Exactly what are Judaism beliefs, or are expected to believe, is not clear. Nor is there one accepted definition of Judaism acknowledged as absolute dogma.
However, Judaism does encompass certain tenets that all religious Jews adhere to. Maimonides, a twelfth-century influential Jewish thinker, outlined these tenets as the Thirteen Principles of Faith.
Who Defines Judaism?
Should Jews allow others to define them, or should they take this responsibility upon themselves?
Throughout much of history, non-Jews often took this role upon themselves. Motivated by anti-Semitic beliefs, they did not limit their concept of the Jews to those who professed the faith of Judaism and complied with its tenets.
In some cases, people who did not consider themselves to be Jewish, who looked upon Judaism with disdain as an archaic religion, were labeled Jews and practitioners of Judaism just the same.
Clearly, Jewish people should take it upon themselves to define the concepts of Jew and Judaism. In fact, Jews have been considering this subject for centuries, and today it remains a point of argument and controversy among Jews.
As mentioned in the introduction, it is beyond the scope of this book to decide who is Jewish and who is not, but we will attempt to examine the definition of Judaism.
About The Jewish People
First and foremost, it must be remembered that Judaism beliefs are the religion of the Jewish people.
Though over the centuries Jews have dispersed among the nations, a strong sense of kinship has remained among them.
Some Jews like to think of themselves as “the tribe”. For instance, the Yiddish word landsman (countryman) is used fondly to refer to another Jew. If you are not a religious Jew, you might still identify with this sentiment of belonging to the Jewish people.
This explains why some Jews feel a connection when introduced to someone who is also Jewish, feel a sense of pride when a Jew is honored for a major accomplishment, or bear an inordinate sense of loss when learning something terrible befell a fellow Jew.
As Amos Oz, an Israeli writer, observed, “To be a Jew means to feel that wherever a Jew is persecuted for being a Jew — that means you.”
Who Are The Chosen Ones In The Bible?
Judaism teaches that God made an eternal covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel), and that every Jew participates in this covenant as one of the Chosen People.
However, being “chosen” by God does not in any way impart a notion of superiority. In fact, according to one rabbinic interpretation the Hebrews were not the first to be offered God’s covenant and to receive the Torah — this took place only after all the other nations turned it down!
Judaism is a living religion that functions in terms of many relationships. Between God and the Jewish people, between God and each individual Jew and among all humans.
Judaism is not practiced in a cloistered environment — it is a religion of the community. This is why prayer takes place in groups of ten or more (a minyan), and holidays are celebrated in the home, where family and friends gather together.
Relationship Between Judaism And God
It is no small matter that seven of the Thirteen Principles of Faith set forth by Maimonides pertain to God. The Jews’ relationship to God is fundamental to Judaism.
The principal declaration of Jewish faith is the Shema, a prayer that begins with the following words: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” This avowal affirms the belief in one God, a unity that encompasses everything.
Yet the Jews admit that comprehending God is beyond their ability. When Moses asked God for His name, he received the following enigmatic response.
“Ehyeh asher ehyeh” (Exodus 3:14), which may be translated as “I am that I am,” but literally means, “I will be what I will be,” and has also been taken to mean “I am what I will be.”
God Is The Creator of The World
Nonetheless, Judaism does hold a number of concepts about the nature of God. Of course, the most important belief is that God is one.
In addition, God is considered to be the Creator of everything. Even many nonobservant Jews have held to this belief.
Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher who was excommunicated from the Jewish community for questioning the accepted nature of God, ultimately concluded that God “is the free cause of all things.”
Albert Einstein, a nonobservant Jew, compared the universe to a clock, with God as the “clockmaker” who cannot be envisaged or understood.
God is also responsible for the creation of humans, which Judaism considers to be an unceasing process. The Talmud teaches that parents provide the physical form of every human being, but God supplies the soul.
A prominent piece of Jewish liturgy repeatedly describes God as Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, Our King.” Judaism purports that we are God’s children.
Is god Male or Female In Judaism ?
While God is often described with anthropomorphic features, such portraits are not designed to be taken literally. Instead, they are employed to help humans understand God’s actions.
The Jews know that God is incorporeal. He has no limbs nor parts, and He is neither male nor female. God is referred to in the masculine because Hebrew has no gender-neutral nouns. Indeed, there are occasions when feminine terms are applied to God.
For instance, the manifestation of God’s presence that fills the universe is called shechinah, a feminine word.
Since God is incorporeal, Jews are forbidden to represent God in a physical form. (Such an act would be considered idolatry.)
This admonition has been heeded in many ways, from the way Jews adorn synagogues to the prohibition of tattoos on the body.
However, the prohibition to write the name of God has nothing to do with this commandment, nor with the commandment that prohibits Jews from taking the Lord’s name in vain.
The fact is, Jews may not write down the name of God because they are enjoined from erasing or defacing it.
Because no one can ever be certain what may subsequently happen to the paper (or any other medium) written with the name of God, avoiding writing it down in the first place ensures that it cannot be destroyed.
The source for this practice is found in Deuteronomy 12:3, which recounts how God commands the Israelites to obliterate the names of all local deities, but not the name of God, when they take over the Promised Land.
God Is The Eternal According Judaism Beliefs
Judaism holds that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (filling all places at all times). God is eternal. Past and future, here and now, are irrelevant in terms of God.
Einstein attempted to describe this idea in more scientific terms: For God, “a thousand years and a thousand dimensions are as one.”
Now, you may ask, if God is eternal and did act in history and intervene in human affairs in the past, why doesn’t God continue to do so now? Where has God been hiding?
While there is no single answer to this question, an important principle of Judaism does offer an explanation grounded in the notion that the relationship between God and people is reciprocal.
Martin Buber, the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher and scholar, used the phrase “eclipse of God” as a metaphor to demonstrate something that has come between people and God, a something that may well be within ourselves.
Imagine you are standing under a bright glaring sun. You raise your hand and lift your thumb so it blocks the sun from sight. The sun is no longer visible.
You cannot see it. Yet, it is there just the same. All you have to do to experience its existence is to remove your thumb. So it is with God. Before experiencing God, you must first remove the impediment you have erected.
Judaism Is a Way of Life
It is crucial to remember that Judaism is not merely a set of ideas about the world. Perhaps more importantly, it is a blueprint for a way of life.
To follow Judaism means more than praying or contemplating, having faith or believing in a supreme being or an afterlife.
Following the dictates of Judaism means taking action. Jews cannot excuse themselves from this requirement by claiming that one person cannot possibly make a difference in the world. Such an attitude is anathema to Judaism, which emphasizes the significance of the individual.
In the Talmud, the Jews are taught that every person is like a balanced scale — a person’s deeds will tip the scale either toward good or toward evil.
According to Elie Wiesel, a writer and human rights activist who survived Auschwitz, “A Jew is defined by his actions more than his intentions.
It is his actions that bind him to his community and, through it, to the larger human community.”
God holds people responsible for their actions and teaches us to follow His high standards of ethical behavior.
His expectations apply to all human beings, even those who have lost contact with God. In Micah 6:8, it is written that God requires that we “do justice … love goodness and … walk modestly with … God.”
613 Mitzvot (Commandments) of The Torah
How do the Jewish people know what model of ethical behavior to follow? First and foremost, there are the Ten Commandments.
In the Halakhah, a collection of Jewish laws found in the Torah or instituted by Jewish scholars over centuries, you will find 613 mitzvot, or commandments, that Jews are expected to observe.
There are many laws to follow, but God doesn’t expect humans to be perfect.
There is room for mistakes, and God is both just and merciful. Of the two names for God most commonly used in the Bible, one refers to His quality of mercy (midat harachamim), and the other to His quality of justice (midat ladin).
Waiting For The Messianic Judaism
Indeed, God has promised that perfect days lie ahead when the Messiah arrives. On that occasion, a number of things will happen:
- The messiah will ordain himself as king
- He will achieve independence for the Jewish people in their own land (Israel).
- He will be an ideal king.
- The dead will be resurrected.
- Peace, justice, and brotherhood will be established for all the world.