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Belief in the one and only God of Israel has been adhered to by professing Jews of all ages and all shades of sectarian opinion.
By its very nature monotheism ultimately postulated religious universalism, although it could be combined with a measure of particularism.
In the case of ancient Israel (see below Biblical Judaism [20th-4th century BCE]), particularism took the shape of the doctrine of election; that is, of a people chosen by God as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" to set an example for all mankind.
Such an arrangement presupposed a covenant between God and the people, the terms of which the chosen people had to live up to or be severely punished.
The ideal, therefore, as expressed in the Ten Commandments, was a religioethical conduct that involved ritualistic observance as well as individual and social ethics, a liturgical-ethical way constantly expatiated on by the prophets and priests, rabbinic sages, and philosophers.
Such conduct was to be placed in the service of God, as the transcendent and immanent Ruler of the universe, and as such the Creator and propelling force of the natural world, and also as the One giving guidance to history and thus helping man to overcome the potentially destructive and amoral forces of nature.
They asserted that after the first fall of Jerusalem (586 BCE) the ancient "Israelitic" religion gave way to a new form of the "Jewish" faith, or Judaism, as formulated by Ezra the Scribe and his school (5th century BCE).
Judaism, whether in its "normative" form or its sectarian deviations, never completely departed from this basic ethical-historical monotheism.
As the 8th-century-BCE prophet Amos expressed it: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Further, it was a concept that combined with the messianic idea, according to which, at the advent of the Redeemer, all nations would see the light, give up war and strife, and follow the guidance of the Torah (divine guidance, teaching, or law) emanating from Zion (a hill in Jerusalem that has a special spiritual significance).
With all its variations in detail, messianism has, in one form or another, permeated Jewish thinking throughout the ages and, under various guises, has coloured the outlook of many secular-minded Jews (see also eschatology).
The response of the people Israel to the divine presence in history was seen as crucial not only for itself but for all mankind.
Further, God had--as person--in a particular encounter revealed the pattern and structure of communal and individual life to this people.