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Judaism (from the Greek Ioudaïsmos, derived from the Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, "Judah") is the religion of the Jewish people, based on the principles and ethics embodied in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), as further explored and explained in the Talmud. Judaism is among the oldest religious traditions still practiced today and is considered one of the world's first monotheistic faiths. At the core of Judaism is the belief in a single, omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God, who created the universe and continues to govern it. In 2007, the world Jewish population was estimated to be 13.2 million people—41 percent in Israel and the other 59 percent in the diaspora. The traditional criterion for membership in Judaism or the Jewish people has been being born to a Jewish mother or taking the path of conversion.

Jewish tradition maintains that the history of Judaism begins with the Covenant between God and Abraham (c. 1800 BCE), the patriarch and progenitor of the Jewish people. According to the traditional Jewish belief, God also created another covenant with the Israelites (the ancestors of the Jewish people), and revealed his laws and commandments (Mitzvot) to them on Mount Sinai in the form of the Written Torah. Traditional Judaism also maintains that an Oral Torah was revealed at the same time and, after being passed down verbally for generations, was later transcribed in the Talmud. Laws, traditions, and learned Rabbis who interpret these texts and their numerous commentaries comprise the modern authority on Jewish tradition. While each Jew's level of observance varies greatly, the traditional practice of Judaism revolves around the study and observance of God's Mitzvot.

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Tefillin (or phylacteries) are a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which are worn by observant Jewish men during weekday morning prayers. Although "tefillin" is technically the plural form (the singular being "tefillah"), it is loosely used as a singular as well.The hand-tefillin, or shel yad, is placed on the upper arm, and the strap wrapped around the arm, hand and fingers; while the head-tefillin, or shel rosh, is placed above the forehead. The Torah commands that they should be worn to serve as a "sign" and "remembrance" that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. The tefillin each contain four portions: Exodus 13:1–10, 13:11–16, and Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21, all of which mention the commandment. In the hand-tefillin, these are all written on one scroll, but in the head-tefillin each has its own scroll and compartment. (Read more...)

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Temple Israel Memphis Everyday Entrance

Temple Israel is a Reform Jewish congregation in Memphis, Tennessee. It is the only Reform synagogue in Memphis, the oldest and largest Jewish congregation in Tennessee, and one of the largest Reform congregations in the United States. It was founded in 1853 by mostly German Jews as Congregation B'nai Israel. Led initially by cantors, in 1858 it hired its first rabbi, Jacob Peres, and leased its first building, which it renovated and eventually purchased. The synagogue was one of the founding members of the Union for Reform Judaism. It experienced difficulty during the Great Depression—membership dropped, the congregational school was closed, and staff had their salaries reduced—but conditions had improved by the late 1930s. In 1943 the synagogue changed its name to Temple Israel, and by the late 1940s membership had almost doubled from its low point in the 1930s. Rabbi Jimmy Wax became known for his activism during the Civil Rights era. In 1976 the congregation constructed its current building, closer to where most members lived. Wax retired in 1978, and was succeeded by Harry Danziger, who brought traditional practices back to the congregation. He retired in 2000, and was succeeded by Micah Greenstein. As of 2010, Temple Israel has almost 1,600 member families. Greenstein is the senior rabbi, and the cantor is John Kaplan. (Read more...)

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NitzavimVayelech (ניצבים– וילך)
Deuteronomy 29:9–31:30
The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 25 Elul, 5774; September 20, 2014
“For this commandment . . . is not in heaven, that you should say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us . . . ?’” (Deuteronomy 30:11–12.)

Moses told the Israelites that all the people stood that day before God to enter into the covenant whereby God might establish Israel as God’s people and be their God, as God promised them and as God swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses made the covenant both with those who were standing there that day and with those who were not there that day. Moses reminded the Israelites that they had dwelt in the land of Egypt and had passed through various other nations and had seen the detestable idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold that those other nations kept. Moses speculated that perchance there were among the Israelites some whose hearts were even then turning away from God to go worship the gods of those nations, who might think themselves immune, thinking that they would be safe though they followed their own willful hearts to the ruin of all. But God would never forgive them; rather God’s anger would rage against them until every curse recorded in the Torah would come down upon them and God had blotted out their names from under heaven. And later generations and other nations would ask why God had done that to those people, and they would be told that it was because they forsook the covenant that God made with them and turned to the service of other gods. So God grew incensed at that land and brought upon it all the curses recorded in the Torah, uprooted them from their soil in anger, and cast them into another land, as would still be the case. Concealed acts concerned God; but with overt acts, it was for the Israelites ever to apply all the provisions of the Torah.

“For this commandment . . . is not in heaven, that you should say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us . . . ?’” (Deuteronomy 30:11–12.)
After all these curses had befallen them, if they took them to heart in their exile, and they returned to God, and they heeded God’s commandments with all their hearts and souls, then God would restore their fortunes, take them back in love, and bring them together again from the ends of the world to the land that their fathers possessed, and God would make them more prosperous and numerous than their fathers. Then God would open their hearts to love God with all their hearts and souls, in order that they might live. God would then inflict all those curses on the enemies who persecuted the Israelites, and would bless the Israelites with abounding prosperity, fertility, and productivity. For God would again delight in their wellbeing, as God had in that of their fathers, since they would be heeding God and keeping the commandments once they had returned to God with all their hearts and souls.
“For this commandment . . . is not . . . beyond the sea, that you should say: ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us . . . ?’” (Deut. 30:11–13.)
Moses said that surely, this Instruction which he enjoined upon them was not too baffling, beyond reach, in the heavens, or beyond the sea; rather it was very close to them, in their mouths and hearts. Moses said that he set before them the choice between life and prosperity on the one hand and death and adversity on the other. Moses commanded them to love God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments, that they might thrive and increase, and that God might bless them in the land. But if their hearts turned away and they gave no heed, and were lured into the worship of other gods, Moses warned that they would certainly perish and not long endure in the land. Moses called heaven and earth to witness that he had put before the Israelites life and death, blessing and curse. He exhorted them to choose life by loving God, heeding the commandments, and holding fast to God, so that they might have life and long endure on the land that God swore to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Moses told the Israelites that he was 120 years old that day, could no longer go out and come in, and God had told him that he was not to go over the Jordan River. God would go over before them and destroy the nations ahead of them as God had destroyed Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, Joshua would go over before them, and the Israelites would dispossess those nations according to the commandments that Moses had commanded them. Moses exhorted the Israelites to be strong and courageous, for God would go with them and would not forsake them. And in the sight of the people, Moses told Joshua to be strong and courageous, for he would go with the people into the land that God had sworn to their fathers and cause them to inherit it, and God would go before him, be with him, and not forsake him.

Ark of the Covenant (bas-relief at the Cathedral of Auch)
Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the Ark of the Covenant and to all the elders of Israel, commanding them to read it before all Israel at the end of every seven years during Sukkot, when all Israel was to appear in the place that God would choose. Moses told them to assemble all the people — men, women, children, and strangers — that they might hear, learn, fear God, and observe the law as long as the Israelites lived in the land that they were going over the Jordan to possess.

God told Moses that as the day of his death was approaching, he should call Joshua, and they should present themselves in the tent of meeting so that God might bless Joshua. God appeared in a pillar of cloud over the door of the Tent and told Moses that he was about to die, the people would rise up and break the covenant, God’s anger would be kindled against them, God would forsake them and hide God’s face from them, and many evils would come upon them. God directed Moses therefore to write a song and teach it to the Israelites so that the song might serve as a witness for God against the Israelites. For when God will have brought the Israelites into the land flowing with milk and honey, they will have eaten their fill, grown fat, turned to other gods, and broken the covenant, then when many evils will have come upon them, this song would testify before them as a witness.

So Moses wrote the song that day and taught it to the Israelites. And God charged Joshua to be strong and courageous, for he would bring the Israelites into the land that God had sworn to them, and God would be with him. And when Moses had finished writing the law in a book, Moses commanded the Levites who bore the Ark of the Covenant to take the book and put it by the side of the Ark so that it might serves as a witness against the people. For Moses said that he knew that even that day, the people had been rebelling against God, so how much more would they after his death?

Moses called the elders and officers to assemble, so that he might call heaven and earth to witness against them. For Moses said that he knew that after his death, the Israelites would deal corruptly and turn away from the commandments, and evil would befall them because they would do that which was evil in the sight of God. And Moses spoke to all the assembly of Israel the words of the song.

Hebrew and English Text
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (Conservative)
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Conservative Yeshiva
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Project Genesis (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Chabad.org (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)


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