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Population percentage Jewish Map
Map of Israel within the Middleast

Modern day Israel is located on the Mediterranean Sea

Moses holds a crucial role in Judaism, regarded as a central figure in the faith. According to the Torah, Moses led the Jewish people to freedom from slavery in Egypt. It's noteworthy, however, that there's no documented evidence of this enslavement in Egyptian writings. The Jewish story recounts Moses and the Hebrews' journey through the Sinai Peninsula after leaving Ancient Egypt. During one night on Mount Sinai, it is believed that God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, which later became integral to the Torah/Old Testament. These commandments served as essential guidelines for the Jewish people on how to lead their lives.

The most sacred texts in Judaism include the Torah, also known as the Old Testament, which constitutes part of the TeNaKh—an acronym encompassing Torah (teachings), Nevi'im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). Another significant work, the Talmud, offers instructions on adhering to Jewish teachings, providing additional insights into the principles guiding the faith.

Judaism is an ancient religion, dating back about 3500 years. It's one of the oldest monotheistic religions, which means it believes in only one god. Even though it's one of the major world religions, it's the smallest, with roughly 12 million followers worldwide. In ancient times, Jewish people were known as Hebrews or Israelites. They believe a man named Abraham is the founding father of the Jewish people, and his story is in their holy book, the Torah. Interestingly, Christians also consider the Torah a holy book, but they call it the Old Testament.

For Jews, Jerusalem is super important—it's their holiest city. It's also the capital of Israel, the only country where most people are Jewish. In ancient times the Jewish people were forced to leave the area around Jerusalem. During the 1900's Jews began to move back to this area and eventually formed the nation of Israel in 1948 after World War II. 

Painting of Moses with the 10 Commandments

Moses with the Tables of the Law by Guido Reni

In Judaism, the term for God is Yahweh. Synagogues [sin-uh-gogs], where Jews gather for worship, are places where men and women typically sit separately. Men are often required to cover their heads with a hat called a yarmulke [yam-moo-ka]. The yarmulke, worn as a symbol of respect and humility, is often a personal choice for Jewish men.  


Worship in synagogues primarily takes place in the Hebrew language. The spiritual guides in Judaism are called rabbis [rab-eyes], and unlike leaders in some other religions, a rabbi is not considered a priest and does not have a special connection with God. The Torah is read during synagogue services, and the worship often involves chanting and singing.

The belief in the afterlife differs in Judaism compared to most religions. While some branches of Judaism do have varying beliefs in an afterlife, the emphasis in Jewish holy books, such as the Torah, is predominantly on life on Earth. Concepts of heaven and hell are rarely mentioned, and the focus is on living in the right way and fulfilling one's responsibilities in this world.

For Jews, ethical living and fulfilling one's responsibilities are deeply rooted in the teachings of the Torah and other sacred texts. Jews believe in the concept of Tikkun Olam, which translates to "repairing the world." This underscores the responsibility to actively contribute to the betterment of society, engaging in acts of charity, social justice, and compassion.

Part of Jewish life revolves around eating the correct food.  Kosher foods are those that follow Jewish dietary law, known as kashrut. There are many kosher rules about what food is appropriate to eat and how certain foods are mixed or prepared. This includes no mixing of dairy and meat, no pork or pork products and no shellfish such as shrimp.  Jews can eat meat from any animal that chews its cud and has a split hoof such as cows, goats, and sheep—rabbits, pigs, and horses are not kosher.  Jews may eat fish that have both fins and scales that are detachable from the skin. 

Kosher McDonalds sign

A kosher McDonalds in Israel

Jewish boy reading the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah

Jewish boy reading the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah By Eli - CC BY 2.0 DEED, CC0, Flickr: 20080516-00107.jpg

Just like any religion, there are different version of Judaism or different denominations such as Orthodox, Reform, and Liberal Jewish faiths.  There are special ceremonies when Jewish boys (aged 13) and girls (aged 12) become adults.  Bar mitzvah is for boys and Bat mitzvah is for girls.  Traditionally, Jews say prayers three times daily, with a fourth prayer added on holidays.  Yom Kippur is the most important Jewish holiday. Jews traditionally observe this holiday with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue.

The Old Testament says the "Messiah" will come to Earth and save the Jewish people.  This is a core belief of Judaism. The Christians' Jesus was born into the Jewish religion a little over 2000 years ago.  There were certain things about Judaism that he disagreed with, so he began preaching new ideas.  He was thought of as a rebel preacher, however some people thought he was the Messiah that was promised.  After Jesus was killed, his followers later went on to start a new religion called Christianity.  So Christianity was born from Judaism and that is why Christianity and Judaism share religious writing, characters, and beliefs. A few hundred years after Jesus, another prophet named Muhammad would create another branch of this belief system as the founding leader of Islam. Since all three of these religions believe Abraham was their first prophet and they share other characters, stories, and beliefs, they are called Abrahamic religions

Jewish Expulsion Map

Map of the expulsions of Jews from European territories between 1100 and 1600. Sources:

Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan by József Molnár

Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan, by József Molnár

The confusing thing about being Jewish is that it is more than just a religion. It is also an ethnic group--they have a long shared history, culture, and language. Even though Jews were forced from their homeland in the 6th and 8th Century most of their culture remained regardless of the various places they settled through history. Jewish people settled in North Africa and Europe.  


According to traditional Jewish Law, a Jew is anyone born of at least one Jewish parent OR someone who has converted to the religion of Judaism. So, someone can be Jewish even if they don’t follow the religion. This can be confusing and it also makes counting the number of Jews very difficult. Are we counting those with ethnic Jewish ancestors or followers of the religion? The Jewish people have a long, complicated history that involved many cases of persecution and even genocide by Nazi Germany during WWII, known as the Holocaust. Genocide is the attempted killing of an entire ethnic group or nation in an attempt to destroy the group completely. 

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