ISSUES OF FAITH: Love and justice central themes for Judaism

“IGNORANCE IS THE curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven,” (Shakespeare).

Whenever I am asked to speak about Judaism, I try to keep in mind that many in the audience know very little about Jewish traditions.

Often, what they do know is full of stereotypes and misconceptions. These perceptions come from a lack of understanding of what Jews actually believe.

Helping others grasp the basic principles of Judaism is the reason I always accept offers to speak to students, churches and other groups, and why I have continued to write this column for 32 years.

Since Judaism believes there are many paths to God, I am not interested in converting anyone.

My goal is always to educate and bring knowledge to prevent the spreading of misinformation, which in turn can lead to antisemitism and violence.

Judaism rests on three pillars: God, Israel and Torah.

Each of these pillars is viewed differently by individual Jews, reflecting the truth in a joke which says if you ask three Jews a question, you will get five answers. These issues are no different.

The concept of God varies among Jews, but most believe there is a Divine Presence in everything and everyone, not a being that intervenes in our everyday life. Because Judaism views actions as more important than beliefs, one can be a good Jew and not believe in God.

Israel is seen as the Jewish homeland, but support of its existence does not mean that Jews support every Israeli government, some of which can seem to actually violate Jewish values.

The Torah is technically the first five books of the Jewish Bible, but the term is often used to mean all of Jewish learning.

The Jewish Bible is called the Tanach, an acronym using the Hebrew words for the Torah, Teaching, Nevi’im, Prophets, and Ketubim, Writings.

There are some differences in translation and order, so the Tanach is not exactly the same as the Old Testament, which is what non-Jews call our Bible.

Judaism has no New Testament, which is the story of Jesus and his teachings, because Jews see Jesus as simply a Jewish teacher not the messiah or son of God.

The term messiah comes from the Hebrew word mashiach, which means “anointed one.”

This comes from the kings in ancient Israel being coronated by the anointing of oil. There has never been another meaning to the word messiah for the Jews.

We were waiting for a king to free us from oppression, and when the temple was destroyed, and the Israelites exiled, the rabbis proclaimed that, rather than waiting for a messiah, we must work as partners with God to create a messianic age by repairing the world.

Because of this, Jews are heavily involved in social action.

We take seriously the command to take care of the poor, the hungry, the refugee and the homeless, believing it is our job to do all we can to make that happen.

There is so much more to cover but no more space, so issues such as Jewish views on an afterlife, original sin, interpreting the Bible, scientific discoveries, antisemitism, why our many holidays became home centered and the commonalities we have with other faiths, will be covered in a future column.

It is important to note that, woven throughout all Jewish practices and beliefs, are two underlying principles — love among human beings and justice.

In Leviticus 19:18, we are told to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” considered to be the central commandment of the Torah.

Seeking justice is seen as a Jewish obligation and the words from Deuteronomy 16:18, “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” reflect that.

These two principles are closely intertwined.

If we truly love others as ourselves, we will strive for justice for all.

The Jewish scholar Shalom Speigel taught, “Justice is the soil in which all the other virtues can prosper. It is the pre-condition of all social virtue, indeed of all community.”

May we always show love to others and continue to work towards justice.

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream,” (Amos 5:24).

Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected]

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