Handbook of Today's Religions


To Christians, Judaism is unique among world religions. It is to historic Judaism, the Judaism of the Old Testament, that Christianity traces its roots. Christianity does not supplant Old Testament Judaism; it is the fruition of Old Testament Judaism.
One cannot hold to the Bible, Old and New Testaments, as God's one divine revelation without also recognizing and honoring the place God has given historic Judaism. As the apostle Paul recited, these are some of the blessings God has given to the Jewish people:

... to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen (Romans 9:4, 5, NASB).

Judaism has undergone many changes throughout its long history. At times it has been very close to the true God, serving Him in spirit and in deed. At other times it has ranged far from the will of God, forsaking its promises to Him, while He has remained faithful to Israel.

The true God, the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the God of Christianity, is the God of historic Judaism, the same Master, the people of Israel have long occupied a special place in God's divine plan, and Christians should not overlook this rich spiritual heritage.

Although Judaism as a whole has rejected God's greatest revelation and gift in the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord, Christians cannot deny Judaism’s vital contributions to our faith. We should earnestly pray that the physical descendants of Abraham will recognize that their spiritual heritage is also in Abraham and will return to it (see Romans 11:17-24).

History of Judaism

Judaism had its origin when a man named Abram received a divine call from the one true God to leave his idolatrous people in "Ur of the Chaldees" and go to the land of Canaan. This call is recorded in Genesis 12:1-3 (NASB).

Now the Lord said to Abram,
Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father's house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The promise made to Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, included the fact that his descendants would inherit a land which would belong forever to them. This covenant was repeated to Abraham's son Isaac and likewise to Isaac's son Jacob. The family of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, migrated to Egypt to escape a severe famine. They were soon enslaved and forced to build mighty cities for the pharaoh. During the years of bondage they continually cried out for a deliverer.


God eventually raised up a man from among His people to deliver them out of the bondage of Egypt; his name was Moses. Moses led the children of Israel in the exodus from Egypt through the miraculous power of God, which included parting the Red Sea to allow them to escape from the Egyptians. Because of unbelief the people did not immediately enter into the land but wandered in the desert for 40 years. It was during this time of wandering that God gave the Law, including the Ten Commandments, to Moses.

The Promised Land

Under the leadership of Moses' successor, Joshua, the Jews entered into the promised land but had to conquer the inhabitants before settling down. After Joshua, the nation of Israel was governed by judges for 350 years. During this time they were engaged in numerous battles with the neighboring nations, falling in and out of subjugation to those nations.

After the time of the judges, the Israelites pleaded with God (through the prophet Samuel) for a king to rule them. Although it was not God's desire, He gave them their first king, Saul. Saul did not follow the Lord but almost ruined the nation of Israel. When he died, he had been abandoned by the people and by God.
David, called a man after God's own heart, and divinely appointed to lead the nation, was the second king. He conquered Jerusalem and established it as Israel's capital. David's son Solomon, upon becoming king, built a magnificent temple to the Lord.

During the reign of Solomon, Israel prospered greatly, becoming a leader of nations. Upon the death of Solomon, the nation was divided into two kingdoms, the southern, known as Judea with Jerusalem as its capital, and the northern kingdom of Israel, of which Samaria became the capital.

The Captivity

Both the northern and southern kingdoms were constantly threatened by other nations and each eventually was overcome. The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 721 B.C. and the Babylonians defeated the southern kingdom in 606 B.C. When the southern kingdom was captured, Solomon’s temple was destroyed.

During the years the southern kingdom was in exile (606 B.C. to 536 B.C.), changes took place with regard to Jewish worship. Since the temple could not be used as a central place of worship, houses of prayer, called synagogues, were established. The teacher of the synagogue, known as the rabbi, grew in importance to the Jewish people and simultaneously the priests lost importance. By the time the Jews returned to their land, the synagogue had become firmly established as the place of worship (but not sacrifice).

The Restoration

During the period of the restoration, the Jews became exposed to Greek culture (Hellenism) when Alexander the Great conquered the world (336-323 B.C.). Upon Alexander's death, the land fell under the rule of the Ptolemies of Egypt. The Hellenic influence was so strong during this time that many Jews no longer understood biblical Hebrew. Aramaic and Greek became the dominant languages in Palestine. During this period the Old Testament was translated into Greek (this text is commonly called the Septuagint, abbreviated as LXX), for the benefit of those Jews who did not read Hebrew.

The Revolt

The people soon became part of the Syrian Kingdom, and when one of the kings, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, tried to suppress the Jewish religion, the people revolted. In 167 B.C. a rebellion led by Judas Maccabaeus resulted in the independence of the Jewish nation, celebrated to this day by the festival of Hanukkah.

The Roman Rule

The independence was short-lived because the Roman general Pompey made Israel a vassal state of Rome in 63 B.C., placing puppet leaders over the people, Rome dominated the people and the land, causing unrest and rebellion among the people. The Roman general Titus destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., scattering the inhabitants. Several rebellions arose after that in an effort to reconquer the land, the last being the Bar Kokhba Rebellion (A.D. 132-135)

Later History

When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire (325 A.D.), the Jews were seen as an accursed race and the center of Jewish life soon moved to Babylonia, a non-Christian country. The Jews did not regain an independent homeland in Israel until 1948 after a long history of persecution which reached its height in the Holocaust of World War II.

The Land

The land of Israel has a very special place in the history of the Jewish people. Leo Trepp comments:

From the very beginning of history, Jewish destiny has remained inextricably linked to that of the land of Israel. To the Jew, his history starts as Abraham is bidden to migrate to the promised land, for only there can he fulfill himself as the servant and herald of God. The land of Israel always remained the promised land. Only there could Torah be translated freely into the life of an independent nation (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, Belmont, CA: Dickenson Publishing Company, 1966, pp. 4, 5).

Statement of Faith

One of the great figures in Jewish history was Moses Maimonides, a Spanish Jew who lived in the 12th century A.D. Maimonides, a systematic thinker, tried to condense basic Jewish beliefs into the form of a creed. Although criticized afterward by some, his creed is still followed by the traditional forms of Judaism. The creed is expressed in these 13 basic beliefs:

1. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the Creator and Guide of everything that has been created; and He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.

2. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is One, and that there is no unity in any manner like unto His, and that He alone is our God, who was, and is, and will be.

3. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is not a body, and that He is free from all the properties of matter, and that He has not any form whatever.

4. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the first and the last.

5. I believe with perfect faith that to the Creator, blessed be His Name, and to Him alone, it is right to pray, and that it is not right to pray to any being besides Him.

6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.

7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, peace be unto him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both of those who preceded and of those who followed him.

8. I believe with perfect faith that the whole Torah, now in our possession, is the same that was given to Moses, our teacher, peace be unto him.

9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be any other Law from the Creator, blessed be His Name.

10. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, knows every deed of the children of men, and all their thoughts, as it is said. “It is He that fashioned the hearts of them all, that gives heed to all their works.”

11. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, rewards those that keep His commandments and punishes those that transgress them.

12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and, though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming.

13. I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, blessed be His Name, and exalted be His Fame for ever and ever.

For Thy salvation I hope, O Lord.

Jewish Holy Days

The cycle of Jewish holy days is called the sacred round. Based on the ancient Jewish calendar, these holy days serve to remind Jews regularly of significant historical events in which God displayed his covenant with them and to give them regular opportunity to display their commitment to God.

The Sabbath

This is a holy day of rest, in commemoration of God's completed work of creation and in His later liberation of the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt. It is a day of joy and thanksgiving to God for His many blessings.


Passover (Pessah), the festival of spring, is celebrated one month after Purim. It constitutes the beginning of the time of harvest; therefore, it is a time of celebration. However, there is a deeper reason for the people to observe this holiday, as the Scriptures plainly reveal. This feast celebrates the deliverance of the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt.

The story of the Passover is given in Exodus 12: God sent the final plague on the Egyptians; the death of the firstborn. However, those who put blood on their doorposts were passed over by the angel of death. This plague was instrumental in convincing the pharaoh to allow the children of Israel to leave. Consequently, it is to be celebrated as a permanent memorial by the Jewish people. Deuteronomy 16:1-4 (NASB) tells how it is to be observed:

Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night.

And you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to establish His name.

You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), in order that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.

For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning.


Shabuot, the feast of weeks, comes seven weeks after the Passover. Shabuot commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments. During ancient times the farmer would bring his first-fruits to the temple on Shabuot and offer them to God. The day is also celebrated by the reading of the Ten Commandments and the recitation of the book of Ruth.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah literally means "head of the year. " It is the Jewish New Year, celebrated on the first two days of the month of Tishai (September--October). It is a solemn day of reflection on both the deeds of the past year and the hopes of the upcoming one.

The ram's horn (shofar) is sounded in daily worship for an entire month before Rosh Hashanah, calling the people to repentance. Moses Maimonides, the great Jewish theologian and philosopher, explained the message of the day:

Wake up, ye sleepers, from your sleep; and ye that are in a daze, arouse yourselves from your stupor. Reflect on your actions and return in repentance. Remember your Creator. Be not as those who forget truth in their chase after shadows, wasting their year wholly in vanities which neither help nor bring deliverance. Look into your soul, and mend your ways and deeds. Let everyone forsake his evil ways and worthless thoughts (Teshubah 3, 4).

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, the day of atonement. It is celebrated ten days after Rosh Hashanah and is devoted to confession of sins and reconciliation with God. Problems with enemies must be reconciled before one can be right with God, and forgiving and forgetting is the order of the day. The day is spent without touching food or drink, the mind being devoted to God on this holiest of days. During this day of confession of sin and fasting, the following passage from Isaiah is read:

Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed, and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast which I chose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:5-7, NASB)

Yom Kippur has a long Jewish and biblical tradition and is the most important Jewish holy day. Usually even liberal or non-practicing Jews consider the day holy and devote themselves to contrite contemplation and prayer on this day.

Milton Steinberg effectively summarizes the Jewish concept of Yom Kippur:

... Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, a solemn white fast, during which from dusk to dusk the faithful partake of neither food nor drink in token of penitence, but through prayer and confession scrutinize their lives, abjure their evil-doing, and seek regeneration, a returning to God and goodness (Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1947,1975, pp. 130, 131).


Sukkoth is the feast of tabernacles, or booths. This festival, which commemorates the ingathering of the harvest, is one of the three pilgrim feasts in ancient times where yearly trips were made to the Temple of Jerusalem. It is known as the feast of booths because the people lived in tabernacles, or temporary shelters, during its duration (Exodus 34:18-26). In modern times the people, for the most part, only take their meals in these tabernacles rather than living in them for the duration of the feast.


Hanukkah, observed for eight days in midwinter, is the only major feast that does not have its source in the Bible. The feast is based upon the story of the Maccabees, recorded in the Apocrypha. When Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C. introduced the worship of the Greek gods as the state religion, a small group of Jews led by Judas Maccabee staged a revolt.

Antiochus, who, among other things desecrated the temple by slaughtering a pig in the Holy of Holies, was finally overthrown and freedom of religion returned to the land. Hanukkah is celebrated in observance of the heroic acts of the Maccabees.

The eight-branched candlestick, the Menorah, is integral to Hanukkah worship and commemorates a miracle that took place when the temple was cleansed from the idolatrous acts of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The tradition states that only enough holy oil was found in the temple to light the lamp for one night. However, because of the providence of God and as a sign that He blessed the Jewish cleansing and rededication of the temple, God miraculously kept the lamp burning for eight days and nights.

Since Hanukkah is celebrated near the Christian Christmas holiday, it has borrowed some ideas from Christmas, including the giving of gifts (traditionally one to each child each of the eight nights), and family gatherings. Especially among non-practicing and reform (liberal) Jews, Hanukkah is a very important holiday.

The Three Branches of Judaism

Very simply stated, modern-day Judaism can be divided into three groups: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.


Orthodox Judaism designates the traditionalists who are united in their upholding of the Law. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion says:

Though Orthodoxy is widely diversified among its many religious groupings and nuances of belief and practice, all Orthodox Jews are united in their belief in the historical event of revelation at Sinai, as described in the Torah; in their acceptance of the Divine Law, in its Written and Oral forms, as immutable and binding for all times; in their acknowledgment of the authority of duly qualified rabbis-who themselves recognize the validity of the Talmud and all other traditional sources of the Halakhah- to interpret and administer Jewish Law (Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1966, p. 293).

Orthodox Judaism observes most of the traditional dietary and ceremonial laws of Judaism. It adheres to the inspiration of the Old Testament [although greater authority is given the Torah (Law), the first five books, than to the rest].


Conservative Judaism is sort of a happy medium between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Founded in the 19th century, the Conservative movement quickly gained strength in both Germany and the United States. In 1918, six months after the Balfour Declaration, the Conservative movement announced:

We hold that Jewish people are and of right ought to be at home in all lands. Israel, like every other religious communion, has the right to live and assert its message in any part of the world. We are opposed to the idea that Palestine should be considered the home-land of the Jews. Jews in America are part of the American nation.

The ideal of the Jew is not the establishment of a Jewish state -not the reassertion of Jewish nationality which has long been outgrown. We believe that our survival as a people is dependent upon the assertion and the maintenance of our historic religious role and not upon the acceptance of Palestine as a home-land of the Jewish people. The mission of the Jew is to witness to God all over the world.


Reform Judaism is the liberal wing of Judaism. Leo Trepp traces its development:

Abraham Geiger (1810-1874) stands out as the towering genius of Reform Judaism, and is essentially its founder. To him the scientific man cannot accept revelation, for science offers no proof of any revelation. Mendelssohn had seen Judaism as revealed law; Geiger rejected this idea, as he equally rejected any revealed doctrines. He refuted the hope for a return to the Land, for the land of citizenship is the land of the Jew. This was an attack on the validity of Torah, of Mitzvot, and of the Land. What remained, then, was the deep-seated sense of kinship with the Jewish people (a feeling of which Geiger himself may have been unaware, but which kept him from suggesting the dissolution of Judaism in favor of a general religion of ethical conduct).

Thus, Torah to him becomes a source of ethics, performance of Mitzvot becomes a matter of individual decision, but not binding, the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh have no power of commitment, and the messianic hope has been fulfilled in Jewish Emancipation. However, the genius of the Jewish people as teachers of ethics was strongly emphasized. The Hebrew language of prayer was to be retained in part, at least, for its emotional appeal. Education, sermon, and worship now were to form Torah in this new interpretation, and Mitzvot were to be understood as the missionary ideal of spreading ethics throughout the world. For these the Jew must live. The effect of Geiger's ReformJudaism was to be strongly felt, especially in America (Leo Trepp, op. cit.,pp. 50, 51).

Reform Judaism is so culture and race-oriented that it easily can neglect the spiritual and religious side of Jewish life. Rather than assuming that the religious life produces and molds the culture, Reform Judaism assumes that the cultural and racial heritage of the Jews produced and molded the religious life. While belief and doctrine may be changeable or even dispensable, the cultural history of the race is vital to any continuation of Jewishness. There is little consensus on doctrinal or religious belief in Reform Judaism.

Judaism and the Messiah

While Christianity recognizes that the promise of a personal, spiritual savior is the core of biblical revelation, Judaism has long vacillated in its concept of messiahship. That Jesus Christ, the true Messiah predicted in God's Word, would be rejected by the Jews of the first century shows that even at that time there was divergence of opinion on the meaning and authority of messianic passages in Scripture.

In the course of Jewish history the meaning of the Messiah had undergone changes. Originally it was believed that God would send His special messenger, delivering Israel from her oppressors and instituting peace and freedom. However, today, any idea of a personal messiah has been all but abandoned by the majority of Jews. It has been substituted with the hope of a messianic age characterized by truth and justice.

Within the history of Judaism, from the time of Jesus of Nazareth until Moses Hayyim Luzatto (died A.D. 1747), there have been at least 34 different prominent Jews who have claimed to be the Messiah (James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 8, New York and London: Scribner's and T & T Clark, 1919, pp. 581-588).

Carrying on one Jewish tradition, most of these self-proclaimed messiahs promised salvation from political, economic and cultural oppression, rather than spiritual salvation. Only Jesus of Nazareth perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament passages concerning the Messiah and only He validated His claims by His victory over death, displayed in His glorious resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:22-36).


The orthodox Jewish concept of God is based upon the Old Testament. The Hebrew scholar Samuel Sandmel summarizes the biblical teaching:

The heritage from the Bible included a number of significant components about the Deity God was not a physical being: He was intangible and invisible. He was the Creator and Ruler, indeed, the judge of the World. He and He alone was truly God; the deities worshipped by peoples other than Israel were not God. Idols were powerless and futile; they were unworthy of worship; and in- deed, to worship what was not God was a gross and sinful disrespect of Him. Scripture contains an abundance of divine terms: Elohim, El, El Elyon, Shaddai. Insofar as God might be thought of as having a name, that name was Yahve. But so holy and awesome was He that His name Yahve itself had force and power, and it was unbecoming or even sinful for men to pronounce it, as was expressed in the words "You shall not take the name of Yahve your God in vain" (Exod. 20:7, Deut. 5:11). Only the High Priest might pronounce it, and only on one day in the year, that on the Day of Atonement.

God was, as it were, above and over the world. His dwelling was in heaven. At high moments, such as at Sinai, He had descended to reveal Himself. Accordingly, He was both in the world and also over and above it. He had very early revealed Himself to the patriarchs; He had later revealed Himself to the prophets. To some of these prophets, such as Zechariah, He had disclosed His divine will and intention by sending an angel to bring His desires from the distance to earth. Apart from sending an angel, He could, and did, pour His "holy" spirit onto selected men. In heaven there were a host of beings, subordinate to Him, who constituted His heavenly council. Among these was Satan who could with divine consent test a man such as job; a lying spirit who could on occasion delude a presumptuous king or prophet (Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings, London: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp. 168, 169).

The sacred scriptures of Judaism consist of documents arranged in three groups known as the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. These books were originally written in Hebrew, except for parts of Daniel and Ezra and a verse in Jeremiah which were composed in Aramaic. These books are synonymous with the 39 books of Christianity's Old Testament. Their composition was over a period of some one thousand years, from 1400-400 B.C.

The Jews do not hold each part of their writings in equal importance. The Law, the Torah, is the most authoritative, followed by the Prophets, which have lesser authority, and lastly the Writings.

Salvation in Judaism

Judaism, while admitting the existence of sin, its abhorrence by God, and the necessity for atonement, has not developed a system of salvation teaching as found in Christianity. Atonement is accomplished by sacrifices, penitence, good deeds and a little of God's grace. No concept of substitutionary atonement (as in Christianity in the Person of Jesus Christ) exists.

Scholar Michael Wyschogrod explains the difference:

A Jew who believes that man is justified by works of the law would hold the belief that man can demand only strict justice from God, nothing more. Such a man would say to God: "Give me what I deserve, neither more nor less; I do not need your mercy, only your strict justice."

If there are Jews who approach God in this spirit, I have never met nor heard of them. In the morning liturgy that Jews recite daily, we find the following:
"Master of all worlds: It is not on account of our own righteousness that we offer our supplications before thee, but on account of thy great compassion. What are we? What is our life? What is our goodness? What is our virtue? What is our help? What our strength? What our might?"

The believing Jew is fully aware that if he were to be judged strictly according to his deeds by the standards of justice and without mercy he would be doomed. He realizes that without the mercy of God there is no hope for him and that he is therefore justified -if by "justified" we mean that he avoids the direst of divine punishments -not by the merit of his works as commanded in the Torah, but by the gratuitous mercy of God who saves man in spite of the fact that man does not deserve it (Tanenbaum, Wilson, and Rudin, eds., Evangelicals and Jews in Conversation on Scripture, Theology, and History, Grand Rapids, ME Baker Book House, 1978, pp. 47, 48).

So then, Jews do believe in the mercy of God but they do not believe in any substitutionary atonement that once and for all time cleanses them from all sin. Contrast this with the great passage of assurance in Hebrews 7:22-28 (NASB):

So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the work of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

Original Sin

Judaism holds no concept of original sin. According to Christian belief, all human beings are born into the world with a sinful nature because of the transgression of Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Judaism's emphasis is not on original sin but original virtue and righteousness. Although Judaism acknowledges that man does commit acts of sin, there is not a sense of man being totally depraved or unworthy as is found in Christian theology. Atonement for sin is achieved by works of righteousness, which include repentance, prayer and the performing of good deeds. There is no need for a savior, as is emphasized in Christianity.

J.H. Hertz writes:

Note that the initiative in atonement is with the sinner (Ezekiel 18:31). He cleanses himself on the Day of Atonement by fearless self-examination, open confession, and the resolve not to repeat the transgressions of the past year. When our Heavenly Father sees the abasement of the penitent sinner, He sprinkles, as it were, the clean waters of pardon and forgiveness upon him. And again: On the Day of Atonement the Israelites resemble the angels, without human wants, without sins, linked together in love and peace. It is the only day of the year on which the accuser Satan is silenced before the throne of Glory, and even becomes the defender of Israel .... The closing prayer (on the Day of Atonement) begins: "Thou givest a hand to transgressors, and Thy right hand is stretched out to receive the penitent. Thou hast taught us to make confession unto Thee of all our sins, in order that we may cease from the violence of our hands and may return unto Thee who delightest in the repentance of the wicked." These words contain what has been called "the Jewish doctrine of salvation" (J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and the Haftorahs, London: Socino Press, 1938, p. 523 f).

A Common Heritage

Although there are marked differences in many areas of belief and practice between Judaism and Christianity, there is a common heritage that both religions share. The Jewish writer, Pinchas Lapide, comments:

We Jews and Christians are joined in brotherhood at the deepest level, so deep in fact that we have overlooked it and missed the forest of brotherhood for the trees of theology We have an intellectual and spiritual kinship which goes deeper than dogmatics, hermeneutics, and exegesis. We are brothers in a manifold "elective affinity"

-in the belief in one God our Father,
-in the hope of His salvation,
-in ignorance of His ways,
-in humility before His omnipotence,
-in the knowledge that we belong to Him, not He to us,
-in love and reverence for God,
-in doubt about our wavering fidelity,
-in the paradox that we are dust and yet the image of God,
-in the consciousness that God wants us as partners in the sanctification of the world,
-in the condemnation of arrogant religious chauvinism,
-in the conviction that love of God is crippled without love of neighbor, - in the knowledge that all speech about God must remain in a stammering on our way to Him (Pinchas Lapide Israelis, Jews and Jesus, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday and Company, 1979, p. 2).

The book of Galatians gives us God's view of Jews and Gentiles today. Chapter 3 shows forcefully that God's blessings on the Jews were a means of showing His grace, which was fully expressed in the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for the sins of all, Jewish or Gentile. The gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham, the Father of the Jews (5:8) and was given to the Gentiles in Jesus Christ (5:14).

The heritage of the Old Testament, preserved for all mankind by the Jews, points all of us, Jewish or Gentile, to Jesus Christ (5:22-24). Each man, whether of Jewish or Gentile heritage, must come to God through Jesus Christ. There is no other way to true peace with God. As Galatians 3: 26-29 concludes, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."

Judaistic Terms

Diaspora-The dispersion of the Jews arter the Babylonian Captivity. Gemarah -The commentary based upon the Mishnah.
Hannukah -The feast of dedication celebrating the Maccabean victory in 167 B.C.
Midrash -A commentary of the Hebrew scriptures, especially the Torah.
Mishnah -Oral law in general to be distinguished from scripture.
Passover-An annual feast commemorating the deliverance of the firstborn in Egypt when the angel of death took all those who did not have blood on the doorpost.
Pentateuch-The first five books of the Old Testament.
Pentecost -The feast of weeks observed fifty days after the Passover. Also called Shabuoth.
Purim -The feast commemorating Esther's intervention on behalf of the Jews when they were in Persia.
Rosh Hashanah -The Jewish New Year.
Seder-The festival held in Jewish homes on the first night of the Passover commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.
Sukkoth -The feast of tabernacles celebrating the harvest.
Torah -Refers to the first five books of the Old Testament (The Law). It also can refer to the entire corpus of the Jewish law.
Shofar-The ram's horn that is blown during services on Rosh Hashanah.
Talmud-The Jewish library of oral law and tradition consisting of Mishnah and Gemara.

Judaism Bibliography

Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1966.
Hastings, James, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 8, New York and London: Scribner's and T. & T Clark, 1919.
Hertz, J. H., The Pentateuch and the Haftorahs, London: Socino Press, 1938.
Lapide, Pinchas, Israelis, Jews and Jesus, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday and Company, 1979.
Sandmel, Samuel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings, London: Oxford University Press, 1978.
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