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This is a great history of Judaism. That said, what do Jews actually believe?

(Old comment which I believe the current article has answered.)


This is in an idiosyncratic format, with all the embedded external links. External links (a) cannot be relied upon to remain at the current url or even to remain in existence at all and (b) should only supplement internal content. That said, it's an interesting article! --MichaelTinkler


"...God is non-physical, non-corporeal, and eternal. A corollary belief is that God is utterly unlike man, and can in no way be considered anthropomorphic. All statements in the Tanach and in rabbinic literature which use anthropomorphism are held to be linguistic conceits or metaphors, as it would otherwise be difficult to talk about God at all."

What about Genesis 1:26 and 27? "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ... So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." This sounds like a pretty explicit metaphor to me.

Were Judaism a religion based on the Bible, like Karaism, Samaratinism and Christianity, then your conclusion would be absolutely indisputable. But Judaism, contrary to popular belief, is not based on the Bible. Judaism is actually based two sets of writings - the oral law and the written law. The written law contains the books of the Tanach, what Chrisitians refer to as the "Old Testament"; the oral law contains information that developed simulataneously along with the written law, explaining its meaning, context and intent. This material used to be passed along almost exclusively orally (hence its name), but around 200 CE much of this material was compiled into the Mishnah. Around 450 CE much more of it was compiled in Talmud Yerushalmi, and around 600 CE much more was compiled in Talmud Bavli.

Jewish beliefs and practices are all based on viewing the written law through the lens of the oral law; this is why Judaism has little, if anything, in common with Karaism, Christianity or Samaritarianism. The oral law makes clear that even thousands of years ago Jews never literally believed that God had a hand, or a voice, or a face or a back, as a literal reading of the Torah would imply. (Whether or not ancient Israelites believed this is irrelevant; that is a historical issue. The religious point is that for the past 2500 years Jews believed that this oral law had been there all along.) Maimonides magnum opus, the Guide for the Perplexed, is widely considered one of the most influential and sophisticated theological and philosophical discussions of the era, and the first third of this book is spent disabusing readers of the notion that God had any anthropomorphic attributes at all. (Again, what the original writers of the Bible had in mind is irrelevant to this point; we are discussing what Jews of the past two milennia actually believed, not whether their ancestors further back in time actually had such beliefs.)


great article. one topic i'd like to see covered (mostly because it's something i know nothing about) - the rabbinate. how does one become a rabbi? how has this changed over time? is there a Jewish rite of ordination analogous to the Christian rite? is there a Jewish notion of valid rabbinic succession analogous to the Christian doctrine of apostolic succession?