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Non Fiction

Understanding Judaism

The stuff that I know about Judaism are fragmented knowledge from hearsays and from reading other war and tragedy books about Jewish. So it is with my desire to decipher the religious and traditional significance of terms like Yom Kippur, Torah, Talmud, Rosh Hashanah, the Wailing wall and Hanukkah.

These are what I had learnt from the book:

  • Besides the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi Jews, there is a third group called Edot ha-Mizrah which can be found in Middle East and Yemen.
  • There are three(3) major movements of Judaism : The Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. Conservative being the group that straddles between the Reform and Orthodox.
  • Torah is the first of the three parts of the Hebrew bible.
  • The history of Jews in Christendom is one of nearly constant persecution. Massacres, expulsions and forced conversions were common. The position of the Jews under Islam could also be precarious, but in times of tolerance they flourished in a manner unthinkable under Christian rule. The high point in this respect was the “Golden Age” of the Jews of Muslim Spain 10 – 12th centuries.-page 17
  • Many of exiled and refugee Judeans managed to avoid assimilation in Babylon. This was largely due to the effort of religious leaders like Jeremiah, who argued that it was possible to retain both religious and national identity even in exile. Thus was born the bifurcation that has marked Judaism since that time, the division of the Jewish people into a community in the national homeland and one living the Diaspora.  – page 22
  • Judaism believes that God is the creator of both good and evil, Islam believes the same. –page 26
  • In Judaism, although human beings may aspire to holiness through their actions, the veneration of mortals is generally avoided. Figures from the past are objects of emulation, but not adoration: the division between the divine and the human realms remains. There is no apotheosis in Judaism.
  • One I find appealing and which I hold true is the concept of tikkun olam (“betterment of the world”), the desire to leave the world a better place than when one entered it. – page 61
  • Judaism does not subscribe to the doctrine of original sin, but believes each human being to be born with the potential for doing both good and evil. The individual has to bear the responsibility for his or her actions and life becomes a struggle between the inclination to good (yetzer ha-tov) and the inclination to evil (yetzer ha-ra).-page 61
  • According to the Bible, God’s blessing for Abraham consisted of a twofold promise of descendants and of land. The Jewish people view themselves as the fulfillment of the first promise; the second is fulfilled by the people of Israel dwelling in the land of Israel. It is perhaps a uniquely Jewish paradox that a religion to which a person born anywhere in the world can belong is yet intimately bound to one small territory.


I do not claim to be an expert of Judaism after reading this and I doubt I could remember all the terminologies that I have read. I knew some basic knowledge about Judasim from my other half’s experience growing up with Jewish, by reading the Christian bible and also by observing at Jewish artifacts and antiques for sale in the Moroccan souks; but the book introduces me to the key themes: the history and origins, the beliefs, the important figure, the festive days, ethical principles, about death ceremony and what Jewish believe about afterlife. The author made the book succinct and accessible to all, with pictorial illustration and glossy quality pages, it serves as a good first introduction to Judaism.

Hardback. Publisher: Duncan Baird 2004; Length: 111 pages; Setting: Non-fiction. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 8 May 2010.

I am reading this for the World Religion Challenge. More about the author please see: Carl S. Ehrlich

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


7 thoughts on “Understanding Judaism

  1. My husband teaches contract law, and he goes crazy over that last bit in your list, about God’s contract with Abraham that binds all the descendants. And it wasn’t a very good deal – they get to be chosen – for persecution – forever more! Obviously Abraham should have gotten a lawyer to represent him!!!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | May 15, 2010, 2:33 am
    • Hi Jill,
      LOL. You made me laugh.
      It is truly ironic to be chosen and subject to persecution “forever” as you say. Thy God will be done, perhaps it serves as the harbinger of the messanic age, one which God promises that it will happen!

      Posted by JoV | May 15, 2010, 7:44 am
  2. Thanks for sharing your review of this rather promising book on Judaism. If you ever want to read more about Judaism feel free to check out Max Dimont’s Jews, God and History, as well as Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century. Howard Sachar’s History of the Jews in the Modern World is pretty darn impressive as well.
    Nice blog, by the way. I will have to drop by more often.

    Posted by maphead | May 16, 2010, 6:46 pm
    • Thanks x100! for the complment, and most of all for the recommendations!! I haven’t a clue what to read next about Jewish faith, but you definitely gave me a headstart!

      Posted by JoV | May 16, 2010, 8:16 pm
  3. Great review! I learned a lot from what you learned! 🙂

    Posted by J.T. Oldfield | May 18, 2010, 12:00 am


  1. Pingback: Non-fiction Five Challenge 2010 « Bibliojunkie - September 29, 2010

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
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Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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