Jewish Beliefs

Unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism has no official creed or universal doctrinal requirements for membership. In general, a person can be considered “Jewish” whether he adheres to a complete system of beliefs about God and the afterlife, holds only a few simple beliefs that give meaning to ritual, or even (at least in liberal Judaism) does not believe in God at all.

This diversity in Jewish belief arises in part because actions (good deeds and the mitzvot), not beliefs, are the most important aspect of Jewish religious life. In addition, the term “Jewish” can be used to describe a race and a culture rather than a religion, so some who identify themselves as Jewish may have little interest in the beliefs and practices associated with the religion of Judaism.

Nevertheless, the Torah and Talmud have a great deal to say about God, humanity, and the meaning of life, and Jewish history has seen significant theological and mystical inquiry into religious concepts. These beliefs are of great significance not only for Judaism itself, but also for their direct influence on Christianity and Islam, currently the two largest religions in the world.

In Judaism, ultimate reality is a single, all-powerful God. It is this belief that made the Jews unique among other ancient Semitic peoples and that became the legacy Judaism has passed on to the entire Western world.

The sacred name of God, as revealed to Moses in the book of Exodus, is YHWH. Since ancient Hebrew was written without vowels, we do not know the original pronunciation of this word. The common pronunciation “Jehovah,” however, is incorrect. It is derived from combining the vowels for Adonai (“Lord”) with the four consonants of YHWH.

A more “correct” pronunciation, and that which is used among scholars, is “Yahweh.” The discussion is irrelevant to observant Jews, however, as they do not pronounce this holiest of names. When the Torah is read aloud, Adonai (“Lord”) is read in its place. This practice is reflected in most English translations, in which YHWH is rendered “LORD.” Jews also refer to God as Hashem, “the Name.”

The word YHWH is sometimes referred to as the Tetragrammaton, from the Greek for “four-lettered.” It is also called The Forbidden Name or the Unutterable Name. The prohibition against pronouncing this name does not originate with the command to not take the Lord’s name in vain, as is sometimes thought.

Although traditionally this only applies to the Name in Hebrew, some modern Jews also refrain from writing the word “God,” replacing it instead with “G-d.” Opinions vary within Judaism as to the necessity of such a practice.

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