Judaism began about 3,500 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean. It originated as the common religion of a small nation of Hebrew tribes and is now the oldest monotheistic religion still practiced today. According to Jewish tradition, God revealed himself to Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people. God told him that the Hebrews should believe in and worship only one God. Centuries later, the prophet Moses received divine instruction for how Jews should live and worship.
The belief in one God is central to all forms of Judaism. The name of God in Hebrew is YHWH, often pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah. God is often referred to by a euphemism, such as “the Lord,” as the true name can be considered too sacred to use. While all Jews recognize that the ritual laws given in the Torah are divinely inspired, denominations differ in how strictly they adhere to them. Some who identify as Jewish do not follow ritual laws at all, but instead follow Jewish morality as interpreted from sacred texts.
The Torah is the foundational text of Judaism. It narrates the story of creation, the origins of the Jewish faith, and God’s commandments for the Jewish people. The larger canon of sacred Tanakh writings and the religious commentary of the Talmud are also important texts.
Most Jewish congregations worship in a synagogue. In Reform Judaism, the synagogue may be referred to as a temple. Rabbi is the term used for spiritual leaders of Judaism. In Hasidic Judaism, the leader is instead called rebbe.
Reform – Reacting to the Enlightenment in the 18th and 19th centuries CE, European Jews sought to adapt their religious laws to the new philosophies and social movements of their time. These changes emphasize the evolving nature and diversity of religious practice.
Orthodox – Orthodox practices also developed out of the Enlightenment, but as a reaffirmation of the ritual laws found in the Torah. Orthodox denominations vary on how much they participate in secular culture, and include Modern Orthodox, Haredi, and Hasidic congregations.
Conservative – This denomination formed in the United States by Jews who wanted to fully participate in American culture, but did not agree with the changes to Jewish law and traditions employed by Reform Judaism.
Colors are used to represent beliefs, traditions, and concepts in many religious traditions. Blue is the color of the heavens in Judaism. Because of this, it was adopted as one of the colors of the Israeli flag, and so has become synonymous with Jewish nationalism. In addition, the Torah describes traditional clothing adorned with blue-dyed tassels, as well as blue coverings for ritual objects.
White was chosen as the exhibit’s background color because it is meaningful to each of the five religions. In Judaism, white is the color of light, peace, intellect, and purity. It also symbolizes purity from sin. It is also one of the two colors of the Israeli flag.