The religion that I have chosen to discuss is the Jewish religion, or Judaism. In seeking information about Judaism, I conducted an interview at the Beth Israel Congregation near downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina. The synagogue is located at 2204 Morganton Rd., only a few miles from downtown Fayetteville and only a few miles from a major shopping mall in the area. Upon arriving at the synagogue in the afternoon heat of nearly 90 degrees, I was surprised to see the plush gardens to one side of the building. There is a beautiful walking path through a well-manicured lawn. The concrete path leads to a rectangular gazebo overgrown with vine. The small to medium trees and bushes on the property are perfectly maintained and are arrayed in vibrant colors. As I made my way to the front entrance, I noted the light colored brickwork and matching stonework on the front of the building. The building itself gives the appearance of a two story structure with its abstract sculpture, but upon further investigation, the highest part of the building is simple a raised inner ceiling.
When I entered the building, I was greeted by Rabbi Yosef Levanon and conducted to his office for my interview after a brief look around the synagogue, which did not include . The Rabbi seems to be a pleasant man who showed a great deal of patients in setting up and carrying out the interview. Through conducting the interview, I found that the Fayetteville, NC Beth Israel congregation had originally been given a charter as an “Orthodox Jewish Faith.” The Beth Israel Congregation was established in May of 1917. The first brick of foundation was not laid until 1922. This original Beth Israel Synagogue was at a location on Cool Spring Street in Fayetteville, NC.
The building that is now the Beth Israel Congregation worship center was constructed on Morganton Rd. in 1950, and dedicated in December of that year. Growth through the years prompted expansion with the addition of classrooms and a sanctuary. In October of 1972, the congregation changed its by-laws and became a “Conservative Congregation.” In approximately 1995 or 1996, they began to include women in the aliyahs. This is the “Law of Return” in which any Jew may claim the legal right to assisted migration and settlement in Israel. This includes automatic citizenship (Wikipedia, 2008). In 1998, the congregation began including women in the minyan (a quorum of 10 men required for certain prayers) (Y. Levanon, personal communication, August 6, 2008).
My interview with Rabbi Levanon covered a number of other issues. When asked what the important holidays and traditions of Judaism are, the rabbi responded that the Sukkot, Purim, Passover, Sabbath, Shavot, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement were all important to the Jewish faith. I then asked which he felt were the most important of these. He responded that the Passover and Day of Atonement were probably the most important. The rabbi maintains the position that Judaism has shaped his life in that it guides the way that he behaves, his thoughts, and how he relates to other people in everyday life. The biggest challenge that he or other Jews face is maintaining their own identity. The rabbi states, “Like any other minority in a bigger culture, it is not easy for the minority to maintain their identity apart from the bigger culture.” I was pleasantly surprised to learn that even though they struggle to maintain their distinct identities in a nation surrounded by other religions and influences, neither the rabbi nor and his family have experienced discrimination because of their religious preferences or practices.
Rabbi Levanon seemed a little confused as to the specific identity of the Jewish people. When asked if he considers Judaism to be a religion, a race, a nationality, or a Jewish state, the rabbi stated that Judaism is a religion and a nationality. I again asked him if he considered Judaism to be a race, to which he replied, “No.” I then asked what race he would consider himself to be. He stated that he considers himself a Jewish Caucasian, meaning that he views Jewish is a race as well. In determining that the rabbi considers Judaism to be a race, I asked what his thoughts are on religious pluralism and if it has influenced members of the Jewish community. Considering that Jews are exposed to people of many different religious backgrounds all throughout the world, rabbi Levanon believe that such exposure may lead to some Jewish people being assimilated into the societies and religions to which they are exposed. Assimilation is something that the rabbi endeavors to avoid in order to maintain his own identity as a Jew.
In order for the Jewish people to maintain their identity in the modern world, they must remain steadfast in their faith and practices. Another challenge to this is the interfaith movement. The rabbi supports the interfaith movement because it is a “…good idea to have a dialog among people of different races to remove prejudice, to remove indifference, to remove misunderstandings. He does not believe that the interfaith movement requires that people of different faiths find a common religious ground, however. The rabbi states that, “If you are a good person, you should be tolerant of other opinions (and) religious faiths.
“The interfaith movement provides for people of different faiths to come together in discussion to promote understanding, not commonality. Rabbi Levanon believes that there are many paths to the Divine, not a single path found by following any particular religion. The effect that the interfaith movement has on Jewish teachings deny the icons of other religious faiths, such as Jesus Christ or Muhammad, is to encourage members to be respectful of all religious beliefs and maintain open-mindedness about the opinions of others. They also teach that the Jewish people should respect the opinions carried by other faiths. As a testament to this open-mindedness, the Beth Israel Synagogue encourages interfaith marriage and has many such unions within its congregation.
The congregation and leadership of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Fayetteville, NC feel a very close connection to Israel. In addition, they fully support the nation of Israel and believe strongly that the political climate in the United States can directly affect the national security of Israel. This is because Israel needs the international political support of the United States in order to maintain a positive image and protect itself from unprovoked attacks by its enemies. This is a true analysis considering that Israel is surrounded by 22 Arab or Islamic nations (Brumfield, n.d.), many of them hostile towards Israel. The tiny country of only 8,000 square miles is in a very precarious position. Clearly, Israel could not survive without strong Western allies.
Since some of the most radical Islamic organizations and countries surround the nation of Israel, it seems fitting that Islam be the subject of comparison to Judaism. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is an Abrahamic religion (Brumfield, n.d.). This means that all three religions can trace their roots to Abraham. Islam teaches that Allah (the God of Islam) revealed His word to certain prophets. These prophets were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, with Muhammad being the last prophet of Allah. Muslims also believe that the Qur’an is flawless, indisputable, and the final revelation of Allah. Brumfield also states that Muslim teaching includes the belief that “parts of the Gospels, the Torah, and the Jewish prophetic books have been forgotten, misinterpreted, or distorted by their followers. Therefore, the original message has been corrupted over time, making the Qur’an a correction of Jewish and Christian Scriptures.”Islam and Judaism are similar in many of their basic tenants. Both religions teach that there is only one God. In addition, both teach that God is strictly monotheistic being only one divinity and not plural.
Both religions have similar teachings that God is all-powerful and non-corporeal, non-physical, and eternal. The Muslim faith states eternal as “He never begot, nor was begotten.” (Brumfield, n.d.). In addition, Islam and Judaism share the teachings that none is worthy of the offering of prayer except God. Both Judaism and Islam believe that there can be no intermediary to communication with God. Both religions teach that the word of the prophets are true, though they disagree on whom God’s final prophet was. Judaism holds the belief that Moses was the last prophet and the five books of Moses, known as the Torah, is the primary book guiding their faith, along with the written Talmud. Islam teaches that after Moses, Jesus Christ was a prophet, followed by the final prophet, Muhammad. Islam also teaches that the Qur’an is the final word of God, which they use to guide their faith.
The Muslim and Jewish faiths have more differences in teachings than which book to follow, or what prophet(s) to believe in. Muslims also pray five times per day, as compared to the Jewish tradition of praying three times per day. The Muslim faith teaches that they are the chosen people of God. The Jewish faith teaches that they are the chosen people of God and there will come a Jewish Messiah (moshiach) to Earth, possibly to initiate a messianic era. The Jewish faith also teaches that each person’s soul is pure at birth, but humanity is born with the propensity to do both good and evil. In contrast, Islam seeks to forbid what is evil (Nahi-anil-Munkar).
Both religions believe in a resurrection and pursuing the approval of God. While Judaism allows conversion to other religions, Islamic law forbids this and is punishable by death in many Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, and Mauritania. Another major point of contrast between Judaism and Islam is the multiple times the Jewish people have been subjugated multiple times by other nations. After the reign of King Solomon ended in 927 BC (Schoenberg, 2008), Israel split into two separate kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.
At separate times after this split, outside forces conquered both kingdoms. The Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in the eighth century BC, and the Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylonia in the sixth century BC. 70 years after this occurred, some Jews returned to Jerusalem following the downfall of Babylonia. The Romans later conquered them. During this time, the Roman Empire defeated two revolt attempts by the Jewish people. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD (Trueman, 2008), the Jews were again able to retake Jerusalem. In all, ownership of Jerusalem changed 17 times throughout the city’s history.
The nation of Israel itself was not established until three years after the end of World War 2. Before and during World War 2, the Jewish people were being imprisoned, tortured, then slaughtered by the millions by the Nazis of Germany as they sought to cleanse their territories of the so called “non-Aryans” who they believed to be lesser human beings than true Germans (Aryans) (Bankier, 2008). Repeated subjugation and near extermination. By the end of World War 2, German forces had killed an estimated 5.6 million to 5.9 million Jews, 1.2 million of which were children. The followers of Islam have not suffered anything remotely similar to this near genocide or the multiple conquerors that the Jewish people have endured.
Another difference between Islam and Judaism is the radical factions within Islam that sponsor and conduct terrorist actions, bombing and rocket attacks on Israeli soil, and the goal of destroying Judaism altogether. Islamic nations such as Iran and Syria have dedicated resources towards the destruction of Israel. Despite the thousands of years of subjugation of the Jewish people throughout history, and the near extermination of the Jewish race, Judaism has grown into one of the three largest religions in the world.
The nation of Israel has become one of the strongest countries in the Middle East. Judaism is one of the most peaceful of the major world religions, only using military force to defend itself. In addition, much of the Jewish leadership has embraced the practice of working to foster understanding and respect between their religion and other religions throughout the world. Though Islam and Judaism share several common beliefs and a common root founder in Abraham, the religions are very different in terms of suffering by its people and levels of aggression by radical factions and governments alike.
Aliyah, (2008). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 6, 2008, from Wikipediawebsite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AliyahBankier, D. (2008). Holocaust. In MSN Encarta [Web]. Retrieved August 6, 2008, fromhttp://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761559508/holocaust.htmlBrumfield, B. (n.d.). Islam. Retrieved August 6, 2008 from Israel’s Messiah website:http://israelsmessiah.com/religions/islam/beliefs.htmBrumfield, B. (n.d.). Palestinians: Israel, politically and geographically. Retrieved August 6,2008 from Israel’s Messiah website:http://www.israelsmessiah.com/palestinian_refugees/israel_vs_arabs.htmSchoenberg, S. (2008). Jewish virtual library: Solomon. Retrieved August 7, 2008 from theJewish virtual library website:http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Solomon.htmlTrueman, C. (2008). History Learning Site, A History of Ancient Rome: The fall of AncientRome. Retrieved from the History learning site website:http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/fall_of_ancient_rome.htm