Judaism 101

Chapters 1-3

Chapter I / Scattered

Jews can be found all over the world, in almost every country, and in many shapes and forms and colors. What binds them together is their religion. Judaism.

For centuries they have survived all over the earth, scattered apart, yet have they thrived and found community with one another through their religion.

How did Judaism come to be?

Chapter II / Terah

There lived a man named Terah. He had three sons. Two of them had wonderful names, but I’m not going to include them because this is not their story, and it might clog up your brain with unnecessary detail. So I will not tell you about Nahor and Haran. This is about Abraham, who was born approximately 2000 years after the Biblical creation of Adam. Please forget the names of Nahor and Haran now. Thank you.

Terah and his sons, one of whom was Abraham, were Chaldeans who lived in the land of Ur.

Ur was an important city-state in Mesopotamia and was located near the Euphrates River.

A sidenote: Ur is located in modern-day Iraq. It used to be a coastal city, but it now is, according to my friends at Wikipedia, “...significantly inland.”

Another sidenote: Abraham was originally named “Abram.” When he was a sprightly and virile young man of 99, God changed his name from “Abram” to “Abraham.” Abram means “exalted father.” Abraham means “father of crowds.” They’re both pretty cool names, but “Abraham” certainly has more possibilities for cool nicknames, and also “father of crowds (or multitudes)” is a good description because he became the father of billions of people. Yes, if you’re reading this, you are distantly related to Abraham. Distantly. How distant? I don’t know. #23andme

Anyway, they worshipped idols, and Terah was important because he made them. If you were a kid who lived in a country where idols were important, and your dad was the one making the idols, then I imagine you might think you had a pretty cool dad.

Abraham was a thinker, and when you’re tending sheep in the fertile pasturelands of the Euphrates Valley, then you have plenty of time to think. So Abraham thought lots. And one of the things he apparently thought about lots was the nature of idols. Remember, his dad made them. He had lots of time to think about the strangeness of worshipping and praying to something that he had watched his father form out of stone or clay.

Eventually, Abraham’s thoughts became words, and words became questions, and when you’re in a land where idols are worshiped and you start questioning whether they’re worthy of worship, then...life can become dangerous. Especially after Abraham proposed that rather than worshipping idols, they should worship a god who had actually created the earth and all that was on it.

Abraham made the wise, but sad decision to leave his homeland with his family and all their possessions and head north to Canaan.

Abraham was called Ibri, which means “from across.” In other words, the guy who came across the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. So his family was called Ibris. Which is where Hebrew comes from. Hebrew = Ibri

Abraham and his family, the Hebrews, were similar to the Canaanites in many ways. But in one significant way, they were completely different.:

They believed that idols should not be worshiped.

chapter III / Rise

Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob.

Jacob was also called “Israel.” His kids were called “children of Israel,” or simply “Israelites.”

Jacob, also known as Israel, had twelve sons who went on to form the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Those sons had many children, and their children had many children. And so it went. More and more of them.

The more of them there were, the more powerful they became. They kept wandering throughout the land, always searching for optimal pastureland. And because there were a lot of them, it became easier and easier to fight and defeat other tribes to get the best land.

A famine is a super bad situation where there’s not enough food and people start to starve. Guess what? An extra super bad famine happened and the Israelites decided to head down to Egypt to find food and good pastureland. Was this a good idea? In the short term...yes.

They settled in the province of Goshen, which was close to the Nile River. For quite some time, things went smoothly. They kept making babies, and growing food, and taking care of their animals, and…

...worshiping their own God.

The Egyptians were big-time idol worshipers. They had tons of gods. They may have been more into worshipping tons of gods than anyone else in those days. They worshiped fish and birds and beetles and dogs and cats and crocodiles and...just a lot of different animals and gods and idols.

So they weren’t super excited about the Hebrews not being into idol worship. Eventually this became a problem, especially as the Hebrews continued making babies and growing their numbers.

The Pharaoh called together his senior advisors and asked them for solutions; for ideas of how could they deal with the Hebrews and their growing power.

From a pragmatic standpoint, the Egyptians were actually pretty smart, and their understanding of human psychology is commendable. Their reasoning went like this:

Slaves don’t think for themselves.

Slaves think as they’re told to by their masters.

If we make the Hebrews slaves, they will think - and believe - as we do.

So that’s what they did.

And that’s what happened.

The Hebrews slowly began to embrace the thinking and beliefs of their masters, the idol-worshipping Egyptians.

But the change was too slow, and they were still making babies, and their numbers were still too great, so the Pharaoh called together his advisors again, and this is what they came up with.

This is truly atrocious:

What they decided was to drown all the newborn Hebrew boys. That way, the Hebrew girls would be forced to marry Egyptian men, and the Hebrew culture, religion, and bloodline would be phased out. “Phased out” is what we call a euphemism. A euphemism is a nice way of describing something that’s horrible.

So that happened. Too horrible to even think about. But that’s what we have to do with history: sometimes think about the horrible things so we can fight to make sure those things don’t happen again.

Sidenote: historians estimate that Moses was born 200 years and change after the death of Abraham.

Anyway, amidst this horrific time, an allegedly adorable baby was born. Aren’t they all. His name was Moses. According to the law, he was supposed to be drowned. But history is also filled with examples of good people breaking bad laws because they are wrong.

Thank goodness Moses’s mom was a lawbreaker. She refused to let her moderately-cute baby boy be drowned, and put him into a basket to float down the Nile...which was technically actually sort of following the law.

So baby Moses is floating down the river, and we never see him again…

...or do we?

Stay tuned.


Isaac, Jacob, Twelve Tribes,  famine, Nile River, pragmatic, euphemism,