For Non-Jews on Judaism, Part 3
Commentary by Hyphen Parent
What is one thing you wish non-Jewish people understood about Judaism? Part 3
This is the third and final installment in my crowd-sourced series where Jewish people share things we wish non-Jews understood. In the previous two articles in the series, we covered things like Chanukah, horns, antisemitism and the wide variety of belief within Judaism.
In this article, we’ll get songs stuck in your head, make you are of the Jewish disdain for the phrase, “Judeo-Christian” and point out that Judaism is its own whole set of beliefs independent of other religions.
We’re not living in an Amish paradise (hat tip to Weird Al, who, it may shock you to learn, is not Jewish).
Chava (Orthodox Judaism) said she wished non-Jews understood Judaism isn’t defined by negatives. She wrote specifically of Orthodox Shabbat observance, “‘Don’t do this! Don’t do that!’ I think many have this vision of us sitting in the dark in some sort of pseudo-Amish alternative reality.”
Personally, I find observance to be one of the most misunderstood things about Judaism. On Shabbat and some holidays, there are certain rules that are followed by traditional observant Jews. As mentioned above, those rules can vary by location, branch and person. For someone who’s shomer shabbat, yes there are lists of things they don’t do, but there is still so much they can do on Shabbat.
When you’re not distracted by phones, devices, televisions, driving, etc., you can focus on your family. You can play board games. You can read. You can finally get that nap you were too busy for all week. Of course, on Shabbat, we often don’t just sit at home. We go to the synagogue where lunch and socializing typically happen after services. Shabbat begins with a huge dinner where we often invited others.
Typically we can visit neighbors and go for walks. Although, there have been many alterations to that as a result of COVID. Many immunocompromised people are struggling particularly right now due to isolation that is necessary for their health, but atypical for Shabbat. Shabbat, like Judaism in general, involves so much, but often the focus is only on what people don’t do, or more accurately, what others erroneously think we must not be able to do.
Judaism is not Christianity or Islam part 1.
Judaism is its own separate religion. Christianity and Islam use their equivalent of the Torah as a jumping-off point for their faiths, but Judaism has nothing to do with them. Some other faiths like Islam and Christianity see Judaism as a part of their story, but for Jews, Judaism is a whole and complete religion all on its own. We don’t need perfecting. We’re not interested in sequels. Our story is complete as it’s written (and debated at length by the sages).
Adri (Reform Judaism) answered, “I greatly wish people would stop placing Jewish religious practices, holidays, historical events, etc., on a scale of how closely it relates to their religion. Christians tend to do this. My faith existed and exists just fine on its own and has no relationship to other faiths.”
A number of people raised issues with the phrase, “Judeo-Christian,” and the attempted merging or appropriation of the religions.
Rabbi Dayna Ruttenburg does a fantastic job of explaining the issue with the term “Judeo-Christian” in this twitter thread.
A Conservative rabbinical student wrote privately, “In the Christian worldview, Jews are major characters, go back to the New Testament and Jesus’ crucifixion, but Judaism’s narrative does not fixate in Christianity the way they think it does.”
Chava offered similar sentiments, “My identity has zero to do with ‘not believing in Jesus’. I’m not defined by a negative!”
I’ve fielded questions in the past about Jesus that I couldn’t adequately answer because he’s not a figure in Judaism. He’s not considered a prophet. He’s not considered a rabbi. He’s not at all a part of Judaism. For many Christians, this concept is incredibly foreign. I’ve known so many people who simply couldn’t understand that he plays absolutely no part in Judaism. Traditional Jews do believe there will be a messiah, but that person hasn’t come yet and I’ve written about why Jesus wasn’t it.
Kara (Reform Judaism) explained,“My faith tells me to question and challenge things that aren’t right in the world and with my faith. Judaism will never try to convert you. Jews love and respect you for being you even when your faith, opinions, beliefs, etc., are not the same as ours — we genuinely want you to be happy and complete as a person and we don’t need you to be just like us. We hope for the same in return, although we rarely get it.”
While proselytizing is a major part of many Christian denominations, it’s not a thing for Jews. In fact, traditionally, in order to convert to Judaism, someone was turned away three times to be sure it’s what they wanted. Jews don’t believe you have to be Jewish to be a good person or be rewarded in the afterlife. Judaism teaches everyone is free to live their own lives and that good people can exist in any religion. We want to feel our beliefs are respected, but we don’t need non-Jews to believe the same things.
Many people from many different branches of Judaism helped offer their perspectives on this question. The underlying themes I saw pop up repeatedly were that Jewish people want respect and the freedom to safely practice their Judaism as they see fit.
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories and someone who’s best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.