The classical Judaism was drafted historically in the period between 200 BC and 200 AD with the historical and religious centre around the temple in Jerusalem. Prior to this had gone thousands of years of religious and historical development, which is very difficult to reconstruct. It is because our main source to this period is the Old Testament, but although it is considered a very old source it is also marked by the Jewish people’s subsequent history and religious beliefs.
The Jewish people’s history plays a central role in the beliefs and practices of Judaism. Milestones in history is the repeated destruction of the Temple, the Jewish people’s exile from Jerusalem and the temple, and the time in captivity in Babylon in the 6th Century B.C. and partly within the dispersion (Diaspora) of Jews and Judaism away from Jerusalem and Israel, which was a result of temple destruction in the year 70 A.C. Also the Jewish people’s history after dispersal away from Israel and Jerusalem in the first centuries possibly has played a significant role in Judaism. Persecutions and expulsions culminating in Nazi Germany’s extermination of approx. 6 million Jews during the 2nd World War II in addition to the general historical development left deep traces in modern Judaism, both inside and outside of Israel.
Judaism today is as most religions not a well-defined entity. Nevertheless, unlike other so-called world religions, Judaism has never been split into real sects. What distinguishes the various factions within Judaism, are not differences in beliefs, but the cultural background and degree of compliance with the bid and religious prohibitions.
Culturally, a distinction is usually between a southern (Sephardic) and Eastern European form of Judaism. The largest number of Jews is found in the U.S. and Israel, but Judaism is also represented in Western and Eastern Europe, North – South and East Africa, in Canada and some places in Asia (India, Japan and China) and in Australia.
When it comes to the degree or form of respect for the traditional and prescribed practice is usual to distinguish between the three ward types: the Orthodox, the reformed and conservatives. The crucial differences between the Orthodox and the Reformed churches is that they consistently maintain orthodox Hebrew as the language of the prayers is said that the sexes be separated in synagogue and that does not allow music on the Sabbath or organ in the synagogue. The Conservative congregations place themselves somewhere between the other two.
It is estimated that Judaism today counts around 17.5 million people. Usually Judaism defines a Jew as a person born of a Jewish mother, and most of the 17.5 million Jews are believers of this definition. Moreover comes a number of converts, but because Judaism is not a proselytizing religion, their numbers are not large.
Like for example many Christians and Muslims many Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora lead a life without specifically Jewish religious commitment, but often with a cultural and historical identification with the Jewish people.
In most countries the Jewish population is tiny (only 700 in Japan, in China under 100). Only in the USA, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, France and Israel Judaism is considered as an important cultural and partly political factor, and it is only in Israel that Jews constitute a majority.