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Judaism

Judaism is the Jews Relkigion,Phylosophy and way of life.It claims a historical continuity ranging for more than 3,000 years.It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions and the oldest to survive into the present day.Judaism is a monotheistic faith, meaning that Jews believe only in One God.

Often this God is beyond our ability to comprehend, but God is nevertheless present in our everyday life.Some connect with God through prayer,some see the divine power in the majesty of the natural world,others may not think about God on a daily basis.Each individual's relationship with God is unique and personal.

Judaism believes that Jews are uniquely connected with each other and all Jews are the part of a global Jewish community,regardless of their locations in the world,As per the Judaism ,every person- may be Jewish or non-Jewish, was created "b'tzelem Elohim",which is a Hebrew statement,meaning - "In the image of God".

So, every person is equally important and has an infinite potential to work and perform good things in the world.Every person is free to make choices in the life and is also responsible for the consequences of those choices.

As per the Hebrew Bible,which is also known as the Tanakh,the Jewish beleive that Judaism is the expression of the divine relationship God developed with the Jews.The texts of Judaism,traditions and values highly influenced the later Abrahamic religions,including Christianity,Islam and the Baha'i Faith.

Many aspects of Judaism have also directly or indirectly influenced Western ethics and civil law.It is believed that the God revealed his laws and commandmends to Moses,in the form of both the Written and Oral Tohah,on the Mount Sinai.

However,there was a movement by Karaites, arised in the medieval period,which historically challenged that only the Written Torah was revealed.Later, as per the books of the Tanakh,the Hebrews,Israelites were referred to as Jews and further,they were termed as the "Children of Israel".

In the year 2010 , the world Jewish population was estimated at 14 million,almost 0.2% of the world population.About 40% of all Jews live in Israel and about 40% Jews are in the United States and Canada. Rest of the Jews are found in European countries.

Torah

The Torah is the sacred text for the Jews.It contains stories and commandments those teach about life and death.It contains the 10 Commandments as well as the 613 commandments (mitzvot). All Jews consider the 10 Commandments to be the most important commandments in the Torah.Some Jews do not follow the 613 mitzvot and that is one of the main differences between the various branches of Judaism.

The Ten Commandments

* I am the Lord your God !
*You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence !
*You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain !
*Remember the day of shabbat to keep it holy !
*Honor your father and your mother !
*You shall not murder !
*You shall not commit adultery !
*You shall not steal !
*Do not give false testimony against your neighbor!
* You shall not covet your fellow's possessions

The largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism,Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism and these are differentiated as per their approach towards the Jewish law.Orthodox Judaism states that the Torah and Jewish laws are divine in origin,eternal and unalterable,which are to be followed very strictly.Conservative and Reform Judaism are more liberal.However,the Conservative Judaism generally promotes a more traditional interpretation of Judaism's requirements than Reform Judaism.

A typical Reform position is that Jewish law should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than restrictions and obligations.Authority on legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the scholars who interpret these texts.Judaism teaches that one day a Messiah ie a person from God, will appear and unite the world and bring peace and happiness and the Messiah will be descended from the family of King David.

The Star of David

The Star symbol's association with King David assumes mostly from Jewish legend.There is a midrash which says that when David was a teen-ager, he had an encounter with the enemy King Nimrod.David's shield was composed of two interlocking triangles attached to the back of a round shield and at one point the battle became so intense that that the two triangles were fused together.David won the battle and the two triangles were henceforth known as the Shield of David.

The Star of David consists of two triangles overlapping each other,having six points.It is often called in Hebrew the "Magen David",ie the "Shield of David".Though it has no religious significance,it is the most commonly used symbol by the Jewish people.The flag of Israel has a blue Star of David in the center,whioch is regarded as the symbol of unity.

Till today the Jews have mentained the symbol,starting with Zionists,who gave the star national significance during the founding of Israel.Today the flag of Israel is a white banner with two horizontal blue lines that have a blue Star of David in the center.

There are many ideas about the symbolic meaning of the Star of David.Some assume that the six points represent God's rule over the universe in all six directions- east, west,north,south, up and down.The twelve sides on the triangle,represent the Twelve Tribes. It is also believed that the triangles represent humanity's dual nature ie good and evil and that the star could be used as protection against evil spirits.

The two overlapping triangles, represent the relationship between God and the Jewish people.The star that points up symbolizes Heaven and the star that pointing downwards represents the earth.

Jewish Festivals

Jewish have mnay festivals and holidays.They celebrate either in commemoration of a major event in Jewish history or celebrate a certain time of year,like - Jewish New Year.Jewish festival days are called as "Yom Tovim".The major Jewish festivals are as follows -

Purim (Festival of Lots)
This one-day festival falls in February or early March and celebrated four weeks before Passover.it is a day for parties and rejoicing.As per the tradition,it is a day of fancy dress and Triangular shaped pastries called Hamentaschen are eaten,which are filled with poppy seeds, jam or fruit.It is not a public holiday and normal work and activities are permitted on Purim.

Pesach (Passover)
This eight day festival falls in the month of March/April.This commemorates Moses releasing the Israelites from their enslavement under the Pharaoh in Egypt.During this festival,the 'leavened' food ie containing wheat or any type of grain is not consumed (including bread, cereals, whisky and beer).

This is in the rememberance of the Israelites who left Egypt in a hurry and had no time to prepare proper food for themselves.Their bread did not rise in time,hence considered 'unleavened' and tasted more like crackers.This is symbolised on Pesach by eating Matzah - unleavened bread.

On the first two nights,Seder (order) is held at houses,which narrates the story of the Passover and the exodus - Jewish leaving from Egypt,from the book - Haggadah.Four cups of wine are also drunk during the service, and a celebratory meal is eaten.

The service is traditionally a relaxed affair - it is customary for those attending to lean to their left to show that they are no longer abided by the restrictions of slavery by Pharaoh of Egypt and may sit asper their desire.

The next four day may be working days,although leavened food is still forbidden.The last two days of the festival are Yom Tovim.The festival finishes at the sunset of the eighth day.A big preparation is required for Passover,since from the start of festival,the Jews are not allowed to eat leavened food (chametz),also not allowed to keep in stock.

These days, people will get a rabbi to sell on their chametz for a token sum of money to a non-Jew, which can be reimbursed after the festival.During the festival period,different crockery,cutlery and cookware are used,which are not used to cook recipes containing chametz.

Shavuot (Pentecost)

Shavuot coms around late May/early June,seven weeks after Passover and lasts for two days.This is in commemoration of Moses being given the Ten Commandments by God,afterthe Exodus from Egypt.The synagogue(worship place) is decorated with flowers, in celebration of the 'Commandments'.

It is traditional to eat dairy products,since during this period,the Jews were awaiting the arrival of their commandments and they were uncertain of the dietary laws,hence they ate only dairy products and vegetables,to avoid eating the meat of any animals which might be forbidden.Cheesecake is a particular favourite at this time of year and many people steer clear of meat altogether.

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)
The Jewish New Year is celebrated in September/October,which is considered one of the most important and public holiday (High Holy Day) in the Jewish calendar.Besides celebration it is also a time for the repentance of sins committed in the previous year.In synagogue, people pray to God to forgive them for their wrong acts and to give them blessings.

A Shofar ,or ram's horn, is blown,during the service, to alert the people regarding the significance of the festival and the fact that God is deciding their fates for the coming year, which will be sealed after ten days, on the Day Of Atonement.This period is traditionally a solemn time,known as 'The Ten Days Of Repentance'. Rosh Hashanah is also a time for celebration,which include eating of apples by dipping in honey,hoping that this may lead to a sweet year.

Yom Kippur (Day Of Atonement)

The Ten Days Of Repentance end with Yom Kippur,the Jewish Day Of Atonement, which is the day on which the fates of all Jews are sealed for the forthcoming year.This is the most solemn and serious day, which involves praying for forgiveness for sins committed in the past year. Jews observe a fast (no food or drink) for 25 hours from sundown on the previous evening till the next and are not allowed to work, bathe or wear leather shoes.

The fast begins with a special evening service known as Kol Nidre (All Vows), and synagogue services last for the whole of the following day until the Fast ends.Although it is a solemn day, Yom Kippur is also thought of as a happy day because it is the time for Jews to cleanse themselves of wrongdoings and reach a spiritual high.

Fasting is not only done as a means of affliction but also because nothing is supposed to detract people from their prayers on the day. However,small children, pregnant women or anybody whose health is likely to be seriously affected by the 25-hour abstinence,are discouraged from fasting.

Succot (Tabernacles)

This festival begins five days after the end of Yom Kippur and commemorates the booths the Israelites lived in after their exodus from Egypt.During the eight-day festival, Jews are supposed to live in a similar booth known as a Succah (dwelling),having wooden walls and the ceiling of greenery to leave the stars visible.If the climate permits,people sleep in the Succah, otherwise it is used only for the meals.

In synagogue,everyone says a blessing over four different types of plants ie - a palm branch (lulav), citron (esrog), myrtle and willow twig, which are represent the four different types of Jewish persons

The middle four days of the festival are regular working days,although the fourth of these, Hoshana Rabba (Save Us), is treated as one final chance to purge the soul of sins committed in the previous year.The eighth day of the festival is called -'The Eighth Day Of Solemn Assembly' (Shemini Atzeret), when a prayer for rain is said during the synagogue service.

Simchat Torah (Rejoicing Of The Law)

Next to Succot is Simchat Torah,the completion of the reading of the Torah, in synagogue and the fact that it can now be read again from the beginning.This is one of the happiest festivals in the Jewish calendar.

It is celebrated by making seven circuits of the synagogue which are punctuated with dancing and singing of traditional Hebrew songs. Children are given flags to hold on the circuits, and many synagogues hold parties after the service.

Chanukah (Festival of Lights)
This eight-day festival,which takes place in December.The story of Chanukah hails back to a period in history when, Jews were forbidden to follow their faith and many were forcibly converted or killed for not converting.Eventually a group of Jews called the Maccabees gathered an army and revolted against the Greeks and won the battle,but their temple and way of life was destroyed.

This group of men cleaned up the temple and restored the faith.In order to light the temple the special seven-branch candleabra (Menorah) was needed.However a little quantity of oil was available,to keep it alight for one day.Soon, a miracle occurred and the Menorah continued to remain alight for seven days on only one day's supply of oil until new oil could be made available.

Traditions of Chanukah include lighting candles on a Menorah every night for eight nights in the home, eating food cooked in oil (doughnuts, potato pancakes etc.), giving presents, holding parties and celebrations, and playing games with a dreidel,a traditional spinning top.The routine work and activities are allowed on Chanukah.

Jewish Culture

This mind blowing festival is being held in Kazimier,Cracow, for over fifteen years,in June/July,every year.Kazimierz is now one of the most happening areas in Cracow and the Festival of Jewish Culture is one of the brightest feathers in its cap.

The visitors enjoy the Jewish acts from all over the world,who perform in Kazimerz's Synagogue,cellars,theatres and cafes.Besides the regular ones,there are also celebrity performers,such as The Kharkov Klezmer Band.Kroke, Brave Old World,The Cracow Klezmer Band and Ukrainian newcomers.

Every year there is a programme of book launches,lectures,Jewish site seeing,introductions to the wonderful world of Jewish cuisine.Beacause of the rich cultural life and its richness,Cracow is known as the 'Jewish Paradise'.

A key support player in the festival will be the Galicia Museum (ul. Dajwor 18). This recently opened enterprise deserves a special mention, not simply due to its programme of events for the festival, but also for its permanent exhibition , which could not come more highly recommended if you're curious about Poland's Jewish legacy.Their exhibition is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The climax of the festival takes place in a huge open air concert on the picturesque Sezeroka Street (the Wide Street) with a plenty of dancing and merry-making to round things off. The printed copy of the festival programme is available at the Cultural Information Office,near Cracow's Main Market Square.Details are also avilable online.

Jewish Holidays

* Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year
* Aseret Yemei Teshuva - Ten Days of Repentance
* Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement
* Sukkot - Feast of Booths
*Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah
* Hanukkah - Festival of Light
* Tenth of Tevet
* Tu Bishwat - New Year of the Trees
* Purim - Festival of Lots
* New Year for Kings
* Pesach - Passover

* Sefirah - Counting of thye Omer
* Lag Ba'omer
* Shavuot - Feast of Weeks
* Seventeenth of Tammuz
* Three Weeks & Nine Days
* Tisha B'av - Ninth of AV
* Tithe of Animals
* Rosh Chodesh - The New Month
* Shabbat - The Sabbath
* Acharei Hachagim - After the Holidays
* Variances in observances
* Jewish National Holiday
* Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Rememberance Day
* Yom Hazikaron - Memorial Day
* Yom Ha'atzmaut - Independance Day
* Yom Yerushalaim - Jerusalem Day