Judaism/Introduction

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Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people with around 15 million followers as of 2006. It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The values and history of the Jewish people are a major part of the foundation of other Abrahamic religions such as Samaritanism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahá'í Faith.

Judaism has seldom, if ever, been monolithic in practice (although it has been, and continues to be, monotheistic in theology), and differs from many religions in that its central authority is not vested in any person or group but rather in its writings and traditions (known as the Torah). Despite this, Judaism in all its variations has remained tightly bound to a number of religious principles, the most important of which is the belief in a single, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, transcendent God, who created the universe and continues to be involved in its governance. According to traditional Jewish thought, the God who created the world established a covenant with the Jewish people, and revealed his laws and commandments to them in the form of the Torah. The practice of Judaism is devoted to the study and observance of these laws and commandments, as written in the Torah.

Judaism does not fit easily into conventional Western categories, such as religion, ethnicity, or culture, in part because most of its 5,000-year history predates the rise of Western culture, or occurred outside of the West. During this time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic and theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile; they have been in contact with, and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment (see Haskalah) and the rise of nationalism (which would bear fruit in the form of a Jewish state in the Levant. They also saw an elite convert to Judaism (the Khazars), only to disappear as the centers of power in the lands once occupied by that elite fell to the people of Rus and then the Mongols. Thus, Talmud professor Daniel Boyarin has argued that "Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension."

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Judaism