A few days ago I read some comments that were rather disparaging of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The commenter was a Hindu who lumped all Abrahamic religions together as proselytising and intolerant. Of course there are many Christians and Muslims who are tolerant and accepting of other beliefs, but as far as Judaism is concerned the accusation misses totally, it goes against the faith’s basic teachings. Unfortunately the linked comments are not the only time I have seen this “lumping together” of Judaism with Christianity and Islam on the web.
Judaism is not a proselytising religion. Though accepting converts, Judaism does not actively seek them. In fact traditionally people wanting to convert are turned away three times before being accepted. Jews do not want everyone in the world to become Jewish. Just like Hindus they believe that this is their way, but others may follow a different path. But what do Jews think about Hinduism?
Some Jews know that India is probably the only place where Jews have lived without persecution for centuries, and appreciate this. Jews believe that non-Jews can be righteous if they follow the Noahide Laws. According to the Talmud these were laws given to Noah for all the non-Jewish people in the world. Jews believe that they have to conform to a much larger and more restrictive set of laws themselves. The seven laws are:
- Prohibition of Idolatry: You shall not have any idols before God ([who the Jews see as] Yahweh).
- Prohibition of Murder: You shall not murder. (Genesis 9:6)
- Prohibition of Theft: You shall not steal.
- Prohibition of Sexual immorality: You shall not commit any of a series of sexual prohibitions, which include adultery, incest, anal intercourse between men, and bestiality.
- Prohibition of Blasphemy: You shall not blaspheme God’s name.
- Dietary Law: Do not eat flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. (Genesis 9:4, as interpreted in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 59a))
- Requirement to have just Laws: Set up a governing body of law (eg Courts)
There is no dispute that Hinduism traditionally meets laws two to six (see Hindu Yamas and Niyamas and the Ten Commandments), though the first has been a point of debate. Some Jews accepted that Hidus use the murtis as a means of worshipping God and not as objects of worship themselves, others did not. Generally Jews are more inclided to accept that Hindus meet the first law since a 2007 pronouncement by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel:
For the past 1,500 years or more, what in English is called “idolatry” has clouded Jewish perceptions of Hinduism. Happily, this issue may have been resolved once and for all at a February 2007 dialogue in New Delhi between members of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, a body which speaks with authority in the Jewish world, and the Dharma Acharya Sabha, a similarly august Hindu group. Led respectively by Rabbi Yona Metzger and Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the rabbis and the swamis issued a nine-point statement of principles, the first of which removed the “idolatry ” issue from the table: “Their respective Traditions teach that there is One Supreme Being who is the Ultimate Reality, who has created this world in its blessed diversity and who has communicated Divine ways of action for humanity, for different peoples in different times and places.
It is unfortunate that a lot of Jews don’t know about this pronouncement, and generally don’t understand the Hindu view of God. The Hindu belief in one God and created Devas (divine created beings) is similar in some ways to the Jewish belief in one God, angels and archangels. Many Jews think that Hindus believe in multiple equal Gods, and see this as idolatry.
I believe that there can be a lot of mutual understanding between Jews and Hindus. Both religions are tolerant of other faiths and non-proselytising, both believe in similar moral codes, and there are even similar philosophies in some sects. We really need Hindus and Jews to know enough about each other’s beliefs to understand and accept this.
Picture from wikimedia and available under the the Creative commons license and the GNU Free documentation license.