Judaism

Judaism and God
Jews, among the other peoples of the Middle East in the second
millennium, B.C., were unique in their conception of the divine as a single
entity. Thus, they can rightly be considered the first monotheistic religion in the
western tradition. Not only did the Jews describe monotheism for the first time,
but they also described a God as a personal being with a supreme and
transcendent will. The Egyptians, Syrians, and Babylonians of the day in
contrast had assigned a deity to each major power of nature.
Compared to these other polytheistic religions, the singular
achievement of Jewish monotheism is the focus that it introduces to one’s
religious life. As Huston Smith explains, “If God is that to which one gives
oneself unreservedly, to have more than one god is to live a life of divided
loyalties.” (275) Judaism insists that ther e is a single, consistent way in which
life is to be lived to reach fulfillment.
Comparing Judaism to the Greek and Roman conceptions of the divine,
one finds these other Mediterranean polytheistic gods to be amoral and rather
indifferent towards human. For Jews, God is righteous and just, He protects His
people, and He possesses infinite loving-kindness.
Judaism also holds an overwhelmingly positive view of creation. The
Greeks, with their selfish and marauding gods, and the Hindus, who told of the
inevitability of sadness and suffering, certainly did not share this optimism.
Remember the stories that begin in Genesi s, the first book in the Jewish holy
book, the Torah (the first five books of the Christian Old Testament). “In the
beginning God created the heavens and the earth … everything that He had
made, and behold, it was very good.” Judaism relishes this buoyant and
affirmative attitude towards creation.

Jewish Philosophy
Unlike many of the previously examined eastern traditions, Judaism
places an extreme emphasis on the role of free choice in the human condition.
Humans, Jews believe, were created by God, but because they possess free will
they manage to behave less than perfectly. Consider the story of the Garden of
Eden. True, Adam and Eve were seduced by the snake. Their lapse in
judgment, however, teaches that humans, once created, are free to make or break
themselves, forging their destinies throug h their own decisions. People, Jews
believe, are the beloved children of God. God allows them to make mistakes,
but always in the hope that they learn from them and improve their condition.
Looking at history, Jews see the hand of God constantly intervening—
in Eden, at the Flood, during the Exod us, and on and on. Each event was a
teaching experience for the Jewish people. The Torah tells of how God acts in
response to human disobedience. And while there constantly seems to be a tension in the Torah’s stories between the way things are and the way things
ought to be, Judaism never surrenders to
a fatalism that says that life can never
be improved.
Judaism, out of which grew both Christianity and Islam, is responsible
for no less than the moral foundation of the western world. This faith
recognizes that humans are social creat ures, yet are often barbaric with each
other. The Torah, as a result, contains 613 commandments regarding our
behavior, and the core of the Ten Commandments prescribes the rules that make
collective or community life possible. Do not murder; do not commit adultery;
do not steal; do not bear false witness. Taken individually, any one of these
offenses has the potential of escalating to the point where the community is
ripped apart.
Jews, through most of their history, have been an oppressed people.
Their stories in the Torah often detail how justice, ultimately, is done, and how
the downtrodden always must maintain hope for a better future. This hope gave
the Jews a forward and upward-looking cast of mind, expectant for the Promised
Land.

Jewish Practice
It is often said that Jews are unite d more by what they do than what
they believe. For example, Judaism does not declare an official creed (besides
monotheism) that one must believe to belong to the faith. Jews range from those
who believe that God dictated every letter and punctuation mark of the Torah,