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The study of human history is a broad and complex subject. Many civilizations and peoples of the past exist today, while others were deliberately wiped out or faded away. Today’s global population is around 7.6 billion people. Sometimes, we can divide that total neatly under generalized labels, sometimes we can’t.

Defining Judaism is harder than it sounds. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a population as: “a) the whole number of people or inhabitants in a country or region, b) the total of individuals occupying an area or making up a whole”. This sounds like a pretty clear definition, right? Often, groups of people are defined by their religious beliefs, not their locations. This classification usually has clear definitions as well.

The Jewish population is unlike any other religious population and also, very closely related to them, as well. Classifying Jews has been a conundrum for sociologists since the beginning of the field of study. Judaism falls under religious, ethnic, and geographic classifications but doesn’t exactly fit in any of them.

What is Judaism?

Judaism is a religious tradition that dates back almost 4,000 years. Jewish people trace their beliefs and ethnicity to biblical times, and consider their founder to be Abraham, and they originally hail from Canaan (now Israel and Palestine).

The precept of Jewish faith is based upon the covenant between God and Abraham that God would make them a sacred people and deliver them to a holy land. Patriarchs of Israelite culture include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (who became Israel), and the prophet Moses received God’s blessings and laws, and sacred teachings.

Jews refer to the first 5 books of the Bible as the Torah, and call the Bible itself, the Tanakh, which is an acronym of the texts of the Torah, the Prophets, and Writings. The Torah, Talmud and Midrash, and other rabbinical texts are considered sacred.

The main movements of Judaism

Judaism is practiced by 14.7 million people worldwide. Over the course of history, Jews have broken off into four major movements within Judaism, though there are smaller factions. These interpretations of the Jewish faith are unified in their common connection to the sacred texts which expresses Jews as the holy people chosen by God.

The main branches of the Jewish faith are Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist. Although each believes the Torah contain the laws and traditions of the Jewish faith, their interpretation and/or application of said doctrine varies.

Jewish history is global history, in many aspects

Since the earliest recorded times of man, humans have turned to religious customs to come together as a community. Many traditions and codes of conduct have been borrowed from the Jewish people over the course of history. In turn, they have adapted to many customs of non-Jewish peoples, or Gentiles as they are called in Hebrew.

Despite the 4 millennia of history, the Jewish people have no official country of origin, there is no centralized headquarters. Synagogues around the world welcome worshippers of the Jewish faith, however.