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Catholic Dictionary




The oldest living religion of the Western world, and historically the parent of Christianity and Islam. Present-day Judaism is at once a culture and a religion and should be distinguished accordingly. As a religion, Judaism is the body of a permanent moral tradition, which has its roots in the Old Testament prophets, and its hopes in a forthcoming Messiah. As a culture, it is the Jewish people, many of whom are not descendants of Abraham, and among whom is a wide spectrum of faith and worship, yet a mysterious solidarity that is quite unique in the history of mankind.

Modern Judaism may be conveniently divided along religious lines into Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative. Each of these forms builds not only on the Torah or Jewish Bible but also on the Talmud, which is the principal repository of Judaic tradition. Historically, Orthodox Jews are the oldest, reaching back to the synagogues in Palestine and Babylonia in the first century, and theologically they are the most conservative. At the other extreme, and opposed to Orthodoxy, is Reform Judaism, also called Progressive of Liberal, which began in Germany in the eighteenth century as a movement for cultural assimilation. Aroused by this break with historic Judaism, a group of English-speaking rabbis decided to create the Conservative alignment, which seeks to steer a middle course between Orthodoxy and the Reform.

Recent developments have brought all the segments of Judaism into greater unity, of which the State of Israel is their symbol of a common hope for the future.