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Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson discusses Judaism from a historical and religious standpoint, tracing its origin in the ancient world to the present day, while introducing its main divisions and sects.

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Hello, and welcome to Religion 119: Judaism.

Among the world's religions, Judaism is considered to be one of the first of the monotheistic religions-- religions that hold the belief that there is only one god. The story, the historical line that is followed in Judaism, begins with the figure Abraham, the father of the monotheistic religions, and dates back more than 3,000 years. Judaism is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions.

People who follow the beliefs of Judaism are generally known as Hebrews or Jews. As descendants of Abraham through his second born son Isaac and his son Jacob whom God later named Israel, the Jewish people-- the Israelites-- believe they have been chosen by God for some purpose. This purpose is expressed in their sacred text through covenants and agreements made between God-- Yahweh-- the people-- Israelites-- and the land and nation of Israel.

The storyline of this covenant with its laws and prohibitions is chronicled, traced, and extended in their sacred text the Torah and the Talmud. But Judaism, in spite of its evolution and many interpretations over time, always begins with God's blessing of responsibility and purpose upon Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Hebrew patriarchs.

Along the historical and faithful line of Judaism, there have been different interpretations of their book, their purpose, and how and in what context this is to be practiced and achieved. The most traditional form of Judaism is called Orthodox Judaism. They hold that the Torah is direct revelation to Moses from God, and the laws and prohibitions apply and have relevance everywhere all the time. Conservative Judaism, on the other hand, generally maintains that the Torah-- their sacred text-- was divinely inspired. In other words, that the Jewish prophets were inspired to write the Torah and that it wasn't directly delivered from the mouth of God as in the case of Orthodox Judaism with respect to the relationship between Moses and God.

Conservative Judaism emerged primarily in Germany in the mid 19th century in response to a third branch called Reform Judaism. Conservatives wanted to distinguish themselves from the Reformers in the shifting context of modernity during the 1850s. Conservatives felt that the Jewish law should be upheld but allowed to evolve and accommodate shifting contexts and situations. Reform Judaism is considered to be the least traditional of the three in that it interprets Jewish law as a set of guidelines to follow rather than obligatory rules and strict commandments of restraint and action in the world.

Let's review Judaism. One of the first monotheistic religions that dates back more than 3,000 years. The Jewish people believe they're descended from Abraham, the first Hebrew patriarch. Followers of Judaism believe they are chosen by God for some purpose. And there are three primary categories of Judaism-- orthodox, conservative, and reform. They distinguish themselves principally in terms of the nature of the Torah. That is to say, whether or not it is revealed directly from God or a work of indirect inspiration. They also distinguish themselves in terms of how closely they adhere to and interpret Jewish religious law and in what context these laws and covenants or agreements are to be applied.

That wraps up our tutorial in Judaism. I'll look forward to the next time. Goodbye.

Terms to Know

In Judaism, a descendent of Abraham.


The name given by God to Jacob; the name of the Jewish nation.


A practitioner of Judaism; one descended from practitioners of Judaism.


Believing that only one god exists.