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Important similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity

Essay Topic: ,

Judaism and Christianity are both monotheistic religions with a common root in that they share in descent from the patriarch Abraham. Christianity after all was founded by Jews, and even when it first had Gentile converts for a while they followed Jewish practices, such as keeping the food laws, until Peter’s vision a t the home of Cornelius ( Acts 10) They are linked by the search for the Saviour or Messiah foretold in the scriptures that both share e. g, Isaiah 35 – and known by Christians in the New Testament.

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Goldberg and Rayner begin their book ‘The Jewish People’ :-

The history of the Jewish people begins with Abraham, the history of the Jewish religion begins with Moses. Jews take their name from the fourth son of Jacob by his wife Leah. They would have in times past called themselves Israelites. The name Jew comes from the Romans who referred to Idumea, an area south of Israel. The fundamental difference is that Christians believe that Messiah came in Jesus of Nazareth some 2000 or so years ago, while Jews, unless they claim to be Messianic Jews, a growing group, are still waiting. Another massive difference is that one is born a Jew.

As long as your mother was Jewish you are Jewish, whether or not you are in any way religious, whether or not you keep the laws of Judaism and even whether or not you believe in God. Descent is through women, because then, if a foreigner impregnated a Jewish woman, whether by consent or by rape, the child would still be part of the people of God. This applies even when the women of a family have married non Jews for several generations and worship as members of another faith. It is the religion of a race and it is very difficult for anyone to become a Jew in any other way than to be born to it.

Christianity on the other hand is a religion open to anyone, but though one can be born into a Christian family and dedicated or christened soon after birth, as a young person or adult each person must decide for themselves to follow Jesus as Saviour. Christians believe in one God, but refer to God as Trinity, three in one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jews prefer to think of God as one. Yet in the Old Testament there are references to God as Father ( Psalm 68 v 5 ‘A Father of the fatherless…. is God) and as Spirit, ( Numbers 11 v 17) and also to his sending of a Saviour.( Isaiah 42)

Like Christianity Judaism has over the years divided into various groupings, orthodox, liberal and so on, but just as all Christians of whatever denomination relate back to Jesus Christ, so all Jews relate back to the patriarchs. By the time of Christ though Judaism had become a very different religion as far as its every day practice – so much so the writer Ninian Smart in ‘The World’s Religions’ differentiates them into the religion of the Israelites and Judaism. ( pages 202-203). This was a gradual evolution rather than a sudden change.

When the Israelites were only a few in number they worshipped together. When they made their Exodus and spent 40 years in the wilderness they worshipped together in the tabernacle Change began at the time of the Exile, when the majority of Jews were separated from temple worship, and synagogues developed. After C. E. 70 when the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem temple and Jews fled from Israel to become part of the Diaspora, non sacrificial synagogue worship became the only type available. The period of temple worship is still looked back to as when at Passover each family makes the pledge ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’.

These forced changes also meant that home worship as a family became more important. Judaism is essentially the religion of the group. Judaism has its scholars and mystics, but never took up the solitary or single sex contemplative life, such as that of Julian of Norwich or groups such as the Franciscans, that began in Christianity in the second century with the desert fathers and continues to some extent to the present day. The position of women in both religions has been problematic and is divided upon denominational lines.

In the Chambers Dictionary of Religions and Beliefs, page 271, Rosemary Goring tells us about this in some detail. She explains how Reformed Judaism has tried to redress its traditional exclusion of women from worship as in the introduction of a coming of age ceremony for girls as well as for boys. The first woman became a rabbi in the Reformed tradition in the1970s. Even Conservative Judaism took the same step in 1985, but in Orthodox synagogues women are still separated from men in worship and they are only obliged to keep the negative laws i. e.thou shalt not commit adultery, and not the positive ones at certain times. The claim is that this is a matter of difference rather than a matter of inferiority.

The same claim would be made by certain Christians. There have always been women in leadership roles within the church, but, despite verses such as Galatians 3:28, “There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free men; between men and women, for you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. ” actual ordination has been a long time coming and in certain denominations has either not arrived or again been minimal in its effect.

Judaism is a quite legalistic religion. There are rules that cover every area of life, and Orthodox Jews in particular are meticulous in keeping such rules. Christianity on the other hand, although it too has rules, these are more concerned with morals than with such minutiae as the kind of knot that can be used on the Sabbath. Galatians 2 v 16 perhaps sums up the different attitudes to legalism. ‘’We know that a person is put right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ, never by doing what the law requires.”

These are of course the words of St Paul, who in his earlier life had been most legalistic -a Hebrew of the Hebrews’ as he describes himself in Philippians, ‘’As far as keeping the Jewish law is concerned I was a Pharisee’ ( Philippians 3 v 5). Jews consider themselves the chosen people of God. Christians consider themselves to have become, because of their faith in the Savior Christ Jesus , also children of God ‘At one time you were not God’s people’ Peter tells new converts, ‘but now you are his people; at one time you did not know God’s mercy, but now you have received his mercy.’ ( 1 Peter 2 v 10)

With regard to the after life there are a range of beliefs. Christians believe that Christ has covered their sins and they will ultimately live for ever with God in heaven. Large parts of the New Testament are concerned with teaching on the subject as in I Thessalonians 4. The after life is rarely mentioned in Jewish scriptures. It concentrates more on one’s actions than one’s beliefs. Both Torah and Talmud concentrate on doing one’s duty to God in this life. The web site ‘Jewish beliefs on the afterlife ‘ says :-

Succeeding at this brings reward, failing at it brings punishment. Whether rewards and punishments continue after death, or whether anything at all happens after death, is not as important. Despite this there is some teaching on the subject.. Moed Katan is cited on the same page . “This world is only like a hotel. The world to come is like a home. ” In the early history of the people death is likened to a reunion with family. (Genesis 49 v 29) Jacob tells his sons ‘I am going to join my family in death.’

It was important to him that he be buried close to those who had preceded him as is obvious in the careful instructions that follow. This contrasts with the fate of the wicked who are described as being cut off from their people. (see Exodus 31 v 14). There is still a belief among the most Orthodox of Jews in a sort of half life after death in a place called She’ol, a world described in Isaiah 14 v 9 and 10. This was expressed to me by a lady who said ‘As long as someone is alive who remembers me I shall be alive’. Both religions have naturally adjusted to changing situations over time.

For instance on page 111 of ‘The Jewish People’ Goldberg and Rayner describe how Jewish law was adjusted to conditions in such places as Cairo and Istanbul. It began as the religion of a nomadic people, but became the religion of a minority group living among people who practiced other faiths. This, and the persecution they suffered, led to such things as the Jewish ghettos of mediaeval times, in part forced on them by the majority population, and in part by the natural inclination of people to live near those like themselves.

Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century under the emperor Constantine. In the intervening years since its inception the church grew rapidly in fulfillment of the parable of the mustard seed recorded in Matthew ( 13 v 31 and 32). William Frend describes in ‘The Christian World’ how its organization had developed into something that rivaled the state itself with its various officials in each area, so much so that Diocletian and his court in 302 tried to face up to the significant decision as to whether Christ or the traditional gods of Rome should be considered as the guardians of that city.

A Roman mosaic from 5th century Rome, shown in the Christian World , (page 39) would depict Christ emperor. Becoming a state religion had both advantages, the protection of Christians and their practices, and problems such as state interference in matters that might be considered as purely church matters. For example Henry 1st of England intervened so much in church life that he wanted to be the one to give authority to the archbishop Anselm, rather than this coming from Rome. Christianity is a missionary faith.

Christians have traveled to all parts of the world taking the good news with them and seeking to bring other people to join them in faith in Christ. Judaism sees no need for this. Judaism follows the commandment found in Exodus 20 v 4 about the forbidding of making images. This is taken to mean images of God. A modern synagogue will perhaps have stained glass windows depicting important t stories from the scriptures – the giving of the law to Moses for instance or the crossing of the Dead Sea, but because they also accept the words of Genesis 1 v 26 in which God says that he created men in his image, there are no depictions of people.

This injunction does not seem to apply to photographs. Christians, believing that they are not bound by Old Testament laws frequently celebrate their faith in pictures, including images of Christ and symbolic pictures of God as Father and Spirit. Conclusion These two faiths have both parallels and common roots as well as shared scriptures and monotheism. There are also major differences in belief and emphasis and the way that religion affects daily life. In both there are sincere believers as well as those of less than total commitment.