Judaism’s Beliefs About God’s Nature and Attributes
Judaism has long been an organized religion that holds beliefs about the nature and attributes of God in high esteem. According to Judaism, God is the one and only, sovereign, immortal and omniscient source of all existence. He is both immanent and transcendent, has no equal and is existent prior to all other creations of the world. This means God transcends time and space, existing with neither beginning nor end.
The essential features of the Jewish monotheistic faith are demonstrated in the Shema, an ancient statement of Jewish belief. The Shema proclaims, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is One”. This statement of belief signifies an exclusion of all other gods, a declaration of trust and unity behind one single, divine force. The Shema also stipulates that God is both a faithful and forgiving being, mercifully eliminating the sins of those that devote themselves faithfully to Him.
The traditional description of God in Judaism is maintained in the Talmud, a collection of Jewish law which forms the foundations of Jewish religious practise. It proclaims that God is a living being that has no beginning, no end, is unlimited by physical constraints and lives in perfect harmony with all beings in existence. Judaism also believes God is both benevolent and righteous. He rewards good deeds and sanctions evil deeds. God is not an authoritarian ruler and encourages us to act in accordance with His teaching and law.
Judaism believes God is the source of all that exists and our moral guide. He provides us with direction and support. Judaism’s view of God is concrete and unique, deeply rooted in the faith’s fundamental Code of Conduct and Biblical history. According to Judaism, all of creation is reliant on God for sustenance, and God’s role as our provider gives us purpose and direction. God is the driving force behind everything and all of creation serves to glorify Him.
As part of a millennia-old religion, all Jews acknowledge one, singular God, known as Yahweh or Hashem, who is both immanent and transcendent, all-powerful and all-knowing. The covenant between God and the Jews is a central component of Judaism, described in the Bible. In the book of Exodus, God declares, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” and entreats the Jews to abide by His commandments, the Ten Commandments. A primary part of the Jewish faith is being loyal to the divine Lord and following His law.
The Impact of Judaism’s Beliefs on its Practitioners
The dominant belief in Judaism is that of oneness – one God, one universe, one covenant. This of course has an immense impact on the lives of all Jews. To follow the dogmas of monotheism, Israelis and Jews must constantly reflect on their actions and readjust them, according to the beliefs of the religion. Living an ethical, righteous life is also highly encouraged, which results in other nations viewing them in a positive light.
The commitment to the Jewish faith is founded on the concept of discovering God’s true will, in practice and in contemplation. Practitioners must focus on the balance between self-fulfilment and the fulfilment of God’s will, as a way of honouring and serving the Higher Power, who is the source of all good. Jews also believe in the redemption of humanity and the ultimate repair of our broken world. To achieve this, God requires humility, awareness of sin and sincere prayer.
A strong belief in God also speaks to Jewish Zionism, a movement which pushes for the establishment and preservation of a Jewish homeland. With the underlying belief that God is the greatest gift to all humankind, Jews must direct their faith towards the cultivation of a safe and prosperous homeland, where they can live according to the Torah, the Jewish law.
The idea of God’s presence was also widespread during the Holocaust, where Jews were forced to suffer cruel and inhumane acts under the Nazis. Millions of Jews were killed and many of those who survived were left questioning the existence of a loving and merciful God, the cornerstone of Judaism. Despite the bleak circumstances, however, many Jews managed to retain their faith, believing in the power of prayer, the promise of redemption and the idea of justice prevailing in the end.
The Place of Jewish Prayer and Worship
For Jews, prayer is a primary way of communicating and connecting with God. Young and old, Jewish people are encouraged to observe prescribed prayers at specified times daily. Prayers are practiced in the synagogue, stressing unity and devotion, and at home. There is no intermediary between man and God, making it a direct and tangible relationship. When practiced in the synagogue, prayers are performed in unison, with the leader guiding and setting the pace at the beginning and end of each prayer.
Along with specific prayers, there are certain cantillations associated with certain biblical passages that are chanted with a special rhythm. Prayers are typically sung and in many cases, music is used to enhance the emotional power of the prayer. When praying on one’s own, a person can choose to do so silently or aloud, but it is still important to remain mindful and alert throughout the prayer so that the Holy Name is not desecrated.
Each day of the week is associated with a different prayer and for those who observe the Sabbath, (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday), more involved prayers, and the chanting of psalms and the singing of hymns are included. Through prayer, Jews strive to keep their monotheistic focus and open their hearts and minds to achieving a closer relationship with God, one of the most significant aspects of Jewish life and spirituality.
Important Jewish Holidays and Symbols
Living a life devoted to God is especially highlighted by certain Jewish holidays. With each holiday comes special prayers and observances, ranging from the acknowledgement and discussion of redemption, to the celebration of harvest, to the remembrance and mourning of mass destruction.
The most festive holidays, including the three main pilgrimage festivals, Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles or Booths) frequently involve rituals that go beyond the synagogue and become almost daily practices throughout the course of the holidays. Other important holidays include Hanukkah and Purim, both festivals of light and joy, which commemorate the salvation of the Jews.
Jewish symbols are also of significant importance. The six-pointed star, otherwise known as the Star of David, is the most popular symbol used to represent Judaism and is a powerful reminder of our connection to everything, including God. The Menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum, also plays a significant role, originally representing the tribes of Israel and later used in the Temple to commemorate the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days. The blue and white flag of Israel, is symbolic of the colours of the Wise Men according to the Talmud, which are “as the colour of the sea and the colour of the sky”.
Judaism’s Impact on Other Religions
The strong monotheistic message and even the language of the Jewish Bible has resonated with the world’s three major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for centuries. As a result, Judaism’s influence is tangible in all three faiths, from tales and parables found in Hebrew Scriptures to festivals, symbolic traditions, and prayer formats.
The most profound imprint is perhaps the notion of one deity. Muslims, for instance, believe that the same one God of the Hebrews, Yahweh or Hashem, revealed himself in the Qu’ran as Allah. Christians, though believing in the trinity of God, understand that there is only one higher authority of divinity, and view Jewish scriptures as bearing witness to Jesus’s mission and teachings. As such, they count the Hebrew Bible as part of the Christian Old Testament.
The historical connection between Judaism and Christianity extends beyond theological agreement, and includes powerful political implications as well. For instance, the Christian Church’s positive relationship with Judaism shaped the legal recognition of the Jewish people in Europe and the US during the 19th and 20th centuries. Diverse traditions and cultures can be enriched and even united by religious belief, making the example of Judaism valuable when it comes to understanding religious identity.
Contemporary Issues Faced by the Jewish Community
Today, the Jewish community still faces challenges, including anti-semitism and the ongoing conflict with Palestinians in the Middle East. As a result, questions of safety and security remain daily reality for many Jews and conflicts of identity are commonplace. Anti-semitism is especially concerning, with many Jews finding they must defend their existence and battle discrimination.
The discord in the Middle East is covered daily by worldwide news outlets and has become a major issue in the 21st century. The issue at hand is complex and multi-dimensional, and it is argued that a just solution needs to be found that allows peace and safety for both Palestinians and Israelis and fulfils the Jewish right to self-determination. The Jewish viewpoint deals with issues of fairness and protection of Jewish citizens, in addition to broader questions of social justice, human rights, and the moral consequences of ongoing occupation.
Furthermore, as the culture of the diaspora changes, so to do the dynamics between generations of Jews. Younger generations are confronted with questions such as, “What does it mean to be Jewish in the 21st century?”, and “What is the importance of Hebrew language and culture?”. While these questions vary from person to person, many young Jewish people are choosing to retain a connection to their ancestors’ faith and drawing on new, modern interpretations of the religion.