God in Judaism

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In Judaism, God has been conceived in a variety of ways. [1] Traditionally, Judaism holds that Hashem, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the national god of the Israelites, delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Law of Moses at biblical Mount Sinai as described in the Torah. According to the rationalist stream of Judaism articulated by Maimonides, which later came to dominate much of official traditional Jewish thought, God is understood as the absolute one, indivisible, and incomparable being who is the ultimate cause of all existence. Traditional interpretations of Judaism generally emphasize that God is personal yet also transcendent, while some modern interpretations of Judaism emphasize that God is a force or ideal. [2]

Judaism The ethnic religion of the Jewish people

Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, comprising the collective religious, cultural and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. God is usually conceived as being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present) and as having an eternal and necessary existence. These attributes are used either in way of analogy or are taken literally. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence".

Hashem is a title used in Judaism to refer to God. It is also a given name and surname, common in Muslim societies.

Contents

The names of God used most often in the Hebrew Bible are the Tetragrammaton (YHWH Hebrew: יהוה) and Elohim. Other names of God in traditional Judaism include El Shaddai and Shekhinah.

The name of God most often used in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton. Owing to the Jewish tradition viewing the divine name as too sacred to be uttered it was replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai, which was translated as Kyrios ("Lord") in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. It is frequently anglicized as Yahweh or Jehovah and written in most English editions of the Bible as "the LORD".

Hebrew Bible Canonical collection of Hebrew scripture

The Hebrew Bible, which is also called the Tanakh or sometimes the Mikra, is the canonical collection of Hebrew scriptures. These texts are almost exclusively in Biblical Hebrew, except for some Biblical Aramaic passages in the books of Daniel and Ezra. The Hebrew Bible is also the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. The form of this text that is authoritative for Rabbinic Judaism is known as the Masoretic Text (MT) and it consists of 24 books, while the translations divide essentially the same material into 39 books for the Protestant Bible.

Tetragrammaton The four-letter biblical name of the God of Israel

The Tetragrammaton, is the four-letter Hebrew word יהוה, the name of the biblical God of Israel. The four letters, read from right to left, are yodh, he, waw and he. While there is no consensus about the structure and etymology of the name, "the form Yahweh is now accepted almost universally".

Names

The name of God used most often in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton (YHWH Hebrew : יהוה). Jews traditionally do not pronounce it, and instead refer to God as HaShem , literally "the Name". In prayer the Tetragrammaton is substituted with the pronunciation Adonai, meaning "My Master".

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel. Modern Hebrew was spoken by over nine million people worldwide in 2013. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name "Hebrew" in the Tanakh itself. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only Canaanite language still spoken, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

From Iron Age local god to monotheism

The national god of the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel and Judah was Yahweh. [3] The precise origins of this god are disputed, although they reach back to the early early Iron Age and even the late Bronze Age. [3] [4] The name may have begun as an epithet of El, [3] head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon, but earlier mentions are in Ancient Egyptian texts that place God among the nomads of the southern Transjordan. [5]

National gods are a class of guardian divinities or deities whose special concern is the safety and well-being of an ethnic group (nation), and of that group's leaders. This is contrasted with other guardian figures such as family gods responsible for the well-being of individual clans or professions, or personal gods who are responsible for the well-being of individuals. These guardian roles augment the functions that a divinity might otherwise have.

The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humanity. It was preceded by the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. The concept has been mostly applied to Europe and the Ancient Near East, and, by analogy, also to other parts of the Old World.

Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) Israelite kingdom, c. 930-720 BCE

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Kingdom of Israel was one of two successor states to the former United Kingdom of Israel and Judah. Historians often refer to the Kingdom of Israel as the "Northern Kingdom" or as the "Kingdom of Samaria" to differentiate it from the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

After evolving from its monolatristic roots, [6] Judaism became strictly monotheistic. No consensus has been reached by academics on the origins of monotheism in ancient Israel, but "Yahweh clearly came out of the world of the gods of the Ancient Near East." [7]

Monotheism is the belief in one god. A narrower definition of monotheism is the belief in the existence of only one god that created the world, is all-powerful and intervenes in the world.

The worship of multiple gods (polytheism) and the concept of God having multiple persons (as in the doctrine of Trinity) are equally unimaginable in Judaism. The idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical in Judaism – it is considered akin to polytheism.

Polytheism worship of or belief in multiple deities

Polytheism is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals. In most religions which accept polytheism, the different gods and goddesses are representations of forces of nature or ancestral principles, and can be viewed either as autonomous or as aspects or emanations of a creator deity or transcendental absolute principle, which manifests immanently in nature. Most of the polytheistic deities of ancient religions, with the notable exceptions of the Ancient Egyptian and Hindu deities, were conceived as having physical bodies.

Trinity Christian doctrine that God is one God, but three coeternal consubstantial persons

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one God, but three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as "one God in three Divine persons". The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature" (homoousios). In this context, a "nature" is what one is, whereas a "person" is who one is. Sometimes differing views are referred to as nontrinitarian. Trinitarianism contrasts with positions such as Binitarianism and Monarchianism, of which Modalistic Monarchianism and Unitarianism are subsets.

Dualism in cosmology is the moral or spiritual belief that two fundamental concepts exist, which often oppose each other. It is an umbrella term that covers a diversity of views from various religions, including both traditional religions and scriptural religions.

God, the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of series, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity unlike any other possible unity. (Maimonides, 13 Principles of Faith, Second Principle) [8]

Since, according to the mystical conception, all of existence emanates from God, whose ultimate existence is not dependent on anything else, some Jewish sages perceived God as interpenetrating the universe, which itself has been thought to be a manifestation of God's existence. According to this line of theological speculation, Judaism can be regarded as being compatible with panentheism,[ citation needed ] while always affirming genuine monotheism.

Kabbalistic tradition holds that the divine consists of ten sefirot (attributes or emanations). This has been described as a strand of Judaism which may seem at odds with Jewish commitments to strict monotheism, but Kabbalists have consistently emphasized that their traditions are strictly monotheistic. [9]

Any belief that an intermediary between humanity and God could be used, whether necessary or even optional, has traditionally been considered heretical. Maimonides writes that

God is the only one we may serve and praise....We may not act in this way toward anything beneath God, whether it be an angel, a star, or one of the elements.....There are no intermediaries between us and God. All our prayers should be directed towards God; nothing else should even be considered. [10]

Some rabbinic authorities disagreed with this view. Notably, Nachmanides was of the opinion that it is permitted to ask the angels to beseech God on our behalf. This argument manifests notably in the Selichot prayer called "Machnisay Rachamim", a request to the angels to intercede with God.

Godhead

Godhead refers to the aspect or substratum of God that lies behind God's actions or properties (i.e., it is the essence of God).

Rationalistic conception

In the philosophy of Maimonides and other Jewish-rationalistic philosophers, there is little which can be known about the Godhead, other than its existence, and even this can only be asserted equivocally.

How then can a relation be represented between God and what is other than God when there is no notion comprising in any respect both of the two, inasmuch as existence is, in our opinion, affirmed of God, may God be exalted, and of what is other than God merely by way of absolute equivocation. There is, in truth, no relation in any respect between God and any of God's creatures.

Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim (Pines 1963)

Mystical conception

In Kabbalistic thought, the term "Godhead" usually refers to the concept of Ein Sof (אין סוף), which is the aspect of God that lies beyond the emanations ( sephirot ). The "knowability" of the Godhead in Kabbalistic thought is no better that what is conceived by rationalist thinkers. As Jacobs (1973) puts it, "Of God as God is in Godself—Ein Sof—nothing can be said at all, and no thought can reach there".

Ein Sof is a place to which forgetting and oblivion pertain. Why? Because concerning all the sefirot, one can search out their reality from the depth of supernal wisdom. From there it is possible to understand one thing from another. However, concerning Ein Sof, there is no aspect anywhere to search or probe; nothing can be known of it, for it is hidden and concealed in the mystery of absolute nothingness.

David ben Judah Hehasid, Matt (1990)

Properties attributed to God

In modern articulations of traditional Judaism, God has been speculated to be the eternal, omnipotent and omniscient creator of the universe, and the source of morality.[ citation needed ] God has the power to intervene in the world. Maimonides describes God in this fashion: "The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being." [11]

Jews often describe God as omniscient, [12] although some prominent medieval Jewish philosophers held that God does not have complete foreknowledge of human acts. Gersonides, for example, argued that God knows the choices open to each individual, but that God does not know the choices that an individual will make. [13] Abraham ibn Daud believed that God was not omniscient or omnipotent with respect to human action. [14]

Jews often describe God as omnipotent, and see that idea as rooted in the Bible. [12] Some modern Jewish theologians have argued that God is not omnipotent, however, and have found many biblical and classical sources to support this view. [15]

Although God is referred to in the Tanakh with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, traditional Jewish philosophy does not attribute gender to God. [16] Although Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do on occasion refer to God using gendered language, for poetic or other reasons, this language was never understood by Jews to imply that God is gender-specific.

Some modern Jewish thinkers take care to articulate God outside of the gender binary, [17] a concept seen as not applicable to God.

Kabbalistic tradition holds that emanations from the divine consist of ten aspects, called sefirot.

Conceptions of God

Personal

The mass revelation at Mount Horeb in an illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907 The Ten Commandments (Bible Card).jpg
The mass revelation at Mount Horeb in an illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907

Most of classical Judaism views God as a personal god, meaning that humans can have a relationship with God and vice versa. Rabbi Samuel S. Cohon wrote that "God as conceived by Judaism is not only the First Cause, the Creative Power, and the World Reason, but also the living and loving Father of Men. He is not only cosmic but also personal....Jewish monotheism thinks of God in terms of definite character or personality, while pantheism is content with a view of God as impersonal." This is shown in the Jewish liturgy, such as in the Adon Olam hymn, which includes a "confident affirmation" that "He is my God, my living God...Who hears and answers." [18] Edward Kessler writes that Hebrew Bible "portrays an encounter with a God who cares passionately and who addresses humanity in the quiet moments of its existence." [19] British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that God "is not distant in time or detached, but passionately engaged and present". [19]

The "predicate 'personal' as applied to God" does not necessarily mean that God is corporeal or anthropomorphic, views that Jewish sages sometimes rejected; rather, "personality" refers not to physicality, but to "inner essence, psychical, rational, and moral". [18] However, other traditional Jewish texts, for example, the Shi'ur Qomah of the Heichalot literature, describe the measurements of limbs and body parts of God.

Jews believe that "God can be experienced" but also that "God cannot be understood," because "God is utterly unlike humankind" (as shown in God's response to Moses when Moses asked for God's name: "I Am that I Am"). Anthropomorphic statements about God "are understood as linguistic metaphors, otherwise it would be impossible to talk about God at all". [19]

According to some speculations in traditional Judaism, people's actions do not have the ability to affect God positively or negatively.[ citation needed ] The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible states: "Gaze at the heavens and see, and view the skies, which are higher than you. If you sinned, how do you harm God, and if your transgressions are many, what do you do to God? If you are righteous, what do you give God? Or what does God take from your hand? Your wickedness [affects] a person like yourself, and your righteousness a child of humanity." However, a corpus of traditional Kabbalistic texts describe theurgic practices that manipulate the supernal realms, and Practical Kabbalah (Hebrew: קבלה מעשית‬) texts instruct adepts in the use of white magic.

A notion that God is in need of human beings has been propounded by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Because God is in search of people, God is accessible and available through time and place to whoever seeks Him, leading to a spiritual intensity for the individual as well. This accessibility leads to a God who is present, involved, near, intimate, and concerned for and vulnerable to what happens in this world. [20]

Non-personal

Although the dominant strain in Judaism is that God is personal, modern Jewish thinkers claim that there is an "alternate stream of tradition exemplified by ... Maimonides", who, along with several other Jewish philosophers, rejected the idea of a personal God. [19]

Modern Jewish thinkers who have rejected the idea of a personal God have sometimes affirmed that God is nature, the ethical ideal, or a force or process in the world.

Baruch Spinoza offers a pantheist view of God. In his thought, God is everything and everything is God. Thus, there can be conceived no substance but God. [21] In this model, one can speak of God and nature interchangeably. Although Spinoza was excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam, Spinoza's concept of God was revived by later Jews, especially Israeli secular Zionists. [22]

Hermann Cohen rejected Spinoza's idea that God can be found in nature, but agreed that God was not a personal being. Rather, he saw God as an ideal, an archetype of morality. [23] Not only can God not be identified with nature, but God is also incomparable to anything in the world. [23] This is because God is “One,” unique and unlike anything else. [23] One loves and worships God through living ethically and obeying His moral law: “love of God is love of morality.” [23]

Similarly, for Emmanuel Levinas, God is ethics, so one is brought closer to God when justice is rendered to the Other. This means that one experiences the presence of God through one’s relation to other people. To know God is to know what must be done, so it does not make sense to speak of God as what God is, but rather what God commands. [24]

For Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, God is not a person, but rather a force within the universe that is experienced; in fact, anytime something worthwhile is experienced, that is God. [25] God is the sum of all natural processes that allow people to be self-fulfilling, the power that makes for salvation. [26] Thus, Kaplan’s God is abstract, not carnate, and intangible. It is important to note that, in this model, God exists within this universe; for Kaplan, there is nothing supernatural or otherworldly. One loves this God by seeking out truth and goodness. Kaplan does not view God as a person but acknowledges that using personal God-language can help people feel connected to their heritage and can act as “an affirmation that life has value.” [27]

Likewise, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, views God as a process. To aid in this transition in language, he uses the term “godding,” which encapsulates God as a process, as the process that the universe is doing, has been doing, and will continue to do. [28] This term means that God is emerging, growing, adapting, and evolving with creation. Despite this, conventional God-language is still useful in nurturing spiritual experiences and can be a tool to relate to the infinite, although it should not be confused with the real thing. [29]

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Americans who identify as Jewish by religion are twice as likely to favor ideas of God as "an impersonal force" over the idea that "God is a person with whom people can have a relationship". [30]

See also

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<i>Ein Sof</i> in Kabbalah, God is prior to any self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm

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Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahai Faith are called Abrahamic religions because they all accept the tradition of the God that revealed himself to Abraham. The theological traditions of all Abrahamic religions are thus to some extent influenced by the depiction of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, and story of Abram, the idol craftsman and worshipper, who had a revelation of God being God alone, and idols are not God. He is acclaimed as the Father of monotheism in the history of Judaism. In the Biblical narrative, he changed his name to Abraham once accepting his new life as a man believing only in One God, and this God being One. On a side note, the narrative also continues that God promised Abraham he would be "the Father of a great nation, whose descendants would out number the stars in the sky and the fish in the sea".

Godhead refers to the aspect or substratum of God that lies behind God's actions or properties, and its nature has been the subject of long debate in every major religion.

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Although the Gender of God in Judaism is referred to in the Tanakh with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, traditional Jewish philosophy does not attribute the concept of sex to God. At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered. The ways in which God is gendered have also changed across time, with some modern Jewish thinkers viewing God as outside of the gender binary.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Judaism:

Ayin and Yesh "Nothingness" in Kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy

Ayin is an important concept in Kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy. It is contrasted with the term Yesh ("something/exist/being/is"). According to kabbalistic teachings, before the universe was created there was only Ayin, and the first manifest Sephirah, Chochmah (Wisdom), "comes into being out of Ayin." In this context, the sephirah Keter, the Divine will, is the intermediary between the Divine Infinity and Chochmah. Because Keter is a supreme revelation of the Ohr Ein Sof, transcending the manifest sephirot, it is sometimes excluded from them.

Anthropomorphism in Kabbalah

Kabbalah, the central system in Jewish mysticism, uses subtle anthropomorphic analogies and metaphors to describe God in Judaism. These include male-female influences in the Divine. Kabbalists repeatedly warn and stress the need to divorce their notions from any corporeality, dualism, plurality, or spatial and temporal connotations. As "the Torah speaks in the language of Man", the empirical terms are necessarily imposed upon man's experience in this world. Once the analogy is described, its limitations are then related to, stripping the kernel of its husk, to arrive at a truer conception.

References

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  16. "G-d has no body, no genitalia; therefore, the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience's sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is." Judaism 101. "The fact that we always refer to God as 'He' is also not meant to imply that the concept of sex or gender applies to God." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Aryeh Kaplan Reader, Mesorah Publications (1983), p. 144
  17. Julia Watts-Belser, “Transing God/dess: Notes from the Borderlands,” in Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, ed. Noach Dzmura (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010)
  18. 1 2 Samuel S. Cohon. What We Jews Believe (1931). Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Edward Kessler, What Do Jews Believe?: The Customs and Culture of Modern Judaism (2007). Bloomsbury Publishing: pp. 42-44.
  20. Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1955).
  21. Benedictus de Spinoza, The Ethics; Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect; Selected Letters, trans. Samuel Shirley, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), 40.
  22. Daniel B. Schwartz, The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image (Princeton University Press, 2012), ch. 5.
  23. 1 2 3 4 Hermann Cohen, Reason and Hope: Selections from the Jewish Writings of Hermann Cohen, trans. Eva Jospe (New York,: Norton, 1971), 223.
  24. Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, trans. Sean Hand (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 223.
  25. Alan Levenson, An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thinkers: From Spinoza to Soloveitchik, 137.
  26. Alan Levenson, An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thinkers: From Spinoza to Soloveitchik, 138.
  27. Mordecai Menahem Kaplan, The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 29.
  28. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Joel Segel, Jewish with Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 20.
  29. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Joel Segel, Jewish with Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 8.
  30. http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/05/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf, p. 164

Further reading