Christians tend to see Judaism as a mysterious religion that they do not want to know a lot about. They get their understanding of this religion from the Old Testament of the Bible. Because the focus of Christianity is the New Testament, however, Christians do not really study the Old Testament nor do they study Judaism. Non-Jews do have lots of questions, however, and often they may not ask them for fear of offending. So, let’s put all of that aside and address the questions you may have always wanted to ask but were a bit afraid to.
- Do Jews Believe in an Afterlife?
It is difficult for Christians to understand the Jewish concept of the afterlife, because it varies. According to Jews, the afterlife does exist, of course, but it remains a mystery. Here are the common beliefs about the afterlife that all Jews hold:
- There is an afterlife. It is referred to by many names in the Old Testament and in rabbinic teaching.
- “Heaven,” or the afterlife is open to all righteous people of all faiths. We enter because of our actions on Earth, not our beliefs.
- There is not an idea of “Hell” in any Jewish belief in the afterlife. For those who renounce God and are immoral in their earthly existence, there is isolation, not a fiery, burning place of eternal suffering.
That being said, there are many different beliefs within the Jewish faith about the specifics of an afterlife. Here are a few of them.
- The traditional view: There is an afterlife in which the spirit and the body are re-united.
- Another strand of thought believes that “Heaven” is a temporary place for a soul to reside until the Messianic period, and then there will be the re-uniting of the soul and body. This is not like the Hindu belief in re-incarnation, because the soul re-unites with its former body, and it only happens once.
- Still another strand of belief is that the dead live on through others whose lives they have touched and influenced. The focus is on the influence that moral and religious behaviors have on others.
The absence of one fundamental belief to which all Jews hold is difficult for non-Jews to comprehend. And there have been many Jewish scholars who have and continue to keep readers engaged through their discussions on the topic – something that may confuse the picture too. However, it is just as difficult for non-Christians to understand how an individual can be immoral and even criminal his/her entire life, and then achieve Heaven just by one declaration of faith and request for forgiveness.
- Why must Jews be buried by sundown of the day they die?
Actually, burial by sundown is only the Jewish law in the case of capital punishment. Most sects of Judaism, however, do believe that burial should take place within 24 hours of death, out of respect for the deceased. There are exceptions to this. When family members must travel in order to be present or when that 24-hour period encompasses the Sabbath or a holiday in which work is prohibited, burials are postponed.
- What is the Jewish belief about Jesus?
Jews do not believe that Jesus was the messiah. Most believe that the Jewish Messiah has not yet come to earth. Jews believe that Jesus was a Jewish preacher who lived during the time of the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, and that he spoke out against the Romans for their “sins.” For this he was executed, just as many other Jews were executed for publicly condemning the Romans.
- Do Jews believe in sin?
Yes, but sin is seen in a different context than the Christian concept. To Christians, sin is something that can condemn a person to Hell after death, unless that sin has been forgiven by God. To Jews, a sin is more related to going astray from right living. There are three kinds of sin in the Jewish faith — sins against God, sins against others, and sins against self. When these occur, and the person then returns to the right path, that is all that is necessary. There is no need to ask for forgiveness other than from those that sin has wronged.
- What are the basics of the Jewish faith?
Judaism is more than a faith – it is an entire way of life. However, there are basic beliefs that all Jews hold. First and foremost is the belief in one God, the belief that, as the Old Testament says, we are created in God’s image, the belief that all Jews are connected to the larger Jewish community, and the belief in the critical importance of the Torah, the holy text by which Jews must live.
- What sect of Judaism is that in which the men wear braids and long robes? How are they different from regular Jews who dress in contemporary clothing?
Hasidism is a sect of Judaism within the Orthodox segment of the religion. It was very popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe and has a large component in the U.S. today, centered in New York City. Their name, Hasidim, mean “pious one,” and their goal is a return to the original and basic tenets of the Jewish faith. The dress is in keeping with their renewal of early Judaism. Hasidic Jews live in communities with a single religious leader.
- What are the sects of Judaism?
In the beginning, all Jews were Orthodox, that is, they conformed to the laws that were given directly to Moses by God. In the early 18th century, fractures began to appear in the Orthodox faith, as some Jews determined that some of the original laws were no longer relevant. The end result was the division of Judaism into three sects — Orthodox, Reform and Conservative. While the majority of Jews in the world are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform are quite prevalent in the U.S. Here is a brief explanation of each group:
- Reform Judaism was a result of liberal Jews in the 1800s. It believes that there can be interpretations of old practices rather than strict adherence to those practices. Thus, prayers can be said in the native tongue, kosher dietary laws do not have to be followed, and gender separation during worship is an outdated practice. Because Scriptures were written by humans, they can be fallible ad subject to interpretation.
- Orthodox Jews adhere strictly to the Scriptures and to the laws of Moses. The Torah is universally applicable for any time. Kosher households are kept; prayers are in Hebrew, and all holy days are observed as originally taught. No one works on Saturday; worship protocol still adheres to gender separation.
- Conservative Judaism was formed as an attempt to find a balance between Orthodox and Reform. Dietary laws are maintained; however prayers may be in Hebrew or native language, and genders are not separated for worship. While the Torah is infallible, the Scriptures are not, having been written by man.
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