What's the Difference?

One hazard of dwelling on the similarities between Judaism and chr*stianity--in order to counterract propaganda that Judaism is freethinking, hyperrationalistic, "scientific," "progressive," ad nauseum--is the danger that the very real differences between the two faiths will become obscured.  Since I have heretofore been stressing the Jewish elements of chr*stianity (especially the Fundamentalist Protestant variety), and since the "differences" so often touted are often deceptive, I have decided to try to explain in this article what the true enourmous and unbridgeable differences between the two faiths are, as I have come to understand them.

Just what is it that separates Judaism--the real Judaism and not the secularist political philosophy of 'Avi Dershowitz and Abe Foxman--from all the forms of chr*stianity?  It is simply this: in chr*stianity, religion is largely salvific.  It Judaism it is statutory.

Okay now, what does this mean?  It means simply that G-d is the boss, He created the universe and everything in it, He is our L-rd and Master, He makes the rules, and it is our responsibility and our duty to follow them to the best of our poor abilities.  If you thought that this was the basis of all religion (including chr*stianity), think again.

In chr*stianity (at least in theory) the universe G-d created fell into the hands of and was corrupted by an evil force opposed to G-d.  Because of this, man was not only taken captive by this evil being (requiring "ransom") but his soul was "lost."  In theory, statutory obedience of G-d's Laws had to be scrapped in order to enact a grand metaphysical redemptive scheme that would buy back man from the evil "anti-G-d" who had captured him and to "save" his soul from eternal damnation, which was now his inevitable destiny after being corrupted.  Again, let it be stressed that for most of chr*stianity this worldview is largely theoretical rather than practical, since mainstream chr*stianity for fifteen hundred years in practice adopted the statutory model of religion, the Torah being replaced by the "new law" of chr*stianity.

Judaism does not deny nor minimize the havoc wreaked on man's nature or on the world by hacheit' haqadmon (the first sin).  It is Judaism that taught these facts to the world to begin with.  It is Judaism that first taught the world that, although man was created with both a good and an evil inclination, the primordial sin caused the evil inclination to become much stronger than the good (before the sin the evil inclination operated on man from the outside; after the sin it operated from the inside).  In fact, Judaism teaches that while man is born with his evil inclination, he doesn't receive his good inclination until he turns thirteen years old!  So Judaism most definitely does not have an unrealistic, optimistic, enlightenment-humanist view of human nature.  There is even a midrash that says that prior to the "fall" man's "skin" was spiritual, and that the skin we now have is the skin that G-d obtained from animals and with which He clothed Adam and Eve after they had hidden themselves!  So no, the denial that man and the universe passed from the possession of its Creator to that of an evil entity in no sense denies the tragic consequences of the "fall."

Where Judaism does differ is in this: just as the religion given to the "unfallen" Adam was statutory, even after the "fall" the religion given to Adam and to all his descendants remained statutory.  Adam was given seven basic commandments.  These were renewed and repeated to Noah after the Flood (the covenant under which all non-Jews have lived from that time to this).  When G-d made His covenant with Abraham He repeated the Seven Laws and added circumcision.  Finally the Revelation of Sinai finalized for all time G-d's twin covenants with Jewish and non-Jewish mankind and our duties to Him.

It is often pointed out that Judaism has a more "this-worldly" focus than chr*stianity (which is obvious from comparing the TaNa"KH with the "new testament").  Propagandists and shallow thinkers often leave the impression that this is because Judaism doesn't have much of a commitment to a belief in the afterlife.  This is not so.  The real reason for the focus on "Torah and mitzvot" in this world rather than the state of the soul after death or the life of the World to Come is simply because of Judaism's statutory worldview.  Because man never fell into the possession of an evil "anti-G-d," "eternal damnation" is not his only and inevitable fate unless he somehow is "ransomed" by the G-d Who created him.  Man is not walking a tightrope between a one-size-fits-all eternal damnation on one hand and a one-size-fits-all paradise on the other.  Man's goal in life is not "salvation" but tiqqun (completion or reparation), and everyone dies somewhere along this road.  Neither spotless perfection nor "salvation" by a "man-gxd" is necessary to avoid "eternal damnation."  While a few people have reached great levels of holiness and many many more have fallen to a level of demonic evil, most people fall somewhere in between.  Whatever recompense awaits the soul after death, it is based on G-d's unique judgement of the totality of a man's life and circumstances, and there is probably much more available to him than either paradise or "eternal damnation."  This is why the basic philosophy of Judaism towards eternity is that recorded in Pirqei 'Avot in the Mishnah: "Lo' `aleykha hamela'khah ligmor, 'aval lo' 'attah ben chorin lehibbatel mimennah" ("you are not responsible to finish the work, but neither are you free to withdraw from it").  Again, each individual must obey G-d's statutes to the best of his ability so that when he appears before G-d in judgement he has made progress in his journey.

At this point I must repeat an assertion I made in an earlier essay: that Judaism's uncompromising Monotheistic worldview (in which Satan has a much less exalted role than he does in chr*stianity) in no sense denies the existence of Satan (which is, after all, a Hebrew name), of demons, or of the almost limitless depravity of human evil.  The same Torah in which HaShem reigns supreme and unchallenged by any Satan is the same Torah in which HaShem condemns in no uncertain terms the depravities and abominations of the pagans.  Satan exists.  Demons exist (though the Jewish understanding of demons is different from that of chr*stianity).  And man has the ability to offend the Holiness of G-d with almost unimaginable evil.  But G-d is still G-d.  He has not been displaced.  No other being has obtained possession of or "lordship" over man.  G-d remains the only L-rd and G-d of all mankind, from the most sinful to the most holy.

Compare this with the view of chr*istianity, in which man is born with "Satan" as his "gxd" and must "pass from nature to grace" in order to become once again a creature of G-d rather than of Satan.  In mainstream historical (ie, statutory) chr*stianity this is achieved through the objective act of baptism, but in Fundamentalist Protestantism this "redemption" is accomplished through a purely internal, emotional, and ultimately subjective experience (the "new birth").  Until this is achieved, Satan is one's "gxd."  HaShem created the universe, yet He has been displaced as its god by another entity, allegedly an archangel who rebelled and against Him and tried to take His place!  ("Lucifer son of the morning" in Isaiah 14:12 is the king of Babylon, not Satan or a fallen angel.)

Ironically, even the most internally consistent versions of chr*stianity break down into inconsistency at some point.  If religion were truly purely salvific, man would have no role in it other than as a passive object of salvation; ie, there would be no moral code or responsibilities.  Yet ironically, the most "antinomian" and anti-"salvation-by-works" forms of chr*stianity often have the most puritanical moral codes!  So even the most "salvation" oriented chr*stians are still plugged into statutory religion.  However, they remain much more internally consistent than historical liturgical chr*stianity.  For example, in traditional right-wing Roman Catholicism (granted, no longer mainstream) each human being is born under the sway of Satan, yet is statutorily obligated to be baptized into the church.  Thereafter this person (who never at any time can be sure that he is in the "state of grace") is statutorily obligated to obey G-d via "the new law" even though he will most likely fail in his "duty" to "save his own soul" and will be eternally damned in spite of it all.  I kid you not!  Traditional right-wing Catholicism insists (along with the "new testament") that only a few will be "saved," yet insists in spite of this that each and every human being in the world join the church and pracitice chr*stianity for the simple reason that G-d is G-d and this is the statutory obligation He has imposed on mankind!

Needless to say, human works have no place in religions of "salvation," and eternal damnation has no place in statutory religion.  In this sense only Torah (Judaism/Noachism) demonstrates complete internal consistency by being purely statutory without having to invoke "salvationism" as an excuse to "supercede" an acknowledged prior Divine revelation.  In fact, chr*stian "salvation" is a "spiritualization" and de-literalization of a Hebrew word that simply means to rescue from a dangerous situation, just as chr*stianity has historically de-literalized and "spiritualized" such literal Hebrew concepts as "the Kingdom of G-d."

The main problem in arguing with chr*stians (especially the more consistent Fundamentalist Protestants) that the "sacrifice" of J*sus was never necessary to "redeem" us from Satan is that they are so accustomed to the salvific view of religion that their first reaction is "then we must all be eternally damned because none of us is perfect!"  The point is not whether or not man can be "saved by works" or by "grace" or by "faith alone."  Salvation, in this sense, simply plays no part in the True Relgion!  Our life here on this earth is statutory, our goal is tiqqun, and our obligation is to be found somewhere along the way when our souls are called to appear before G-d.  HaShem then will judge each of us perfectly and recompense us in a way that is both just and merciful, taking into account all acts and circumstances, whater this will be.  Little wonder that Judaism has so little to say (at least in its more exoteric teachings) about the future life!

The most important point to be made in speaking with sincere chr*stians is that no one has to "pass from nature to grace" in order to have HaShem (rather than Satan) as one's "gxd."  Each and every human being born into the world is the direct subject of HaShem, the Creator and One True G-d, without any initiation or "experience" being necessary to bring this about.  HaShem is G-d.  He created us.  That is all that is necessary.