It was suggested to me the other day that all religions are a spin-off from Judaism. Is this true?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Four thousand years ago, the patriarch Abraham went in search of God. The Zohar (1:86a) says: In the morning when Abraham saw the sun rise in the east, he thought, “This is a great power. This sun must surely be the king who created me.” That day he prayed to the sun. In the evening, upon seeing the sun set and the moon rise, Abraham said, “Surely the moon rules even the sun to which I prayed, for it no longer shines!” All night he prayed to the moon. In the morning, upon seeing the darkness pass, and the east light up, he said, “Surely all these have a King and Ruler Who directs them.” When God saw Abraham's longing for Him, He appeared to Abraham and spoke with him.
Thus the first monotheist was born.
Although there were others who had a tradition of one God, only Abraham went out to teach others. Thus, Abraham became the “founder of monotheism," and all other religions that believe in one God are, in essence, a derivation (or deviation) of Abraham’s original path. Specifically:
EASTERN RELIGIONS: After the death of Abraham's wife Sarah, the Torah says that Abraham took a wife named Keturah. They had children together, and the Torah says: "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the concubine children, Abraham gave gifts. Then he sent them away... to the land of the East." (Genesis 25:1-5) The words, "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac," indicate that Isaac alone was the spiritual inheritor of Abraham's legacy – which was the ability to continue the Jewish faith. The other children, however, did not go to the East empty handed. According to the Zohar, the "gifts" refers to many of the mystical traditions of Abraham. Hence, the ancient eastern religions have their roots with Abraham. Some have even suggested that the name Abraham is the source of Brahma, the Buddhist deity. (For more perspective, see "Letters to a Buddhist Jew" by Rabbi Akiva Tatz)
CHRISTIANITY: The basis of Christianity is that Jesus (who was Jewish) was the son of God and messiah – both ideas which Judaism clearly reject. This religion remained mostly unheard of for more than 300 years, due to the fact that the stories of Jesus were regarded as preposterous by almost everyone. In the 4th century CE, the leader of the Roman Empire, Constantine (who was a pagan) had a dream in which he defeated his enemies by passing a cross to all his soldiers. Not knowing what the cross represented (this was not yet the symbol of Christianity), he asked his mother Miriam what it was. Miriam, who was experimenting with Christianity, decided it was the cross of Jesus. Constantine remained skeptical, until, to his amazement, he won the war. Because of his victory, he declared Christianity to be the new religion of the Roman Empire, dismantled all the existing idols, and changed the houses of idolatry into churches. Thus, even though Christianity started off as a small renegade Jewish cult, by the 4th century CE it consisted mostly of recently converted pagans.
ISLAM: Whereas Judaism started 4,000 years ago with Abraham, and Christianity is 2,000 years old, Islam is the baby of them all, having started 1,400 years ago. According to Thomas W. Lippman in his book "Understanding Islam," Muslims trace their origins to the patriarch Abraham, who, according to the Koran, was neither Jew nor Christian but a universal ancestor of monotheists. Hagar, the Egyptian slave-girl, and Ishmael the son she bore to Abraham, are believed to have reached Mecca in their exile. Abraham himself is believed to have constructed the Kaaba, the sacred shrine of Mecca, which is the object of the annual pilgrimage.
From the above example you can see that although Judaism was the impetus for all the other religions of the world, many of the original tenets have been corrupted or abandoned.
However, Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity and Islam are part of God's plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer toward a greater understanding of God – all in preparation for the Messianic age, may it be speedily in our days.