Judaism and Christianity

Question:  I have a question about Jesus and God.  I don’t believe that Jesus was God’s son, what do Christians believe that’s different from Jews?  And what do Jews believe, who do they think Jesus was if they don’t believe he was God’s son?  Do we believe in heaven and hell like Christians do? Please answer I’ve been wondering these things since I was 5 and now I am 10 and  no one has been able to answer them.

Answer: Jews do not believe that Jesus was the son of God.  Jews believe that Jesus was just a regular Jew, probably a rabbi.  But Jesus taught some things that disagreed with the Torah, and because of this, Jews do not think that Jesus is important to Judaism.

Jesus taught that he could forgive all sins; Jews believe that only God can forgive sins, and even then only after you have asked forgiveness from the person you have sinned against.

Jesus taught that we should turn the other cheek against evil – in other words, we should not respond.  The Torah teaches us to fight against evil.

Jesus taught that the only way to pray to God was to pray through Jesus.  Jews believe that anyone can pray to God directly.

Jews, however, like Christians, do believe in heaven and hell – we call it olam haba, “the world to come;”  or sometimes Gan Eiden, the garden of Eden.  Good people will go to heaven, but wicked will go to hell – but Jews believe that no one stays in hell longer than a year.  Hell is only a waiting place for those who are not ready to go to heaven yet – but they will eventually get to heaven, after waiting the right amount of time.

There is, however, no universal Jewish belief in exactly what heaven and hell are like.  It is not as concerned as Christianity in where we will go after we die, because Judaism teaches us that the most important thing is to do mitzvot (plural of mitzvah), which we can only do when we are alive.

Question:  I am a “new” Christian and have been reading the Bible and struggling to understand how Jews view Jesus.  Who do you believe he was?  Do you believe he was resurrected?  I read an earlier question from someone about Christianity and the Rabbi’s response was interesting:  that Jesus was a Jew and that Christians have turned Jesus’ faith (Judaism) into a faith about the teacher, and, therefore, have sourced their religion farther from the message Jesus taught.  I can see this in some ways.  I don’t understand how anyone could negate Jesus as the Messiah, unless they believed he was a heretic or a liar, or that none of his miracles/work ever happened.  Could you explain this to me?

Answer: The response you read from the other rabbi is essentially correct.  Jews believe that Jesus was a Jew, but basically, the rest of the stories about Jesus are irrelevant.

With all due respect to you and your faith, I would prefer not to get into an extended discussion of why I do not believe that Jesus was son of God or Messiah.  Let me make just three points:

1)  The prophecies from the Hebrew Bible that speak of a messianic era speak of a time when the world will be without war, hatred, bloodshed, universal belief in God — these are basic criteria for a messianic era.  This didn’t happen during the lifetime of Jesus; therefore, he could not be the messiah.

2)  Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible is there any indication that the messiah will be anything more than human.

3)  Anyplace in a Christian translation of the Hebrew Bible that you read a prophetic reference to the birth of Jesus is a mistranslation.  See the work of Rabbi Tovia Singer, “Outreach Judaism,” for more details.

Question: What is the difference between Judaism and Catholicism? Does Jewish people believe in Christ?  I am purely interested out of personal curiosity.  I’ve always found Jewish people very industrious, happy and polite people. Where does all of the anti-semitism stem from?

Answer: I cannot cover all of the differences between Judaism and Christianity in one brief email note, so I will focus only on a couple of issues related to Jesus.  Jews do not believe that Jesus was son of God, Divine, or the messiah.  Jews believe that the messiah has not yet come.  Jews do not believe that belief in the sacrifice of Jesus is necessary for atonement.

The source of anti-Semitism is a deep seated fear of people who are different.  The early Church embraced this fear; the Nazi movement used this fear; and it is rearing its ugly head today throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Question:  I read some of your answers to differences on Jewish and Christian beliefs, and I thought you might like to know the Bible teaches Christians to turn the other cheek when you are injured by another believer.  However, they are also instructed to “fight the good fight.”

Answer: Thank you for your note.  However, I really don’t understand your point.  In my reading of Christian theology, forgiveness and turning the other cheek come up again and again as key concepts.  “Fight the good fight,” whatever that meant to Timothy, rarely appears.  In addition, I the distinction between “believers” and “unbelievers” is not clear to me — generally, believers means Christians, which would mean that Christians are only commanded to fight evil when committed by non-Christians, but not by Christians.

Question:  When it comes to other believers in God, Jesus instructs us to turn the other cheek, and to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  But, when it comes to dealing with the principalities and powers that govern this world, that is when we must stand up and fight.  I just didn’t think it was fair to depict Christians as soft when it comes to the business of the One TRUE God.  See, I believe we all seek to serve the same God, and I don’t think He would be very happy to hear that we are putting each other down.  If I’m wrong, then don’t you think that it would be easier to win me with love?  My point is you never know who is watching you or reading your comments, they were neither accurate nor loving, so please be careful.  There are immortal souls at stake here.  I will pray that the Lord softens your heart towards others, and fills the void within.  May you continue to have dreams and visions of purpose.

Answer: I reread the original message about which you wrote me, and I find nothing inaccurate.  That response was explaining some of the fundamental differences between mainstream rabbinic Judaism and Jesus’ approach to religion, which became Christianity.  In fact, your most recent message to me strengthens my point.  “When it comes to other believers in God, Jesus instructs us to turn the other cheek . . . “ is not at all a Jewish approach.

I never portrayed Christians as soft in belief in God.  However, Jesus did say “no one comes to the Father but through me,” an approach antithetical to Judaism.

You don’t know me, and you don’t know how I feel about Christianity.  You have made some great assumptions based on this one response, in which I was asked to contrast the two religions.

I neither love nor hate you, because I don’t know you well enough.  Yet, I have no void within me.  My heart is very soft towards others, as I answer questions and lead my life as, with great humility, I believe God instructs me.  I am still puzzled about your agenda, but I wish only goodness and peace for you.  Again, thank you for sharing your questions with me.

Question:  My apologies, if I have offended you sir. This was never my intention.  I do believe you have a pure and humble heart toward God.  I also believe that there are as many comparisons as there are contrasts.  After all, Christianity has it’s roots in Judaism.  (I hope you’re not insulted).  I hope that my ignorance has not bothered you too much.  You are kind enough to answer and I do appreciate it.

Answer: It was not your intention to offend me?  By telling me that I have a void in my heart, and you will pray for me (in your last message – “I will pray that the Lord softens your heart towards others, and fills the void within.”)?  And now you say that I have a pure and humble heart!  I don’t understand you, and I don’t accept conditional apologies (IF I have . . . THEN I am sorry).  If you think you have offended me and you want to apologize, just say the words, and if I believe you are sincere, I will accept your apology.  Otherwise, I have no wish to continue this particular dialogue.

Of course there are comparisons between Judaism and Christianity – but I was not asked about how they are the same, I was responding to a question about the differences.  And why on earth would I be insulted by the historical fact that Christianity has roots in Judaism?

If you have other questions about Torah or Talmud, I would be happy to answer them, or if you prefer, you may send them to AskaRabbi if you would rather discuss them with someone else.

Question:  I have heard of the Christian Jewish Faith.  Is this an actual religion or have I heard wrong?  I have found the Jewish people to be of strong faith and family ties and wish to learn more but am not ready to forgo my belief in Christ.

Answer: It is not possible to be a Jew and believe in the divinity or the messiahship of Jesus.  There are groups who claim that it is possible – but they are Christian groups, funded and sponsored by evangelical Christian organizations, whose goal is to convert Jews to Christianity.

Question:  There has been some controversy concerning what some term “Messianic Jews”. Do Jews who believe that a Jew, namely Jesus, is Messiah sacrifice their identity as Jews? How can some brand these believers as being anti-semitic? I read a response in your question bank concerning the Messiah and it was stated that it was an individuals right to believe or not believe in a literal Messiah. Is this true unless the Messiahs name happens to be Jesus (Yeshua)? I fear that years of terrible christian persecution of the Jewish people has created almost insurmountable bitterness. Thank you and Shalom.

Answer: Belief in Jesus as son of God and Messiah is totally incompatible with a Jewish identity.  When a Jew adopts such Christian beliefs, he or she loses most of the privileges of a Jew – including receiving synagogue honors, burial in a Jewish cemetery, and (in many synagogues,) synagogue membership.

Any person, Messianic Jew or Evangelical Christian, who tries to convert Jews on the assumption that Jews are damned to Hell and need saving by the grace of God through Jesus, is showing a complete lack of respect for Judaism as a living, vibrant religion.  As such, I believe that no matter how much they may profess to “love Jews,” their deeds are showing a profound hatred of Jews and Judaism.

No matter what an individual Jew might believe about the Messiah, the fact is that according to Jewish Scripture, Jesus could not have been the Messiah.  Calling Jesus by the Hebrew name of Yeshua does not change the fact that the Messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible have not yet been fulfilled – therefore, the Messiah or the Messianic era has not yet arrived.

You are correct that centuries of Christian persecution and proselytization have created widespread animosity among certain elements of the Jewish community.  However, more and more, Jews and Christians (and Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.) are engaging in mutually respectful dialogue and interfaith worship services on special occasions, such as Thanksgiving.  This, as much as anything, may be a sign that a world in which the messianic prophecies of peace is drawing nearer.

Question:  Have been trying to do some investigation on a cult that is sweeping the net.   They say that Yahoshua is the creator and Elohiym is a pagan god and Jehova is not real and some other weird stuff.  They keep on telling everyone that they get their translation form the Archaic Hebrew. To me Hebrew is Hebrew pretty much cut and dry Can you help me on the translation of this stuff.  Yahoshua sounds to me like Joshua in Hebrew.  Joshua means God’s power to save right?  If you want a good laugh listen to this guy try to speak hebrew:  http://www.yaohushua.org.il/

This URL you gave to me is not a new cult sweeping the net.  It is a form of Evangelical Christianity, packaged to appeal to Jews.  Messianic Hebrew organizations such as “Jews for Jesus” use the same techniques to try to convince Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah and become Christian.  They give Jesus a Hebrew name, talk about becoming a “completed” or “fulfilled” Jew, and point to mistranslations of Hebrew Scripture to try to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.  I don’t waste my time trying to figure out most of the weirdness of their Hebrew, because they are quite simply wrong.  They are ignorant, but can sound convincing if you are not versed in Hebrew.  If you are interested in a good Jewish response, contact Rabbi Tovia Singer, tovia@j51.com. He has published some excellent tapes and source books which convincingly refute all of misleading information put out by Messianic Hebrew organizations.

Question:  In your statement in “Questions and Answers about God and Jesus,” you said that “Jesus taught that the only way to pray to God was to pray to Jesus himself.”  I was wondering on what information (I guess what New Testament verse) you based that.  I know that many Catholics are taught to pray to “Saints” to make their case before God, but I have been involved in several Protestant Churches and am now a Latter-day Saint and your statement is entirely new to me.  We do pray to God, addressing him as God, Heavenly Father or something similar and then close our prayer with words to the effect of “asking in the name of Jesus Christ,” is that what you are talking about?  Except for the Catholics which I mentioned, any Christian I know would be shocked to even think of praying to anyone else except God!  I thought this was something we agreed on!

Answer: I based my response on the statement of Jesus contained in John 14:6 and Matthew 11:27, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.”  In the context of that chapter, it is clear that the only way to approach God is through Jesus.

My answer, however, was imprecise.  I should have written “Jesus taught that the only way to pray to God was to pray through (rather than ‘to’) Jesus.”  Thank you for pointing this out to me – I will change the wording of my response in the AskaRabbi folder.

Question: In one of your answers I read, “Jesus taught that the only way to pray to God was to pray through Jesus. Jews believe that anyone can pray to God directly.”  For my own clarification… where did you find this? The only place I can find that address how Jesus taught other’s to pray was “To” God the Father.  Could you please either prove your statement or retract it.

Answer: I am basing the statement below on John 14:6 and Matthew 11:27, “No one knows the Father except the Son”  This is widely understood by fundamentalist Protestants to mean that one is obligated to pray in the name of Jesus — see the prayers at President Bush’s inauguration for an example of this.

I do realize that not all Christians accept this understanding of John 14:6 and Matthew 11:27, but no matter how one might understand this verse, it is inconsistent with a Jewish understanding of what it means to know God.

Question: Rabbi JB Krishef appears somewhat confused when says of God and Jesus that:  ‘Jesus taught that the only way to pray to God was to pray through Jesus. Jews believe that anyone can pray to God directly’.  How does he explain the ‘sermon on the mount’ in which Jesus clearly said:

‘When you pay, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.

When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. (Jesus then recites the Lord’s prayer) If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you your father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done’.

Answer: I based my response on the statement of Jesus contained in John 14:6 and Matthew 11:27, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.”  In the context of that chapter, it is clear that the only way to approach God is through Jesus.

Question:  Thanks for your reply, but you have not answered my question since I referred specifically to the more important ‘sermon on the mount’ (Matthew 5 – 8) which seems is much clearer if not lucid on this matter. John 14:6 is simply not what I referred to. Can you please answer my original question failing which I am considering becoming a Quaker.

Answer: First of all, I don’t know that Matthew is necessarily more important than John as Scripture of the words of Jesus.  If you say it is and you are an expert, then I would believe you.  In any case, I am not an expert in resolving contradictions within the Christian Scripture.  Clearly, the words of Jesus contradict each other in these two places, although Christian sources probably find a way to harmonize them.  It seems to me that the Sermon on the Mount has to do more with style of prayer than direction of prayer, because the main point is Jesus’ condemnation of insincere prayer.  The context of John does support my conclusion, which by the way is not only mine, but one of the three points at which Jesus departed from Jewish tradition cited by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in Jewish Literacy.

P.S.  If you are going to change religions, you ought to do so out of conviction of faith, not out of anger or disappointment or frustration at not having all your questions answered to your satisfaction.  I am puzzled at the intent of the last sentence of your response to me.  If I don’t answer your question to your satisfaction, you will become a Quaker?  What are you now?

Question:  Thanks for your prompt reply. I hear what you say and get the impression that your reading of the Sermon on the Mount seems somehow incomplete or strangely interpreted, you say ‘It seems to me that the Sermon on the Mount has to do more with style of prayer than direction of prayer, because the main point is Jesus’ condemnation of insincere prayer’. This is quite simply seems wrong. I quote again Matthew 6:6 ‘But when you pray go to your room close the door and pray to your father…’ additionally – The Sermon also makes it clear that Jesus did not wish to change a single Jewish law. ‘I have not come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. … Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail shall be done away with… Matthew 5:17

With regard to your p.s., my anger/humour is only at your apparent manipulation of my question. I was born a Jew, my life has not been a bed of roses and I have at the age of 42 come around to seriously considering my spiritual and religious affiliations. In a blind way I could remain Jewish because my parents were. But I have to think about suffering, both in my life and for others e.g. the Holocaust. I always recall a famous old lady – the Honourable Esther Simpson O.B.E. who spent her whole life (about 91 years) evacuating Jewish and other academics from war tawny countries including many from Nazi Germany ( she knew Einstein and many other famous names ). Tess began as a Jew but became a Quaker. Before she died I asked her why had she renounced her Jewish religion to and become a Quaker. All she said was ‘if you read the Sermon on the Mount you will understand. 10 years later I have and I think I do understand. Religion and Spirituality as you must know are not always the same thing. For me the Sermon on the Mount is embodies and immensely Spiritual interpretation of Jewish law given by a Jew and a I think a Rabbi.

I suppose I think what Sermon said makes sense especially today. I look at Jews around me who still do business in the Synagogue, wear expensive clothes and think too much about money – there is little real spirituality amongst them and again this was a problem 2000 years ago. Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi and being a Quaker does not prevent Jewish Law from being followed neither does Buddhism for that matter. I just wondered what a Rabbi would  make of it or add to it. You have unwittingly confirmed what I strongly suspected might be the case. You attempt to avoid my question, you introduce a contradiction, appear not to have read the Sermon very well at all and finally replace Spirituality with doctrinal argument. Why? Do Rabbi’s really believe Jesus was a bad person?

P.S. What am I now? I am a Jew but I am a spiritual human being who believes in God, the 10 commandments, and in helping others. What time I turn the light, where I pray, what I eat  all seems hypocritical and irrelevant.

P.P.S.  Who is Rabbi Joseph Telushkin ?

Answer: I did answer your question, and quite directly.  I based my original response which prompted your question on the John/Matthew passage.  You brought forward the Matthew passage of the sermon on the Mount, which you believe contradicts my response based on John/Matthew.  How to resolve this is a matter for Christian interpretation.  I told you up front that I am not an expert on Christianity, and indeed I have not read the Sermon on the Mount in full.  My comments were based on the portions you quoted, and I still stand by them.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy, writes that there are in fact three specific points which the practice and beliefs of Jesus DID differ from mainstream Judaism.

Never have I ever made the statement that Jesus was a bad person.  I do not believe that at all; nevertheless, he does not represent authentic Jewish tradition.

Whether you become a Christian or remain Jewish (and learn what it can mean to be a serious, knowledgeable, spiritually oriented, Jew), whether you are a good person or not will depend on your actions.

Question: I was looking answers to questions regarding Jesus and Christianity. As a Rabbi you must know the Torah very well yet you appear to stereotype and slander christians. My question as well as my concern is, in your experience, is it a common occurrence for a Rabbi to occasionally succumb to fear or harbor resentment towards members of other religious faiths?

Answer: I hold Christianity in high regard.  I believe that Christians have a covenant with God that is no less valid than the covenant of the Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, or any other religious group who worships God.  In my experience, the vast majority of Rabbis share my beliefs.

Question: Living in a town highly populated by Christians, everyday I am forced to put myself out there because it is like almost everyday an argument comes up.  This town is highly religious which I have nothing against, but anyway… a lot of times they refer to Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  Is there any verse within the Tanakh that is similar?  A lot of stuff is going on, and I am just looking for something, but I am not sure what.  Help!

Answer: You might want to look at a book written to help Jews refute Christian missionaries, such as “You Take Jesus, I’ll Take God,” by Samuel Levine, or their is a very good tape series and workbook by Rabbi Tovia Singer called “Let’s Get Biblical.”

As far as a verse — I like Psalm 29:11, Adonai ol l’amo yiten, Adonai y’varekh et amo b’shalom,  “Adonai will give strength to his people; Adonai will bless his people with peace.”

Question: if Jews do not believe that Jesus is the messiah and you do not follow the New Testament. why is it that animal sacrifices are not done anymore? I am a Christian and no one has been able to answer this question I know no Jewish people around here and am not trying to be rude it is of interest to me that is all.

Answer: Beginning in late First Temple/early Second Temple times (5th century B.C.E.), sacrificial offerings were restricted to the Temple in Jerusalem.  It is clear from the book of Deuteronomy (which some Biblical scholars think was edited around that time) that it was not permitted to make sacrifices or other offerings at other locations in or outside of Israel.

The Synagogue as a place of worship first appeared in the Babylonian exile in the mid 5th century B.C.E.  Since the Jewish community was living in exile from Jerusalem and the Temple, they were not permitted by Scriptural tradition to make offerings.  Based on numerous Scriptural references in the prophets (“Return O Israel, to Adonai Your God, for you have fallen because of your sin.  Take words with you and return to Adonai.  Say to God[Him]:  Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; Instead of bulls we will pay [the offerings of] our lips,” Hosea 14:2-3), prayer replaced sacrifice as the primary expression of one’s relationship with God.

When the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., the Jewish community lost the ability to approach God through animal or other offerings.  Again, the Synagogue and prayer became the substitute for the Temple sacrificial system, and this has continued to the present day.

Question:  Could you tell me, does the Talmud say that for a Jew to visit a gentile graveyard, does not make them unclean, because gentiles are not human?

Answer: I do not know whether anywhere in the Talmud there is a statement that a gentile cemetary does not transmit ritual impurity.  It is possible that such an opinion exists, but if so the reason is NOT that gentiles are not human.  Certain of the purity/impurity laws do not apply to gentiles because they are not commanded to observe the mitzvot of the Torah, and therefore the categories of pure/impure simply do not apply.

However, a quick search of Jewish law pertaining to Kohanim (Priests) suggests that according to most opinions, gentile corpses transmit impurity in the same way as Jewish corpses.

Question:  When do you need to start taking classes for a Bat Mitzvah, because I am 12 and I would like to have a Bat Mitzvah but have never taken hebrew classes. Do you have to have a Bat Mitzvah right on your 13th birthday or can it be after?

I was baptized as a Christian but can I still have a Bat Mitzvah and be fully Jewish? Can you be Christian and Jewish because my mom is a Jew and my dad is Christian. I go to church, and a Jewish camp. I believe in Jesus but I would really like to be Jewish.

Answer: You raise a number some very significant questions, going to the heart of your religious identity.  I urge you to speak to your parents about them.

Let me begin with the broadest question that you raise, “can you be both Christian and Jewish?”  The answer is no.  There are fundamental differences in belief between Christians and Jews.  If one believes in Jesus, that he was the son of God and the messiah, then one is, by definition, a Christian.  A Jew does not believe that Jesus was the son or God, and a Jews believes that the messiah has not yet come.

A Jew does not need to do anything to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah — the synagogue ceremonies you have seen or heard are celebrations of becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but they do not cause one to become Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  A Jewish girl becomes Bat Mitzvah on the day after her 12th birthday, and a Jewish boy becomes Bar Mitzvah on the day after his 13th birthday.  The Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration can take place anytime after this day.

It is important for you to feel comfortable with your religious identity.  If you have questions, you really should take them to your parents and your minister.  I am happy to answer your questions about Judaism, but I don’t want to be a party to you going behind your parents’ back.

Question:  If the first Christians were Jews, does that mean that Christians of today are descended from Jews, and therefore have some Jewish blood? Is that why both Gentiles and Jews are white, although there are Jews and Christians of all races? Have Jews ever been involved in white supremacy groups, or is that contrary to Jewish teachings? It seems to me that Jews would have a better argument for claiming to be supreme, if they wanted to, than most of the lowlifes who are involved in those groups!  Also, how common is it to find Jews in blue-collar jobs in the United States today? It seems to me that most modern American Jews want to become educated professionals. Is this to make up for the fact that Jews were often denied higher education and better jobs in Europe in the early 1900’s?

Answer: You have asked a lot of questions, and I will try to address each one.

First of all, in Christianity, one becomes a Christian by adopting a particular belief, i.e., that Jesus is the son of God sent to absolve humankind of sin.  It is not transmitted by birth, as is Judaism.  Second, the early Christian church spread largely through the conversion of non-Jews, and since by definition that conversion did not include the Halachic Jewish elements of conversion, the next-generation Christians were in no way Jewish.

I find your statement that ‘Gentiles and Jews are white’ very puzzling, especially since you acknowledge that there are Jews and Christians of all races.  Jewish involvement in racist groups, such as white supremist groups, is absolutely against halacha.  We are commanded to “love the stranger” and “love your neighbor” – hating an individual or a group because of the color of their skin is abhorant to the world view of the Torah.

Most Jews today do not believe that we are “supreme” in the sense of being better than other peoples or religions.  We were chosen by God to receive the Torah; but other religions were also chosen by God for their own unique tasks.  We believe that we are responsible for observing Torah and 613 mitzvot, but we also believe that non-Jews have a place in the world to come by observing 7 relatively simple mitzvot, known as the Noahide mitzvot.

Judaism has always held education to be a mitzvah.  This feeling is so much engrained in our culture that even most secular Jews, who have very little outward Jewish religious expression, still hold a good education in the highest esteem.  This, I think, best explains the Jews’ well represented presence in the educated professions.  However, there are Jews in blue-collar jobs, and remember that most of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States or Canada took such jobs, or opened small businesses.  There is no shame in this kind of work, and many of the new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union are repeating this pattern.

Question:  Why do Jews not try and bring others to our faith?  What do we believe is going to happen to the Goyim after they die, if they do not accept Judaism as the way of life?

Answer: Judaism does not believe that one needs to be Jewish in order to go to heaven.

The Talmud, in Sanhedrin 56b, derives 7 basic commandments based on Genesis 2:16 and 9:4 which are incumbent upon every human being.  They are known as the

Seven Mitzvot of the descendents of Noah.  Judaism believes that any non-Jew who observes these seven basic laws has a share in the world to come – in other words, will go to heaven.

They are:

  1. Worship God, and no other.
  2. Do not commit blasphemy.
  3. Do not murder.
  4. Do not commit immoral sexual acts.
  5. Do not steal.
  6. Do not eat a limb from a living animal.
  7. You must live in a place in which there is a system of justice and courts.

One of the reasons that evangelical Christianity seeks converts is because in order to go to heaven, one must accept Jesus as Messiah and become a Christian.  Since Judaism does not hold this kind of belief, there is no reason that Jews need to try to convert others to Judaism.

Question:  I am a Catholic and am curious about the differences in our Torah and Old Testament, respectively. In our Bible, we have seven additional books. They are Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach also known as Ecclesiasticus and Baruch.  This is a point of interest, since in the books of Maccabees, The Feast of the Dedication’s origins are told.  I hope you do not look on this question as one of disrespect. That is not my intent. In truth, I look on Abraham as the father of my faith as well.

Answer: You are correct that the books of the Apocrypha are not part of the Jewish Bible.  In fact, they are also not part of the Protestant Bible.  They are Jewish books, but they were written after the canonization of the Hebrew Bible took place; therefore they were omitted.

Other differences – the Protestant/Catholic Bible arranges the order of the books differently than a traditional Hebrew Bible; and of course the Protestant/Catholic Bible adds the books of the Gospels, or Greek Testament.

Question:  I constantly hear our Christian brothers refer to a “cross we must bear.”  I am a loss as to what event or object we as observant Jews would use as a correlative expression.  Perhaps there is none.

Answer: It is my understanding of Christian theology that some amount of pain and suffering can be a positive thing.  I have heard Christians refer to this as accepting the suffering and offering it up to God.  It makes some amount of sense for them.  After all, Jesus suffered, and that suffering was part of his atonement for the sins of humanity.  Therefore, when they speak of “a cross we must bear,” they are speaking of themselves suffering as Jesus suffered as an act of atonement or perhaps devotion to God.

However, the idea of positive suffering does not exist within Judaism.  In Biblical theology, suffering was seen as a punishment for sin (except for the book of Job, in which Job’s suffering was test of his loyalty to God).  In post Biblical theology, the link between suffering and punishment for sin began to be severed, as people noticed that righteous people suffer to the same degree as evil people.  Today, you will not find many Jewish theologians who believe that suffering is a punishment for sin, but rather an unavoidable part of life.  It is explained, based on  God’s speech out of the whirlwind to Job, that since we were not around when the world was created, since we don’t have the power of God, we cannot begin to understand why suffering is a part of our world.  There are other explanations, but they go rather far afield of your question.

Therefore, Jews do not have an equivalent expression to “a cross we must bear.”

Question:  A friend who is a non-Jew is so taken with the holiday of Chanukkah that she and her family want to buy a menorah and light candles, too.  I wasn’t sure how to react to this- is it appropriate- I am not running out to buy a Christmas tree – so I was supportive (kind of), invited her to our Chanukkah party, but should I be feeling so uncomfortable about this.

Answer: I think you are right to feel uncomfortable about your Christian friends lighting Chanukah candles.  I see nothing wrong with Christians learning about Judaism, but I draw the line at Christians observing Jewish ritual.

When we say berakhot and light the Hanukkiah, it is not just a beautiful candelabra that we kindle, and the berakhot and songs we sing are not just pleasing music.  We are celebrating a moment in our lives as a people when God helped us to preserve our Jewishness in the face of a terrible threat of assimilation.  When people who are not living a Jewish life light a Hanukkah, it cannot have the same meaning.  It necessarily destroys, or at least cheapens, the meaning of Hanukkah.

I feel the same way about Christians observing a Pesah Seder, building a Sukkah, putting up a Mezuzah, or lighting Shabbat candles.  Just as I would not take Christian rituals and symbols and change them to represent Jewish values, it is wrong for Christians to take our symbols and claim they can be integrated into a Christian life.

Christianity is a beautiful religion, leading its adherents on the path to a meaningful relationship with God.  Obviously, I feel the same way about Judaism.  But Judaism and Christianity, as separate paths to God, cannot be combined into one religion, and I am opposed to any attempt to blur our distinctions, which I think can only detract from the beauty of both religions.

You should not feel guilty or uncomfortable about being willing to share our faith, but not give it away.

Question:  I have read considerable amounts of Jewish literature on the theme of the “lost ten tribes” and the one recurring and consistent proposition is that only the tribes of Levi and Judah remain.  I further noted the Mormons’ account of the migration of Lehi and his followers (contemporaries to Jeremiah) from Jerusalem to the Americas (before the advent of the Babylonian captivity).  My question is, Isn’t such an occurrence plausible, even logical?  These people were from the tribe of Manasseh, according to the Book of Mormon, and were not lost to G-d.  Can you please give me some information from a Jewish scholar familiar with the Book of Mormon and this plausible theory?  I cannot help but view that book as a possible bridge between Jews and Christians.

Answer: First, let me confess up front that I am not very familiar with the book of Mormon.  However, I do not believe that it is Scripture; I do not believe that it comes from God; and therefore, it is irrelevant to me whether or not the material contained within it is consistent with the Hebrew Bible.  If you want to use this material to convince Mormons that they should engage in meaningful dialogue with Jews, you would need to go to a Mormon scholar.

I find it totally implausible that any Semitic people migrated to America in the 7th century B.C.E.

The 10 tribes (of which Menashe was one) which were “lost” were part of the Northern Kingdom of Assyria, and were taken into captivity in the 7th century B.C.E. and became assimilated.

The two tribes who lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah were Judah and Benjamin.  The tribe of Benjamin was so small it was absorbed in to Judah.  The tribe of Levi had no land, and its people lived in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.

Question: Can anything be done regarding the mormons practice of “converting” non-mormons – whom they call gentiles – upon death? My parents both died this year, and it upsets me knowing their names and honor are being violated in this manner.  Thank you, and shalom.

Answer: I am far from an expert in the procedure for Mormons to “convert” non-Mormons posthumously.  However, from what I understand, the major element is simply adding their names to their database of families.  Because of this, they have some of the most complete genealogical information in the world.  I don’t know how they get the names – whether they read obituaries and record every death, or if someone needs to collect the names and send them into some kind of  “Departments of Records, Genealogy, and Posthumous Conversion.”  Therefore, I don’t know for sure if your parents indeed were “converted” after their death.  In any case, I do understand how this could be upsetting.  They are your parents who lived Jewish lives and raised you to be a good Jew – and some group of people who didn’t even know them might now be claiming that they are no longer Jewish.

I don’t think anything can be done to stop this practice.  In fact, I think the idea of posthumous conversion is so preposterous that I would not even dignify it by making an effort to stop it.  It is impossible to convert someone after their death.  Religion is a set of beliefs and practices that affects our attitudes and behavior, and brings us into a closer relationship with God.  After we die, we clearly no longer practice religion and worship God in the same way.  Therefore, it is meaningless for someone to say that we can adopt a new religion after we die.  In fact, I would say that your parents are sitting in heaven studying Torah, laughing at the futile efforts of some Mormons to convert them.

The only people who carry on our good names, and honor our memories after we die are our family, friends, and community – those who knew us, and carry on our values.  They are not at all affected by some ludicrous attempt by a misguided Mormon tradition to Mormonize the world.