Judaism comes from Judah. Specifically, it comes from the Kingdom of Judah.

The names we get from Torah are typically for the people and not for the faith. We were called Hebrews and then we were called Israelites and then we became Jews.

My question is did Judaism have a name before Judah? Is there a more ancient name which isn't specific to the Jewish people but to the faith system itself?

  • 3
    save the yiddish word אידישקייט, i can't think of there being a jewish term for the religion of judaism. judaism is a term given to the religion by english speaking non-jews
    – ezra
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 6:16
  • Judaism is classically monotheism, see Rambam Hilchos Avodah Zarah Perek 1.
    – pcoz
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 8:42
  • 3
    Did anybody in ancient times have names for their (or others') faiths/belief systems?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 10:01
  • and even in the case of אידישקייט, it is more accurately "the state of being jewish", just like געזונטערהייט is the state of being healthy. so not really even "judaism"
    – ezra
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 13:14
  • Related: What's the word Avraham used for his religion?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


The notion of a multicultural society where you can choose to check a box with the belief system with which you identify is ... a newer one. (In the Soviet Union, your passport could call you a "Russian", a "Ukrainian", a "Georgian" ... or just a "Jew." Didn't matter what you worshiped or believed.)

In older times you would identify a person as a "Hebrew", or later an "Israelite", and their religion was kind of a given -- whether they kept a lot of it or not. Or you would mention the name of the God you worship.

Moses tells Pharaoh he is speaking in the name of "God, the Lord of the Hebrews." Later, Jonah tells the sailors that he is "a Hebrew, who fears the God of the Heavens." (In both cases, the specific word used for "God" probably also helped with identification.)

When the North Kingdom of "Israel" is defeated and all that remains is the South Kingdom of "Judah", and then the South Kingdom is defeated and taken into exile, they become known as "Judeans" or "Yehudim." The Book of Esther, trying not to offend the sensibilities of the Persian Empire under which it was written, sidesteps "religion per se"; it simply says that documents were written "to every nation and people by their alphabet and language; plus to the Judeans in their alphabet and language." (Similarly it doesn't say the Jews "prayed", just "mourned.")

In the Mishna, a Jew is called a "Yisrael." A Jew who has taken up another faith is Yisrael she-hemir dato. "An Israelite who downgraded his dogma." It's understood from context that the natural "dogma" of the Israelite was what we call Judaism.

  • Avra(ha)m and Yosef are identified himself as Ivrim and whether this is a religious or national (or just geographic) label is discussed here sefaria.org/… -- one of the understandings of Ivri (see Haktav Vhakabala) is a movement to monotheism so the label would be a religious marker.
    – rosends
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 12:48
  • 1
    "An Israelite who downgraded his dogma" - are you sure that's how to translate it? Doesn't המרה mean to trade (which isn't necessarily a downgrade), and is mishnaic דת really different from Tanachic דת which means "laws"?
    – Harel13
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 14:04
  • @Harel13 lo yachailefenu velo yamir -- "he can neither trade-up his sacrificial animal, nor trade-down." (See Ramban.) Generically the term means trade, but specifically in contrast with "lehachalif" it means "trade down." (Joseph gets out of jail and is machlif his jail clothes for proper attire to meet the pharaoh.)
    – Shalom
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 17:32
  • @rosends similarly the refugee from the Four-on-Five Kings' War brings the news to Avraham the Hebrew. Sforno says the refugee knew that Lot and Avraham followed the same theology, that of Ever, and therefore figured that Avraham would care and fight. (The refugee didn't know/care that they were closely related; the common belief system meant more.)
    – Shalom
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 17:33

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