Doctrines and Philosophy

Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Religious Texts

  • TaNaKh: The TaNaKh is the main Jewish text containing all three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: the Torah, the Nevi'im and the Ketuvim. The term ‘TaNaKh’ is an acronym based on each of the divisions (Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim). The Jewish tradition sees these three divisions to have different degrees of divine inspiration based on how they were revealed to humans by God.
  • Torah: The Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Bereshit, Shemot, Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim, known in English as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). These books are considered to be the foundation of Judaism. They are also sometimes called the ‘five books of Moses’ due to the belief that Moses composed the texts. Various traditions of Judaism differ on whether God gave Moses the Torah or if Moses was the author of the Torah. Nevertheless, the five books that make up the Torah are believed to have the highest degree of divine inspiration.
  • Nevi’im: The Nevi’im (‘Prophets’ in English) contains historical books and texts composed by literary prophets. The Nevi’im was inspired through prophecy, meaning the word of God was passed down and mediated through prophets.
  • Ketuvim: The Ketuvim (meaning ‘Writings’) contains works of poetry, wisdom, song and history. The Ketuvim is believed to have been inspired on a lesser degree than prophecy.
  • Talmud: The Talmud (‘study’ or ‘learning’) refers to a large compilation of ancient teachings by the Jewish people. In a broad sense, it is a set of books containing the oldest authoritative collection and codification of Jewish oral laws in the post-biblical period (known as the Mishna or ‘repeated study’), as well as commentary and interpretations of these teachings (the Gemara or ‘completion’).
  • Aggadah:Aggadah refers to the non-legal topics of Jewish literature (especially Talmudic literature). This includes history, ethics, philosophy, folklore and medicine. It is generally understood as any subject of relevance to Judaism that is not discussed in the Halachah (Jewish law).

General Beliefs

Across all streams of Judaism, there is no exact established set of doctrines or beliefs. Doctrinal authority in Judaism is typically derived through sacred scripture, rabbinic interpretations, traditions and laws (mitzvot).


The Jewish tradition espouses , which refers to belief in the existence of one and only one God. Interpretations of God’s nature vary among the streams of Judaism and individual Jewish people. For example, some may refute the idea that there is a God who resembles a human-like figure and presides over the universe. Any reference to God being human-like is most often interpreted as a poetic metaphor rather than a literal interpretation of the nature of God.

Generally speaking, the Jewish tradition views God as a universal, unique, unifying, unknowable and formless entity. Due to God’s unknowable nature, it is believed that language cannot truly capture God. Thus, traditional streams of Judaism will often avoid speaking the word ‘God’ or similar formulations of the term. The most often used name of God in the Hebrew Bible is ’YHWH’, which are the Hebrew letters of ‘Yud’, ‘He’, ‘Vav’, ‘He’. Expanded in English as ‘Yahweh’, this formulation of God’s name is prolific throughout the Jewish tradition.

The Jewish People

The role of the Jewish people and their relationship with God features prominently throughout Judaism. According to the Torah, God established a unique covenant with the Jewish people. This is generally interpreted as the Jewish people being chosen to uphold a specific duty, namely, to maintain the covenant with God and in return to receive God’s divine blessing and to channel it to all of humanity. Furthermore, there is a need for the Jewish people to remain distinctive in reflection and honour of the unique relationship they are believed to hold with God. This is reflected throughout Jewish practices and laws, such as dietary laws and laws relating to purity.

The Land of Israel

The nature and importance of the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel has been interpreted in various ways throughout history. The region of present-day Israel is described in the Torah as the ancient land of ‘Canaan’. In the text, this land is promised to the Israelites by God (referred to as the ‘Promised Land’).

The Old City of Jerusalem also holds particular importance to the Jewish people. The most sacred place for many Jewish people worldwide is the Temple Mount, which is where the Holy of Holies of the Second Temple once stood. This holy temple was destroyed in late-60 CE, though remnants of the Western Wall remain to this day. This last remnant of the Second Temple continues to be the main site of prayer and pilgrimage.

In contemporary times, modern politics have influenced some interpretations of the ‘Promised Land’, leading to the political movement of . Some streams of Judaism emphasise the land of Israel and ideas more than others. For example, there are those who read the present state of Israel as marking the start of the messianic age. Visit the Israeli cultural profile to learn more about .

The Anointed One (Messiah)

The concept of the ‘Messiah’ (‘Anointed One’) refers to the person believed to be sent by God to begin a new era. This new chapter in human history is believed to be characterised by world peace (which is diversely interpreted). The doctrine of the Messiah has been interpreted and elaborated differently among the streams of Judaism. For example, Judaism holds the belief of the imminent arrival of a personal Messiah. Meanwhile, some thinkers in Reform Judaism believe that the belief is no longer relevant.

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