An Epistle to the Christians on Quora

Someone on Quora posted a question:

Religion: Jews: What are your top requests to non-Jews everywhere?
Please be respectful in your answer.

Here’s my answer.

Specifically to Christians, please stop assuming the following things:

1. That Judaism looks like Christianity, but without Jesus. It doesn’t. It’s so far removed from it that the two religions have almost nothing in common. The term “Judeo-Christian,” which has been used by your evangelical and fundamentalist branches to claim a deep connection between our two religions, is a fabrication. Please stop using that term. Saul of Tarsus took pretty much all of the Jewish roots of Christianity and severed them when he started trying to get Gentiles into the tent. Judaism may be, in some ways, Christianity’s ancestor, but Christianity has changed so much from its original Semitic roots that it is a disservice to both faiths to conflate them that closely. To put it another way: Judaism may be a parent of Christianity, but children are not clones of their parents, and Christianity is very, very different from Judaism.

2. That we believe in your version of what a Moshiach (Messiah) is supposed to be. We don’t. The Moshiach is a political and military leader, not a spiritual leader. All that stuff about him being a spiritual leader who’s going to come back from the dead and achieve a bunch of stuff? Not Biblical. Not Scriptural. Not based in any Jewish scriptures.

At the time when Yeshua ben Yosef (that guy you call “Jesus”) was alive, there were some small Jewish sects that wanted the Moshiach to be a spiritual leader too, but they were small and not supported. Saul of Tarsus took their ideas and ran with them. Essentially, he made it all up.

Also, in Judaism, we rarely talk about the coming of the Moshiach. We are predominantly more intensely concerned with this world and our duties to it and to each other in the here and now. Yes, the Moshiach will come someday, but we’re really not that concerned about when. We know it won’t be anytime soon because the world is such a mess. We have our own work to do, right here and now. That’s our responsibility.

3. That we agree with your view of what “sin” means. We don’t. In Judaism, the word for “sin” (“cheyt”) means “missing the mark.” What mark? The mark, as set down by the Law in Torah and Talmud, that we’re supposed to aim for (think archery). It does not mean you’re a horrible, evil, bad person if you sin. It means you need to do better next time.

You also can’t get away from your sins by praying and asking God for forgiveness in Judaism. You have to actually go to the people you hurt or harmed, ask them for forgiveness, and make amends as best you can. As a Jewish friend of mine said once, “If I go to HaShem (God) and say ‘I hurt Moishe ben Avraham and I want forgiveness for it,’ I’d expect HaShem to say ‘Nu, why are you coming to me? Why haven’t you gone to Moishe to work this out?'”

Your sins are your responsibility, in Judaism. Nobody else can take the punishment for them. That is not a Jewish teaching. (Many of us find the idea of Yeshua/Jesus being sacrificed for the sins of the whole world somewhere between laughable and horrifying. It is categorically NOT a Jewish view of sin.)

By the way, we don’t believe in “original sin,” either, and the Adam and Eve story is pretty minor for us.

4. That being religious is about what you believe and that what you believe needs to be the same as what everyone else believes. It’s not that way for us. It’s about how you behave. When Jews ask each other if they’re being observant, we tend to say things like “Have you given tzedakah this week? Are you observing Shabbat? Did you go to Yom Kippur services? Did you fast? Have you been to a Seder during Pesach (Passover)?”, not “Do you believe that God is X, Y and Z?” In Judaism, a person’s beliefs about God and anything else are their own business, although we’re more than happy to share them, argue about them, and disagree about them.

5. That when we tell you that you’re assuming something that isn’t true about Judaism, we’re actually right and you’re actually assuming, even if you don’t think you are. The number of times that someone non-Jewish, right here on Quora, has insisted that they know more about my religion than I do would fill an egg carton, at least. (No, Jews do not believe in heaven and hell. That’s the most recent one thrown at me. We also don’t have a devil. That’s a Christian thing. The thing Christians label as “the devil” in Jewish texts is a metaphor, not literal.)

6. That Judaism is conducted in a funnel-teaching, memorizing, by-rote manner. Like memorizing Bible verses, for example. By this I mean, Jews do not learn how to be Jewish by being told what we are supposed to believe (see #4). We are told about the history of the Hebrews, and about the moral lessons we learn from the Torah and the Tanakh and the Talmud, and then we argue, discuss, and debate those lessons and what they might mean or did mean or could mean. The idea “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is not just nowhere to be found in Judaism; it’s actually considered quite ridiculous.

Most of this response is going to annoy Christians no matter how respectful I am about it, because in my experience, Christians are very touchy about the idea that the way their religion works isn’t the way other people’s religions work, but I hope that maybe, just maybe, people will become more aware of just how not-Christian and different from Christianity Judaism is.

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Filed under Identities, Jewish Practices, Judaism

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