Judaism is the comprehensive and diverse set of traditions, beliefs, perceptions and values shared by the Jewish people. Today, many see Judaism as a continuously evolving, living identity. Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish studies whose personal library was entrusted to the National Library of Israel, believed that each generation interprets Judaism for itself, choosing from the past, reducing and adding, and redefining its essence. For many generations, Jewish identity was largely based on the element of religious faith, but from the 18th century onwards, the foundations of nationality and culture intensified as a basis for Jewish identity.
The religious element in Judaism is grounded in the belief in one eternal God, the Creator of the world, who delivered the Torah to the people of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai. The Bible describes constitutive events and figures from Jewish tradition and history, such as Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, as well as the various prophets, leaders and symbolic figures such as Ruth the Moabite, who is the focus of the Book of Ruth. The Jewish religion includes a set of commandments and customs originating in the written law (the Torah) and the oral law (Mishna and Talmud), which are the cornerstones of the Jewish bookshelf.
The cultural foundation of Judaism has crystallized over thousands of years into a fabric that combines tradition, values, customs, extensive artistic creation and Jewish languages such as Ladino and Yiddish. In Jewish communities around the world, patterns took root that encompassed the lifecycle, and included ceremonies around holidays, commandments and customs such as circumcision, the bar mitzvah, marriage and burial. The culinary heritage, which included a variety of Jewish foods, was also a characteristic of every Jewish community in the Diaspora.
Stories of the Jewish Communities
After thousands of years of exile, the waves of immigration to the Land of Israel brought together Jews from communities around the world. This encounter revealed the fascinating stories of each community, its customs and rich cultures, such as those of Moroccan Jewry, which was the largest community in the Islamic lands, and Ethiopian Jewry, which existed for thousands of years in complete isolation from the rest of the Jewish world. Today, there are still many active Jewish communities around the world, especially in the Americas and in Europe, where large communities can be found in the United States, France, Canada, Argentina and elsewhere.
The answer to the question of how many Jews there are in the world depends on how one defines Judaism. However, according to the Jewish Agency, as of September 2019, there were about 14.8 million Jews in the world. About 8.1 million belong to Diaspora Jewry, of which United States Jewry is the largest and numbers about 5.7 million people.
The National Library of Israel maintains a large Judaica collection, which represents one of the most important collections of its kind in the world. It includes archival materials dealing with the history of the Jewish people, Jewish commentary, studies related to Judaism, sacred literature and Jewish prose in various languages.
At the National Library, one can find rare and important historical items that are among the treasures of the Jewish people, including the Damascus Crown and the Afghan Genizah. The Library also collects archives of famous Jewish personalities, rare, historical and new books from Israel and around the world, research publications, periodicals, newspapers, recordings, photographs, digital materials and many ephemeral items. All of these combine to reveal varied and fascinating aspects of the story of the Jewish people.