(I really should get a larger picture of the cover. Then again, I’ll be making up for the size of the picture by writing a lot about the book. So maybe not.)
I had been wondering about Judaism and this book proves to be an excellent guide for someone with a background in Christianity like I am. It is not especially well-written (among other things, the ever-unnecessary phrase “it is interesting” can be found at least four times throughout the book), but I usually pay more attention to content than to writing style when it comes to nonfiction books.
Since it is unlikely I will retain most of the information I’ve read here out of excitement, I’m just going to summarize some of the main ideas. Prepare for a relatively long entry. Should be a nice change.
First and foremost, Judaism is not just a religion; it is also a legal system and a way of life. Abraham was the first Jew. There are currently four sects of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionists. Judaism is as diverse as Christianity is. In fact, it is part of the tradition to argue incessantly about how to be a good practicing Jew. The only things all Jews presumably have in common are the 13 Principles of Faith. They are:
1. God Exists and Is the Creator.
2. God Is Unique and Is One.
3. God Is Not Physical.
4. God Is the First and the Last.
5. It Is Proper to Pray to God Only.
6. The Words of the Prophets Are True.
7. Moses Was the Greatest of the Prophets.
8. God Himself Gave Moses the Torah.
9. The Torah Is Immutable.
10. God Is Omniscient.
11. God Rewards and Punishes.
12. Messiah Will Come.
13. Resurrection of the Dead.
Torah, contrary to popular belief, is not the entire holy book of the Jews. Rather, it refers to what is generally referred to as the Pentateuch of the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) a.k.a. the laws. The laws are the first part of the scriptures; the other two parts are the prophets and the writings. These are essentially the same books as the ones collected into the Old Testament of the Christians, but they are organized differently. Unlike Christians, Jews put more emphasis on the laws rather than on the prophets or the writings. This is because they believe that God is the author of the Torah and the Torah therefore is immutable (principle #9). If some rules are not making any sense to us (e.g., why can we eat chicken but not pork?), it’s because our intelligence is limited and cannot comprehend what God has in mind. Our job is simply to obey.
Aside from these written laws (613 in total), the Jews also have some oral laws that were first written in 200 C.E. by a Rabbi after the Romans destroyed the last of the Jewish nation. The Pharisees were the main proponents of these laws, while the other subgroups of Judaism insisted that oral laws weren’t as important as the Torah itself. Later on these other subgroups disappeared and the Pharisees became the ancestor of the current sects in Judaism. Incidentally, this oral Torah is called the Mishnah. Together with the subsequent rabbinical debates on it (called the Gemara), it makes up the Talmud.
Jesus, as it turns out, didn’t really oppose the oral Torah as well as the written Torah. Apparently anyone who thinks so must have had a poor understanding of the Jewish tradition. These people are also likely to interpret the Old Testament differently from a typical Jew would. When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, he had to pick two out of the 613 available commandments. This isn’t really reductionism, and he wasn’t the first one to do so. (I’ll go over these later after I read another book on Judaism; I’m still unclear on them.)
Unlike Christians, the Jews put more emphasis on deeds rather than on faith alone – even if faith is important. Everyone would be able to go to heaven if they followed the 7 Noachide Laws. These are the laws that God gave to Noah after the flood. They are:
1. To not engage in blasphemy.
2. To not practice idolatry.
3. To refrain from unlawful intercourse.
4. To not murder.
5. To not steal.
6. To not tear a limb from a living animal.
7. To establish courts of justice.
Islam, according to the Jews, are following these laws. Not sure if it is also true for the Christians, though, the Holy Trinity and all.