To understand Judaism, one must look beyond its people, of whence it originated from, or to even consider it simply as another religion. Looking at it as the foundation behind Christianity and Islam will also point you to the wrong direction. The most fundamental aspect of Judaism lies in the b'rit, or covenant. The Jews believe that this covenant they have with God, entered by Abraham and eventually sealed by Moses, entails an obligation towards each other, where, in return for passing His test of faiths and staying the course of righteousness in the name of the Lord they, the descendants of Jacob, will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Notwithstanding the monotheistic, omniscient and omnipresent model of Godhood they subscribe to - which was a foreign concept at the time - Judaism, at its very crux, presents a unifying concept of salvation in the face of adversity for the people of Israel.
To gain a better perspective of Judaism, and how it has evolved over the centuries, it would serve us best if we start at the very beginning, approximately 4,000 years ago.
The patriarch, father figure and the progenitor of the Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Abram son of Terach, was born in the city of Ur in ancient Mesopotamia in approximately 1800BCE. He defiantly went against tradition and refused to worship the deities of the land, which to him, are simply inanimate objects. Castigated and threatened by the townspeople, in his greatest moment of despair, he was blessed with a visit from the Creator; the God he had always knew existed. The God of Abraham then commanded him to leave his city and his family, to spread His Word and in return, he promised Abraham that his children, numbering like the stars in the skies would inherit His Kingdom in Heaven. Thus the pact was made, and the covenant begun.
So Abram and his beloved wife Sarai, embarked on their journey across the promise land, the land of the Canaan, with the maidservant, Hagar, who later became Abram's second wife, in tow. From his union with Sarai, he was blessed with a son, Isaac (the mirthful), the progenitor of the Jewish people. Their Lord commanded then that henceforth, the both of them would be known as Abraham (Father of Many) and Sarah (Princess). Hagar meanwhile, gave birth to Ishmael, the progenitor of the Arabs.
Isaac, through a marriage with Rebecca, produced a pair of twin sons, Esau and Jacob, who will be later known as Israel (The Champion of God). The common phrase, Children of Israel, is actually a direct reference to Jacob. Jacob sired twelve sons, each the direct ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel, namely, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Levi, Judah, Zebulon, Issachar, Simeon, Dan, Reuven and Benyamin.
The tribes dispersed and propagated over the Niles, Tigris and Euphrates region, with eventually the bulk of the tribes settling in Goshen, Egypt. However, after centuries have gone by, the children of Israel had become slaves in the Pharaoh led Egypt. The most renowned son of Israel and the greatest Prophet of the Lord, Moses Rabbeinu of the Levi clan, arrived to lead them to salvation, in what is biblically referred to as the Exodus.
Instructed by the Lord Himself, Moses led his people through the wasteland to Mt. Sinai. Their Lord reaffirmed their covenant, and provided Moses with the Torah to light their path into the future. They subsequently founded the nation of Israel there in Canaan fourteen century from the arrival of Christ.
The subsequent civil war, the conquest by the Assyrians, the Babylonian period of captivity, the banishment from Jerusalem by the Romans - each cut a swath through the Jewish population and their ever-burgeoning diasporas in the region.
The Jews faced continued challenges over the centuries from the Byzantanium Romans, Islamic Arab and even the legion Crusaders that led them to seek sanctuary even further away from their beloved Israel. The arrival of the Mamluk Empire, effectively shut the door on any further attempts by the Jews of to regain their homeland. The arrival of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century consigned the Children of Israel to the fate of second-class citizens in their own homeland. And the status quo stayed for the next 600 years.
Matters began to turn around after the British conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Empire following the First World War and mandated the formation of a Jewish national home in the form of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, following years of heavy lobbying from Jewish groups the world over. However, events took a dramatic turn during the lead up to the Second World War. The horrific scale of the Nazi led Holocaust during the war - where a reported 9 million Jews were killed - lead to the eventual declaration of nationhood by David Ben Gurion in 1948.
Since then, this descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob) himself, has been involved in a number of wars (the Suez War in 1956, the 6-Day War in 1967, Yom Kippur in 1973 and the 1982 Lebanese War are some of the major ones), all in the defense of their homeland, their birthright. Even today, they are still involved in a daily battle of survival against their ancient foes, and cousins.
Considering their tumultuous history, the blood they have spilled for their homeland, and the continuing struggle for existence they face daily, do you finally understand the strength that their b'rit (covenant ) has gave them?
Thus is the journey and tale of the Children of Israel.
Torah (The Law):
Nevi'im (The Prophets):
Kethuvim (The Writings):
Chumash (Pentateuch, The Five Books Of Moses)
Oral Torah: The Talmud