Origins of Judaism
The origins of Judaism are debated between scholars and those who practice Judaism in modern times, particularly its more Orthodox variants. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the religion as it is understood by itself.
The first Jews were Abraham and his wife, Sarah; their son, Isaac, and his wife Rebecca; and their son Jacob (or Israel) and his wives, Leah and Rachel. These seven together are called the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Eventually, Jacob and his descendants left the Holy Land to live in Egypt, where they were enslaved.
After the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites heard God speak to them at Mount Sinai (also called Horeb); this is often marked as the true birth of Judaism as a religion and Israel as a people. Forty years later they entered the Holy Land, however, and repeatedly mixed the pure monotheism of Judaism with other ancient Semitic religions. The Bible recounts that Israel was repeatedly invaded and oppressed by other nations as divine punishment; when prophets led Israel back to proper holiness, God’s favor returned.
Eventually, however, the sins of Israel grew so great that they were exiled to Babylon, and the Holy Land remained barren for seventy years. Up until this time, Judaism had been so tied to the Land of Israel that this was a major blow; reinterpreting Judaism as a faith that could be practiced in exile had profound effects on Jewish theology which continued after many Jews returned to their homeland.
Centuries later, in 70 CE, they were exiled again by the Romans; another attempt to codify Judaism for exile led to the Talmud, which clarifies and expands on Jewish laws. This is the birth of rabbinic Judaism, which is considered standard by Judaism in modern times.
The Four Holy Cities in Judaism are:
- Jerusalem, holiest of the holy cities, made the capital of ancient Israel by King David. This is where the Jewish Temple once stood and, in more Orthodox theology, will eventually be rebuilt.
- Hebron, where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (except Rachel) were buried.
- Tzfat/Safed, which became a center of mysticism in the Middle Ages.
- Tiberias, where many believe the Final Redemption will begin.