Friday, March 13, 2009

Jewish perspectives on life and liberty

From time to time, particularly when I am teaching a class on something-or-other in a church, I am asked "What do Jews believe about this?" My standard answer is (1) I am not qualified to answer, but (2) if I was qualified I would tell you that would depend on which brand of Judaism you are talking about and which Jew you are talking to (just as it would with any other religion).

Yet, let's not dismiss the question lightly. Speaking as a Christian, there are good reasons to ask about Judaism. First, the rest of us might learn something and benefit from a perspective not our own. Second, anything to increase human understanding across religious lines is a good thing in our crowded and sectarian world. 

And, let us not forget that Jesus was Jewish, his followers were Jewish, their piety was Jewish, and we are heirs to a religion with deep roots in Judaism. We read from the same Scriptures, we worship the same God, and our liturgy owes its architecture to Judaism. The artwork on this page is a depiction of the Jewish Shema, the command to "Love God with all your heart" as the highest commandment. We say that every Sunday in Rite I, quoting Jesus, but it is Jesus who is quoting what every Jew would know from Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.

As I have now learned, even the question "What do Jews believe about this?" is not a very good question. Lately I have come across an organization, NewJewishThought, and its website provides a window into the dialogue amongst Jews about Judaism from which the wider-world can benefit. Keith Kahn-Harris, the convenor of this organization, wrote a fascinating article about the question "What do Jews believe." The article is adapted from a lecture on this topic:
Jews rarely use the term ‘faith’ amongst themselves. Judaism is a practice-based religion in which action is foregrounded rather than belief. While of course Judaism has a core of beliefs and faith in God is part of Jewish theology, faiths and belief tend not to be emphasised when Jews talk about Judaism – even amongst orthodox Jews.
To read the rest, click HERE

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