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JUDAISM & CHRISTIANITY
Judaism and Christianity,
Comparing and contrasting Judaism and Christianity suggests that Judaism and Christianity are not necessarily part of the same Judaeo-Christian tradition.
|One problem with the notion of a Judaeo-Christian tradition is that neither Judaism or Christianity is monolithic. Tremendous variations occur in both religions which have influenced each other over the past 2,000 years. Moreover, Judaism and Christianity each have widely diverging views of their respective relationship to the other. Persecution of Jews, including pogroms was common throughout Christian Europe. Organized violence by their neighbours, restrictive land ownership regulations, professional prohibitions, mandatory dress codes and ecclesiastical rules restricting marriages between Christians and Jews all had detrimental effects on Jewish Cultures. There is a growing inter-dialogue to reconcile differences between the two groups. Christians emphasize common historical heritage and religious continuity with the ancient spiritual lineage of the Jews.||
To Jews, Jewish peoplehood is closely tied to their relationship with God, and thus has a strong theological component. This relationship is encapsulated in the notion that Jews are a chosen people. Although many non-Jews have taken this as a sign of arrogance or exclusivity, Jewish scholars and theologians have emphasized that a special relationship between Jews and God does not in any way preclude other nations having their own relationship with God. For Jews, being "chosen" fundamentally means that Jews have chosen to obey a certain set of laws (see Torah and halakha) as an expression of their covenant with God. They view their divine purpose as being ideally a "role model to the nations" and a "holy people" (ie, a people who live their lives fully in accordance with Divine will), rather than "the one path to God".
Jews hold that other nations and peoples are not required (or expected) to obey Jewish law. The only laws Judaism believes are automatically binding on other nations are known as the Seven Laws of Noah (which are humanitarian rather than religious). Thus, as a national religion, Judaism has no problem with the notion that others have their own paths to God (or "salvation").
Christianity, on the other hand, is characterized by its claim to universality, which marks a break with Jewish identity. As a religion claiming universality, Christianity has had to define itself in relation with religions that make radically different claims about gods. Christians believe that Christianity represents the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and the nation of Israel, that Israel would be a blessing to all nations.
This crucial difference between the two religions has other implications. For example, conversion to Judaism is more like a form of adoption (i.e. becoming a member of the nation, in part by metaphorically becoming a child of Abraham), whereas conversion to Christianity is explicitly a declaration of faith. Depending on the denomination, this conversion has a social component, as the individual is in many ways adopted into the Church, with a strong family model.
In contrast to the cultural identity shared by Jews, Christianity has been incorporated by many different cultures around the world. In most cases, there has been at least some difficulty in discerning which teachings and practices are central to Christianity and cannot be changed, and which are "merely" cultural and can be adapted to a new culture without compromising the faith. The doctrine of the Incarnation has often been applied to mean that the Church itself can be enfleshed in a new cultural setting without compromising its essence.
Both Jews and Christians believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Tanakh (Christian Old Testament, Hebrew Bible), the creator of the universe. Both religions reject the view that God is entirely immanent, and within the world as a physical presence. Both religions reject the view that God is entirely transcendent, and thus separate from the world (although this can be argued in some Judaic thought). Both religions reject atheism, on the one hand, and polytheism, on the other. (Reform Judaism does not completely reject atheism, although it does encourage theism and/or deism.)
Both religions agree that God shares both transcendent and immanent qualities. How these religions resolve this issue is where the religions differ. Christianity posits that God is a trinity; in this view God exists as three distinct persons which share a single divine essence, or substance. In those three there is one, and in that one there are three; the one God is indivisible, while the three persons are distinct and unconfused. Judaism sees God as a single entity, and views trinitarianism as both incomprehensible and a violation of the Bible's teaching that God is one. In addition, Christianity teaches that God became especially immanent through the Incarnation of Jesus, who is believed to be at once fully God and fully human. Judaism rejects the notion that Jesus or any human could be God, that God could be divisible in any way, or that God could be joined to the material world in such fashion.
Some Jewish and Christian philosophers hold that due to these differences, it may well be that Jews and Christians don't believe in the same god at all. The majority Jewish view, codified in Jewish law, is that Christians do worship the same God that Jews do. The vast majority of Christians have always held that they worship the same God as the Jews.
Jews believe that a descendant of King David will one day appear to restore the Kingdom of Israel. Jews refer to this person as a moshiach, translated as messiah in English and christos in Greek. The Hebrew word 'moshiach' (messiah) means 'anointed one,' and refers to a mortal human being. The moshiach is held to be a human being who will be a descendant of King David, and who will usher in a messianic era of peace and prosperity for Israel and all the nations of the world. The traditional Jewish understanding of the messiah is fully human, born of human parents, without any supernatural element, and is best elucidated by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), in his commentary on the Talmud. The messiah is expected to have a relationship with God similar to that of the prophets of the Tanakh. In brief, he holds that the job description, as such, is this:
All of the people Israel will come back to Torah; The people of Israel with be gathered back to the land of Israel; The Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt; Israel will live among the nations as an equal, and will be strong enough to defend herself; Eventually, war, hatred and famine will end, and an era of peace and prosperity will come upon the Earth.
Christians hold Jesus to be the messiah foretold in the Hebrew Bible. He is believed to be the son of God in a literal sense, fully human, and simultaneously divine, fully God. In this view, Jesus the messiah is the son of God who offers salvation to all humans.
Christian readings of the Hebrew Bible find hundreds of references to Jesus; some such readings maintain that almost every reading was about not only the topic of the chapter as such, but is also about the coming of Jesus, if only read properly. In this Christian view, the Old Testament Biblical subtext about the coming of Jesus have become more apparent over time.
Much of Christianity also teaches that God wants people to perform good works, but it holds that good works will not lead to salvation. Some Christian denominations hold that salvation depends upon faith in Jesus and good works, while many others hold that faith in Jesus alone is necessary for salvation. The major theological innovation of the New Testament is to teach that beliefs (such as belief in Jesus as the son of God) are considered by God as a prerequisite for salvation. This is especially so in Protestantism. Others hold that beliefs and actions are both essential, each encouraging the other (See entry on Eastern Orthodox Christianity).
A practical outcome of this difference is the attitudes of the two religions to death bed conversions. According to most forms of classical Christianity, one may lead an evil life, but on one's death one may repent for one's sins, accept Jesus as Christian dogma teaches, and then that person will be rewarded with a heavenly afterlife by God; this will be the same heavenly paradise that a comparatively less sinful person would receive. In contrast, all forms of Judaism teach that God judges a person based on their actions and beliefs, and that deathbed conversions have no effect on God's judgement.
The rabbis recognize a positive value to the yetzer hara: one tradition identifies it with God's observation on the last day of creation that His accomplishment was "very good" (God's work on the preceding days was just described as "good") and explain that without the yetzer ha'ra there would be no marriage, children, commerce or other fruits of human labor; the implication is that yetzer ha'tov and yetzer ha'ra are best understood not as moral categories of good and evil but as selfless versus selfish orientations, either of which used rightly can serve God's will.
Or as Rabbi Hillel famously summarised the Jewish philosophy:
Jews recognize two kinds of "sin," offenses against other people, and offenses against God. Offenses against God may be understood as violation of a contract (the covenant between God and the Children of Israel). Since the destruction of the Temple in Jersualem, Jews have believed that right action (as opposed to right belief) is the way for a person to atone for one's sins. Midrash Avot de Rabbi Natan states the following:
One time, when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was walking in Jerusalem with Rabbi Yehosua, they arrived at where the Temple now stood in ruins. "Woe to us" cried Rabbi Yehosua, "for this house where atonement was made for Israel's sins now lies in ruins!" Answered Rabban Yochanan, "We have another, equally important source of atonement, the practice of gemilut hasadim ("loving kindness"), as it is stated "I desire loving kindness and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).
The Babylonian Talmud states:
Christianity interprets the Biblical story of Adam and Eve as a story of the first sin, the consequence of which was to both make man mortal and also aware of the consequences of his actions. Paul in Romans and First Corinthians placed special emphasis on this doctrine, and stressed that belief in Jesus would allow Christians to overcome death and attain salvation in the hereafter. Ps. 14:3; Isa. 53:6 (In contrast, Judaism did not believe that faith in Jesus, nor even God, provides salvation.) Some interpret the New Testament as teaching that rejection of Jesus as the path to salvation is a willful disobedience and rebellion against God. Whatever the origin of sin, Christianity teaches that sin separates everyone from God, and, without salvation (see below), that person's separation from God will be enforced, causing such a person to be sentenced to Hell, or in some views, Limbo or Purgatory.
Under Augustine the doctrine of Original sin was articulated, teaching the taint of Adam's original sin is inherited by all people at birth. Nothing a person does in his life can remove this taint. The status of this teaching has differed among the various Christian Churches. It took on greater prominence in Catholic Christianity and lesser in most Protestant Christian denominations. Augustine wrote in Latin in the fourth century, but his writings were not translated into Greek until the fourteenth century. Consequently, Eastern Christianity has never taught that guilt is inherited and began repudiating this idea once they learned of it. They teach that we inherit a corrupted or damaged human nature in which the tendency to do bad is greater, but that each person is only guilty of their own sins. By participating in the life of the church, each person's human nature is healed and it becomes easier to do good; at the same time, the Christian becomes more acutely aware of his or her shortcomings.
The Christian view is very well defined - every human is a sinner, and nothing but being saved by God's grace (and not through any merit of ones own actions) can change the damnatory sentence to salvation. There is a judgement after death, and Christ will return to judge the living and dead. Those positively judged will be saved and live in God's presence in heaven, those who are negatively judged will be cast to eternal hell. vJewish teaching is somewhat ambivalent on Judgement. Initially there was no such concept in Judaism, however over time, and especially as exposed to other cultures' concept that every wrong must be somehow balanced by punishment in the end, and vice versa, a mixture of concepts have entered Judaism. At heart though, Jews do not look for an afterlife as a reward of motivation, the reward for a good life is the pleasure it gives God, and the rightness of doing ones duty and living a holy life in his ways.
That said, in Jewish liturgy there is significant prayer and talk of a "book of life" that one is written into, a metaphorical allusion that God judges each person each year and possibly after death.
Many Jewish sages understand this to be metaphorical. For example - one Day of Atonement prayer says it will be decided "who will be made strong, and who weak, who will have good health, who poor, who will be at peace and who not at peace... but prayer pentitence and charity avert a stern decree". However others translate this to mean, who will do good and create peace in the coming year, and who will do ill and create lack of peace, and so on.
In response to these criticisms, Pope John Paul II on October 2 of that year emphasized that this document did not say that non-Christians were denied salvation: "this confession does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united". The pope then, on December 6, issued a statement to further emphasize that the Church continued to support the position of Vatican II that salvation was available to believers of other faiths: "The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes--the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life--will enter God's kingdom." He further added, "All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this kingdom,".
On August 13, 2002, American Catholic bishops issued a joint statement with leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, called "Reflections on Covenant and Mission", which affirmed that Christians should not target Jews for conversion The document stated: "Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God" and "Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God's kingdom." However, some U.S.-led Baptist and other fundamentalist denominations still believe it is their duty to engage in what they refer to as outreach to "unbelieving" Jews (see Jews for Jesus).
Many Orthodox theologians believe that all people will have an opportunity to embrace union with God, including Jesus, after their death, and so become part of the church at that time. God is thought to be good, just, and merciful; it would not seem just to condemn someone because they never heard the Gospel message, or were taught a distorted version of the Gospel by heretics. Therefore, the reasoning goes, they must at some point have an opportunity to make a genuine informed decision. Ultimately, those who persist in rejecting God condemn themselves, by cutting themselves off from the ultimate source of all Life, and from the God who is Love embodied. Jews, Muslims and members of other faiths, then, are expected to convert to Christianity in the afterlife. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also holds this belief, and holds baptismal services in which righteous people are baptized in behalf of their ancestors who, it is believed, are given the opportunity to accept the ordinance.
Judaism teaches that all gentiles can receive a share in "the world to come". This is codified in the Mishna Avot 4:29, the Babylonian Talmud in tractates Avodah Zarah 10b, and Ketubot 111b, and in Maimonides's 12th century law code, the Mishneh Torah, in Hilkhot Melachim (Laws of Kings) 8.11.
Judaism has no strong tradition of offenses being punished by eternal damnation (the Hebrew Bible itself has very few references to any afterlife, and the word Sheol that is often translated as "Hell" is as often as not simply translated as "the grave"). Some violations (e.g. suicide) would be punished by separation from the community (e.g. not being buried in a Jewish cemetery).
Judaism's view is summed up by a biblical observation about the Torah (Old testament): in the beginning God clothes the naked (Adam), and at the end God buries the dead (Moses). The Children of Israel mourned for 40 days - then got on with their lives. No reference is made in the Torah to anything beyond.
The Biblical conception of God is that his covenant is with the Jewish people, not individual Jews. In the context of this covenant, the death of individual Jews is inconsequential and various Biblical passages suggest that individual death is final. It is the continued existence of the Jewish nation that is emphasised and the way that life should be lead. With the rise of Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) thinking, and later the rise of Christianity, Jews became more concerned with the problem of individual death and an afterlife. Nevertheless, these beliefs are relatively undeveloped in Judaism and unimportant.
The only statements in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) about the status of a fetus state that killing an infant does not have the same status as killing a born human being, and mandates a much lesser penalty (a fine); it should be added that the instance cited in the Tanakh contemplates the accidental, rather than the deliberate, causing of an abortion.
The Oral Law states that the fetus is not yet a full human being until it has been born (either the head or the body is mostly outside of the mother), therefore killing a fetus is not murder, and abortion - in restricted circumstances - has always been legal under Jewish law. Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus 'lav nefesh hu--it is not a person.' The Talmud contains the expression 'ubar yerech imo--the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,' i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman's body." Judaism prefers that such abortions, when necessary, take place before the first 40 days where the Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 69b states that: "the embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day." Afterwards, it is considered subhuman until it is born. Christians who agree with these views may refer to this idea as abortion before the "quickening" of the soul by God in the fetus.
There are two additional passages in the Talmud which shed some light on the Jewish belief about abortion. They imply that the fetus is considered part of the mother, and not a separate entity:
One section states that if a man purchases a cow that is found to be pregnant, then he is the owner both of the cow and the fetus.
Another section states that if a pregnant woman converts to Judaism, that her conversion applies also to her fetus. Rabbis also generally agree that abortions are not permitted on the grounds of genetic imperfections of the fetus, nor are they permitted for family planning or convenience reasons. Each case must be decided individually, however, and the decision should lie with the mother, father, and Rabbi.
Most branches of Christianity have historically held abortion to be murder of a human being, referring to Old Testament passages such as Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1, as well as New Testament passages concerning both Jesus and John the Baptist while they were in utero. These verses have been interpreted as literally applying to pre-born humans. Many Protestant Christians claim that the Ten Commandments prohibit abortion under the heading of "Do not murder". Others reject this view, as they hold that the context of the entire set of Biblical laws includes those laws which restrict them to already born human beings.
The Jewish Bible is comprised of three parts:
Within the Torah, Jews find 613 specific commandments, and these form the basis of their understanding of the law. Its more in-depth examination to understand the commandments and their significance, forms a major thread within the Talmud and other Jewish writings.
Christians reject the Talmudic oral tradition (Matt. 15:6); although the Catholic hierarchy makes a similar claim to inherit the correct interpretation for their respective written law: contrast with sola scriptura. Christians also disagree with the Jewish order of sacred texts (and some Christian traditions have included in their Old Testament books that are not included in today's Jewish canon, although they were included in the Jewish Septuagint). Historically, the Jewish oral tradition was not written down, nor the Jewish canon established, until after the rise of Christianity. Most importantly, Christians reject the covenant with God embodied in traditional Jewish scriptures and oral traditions as obsolete, and thus refer to their canon of Hebrew books as the Old Testament. Christians believe that God has established a new covenant with people, and that this new covenant is established in an additional set of books collectively called the New Testament, together with the oral teachings of Jesus to the Apostles which have been handed down to this day.
Jews do not accept the New Testament (nor do they accept the characterization of their sacred texts as an Old Testament); they do accept as sacred certain texts that are not included in the Tanakh especially the Mishnah, which was written down around 200 C.E., and a Babylonian and a Jerusalem Talmud, which were edited around 600 C.E. and 350 C.E., respectively. As well as the Zohar (the writing behind the Kabbalah) written down in approximately 200 C.E. Many Jews believe that these texts were revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai, that the Torah was written, the Talmud was spoken, and the Zohar was transferred innately, having been placed directly into Moses' mind, by God and passed down by select individuals, with the exception of the public Torah. (See also Biblical canon and sola scriptura for a more complete treatment of this topic.)
Judaism has a great many teachings about peace and compromise, and its teachings make physical violence the last possible option. Nonetheless, the Talmud teaches that "If someone comes with the intention to murder you, then one is obligated to kill in self-defense". The clear implication is that to do anything less would be tantamount to suicide (which Jewish law forbids) and it would also be considered helping a murderer kill someone. The tension between the laws dealing with peace, and the obligation to self-defense, has led to a set of Jewish teachings that have been described as tactical-pacifism. This is the avoidance of force and violence whenever possible, but the use of force when necessary to save the lives of one's self and one's people.
The New Testament records that Jesus taught that if someone comes to harm you, then one must turn the other cheek. This has led four fairly sizable Protestant Christian denominations to develop a theology of pacifism, the avoidance of force and violence at all times. They are known historically as the peace churches, and have incorporated Christ's teachings on nonviolence into their theology so as to apply it to participation in the use of violent force; those denominations are the Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and the Church of the Brethren. Many other churches have people who hold to the doctrine without making it a part of their doctrines, or who apply it to individuals but not to governments. The vast majority of Christian nations and groups have not adopted this theology, nor have they followed it in practice.
In the distant past Judaism was more evangelistic, but even so, this was still more akin just to "greater openness to converts" (c.f. Ruth) rather than active soliciting of conversions. Since Jews believe that one need not be a Jew to approach God, there is no religious pressure to convert non-Jews to their faith.
Christianity is an evangelistic religion. Christians are commanded to spread the word and faith of Christ to all people in the world. At times this has lead to significant ill-will and what would now be termed human rights abuse, due to the intensity of evangelistic activity. Since Christianity teaches that every person who does not believe in Christ are sinners and will fall from God's grace, and be damned to Hell, it is an incumbent duty to save any person for Christ.
Christians from a highly religious background may feel justified (and have felt in the past) in any degree of action taken to obtain conversions, since they are saving a soul for eternity which by definition is more important than any temporary discomfort caused corporeally in this lifetime could possibly be. This is in broadly in line with the distinction made elsewhere that Jewish conversion is more like adoption to a family and people, Christian conversion more like a declaration of faith.
Jews also do not believe that God requires the sacrifice of any human (this is emphasized in medieval traditions concerning the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac). Thus, Jews reject the notion that anyone can or should die for anyone else's sin. As a religion, Judaism is far more focussed on the practicalities of understanding how one may live a sacred life in this world according to God's will, rather than hope of spiritual salvation in a future one. Jews do not believe in the Christian concept of Hell, nor that only those following one specific faith can be "saved". Judaism does have a punishment stage in the afterlife (i.e. Gehenna, a one year maximum purgatory) as well as a Heaven (Gan Edan), but that the religion does not intend it as a focus.
Jews do not celebrate Christmas or any other Christian festivals as these have no religious significance to their beliefs. Celebration of non-Jewish holidays is considered Avodah Zarah or "Foreign Worship" and is forbidden, however some Jews in the West treat Christmas as a secular (but not religious) holiday.
Christians consider that the Law was necessary as an intermediate stage, but once the world was able to understand the significance of the Crucifixion, then adherance to Law was superseded by faith in Christ as the path to God.
Many Christians today hold to supersessionism, the belief that the Jews' chosenness found its ultimate fulfillment through the message of Jesus: Jews who remain non-Christian are no longer considered to be chosen, since they reject Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. This position has been softened or even completely abrogated by some churches where Jews are recognized to have a special status due to their covenant with God, so that this continues to be an area of on-going dispute among Christians.
Some forms of Christianity which view the Jewish people as close to God, seek to understand and incorporate elements of Jewish understanding or perspective into their Christian beliefs as a means to respect their "parent" religion or to more fully seek out and return to their Christian roots. More evangelistic Christians tend to see Jews as essentially misguided by not choosing Christ, and as a people whom there is a more specific duty to evangelise or convert.
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