Return to Judaism Homepage


JUDAISM (Huston Smith)


Meaning in God

-Judaism can best be described as a search for meaning in all things

        this quest for meaning is rooted constantly in God, as God gives all meaning

-Judaism says that manís philosophy must come to be based in God because...

        man will always realize that he was not self created, but other created

        man will always find his power limited and, therefore, needs an almighty

-this other, of whom the Jewish speak, must not only be almighty, but meaningful

        meaning comes in the characteristics of the divine

        there are four stumbling blocks which a meaningful divine cannot be...

1)a meaningful God cannot be prosaic

††††††††††† -Jews say He is poetic by personifying Him

††††††††††† -Jews say He is ultimate by calling his might incomprehensible

2)a meaningful God cannot be chaotic

††††††††††† -Jews say God is single, supreme and nature-transcending

††††††††††† - Jews say God is unified, not multiple or multipersonified

3)a meaningful God cannot be amoral

††††††††††† -Jews say God is all-chaste and the protector of all

4)a meaningful God cannot be hostile

††††††††††† -Jews say God centers in love for his prime creation: man

-since there is meaning in God, the Jews can follow Him wholeheartedly


Meaning in Creation

-the problem of establishing a meaningful divine being is not the only problem of religion

-in what seems to be a chaotic world, their is often great difficulty in finding meaning in the universe

-Judaism addresses this concern immediately in Genesis...

        ďIn the beginning, God created heaven and earth.Ē

        superficially, this explains how the world was created and why it exists

        philosophically, it says that since God is good, and he created the world and existence, then as His creations, they, too, are good

-another stumbling block is inevitable here

        if creation is good, then why do things go wrong?

        there are two possible answers to this question...

1) man is helpless and life is inherently tragic and meaningless

2) man is imperfect and responsible but can mend his life

        Judaism follows the second answer and furthers it...

-God created the universe

-creation is inherently good

-life in harmony with God is good

-Judaism goes on to assert that the natural world is good and that man has dominion here

-Contrary to most Eastern religion, then, Judaism centers both in spirit and matter

        from this position on matter, three premises follow...

1) the material aspects of life are important

2) matter figures into salvation

3) the natural world can be host to, or make manifest, the divine

Meaning in Man

-Judaism has established the concept of God...

        Almighty... God is the creator of all things

        personal... God is a being of greatness and holiness

        ordered... there is one God, who is omniscient and omnipotent

        moral... all goodness issues forth from God

        kind... God is the bestower of loving-kindness on man

-Judaism has established the concept of creation...

        of God... created by God

        spiritual fact... it is inherently good

        physical fact... its manifestations are good

        for man... man has dominion over the world

-Judaism must now establish the concept of man...

        man is limited

-man is as dust compared to heaven

-man is frail compared to nature

-man is weak

-man is mortal

        man is created in the image of God

        man is inherently sinful... (sin means separation, so man misses the mark)

        man has free will... (his destiny is his)

        man is the beloved child of God


Meaning in History

-Judaism says that there is a meaningful God, that His creation is meaningful, and that man, his most beloved creation is meaningful.

-Judaism established the natural world as meaningful, but are its events the same?

-if history is meaningless, that does not mean that life is meaningless, but merely that lifeís manifestations are unimportant (indifference... very eastern)

-Judaism, however, argues that history is of paramount importance...

        the context in which a life is lived (actions) affects that life

        if single acts affect one life, then social acts change the context of all life

        God acts purposefully, so history is a field of opportunity

        not all events are of equal import, man must be attentive to see Godís will

-because of this concept of history, Judaism asserts...

        God has direct intervention in history

        there must be a chosen people to react in harmony with His events

-This concept of history is not the norm...

        India says that the world is the Ďmiddleí world... good and evil (yin and yang) exist naturally in an inherent and intended proportion

-Judaism says that God would not have made man as a material being in the middle of history if he could have no effect on either matter or history

        Mediterraneans say that history is independent of man and that manís destiny must be worked around the way that things are, not the way that they should be

-Judaism says that God transcends nature and that man has freedom in nature, so what should be is equally as possible and as valid as what is

-Judaism says that manís sinfulness has disrupted his full potential

        though disrupted, it is not fully out of reach

-Judaismís assertion that Godís will does not equal current social order sets up the efficacy and possibility of social revolution to change


Meaning in Morality

-the need for moral laws stems from a double fact that...

        man is a social animal

        without vigilance, his relationships will tangle

-Jewish moral codes come in two forms


        ethical prescriptions

-Judaism holds that the Old Testament outlines 613 laws

-the cornerstone of the laws lie in the ten commandments

        of the 10, 4 are the essential ethical considerations that lead to a moral life

        the 10 commandments prescribe the minimum by which man can endure

        their genius is not in an exhaustive finality, but in the foundation they lay


1) Force

-you can argue and quarrel, but there is a boundary

-Thou shalt not kill

2) Sex

-you can flirt and fool around, but there is a boundary

-Thou shalt not commit adultery

3) Wealth

-you can accumulate wealth, but there is a boundary

-thou shalt not steal


-you can speak say anything, but there is a boundary

-thou shalt not bear false witness

        these four laws set the groundwork for brotherly love

        they are the ultimate laws in terms of social order


Meaning in Justice

-the vehicle in determining Godís justice was the prophet

-Prophet... from the greek Ďprophetes... pro (for) phetes (to speak)... to speak for God

-two western convictions are owed to the prophets...

        the future of a people depends on the justice of the social order

        individuals are responsible for the well being of the society and the self

-the prophetic movement has gone through three distinct phases...

        Prophetic guilds

-prophesy was performed only in groups

-group danced and sang into an ecstasy of emotion

-prophecy more as a witness to Godís presence, than expression of will

-no ethical diminsion... based merely on the power and ecstasy

-not clear if inspiration was from God

        Individual pre-writing prophets

-prophets prophesied individually

-the tradition was oral and no records were kept

-clearly of divine inspiration, prophesy demands Godís justice

        Writing prophets

-individual prophesy that held element of power and ecstasy from other 2

-still a call for Godís justice

-tradition becomes written

-specific call for social justice in the midst of a corrupt society

-The Prophetic Principle

        in the abstract

-the prerequisite for political stability is social justice


asserts that Godís standards are High and He wonít stand for corruption

-Jews saw their social justice as a means to avoid destruction by larger, unjust peoples


Meaning in Suffering

-the prophets saw the threat of the destruction of Judea (8th-6th cen. BC) as a call for righteousness

-threat of being destroyed means that you have something worth destruction

-a time comes when threat must give way to action, when warning is too long unheeded

        721 BC... ten northern territories destroyed by Assyria

        586 BC... Judah, in the south, conquered which leads to Babylonian captivity

        prophets come in here, too, to provide meaning

-at the point of greatest despair and smallest hope, they give hope

-prophets interpret Babylonian captivity as...

1) punishment for past ways

2) teaching for the future

-teaches true worth of freedom

-teaches faith despite hardship

-teaches passion for freedom and justice

-teaches value of vicarious suffering

        accept our present pain to spare future others



Making Life Holy

-Thus far, we have dealt with the concepts that make sense of life and existence

-though concepts are important, Judaism places a high emphasis on ritual

        to emphasize importance of ritual over idea, Judaism has no creeds

        Judaism focuses on the concrete rather than the abstract

-must ask, then, the purpose of ritual...

        surface is empty, but deeper meaning abounds as a guide to man

-ritual eases the uncertainty of tense situations

-ritual gives form to what would be chaos

-ritual allows thought time to get bearings

-ritual directs life in Ďpositiveí direction

-ritual channels feelings

-ritual checks emotions until we are steady enough to handle them

-ritual softens tragedy by removing thought

-ritual conquers weakness of inaction with courage of action

-ritual provides perspective

-ritual intensifies appreciation for events

        for Judaism, ritual makes life holy

        Judaism asserts that ritual gives life piety... the right approach to life

-piety prepares the way for Godís kingdom

-piety is seeing the entire world as Godís and as his glory manifest

        Judaismís theme, therefore, becomes a double one...

1) enjoy lifeís goodness (as it is given by God)

2) share the joy of life with God through piety and ritual

        a sense of sanctity of all life is protected through the tradition of ritual

        the past is a treasure for Judaism that shows Godís presence and will

        The manual for the hallowing of life through piety, tradition and ritual is the Torah... first five books of the Old Testament



-In its interpretation of human experience, Judaism has found an unparalleled grasp

††††††††††† of meaning

-Judaism insists that this insight came through revelation

        revelation is defined as the disclosure of God, his nature, and his will for man

        Judaism insists that Godís most frequent revelation comes through His deeds

        the Exodus is the primary and ultimate example of Godís doing...

-the Exodus caused the Jewish people to become aware of God

-the Exodus allowed the Jewish race to know Godís nature...

        God is the God of Power

        God is the God of goodness and love

        God is concerned with manís existence and behavior

-the Exodus taught that God is good, and wanted man to be good, as well

        the 10 commandments is Godís revelation of how he desired man to be good

-the Exodus invited Israel into a covenant...

        a covenant (contract) that involved the whole self

        a covenant (contract) that is eternal

-Judaism asserts that all meaning has been revealed to them (have all/final answers)

-all meaning was revealed to them because they are the chosen people


The Chosen People

-at first blush, the doctrine of being chosen may seem both awkward and arrogant

-Judaism asserts, though, that they...

        are not chosen for a special and superior privilege

        were chosen as the servants of God

        were chosen to suffer for the privilege of being chosen

-Jewish lore recalls that the Torah was offered to all nations to follow, but only the Jews accepted

        acceptance opens possibility of salvation

        though only the Jews accepted the difficult standard, all have access to its salvation

        the Jewish race will pay for the price of salvation

-the ďScandal of ParticularityĒ

        even the idea that the Jews have a special role in salvation hints they are loved more

        the scandal of particularity is the idea that Godís action and history can focus on one people over another

        though proof of the Chosen people is impossible, it is possible to know why...

1) Judaism accepts it

2) what it did for their history

3) why Godís revelation may need a chosen race

-Why does Judaism accept the idea of being Chosen?

        Jewish history gives to choices as to causality

-the Jewish race is special

-the Jewish race is chosen

        being humble, Judaism refuses to consider its people as special or better

        they feel that they were chosen out of no personal merit, but from Godís grace

-What has the idea of being Chosen done for them?

        the attention caused them to blossom and perform (a child given love)

        the attention allowed the race to surpass all others in historical might

-Why would a Chosen people be necessary to Godís plan?

        if freedom and miracle were the norm, then no one would heed God

        idea of being able to be chosen proves Godís existence

        idea of being able to be Chosen gives reason to be righteous

        the individual, the un-ordinary, is the only possible means of revelation



-Judaism is not only the faith of a people, but the faith in a people

-because it is a faith in an individual people, it is paramount that their identity be

††††††††††† preserved

        in biblical period, Israel needed separation to avoid dilution

        in medieval period, their separation was forced

        in modern times the Jews are becoming more and more integrated

-Israel, itself, argues for separation, but this is not from external racism or internal snobbery

        religious argument...

-Israel is chosen by God as a race

-it is imperative to maintain the distinction and edge of the race

        philosophical argument...

-idea of Ďcultural pluralismí

-for manís life to be creative we need unity and variety

-unity can come through communal effort

-variety should come through racial/ethnic diversity

-Judaism insists that it has a unique cultural and ethnic identity to preserve, based on...


-as we have discussed it and its emphasis on meaning


-the path to hallowing life through ritual, piety, and tradition


-a distinct language (Hebrew)

-a distinct lore (Talmud, Torah, Midrashim)

-a distinct love for its land (Israel- the promised land)


-needed for security (guard against holocaust)

-needed for psychology (guard against subservience and minority state)

-needed for culture (guard against death of tradition)

-needed for idealism (dedicate the land to a history of prophetic ideal)