Judaism: FAQ

Sometimes it’s hard for people to get accurate information on Judaism.  The increase in Christian Evangelical sites which pose as “messianic judaism” exacerbates this problem.

So this is the first in what will be a regular feature: questions about Judaism and Jews – along with clear, candid answers.

If anyone reading this has their own query, please feel welcome to submit it, and I’ll post an answer on Friday, when this FAQ post will appear again.

For now, though, here are a few very common questions about the Jewish faith:

Q: What are the Jewish messianic prophecies that Jesus did not fulfill?

A: There are 23 Jewish messianic prophecies. They must all be fulfilled – and in one normal, mortal lifetime. There is no ‘second coming’ in Judaism!

To qualify as maschiach, a person must thus fulfill them all *before* he dies.

Here are the actual prophecies:

* The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)

* Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance. (Isaiah 2:4)

* The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)

* He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8-10)

* The Moshiach will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)

*****In other words – this must all be accomplished in a human lifetime*****

* Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)

* Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)

* He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)

* All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)

* Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)

* There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)

* All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)

* The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)

* He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7)

* Nations will end up recognizing the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13-53:5)

* The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)

* The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)

* Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)

* The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended mitzvot

* He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)

* Jews will know the Torah without Study (Jeremiah 31:33)

* He will give you all the desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)

* He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 36:29-30, Isaiah 11:6-9).

 

Q:How do Jews achieve salvation?

A: As there is no concept of ‘original sin’ in Judaism, there isn’t really any concept of needing to be ’saved’. You’ll never, ever hear any Jew speak of this, in fact.

Judaism teaches that we are all born with a divine spark within us, and that we are born pure and innocent. It is entirely possible for every person to draw closer to G-d, and he has provided us with ways of doing this.

For Jews, that ‘way’ is studying Torah and applying it to our everyday life, and in general, simply by behaving with compassion and integrity to our fellow men.

Non Jews are advised to follow the seven Noahide Laws.

Nobody is expected to be ‘perfect’. Only G-d can ever achieve ‘perfection’.

What we as humans must do is learn from our mistakes, sincerely repent when we have offended either G-d or any fellow human, and to make amends to anyone we have hurt. We must try our best – and our actions count more than our beliefs. Thus Judaism says that the ‘righteous of all nations will have a share in the world to come’.

We don’t believe in ‘hell’, so we don’t act with honour to avoid ‘punishment’ in the afterlife. Rather, we try to do the right thing purely because it *is* the right thing to do :)

In Judaism we have a concept called ‘tikkun olam’ or ‘repairing the world’. We try to make the world a tiny bit better through our own actions.

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Julie Burchill Set To Join The Tribe…?

Feisty British journalist Julie Burchill is apparently considering becoming a member of the Jewish family. A staunch Israel supporter, she has now become a Friend Of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue.

Ms Burchill has been enjoying Shabbat services there for a month, and has also started studying Hebrew.

The writer, known for her acerbic wit, says: I first thought about converting when I was 25 . I will be 50 next month so it’s hardly a flash in the pan. At a time of rising and increasingly vicious antisemitism from both left and right, becoming Jewish especially appeals to me.

Added to the fact that I admire Israel so much, it does seem to make sense — assuming of course that the Jews will have me!

And she also added: ‘Jews rock!

Synagogue Chairperson Prue Baker says the congregation has welcomed Ms Burchill “…as we welcome all who share our approach to Judaism and wish to be associated with us. We are an inclusive community and have many Friends who may not be Jewish.”

Another congregant confided that “Julie has told several people that she’s enjoying the services. She’s amusing and fun to have around but she’s keeping a fairly low profile.”

Whether she convert or not, Julie Burchill is a wonderful ally to have; she is a forthright and perceptive observer and it’s great to know that she recognises Israel as being the only true democracy in the Middle East and a nation worthy of full support. So welcome to the tribe Julie, if you go for conversion – and if not, welcome as a good friend!

It’s Like Google, But Kosher

And the award for the cutest story of the week goes to the creation of Koogle – a kosher version of Google!

This search engine has been developed in Israel, for use by Orthodox Jews.

‘Koogle’ is a combination of ‘kugel”, which is a Jewish pudding, and of course Google, the search engine. The brain behind Koogle is Yossi Altman. Koogle filters out  religiously objectionable material, and has gained approval from Orthodox rabbis.

This is a kosher alternative for ultra-Orthodox Jews so that they may surf the Internet,  Yossi Altman told Reuters, Jerusalem.

The site was developed in part at the encouragement of rabbis who sought a solution to the needs of ultra-Orthodox Jews to browse the Web particularly for vital services,he added.

On the Jewish Shabbat – Friday sundown until Saturday sundown – Jews are not supposed to engage in any form of work of business activity. So if anyone tries to use Koogle during the Shabbat, it crashes automatically!

Koogle. You gotta love it!

Kugel is also pretty fab…

Jewish Fundamentalism?

 

An interesting post appeared on the Chabad  site this week; I thought some readers of this blog might enjoy it:

 

Jewish Fundamentalism?

By Rabbi Aron Moss

 

Question: I was wondering if there is such a person as a Jewish fundamentalist?  If so, what percent of Jews would or could be classified as Fundamentalist? And, what would their core beliefs be?

 

 

Answer: I’m not sure what your definition of fundamentalist is, but here’s mine: A fundamentalist is someone who believes that theirs is the only true path, and anyone who does not follow their ways is evil.

The fundamentalist sees only two options for the rest of humanity – join us or suffer the consequences. Other nations are there to either missionize or destroy, and any belief system that does not conform with theirs is to be eradicated.

A fundamentalist is not the same as an extremist. There are those who are passionate or even extreme about their own beliefs, whether a born-again Christian, devout Muslim, radical liberal or die-hard atheist. We can debate the pros and cons of each of these belief systems, but a strong conviction alone doesn’t make you a fundamentalist.

It is when you cannot accept that there may be another road to truth, that not everyone has to fit in to your own world view – that is when you have strayed into the realm of fundamentalism.

For this reason, Judaism can never tolerate fundamentalism. Quite simply, we don’t believe that Judaism is for everyone. Jewish thought is comfortable with the belief that there are many paths to G-d; Judaism is the path for Jews, and non-Jews can find Him in different ways.

They can live a moral and good life without keeping the laws or sharing the beliefs of Judaism. Anyone can join Judaism by converting, but this is not necessary – a non-Jew can be fulfilled, close to G-d, and earn a place in heaven without becoming Jewish.

I think it is this universalistic approach that has saved Judaism from the plague of fundamentalism. Don’t get me wrong – there are certainly Jewish extremists, ratbags, troublemakers and whackos. But I don’t know of any significant group of Jewish fundamentalists. Judaism poses a challenge to the fundamentalist: If you really love G-d so much, shouldn’t you also love all His children, who are created in His image?

 

Rabbi Aron Moss teaches Talmud, practical Judaism and Kabbalah in Sydney, Australia.

Answering The Apologists For Islam

Those who seek to justify Islamic terrorism, often do so by stating that both Judaism and Christianity also have violent histories. Islam, they insist, is being ‘unfairly’ singled out, even though the other Abrahamic faiths are also inherently violent.

The two favourite and increasingly weary examples offered are the slaying by the Hebrews of the Canaanites (Judaism) and the bloody crimes of the Crusades (Christianity).

And this tactic by apologists for Islamic terrorism often works. It helps shore up the pervasive yet false premise that Islam is ‘just like other religions’.  Or, to put it another way: it is not Islam that causes Islamic terrorism, but rather human nature.

One of the best responses I’ve read to this apologist tactic, comes courtesy of writer and expert on radical Islam, Raymond Ibrahim. Here is what he says on the issue of whether Judaism and Christianity also promote violence in the same manner as Islam (emphasis is mine):

Such questions reveal a great deal of confusion between history and theology, between the temporal actions of men and the immutable words of G-d. The fundamental error being that Jewish andChristian history—which is violent—is being conflated with Islamic theologywhich commands violence.

Of course all religions have had their fair share of violence and intolerance towards the “other.” Whether this violence is ordained by G-d or whether warlike man merely wished it thus is the all-important question.

The Israelites’ violence is an interesting case in point. G-d clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of G-d’s will, for good or ill. Regardless, all the historic violence committed by the Hebrews and recorded in the Tanakh is just that—history. It happened; G-d commanded it.

But it revolved around a specific time and place and was directed against a specific people. At no time did such violence go on to become standardized or codified into Jewish law (i.e. the Halakha).

This is where Islamic violence is unique. Though similar to the violence of the Tanakh —commanded by G-d and manifested in history—certain aspects of Islamic violence have become standardized in Islamic law (i.e. the Sharia) and apply at all times. Thus while the violence found in the Koran is in fact historical, its ultimate significance is theological. Consider the following Koranic verses:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the pagans wherever you find them—take them [captive], besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due [i.e. submit to Islam], then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (9:5).

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger [i.e. Islamic law], nor acknowledge the religion of Truth [i.e. Islam], from the people of the book [i.e. Jews and Christians], until they pay tribute with willing submission, and feel themselves utterly subdued (9:29).

As with Tanakh  verses where G-d  commanded the Hebrews to attack and slay their neighbors, these Koranic verses also have a historical context. Allah (through Muhammad) first issued these commandments after the Arab tribes had finally unified under the banner of Islam and were preparing to invade their Christian and pagan neighbors.

But unlike the bellicose verses and anecdotes of the Tanakh  these so-called “sword-verses” subsequently became fundamental to Islam’s relationship to both the “people of the book” (i.e. Christians and Jews) and the “pagans” (i.e. Hindus, Buddhists, animists, etc).

In fact, based on the sword-verses (as well as countless other Koranic verses and oral traditions attributed to Muhammad), Islam’s scholars, sheikhs, muftis, imams, and qadis throughout the ages have all reached the consensus—binding on the entire Muslim community—that Islam is to be at perpetual war with the non-Muslim world, until the former subsumes the latter. (It is widely held that the sword-verses alone have abrogated some 200 of the Koran’s more tolerant verses.)

Famous Muslim scholar and “father of modern history” Ibn Khaldun articulates the dichotomy between jihad and defensive warfare thus:

In the Muslim community, the holy war [i.e. jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force...
The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people.

That is why the Israeilites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority [e.g. a “caliphate”]. Their only concern was to establish their religion [not spread it to the nations]…

But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations (The Muqudimmah, vol. 1 pg. 473, emphasis added).

Even when juxtaposed to their Jewish and Christian counterparts, the Islamic sword-verses are distinctive for using language that transcends time and space, inciting believers to attack and slay non-believers today no less than yesterday.

G-d commanded the Hebrews to kill Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—all specific peoples rooted to a specific time and place. At no time did G-d  give an open-ended command for the Hebrews, and by extension their descendants the Jews, to fight and kill gentiles.

On the other hand, though Islam’s original enemies were, like Judaism’s, historical (e.g. Christian Byzantines and pagan Persians), the Koran rarely singles them out by their proper names. Instead, Muslims were (and are) commanded to fight the people of the book—“until they pay tribute with willing submission and feel themselves utterly subdued” (9:29) and to “slay the pagans wherever you find them” (9:5).
The two conjunctions “until” and “wherever” demonstrate the perpetual nature of these commandments: there are still “people of the book” who have yet to be “utterly subdued” (especially in the Americas, Europe, and Israel) and “pagans” to be slain “wherever” one looks (especially Asia and sub-Saharan Africa).

Aside from the divine words of the Koran, Muhammad’s pattern of behavior—his “Sunna” or “example”—is an extremely important source of legislation in Islam. Muslims are exhorted to emulate Muhammad in all walks of life: “You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern [of conduct]” (33:21).

And Muhammad’s pattern of conduct vis-à-vis non-Muslims is quite explicit. Sarcastically arguing against the concept of “moderate” Islam, terrorist Osama bin Laden, who enjoys half the Arab-Islamic world’s support per a recent al-Jazeera poll, portrays the prophet’s Sunna thus:

“Moderation” is demonstrated by our prophet who did not remain more than three months in Medina without raiding or sending a raiding party into the lands of the infidels to beat down their strongholds and seize their possessions, their lives, and their women” (from The Al-Qaeda Reader).

In fact, based on both the Koran and Muhammad’s Sunna, pillaging and plundering infidels, enslaving their children, and placing their women in concubinage is well founded (e.g. 4:24, 4:92, 8:69, 24:33, 33:50, etc.).

While law-centric and legalistic, Judaism has no such equivalent to the Sunna; the words and deeds of the patriarchs, though recorded in the Tanakh  never went on to be part of Jewish law. Neither Abraham’s “white-lies,” nor Jacob’s perfidy, nor Moses’ short-fuse, nor David’s adultery, nor Solomon’s philandering ever went on to instruct Jews. They were merely understood to be historical actions perpetrated by fallible men who were often punished by G-d for their less than ideal behavior.

And regarding the Crusades, Raymond Ibrahim points out:
In fact, far from suggesting anything intrinsic to Christianity, the Crusades ironically help better explain Islam. For what the Crusades demonstrated once and for all is that irrespective of religious teachings—indeed, in the case of these so-called “Christian” Crusades, despite them—man is truly predisposed to violence and intolerance. But this begs the question: If this is how Christians behaved—who are commanded to love, bless, and do good to their enemies who hate, curse, and persecute them—how much more can be expected of Muslims who, while sharing the same violent tendencies, are further commanded by the Deity to attack, kill, and plunder non-believers?

Read more of Raymond Ibrahim’s excellent articles here

“Rabbi, How Can I Be Jewish If I Don’t Believe In G-d…?”

 

The Jewish Chronicle has introduced a fab new feature. Each week, it puts a reader’s question to two Rabbis. Here is the most recent one; I think it will be of some interest to both Jews and non Jews alike, as it is on the topic of Jewish identity:

 

Question: I was brought up Jewish, I am a Zionist, and I am proud to feel Jewish. However, I might not believe in God, I cringe at many practices undertaken by our (and any) religion, I am not kosher and I struggle to motivate myself to go to synagogue. Am I, and how can I, be Jewish?

 

Response from Rabbi Naftali Brawer (United Synagogue):

You were born and raised a Jew, you are committed to the state of Israel and the Jewish people – and you wonder if you can be defined as Jewish?!

Being Jewish is an all-or-nothing scenario. You either are or you are not. There is no such thing as varying gradations of Jewishness. The scrupulously observant Jew is no more Jewish in essence than the most non- observant Jew. Where these two Jews differ greatly is in their commitment to Judaism.

The observant Jew takes his Judaism seriously. He is steeped in its history, culture and traditions and he structures his life around its teachings. The non-observant Jew on the other hand does not live his life in accordance with Torah’s teachings. This may make him an apathetic Jew but it in no way detracts from his core Jewishness.

The question you ought to be asking is not whether you are Jewish but whether or not you are living life Jewishly.

I would argue that to a large extent you are living Jewishly. One of the most important expressions of Judaism is the feeling of responsibility and connectedness to other Jews which you clearly have.

As far as your doubts about the existence of God, your phrase “I might not believe in God” betrays a deep inner struggle. This is not the language of a hardened atheist but rather of someone who is wrestling with faith and doubt; something that any intelligent person of faith will experience at some point or another.

I would however encourage you to try to learn more about the meaning behind Jewish ritual and practice. There is depth and beauty in all of God’s mitzvot. Sometimes, at first glance the beauty is not apparent.

Yet by studying their meaning and embracing their practice, one comes to appreciate their power to positively transform our lives and to enable us to connect with the Creator.

 

Response from Rabbi Jonathan Romain (Reform)

You have asked the wrong question. Assuming that your mother is Jewish, then you are Jewish. It is as simple as that.

The better question is: what sort of Jew are you?

This highlights the fact that there are so many different ways of being Jewish – for some it is a matter of heritage and descent; for others it is about faith and belief; for others it is to do with culture and the way we think, laugh, eat and behave.

Some Jews mix all these elements together in their lives, others select some of them, and all are right when they claim a Jewish identity.

This may sounds rather unsatisfying – so much better to have a water-tight definition of Judaism that all can recognise – but it is one of the ongoing mysteries of Judaism that it cannot be neatly packaged.

That is why we can have people who call themselves “atheist Jews” : you cannot be an atheist Christian – you have to believe – but there are many Jews who have Jewish parents, subscribe to Jewish ethics, identify with Israel, support Jewish charities, appreciate Jewish history, bring up their children likewise, but do not believe in G-d. Rabbis may not approve of them, but that does not make them non-Jewish.

Perhaps it might be ideal if you did all of the above and were a person of faith, but if that was the only sort of person allowed to be Jewish, then we would disappear very quickly and be far less colourful or creative.

It means that you are far from being an outsider, but part of a significant group within the Jewish community who value certain parts of Jewish tradition and not others.

The best way forward for you – and the many like you – is not to focus on what you do not like about the community, but get involved in the aspects that do attract you. Eat what you like, but participate in Jewish social action groups. Do not go to services, but help promote links with Israel among both Jews and non-Jews.

Have your own beliefs, but support interesting projects happening at your local shul; and if there are none, then initiate something and advertise it on the internet and elsewhere for others like you. You are far too Jewish to let all your energy and pride be wasted.