Judaism is the original of the three Abrahamic faiths, which also includes Christianity and Islam. It originated in the Middle East over 3500 years ago founded by Moses, although Jews trace their history back to Abraham.

Pew Research Centre stated 14.3 million people following Judaism. According to the 2001 census 267,000 people in the UK said that their religious identity was Jewish, about 0.5% of the population.


The Star of David, a symbol of Judaism, as a religion, and of the Jewish people as a whole. And it also thought to be the shield (or at least the emblem on it) of King David. 

The symbol thus generally represents the merging of the male and the female, and, the elements of fire and water, respectively. The Star of David also appears in the architecture of Mormon places of worship, where it symbolizes the union of heaven and earth, with God reaching down to man and man reaching up to God.

Brief History

Jewish history begins during the Bronze age in the Middle East.

The birth of the Jewish people and the start of Judaism is told in the first 5 books of the Bible.

God chose Abraham to be the father of a people who would be special to God, and who would be an example of good behaviour and holiness to the rest of the world.

God guided the Jewish people through many troubles, and at the time of Moses he gave them a set of rules by which they should live, including the Ten Commandments.

This was the beginning of Judaism as a structured religion. The Jews, under God’s guidance became a powerful people with kings such as Saul, David, and Solomon, who built the first great temple.

From then on Jewish worship was focussed on the Temple, as it contained the Ark of the Covenant, and was the only place where certain rites could be carried out.

Around 920 BCE, the kingdom fell apart, and the Jewish people split into groups. This was the time of the prophets.

Around 600 BCE the temple was destroyed, and the Jewish leadership was killed.

Many Jews were sent into exile in Babylon. Although the Jews were soon allowed to return home, many stayed in exile, beginning the Jewish tradition of the Diaspora – living away from Israel.

The Jews grew in strength throughout the next 300 years BCE, despite their lands being ruled by foreign powers. At the same time they became more able to practice their faith freely, led by scribes and teachers who explained and interpreted the Bible.

In 175 BCE the King of Syria desecrated the temple and implemented a series of laws aiming to wipe out Judaism in favour of Zeus worship. There was a revolt (164 BCE) and the temple was restored. The revolt is celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hannukah.

For a period the Jewish people governed themselves again and were at peace with the Roman Empire. But internal divisions weakened the Jewish kingdom and allowed the Romans to establish control in 63 BCE. In the years that followed, the Jewish people were taxed and oppressed by a series of “puppet” rulers who neglected the practice of Judaism.

The priests or Sadducees were allied to the rulers and lost favour with the people, who turned increasingly to the Pharisees or Scribes.

These were also known as Rabbis, meaning teachers.

What is nowadays called the ‘Current Era’ traditionally begins with the birth of a Jewish teacher called Jesus. His followers came to believe he was the promised Messiah and later split away from Judaism to found Christianity, a faith whose roots are firmly in Judaism.

The Rabbis encouraged the Jewish people to observe ethical laws in all aspects of life, and observe a cycle of prayer and festivals in the home and at synagogues.

This involved a major rethink of Jewish life. Although the Temple still stood, its unique place as the focus of Jewish prayer and practice was diminished. Many synagogues had been founded in Palestine and right around the Jewish Diaspora.

Great teaching academies were founded in the first century BCE with scholars discussing and debating God’s laws. The most well known of the early teachers were Hillel, and his contemporary Shammai.

70 – 200 CE: The destruction of the Temple

This was a period of great change – political, religious, cultural and social turmoil abounded in Palestine. The Jewish academies flourished but many Jews could not bear being ruled over by the Romans.

During the first 150 years CE the Jews twice rebelled against their Roman leaders, both rebellions were brutally put down, and were followed by stern restrictions on Jewish freedom.

The first revolt, in 70 CE, led to the destruction of the Temple. This brought to an end the temple worship and is still perceived by traditional Jews as the biggest trauma in Jewish history.

A second revolt, in 132 CE, resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews, the enslaving of thousands of others, and the banning of Jews from Jerusalem

200 – 700 CE: The Mishna and Talmud

Between 200 and 700 CE Judaism developed rapidly.

Following the twin religious and political traumas, the academies moved to new centres both in Palestine and in the Diaspora. A sense of urgency had taken hold and it was considered vital to write down the teachings of the Rabbis so that Judaism could continue.

Around 200 CE, scholars compiled the Mishna, the collection of teachings, sayings and interpretations of the early Rabbis.

The academies continued their work and several generations of Rabbis followed. Their teachings were compiled in the Talmud which expands on the interpretations of the Mishna and established an all-encompassing guide to life.

The years either side of 1000 CE were the golden age of the Jews in Spain.

Co-existing happily with the country’s Islamic rulers the Jews developed a flourishing study of Science, Hebrew literature and the Talmud. Despite an attempt to forcibly convert all Jews to Islam in 1086 CE, this golden age continued.

The Crusades

The next Millennium began with the Crusades, military operations by Christian countries to capture the Holy Land. The armies of the first Crusade attacked Jewish communities on their way to Palestine, especially in Germany. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem they slaughtered and enslaved thousands of Jews as well as Muslims. Following the example of the Romans earlier, they banned Jews from the city.

In Britain, the Jewish population increased, benefiting from the protection of Henry I.

The 1100s were a seriously bad period. Jews were driven from southern Spain by a Berber invasion. Serious anti-Jewish incidents began to occur in Europe: in France Jews were accused of ritually murdering a child, in England Jews were murdered while trying to give gifts to the King at Richard I’s coronation, 150 Jews were massacred in York, in 1215 the Catholic Church ordered Jews to live in segregated areas (ghettos) and to wear distinctive clothes.

In England the Jews faced increasing restrictions during the Thirteenth Century, and in 1290 they were all expelled from England. Shortly afterwards the Jews were expelled from France.

In 1478 the Jews in Spain suffered under the Spanish Inquisition, and in 1492 Jews were expelled from Spain altogether. The same thing happened in Portugal in 1497. 50 years later in Germany, Martin Luther (founder of Protestant Christianity) preached viciously against the Jews.

Scholarship, literature, and mysticism

But it wasn’t an entirely bad period for Judaism. Scholarship and literature flourished, with figures like Rambam, Luria, Levi ben Gershom, and Eleazar ben Judah.

The Jewish form of mysticism, known as Kabbalah reached new heights with the publication in Spain of the Book of Splendour, which influenced Jewish Spirituality for centuries.

Jews return to Britain

This was a period of Jewish expansion. Jews were allowed to return to England and their rights of citizenship steadily increased. In 1760 the main representative organisation for British Jewry, The Board of Deputies of British Jews, was founded. Jews were first recorded in America in 1648.

Poland and Central Europe saw the creation of a new Jewish movement of immense importance – Hassidism. It followed the example of the Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760) who said that you didn’t have to be an ascetic to be holy; indeed he thought that the appropriate mood for worship was one of joy.

The movement included large amounts of Kabbalic mysticism as well, and the way it made holiness in every day life both intelligible and enjoyable, helped it achieve great popularity among ordinary Jews.

However it also led to divisions within Judaism, as many in the religious establishment were strongly against it.

In Lithuania in 1772 Hassidism was excommunicated, and Hassidic Jews were banned from marrying or doing business with other Jews.

Towards the end of the 1700s

Jews began to suffer persecution in central Europe, and in Russia they began to be restricted to living in a particular area of the country, called The Pale.

In the 19th Century another new movement appeared in Judaism. This was Reform Judaism, which began in Germany and held that Jewish law and ritual should move with the times, and not be fixed. It introduced many changes to worship, and customs, and grew rapidly into a strong movement. It continues to flourish in Europe and the USA.

As the 19th century continued many countries gradually withdrew restrictions on Jews—the UK allowed its Jewish citizens the same rights as others by 1860s. But at the same time Jews came under increasing pressure in central Europe and Russia. There were brutal pogroms against Jews in which they were ejected from their homes and villages, and cruelly treated. Some of this persecution is told in the musical show Fiddler on the Roof.

In Israel, Jewish culture was having a significant rebirth as the Hebrew language was recreated from a language of history and religion into a language of everyday life.

The twentieth century

In Britain and America this was the century of Jewish immigration, with great numbers of Jewish people arriving to escape the pogroms in Poland and Russia.

The Jewish population of Britain increased by 250,000 in 30 years. It was at this time that the East End of London became a centre of Jewish life in Britain. However in 1905 the UK passed a law that slowed immigration to a mere trickle.

The Zionist movement

whose aim was to create a Jewish state, was rooted in centuries of Jewish prayer and yearning to return to the land of Israel. Political Zionism began in the mid-19th Century and towards the end of the century it gained strength as many Jews began to feel that the only way they could live in safety would be to have a country of their own.

In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British Government agreed that a national home for Jewish people should be established in Palestine. Following the First World War, the British governed the region in preparation for a permanent political arrangement.

Over the next few years Jewish immigration increased and important institutions were founded such as the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and the Hebrew University.

The Holocaust

Jewish history of the 1930s and 1940s is dominated by the Holocaust, the implementation on an industrial scale of a plan to wipe the whole Jewish people from the face of Europe.

The plan was carried out by the Nazi government of Germany and their allies. During the Holocaust 6 million Jewish people were murdered, 1 million of them children. The events of the Holocaust have shaped Jewish thinking, and the thinking of other people about Jewish issues ever since. War crimes trials of those involved in the Holocaust continue to this day.

 The tragedy affected much of the religious thinking of Jews, as they try to make sense of a God who could allow such a thing to happen to his chosen people.

The second defining Jewish event of the century was the achievement of the Zionist movement in the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. There had been strong and paramilitary opposition to British colonial rule for many years, and in 1947 the United Nations agreed a plan to partition the land between Jews and Arabs. In May 1948 the British Government withdrew their forces.

Immediately, the surrounding Arab States invaded and the new Jewish State was forced to fight the first of several major wars. Notable among these were the 6-day war in 1967 and the Yom Kippur war in 1973.

The first steps towards a permanent peace came when Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, and with Jordan in 1994.

For most of its history Israel has had an uneasy relationship with the Arab states that surround it, and has been greatly sustained by the help and support of the USA, where the Jewish community is large and influential.

The 21st century began with great political uncertainty over Israel and its relationship with the Palestinian people, and this continues.

The Holly Book

Torah.  Is the first part of the Jewish bible. It is the central and most important document of Judaism and has been used by Jews through the ages.

Torah refers to the five books of Moses which are known in Hebrew as Chameesha Choomshey Torah. These are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Jews believe that God dictated the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai 50 days after their exodus from Egyptian slavery. They believe that the Torah shows how God wants Jews to live. It contains 613 commandments and Jews refer to the ten best known of these as the ten 10 statements.

Main believes

  • Jews believe that there is a single God who not only created the universe, but with whom every Jew can have an individual and personal relationship.
  • They believe that God continues to work in the world, affecting everything that people do. The Jewish relationship with God is a covenant relationship. In exchange for the many good deeds that God has done and continues to do for the Jewish People…
  • The Jews keep God’s laws. The Jews seek to bring holiness into every aspect of their lives.
  • Jews believe that God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world. Jewish life is very much the life of a community and there are many activities that Jews must do as a community. For example, the Jewish prayer book uses WE and OUR in prayers where some other faiths would use I and MINE. Jews also feel part of a global community with a close bond Jewish people all over the world.

The essence of Jewish meditation

We must recognise that there are, in broad terms, two different ways of thinking. The first is normal, everyday rational thought – thinking about things you have to do, or about ideas, or about people around you. The second is, by comparison, less logical and less oriented to immediate everyday goals. This second is a more penetrating kind of thinking.

It involves shifting the centre of gravity of the mind away from the sense of ‘I’ which normally dominates our goals. Like all meditative practices, Jewish mystical techniques are directed towards enhancing this second form of thinking. At the same time, these practices cultivate an awareness of the divine presence in all things.

In fact, the first type of thinking is simply a surface layer of thought. If you imagine the mind as a sea, then rational thought is simply the surface level of waves on the water. The major currents operate at the deeper levels of the ocean. The objective of meditation is to engage with these deeper currents.


Jews are supposed to pray three times a day; morning, afternoon, and evening.

The Jewish prayer book (it’s called a siddur) has special services set down for this.

Praying regularly enables a person to get better at building their relationship with God. After all, most things get better with practice. They pray to express and exercise their beliefs. They pray to share in the life of a worshipping community. They pray to obey God’s commandments

The important things about prayer are: You should do it with total concentration on God-there should be nothing else in your mind and the prayer should be completely from the heart.

The synagogue

is the Jewish place of worship, but is also used as a place to study, and often as a community centre as well. Orthodox Jews often use the Yiddish word shul (pronounced shool) to refer to their synagogue. In the USA, synagogues are often called temples.

Holy day 

The Sabbath

Every week religious Jews observe the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day, and keep its laws and customs.

The Sabbath begins at nightfall on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday. In practical terms the Sabbath starts a few minutes before sunset on Friday and runs until an hour after sunset on Saturday, so it lasts about 25 hours.

God commanded the Jewish People to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy as the fourth of the Ten Commandments.

The idea of a day of rest comes from the Bible story of the Creation: God rested from creating the universe on the seventh day of that first week, so Jews rest from work on the Sabbath.

Jews often call the day Shabbat, which is Hebrew for Sabbath, and which comes from the Hebrew word for rest.

few photos from our film screening & discussion on Judaism

description of the past event

Hello there,

Join us and the Our Cultures for a fascinating reading, a film screening and a discussion on Judaism.

We’re going to learn about and understand more the story of the Jewish experience and culture which begins 3,000 years ago with the emergence of a tribal people in a contested land and their extraordinary book, the Hebrew Bible, a chronicle of their stormy relationship with a faceless, formless, jealous God.

It was loyalty to this ‘God of Words’ that defined the distinct identity of the ancient Jews and preserved it despite all that history could throw their way – war, invasion, deportation, enslavement, exile and assimilation.

2 April (Tue) 18:15

The Welcome Centre
entrance on Nottingham St opposite Pilgrim St
S3 9AW

The Our Cultures is screening films and documentaries on the first Tuesday of every month except summer and winter holidays. It’s always good to check updates on our Facebook page or by subscribing to our newsletter.

To find out more also experience a cosy evening with us and a cuppa, join us for the screening at the Welcome Centre.

The event is entirely FREE of charge.

There is no money involved (directly) at all. No grants, no funds only people’s will to do so.


See you there,
(entrance on Nottingham St opposite Pilgrim St S3 9AW)

Our Cultures

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