Giving definition to what being Jewish means can be problematic. Though there are a wide array of differing views on, and interpretations of Jewish identity, Jewish identity can be considered to include ethnicity and/or religion and/or citizenship and/or culture: Being Jewish does not have to involve religious orthodoxy. Our Faith section of the museum is in part our 'collection' of Judaica, and in greater part, a series of short articles that help the museum visitor to negotiate the complexities of Jewish Faith and its various and many expressions in daily life.
Complexity and differing perspectives aside however, the term Judaism is generally defined as the religion and guiding philosophy of the Jewish people. Judaism is a monotheistic religion which is based on the Torah and texts like the Talmud. Jewish law (halakhah) is derived from these texts and informs the daily life of observant Jews.
There are three main branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Reform and Conservative – as well as a diverse array of other, less mainstream schools of Judaism. The first of our Faith articles is What is Judaism, and explores the different dimensions of these branches of the faith. Writer Miriam Bell then leads us on to how faith is expressed through daily life and rituals, and the key Jewish Festivals celebrated in New Zealand. The Jewish Holiday Calendar 2013 - 14 is also available as a downloadable PDF document. Together with Rabbi Samuel Altschul in another short article, the writers go on to explain the process of Conversion to Judaism . Rabbi Altschul has kindly provided the JoM with an accompanying glossary of Jewish Faith to help the museum vistor negotiate their visit to the Faith section of JoM. The JoM Faith Glossary is also available as a downloadable PDF document.
In New Zealand, there has been a continuous Jewish presence since the early 1830s when Jewish traders and settlers first began to arrive.
In 1840 David Nathan founded the Auckland Jewish congregation, while Wellington’s Jewish congregation was founded three years later by Abraham Hort. Auckland’s Jewish congregation might be a little older, but the country’s first synagogue was opened in Wellington in 1870. (Auckland’s first synagogue didn’t open till 1885.)
Today both Auckland and Wellington have an Orthodox congregation and a Reform congregation. Christchurch has an Orthodox congregation, while Dunedin has a Reform congregation. As a visitor to our Faith section you will also find short histories, or autobiographies, of each of the existing congregations that document through photographs and historical research, the work and place of each of these communities in New Zealand. Other cities around New Zealand like Hamilton and Nelson also have Jewish communities and although some of these cities, like Nelson have had official congregations in the past, they no longer do.
Image above header: Photograph (window detail) of the Old Synagogue at 19A Princes Street in Central Auckland. Reproduced here with permission by photographer Stephen Robinson. © JoM 2013