What is the current state of judaism? What is modern judaism called?
Judaism’s Conception of God
Jews say they believe in one God. However, certain parts of the Torah in circulation today show that their belief in God is tainted by anthropomorphism, which is where gods are thought to resemble humans or other created beings. This falls at odds with the belief that God is transcendent and beyond imagination.
In Judaism, God carries the names Yahweh and Elohim. Jewish scholars refer to the parts of Torah that feature the name Yahweh, as Yahwist texts. These are believed to have been written around the 10th century BC and they clearly depict an anthropomorphic god. Likewise, the parts of the Torah that mention the name Elohim are known as Elohist texts. Reports say these were written around the 7th century BC and were later merged with the other parts, to form the Torah as we know it today.
For Jews, Yahweh is also a national god. Yahweh exclusively chose the Jewish nation and reserved His interest and favor only to them. True, another nations and beings have also been created but they have no value like the Jews do. Due to this belief, Judaism is unable to establish a universal world order that could embrace entire humankind in equal measure.
Later Jewish scholars have said that the Torah’s portrayal of God as having human traits should be interpreted in light of metaphor. They say it was only because God wanted to communicate with Jews in a manner they could understand; and that it is, therefore, only natural that God is described through anthropomorphic qualities.
Yet, too many passages of today’s Torah contradict the above approach, in that they depict God as having not only human qualities but also deficiencies. Some examples include:
After seeing humans commit so much evil, God regrets ever having created them and destroys them with the Great Flood. However, this time, he feels remorse over destroying them and promises to never do the same again. (Genesis, 6/5-7; 8/21-22)
Here, God is ascribed with human deficiencies such as erring and remorse.
Similarly, when the Israelites rebel against Him, God decides to annihilate them completely. Nevertheless, prophets step in and try to convince God not to go ahead with it. Not only does God change his mind, he also deeply regrets ever having thought about destroying them in the first place. (Exodus, 37/9-12, 14; Amos, 7/2-6)
Moreover, in the Book of Jeremiah, God reacts to the never-ending rebellions of the Israelites with the words:
“I am tired of repenting!” (Jeremiah, 15/6)
Again, the words:
“The Lord made the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested on the seventh” (Genesis, 2/3) This is another instance of ascribing weakness to God.
The fact is that resting, regretting or tiredness are deficiencies that can belong only to created beings, like humans and animals.
What is more bizarre is that today’s Torah features the below passage, which really has no place in a book that claims to have its source in divine revelation:
“The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” (Genesis, 6/2)
The Book of Genesis also speaks of how God, accompanied by two angels, goes to visit Abraham, has a meal with them, washes his feet and takes a rest. Afterwards, God sends the angels to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah but he hesitates about telling Abraham this. After thinking the matter over, he decides to tell him. Afterwards, Abraham enters into a long bargain with God, trying to convince him not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah due to the good people there. (Genesis, 18/1-15)
The Torah also tells a curious story of Jacob’s struggle with Yahweh. Accordingly, Jacob is returning from his uncle’s village to Canaan with his family. As they are passing through the desert, Jacob is intercepted by a man, who he wrestles with until the break of day.
However, towards the end, the man realizes he cannot beat Jacob, and says:
“From now on, you shall be known not as Jacob but as Israel; for you have struggled with God and men, and defeated them both!” (Genesis, 32/22-32)
The Torah also says Jacob injured the socket of his thighbone during the bout. For that reason, Jews do not eat the sinew of the thighbone on meat.
The fact that God assumes a human form to wrestle with Jacob is clearly anthropomorphic. This indicates a belief that is remote from tawhid. It is a belief which implies that God is imperfect and carries defects.
A similar notion can also be found in Hinduism, which holds that god appears on earth in the form of a human or animal. Hindus refer to this as an ‘avatar’.
Jewish scholars have sought to offer various readings of these Old Testament passages. The interpretations of the Torah say that the man Jacob wrestled with was not God but rather an angel who appeared as God. However, even this presumes that a created being has the power to assume God’s form. One could not possibly interpret that.
The Torah further quotes Jacob as supposedly saying:
“I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared” (Genesis, 32/30) which, again, defies all interpretation. Here, the meaning is too clear to require a re-read. It is also obscure as to why the Torah talks about this alleged incident. While every story needs to serve a purpose, it is unclear exactly what purpose this story serves.
As mentioned above, the Torah paints a picture of a god who is far from transcendent and afflicted with human flaws. Below are a few more examples:
“Moses heard all the families standing in the doorways of their tents whining, and the Lord became extremely angry. Moses was also very aggravated. Moses said to the Lord:
‘Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms as a mother carries a nursing baby? How can I carry them to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!” (Numbers, 11/10-15)
These passages ascribe tyranny to God and also portray Moses as displaying a rebellious attitude, when he should be humbly praying to the Lord. How could this be possibly reconciled with a book that claims divine origin?
Also similar is the below passage:
“Then Adam and his wife heard the sound of the Lord as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord among the trees of the garden. However, when the Lord could not see them, he called to Adam, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’” (Genesis, 3/8-10)
All these passages can be interpreted many times over. However, they will do nothing other than confirm that the Torah has been altered and distorted.
Many scholars today say the Torah’s anthropomorphic conception of God was influenced by the pagan deities of ancient Egypt and Babylonia, and that these beliefs left an impression not only Jews in general but also on the authors of the Torah.
Today, the Torah refers to the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Together, they comprise the most important part of the Jews’ sacred book.
These books give an account of history, beginning from creation all the way to the death of Moses (as). They also contain rulings pertaining to religious law.
Yet, the final chapter of Deuteronomy also speaks about Moses’ (as) death, burial and the mourning of his people. So, given that the Torah was revealed to Moses (as) when he was alive, how can the book describe an event before it has taken place?
Jews, again, offer an interpretation. Some say that God informed these events to Moses (as) and he wrote them down in the Torah before he died. Others say that these were written by Joshua, who became the leader of the Israelites after Moses (as) passed away.
The second part of the Jewish holy book that comes after the Torah is known as Nevi’im, which means ‘prophets’. This contains twenty-one books. There is also a third part, Ketuvim, meaning ‘writings’, which contains another thirteen sections. So, with the Torah (5), Nevi’im (21) and Ketuvim (13), the Jewish holy book has a total of 39 sections. Jews call this collection Tanakh (T=Torah, N=Nevi’im and K=Ketuvim). Christians refer to it as the Old Testament.
The tally of thirty-nine is according to the Christians. The Jews acknowledge this collection as consisting of twenty-four sections or even twenty-two, which is the same as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Yet, in essence, both Jews and Christians recognize the same content. The difference in tally only stems from the fact that Christians view each section as a separate book, while Jews merge a number of chapters together and view them as one.
It is said that the sections that follow the Torah were added during the time of prophets that came after Moses (as): Book of Joshua, of Samuel, and so forth. This continued until the number of books reached 39.
It was not until around 90 and 100 AD, during the Council of Jamnia, that the Old Testament, including the Torah, was completed and officially accepted. This is approximately 1,300 years after Moses (as). At Jamnia, today’s Old Testament was chosen from among many other copies, and canonized.
Jews believe that in addition to the written Torah, Moses also received an oral revelation from God, called the Talmud. Jews see the Talmud in the same light as the Torah, and they do not consider a person a proper Jew, unless he believes in it.
The Talmud consists of interpretations and clarifications of the Torah attributed to Moses. At first, these interpretations were passed on verbally. Later, they were written down and called the Mishna. This contained explanations on how to put religious commands into practice. Religious schools in Palestine and Babylonia further worked on the Mishna to produce the Talmud. And today, there are two of them: the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. These were compiled during the 4th and 5th centuries CE.
Literally, Mishna means to repeat, while Talmud is to instruct. From that vantage, Talmud is a collection of instructions on how to go about performing the commands of the Torah, where the rulings are very general. For instance, the Torah says:
“You will not sow your land on the seventh year!”
Or, “You will not work on Saturday!”
Yet, it does not provide any further details. And that is where the Talmud comes in.
However, it is not just the manner in which the Talmud was put together, that shows heavy human intervention. It also shows in the Talmud’s content.
The Talmud is dominated by the idea that Jews are the superior race. The ‘Ten Commandments’ only bind the Jews, and carry no weight or meaning for other people.
This is also the governing theme of all Jewish holy books: that Jews are God’s chosen nation. In the account of history given in the Old Testament, this gets in the way of the message that is meant to be conveyed. The most glaring example is the fact that the stories are swamped in too much detail, with long and tedious genealogies. In a word, the Jewish holy book is the history of Jews and the story of their interaction with God. Judaism is a national religion, bereft of the force to guide entire humankind to happiness, and lacking the capacity to become a universal religion.
The Conception of Prophethood
Judaism has a total of forty-eight prophets. The first of them was Abraham; and there are no prophets before him. Of these forty-eight, sixteen are known as canonical prophets, who are accredited by the Old Testament as being scribes or writers. Seven of them are women.
The Torah says there are true prophets, as well as false. Aside from these forty-eight prophets, those who make the claim are false prophets. The Jews do not recognize them.
According to Judaism:
A true prophet must call people to serve God and must not follow any other deity except God himself. (Jeremiah, 14/14, 23/21, 32)
A true prophet must also give news about the future, and his predictions must turn out to be correct. (Deuteronomy, 18/20-22)
Apart from these, there are no other conditions for being a prophet, like the five attributes laid down by Islam. So, a Judaic prophet may be deceitful, a tyrant, engage in illicit sexual activity, lie or be a selfish person who only thinks about his own benefit, and so forth.
And in actual fact, the way in which Jews speak about their prophets contradicts the two conditions listed above. For example, today’s Torah accuses prophet Aaron of making the golden calf and ordering people to worship it (Exodus. 32/1-5, 24, 35). The Jews see Aaron not so much as a prophet but a helper of Moses and a priest. Although they explain this by saying Aaron was forced and pressured by his people to make the golden calf, this still cannot be reconciled with the idea of prophethood. Prophets unwaveringly stand by the truth, and in doing so, are reinforced with support from God. The Holy Qur’an has sternly rejected this slander against Aaron (as), and given the true version of events. Aaron (as) was not an idol maker. He was rather a prophet who tried to stop it being made, for which he was almost lynched to death by a mob of Israelites leaning towards paganism.
So, just like its belief in God, the Judaic conception of prophethood is riddled with peculiarities. It ascribes certain traits to prophets that defy their nature. Adam (as), Idris (as), Noah (as) and others are not even regarded as prophets but are seen as carrying a lesser duty; though the Book of Exodus says that, time and again, they did receive divine revelation. Similarly, while David (as) and Solomon (as) are acknowledged only as kings, they, too, at times, get messages from God.
Jews also ascribe bizarre and unacceptable actions to prophets.
Noah, after the Great Flood, is depicted as an alcoholic, who grows grapes and makes wine out of them to drink. One day, he drinks so much that he passes out inside his tent. As he is sleeping, his youngest son Ham walks in to find him lying naked. He runs out to tell his brothers, Sam and Yafes, who enter the tent and put a blanket on their father. When Noah wakes him up, he gets the feeling that Ham has done something bad. However, he curses not Ham, but Ham’s son Canaan. For this reason, the name Canaan is among the most disliked by Jews. (Genesis, 9/20-29)
The Torah alleges that Lot slept with his daughters. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his two daughters are spared, and they take refuge inside a cave. Lot falls asleep; and the daughters say to each other:
“Our father is old, and there is no man around to give us children. So, let’s get him drunk and sleep with him!” (Genesis, 19/30-36)
Jacob tricks his twin Esau to receive his father’s blessings. (Genesis, 27) Jacob again tricks his father-in-law to spare the best sheep in the flock to himself. (Genesis, 30/32-42, 31/7-16)
David is a king with many wives. Still, after seeing the wife of his commander Uriah, he lusts after her and ends up sleeping with her. Then he moves to have Uriah killed in battle. As a punishment, his first son to be born out of this relationship dies. The second child is Solomon. The Old Testament speaks of this alleged incident; and regarding David, merely says, “The thing David did, had displeased the Lord.” (II. Samuel, 11/2 – 12/22)
Solomon has a thousand wives. However, in the later stages of his life, he has affairs with pagan women and worships idols. Solomon is also criticized as doing something “…that had displeased the Lord.” (I. Kings, 11/1-7)
On top of these, the family members of some prophets are also smeared. Jacob’s son, Judah sleeps with her daughter-in-law (Genesis, 38/12-26). Jacob’s other son, Reuben, has an affair with his father’s concubine (Genesis, 35/22). One of David’s sons also sleeps with his father’s concubine, while another sleeps with his stepsister (II. Samuel, 16/15, 20-23).
Of course, these are all vile slanders Jews have made up. However, far worse is the fact that they have murdered a number of prophets, such as Zachariah (as) and his son John (as).
About this, the Qur’an says:
“And We cursed them for their breaking the covenant, their disbelief in the signs of Allah, their killing of the prophets without right, and for saying, ‘Our hearts are wrapped’. Rather, Allah has sealed them because of their disbelief, so they do not believe, except for a few.” (Al-Nisa, 4: 155)
In the opening chapter Fatihah, the Almighty refers to the Jews as:
“…those who have drawn His anger”.
The Conception of the Afterlife
The Torah itself has no clear information about life after death. It is only the chapters that follow that speak of how sinners will go to hell, while the pious will enter heaven. Belief in the afterlife is almost non-existent in the early phases of Jewish history. In reference to Moses who is about to die, the Torah says “…you are going to rest with your ancestors.” (Genesis, 47/30; Deuteronomy, 31/16).
Jews later began debating what happens to the dead. They were led to believe they all end up in the land of the dead, which they refer to as sheol.
The themes of rebirth after death, eternal reward and punishment receive their first clear mention in the Book of Daniel, 12/2. Daniel lived between 586-538 BC in Babylonia, during the time of Jewish captivity.
Beliefs relating to the afterlife are dealt with mainly in the Talmud. There, it is said that Jews will live in paradise forever. The sinners among Jews, however, will be put in hell; but only for twelve months, before they are released to enter paradise.
As for non-Jews, they will be punished in hell until eternity. That is because from a Judaic perspective, every non-Jew is a pagan. (Rosh Hashanah, 17a)
. Some later versions of the Old Testament translate this as, “I am tired of showing compassion.”
. See, Al-Araf, 7: 150; Ta Ha, 20: 90-94.