Judaism: Emily Buchanan

There are 13 million Jewish people in the world - most in the US or Israel. Emily Buchanan is a BBC world affairs correspondent.

This page was last updated on 19/05/2015.


Just less than 270,000 people in the UK described themselves as having a religious identity that is Jewish in the most recent Census figures available.

There are differences in practices, customs and leadership between various Jewish denominations or movements - the main ones in the UK being Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism.

In this film, Emily Buchanan explores some of the beliefs and religious practices of Judaism and discusses some of the issues facing Jewish people.


Jews believe there is only one god and they have a covenant or solemn agreement with him. They believe that god appointed them to be his chosen people.

Many aspects of Jewish life involve the wider community and a lot of religious customs are based around home and family activities.

The most important religious text for Jews is the Torah, which is written in Hebrew. The Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.

Jews worship collectively in synagogues which are also used for education and as community centres. Their spiritual leaders are called rabbis.


Judaism has no living leader and there is no single person or organisation which represents all Jews - either in the UK or anywhere else in the world.

Judaism is not just a religion. There are many people who identify themselves as Jewish without necessarily believing in, or observing any, Jewish law.

Religious leaders and scholars play a role in Judaism but as a religion it does not have an organised hierarchy or structure in the way that Christianity does. A rabbi is a teacher who is learned in Jewish religion and law. But that does not mean he has special authority to conduct religious services. Any Jewish person who is sufficiently educated can conduct a service.

Doing a story

If you’re doing a story, it’s important to remember that the Jewish community in the UK is made up of a number of diverse movements which may follow different traditions and different types of religious observance.

If journalists want to visit a synagogue, they should contact the synagogue administrator. This is the case in both Orthodox and Reform traditions. Filming is often restricted on certain days.

There are a few points of etiquette to keep in mind during a visit:

  • Modest dress is recommended
  • Be aware of the sacred areas and try not to hold long conversations there
  • Be aware of the areas reserved for men and women. If in doubt, consult the synagogue in question, as practice varies
  • In Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately. In most Reform and Liberal synagogues, men and women sit together.


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