Often Christians may think they have a firm grasp of Judaism and how to speak to Jewish people because of the shared foundation Judaism and Christianity have. The reality is that Judaism has changed since the days of Christ, but our understanding of it has not.
Being Jewish and following the religion of Judaism are two different things. Identifying as Jewish now relates more and more to culture and your family history than any professed faith. The 6th edition of Operation World noted that the Jewish population of Israel was around 25% religious and 75% secular.
There are three different main branches of religious Judaism.
1) Orthodox – this branch is the most traditional, and until recently, the only branch of Judaism. Orthodox Jews still follow the laws of Moses.
2) Reformed – the most liberal branch, trying to have Judaism “get with the times.” Reformed Jews don’t adhere to strict religious laws.
3) Conservative – the middle ground. Conservative Jews are mostly traditional, but believe rabbis can change laws if necessary to be better suited to current culture.
The religion of Judaism states that there is only one God. There isn’t a concept of original sin – humans are born pure, but their actions can cause them to be unrighteous. The emphasis of the religion is more on behavior, not on theologies.
There are two main sacred texts:
1) Torah – technically the Pentateuch, five books of Moses. It is also used as the name for the collection of Law, Prophets, and Writings. (Same books as the Christian Old Testament)
2) Talmud – writings that explain and interpret the Torah
More notes on Judaism
Because those who identify as Jewish may or may not be religious, knowing what they really believe can span a wide range. There are those who believe in one God, and those who believe in no God. Some believe that their scriptures were divinely inspired by God, while others see the texts as a history of the Jewish people written by men.
Orthodox Jews believe that those who are righteous in life will live with God after death, while the unrighteous will experience nonspecific suffering. The more modern branches are unconcerned about life after death, instead focusing on their actions in the present to make the world a pleasanter place. There isn’t an idea of salvation – since the Jewish people are God’s chosen people they will enter heaven, but doing good deeds will provide a better place in heaven.
The Orthodox Jews still believe the Messiah will come, but see him as a political leader (much as Jews in Jesus’ day did). The Conservative and Reformed Jews believe more in a messianic age of peace than a person.