Overlapping of Hinduism and Judaism
Like Hindus, Jews have produced a very large and complex textual tradition and value religious study over sacrificial rituals.
The visit of India’s Prime Minister to Israel, and the thousands of Jews who joined in the celebration of Diwali in Times Square, mark a new opening in the history of two very ancient religions and cultures, that have rarely interacted in the past.
Although Jews have lived in India for more than 2,400 years, the traditional Jewish avoidance of missionary activity has meant that Hindu culture knows very little about Judaism.
Like Hindus, Jews have produced a very large and complex textual tradition; and value religious study over sacrificial rituals. Both Hinduism and Judaism have many dietary restrictions. Unlike Hinduism, by virtue of their religion Jews have always been, and will always be, a minority.
Unlike Buddhism and Christianity, which are named after one special person; Hinduism and Judaism are named after overlapping national, cultural, and geographical locations. Here are some interesting differences and similarities between Hinduism and Judaism.
In a world where everybody worshiped many Gods, Jews worshiped only one.
In a world where everybody represented the divine visibly through sculpture, painting, or a natural object, Jews were taught that God was invisible.
When Christianity and Islam took over the western world, the Jews continued to follow their own tradition and refused to assimilate.
Of all the religions and cultures that existed in the world 3,000 years ago when David was King in Jerusalem only the Jews and the Hindus have survived.
Even in the Messianic Age “each nation will follow its own God” (religion) and Jews will follow their God. i.e. religious pluralism is the will of God. (Micah 4:5)
Differences are very important even though nothing is totally black or white.
Differences are of degree and relative mixture. Thus Judaism teaches:
This world, and what you make of it, is more important than the next world.
How you behave is more important than what you believe.
Human nature is both good and bad, but in most people the good is greater than the bad.
God will not make us good without our co-operation (free will) and humans alone can’t create a holy society. God and humans need each other.
Relationships are the most important aspect of living a good spiritual life.
Relationships demand commitments (covenants).
To do something from a sense of duty (mitvah) is spiritually superior to doing it just because you want to do it. (mitzvah is Hebrew for “commandment. A combination of a religious law, personal obligation, and a privilege. Plural is Mitzvot. Often used to refer to a meritorious or charitable act. First known use: 1,300 BCE)
To do something as part of a community or a tradition is better than to just do your own spiritual thing in order to realize yourself.
Relationships are mutual, interactive and continually changing, so Judaism is an always developing religion, as each generation reacts to God’s continual call.
While Judaism is the only religion for Jews, other religions also provide paths that lead to God and to a good way of life. Religious pluralism is what God desires so our humility and tolerance of others can be tested. As Swami Vivekananda taught: “follow one, and hate none”.
This same teaching is in the Quran (109:6): “You have your religion and I have mine.” Or as the Indian Muslim sage Maulana Wahiduddin Khan says: “Follow one religion and respect all.”
Like Hinduism anyone who studies the Hebrew Scriptures from a Rabbinic Bible is struck by the number of different commentaries that surround the few lines of the sacred text on each page.
Most religions that have a sacred scripture have editions that come with one commentary. Occasionally they have an edition with two or three commentaries. The standard Jewish study Bible usually comes with at least 5-10 different commentaries.
All of this traces back to a verse in the Book of Psalms: “One thing God has spoken; two things have I heard” (Psalms 62:12). In other words, multiple interpretations of each verse of any Sacred Scripture can be correct, and the word of God, even if they contradict one another. The Hebrew term for this concept of pluralistic interpretation is; Shivim Panim LaTorah (each verse of Torah-Sacred Scripture has 70 different facets).
Jewish tradition recognizes four general types of interpretation.
P’shat; the plain simple meaning,
Remez; the allegorical metaphorical meaning,
De-rash; the moral educational meaning, and
Sod; the mystical hidden meaning.
Allen Maller is former rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif.