Judaism, religious culture of the Jews (also known as the people of Israel); one of the world’s oldest continuing religious traditions.
The terms Judaism and religion do not exist in premodern Hebrew. The Jews spoke of Torah, God’s revealed instruction to Israel, which mandated both a worldview and a way of life—see Halakah. Halakah, meaning the “way” by which to walk, encompasses Jewish law, custom, and practice. Premodern Judaism, in all its historical forms, thus constituted (and traditional Judaism today constitutes) an integrated cultural system encompassing the totality of individual and communal existence. It is a system of sanctification in which all is to be subsumed under God’s rule—that is, under divinely revealed models of cosmic order and lawfulness. Christianity originated as one among several competing Jewish ideologies in 1st-century Palestine, and Islam drew in part on Jewish sources at the outset. Because most Jews, from the 7th century on, have lived within the cultural sphere of either Christianity or Islam, these religions have had an impact on the subsequent history of Judaism.
Judaism originated in the land of Israel (also known as Palestine) in the Middle East. Subsequently, Jewish communities have existed at one time or another in almost all parts of the world, a result of both voluntary migrations of Jews and forced exile or expulsions (see Diaspora). In the early 1990s the total world Jewish population was about 12.8 million, of whom about 5.5 million lived in the United States, more than 3.9 million in Israel, and nearly 1.2 million in the Soviet Union, the three largest centers of Jewish settlement. About 1.2 million Jews lived in the rest of Europe, most of them in France and Great Britain. About 356,700 lived in the rest of North America, and 32,700 in Asia other than Israel. About 433,400 Jews lived in Central and South America, and about 148,700 lived in Africa.