Religion
Purim

Purim is celebrated on the Jewish Calendar Date: 14th of Adar (15th of Adar for cities in the land of Israel that were walled during the First Temple period).

In the years 539-332 BCE the First Persian or Achaemenid Persian Empire ruled from the border of India to Egypt and Turkey. When the Babylonians expelled many of the Jews from the land of Israel in 586 BCE, they dispersed throughout the area ruled by the Babylonian Empire.

According to the Biblical Book of Esther, a senior Persian minister named Haman conspired against the Jews in the 5th-4thcentury BCE. He gained the approval of the Persian Achashverosh Commonly identified as Artaxerxes II, who ruled from 405 to 358 BCE.

It should be noted that there are many scholars who question whether the Book of Esther is meant to be read as an accurate historical account.

To wipe out the Jews and loot their wealth for the kingdom’s treasury. Haman cast a lot or pur to decide which month the deed would be carried out. The lot fell on the month of Adar.

A Jewish Persian Judge named Mordechai and a Jewish Persian queen named Esther intrigued against Haman’s plans and eventually succeeded in causing the King to execute Haman and his family. This seminal event resulted in the Jews gaining the right to organize and defend themselves against those who wished to destroy them. The Jews did so and killed many of their enemies. Thus for the Jews, the month of Adar was a month where the threat of destruction was replaced with salvation.

Hanukkah

Jewish Calendar Date: 25th of Kislev to 2nd of Tevet

In the 2nd century BC, the land of Israel was ruled by the Seleucid Empire; the Seleucid Empire controlled most of the territory conquered by Alexander the Great two centuries earlier. Initially, the Seleucid Empire was tolerant of the Jewish religion. The Seleucid ruler Antiochus III even granted the Jews a written set of legal rights; the legal edict ensured that the Jews could live according to the ways of their forefathers without persecution.

Bust of Antiochus IV at the Altes Museum in Berlin.

Bust of Antiochus IV at the Altes Museum in Berlin

However, in 168-7 BC the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanies’ ((This means ‘God Manifest’ in Greek)), litigated oppressive measures to expunge his empire of Judaism ((This was an unusual decision since the Greeks were generally pluralistic and tolerant of other religions. Scholars continue to debate why Antiochus IV decided to do what he did. See here for a more detailed account of the historical background and here for the different reasons given for the religious persecutions.

A Primer on the Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the most important archaeological achievements of the Twentieth Century was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the largest and oldest repository of ancient Jewish texts currently available. The discovery of these scrolls has provided scholars with ground breaking information regarding Judaism and Christianity during the Late Second Temple Period (200 BCE – 70 CE).

What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of writings that include both complete texts and several fragmented texts. The majority of the scrolls were written between 150 BC and 70 CE, predominantly in Hebrew, although some are in Aramaic and Greek. The scrolls were produced by the Essenes – a Jewish sect that resided in the JudeanDesertnear the Dead Sea, in the ancient town of Qumran. The scrolls were kept in eleven caves and placed inside ceramic jars for safekeeping.
Psalms_Scroll
The Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947 by an Arab shepherd. After a series of long and complicated negotiations, Israeli Archaeology Professors Elazar Soukenik and Benjamin Mazar succeeded in purchasing some of the most important scrolls. Many of the remaining scrolls and scroll fragments were put in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control from 1949 to 1967. After Israel took control of the area in 1967, the scrolls were moved to the Jerusalem Museum, in the Shrine of the Book Museum, where they reside today.

Introduction to Jewish Religion

The roots of the Jewish religion are ancient ones that have grown and developed over thousands of years. Its tomes of literature and conceptual ideals have filled whole libraries. Each and every stage of its development and outlook have been discussed and debated by Jews and non-Jews for centuries. In this introduction, we will discuss the primary pillars of the Jewish religion.

Monotheism

If there is one thing all believing Jews can agree on – it is that there is only one God. This God has a number of names, each highlighting one of His attributes, but the names all refer to the same God. According to Judaism, God is beyond this world, all powerful and all knowing. He alone created the world and serves as its ruler. As the Jewish prophet Isaiah (8th century BCE) said in his book (Chapter 45, Verse 7) “I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil, I the LORD do all these things”.

Indeed, idolatry, or more specifically the prohibition against believing in or worshipping multiple Gods is considered one of Judaism’s gravest sins. There are many stories where Jews offered their life rather than be forced to bow down to idols. This prohibition is so severe that Jews are forbidden by religious law to make any pictures or sculptures of humans or animals.

Law

Judaism is a religion which is based primarily on ritual observance and law. This law covers all aspects of life – from social and political relations to ethics, prayer and food. Adherence to these laws is one of the cornerstones of Jewish life – it is the framework within which all Jewish life takes place.
The written foundation of the law is the Torah, or the Pentateuch. The Torah is divided into five books – Bereishit, Shemot, Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim (in English: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). According to tradition, the books were written by Moses, the greatest prophet who ever lived according to Judaism. These books contain the core laws and instructions which were given by God to his prophet Moses in the 13th century BCE, as well as the history of the Jewish people from the creation of the world until the 13th century BCE

Why are Jews required to undergo circumcision?