Judaism is one of the major religions of the world. It encompasses the religious beliefs, practices as well as the way of life of the Jews. Among the major aspects of Judaism are religious symbols and rituals, which are of great significance to the Jewish faith. However, it has faced challenges over the centuries that have led to several changes especially in the belief system and the way of life among the Jews. This paper explores Judaism in the three major periods in its history.
It entails the earliest forms of Judaism. It encompasses the basics of the religion that include explicit monotheism as well as the people’s devotion to the holy city, Jerusalem. During this period, the temple in Jerusalem provided a significant source of symbolism to the Jews thus giving Jerusalem the name ‘holy city’. The Hebrew Bible, Tanakh, was the most sacred book providing the necessary guidelines to the Jews. It reached its final written form in 400 BCE. The religious symbols that were characteristic of the early Jewish literature were the two pillars at the main entrance of the temple, representations of the Ark of the Covenant as well as the seven-branded candlestick. Historians argue that it is impossible to estimate the number of Jews that were present during this stage in the history of Judaism. The sole source of authority during this period among the Jews was the High Priest and the Sanhedrin-the Jerusalem Hierarchy. It ensured that the Jews observed the religious practices such as male circumcision, avoidance of pig’s meat as well as observing the Sabbath. Most of these religious practices and religious values faded after the Jews went to exile.
While in deportation, it was difficult for the Jews to observe their religious practices as well as values. This led to the substantial corruption of the Jewish faith by other religions such as Zoroastrianism. It was a period that the marked the evolution of Judaism. It went through several reforms in an attempt to restore the practice of the religious beliefs and practices. During this period, there was a compilation of the five books of Moses-canon of the Torah (Hopfe, and Woodward 256). The Jews under the leadership of Cyrus rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem while the other reformers worked to restore the purity of the religion. Several aspects crept in the religion, which included the belief in dualism and eschatology. In addition, the Jews developed the Messianic belief that sought to provide a source for deliverance from their captivity. These changes led to further reforms Judaism.
The law, as given to Moses in Mt. Sinai, led to the division of Judaism resulting to orthodox and the reformers. The orthodox observe the written as well as the oral law as authoritative, which is not the case with the Reform Jews. The Reform Jews observe only those religious practices that enable them to live a God-oriented life unlike the orthodox who practice all the traditional religious practices. In the modern era, religious leaders encourage the Jews to embrace the religious beliefs and practices instead of forcing them, as it was the case with the other two stages in the history of Judaism (Hopfe, and Woodward 271). Although the Jews have employed relentless efforts to avoid extensive erosion of their religious beliefs and practices, they make changes in accordance with the dynamic contemporary situation.
The history Judaism presents several changes from one stage to the other. However, the Jews have managed to preserve and observe most of the major aspects in the religion. They have faced several challenges but in them all, the Jews draw their strength from their sacred text and other aspects in their past and remain open to the future.
Hopfe, Lewis, and Woodward Mark. Religions of the World, 11th ed. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.