Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Judaism is a monotheistic religion in that it worships one God. It's important to recognize just how novel this was when the religion was first established. Most faiths at the time were polytheistic, meaning that they worshipped many gods (indeed, so did many Israelites). Even some authors of the books of the Hebrew bible appear to have believed in multiple deities. Archaeological evidence further complicates the picture, suggesting that monotheism was initially held by only a minority of Israelites and that the worship of the goddess Asherah was widespread.

Critical to the development of Hebrew monotheism was the sacking of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and the subsequent Babylonian captivity. During the sacking, the temple of Yahweh was completely destroyed. This meant that there was no longer any way for the Hebrew exiles to worship their God. The emphasis of Jewish worship then shifted away from multiple deities towards the one indivisible God. In this development we can see that Hebrew monotheism had, from the outset, a political dimension to it. Belief in a single God reflected a desire for a single kingdom, one in which the political unity of the Jewish people could be secured.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hebrew monotheism refers to the belief of the Jewish people that there is one G-d. A very important prayer for all Jewish people is known as the Shema, which says “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord, the One and Only.” This prayer emphasizes for the Jewish people that there is only one G-d. The Jewish people believe they have a special relationship with G-d. This prayer is recited two times a day, and some people also recite it before going to sleep at night.

The concept is reinforced many times in the Old Testament, or the first five books of the bible. When the Jewish people weren’t sure what had happened to Moses when he was receiving G-d's laws, they asked Aaron to build an idol, the golden calf, which they believed would serve in the role that Moses had served. In this case, the Jewish people were severely punished for their actions.

One of the differences between Judaism and some other religions is that Judaism emphasizes that there is only one G-d. Other religions have emphasized the existence of many G-ds and/or the worship of idols.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Etymologically speaking, monotheism is a word that is made up of two Greek words, meaning "one" and "god." It has come to refer to a kind of religion that believes in the existence of only one god and is the opposite in this sense of polytheism, which refers to a religion that has many gods, such as Hinduism. The main monotheistic religions of today are of course Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Hebrew monotheism therefore refers to the way in which, as narrated in the Old Testament, and in particular the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), the Hebrew religion moved away from polytheism and became the first monotheistic religion. This of course was enshrined in the Ten Commandments, the first one of which clearly delineates the way in which the Hebrew religion differed sharply from the religions of other tribes and cultures through its firm and strident belief in the existence of one God alone that was acknowledged as the true god. In addition, you might like to consider how the book of Genesis and its account of creation both is similar to and different from other creation narratives of the time. One of the central differences is the way in which Genesis acknowledges the presence of one God who deliberately makes humans to be in relationship with him, as opposed to many gods who fight over earth and humans. Again and again, the overwhelming message of the first five books of the Bible is one of monotheism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial