What Is Judaism?
If you’ve ever wondered what Judaism is, here is a list of its principal beliefs. This is not not an official list, but these beliefs have been widely held by religious Jews for thousands of years.
As for my background, I have taught Judaism all of my life including two years as a member of the Brooklyn College Department of Judaic Studies; written two books and hundreds of articles on Judaism; and written two volumes — Genesis and Exodus — of a projected five-volume commentary on the Torah (called “The Rational Bible”).
I am publishing this list because fewer and fewer Jews know anything about Judaism, and because many non-Jews understandably but erroneously identify Judaism with what most Jews believe.
I. There is one universal God.
This God is the Creator of the world and the God of all humanity.
II. One universal God means there is one universal morality.
III. God is:
a) Incorporeal (not physical): All matter comes to an end.
b) Eternal: All matter has a beginning and an end. But God exists outside of time.
c) Outside of nature: God is not in nature. And nature is not divine.
d) Personal: God knows each of us.
e) Good: God is moral, just and compassionate.
IV. God is the God revealed in the Torah — the God of Creation, the God of Israel, the God of the Ten Commandments.
V. God’s primary demand is that people be good.
Therefore, God cares more about how we act toward one another than how we act toward Him — just as we humans care more about how our children treat one another than how they treat us.
Therefore, right behavior matters more than intentions and even more than faith.
VI. There is an afterlife — God rewards the good and punishes the bad.
If good people and bad people have the same fate, there is either no God or a God that is not just.
VII. Though there is an afterlife, God wants us to be preoccupied with this life.
VIII. Reward in the afterlife (“heaven”) is available to all good people, not just good Jews.
IX. Human beings are not born basically good.
Therefore, evil comes primarily from within the human being, not from external causes, such as poverty.
Therefore, the most important task of society must be to make good people, which is Judaism’s primary task.
X. All people are created in the image of God.
Therefore, racism is theologically impossible.
Therefore, the most important distinction among human beings is not their race, religion, nationality, class or sex; it is their behavior. In the words of Viktor Frankl, “There are only two races, the decent and the indecent.”
Therefore, human life is sacred and animal life is not (though we are forbidden from inflicting gratuitous suffering on animals).
XI. God created the world for man.
Therefore, there is no purpose to nature without man to appreciate and (responsibly) use it.
XII. The Jews are the Chosen People, chosen to bring mankind to the God of the Torah and to the Ten Commandments (but not necessarily to Judaism).
Chosenness has, therefore, never meant that the Jews are better than anyone else. Indeed, the Torah and the entire Hebrew Bible go out of their way to depict the Jews as flawed.
XIII. The Torah is from God.
This belief does not necessarily mean that God dictated each word of the Torah. Nor does it mean that only a literal reading of the Torah is valid. It means that the Torah ultimately comes from God, not men.
XIV. Judaism, too, has a trinity: God, Torah and Israel (meaning Jewish peoplehood and the Land of Israel).
The removal of any one of them is no longer Judaism. It would be as if the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit were removed from Christianity.
XV. Jewish faith rests on two pillars: creation and exodus.
Judaism cannot survive denial of either as a divine event. They are to Judaism what the crucifixion and resurrection are to Christianity.
XVI. Judaism is a religion of distinctions.
These distinctions are:
a) God and man.
b) Good and evil.
c) Man and woman.
d) Holy and profane.
e) Life and death.
XVII. Judaism can ennoble anyone.
Therefore, any non-Jew is welcome to embrace Judaism and become a member of the Jewish people. But no one needs to become a Jew to be saved.
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