World Religions – Judaism

From the 5 million adherents we learned about in the Baha’i faith, we jump to 14.7 million in Judaism. To those of you of the Jewish Faith, I wish to humbly apologize in advance if anything I say below misrepresents the faith. Should I do so, I would appreciate a comment to correct my misunderstanding. I also recognize that many Jews represent the Almighty as “G-d” to avoid disrespecting G-d’s name. Technically, this should be extended to “the Alm-ghty”, “I -m”, and others, IMHO. As a warning to those Jews who adhere to this rule, I do not. You will find G-d spelled out completely below. I do not use the tetragrammaton out of respect.

The founding of Judaism can be traced from Abraham (ca. 2,000 BCE) through his son Isaac to his son Jacob who was renamed Israel. The laws and guidelines for living were primarily written by Moses. These names may be very familiar to you as Abraham is accepted as the founding father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There are many connections in belief between these three world religions as we will learn in future blogs.

Unlike the Baha’i faith, Judaism has a number of sub-categories depending on the details of their belief. Just as there are Christians and Muslims with varying degrees of orthodoxy in their beliefs, so too Judaism in the west has the spectrum of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. Some of the distinctions of these beliefs are:

  • Adherence to the Written Law of Moses and the Oral law as passed down through the Rabbis. VS. Interpretation of the Written and Oral laws to suit the culture.
  • Follow the Spiritual laws and rituals of God as written in the Torah (books of Moses). VS. Ethics, social justice, and a Connection to Jewish culture, identity, and roots.

In general terms, one can see the same spectrum of religious zealotry to universal acceptance that can be seen in Christianity and Islam today.

Comparing Judaism to points I laid out for Baha’i is difficult only because the terminology and source of the beliefs are different. Therefore, I have interpreted some of the information I found to make the comparison easier.

Life of the Spirit: to know God who is revealed through the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and to worship Him.

The Human Soul: We are eternal, rational beings created by God. The human soul is non-corporeal, made in the image of God.

Devotion: Acts of devotion include prayer, obedience to the 613 laws found in the Torah (first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible), the Sabbath, and feast days (holy days of remembrance and celebration).

Character and Conduct: Through the Jewish nation, God wanted His ways to be declared to the nations. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV) [Emphasis mine.] Note: References to the Hebrew Scriptures are given in common Christian Bible locations.

God and His Creation: God is pictured as unique and perfect, free from all faults, deficiencies, defects, and evil. Put another way, faults, deficiencies, defects and evil are defined as those characteristics NOT found in the nature of God. God is further held to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and completely infinite in all of his attributes, who has no partner or equal, being the sole creator of everything in existence. The belief that God is a single entity comes primarily from Deuteronomy 6:4, called the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

The belief that God created all things, material and immaterial, comes primarily from The Torah. It declares repeatedly that God created everything in the universe and that the culmination of His creation is human beings. God intended (and intends in the future) to live on earth with humans in a perfect environment void of evil, pain, and suffering.

Revelation: God revealed Himself and His divine, holy nature to His people through the writings of Moses and the prophets. The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is identical to the Christian Old Testament except for the order and grouping of the individual books. Some books, such as Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are divided in two in the Christian version. Most translations follow the Masoretic Text which dates from the 9th century buy is significantly supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls (ca. 150 BCE – 75 CE).

In addition to the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud is a centerpiece of Jewish study. It consists of the Mishna (the oral Torah) and the Gemara (clarification of the Mishna). Also used for study is the Midrash. This is similar to Christian Commentaries where sections of the Hebrew Bible are interpreted for life application.

The Talmud is considered to be directly given by God to Moses and passed down orally until it was written in 200-220 CE

Nature: There are many writings that declare nature as man’s first evidence of an almighty creator God. Here are three examples: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 ESV) “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:3-5) “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.” (Psalm:24-25)

The State of Civilization: The Hebrew Scriptures are clear that human civilization is often evil, selfish and power grabbing. This is in contrast to God’s nature. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:4-6 ESV)

This distinction between the righteousness of God and the evil of man is best told by the prophet Jeremiah, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:5-9 ESV )

However, Jews do not believe this evil is inherent in humans but is a choice. Following God’s laws is a way to live in righteousness and not in wickedness.

Universal Peace:  Because of the nature of the human condition, universal peace will not be possible without the universal rule of God on earth. This peace extends to all a creation including the animal world. We see pictures of this coming peace through the words of the prophets. “He [the Messiah] shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4 ESV) “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9 ESV)

Life After Death: The world of universal peace is also the world of eternal life. God is repeatedly described as an eternal being. In Ecclesiastes 12:5, King Solomon writes of man’s eternal existence, “man is going to his eternal home”. The Mishnah states, “Every Jew has a share in the World to Come”. The prophetic writings above indicate that this life will be physical upon a perfect earth. This concept of physical eternal existence is also accepted by Muslims and Christians.

Attaining this perfect life is inherent in the Jewish belief. From a former synagogue president, Dennish Fischman, it is explained this way:

  • We trust God. We don’t believe that (with a few rare exceptions) God will exile anyone from the divine presence. God is always ready to forgive.
  • We don’t believe in an Original Sin that separates humanity from God. Nothing separates us.
  • We leave the matter of what happens after death in God’s hands.
  • We partner with God to repair and gradually perfect this world we live in, which God created.

Summary: Judaism is the founding faith in an almighty, holy and eternal God who created all things including humankind. We are created as eternal beings and will live with God forever.

Please comment and let me know if I am presenting this information clearly enough for you. Remember, this blog is for you.

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