Synchronicity, luck and chance .






Judaism, religious culture of the Jews (also known as the people of Israel); one of the world’s oldest continuing religious traditions.

The terms Judaism and religion do not exist in premodern Hebrew. The Jews spoke of Torah, God’s revealed instruction to Israel, which mandated both a worldview and a way of life—Halakhah. Halakhah derives from the Hebrew word “to go” and has come to mean the “way” or “path.” It encompasses Jewish law, custom, and practice. Premodern Judaism, in all its historical forms, thus constituted (and traditional Judaism today constitutes) an integrated cultural system encompassing the totality of individual and communal existence. It is a system of sanctification in which all is to be subsumed under God’s rule—that is, under divinely revealed models of cosmic order and lawfulness. Christianity originated as one among several competing Jewish ideologies in 1st-century Palestine, and Islam drew in part on Jewish sources at the outset. Because most Jews, from the 7th century on, have lived within the cultural sphere of either Christianity or Islam, these religions have had an impact on the subsequent history of Judaism.

Judaism originated in the land of Israel (also known as Palestine) in the Middle East. Subsequently, Jewish communities have existed at one time or another in almost all parts of the world, a result of both voluntary migrations of Jews and forced exile or expulsions (see Diaspora). According to the American Jewish Yearbook, the total world Jewish population in the year 2000 was estimated at 13.2 million, of whom 5.7 million lived in the United States, 4.8 million in Israel, 530,000 in France, and 438,000 in the former Soviet Union. These are the four largest centers of Jewish settlement. Other significant Jewish communities are found in Canada (360,000), Great Britain (276,000), Argentina (200,000), and South Africa (80,000).


Basic Doctrines and Sources



As a rich and complex religious tradition, Judaism has never been monolithic. Its various historical forms nonetheless have shared certain characteristic features. The most essential of these is a radical monotheism, that is, the belief that a single, transcendent God created the universe and continues providentially to govern it. Undergirding this monotheism is the teleological conviction that the world is both intelligible and purposive, because a single divine intelligence stands behind it. Nothing that humanity experiences is capricious; everything ultimately has meaning.

From ancient through medieval times, various forms of Judaism have acknowledged the role of other heavenly beings, such as angels, and have warned against various forces of a demonic nature. But these forces have always been regarded as the creations of God, subordinate to the divine will, and ultimately irrelevant to the primary mission of the Jewish people, which is to acknowledge the unity of God and to serve God in the world.



The mind of God is manifest to the traditional Jew in both the natural order, through creation, and the social-historical order, through revelation. The same God who created the world revealed himself to the people, Israel, at Mount Sinai. The content of that revelation is the Torah (“revealed instruction”), God’s will for humankind expressed in commandments (mizvoth) by which individuals are to regulate their lives in interacting with one another and with God. By living in accordance with God’s laws and submitting to the divine will, humanity can become a harmonious part of the cosmos. It is primarily as a community bound together in obedience to God’s Torah that the Jews view their role in the larger human community. By testifying to the unity of God and the centrality of the divine will as revealed in the Torah, they seek to draw the attention of all humanity to the unique God of all creation.



A third major concept in Judaism is that of the covenant (berith), or contractual agreement, between God and the Jewish people. According to tradition, the God of creation entered into a special relationship with the Jewish people at Sinai. They would acknowledge God as their sole ultimate king and legislator, agreeing to obey his laws; God, in turn, would acknowledge Israel as his particular people and be especially mindful of them. Both biblical authors and later Jewish tradition view this covenant in a universal context. Only after successive failures to establish a covenant with rebellious humanity did God turn to a particular segment of it. Israel is to be a “kingdom of priests,” and the ideal social order that it establishes in accordance with the divine laws is to be a model for the human race. Israel thus stands between God and humanity, representing each to the other.

The idea of the covenant also determines the way in which both nature and history traditionally have been viewed in Judaism. Israel’s well-being is seen to depend on obedience to God’s commandments. Both natural and historical events that befall Israel are interpreted as emanating from God and as influenced by Israel’s religious behavior. A direct causal connection is thus made between human behavior and human destiny. This perspective intensifies the problem of theodicy (God’s justice) in Judaism, because the historical experience of both individuals and the Jewish people has frequently been one of suffering.

Much Jewish religious thought, from the biblical Book of Job onward, has been preoccupied with the problem of affirming justice and meaning in the face of apparent injustice. In time, the problem was mitigated by the belief that virtue and obedience ultimately would be rewarded and sin punished by divine judgment after death, thereby redressing inequities in this world. The indignities of foreign domination and forced exile from the land of Israel suffered by the Jewish people also would be redressed at the end of time, when God would send his Messiah (mashiah, “one anointed” with oil as a king), a scion of the royal house of David, to redeem the Jews and restore them to sovereignty in their land.

Messianism, from early on, has been a significant strand of Jewish thought. Yearning for the Messiah’s coming was particularly intense in periods of calamity. Ultimately, a connection was drawn between the messianic idea and the concept of Torah: The individual Jew, through proper study and observance of God’s commandments, could hasten the Messiah’s arrival. Each individual’s action thus assumed a cosmic importance.