Article by Marlena Tanya Muchnick
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Let’s close our eyes for a moment. Relax and let yourself concentrate on an image I will now put before you. Imagine living in a house where you are settled and secure. One day your home is invaded and you are under the rule of another. It happens again, many times. You make many changes to keep yourself safe, at the least alive. Indelible scars are left upon you, and in time you realize the purity of spirit and teachings that originally defined you are forever lost. Parts of your family have followed alien ways. Your present identity is defined by what it left to you, and you guard it zealously.
So it is with Judaism. Development of Judaism can only be understood through its history. The religious and cultural nature of Judaism has undergone upheavals that have threatened its existence and these have resulted in irreversible changes over time to the earliest teachings of the prophets and wise men. We might say that the roots of this great sub-civilization have produced fruit that has changed shape and nutritive value, shaped itself into a unique and evolving garden of variety. Moreover, in modern times, many Jewish individuals are seeking more understanding of their purpose beyond the rituals of Jewish holidays. They are looking for more spiritual leadership within or without their religion. We can observe this through understanding the different major sects of Judaism.
If Moses were here today he would be astounded to see how the biblical roots of Judaism have changed since they were revealed to him in stark simplicity thousands of years ago.
We can also learn a great deal about Judaism from its core values, most of which are similar to the values of all true religions. Judaism is not a book or even a set of books. The Hebrew Bible plus the Talmud, which is commentary upon the Five Books of Moses, is a living religious tradition. The land and people of Israel have been essential, intertwined components of Judaism for 3000 years. We, they, embody a religion, culture, national group, ethnicity – in fact, Judaism is a sub-civilization, apparently containing all it needs to be self-sufficient.
We, as Mormons, know that is not the fact. While we have chosen Jesus Christ as our exemplar, our Savior and Redeemer, and as the cornerstone of our lives, the Jews have chosen Torah as their foundation text, their essential guide for living. Since the core values and practices of Judaism have given birth and rise to Christianity and Islam, learning about several of them will help Latter-day Saints to understand more fully the fount from which Jesus taught, as they are today interpreted and expressed in Jewish thought and practice.
Let’s begin with the quick mention of what constitutes sinfulness in Judaism. Generally sinful behavior refers to any lack of conformity to the will of God. The Jewish view of sin is based on the laws of the Bible, as interpreted through ancient oral law, so it is a consensus of combined laws. Halakah has application to every possible transgression including lack of Torah study, ritual prohibitions, violation of dietary laws, adultery, murder, and so on. The numerous degrees and types of transgression determined the amount and type of offerings made by the penitent during the First and Second Temple periods.
Understand that in Jewish mysticism the belief is that God is strengthened by the good people do. He needs us to do good for him as well as for us. The adversary, sidra acha – the other side, is strengthened when we allow evil into our lives and God’s powers are weakened by this. So we have to be good to help God be as strong as He can be. This is the Kabbalistic, mystical view of Judaism.
The Talmud, a huge and varied commentary upon the five books of Moses in the Hebrew bible, makes classification of sin in several areas:
(1) cardinal: idolatry, unchastity and bloodshed, (2) in public (3) in secret (4) original. Regarding original sin, rabbis have taught that it is the direct cause of death, which is the fate of every creature. We humans, they teach, have inherited the guilt caused by our first parents in the Garden and are essentially corrupt, though not responsible FOR their guilt.
Repentance: Because all sinfulness is wrong before God, the Holy One, we must correct ourselves and learn humility and make restitution wherever possible. Before we can offer restitution, we must first repent. Teshuvah (tesh u vah)is the process of repentance. Now remember that with the destruction of the Second Temple, Herod’s Temple, in AD 70 by the Romans, the possibility of animal sacrifice was eliminated. All that was left to effect atonement was teshuvah, and it became the central religious concept of Rabbinic Judaism. Teshuvah means: return, as in returning to be in a right relationship with God. It also means respond, as in responding to God’s call. If we refer to 1Kings 8:48 we find that relationship stressed.
Teshuvah is necessary in Rabbinic Judaism and obtained through following of all of the commandments. The guilty must appease who he has wronged, humbling himself, offering what is necessary to make the situation correct and morally free of any obstacle. Because the Temple was destroyed, Jews have had to find new expressions of teshuvah.
Maimonides, a Spanish Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar of the Middle Ages, wrote that one knows he has successfully accomplished teshuvah when he is in the same situation in which he had previously transgressed and there is no fear in being caught. He lacks the power to recommit the transgression, and he refrains from it. Rav Kook, a mystical, messianic scholar who was the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, wrote that repentance has a redemptive quality that is linked to the messianic return to our source of being.
A Jew can confess to his rabbi, just as we Saints can do so to our bishop, and within the privacy of Bishop’s court if necessary. Jewish liturgy affirms that when we repent together, as a community, acknowledging that we have all erred, through repentance, sincere prayer and acts of charity, God’s decree and judgment will be tempered. In the Talmud it is decreed:
The supreme message of Hebrew prophecy was the call to erring men and women to retrace their steps to God. Every prophet only prophesied for the days of the Messiah and the penitent. (Talmud, Ber 34b).
In the LDS corpus there are myriad references to repentance and the process of completing it. In Alma 5:49 we read that he was called to preach that only those who repent can be born again. In Jewish thought, teshuvah is also seen as an act of self-recreation. In Moroni 8:8 we read that repentance is so important that Christ came into the world to call sinners to repent. Repentance is necessary even before baptism, and is the first fruit of baptism, because of its cleansing, purifying power.
The Doctrine and Covenants is replete with scriptures concerning repentance. Here are two of my favorites:
Alma 42: 4-5 And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God. For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.
D&C 19:15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
Marlena Tanya Muchnick
LDS author, speaker, columnist
EMAIL: [email protected]
http://comeuntochrist.blogspot.com, http://judaicaworld.blogspot.com, http://judaicaworld.wordpress.com