What does the religion teach about people who follow other
by Howard Greenstein
Jewish tradition all people, regardless of race, religion or ethnic
origin, are equally God’s children, equally precious as human
beings, equally deserving of justice and mercy from any human agency
or institution. Differences among individuals are a consequence
of their personal performance. No person is inherently better than
is virtually oblivious to race. Although traditional
sources trace the origins of the Jewish people to the patriarchs
of Israel, and although biblical evidence exists of early exclusionary
practices by Israelites, kinship is never linked entirely to blood
descent. Under existing provisions of Jewish practice, any person
who chooses to join the Jewish people and to follow the Jewish faith
enjoys equal status with every Jew who was born into the Covenant.
No one is excluded any longer from membership because of racial
or ethnic differences. The standards for entry into Judaism are
admittedly demanding, but they are entirely a matter of theological,
moral, ritual and educational preparedness.
the requirements may be stringent, conversion to Judaism is not
a precondition for salvation in this world or the next. One of the
Talmudic rabbis stated explicitly, “The righteous of all the
world have a share in the world-to-come” (Tosefta:
Sanhedrin 13:2). One chooses
to become a Jew not for the purpose of achieving eternal rewards,
but for the purpose of building a better world.
Any decent human being may expect whatever rewards accrue to a life
of justice and goodness in this world or the next.
some ways it is even easier for a non-Jew to achieve lasting reward
than it for a Jew. Eligibility for the world-to-come requires a
non-Jew only to follow the seven commandments of the Covenant that
God consummated with Noah. That Covenant embodies for Judaism the
fundamental precepts that should govern all civilized society. It
includes prohibitions against
profanation of God’s name
conduct, such as cutting a limb from a living animal.
addition, Talmudic literature is filled with legends about heathens
who supposedly “acquired the world-to-come” by single
acts of extraordinary compassion or courage. By contrast, a Jew
is expected to observe as many of the six hundred and thirteen commandments
of the Torah as may apply to him/her if s/he seeks assurance of
recognition among Jews that others possess sufficient spiritual
merit for divine approval is a unique distinction unparalleled in
any Western religious tradition. It helps to explain the approach
to conversion among many rabbinic authorities who will accept Jews
by choice who are sincere and determined, but will not actively
or aggressively seek them. Indeed, Halakah (Jewish law)
instructs a rabbi to discourage potential proselytes and to yield
only if they persist in their request.
recent development of liberal Jewish attitudes toward non-Jews,
especially in a democratic setting, is a
recognition that every religious discipline contributes to the totality
of spiritual truth. The quality of the whole human
enterprise is better and brighter precisely because of the differences
among peoples and civilizations. One culture stimulates another
and encourages a continuous process of reassessment and renewal.
Every religion challenges every other; each contributes some insight
or value that the others cannot fully grasp or understand. Unfortunately,
the reality of the human condition does not make this proposition
easy to apply, but that misfortune does not make it any less true.
the Jewish people the contribution of Judaism is endowed with a
special distinction of its own. The dictates of reason are an essential
component in its formulation of faith. Its ethical idealism is imperishable
but practical. Social justice is the heart of its message. Physical
and spiritual reality is blended in a clear but gentle balance.
Its legacy of language and literature, its ritual pageantry, dedication
to freedom of conscience and reverence for life are all crown jewels
of the human spirit.
the same time, most liberal Jews will not pretend that Judaism has
exhausted every measure of truth and goodness in the universe. Some
have developed better insights into mysticism, others have concentrated
more intently on the quest for peace, while still others have created
more dramatic and inspiring rituals. Most
religious faiths, therefore do not compete with one another, but
complement one another. Most possess their own share
of truth and merit and have a right to thrive and flourish.
of its own unique contribution, every major faith ensures that the
world is far better served with a multiplicity of beliefs than it
could be out of rigid uniformity. Indeed, diversity is the pre-requisite
for all creativity. The world could not endure without it.
©2006 Howard Greenstein
R. Greenstein serves as Rabbi of the Jewish congregation
of Marco Island, Florida. He has previously served congregations
in Florida, Ohio, and Massachusetts. Greenstein has been a Lecturer
at the University of Florida, University of North Florida, and Jacksonville
University. He is the author of Judaism:
An Eternal Covenant (1983) and Turning Point: Zionism
and Reform Judaism (1981).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.