In Judaism, there are a lot of aspects to manage that make the core sum of what it means to practice, and of these, four stand out to me personally as the most pertinent; G-d, Community, Torah, and Israel. If I asked a group of 100 Jews the single most important part of life in Judaism, those four mentioned aspects would repeat themselves over and over again. Of the four, G-D is the binding force, the community is brought together to worship, the Torah is his holy book and Israel both the people and place, were his gifts.
The makeup of Judaism that is found in the four aspects, gives a generalized concept as to what Judaism is to the convert. Firstly, it is a connection to Hashem, a covenant relationship that every Jew enters freely into. Next is the community, which is generally based around shared culture, religion, and beliefs. It’s important to get to know others in the community, schmoose a bit, get to know each other because that will be your community that you’re a part of.
Next is the Torah, which tells the story of how the Jewish people came into being, and their trials and tribulations, celebrations, and heartache. Jewish people do not read the Torah at just face value, countless commentaries and insights have been written by Jewish scholars about reading deeper meanings and context subtlety behind the words. In Judaism, everyone reads the whole Torah once every year, together, no matter where in the world you are. This can also be said about the oral Torah (aka the Talmud) which is read one page at a time, by Jews around the world.
Lastly, we have Israel, which we’d just discussed in our taste of Judaism course at Rodeph Shalom. Israel as a name comes from the section of Genesis in which Jacob wrestles with an angel, which states;
|25 And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.||כהוַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּֽאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר:|
|26 When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob’s hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him.||כווַיַּ֗רְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יָכֹל֙ ל֔וֹ וַיִּגַּ֖ע בְּכַף־יְרֵכ֑וֹ וַתֵּ֨קַע֙ כַּף־יֶ֣רֶךְ יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב בְּהֵאָֽבְק֖וֹ עִמּֽוֹ:|
|27 And he (the angel) said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Jacob) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.”||כזוַיֹּ֣אמֶר שַׁלְּחֵ֔נִי כִּ֥י עָלָ֖ה הַשָּׁ֑חַר וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֲשַׁלֵּֽחֲךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־בֵּֽרַכְתָּֽנִי:|
|28 So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Jacob.”||כחוַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו מַה־שְּׁמֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַֽעֲקֹֽב:|
|29 And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.”||כטוַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַֽעֲקֹב֙ יֵֽאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל:|
Israel literally means, “To wrestle with God,” that is to struggle to find meaning, to find why G-d would have us suffer, or just to struggle with finding G-D in the first place. Therefore, with Jacob, the twelve tribes of Jews were formed, and Israel was the name of the Jewish people, more often called “B’Nai Yisrael,” of the “Children of Israel.” One of the more sacred prayers in all of Judaism is the Shma prayer which begins, “Shema Yisrael,” which means, “Hear O’ Israel,” in reference to the Jewish people.
…but as we know, Israel is also a nation.
The nation of Israel ensures that the Jewish people will always have a place away from oppression, as they have faced countless times throughout history. It is a uniquely democratic state amongst the multitude of Islamic states which surround it. Israel is the recognition of the Jew’s right to self-determination, to have their own lands, their own culture, and language be celebrated, and to be free to practice Judaism (and many other religions) within the ancient lands of Israel. Israel is not however immune to criticism, and even the most staunch Zionists will agree with that. While Israel is not perfect, as in every nation it has flaws, however, it is, as it has always been, the historic home of the Jewish people and the birthplace of Judaism.