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The History of Judaism
By Colleen Messina

1 The Jewish people have faced severe persecution during their long history, but they have also demonstrated great strength. Judaism began about 3,500 years ago. Abraham, the first Jew, was a respectable 99 years old at the time. It is believed that God made a covenant with Abraham that Abraham’s descendents would reach the “Promised Land” in exchange for their worship and obedience. Abraham believed in one God rather than many idols. Judaism became a major world religion. It is at the heart of both Christianity and Islam.

2 Abraham lived in present-day Iraq in 1800 B.C. His son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob, also became patriarchs of Judaism. Jacob’s twelve sons became the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. Their complicated story fills the Hebrew Bible, which is the Old Testament to Christians. Even Disney has made movies about Bible stories!

3 The story goes that the Hebrews went to Egypt because of a famine and later became Pharaoh’s slaves. By 1200 B.C., the Pharaoh worried that the Hebrew people might rebel. He ordered his thugs to throw all Hebrew boys into the Nile! One boy’s mother saved him by placing him in a covered basket in the river. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby, and she named him “Moses.” This name means “one who was drawn out,” and the story of Moses is a well-known Bible story.

4 Moses rejected his royal family when he grew up. Pharaoh was Moses’ adopted grandfather so this must have taken great courage. Moses asked the Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh said no, so God sent ten nasty plagues to the Egyptians. The Nile turned to blood, hoards of frogs hopped over the land, billions of bugs bothered the Egyptians, and then all the people got boils. With the death of all firstborn sons, including his own, the Pharaoh finally let his slaves go, but soon changed his mind and sent his soldiers after the Israelites. According to the Bible, the Red Sea split into walls of water. The Israelites escaped to Canaan, but the Pharaoh’s soldiers never were able to “catch a wave” and died in the attempt. This exodus was only one of many that Jews had to make at different times in their history.