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Introduction to Judaism
Judaism is a truly ancient religion which has been practised for five and a half thousand years. It is based on the belief in the one true and universal God.
Jews believe in the Torah (Divine Law) which was revealed to Moses and which is unchanging. They also believe in one God who is omniscient and who will reward the righteous and punish the wicked at the end of time when there will be a resurrection of all the dead. Jews are still awaiting the Messiah who they believe has still to come.
Customs and practices
There are several basic tenets by which Jews must live their lives to carry out the Ten Commandments and to live according to Jewish values that are based on love of neighbour and tolerance of one's fellow human beings.
Places of worship
Jewish people worship in a synagogue, which is often a centre for the many aspects of communal life. On the Eastern wall, facing Jerusalem, is an 'ark', or closed, usually curtained, cupboard where the 'Sifrei Torah' or holy scrolls of the five books of Moses (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) are kept. These are made of parchment, are hand-written by scribes and are treated with great care and reverence. They are removed during some services and read from by the Rabbi or other members of the synagogue on the 'Bimah'. This is a raised platform, either on the front of the ark or in the centre of the synagogue, from which prayers are also led.
All males and married females are required to cover their heads inside the synagogue. In an orthodox synagogue, men and women sit separately whereas in liberal or reformed synagogues, they sit together.
There are three daily services in the synagogue, with longer services on Saturday and festival mornings.
There are a number of festivals throughout the calendar. These include the Jewish New Year, which normally occurs in September or October and is marked by two days of reflection and prayer. Ten days after this comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar and is spent in prayer and a 25 hour fast. In the spring there is Pesach, or Passover which commemorates the delivery from slavery in Israel. Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) begins before nightfall on Friday and lasts until the sighting of the first three stars on Saturday night. It should be observed as a day of rest and most Orthodox Jews will not write, travel, work or cook during it.
Food and diet
Judaism also has a number of dietary laws. Food that has been prepared in a ritually acceptable way is known as 'Kosher'. For meat to be considered kosher it must have been prepared correctly, normally under rabbinical supervision. Some meat such as pork and rabbit will not be considered kosher. Meat and dairy products should not be taken at the same meal and fish without scales or fins are also non-kosher.
Obviously, the extent to which these laws are upheld will depend on the individual. However, after many centuries of dispersal from their original homeland in the Middle East most Jews staying in Scotland will feel intrinsically Scottish, and their lifestyle is likely to reflect this.
Concerns of the community
Concerns of the community include maintaining the ability to uphold the religious rituals of circumcision and Jewish dietary laws, ensuring facilities to comply with Jewish practices of swift burial, and raising awareness among hospital staff of the specific needs of Jewish patients, particularly when dying and after death. Some Jews have concern regarding non-Jewish religious observance in schools and there are also some issues relating to organ donation. A continuing and on-going concern of all Jews is the manifestation of anti-semitism.
You can get more information about religious movements from Inform, a charity based in London.
Information on these pages has been used with permission from Scottish Inter Faith Council.