The Jewish Religion and Its Impact on Western Culture

Last Updated: 03 Mar 2020
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The long, rich history of Judaism gives the western world its shape today. The laws, traditions, culture, and values are directly attributable to Judaism. Judaism most prominently began with the founder of the Hebrews known as Abraham, who began to worship a figure called "Elohim. " Historically, the teachings of Judaism were also subscribed by nomadic tribes, which settled in present day Palestine, near Mt. Sinai. The people of these tribes did not label themselves as Hebrews, and referred to G-d as the G-d of Abraham.

The beginning of the story came about as G-d promised Abraham a son, and in the course of the events doubting that his old wife could give him a son, he had Ishmael with his maid, Hagar. Later, G-d's prophecy would be fulfilled with the birth of Isaac, by his wife Sarah. Due to their belief system, the tribe proliferated the idea that Isaac and his descendants were chosen by G-d to carry forward Abraham's holy ancestry. Isaac was the forefather of what was to become the 12 tribes of Israel. These twelve original tribes were later enslaved for several generations in Egypt. In Egypt, the Jews were persecuted and sold into slavery.

It was not until Moses, a Hebrew, adopted by the pharaoh, realized his duty to release his people from their oppression. He eventually led the people from Egypt into the desert where they wandered for 40 years. Throughout the history of the world, the Jewish people have been persecuted and oppressed because of their religious beliefs and faith. Many groups of people have made Jews their scapegoat. Jews have suffered from years of intolerance because people have not understood what the religion really means. They do not understand where and why the religion began, nor the customs of its people.

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For one to understand the great hardships, triumphs, and history of the Jewish people, one must open-mindedly peruse a greater knowledge of the Jewish people and faith, while acknowledging their impact on society today. All Western law is based in part on Judaic Torah observance. A quick look at the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) is a very good summary of most modern law that is followed today, along with the next three chapters in Exodus. Judaism believes in the equality of all people and if these commandments were not made and observed today, the equality of Western law would be replaced by position, power, or money.

Another modern historical tradition adopted by from the Jews is how we eat. What is customary in Western society is a reflection of most of the Judaic dietary law. With the exception of the pig, Western society does not eat what is not contained in kosher law. Owls, mice, rats, and snakes are repugnant to most Westerners and it is a direct result of Jewish culture. A third example can be directly traced to Jewish culture in the way women are treated. Women's rights were carefully maintained in this ancient culture, and today's laws giving women equal rights under the law are a byproduct of Judaism.

Unfortunately in today’s world, education is taken for granted, yet Judaism has long maintained education as the highest goal of man in his pursuit of Godliness. After the Babylonian Captivity, it was decreed that all the people should be educated, and this tradition has been passed to Western culture. Other defining characteristics of Western civilization which are influenced by Judaism are the recognition of the importance of each individual. Every person is believed to have worth and to deserve a life of dignity.

In Jewish literature, this idea is first expressed in the first chapter of the first book of the Hebrew Bible, which says that people are created in the image of G-d. Because of this, every person is valuable. This idea was not common in the ancient world, where an individual’s social status often determined one’s importance and value. Also, the idea that trials must be fair is closely connected to belief in the rule of law. The Hebrew Bible and Talmud include numerous statements that emphasize the importance of fair trials and a wide variety of provisions to help ensure that trials are fair.

Many of these provisions became key legal principles in the Western world. Jewish roots of legal principles have even been referenced by the U. S. Supreme Court. Lastly, giving charity is an important value in Western civilization that was not emphasized in most ancient cultures. In Judaism, on the other hand, supporting the needy is obligatory. Judaism has also played a significant role in the development of Western culture because of its unique relationship with Christianity, the dominant religious force in the West.

Although the Christian church drew from other sources as well, its retention of the sacred Scriptures of the synagogue (the Old Testament) as an integral part of its Bible is crucial. Not only was the development of its ideas and doctrines deeply influenced, but it also received an ethical dynamism that constantly overcame an inclination to withdraw into world-denying isolation. It was, however, not only Judaism’s heritage but its persistence that touched Western civilization. The continuing existence of the Jews, even as pariah people, is both a challenge and a warning. Their liberation from the shackles of discrimination, segregation, and rejection at the beginning of the modern era was understood by many to be the touchstone of all human liberty. The two central events of 20th-century Jewish history were the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. The former was the great tragedy of the Jewish people, while the later was the light of a rebirth, which promised political, cultural, and economic independence.

The rest of the world has been forced to reconsider and reorient its relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people because of these two events. At the same time, the centers of Jewish life have moved almost exclusively to Israel and North America. Along with these developments, theological considerations and practical realities, such as interfaith marriage, have made Jewish religious culture a point of interest for many non-Jews. In the early 21st century, Jewish religious life continued to fragment along ideological lines, but that very fragmentation animated both moral imagination and ritual life.

While ultra-Orthodox Judaism grew narrower, and some varieties of Liberal Judaism moved ritual practice even farther away from traditional observance, a vital center emerged, running from Reform Judaism to modern Orthodoxy. This center sought to understand Judaism within a broader context of interaction with other cultures while leaving the essentials of belief and practice unaffected. Predicting the future of Judaism is not an easy or desirable task, but there is reason to hope that the world will continue to draw upon the religious and cultural traditions of Judaism, both past and present.

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The Jewish Religion and Its Impact on Western Culture. (2017, Mar 01). Retrieved from

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