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Where was Judaism founded?

Answer The general religious answer is that Judaism originated in Israel, but there are three acceptable religious answers (Israel, Harran, and Sinai). In addition there is also the historical answer (Slow Development in Israel and Babylon). There are several answers in each category reflecting the different viewpoints of the the contributors.

A. Religious: Israel

Answer A1

The general correct answer is the Holy Land (Canaan; today's Israel), since it was there that Abraham lived most of his life. It was there that Abraham made a covenant with God (Genesis ch.15) and raised his family and taught disciples to carry on his beliefs and traditions (see Genesis 18:19).

Answer A2

Tradition holds that Judaism was founded by Abraham in the land of Israel, about 3800 years ago. Archaeological evidence of Jews (Hebrews) in the land of Israel dates back 3600 years.

Answer A3

Judaism began in the land of Canaan (later known as Israel) with the advent of Abraham to that region nearly 4000 years ago.

Israel today is still the heart of Judaism.

Answer A4

Jewish tradition: the tradition of the Sages and the Talmud, has always been that Abraham founded Judaism and established it in the Land of Israel. This is implicit in many passages in the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 41:8) and throughout the Talmud (e.g. Yoma 28b) and is clearly borne out by a reading of Genesis.

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).

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). Nimrod, the idolatrous tyrant, had brought Abraham's father (Terah) from the Semitic ancestral seat near the conjunction 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.

Abraham, with God's help, singlehandedly trounced the supremacy of the evil Nimrod. He received God's promise of inheriting the Holy Land (Genesis 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 many children (ibid., ch.16, 21 and 25), as He had promised (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).

All of these forms of behavior 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).

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, according to our tradition, 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.

God calls himself "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" no fewer than eighteen times in the Torah, and that is how we address Him in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer. Since the time of Abraham, the Israelites have always worshiped the One God. Abraham worshiped "the Lord God of Heaven and Earth" (Genesis 14:22 and 24:3) and complained about the Philistines' lack of fear of God (Genesis 20:11). Jacob confiscated the idolatrous images taken from Shechem (Genesis 35:2) and got rid of them (Genesis 35:4); and refrained from invoking the gods of Nahor (Genesis 31:53). Rachel pilfered Laban's statue-images (Genesis 31:19) in order to prevent him from idolatry (Rashi commentary, ibid.). Joseph placed his hope in the God of the Forefathers (Genesis 50:24). Moses characterized the Golden Calf as "a great sin" (Exodus 32:21, 30) and punished the worshipers (Exodus ch.32). During the rest of his lifetime and that of Joshua (Judges 2:7), no incidents of Jewish idolatry were reported.

B. Religious: Harran (North Syria/South Turkey) -- The Road Between Babylonia and Israel

Answer B1

Judaism, theoretically, could also have developed in Harran, since it was there that the young Abraham (after being born in Ur) lived for several decades before coming to Canaan, and taught others about the One God.

Answer B2

There are two correct answers. One is Babylonia, since it was there that the young Abraham first repudiated the ubiquitous idolatry and began teaching others about the One God.

The other correct answer is the Holy Land, since it was there that Abraham lived most of his life and raised a family to be the center of carrying on his traditions. In what is now Israel, Abraham taught disciples and raised his family.

Answer B3

Abraham, after contemplation, arrived at the belief in One God in Ur-Kasdim, and later God spoke to him, sending him to Canaan (Israel). This was the start of the Jewish people. The Jewish people became a nation at Mount Sinai when God spoke to them and they accepted his teaching, the Torah, which is the basis of Judaism.

Answer B4

The forefather of Judaism - Abraham - was born in Ur in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and was commanded by G-d to go to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1). After doing so, Canaan was promised to his descendants (ibid 15:7).

Abraham's son Isaac was also promised the land of Canaan (ibid 26:3); and Isaac's son Jacob was also promised the land of Canaan (ibid 28:13).

Jacob's 12 sons went down to Egypt, and 400 years later (ibid 15:13), after the Exodus, their descendants (600,000 men with their wives and children) were given the detailed laws of Judaism, the Torah, by God at Mount Sinai.

After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, they conquered the land of Canaan that was promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then renamed it the land of Israel.

C. Religious: Sinai (Northeast Egypt)

Answer C1

The Jewish people officially became a nation at Mt. Sinai when G-d revealed Himself to 2 million people and gave them the Torah (Exodus ch.19). This differs from other religions in the fact that the revelation involved the whole nation and not just one individual.

D. Historical: Israel and Babylonia (Central Iraq)

Answer D1

Jewish teachings began to crystallize in the times of the Kings of Israel, but those beliefs and traditions did not crystallize until the Jewish Exile in Babylon. It was at this point, that the Torah was completed as explained by the JEPD hypothesis.

Answer D2

As the name implies, Judaism originated in Judah, a small Hebrew nation centered on the city of Jerusalem. The northern Hebrew nation of Israel was always polytheistic until its destruction in 722 BCE, and since Judaism is generally regarded as a monotheistic religion, Judaism never took hold in ancient Israel.

In spite of the biblical tradition that claims great antiquity, monotheistic Judaism began to evolve during the seventh-century-BCE reign of King Josiah, and developed many of its modern beliefs during the Babylonian Exile.

In and around the place now known as Israel.

E. Other Answer E1 (An Islamic View)

  • First, it should be emphasized that all God religions had been founded by God not by any human or prophet. The prophets are assigned by God to deliver His message to their people. They don't found a religion on their own. Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) refused worshiping idols and believed that God; the one and only one God; is the only Creator and the sole God to be worshiped. Accordingly he had full submission to God as the one and only one God with no partner and no companion and no equivalence. Then God revealed the Torah to Moses (peace be upon him). This, according to dating of the text by Orthodox rabbis, the revelation of Torah to prophet Moses (peace be upon him) had occurred in 1312 BCE; another date given for this event is 1280 BCE. This revelation occured while prophet Moses on the mountain in Sinai in Egypt. This marked the start of the religion of Judaism. Refer to links below.
  • About 4,000 years ago around the Canaan area (modern day Israel) with a prophet named Avraham or Abraham or Ibrahim). Prophet Abraham was proceeded by Adam, ..., Idris, ..., Noah, and other prophets who called their people to worship God as the one and only one God (that is called monotheism)
  • This means that Judaism per Torah God revelation (in around year 1300 BC) to Moses (peace be upon him) was founded in Sinai (Egypt) and moved to other places.

Tradition holds that Judaism began with Abraham in the land of Israel, about 2000 BCE. Archaeological evidence for Israelites (the ancestors of the Jews) goes back to 1600 BCE.
the first Jew was born in Mesopotamia.

the Jewish people were first recognized as such after their Exodus from Egypt.


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