For this project, I interviewed a girl who was one of my followers on social media named Haley. She’s a twenty-year-old girl who lives in South Carolina that is Jewish. She volunteered to help me with my project and she gave me some very insightful and detailed information as she is very involved in her religion. Haley told me that she wasn’t raised religious by any means but her best friend growing up was Jewish. She would spend the night at her house and go to Sunday school the next morning, but instead of going to a “normal” church, they went to a synagogue. Haley told me that she would do that every weekend with her friend and by the time she got to high school, the synagogue was like her “second home” so she continued to go with and without her friend.
The sacred text the followers of Judaism follow is the Torah, which means “teaching” in Hebrew. The Torah can mean many things, as there are twenty-four books that make up the Hebrew Bible. When people use the word Torah, they are referring to the “totality of God’s revelation to the people of Israel.” The meanings of the Torah are very important in understanding the Jewish faith. The parchment copies of the first five books of the Hebrew bible is what makes up the scrolls of the Torah. In English, these books are called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Brodd 355). Haley told me that the Torah is a “huge scroll thing” that is written in Hebrew. These scrolls can be located in each and every synagogue around the world. The Torah has often been translated as “the Law” because it contains “all the of sacred legislation contained within the Hebrew Bible” (Brodd 355). I was also told by Haley that the Torah is so sacred that they don’t let little kids hold them because if they are ever dropped, they are supposed to fast for forty-two days.
Haley told me that afterlife in relation to Judaism is said to be one of the most elusive topics in the whole religion. The beliefs about afterlife are very postbiblical and not entirely expressed until the time of the Talmud, which is one of the main works of the Jewish people. Many biblical writers said that “the death of the body entailed the passage of the soul into an underworld where it would remain forever,” but still many biblical texts carry clues of a counter tradition. For example, the Second Book of Kings portrays the seer Elijah as moving upward into heaven on a “fiery chariot” (2 Kings 2:1-12). After that being said, there is only one reference in which the dead rise again to life in the Book of Daniel, which is a very late biblical work (Brodd 360). Haley also told me that Jews do not speak on afterlife, and that the “concept of heaven and hell wasn’t brought up until Jesus and the New Testament so Christians made that a thing.” The textbook states that “many reform-minded Jews, bent on reevaluating traditional Judaic beliefs, concluded that any belief in an existence beyond this world was either an archaic folk belief or an insupportable, unscientific hypothesis” (Brodd 360).
I asked Haley about Judaism in relation to Christianity, which is the most practiced religion in the world. She told me that the two religions are extremely similar. I learned that Judaism and Christianity both believe in one God, and they both believe he is righteous, loving, and merciful. They also both share the Old Testament as the “authorities word of God,” although Christianity also includes the New Testament. The textbook states, “Christianity began began life as a splinter movement within Judaism” (Brodd 370).
Haley also noted several differences between Judaism and Christianity that I found to be very intriguing. I came to found out that the main difference is the argument of Jesus Christ. Christianity aims to teach that Jesus Christ is the “fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of a coming Messiah or Savior. Judaism doesn’t have a similar belief in that aspect. They recognize Jesus as an excellent teacher and possibly a prophet of God, but they don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Also, Christianity teaches that Jesus was God in the flesh, and that God became a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ so he could lay down his life to pay the price for our sins. Judaism intensely rejects that Jesus was God or that such a sacrifice was needed. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the all-important distinction between Christianity and Judaism. A passage from the textbook confirms this by stating that “those early followers of Jesus, who may of thought of him as a prophet, or even as a Messiah-figure, were soon displaced by those who saw Jesus as the ‘Son of God,’ and eventually came to believe in him as the incarnate form of YHWH” (Brodd 370).
I then learned about the differences between Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox Judaism from Haley. To start off, Haley told me some interesting facts about orthodox Judaism and why it was different from the other two. She explained that they have resisted in modernizing their faith and have kept certain practices such as daily worship, dietary laws like kashruth, traditional prayers and ceremonies, regular and intensive studying of the Torah, and separation of men and women inside of the synagogue. All of the Jewish groups consider themselves as well as each other to be supporters of the Jewish faith, but orthodox rabbis still challenge the validity of non-Orthodox marriages, divorces, and conversions because they supposedly “violate prescriptions of Jewish law.” The textbook states that orthodox Judaism contains a “strict observance of halachah, allowing for limited adaptation to changing conditions of life (Sabbath, family purity, and dietary laws).” Another thing that makes orthodox Judaism different than the other two according to the textbook is that they have a “literal belief in the afterlife, immortality of the soul, resurrection of the dead, and messianic redemption of Israel and the world” (Brodd 380).
Haley then educated me on Reform Judaism and all that it entails. I learned that Reform Judaism began in Germany in the early 19th century. Laymen appealed for an updated Jewish liturgy and other rituals. When Jews were liberated from their ghettos, they began to question their allegiance to such traditions as restrictive dietary laws, prayers in Hebrew, and the wearing of special outfits that set them apart as Jews. Many felt that Judaism would lose Jews to other religions if steps were not taken to bring Judaism into the 19th century. Reform Judaism changed or discarded many traditional Jewish beliefs, laws, and practices in order to adapt Judaism to the current world. The textbook states that Reform Judaism, or “Progressive Judaism,” commits to an “evolutionary view of Jewish belief and religious practice,” and has a “skeptical view of any literal belief in divine revelation, afterlife, and resurrection of the dead.” It also says that this form of Judaism rejects all forms of gender separation and differentiation, which is the complete opposite in Orthodox Judaism (Brodd 380-381).
Lastly, Haley educated me on Conservative Judaism. She told me that it especially prevalent in the United States and it is represented by the United Synagogue of America. Conservative Jews aim to “conserve” Jewish traditions in the U.S. and it tries to combine a encouraging approach toward present culture, acceptance of precarious knowledge regarding Judaism’s sacred texts, and commitment to Jewish observance. They also think that Jewish texts indicate that Judaism has continuously been progressing to meet the needs of Jewish people in varying situations. The textbook confirmed this by stating that they “believe in serious commitment to observance of halachah, combined with a significant degree of adaptation to changing circumstances of modern life.” They also have a “historical-critical approach to Tanakh and Talmud, coupled with a generally nonliteral belief in the afterlife, immortality of the soul, and resurrection of the dead.”
The most interesting thing I learned from Haley was the word “Shoah” and what the term means. When people talk about the Holocaust, most of them don’t know that many Jews or victims of this event find that word disrespectful. The term Shoah is a respectful word that is used to described what most people call the Holocaust. Haley informed me that the term “holocaust” has a meaning to Jews than it has to other people, which is a sacrificial offering that is burned on an altar. Therefore, the word “holocaust” carries the implied charge that what the Nazi’s did was a sacred act. She explained that it is sick to say that the slaughter of over six million Jews was sacrificial, and that we know Hitler did not intend that to be the meaning of the genocide of all those people. The textbook reiterates this information by stating, “Many Jews prefer this term [Shoah], unfamiliar as it may be to English-speaking audiences, precisely because it avoids the connotation of a divinely commanded sacrifice, which is exactly what the biblical term “holocaust” (or “burnt offering”) brings to mind” (Brodd 381).
According to the textbook there are “five major festivals, all linked to each other and to the cycle of nature.” These festivals are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. All of these festivals originate from biblical times and on each of these occasions Jews are required to stop working and dedicate themselves to prayer (Brodd 386-387). Haley explained to me what each of these festivals was starting with Rosh Hashanah. She told me that Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year celebrated by Orthodox and Conservative Jews also on the second day of Tishri. This festival is considered as both a solemn and a joyous occasion (Brodd 387). I learned that Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement after the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. She told me that on this day, Jews ask God for forgiveness for their sins to secure their fate. Next, I learned that Sukkot is a week-long and comes after Yom Kippur. It commemorates the gathering of the harvest and memorializes the protection of the children of Israel that God provided for them when they left Egypt. I learned from the textbook that Pesach, or Passover in English, is the “second of three pilgrimage festivals, the first being Sukkot and the third being Shavuot” (Brodd 390). Haley told me that Passover is one of her favorite Jewish holidays and that it’s a Jewish festival that celebrates Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Last but not least, Shavuot is “a later spring harvest festival that is celebrated for two days and is associated with the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai” (Brodd G-10). It occurs fifty days after the second day in Passover.
In conclusion, I never thought learning about Judaism or another person’s religion for that matter would be as interesting and intriguing as it was. I learned about things that I was ignorant to, like the meaning of Shoah, which I now will educate others about. Also, I couldn’t of asked a better person to interview. Haley was very helpful and very insightful about her religion and knew lots about everything I asked her. I am very grateful that she messaged me and took the time out of her day to help me understand Judaism better. Lastly, I am glad I chose Judaism rather than any other religion to do this project on. It was the religion I felt I knew the least about and understanding it better has changed the way I view millions of people who practice this religion.
I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.