to fill the earth. The more liberal in these faiths see every person
a "Messiah"-with the Kingdom of God, representing the values of
God-slowly permeating the earth with its righteousness.
Many good, practicing Jews remain agnostic about how everything
will work out. They bank on the ultimate goodness of the Creator
as expressed in the following:
Oh Lord, how can we know Thee? Where can we find
Thee? Thou art as close to us as breathing and yet art further than
the farthermost star. Thou art as mysterious as the vast solitudes
of the night and yet art as familiar to us as the light of the sun.
To the seer of old Thou didst say: Thou canst not see my face, but
I will make all my goodness pass before thee. Even so does Thy goodness
pass before us in the realm of nature and in the varied experiences
of our lives. When justice burns as a flaming fire within us, when
love evokes willing sacrifice from us, when, to the last full measure
of selfless devotion, we proclaim our belief in the ultimate triumph
of truth and righteousness, do we not bow before the vision of Thy
goodness? Thou livest within our hearts, as Thou dost pervade the
world, and we through righteousness behold Thy presence.
(1) The Law is called the Torah, consisting
of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers and Deuteronomy.
There are seven Holy Days celebrated by the Jewish people, in addition
to the weekly Sabbath, or seventh day of rest. These are found in
the Jewish Bible, Leviticus 23. The annual "high" days are calculated
by the lunar calendar.
Passover. Celebrating Israel's release from captivity in Egypt.
Celebrated in the Spring Feast of Unleavened Bread. A seven-day
spring feast commencing and ending with a holy day.
Feast of Firstfruits. A holy day celebrated 50 days later.
Feast of Trumpets. A Fall holy day celebrated with the blowing
Feast of Atonement. A Fall holy day of fasting and penance. Most
solemn of feast days.
Feast of Tabernacles A seven-day feast celebrated in the fall,
commencing with a holy day.
Feast of The Last Great Day A holy day and separate feast, concluding
the Festival of Tabernacles.