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Leader Resource 1: Judaism Background
Although ancient, Judaism is not considered an indigenous religion; it is based on the revelation of religious wisdom and law to the people, not on an understanding that grows from personal experience or intuition. Revelation is believed to be a direct interaction between God and a human being.
Monotheistic religions worship one God. In Judaism, God is conceived of, communicated with, and understood only as a singular entity—unlike Hinduism, in which God may be "separated" into hundreds of deities. Jewish monotheism does not allow practitioners to worship images of God. Out of respect, traditional Jews will not write the name of God (instead, in English, a Jew might write "G-d").
Although scholars debate whether Judaism can be described as non-creedal, the religion is primarily concerned with what practitioners do and less with what they believe.
Jews call themselves the People of the Law, People of the Book, or the Chosen People because of the covenant God made with the Jewish people, which includes laws, given in the Torah, which the people must obey. Different branches of Judaism today practice these laws to a greater or lesser degree. Orthodox Jews live strictly within the exact, literal specifications of 613 commandments given in the text of the Torah, shaping every facet of their lives to keep them. Conservative Jews adhere to the commandments they consider most important and maintain the spirit of the covenant. Reform Jews may symbolically follow selected commandments, but focus on a conceptual keeping of the covenant by honoring God, caring for the earth and all life on it (the world God created), and working to promote justice and heal our world. Reconstructionist Jews are religious humanists who emphasize Jewish values, culture, and history over teachings from biblical text.
Many people consider themselves Jewish by heritage, yet know little of the Jewish religion and may in fact belong to another faith (such as Unitarian Universalism) or none at all. Likewise, many without a biological Jewish heritage consider themselves Jewish by affinity or through formal conversion. In contemporary Western cultures and in Israel today, the range of Jewish identities, beliefs, and practices can cause tension to the point where some conservative Jews do not recognize converted Jews or religiously liberal Jews as Jewish at all.
Judaism's Ties to Unitarian Universalism: Social Justice
Like Unitarian Universalism, Judaism is linked with public witness and action to promote justice. Jews believe in the concept of tikkun olam, or, repair of the world, and thus feel charged to act to make a difference to make the world a better place. Further, Jewish history includes thousands of years of marginalized status, discrimination, enslavement, and even genocide by those in power. Others' experiences of injustice often resonate with Jews for that reason. Jews from fundamentalist through secular often share a resolve to do what they can to make the world better for those who cannot help themselves.
- Disproportionate contributions to humanity, considering our numbers. Unitarian Universalists have contributed more to science, art, literature, social change, and religious thought than one might expect based on our small numbers. This is also true of Jews, on a larger scale. Accounting for only two-tenths of one percent of the world population, Jewish people have made disproportionate significant accomplishments in every arena of human endeavor.
- Values of inquiry, education, and personal accountability. Like Unitarian Universalists, Jews expect to begin education in childhood and continue learning throughout life. Both faiths value inquiry and critical thinking. While religious Judaism promotes obedience (to God) where Unitarian Universalism does not, both faiths affirm individuals to constantly question, to seek truth, and to develop their ability to make informed and righteous decisions over their lifetimes.
- Unitarian Universalism has a significant presence of Jews, many of whom claim a blended Jewish and UU identity. Some UU congregations adapt traditional Jewish New Year, Day of Atonement, or Passover Seder rituals to lift up shared Jewish and Unitarian Universalist values. Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness is committed to addressing "the Jewish dimension of Unitarian Universalism's multicultural challenge."