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The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, in JerusalemThe Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. Jews believe in one God who created heaven and Earth. God has a covenant (an agreement) with the Jews: God offers his guidance and protection to the Jews, and in return Jews lead a moral life and obey God. The Jewish holy book is the Hebrew Bible (similar to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible). The most important part is the Torah, which contains God’s laws. The Bible, along with many Jewish festivals, commemorates events in the history of Israel, from where the Jews originally came. The history of Judaism goes back about 4000 years, making it the oldest religion based on a belief in a single god. 

Abraham and Sarah in CanaanAbraham and Sarah in Canaan


Jews trace their history back to a nomadic people called the Hebrews. One of them, Abraham, settled in Canaan—broadly the land between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan valley. Jews believe that God made a covenant (promise) to Abraham that he would have as many descendants "as there were stars in the sky", and that these people—the “chosen people”—would inherit the land of Canaan, known to Jews ever since as the Promised Land.

Abraham’s son was Isaac, and Isaac’s son was Jacob, whom God named Israel. So Abraham’s descendants became known as the Israelites. The story of the Israelites—the early history of the Jews—is told in the Hebrew Bible.

A woodcut showing Jews being burned alive in 1492A woodcut showing Jews being burned alive in 1492

Diaspora and persecution

Orthodox Jews recognize 613 commandments, which are outlined in the Torah, while Christians observe the 10 outlined in the Bible’s Old Testament.

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