Abraham: The Founder of Judaism

Abraham's faith was a model for all future generations of Jews

Abraham and Isaac in church San Francesco
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Abraham (Avraham) was the first Jew, the founder of Judaism, the physical and spiritual ancestor of the Jewish people, and one of the three Patriarchs (Avot) of Judaism.

Abraham also plays a prominent role in Christianity and Islam, which are the other two major Abrahamic religions. Abrahamic religions trace their origins back to Abraham.

How Abraham Founded Judaism

Although Adam, the first man, believed in one God, most of his descendants prayed to many gods. Abraham, then, rediscovered monotheism. 

Abraham was born Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia and lived with his father, Terah, and his wife, Sarah. Terah was a merchant who sold idols, but Abraham came to believe that there was only one God and smashed all but one of his father's idols.

Eventually, God called upon Abraham to leave Ur and settle in Canaan, which God promises to give to Abraham's descendants. Abraham agreed to the pact, which formed the basis of the covenant, or b'rit, between God and Abraham's descendants. The b'rit is fundamental to Judaism.

Abraham then moved to Canaan with Sarah and his nephew, Lot, and was for some years a nomad, traveling throughout the land.

Abraham Promised a Son

At this point, Abraham did not have an heir and believed Sarah was past the age of child-bearing. In those days, it was common practice for wives who were past child-bearing age to offer their slaves to their husbands to bear children. Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham, and Hagar bore Abraham a son, Ishmael.

Although Abraham (still called Abram at that time) was 100 and Sarah was 90, God came to Abraham in the form of three men and promised him a son by Sarah. It was at that point that God changed Abram's name to Abraham, which means "father to many." Sarah laughed at the prediction but did ultimately become pregnant and give birth to Abraham's son, Isaac (Yitzhak).

Once Isaac was born, Sarah asked Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael, saying that her son Isaac shouldn't share his inheritance with Ishmael, the son of a slave woman. Abraham was reluctant but ultimately agreed to send Hagar and Ishmael away when God promised to make Ishmael the founder of a nation. Ishmael ultimately married a woman from Egypt and became the father of all Arabs.

Sodom and Gomorrah

God, in the form of the three men who promised Abraham and Sarah a son, traveled to Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot and his wife were living with their family. God planned to destroy the cities because of the wickedness that was occurring there, even though Abraham pleaded with him to spare the cities if as few as five good men could be found there.

God, still in the form of the three men, met Lot at the gates of Sodom. Lot persuaded the men to spend the night in his house, but the house soon was surrounded by men from Sodom who wanted to attack the men. Lot offered them his two daughters to attack instead, but God, in the form of the three men, struck the men from the city blind.

The entire family then fled, since God planned to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah by raining down burning sulfur. However, Lot's wife looked back at their home as it burned, and turned into a pillar of salt as a result.

Abraham's Faith Tested

Abraham's faith in the One God was tested when God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac by taking him to a mountain in the region of Moriah. Abraham did as he was told, loading up a donkey and cutting wood along the way for the burnt offering.

Abraham was about to fulfill God's commandment and sacrifice his son when the Angel of God stopped him. Instead, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac. Abraham ultimately lived to age 175 and fathered six more sons after Sarah died.

Because of Abraham's faith, God promised to make his descendants "as numerous as stars in the sky." Abraham's faith in God has been a model for all future generations of Jews.

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Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "Abraham: The Founder of Judaism." Learn Religions, Sep. 8, 2021, learnreligions.com/abraham-founder-of-judaism-4092339. Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2021, September 8). Abraham: The Founder of Judaism. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/abraham-founder-of-judaism-4092339 Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "Abraham: The Founder of Judaism." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/abraham-founder-of-judaism-4092339 (accessed March 31, 2023).