On Shabbat, I was visited by a few very pious Jews-loving Christians. They wanted to see an Orthodox Shabbat morning service, and my shul welcomed them warmly, declaring up-beat: our redeemer must be close. Our discussions during the ensuing meal prompted me to list the following Jewish Principles. For those who do not know Orthodox Judaism well and grew up in Christian surroundings, this might clarify a few things. May Jews come away from reading this more curious and Gentiles with more awe and desire to connect to us and stand up for us.
- Our religious center – there’s no place like home
Your religious center is church; our heart is home. In synagogue the men try to cooperate; in the home, men relate to their wives. The woman reigns. A woman’s ambition in Judaism is not stuck between being an unreal saint or evil temptress. In many ways she’s the better of men, just like Sarah was superior to Abraham, who had to listen to her and do as she said. Jewish women have much less Commandments because they need less correction to be perfect. Men should represent Jews to the outside (-the-home) world, as it is not dignified for a women to do so. However, the tide is turning and I would not be surprised if women in the future would take more public positions in Orthodox Judaism, including that of Rabbi. The idea that woman have rights and should be protected was completely revolutionary in the Olden Days – and still. (Social vulnerability is not the same as the sexist notion of weakness.)
For Judaism, religion is not restricted to prayers and the like. Rather, looking after people is more important than serving G-d (see: 8.).
The whole of our lives is under His supervision and should be holy.
Jewish Prayer is very detailed. It’s written out because without it, we would not be able to pray well enough. The words are written by the Men of the Great Assembly, Prophets among them, and should cover anything anyone ever could want to say in prayer. Our fresh thoughts need to be part of it. The weekday text has Accolades, Supplications and Thank Yous. G‑d does not need our service – all His Directions are for our ultimate good only. Judaism teaches that the main purpose of religion should be to learn to be generous – which in itself is greatly rewarding.
The Hebrew for sacrifice is related to bringing closer. Temple sacrifices needed to bring us closer to G-d (see also 8.), which is now replaced by prayer. We don’t pray to inform G-d, Heaven forbid. To pray in Hebrew is a reflexive verb: we are supposed to hear (and change by) our prayers.
- Proselytizing – good things come in small packages
Jews are a Nation, not a religious group, with a religion. Jews do not strive to make converts. We are supposed to be a relative small People that rather than tries to make everyone else Jewish tries to teach what G-d wants from everyone. Gentiles are not less than us, like a trombone player in an orchestra is not less than a violin player. We’re each needed to play our part, all created in G-d’s image. Gentiles need to choose good over evil; Jews have an additional task, to opt for holy / sacred / special over mundane. If Jews do not fulfill their complicated role (not murder, not steal, keep Shabbat, eat kosher only), we are at a lower level than Gentile who do what they are supposed to do (not murder, not steal).
Jews are the only People with a mission. That’s why we are the only Nation that should not assimilate or intermarry. (Yet, there are Jews of any ethnicity; an Indian-Jewish person marrying a Polish-Jewish person is not an intermarriage.) Anybody born from a Jewish mother is fit for the higher demands of Judaism. (To exclude anyone is self-defeating.) Yet, all others who are fit can join our Nation – like all other Peoples allow nationalization – we are not racists – on condition that they become proficient in out ‘language,’ which is our religion – in deed and thought.
It is not enough when we just follow and copy the religion of the former generation(s). We each need to master the religion ourselves. (Just like children learn language. At first they parrot the grown-ups around them and then they slow down and start shaping the letters themselves.)
Jews are Gentiles’ teachers and good educators must be humble. luckily, the more Jews learn holy knowledge, the more modest they get. This is because the many Principles make us fearful if we are at all living up to them. (Different from secular knowledge, which tempts one to feel more important, no: superior.) Teachers learn more from teaching than their students, but still it would be disrespectful from students to say to the teachers that we ‘teach each other.’ (Teachers can say so themselves.) Chosen means: the challenge of greater potential and greater obligation. Yet, this differs from anti-Semites applying double standards (see 12.).
- Idol worship, for Jews only
Jews are only allowed to pray to G-d. When we would entreat anything else, this is idol worship – one of the worst sins – for us. Yet, our Rabbis teach that Gentiles are allowed additions to G-d. While non-Jews should acknowledge that there is only One Superpower in the Universe, they are permitted to have something like the Trinity, pray to Angels, etc. (Jews not even need human intermediates, like religious dignitaries.) For this reason, also Hinduism can be Monotheism for Gentiles, as all their Gods are just a sort of Angels. So Jews can never pray to Jesus or Maria. When we go to graves of Saints to pray, we pray in their merit but only address G-d. Even people who call themselves Atheists but subscribe to the universal Tenets of Science, in a way are Monotheists too.
- Ongoing Revelation
Revelation at Sinai stays unprecedented and unique, but understanding G-d’s guidance is expanding on an ongoing base. Especially when Jews learn our sacred Tradition, each of us is bound to find new insights – on our level – and mistakes in what we held until now in our ignorance. Pounding Jewish texts is the uppermost profession for any Jewish man.
Our religious Literature is unparalleled and its refinement astounding. The Torah needs to be understood in tandem with holy Commentaries and the Talmud (and the rest of the Oral Law). The foremost Torah (and Talmud) Commentator is Rashi and only on his Torah Commentary alone there are at least 80 super-Commentaries. I never heard a religious Jew say: I’ve seen it all; next year let me learn something else, Heaven forbid. Jewish good intentions typically go like: next year I should learn … more deeply, and I must repeat …. Even a proper translation of the Five Books of Moses by necessity must be hopelessly superficial. Worse, its gist can be completely wrong when interpreted detached from the Oral Law.
- Shabbat expected from Jews only
As I mentioned above (2.), Jews have special tasks and each needs to play their role in life. Gentiles are not even allowed to keep Shabbat. (Unless they study its many laws very much and go to a rabbinical court to declare that they want to keep Shabbat too. The Rabbis would then examine if the person knows how to keep Shabbat, realizes that this would be binding and not revocable, but if so, they can make Shabbat obligatory on him. This would not make the person Jewish.) Similarly, Gentiles are not allowed to learn issues in the Talmud or other deep Jewish stuff that is unrelated to what they need to know for their tasks in life. So you see, it’s not just Jews who are not allowed things (foods).
- Satan and Dualism; Truth, Justice and Goodness
We learn that the Satan is an Angel, a perfect benign holy Messenger of G-d, who comes to tempt us. That is how we build moral muscle. A home trainer who gives no resistance cannot make us grow. When we failed his opposition, we can try again. When resisting is painful to us, reward multiplies a thousand times. Challenges not of our choosing we may overcome. As I mentioned above (3.), there’s just One Superpower in the Universe. Satan cannot be a sort of an anti-G-d, Heaven forbid.
We must strive for, model, teach and promote: Truth and keep very far from falsehood, Justice not based on partiality and Goodness as that what prevents unnecessary hurts in the big picture.
- Perfection, perfecting and Pantheism
Judaism makes a distinction between Creation and the Creator. G-d lacks no perfection. Yet, the One and Only created a dualistic imperfect world, which is completely perfect for its function – don’t call the sublunary derisively: only this world. The whole of the Universe is here to invite us to become a partner with G-d in completing and perfecting this world, especially morally. After such effort, we feel that we deserve reward we may get, and not like beggars receiving charity. (That we were created is still unbelievable charity.) We will never be perfect, but striving for perfection – instead of a let-it-be attitude – makes a huge difference.
Our thinking about G-d’s qualities should not be confused with what we observe as the world’s characteristics. Being amazed or seeing G‑d’s fingerprints all over our lives does not need supernatural phenomena. There are no contradictions between G-d’s Plan, the Torah text (G-d’s Blueprint), Nature and Natural Law (G-d’s garments) and empiric Reality. G-d Himself (as a matter of speech; He’s actually trans-gender) is beyond the Universe, supervising. Judaism is applying timeless Standards to, but not rejecting or denying ever-changing Reality or Modernity.
We need to accept ownership (but reject greed), which enables us to give charity. Our deeds (saving a drowning person) count more than our creeds, feelings and intentions (loving the person but letting him drown). However, as soon as we did act, intention becomes paramount. Judaism is showing who we are, could be or should be, rather than a belief. The Jewish religion is executed more as a lifestyle than a faith or conviction.
G-d doesn’t force our obedience. He wants us to choose freely to cooperate with Him, with the Good in the world (Free Will). When we reject this, we do not become free, but rather a plaything to our pre-existent conditions and roots, and a pawn in His hands. Volition also covers the Past, as we may regret, pay up and resolve to do better.
- People are good – we are all G-dly
We do not believe that people are doomed since the Original Sin. We are all born innocent and challenged for our good (as I mentioned above: 6.). We all have an incorruptible human soul, an inextinguishable spark of light in us. This is our G-dly core. Therefore, our fate in this world is not set and we do not need ‘to be saved.’ G-d is with us all the way, has never truly abandoned us. Meanwhile, we need to do our part, to strive to improve ourselves (as I mentioned above at 7.).
G-d believes in us, or He would have sent us our redeemer already. Our redeemer is not supernatural. He will be married, eat kosher, etc. Judaism is different from any other society. Its highest demands are on our most powerful, its highest generosity for the least powerful. A Jewish society is based on mutual obligation, not reciprocal rights. This educates us towards responsibility and not greed (see below, 10.).
The NT adds to the OT, but with all due respect most of it is already in the Jewish Oral Law, a mistaken interpretation of Judaism or from Greek Philosophy, and Jews have no need for any of those three. Christianity is a great deep religion for Gentiles; for Jews is just too basic – no offense.
- Obedience and resistance
As I mentioned above (7.), Evil in this world is here to help us. We do not need to rationalize it as ‘G-d moves in mysterious ways’ or ‘we must somehow deserve this,’ or ‘this must not really be evil.’ Rather, we are here to fight Evil and protest it, as Abraham showed when he even sided with Sodom. This is not disobedience – that is what G-d expects of us!
Jewish Law regulates Jewish unity of action but largely leave open our freedom of through and intention. The sum-total of our differences of opinion (the Talmud is largely a discussion) are rich enough to depict and direct something as complicated as a human being and life. No question is taboo. We can ask specialists (Rabbis, Codifiers) to apply Jewish Law to our unique situation. If we can’t handle their ruling, we must tell them so that they can modify it, after taking our additional info into account.
Christians tend to be too docile, which hampers their ability to stand up for the Jews (see below: 12.). Take almost everything with a grain of salt and reconnect to your own thinking! Jews sometimes tend to abuse their critical sense, resulting in putting themselves down and infighting. Internalized victimization, shame and self-hatred may even prompt some Jews to spread anti-Jewish sentiments among Gentiles as no one else. (Even in their self-hatred though, they often still show their fine Jewish mindset, wanting good for all people – but the Jews.) Gentiles often can help Jews to put a stop to all of this overcritical-ness.
- Holy – moderation rather than abstinence
Often, it is easier for people to abstain than to limit. It is easier to shut up completely than to watch your tongue against speaking falsehood. Jewish Law teaches Jews that all good and pleasant things in this world are here to be enjoyed, within certain conditions and limits, and all moral things that are forbidden should not be shunned out of revulsion but out of obedience. Sex is not dirty – it is holy – to be set aside for special settings. It is a sin to refrain completely from partaking of certain good that G-d provided – an arrogant affront towards His generosity.
- Thou shan’t murder
There is no greater disaster than human Death (see above: 9.). It’s not in Jews’ DNA not to murder. Every generation anew, we need to instill this principle into our youths. When we go to the pub and drink two liters of beer, we can murder like anyone else. We are not invincible in this respect. Still, we have understood the sanctity of life better than most Nations of the world. It is like the rest has rejected this. Of course, decent people the world over condemn murder, but …. when they are furious, they still may. Jews who go beyond themselves, typically destroy property, not people. Maybe we understand the value of every human also, because every minutes in this world is so precious to us. We need a special day a week (Shabbat) to hold us back from running. This principle to not murder is not sufficiently taught to the world yet. Please help.
To neutralize this message, the least murderous People has been depicted as murderers (of Jesus, of Christian children, of Palestinians). It’s like calling women insensitive. These blood libels also come to erase guilt over persecution of Jews, including the Holocaust. Jews do not believe in collective guilt. Yet, collective responsibility would be a good thing (see the next point: 12.).
The Torah was given in the desert to show that it’s a Memorandum for everyone, but to the Jews to show that they will need to teach it. In general, it would be a good idea if Gentiles would check with Jews if they missed any of their universal G-dly Message or if anything got distorted or was left out on the way. If a Jew you ask is not friendly, knowledgeable or wise enough, look for a fitter one. Don’t give up. There’s a lot of good there and it can be yours too!
- Fight anti-Semitism
Hatred for Jews is a Gentiles’ disease. It often roots in irrational jealousy. Gentiles should not leave it to Jews to fight and uproot it. Solidarity with the Jews is not charity but duty. Jews stand with any and all oppressed groups – is it too much to ask of everyone to stand with us too?
Distinguish between hard-core anti-Semites (hard to reach) and regular people who are just tainted by its prejudices. Don’t divide the world into good and bad people (all are good – see above: 8.). Insist that all should join the fight against the Oldest Hatred in the World. Everyone should be won over.
The political core of dislike of Jews is: being rejected by the masses, after which they are taken hostage by the powerful. The rulers will use them as scapegoats to popular revolt. The solution is for all to embrace Jews, to liberate them from their hostage keepers. In any case, don’t blame the hostages.
Many people have talked about the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition.’ This has irritated many Jews as there is no and never has been such an alliance. (One could say that Christianity could be called this, but I would be better to call it the Judaeo-Hellenist-Christian tradition.)
We are also not ‘sister religions.’ Jews are not the ‘older brother’ of Christians and Muslims. (Older brothers are bypassed all over the Torah.) Rather, religiously we are their parents. And we would love our kids to check in with us, to tell us what they learned and to ask us if they’re overlooking anything. Honoring parents is still a universally accepted value, except for in large areas in the West.
The above is very condensed. It was fun to compose. It would be good to review it from time to time. It should be an inspiration.
© 2017, TOI and Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden