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  Illustrated History of the World

First Empires - ca. 7000 B.C. - 200 A.D.

Key Ideas: Judaism

Key Ideas:




Moses with the Torah, by Rembrandt van Rijn



The Torah and the Talmud: The Literature of Judaism

Judaism is the quintessential book religion, and Christianity and Islam—the other "religions of the book"—also incorporate the Torah. Christianity includes the Jewish Torah as the first five chapters of the Old Testament in its Bible, and through the founder of the religion, Jesus, it has a firm foundation in Judaism. Islam, too, recognizes many of the Jewish prophets and patriarchs. Abraham, or Ibrahim, is considered the arch-patriarch of Islam.

5 Torah comprises the absolute core of the Jewish religion. Everyday life is regulated by its laws and prohibitions. Knowledge of the Torah and Torah scholarship enjoy the greatest respect.

5 A Yemenite Jew at morning prayers,
wearing a kippah skullcap, prayer shawl and tefillin.

Since the earliest times, rabbinical commentaries and interpretations have been written down in the
2 Talmud. There are two different versions of the Talmud, the Palestinian and the Babylonian. The latter was much more influential and has been the subject of countless analyses and interpretations. In Jewish tradition, every word of the Torah has major significance.

2 The Talmud commentary by
Isaac Ben Solomon, manuscript, 16th с

Talmud, 1523



The Western Wall in Jerusalem is a remnant of the wall encircling the Second Temple.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.


Jews place of wailing, 1860


Jews praying in a synagogue on Yom Kippur,
from an 1878 painting by Maurice Gottlieb


Judaism under Arab and Christian Rule


In the Middle Ages, the clash with foreign cultures led to the development of various currents within Judaism. To this day, one differentiates between Oriental, Ashkenazic (Christian Europe), and Sephardic (Moorish Spain and Africa) cultures within Judaism. The influences of Islam and Christianity, as well as the circumstances in which the Jews lived in the various countries, found expression in the religious practice, theology, and self-conceptualization of the Jews.
For centuries the Jewish communities, as members of a fellow religion of the book, enjoyed tolerance under Arab rule, and this made social integration possible. Here, Jewish intellectual life experienced a golden age that radiated as far as France and Italy. The great Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides wrote an important commentary to the Talmud in Moorish Cordoba, Spain. The Kabbala, a form of Jewish mysticism, emerged in northern Spain.

In contrast to this, the relationship between the Christian and Jewish communities was strained from the outset. Christianity held the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, for which they became scapegoats. In addition, the prosperity of individual Jews aroused
7 envy and resentment, and the Church took advantage of this.

7 Jews depicted as profiteers,
Christian book illustration, ca. 1250

In Central and Eastern Europe, the Ashkenazim were driven out of their traditional, hereditary vocations in international trade and money lending, while the skilled trades were denied to them by exclusion from the guilds. They were increasingly driver, out of the cities and into the countryside. Horrifying pogroms against the Jews took place as part of the Crusades and reoccurred repeatedly into the late Middle Ages. Out of this experience with all its suffering, the renewal movement of the Chassidim developed. It lived on primarily in Eastern European Judaism. Moreover, in Poland and Russia, where the majority of the West European Jews fled, life in the shtefl developed.

In early modern times, the Central and Eastern European Jews continued to be subjected to intense repression. They were, however, allowed to return to the professions of money-lending and merchant trading. Wealthy Jews were important participants in cultural and intellectual life. In the Age of the Enlightenment, efforts toward emancipation and enlightenment, led by
8 Moses Mendelssohn, were also made in Jewish theology.

8 Moses Mendelssohn


The Holocaust and Zionism


10 Theodor Herzl
European anti-Semitism reached its horrendous climax in the 20th century. The Holocaust—a product of the murderous ideology of the German Nazi regime—was the attempt to eradicate European Jewry systematically and destroy their culture. Beginning in 1882 there were repeated waves of Jewish immigrants into Palestine, and that immigration increased dramatically with the rise of Fascism in Europe. Hopes for a Jewish state in Palestine were nurtured by the British Balfour Declaration of 1917. Zionism, a political movement seeking a Jewish homeland, was not a postwar phenomenon. Its roots date back to its 19th century founder, 10 Theodor Herzl, although the location was at that time subject to debate. Developments during and after World War II, however, accelerated the realization of the Zionist project.

In 1948 the
9 the State of Israel was founded. Of the roughly 14.4 million Jews in the world today, about 4.7 million reside in Israel. A still larger community is in the United States. Religion plays a significant role in the day-to-day policies of the modern state of Israel. Strict religious fractions base their nationalistic claims on their religious convictions. It has proved impossible to reconcile these claims with those of displaced Palestinian Arabs. The conflict continues to this day.

9 Foundation of the State of Israel.

9 David Ben Gurion (First Prime Minister of Israel)
publicly pronouncing the
Declaration of the Establishment
of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948