The Basis of Judaism Traditions and Beliefs

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Judaism was the first of the Abrahamic religions to be practiced, with Jewish history dating back thousands of years ago. Throughout history, there have been events that have affected the long-term effects of the tradition. In 70 CE, the Romans attacked and destroyed the second temple. This attack lead to numerous Jews dying, and many were sold into slavery. In addition, the Romans restricted the Jews from performing religious practices such as circumcision, studying of the Torah, and Holy Days. Although this event was a tragic part of Jewish history, there were many positive adaptations that helped the tradition to become what it is today. Because of this, I believe that the changes instituted during the Rabbinical period contributed to the long-term success of the tradition.

Temple practices were very important for Judaism. This was where they performed things such as circumcision, which was done eight days after the baby was born. Why they did this is unknown, but as Molloy says, “It possibly began as a health measure, in order to prevent infection commonly brought about by hot climates. It is also possible that circumcision began as a way of recognizing divine control over sex and generation.” (Molloy, 306). Another temple practice was animal sacrifice, which was one of the most important parts of Judaism. Sacrifices were only performed by kohanim (Jewish Virtual Library) and were done to cleanse the community of sin and to bring people closer to God (My Jewish Learning).

In Jewish society, there were four major groups, the first being the Sadducees. The Sadducees were an aristocratic group, who were accused of collaborating with the Romans. They believed in a strict lifestyle and a very literal interpretation of the Torah. So much so that they rejected the oral Torah from the Pharisees and refused to study anything other than the written Torah. In addition, they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, and were mostly priests and oversaw the sacrifices during Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of the Tabernacles. There is little known about the Sadducees as none of their writings survived the Roman attack, so all the information we know about them today came from the Pharisees. (“Pharisees, Sadducees & Essenes).

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The second major Jewish group were the Pharisees, who were the rivals of the Sadducees. The Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees, studied oral versions of the Torah as well as the written Torah because they felt as though the written Torah was incomplete. Furthermore, the Pharisees were popular with the masses, as they were viewed as the highest religious authority. They also believed in washing their hands often, especially before eating bread, as they believed that unwashed hands were defiled. After surviving the Roman attack in 70 CE, they were the leaders of Rabbinical Judaism. The third major Jewish group were the Zealots, who were the key players in the Jewish revolt in 60-70 CE. The Zealots encouraged other Jews to fight Rome because they refused to cooperate with them. This is what caused the Romans to fight back, destroy the second temple, and most of Jerusalem. The fourth major Jewish group were the Essenes, who were a monastic community. This group consisted of several thousand members, who avoided meat and wine, rejected animal sacrifice and lived a celibate life. In addition, the Essenes were skilled in medicine, and followed a different calendar than the temple.

In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the second temple and the majority of Jerusalem. The temple was very important to the Jews, as this was not only a place of worship, but also the only place that they could perform religious practices, in particular, animal sacrifice. Furthermore, the Romans temporarily prohibited circumcision, animal sacrifice, and Holy days. But even after this attack, one wall was left standing of the temple called “The Western Wall”, which the Romans only allowed the Jews to visit one day a year. After the temple and most of Jerusalem was destroyed, the Sadducees and Essenes seemed to disappear, while the Zealots committed suicide as they didn’t want to be taken over by the Romans. The dispersion of Jews, called “The Jewish Diaspora” was something that had been happening before the Roman attack (“The Diaspora”). Some were forced out of Israel, while others made the choice to move. But 70 CE is when the largest Jewish Diaspora occurred, with Jews fleeing as refugees to get away from the Romans.

With the temple now destroyed, some changes had to be made to Judaism. Firstly, instead of another temple, there were synagogues. There were synagogues when the Jews still had the temple, but they became more important once it was destroyed. Synagogues were houses of prayer, study, instruction and interpretation, and were the replacement for temples. In order to create a synagogue, there needed to be a minyan, which is a group of 10 men over the age of 13 required for worship. Each synagogue also had a leader, who was a male trained in study who later becomes a rabbi. These rabbis developed out of the Pharisees, as they were one of the few groups to survive the Roman attack. Another requirement of a synagogue was a copy of the Torah, which is hand written on parchment from a kosher animal.

Another change that was made was their diet. Eating kosher was something that put biblical restrictions into practice (Kashrut: History and Development). This involved not eating meat and dairy together, and the way meat was prepared is important. Before the meat was cooked, the blood must be drained because, as Molloy puts it, “blood, which gives life, is sacred to God.” (Molloy, 305). However, this does not apply to all meat as pork and selfish are not allowed at all. In addition, the dishes, appliances, and utensils used for cooking must be “koshered”. This involves cleaning and boiling dishes, so that they can be used to prepare kosher foods. Dishes for preparing dairy and meat must also be separate.

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