How did Judaism start?

Tradition states that Abraham (18th century BCE) founded Judaism, and Moses later received the Torah from God.See also:

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Abraham, tenth-generation descendant of Noah, of Hebrew lineage, was the son of Terah, uncle of Lot, father of Isaac, grandfather of Jacob, and ancestor of the Israelites. His story is in Genesis ch.11 (end), through ch.25. Jewish tradition states that he was the first to actively spread belief in One God; and it is in his merit that Jews continue to exist (Genesis 18:19, and ch.17).


Abraham came from ancestry that had been aware of God a couple of centuries earlier but had afterwards slipped into idolatry (Joshua 24:2). (See: How did polytheism start.)

By the time of Abraham, the area where he lived was full of pagan cults; they were polytheistic, worshiping multiple deities. Abraham became the first to advance the idea of ethical monotheism: the worship of One God, and the appropriate ethical code of conduct.


Nimrod, the idolatrous tyrant, had brought Abraham's father (Terah) from the Semitic ancestral seat near the confluence of the Balikh and the Euphrates, and instated him in a position of power in his army in the royal Babylonian city of Ur, where Abraham was born. Nimrod persecuted any who would question his idolatrous cult.


The Kuzari (Rabbi Judah HaLevi, 1075-1141) states that Abraham was gifted with high intelligence; and, as Maimonides (1135-1204) describes, Abraham didn't blindly accept the ubiquitous idolatry. The whole populace had been duped, but the young Abraham contemplated the matter relentlessly, finally arriving at the conclusion that there is One God and that this should be taught to others as well. This is what is meant by his "calling out in the name of the Lord" (Genesis ch.12).

As a young man, he remonstrated with passersby in public, demonstrating to them the falsehood of their idols; and our tradition tells how he was threatened and endangered by Nimrod.
Subsequently, Terah relocated to Harran; and it is here that Abraham began to develop a circle of disciples (Rashi commentary, on Genesis 12:5).


Later, God told Abraham in prophecy to move to the Holy Land, which is where Abraham raised his family.
He continued his contemplations, eventually arriving at the attitudes and forms of behavior which God later incorporated into the Torah given to Moses. (See: Thirteen basic Jewish beliefs)


Abraham became the greatest thinker of all time. His originality, perseverance, strength of conviction, and influence, cannot be overestimated.

Abraham, with God's help, trounced the supremacy of the evil Nimrod.

He received God's promise of inheriting the Holy Land (Genesis ch.13).

He strove to raise a family (Genesis ch.15, 17, and 24) which would serve God (Genesis 18:19); and God eventually blessed his efforts, granting him numerous descendants (ibid., ch.16, 21 and 25), in keeping with His promise (Genesis ch.17).

Abraham founded the Jewish people and lived to see his work live on in the persons of Isaac and Jacob; and he taught many other disciples as well (Talmud, Yoma 28b).

He saved the population of the south of Canaan from invading foreign kings (Genesis 14); and he was feared by neighboring kings (ibid., ch.12 and 20).

Abraham gave tithes (Genesis ch.14), entered into a covenant with God (Genesis ch.15 and 17), welcomed guests into his home (Genesis ch.18) unlike the inhospitable Sodomites (Genesis ch.19), prayed for people (Genesis ch.18), rebuked others when necessary (Genesis ch.20), eulogized and buried the deceased (Genesis ch.23), and fulfilled God's will unquestioningly (Genesis ch.22).

He became renowned as a prince of God (Genesis 23:6).

The gravesite of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives (Genesis 49:29-32) is located in Hebron and has been known and attested to for many centuries.


All of the above practices of Abraham were based upon the ways of God, which Abraham comprehended through his contemplations. These, and similar personality traits, were the teachings of Abraham and his descendants (unlike idolatry, which had tended to go hand in hand with cruel, licentious and excessive behavior, since the caprices which were narrated concerning the idols were adopted as an excuse to imitate those types of behavior). (See: Cruelties of the polytheists)


It is therefore clear why God expresses His love for Abraham (Isaiah 41:8) and calls Himself the God of Abraham (Genesis 26:24), and says that Abraham obeyed Him fully (Genesis 26:5). And this is why Abraham is credited with having begun the religion which became known as Judaism. (However, Abraham and his descendants observed their traditions voluntarily, until the Giving of the Torah to Moses 3325 years ago, when God made it obligatory.)

Judaism, as we know it today, evolved over a period of centuries, from the polytheistic religion that we now know the early Hebrews followed. There were several key points in the development of Judaism, but no single, identifiable beginning.

An early economic factor was the influx into Judah of refugees from Israel after the destruction of their homeland in 722 BCE. Judahite traditions had to adapt and accommodate at least some of the traditions of the Israelites in order to foster national unity. This gradually led to the earliest books of the Bible being written. Judaism was beginning to take shape and had some discernible parallels to modern Judaism.

Another important political and economic factor was the Babylonian Exile. The Jews no longer had a king to lead them, and the priests took on this role, in a theocracy. During the Exile and the period that followed, most of the Hebrew Bible was completed. This was also the period during which Judaism became firmly monotheistic, although it seems to have already become monolatrous even before the Exile. We can say the Exile marked the beginning of monotheistic Judaism.

The First Roman-Jewish War began in 66 CE as a result of swingeing taxes imposed by the Romans and the appropriation of money from the Jerusalem Temple. The inevitable result of the war was the destruction of the Temple and, with it, the inability to continue animal sacrifices as well as the disappearance of the Sadducee faction. The Pharisees evolved Judaism, to become the Rabbinic Judaism we know today. This was the beginning of modern Judaism.

Answers from WikiAnswers members:

Answer 1

Tradition holds that Abraham is the father of the Hebrews. The Torah says that long ago God spoke to Abraham. He was a shepherd in Ur-Kasdim, in Mesopotamia. God told Abraham to leave Ur-Kasdim and go to Canaan. God promised Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham took his family and settled in this "promised land."

In ancient times, most people believed in many gods. The Hebrews were the first to believe in one all-powerful God. This is monotheism. Today, the Hebrews' religion is called Judaism.

Answer 2

Many regard the founder of Judaism to be Abraham, whom they consider to have lived before 2000 BCE. Others may regard the true founder of Judaism to be Moses, who is traditionally considered to have lived around 1300 BCE.

However, many scholars regard the stories of Abraham and Moses as creations of the first millennium BCE. They point out that the Bible also tells us that the people of Israel (the northern kingdom) were, throughout its history, polytheistic in their religious beliefs. Even in the south, in Judah, the people worshiped many gods until at least the time of King Hezekia (729-686 BCE), who made the first real attempt, in historic times, to impose a monotheistic religion. However, Hezekiah's son allowed Judah to revert to polytheism. On this evidence, Judaism, as we know it, did not yet exist in Judah.

We now know that much of what we know as the Hebrew Bible was written by the 'Deuteronomist' source during the reign of King Josiah ( about 640-609 BCE), although of course the books written by the Deuteronomist contain a great deal of material that had been written down by authors several centuries earlier. Today, we see that earlier material, recorded by the 'Yahwist' and 'Elohist' sources, as essential to the very concept of Judaism, but much of it is also compatible with Hebrew polytheistic worship and was no doubt used in that context.

From the time of Josiah, a monotheistic religion seems to have become dominant among the Jews. The role of Josiah in finally enforcing a monotheistic religion with its own canon of literature, make his reign arguably the real starting point of Judaism as we know it.

Answer 3

Judaism started when God made His covenant with Abraham.

Answer 4

According to our tradition, Abraham (18th century BCE) developed the religion which became known as Judaism.

Abraham, tenth generation descendant of Noah, of Hebrew lineage, was the son of Terah, uncle of Lot, father of Isaac, grandfather of Jacob, and ancestor of the Israelites. His story is in Genesis ch.11 (end), through ch.25. Jewish tradition states that he was the first to teach belief in One God; and it is in his merit that Jews continue to exist (Genesis 18:19, and ch.17).

According to tradition, Abraham founded Judaism, and Moses later received the Torah from God.

Abraham (18th century BCE) came from ancestry that had been God-fearing a couple of centuries earlier but had afterwards slipped into idolatry (Joshua 24:2). Abraham was gifted with high intelligence; and, as Maimonides (1135-1204) describes, Abraham didn't blindly accept the ubiquitous idolatry. The whole populace had been duped, but the young Abraham contemplated the matter relentlessly, finally arriving at the conclusion that there is One God and that this should be taught to others as well. This is what is meant by his "calling out in the name of the Lord" (Genesis ch.12).
Jewish tradition holds that Abraham founded Judaism in the land of Israel, around 2000 BCE, by acknowledging the existence of one God over all things.

Tradition states that Abraham (18th century BCE) founded Judaism, and Moses later received the Torah from God.

Abraham, tenth-generation descendant of Noah, of Hebrew lineage, was the son of Terah, uncle of Lot, father of Isaac, grandfather of Jacob, and forefather of the Israelites. His story is in Genesis ch.11 (end), through ch.25. Jewish tradition states that he was the first to actively spread belief in One God; and it is in his merit that Jews continue to exist (Genesis 18:19, and ch.17).

Link: Abraham's Hebrew ancestry
Abraham came from ancestry that had been aware of God a couple of centuries earlier but had afterwards slipped into idolatry (Joshua 24:2).

By the time of Abraham, the area where he lived was full of pagan cults; they were polytheistic, worshiping multiple deities.

Link: How polytheism began

Abraham became the first to advance the idea of ethical monotheism: the worship of One God, and the appropriate ethical code of conduct.


Nimrod, the idolatrous tyrant, had brought Abraham's father (Terah) from the Semitic ancestral seat near the confluence of the Balikh and the Euphrates, and instated him in a position of power in his army in the royal Babylonian city of Ur, where Abraham was born. Nimrod persecuted any who would question his idolatrous cult.


The Kuzari (Rabbi Judah HaLevi, 1075-1141) states that Abraham was gifted with high intelligence; and, as Maimonides (1135-1204) describes, Abraham didn't blindly accept the ubiquitous idolatry. The whole populace had been duped, but the young Abraham contemplated the matter relentlessly, finally arriving at the conclusion that there is One God and that this should be taught to others as well. This is what is meant by his "calling out in the name of the Lord" (Genesis ch.12).

As a young man, he remonstrated with passersby in public, demonstrating to them the falsehood of their idols; and our tradition tells how he was threatened and endangered by Nimrod.
Subsequently, Terah relocated to Harran; and it is here that Abraham began to develop a circle of disciples (Rashi commentary, on Genesis 12:5).


Later, God told Abraham in prophecy to move to the Holy Land, which is where he raised his family.


He continued his contemplations, eventually arriving at the attitudes and forms of behavior which God later incorporated into the Torah given to Moses.


Abraham became the greatest thinker of all time. His originality, perseverance, strength of conviction, and influence, cannot be overestimated.

Abraham, with God's help, trounced the supremacy of the evil Nimrod.

He received God's promise of inheriting the Holy Land (Genesis ch.13).

He strove to raise a family (Genesis ch.15, 17, and 24) which would serve God (Genesis 18:19); and God eventually blessed his efforts, granting him numerous descendants (ibid., ch.16, 21 and 25), in keeping with His promise (Genesis ch.17).

Abraham founded the Jewish people and lived to see his work live on in the persons of Isaac and Jacob; and he taught many other disciples as well (Talmud, Yoma 28b).

He saved the population of the south of Canaan from invading foreign kings (Genesis 14); and he was feared by neighboring kings (ibid., ch.12 and 20).

Abraham gave tithes (Genesis ch.14), entered into a covenant with God (Genesis ch.15 and 17), welcomed guests into his home (Genesis ch.18) unlike the inhospitable Sodomites (Genesis ch.19), prayed for people (Genesis ch.18), rebuked others when necessary (Genesis ch.20), eulogized and buried the deceased (Genesis ch.23), and fulfilled God's will unquestioningly (Genesis ch.22).

He became renowned as a prince of God (Genesis 23:6).

The gravesite of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives (Genesis 49:29-32) is located in Hebron and has been known and attested to for many centuries.


All of the above practices of Abraham were based upon the ways of God, which Abraham understood through his contemplations. These, and similar personality traits, were the teachings of Abraham and his descendants (unlike idolatry, which had no moral character; with worship of the gods accompanied by things such as human sacrifice, "sacred" prostitution, and animal worship). Link: Pagan practices


It is therefore clear why God expresses His love for Abraham (Isaiah 41:8) and calls Himself the God of Abraham (Genesis 26:24), and says that Abraham obeyed Him fully (Genesis 26:5). And this is why Abraham is credited with having begun the religion which became known as Judaism. (However, Abraham and his descendants observed their traditions voluntarily, until the Giving of the Torah to Moses 3325 years ago, when God made it obligatory.)


Moses was an Israelite, a great-great grandson of Jacob. He was born 245 years after the death of Abraham. The time when Moses was born was when the Pharaoh had ordered his people to kill all Israelite male infants because he (Pharaoh) was afraid that the Israelites would become too strong for him (Exodus ch.1-2).

Moses' mother didn't want him to die. So she made a basket for him and put him in it to float in the Nile reeds. He was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who took pity on him (Exodus ch.2) and raised him as her own son.

Link: How did Moses know he was an Israelite?

Moses was forced to flee after killing a cruel Egyptian taskmaster, and went to Midian, where he wedded the daughter of Jethro.

He eventually achieved the highest level of prophecy (Deuteronomy ch.34) and was called upon by God (Exodus ch.3). He brought the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery (Exodus ch.12). He received the Torah from God (Exodus 24:12) and later recorded it in writing (Deuteronomy 31:24). He went up on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights (Deuteronomy ch.9-10) and brought down the Two Stone Tablets with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 31:18). He brought the Israelites into the covenant with God (Exodus ch.19 and ch.24), and he oversaw the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus ch.35-40). He was the humblest of men and the greatest of prophets (Numbers ch.12).

See also the other Related Links.

Link: Archaeology

Link: Was Abraham real

Link: Was Moses real

Link: Did Josiah make Judaism what it is?