The Jewish faith is based upon the belief in one God, the Creator of the universe, whose divine purpose was revealed in the Torah. The word Torah means Law and refers to the first five books of the HebrewScriptures (also known as the five books of Moses) which have primaryimportance. The Torah is a template for the Jewish Way of Life, whichembraces both belief and deeds. The precepts of the Torah were debated andinterpreted by the rabbis (religious scholars and teachers who were regarded as divinely inspired) over some hundreds of years, and these debates and explanations are detailed in the Talmud.A major tenet of Judaism is the sanctity of the Sabbath (Shabbat) whichlasts from sunset on Friday evening to sunset on the Saturday, and the majorfestivals - Rosh Hashanah (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles), Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) - during which no work is permitted. For Orthodox Jews this includes driving, operating (electrical) equipment and carrying things - although it does not apply in the case of saving a human life. As the dates of these festivals are fixed in the Jewish lunar calendar they do not correspond to fixed dates in the UK calendar, which is solar. Other tenets include the observance of strict dietary laws which, amongst other prohibitions, forbids the consumption of animals which do not chew the cud or have cloven hooves, fish which do not have fins and scales and the mixing of dairy products and meat. Any food (or activity) which is permitted is called kosher. Both the synagogue and the home are regarded as the focus of Jewish observance and practice with many traditions and rituals taking place in the family environment, reinforcing their significance to the younger generation. Meals on the Sabbath and Festivals are preceded by blessings over wine and bread as well as prayers afterwards. The Passover meal, called a Seder, which marks the start of the festival, reminds Jews of the period of slavery in Egypt and their emancipation by the hand of God.
Jewish communities are autonomous though most affiliate to one of the main synagogal groups in the UK. There are three Orthodox synagogues and one Liberal synagogue in the Birmingham and Solihull area with another in Newcastle under Lyme and small active communities in Hereford, Coventry and Leamington. Orthodox Judaism believes that the Torah was given in its entirety to Moses at Mt Sinai, and that it is immutable. This is not accepted by Liberal Judaism which believes that the laws can be changed to fit the times. Another major feature of non-Orthodox Judaism is the full integration of women in religious ritual and the ordination of women rabbis.
In the UK there are 250,000 Jews, less than 1% of the population. The Jewish population in the West Midlands region, currently 2500, has been slowly declining, with many younger members moving elsewhere where there are more Jewish facilities. The Representative Council of Birmingham & Midland Jewry comprises the lay leadership of the Jewish communities in the region and has over 20 organisations in membership. Its main focus of interest is currently working towards implementing strategies which will retain its members and enhance its size by attracting Jews from any part of the world to come and live in the West Midlands.
The Jewish symbol is the six-pointed Star of David, which began to be generally used during the Middle Ages in Europe but was also used to identify Jewish communities in biblical times.
More information on the BBC website www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/