Tree of Life Lessons
Level 1 Lesson 7 World Religions
The first question that will arise in the mind of a student concerning Judaism is: “What is a Jew?” To answer this question, we will use some thoughts from a book by this title written by Rabbi Morris Hertzer.
First of all, let us understand that the term “Jew” is a
misnomer. The actual term for this ethnic group is “Israelite”, or prior to
the Jacobean period, the “Hebrews”. They were named after the
God called him away from his idol-making to separate unto Him a particular people dedicated to His worship. He fully intended that a theocratic form of government should be developed among these people.
WHAT IS A JEW?
1. A Jew is one who accepts the faith of Judaism.
2. A Jew is one who, without formal religious affiliations, regards the teachings of Judaism as his own, including its ethics, folklore, literature, etc.
3. A Jew is one who considers himself a Jew, or is so regarded by his community.
WHAT A JEW IS NOT
This is a simple question to answer; for the Jews are not a race of people. That is put as simple as can be put. Jews are not all white; they belong to all races and colors. The Jew is a part and parcel of every community in which he may live.
To understand Judaism, one must examine its broad philosophy. A Jew believes in God. He teaches that this God -- this personal God -- is utterly incomprehensible to man, but whose reality makes the difference between a world that has purpose and one that is meaningless.
THE PRINCIPLE TENETS
Judaism holds that man can most perfectly worship God by imitating those qualities that are godly. As God is just, so we must deal justly with our neighbor.
THREE PRINCIPLES IN LIFE
1. The Torah
2. Service of God
3. Charity or good deeds
Do Jews believe that Judaism is the only true religion? The answer is paradoxical as it is both “yes” and “no”. For the Jew, Judaism is the only true religion, but a Jew will never judge or condemn another man’s religious faith. The Talmud states that the “righteous of all nations are worthy of immortality.”
The basic ethical concepts of Judaism are: (1) Decency, (2) Justice (3) Kindness, and (4) Integrity. These are the eternal verities.
Jews, in reality, do not truly consider themselves a chosen people; for they say this destroys the true essence of faith.
And what is the Jew’s concept of sin? Ancient Hebrews say that sin is a violation of a taboo -- an offense for which a sin-offering had to be made. The modern concept of sin is the transgression of the Law. Sin is the inability to live up to full potentiality and failure to meet duties and responsibilities as a Jew.
“Great expectations” born out of man’s creation in God’s image are stressed in all Jewish teachings.
Jews do not expect to pass out of life without sin. No man can be perfect in their estimation. There are two types of sin according to the Jew.
1. Sin against God for which prayer, repentances, and atonement can be made.
2. Sin against your fellow man for which only your fellow man can forgive you.
The Jews did, at one time, believe in a better heaven and hell. The Old Testament is very vague about an after-life. The ancient Jew got his heaven and hell theory from Zoroaster, but even then, it was not considered literal.
There was also some speculation about
The Talmud states that man has mistakenly accepted the idea that man can be in heaven when, in reality, heaven is in man.
The Jews believe that a man must not suffer greater punishment than he caused. They did this as a measure against the practice of the ancient times to cut off vital parts of the human body for capital offenses. The former statement on punishment is the Hebraic interpretation of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
If you are wondering whether or not the Jews are waiting for a
Messiah, the answer is that the modern Jew believes the Messiah to be mankind
collectively ushering in the
Judaism believes in the equality of the sexes. No double standards were allowed in Judaism -- at least, when it came to chastity.
Women were used as leaders, such as Deborah, Miriam, the sister of Moses, and Esther.
The Jews have parochial schools. They consider labor sacred. They venerate the aged and old and truly respect it. They strongly oppose capital punishment with the exception of the Eichmann case. They are told to use hard liquor and wine, beer, etc. in moderation.
The Jews do not believe in luck as the superstitious do, but consider luck as the fortunate Blessing of God. They do not believe in censorship. They are sympathetic toward psychiatry. They do not condone suicide.
The Jews are sympathetic to all minority groups because they
remember their own oppression and the tyranny of
The marriage is a divine contract and the most important act of life. The home is more sacred than the synagogue. Every symbol in a Jewish ceremony is special and has an important esoteric and exoteric meaning.
Judaism is opposed to birth control except when birth would endanger life or health. A girl is desired as much as a boy -- only a boy brings a greater blessing to the Jew.
The Jews believe in moderate parental supervision, but strict obedience to the Law.
The Jewish Law traditionally forbids intermarriage, but the Law of the land is allowed. The wife and mother is important to the Jew. She lights the candles.
There is no single book which embodies the Jewish Law. There is no priesthood in modern Judaism as there was in the ancient Hebrew faith because there are no temples as they had then.
Let us hope this lesson will give you a better understanding of Judaism as it was the Mother of Christianity.