Differences Between Judaism & Christianity
How Judaism Differs
It is commonly believed by folks ignorant of Judaism that our religion differs from that of our Christian neighbors in that they have “the New Testament” and we have only the “Old” testament. This is nonsense in that there is no testament of any kind in Judaism. The word “testament” is derived from two Latin words, i.e. testes, or the male reproductive organ, and mens, meaning hand. The ancient peoples swore oaths on the reproductive organ of their father by placing their hand on it. When Jacob knew he was dying he asked his son Joseph to swear he would return his body to the land where he was born. The Torah tells us that Joseph placed his hand under the thigh of his father. Likewise, when Joseph died he had his son do the same. All ancient people did so because they knew nothing of reproduction and therefore swore by the reproductive organ so as to encourage the Deity to remember them and not let them starve (read The Golden Bough by Frasier).
In later years, the word “testament” has come to mean a will left behind by one deceased. Therefore, because the members of our neighbor religion believe that their deity died on the cross, they believe also that he left a testament consisting of “the New Testament” which ipso facto makes the Torah “old”. To us, the Torah is not old and there is no “old testament”.
Another difference between us and our neighbor religion is that we reject the concept of “original sin”. That concept holds that all children are born in sin (the sexual activities that led to their birth) and that therefore all must be “saved” to escape damnation. Such a concept is utterly foreign to Judaism. While other religions are worried about the next world and “salvation” we concentrate on this world and on good deeds to be done here and now. There is an “olam haboh” in Judaism, i.e. a “world to come”. This, however, is not our concern. We leave that to God. Our job is to make the world a better place in which to live and to be a partner with God in bringing on a messianic age in which all live in peace and harmony with one another.
A third difference between us and other religions is that we believe that every human being has direct access to God without any intermediary, be he called Jesus, Buddha or anything else. We view the Torah, or the Law, as a gift from God which allows every man, and Jews in particular, to lead a good life by following its precepts. We sing every Saturday in our service, “It is a tree of life to them who lay hold of it” (Ayz Chaim he lamachazikim bo).
Another difference between Judaism and other religions is that we do not have a list of beliefs known as a “creed” which must be accepted before someone can be called a Jew.
Our neighbor religion is founded on the “Nicene Creed”, a list of minimum beliefs which all Christians must accept. That list was formulated in 325 at the Council of Nicea, when the first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine, called a world wide meeting (ecumenical) at Nicea, now in Turkey, and asked the bishops to decide what must be believed. It is true that Maimonides made a list of beliefs he said ought to be the basis of Judaism. However, that was his private opinion and was never “officially” adopted. Of course, it could not be adopted because we do not have a hierarchy (holy rule). All Jews are equal and therefore no one can impose a list of beliefs on any of us.
Judaism also differs in that we are related to the Land of Israel. No other religion is related to a land as we are. The Torah speaks incessantly of the Land of Israel and the prophets predicted the return of the Jews from “the far corners of the earth” to the land of our ancestors. Judaism without Israel is inconceivable. It was this belief which made the establishment of the third Jewish Commonwealth possible and which guarantees its perpetuity.
Finally, despite all our enemies, we are The Chosen People. Here we differ decidedly from all other religions, who are of course as pleasing to the Almighty as we are. Nevertheless, no one else received the Ten Commandments, which the whole world now has accepted from our hands. No one else was blessed by the Torah and no one else was so persecuted on that account as we were. Indeed, we differ from all others in that no other religious community saw one third of its adherents slaughtered by the European killers and their Muslim supporters. We are the smallest of religions but the constant targets of efforts to murder us all. In that we too differ from all others. May our enemies fail and instead read the words of Torah so that they too can enter the kingdom of heaven in this world by living in peace with Israel and the Jewish people.