Dear Jew in the City,
I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but do you really think that just because you abstain from eating pork and the animal is killed in a certain fashion that brings you real closeness to God? Jesus said that nothing from the outside can make you “unclean,” only your inner thoughts and actions.
In a vacuum, not eating pork or only eating animals that were slaughtered in a certain way might not seem like they would bring a person closer to God. The reason observant Jews believe that they do is because we believe God told us to!
Though I’m not a Christian theologian, I have a basic understanding that Jesus’s philosophy, as recorded in the Christian bible, was that circumcision should no longer be of the body but only of the heart. In other words, the only thing that matters is what one believes, not what one does.
The problem with that kind of logic, according to Jewish thought, is that the Torah, in fact, tells us otherwise. We’re commanded to do many things, like circumcise a baby boy on his eighth day, refrain from eat pork and shellfish and eat only kosher animals that were slaughtered according to Jewish law. So while Jesus may have said that “nothing from the outside can make you “unclean,” only your inner thoughts and actions [can],” all we Jews are doing is following the same Torah that Jesus agreed was God-given.
The difference between our views and those of Christians is that in sefer Devarim (the book of Deuteronomy) when it says things like, “…[They should] observe all My commandments all the days, so that it should be good for them and for their children forever,” and “the entire word that I command you…you shall not subtract from it,” observant Jews take these verses to mean that the Torah applies to all Jews in all times, and that it’s not ever supposed to be changed.
Now even if I argue we have to keep the laws of kosher because the Torah says so, we’re still left with a philosophical problem of how exactly eating animals slaughtered in a ritual way or refraining from eating certain foods makes one close to God.
We believe that the 613 commandments are broken into three different groups: mishpatim, edus, and chukim. Mishpatim are the common sense mitzvahs that we could have figured out had God not commanded them: don’t kill, don’t steal, honor your father and mother, etc. These commandments make us into better, more Godly people, and it makes sense that performing them would bring us close to God.
Edus are commandments that re-enact some part of our national history like eating matzah on Passover or sitting in a sukkah (a hut) during the holiday of Sukkot, just like the children of Israel did while they were leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert. These types of commandments are a bit harder to understand in terms of how they bring closeness to God, but when you consider that our national history is all about how God delivered us out of Egypt and watched over us in the desert, the connection becomes clearer.
But then we’re left with chukim, which by definition are commandments whose reasons are not given. Don’t cook a baby animal in its mother’s milk, only eat animals which have split hooves and chew their cud, don’t wear garments that contain both wool and linen, etc. One could try to come up with symbolic reasons for why these various acts are prohibited, but at the end of the day, we’re not told why.
The reason we follow these mitzvos is simply because God said so. The closeness I believe that such mitzvah observance creates is learning to trust God. It’s a very hard thing, as rational beings, to let go of the desire to comprehend something for ourselves. It’s even ego-blowing to acknowledge that comprehension of certain matters is beyond our capabilities. But training ourselves to put our faith and trust in what God says and does creates a closeness that can’t be created in any other way, so while the meaning of these commandments may never be known, their value can, with some explanation, be understood.
Jew in the City
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Love this answer. Well worded, thoughtful, clear. Love how you answered using both Jewish and Christian knowledge.
Thank you for bringing the knowledge to all people.
Do Jews believe that Christians SHOULD follow the Christian Bible and that it is Jews ONLY who should follow the Torah and are commanded as you describe above?
Great question, Lark. Jews believe that only Jews are supposed to follow the Torah. In terms of non-Jews, we believe that they are only obligated in 7 basic moral principles called the Noahide Laws which include things like don’t kill, don’t steal, set up a fair government, etc. A non-Jew is welcome to convert and take Torah law upon himself, but we don’t seek out converts and even dissuade people from converting just so we make sure that they’re really serious about taking on the obligations that come with being Jewish.
This response from Rebbe Lazer Brody came to mind:
“If a Jew keeps 612 out of the Torah’s 613 commandments, and willfully breaks #613, he or she is considered a transgressor. Not fair? Consider this – if a grain of sand lands on your hand, nothing happens. But, if it lands in your eye, you suffer excruciating pain. Not fair? A hand and an eye – while both being very necessary parts of the body – are built differently with different strengths and sensitivities; the same goes for a Jew and a non-Jew. While both are Hashem’s beloved creations, they have different strengths and different sensitivities because of their different tasks in the world. Yet, like an eye and a hand, both are vital.”
Could you please edit that from “Don’t cook a baby in its mother’s milk” to “don’t cook a baby animal”? Really the baby version seems self-evident, and a little barbaric of us to need to be commanded.
Uh huh, I hear what you’re saying. We don’t want people to think that this includes human babies!
Thank you for your kind and informative answer.
I’ve never heard of this wool/linen rule for garments (I’m catholic).
Could you please elaborate on it? I’m really curious!
A mixture of wool and linen in the same garment is called “shatnez” and the Torah very simply tells us to not wear garments that contain this mixture. People try to find symbolism in the commandment – not mixing an animal product (wool) with a plant product (linen) just as they try to find symbolism with the laws of kosher, i.e. not cooking a baby animal (which represents death) in its mother’s milk (which is life giving). I’m fine with trying to get some deeper meaning out of these commandments, but with shatnez, kashrus, and the rest of the commandments in this chukim category (where the reasons are not explained) I think the meaning we attach only goes so far since the true meaning is not meant to be known to us and yet we’re supposed to observe these laws anyway.
“In other words, the only thing that matters is what one believes, not what one does.”
Just so you know, that’s not what the Christian Bible teaches, although it’s a very common misconception. Christians believe the Law of Moses no longer applies today and that we are justified by our faith, not works, but that does not mean what we do doesn’t matter. Jesus said this in Luke 6:46 (“Why do you say to me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?’) and in Matthew 7:21 (“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven”).
As you say, you are not a Christian theologian (neither am I, for that matter), but I thought I just wanted to make clear that Christianity does not teach that what you do doesn’t matter.
But anyways, I thought your answer to this question was very clear. Thank you for the explanation; I found it quite useful.
Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline, but I’m a little bit confused by it (most likely due to my lack of knowledge about Christianity!).
If Christians believe that the laws of Moses no longer apply, then what “works” are Christians supposed to be performing?
Also, what do you mean when you say that you’re “justified” by your faith and not your works. I don’t understand what “justified” even means in this context, but I guess my basic question is what do Christians believe God is judging you based on? Thanks!
This popped up as a recommended article while I was reading a more recent one, so I thought I’d try to answer. I apologize in advance for how long this is– I’m trying to keep it as concise as possible!
The “faith versus works” argument is the very heart of the Protestant Reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries. Prior to this time, in Western Europe, the only Christian religion was Catholicism, which has in common with Judaism the tradition of both literal commandments from the Book (the Torah for Jews, the Bible for Christians) and traditional teachings from religious elders (the rabbis for Jews, the Pope and cardinals for Catholics). In addition to accepting/believing the teachings of Christianity, Catholics were obliged to engage in the “works” of attending services regularly, confessing sins to a priest, doing pennance, giving alms, and generally doing whatever their religious elders said was necessary.
“Justification” is a Christian term for getting to go to Heaven upon death– being “saved,” in the parlance of modern evangelical Protestants. Catholic teaching has always been that admission to heaven is dependent on the state of your soul at death, with three possibilities. Those who have recently been to confession and not committed any sins since that time are said to be in a “state of grace” and would go straight to heaven if they died. Those with one of the “seven deadly sins” (plenty available on Google, plus a movie!), what Catholics call “mortal” sins, on their conscience, go straight to hell. The vast majority in the middle, not in a state of grace but with only minor or “venial” sins on their conscience, go to a kind of post-mortem limbo called “purgatory,” where they suffer for their sins before being purified enough to get to heaven. It’s worth noting that many practicing Catholics today don’t really believe much if any of this, but it is still the official Catholic teaching.
The Protestant reformation began when a Catholic priest, Martin Luther, questioned the church’s practice of selling “indulgences” to members– basically charging money in exchange for less time in purgatory. The foundation of Protestantism is that admission to heaven is NOT based on your works (good or bad deeds), the state of your soul, and certainly not how much early release time you’ve bought out of purgatory. At this point, though, exactly what DID constitute being a Christian was the subject of much debate, and the origin of all the different denominations today. Mainline Protestants in western Europe and the US believe that both belief in Christ AND doing good deeds are important because God wants us to (and there are verses in the New Testament backing this up, as well as specific commands Jesus gave to his followers about living a moral life), while some denominations, such as Baptists and Pentacostals, believe that once you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, regardless of how many sins you commit afterwards (what they call “backsliding”), you’ll still go to heaven; conversely, no matter how good and moral a life you lead, if you haven’t accepted Christ they believe you’ll go to hell when you die. This is why you’ll hear some Christians talking about “getting saved”– they mean getting saved from an eternity in hell by converting to their particular brand of Christianity.
These widely different approaches to exactly what God wants from us as Christians are, I suppose, similar to the different philosophies underlying the Reform, Masorti/Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox movements in Judaism– each movement believes different things about how much the Torah is supposed to apply to Jews today, and to some extent even who is considered a Jew. The big difference you’ll find between Jewish interdenominational differences versus Christian interdenominational differences is that, from what I’ve seen, Orthodox Jews still consider Reform Jews Jewish. That’s not the case among different Christian denominations. A fundamentalist Baptist wouldn’t consider a liberal Christian like me a “real” Christian, and they teach that Catholicism is flat-out evil.
(As for me personally, I was raised Catholic but as an adult have converted to the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination that teaches that Christ came to earth to save everybody and that justification comes from treating everyone with charity and respect– it’s a very outward-focused, service-oriented version of Christianity. We have a lot in common with other mainline Protestant denominations in the US and western Europe theologically. So keep in mind that my responses come from that perspective.)
Hope this helps!
Not sure if this adds anything to the post, but I feel like mentioning it:
Many might feel like it’s not a big deal for Jews today to eat pork because the law was created for health concerns. That is not true, but even if it was, today especially it is fitting for Jews everywhere to refrain from eating pork! At many times in history, most recently during the Holocaust, Jews were demanded to eat pork on pain of death, and usually (despite the halakhic ruling that to save one’s skin it is permissible) Jews chose death rather than eating pork!
Sometimes, God commands us to test us. Those who fear Him will obey. If pork was proven to be harmful it would not be a test, people will refrain from pork out of fear of its harm.
Christians do seem to believe in works, when they are understood. Being a good person.
I am christian and try to keep as many mitzvot as possible. As Christians we believe we were grafted into Israel the same way some Egyptians were at Sinai. We are required to keep Torah, one Law for Jews and the foreigner that goes with them, and Jesus himself said that not one jot or tittle of the law would pass away until heaven and earth passed away. Unfortunately most Christians are unfamiliar with the beauty of Torah and the words of the Messiah they serve. I love JITC and you have really chastised me in areas of my life that I need to change. The above question that was referred to in which Jesus said that whatever goes in is clean was referring to hand washing which is not a Torah commandment, he never ever preached against Torah in anyway, that would have made him a false prophet.
I am a Christian as well and believe the same as you. Jesus did follow the Torah (in fact, he was observing the Passover during the LORD’s Supper). He was only stating that your heart when observing the law is the most important aspect (your relationship with GOD). You should obey from your heart. Jesus came to fulfil the law, not to get rid of it. I enjoy this site. Thank you to Jew In the City.
I wanted to make one quick comment, Jesus said “It is WRITTEN, We do not live by bread alone but by EVERY word that proceeds out of the mouth of G-d.” I am pretty sure that those words refer to the creators law. Being “Justified” by faith would be having faith that G-d’s word is true and everlasting.
Yes, Jesus was referring to the tradition of hand washing. He was debating with the Pharisees about this tradition because they were not focused on keeping the other commandments. They put their own non biblical traditions over what is in the Torah. Jesus was very jewish and even said no word, not even the smallest letter in the Torah would fade away. It was actually the apostle paul who preached about not following the Torah. Paul was influenced by the time period he lived in, which is called the Hellenistic period. This period is when the Romans combined their culture with whatever culture and people they controlled. So it’s not a surprise that Paul would have said that the Torah didnt need to be followed. Jesus and Paul were very different in their teachings. The gospels of mark and mathew are probably the most jewish and were the earliest gospels written, which shows you that the gospels of luke and john started to stray away from it’s jewish roots as time progressed. I study a lot of 1st century judaism so I just wanted to give some historical fact. Great article by the way 🙂
As the person above me pointed out, it was Paul, not Jesus, who pretty much did away with the Torah. Basically, Paul wanted the Romans and other people to convert to Christianity, but they didn’t want to circumcise or give up their lobster. So Paul was like, “That’s okay guys.”
Bonus Fact: Most of things Christian Fundamentalist demand of women, such as that they not cut their hair, wear makeup, or speak in church, come from Paul’s teachings, not Jesus’s.