Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Common Misconceptions Rant

Recently I went to a talk on a topic of esoteric interest of mine. The talk was very interesting and the speaker really knowledgeable about her subject from a practical point of view. However, her willingness to make throw away comments on Judaism revealed how little she knew about the religion was really quite shocking.
[The remainder of this rant is not addressed to any individuals, it's my way of venting at the world at large]

So if you think that you know a thing or two about Judaism, here are seven easy questions:

  1. How many Temples were there?
  2. How long do you wait between eating meat and milk?
  3. How many plagues did the Egyptians suffer at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds?
  4. Why do Jews eat dairy products during the festival that celebrates the giving of the Torah?
  5. Who knows one?
  6. Is the Torah in chronological order?
  7. Where are the laws of ritual slaughter explained? In other words, where is the procedure described?
Did you manage to answer more than 2 without resorting to using a search engine?

Would it surprise you to know that many of these questions have multiple correct answers? For example, some people wait 1 hour between eating meat and milk. Some wait 3 hours and others wait 6 hours. There are also some who wait 5 hours and 1 minute. All these time periods are OK within Jewish law depending on where you are from.

Jews believe in a written and oral law. The Torah (5 books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) make up the written law. The Talmud is the oral law. The Written law is impossible to live without the Oral law. Jewish law goes according to the majority of law makers and the minority opinion has been preserved. Miracles do not impact the decision making process for formulating laws.

Anyway, here are some common misconceptions that I've come across over recent years. If you believe any of these to be true, I would sincerely recommend that you do a bit more research in to Judaism as you really don't know as much as you might think.
  1. Judaism is not a dualistic faith. 
  2. Judaism and Christianity do not have much common. The term “Judeo-Christian” is an oxymoron, it's a way of lumping two things together that are far apart in terms of beliefs and practices.
  3. Jews do not believe that Jesus was a Prophet nor do they believe that he is the son of God. Jews do not believe that Muhammed was a prophet. Jews do believe that there have been non-Jewish prophets and Jews also believe that men and women have been prophets.
  4. Jews do not believe in hell. There is a belief in Gehinnom which is a place where the soul goes to be purified after death. There is no such concept as eternal damnation or original sin.
  5. Jews do not believe in a devil or an opposing force of evil that is independent of God. There is the idea of an accusing angel, but it works for God.
  6. Jews do not worship Yaweh. Perhaps you are referring to the Tetragrammaton or YHWH when this comes up in conversation. It is one of a number of names for the Divine. Each name is a way of relating to how the Divine manifests in reality and we can have a perception of the Divine.
  7. Jew do not worship an angry desert god or a demon masquerading as Divinity. This is classic demonization of another's religious beliefs. You're understanding of God in the Torah is based on a literal reading of parts of the texts and ignores the Oral traditions that go with the Written law.
  8. Jews believe that we should worship the Divine directly without any intermediaries. That means that we do not worship other gods, angels, planets or other intermediaries.
If you want to find out more, look up Maimonides 13 principles of faith, read books by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz or speak to an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

Feel free to continue clinging to these misconceptions and others if that makes you happy. Just please do me a favour and don't tell me that you have a deep grasp of Judaism. [Expletive removed]