Dennis Prager has a really interesting article out, called “What Is Judaism?” Mr. Prager has written and taught on the subject (including two years as a member of the Brooklyn College Department of Judaic Studies). This is how he leads:
If you’ve ever wondered what Judaism is, here is a list of its principal beliefs. This is not an official list, but these beliefs have been widely held by religious Jews for thousands of years.
The 27-item list boils down the essentials of Judaism. Here are the first three to get a feel for his article.
I. There is one universal God.
This God is the Creator of the world and the God of all humanity.
II. One universal God means there is one universal morality.
III. God is:
a) Incorporeal (not physical): All matter comes to an end.
b) Eternal: All matter has a beginning and an end. But God exists outside of time.
c) Outside of nature: God is not in nature. And nature is not divine.
d) Personal: God knows each of us.
e) Good: God is moral, just and compassionate.
Of course, my mind went to how Christianity differs to any of his points. Excluding where obviously something is specific to Judaism, such as the Torah as central, I thought I found three points that were at least different in perspective or emphasis. Let me take them one at a time.
V. God’s primary demand is that people be good.
Therefore, God cares more about how we act toward one another than how we act toward Him — just as we humans care more about how our children treat one another than how they treat us.
Therefore, right behavior matters more than intentions and even more than faith.
(1) I don’t know if in Christianity one could say that God cares more about how we act toward each other than to God. When Christ is asked what is the greatest commandment He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:37-40). It’s really equal, not one greater than the other. If anything, greater would be love of God.
(2) Intentions do matter. If your intentions are good, but you miscalculated, then it is not a sin. If you attempt to help an old woman across the street and you trip and fall and bring the woman down, then not only was it not a sin, but your conscience was working in the proper way. If you think that global warming is destroying the earth and you try to advocate laws to save the planet, that is acting morally. If you think that global warming is a waste of money and you are acting to stop the waste of money toward the environment, then you are also acting morally. Your intention matters.
VI. There is an afterlife — God rewards the good and punishes the bad.
If good people and bad people have the same fate, there is either no God or a God that is not just.
The fate of your soul is not a simple summation of good and bad. Obviously we all do good and bad things. The fate of your soul rests on the state of your heart at death. You can be a bad sinner all your life, but if you have a change of heart—a true and sincere change of heart—you can be saved. Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a literary example. But the key is sincere contrition. God knows if it was sincere and the habit of constant sin leads to a hardening of the heart, making it extremely difficult to change.
VIII. Reward in the afterlife (“heaven”) is available to all good people, not just good Jews.
Now here you might have a variety of views within the various Christian denominations. On the one extreme, you have those where faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is absolutely fundamental. You cannot be saved without that as a founding principle. On the other extreme, salvation could be open to all people who have shown love to their neighbor. I lean to the latter but it comes down to the state of the heart.
Those are the ones I found distinctions. But, not being Jewish, I found this one very interesting.
XIV. Judaism, too, has a trinity: God, Torah and Israel (meaning Jewish peoplehood and the Land of Israel).
The removal of any one of them is no longer Judaism. It would be as if the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit were removed from Christianity.
I never thought about Judaism that way, but I can see his point.
This all rests on Prager’s understanding of Judaism. He certainly knows more about it than I do. (Side note, I got one of my degrees from Brooklyn College, where he taught.) I wonder if any of the Jewish people here would dispute any of Prager’s points, and do any of the Christians here see other distinctions. Of course, do you even agree with my distinctions?Published in