Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 3]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Essence of the Religion of Judaism

(pp.15-18)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“There can be no disputing the fact that the central idea of Judaism and its life purpose is the doctrine of the One Only and Holy God, whose kingdom of truth, justice and peace is to be universally established at the end of time.
This is the main teaching of Scripture and the hope voiced in the liturgy; while Israel’s mission to defend, to unfold and to propagate this truth is a corollary of the doctrine itself and cannot be separated from it. Whether we regard it as Law or a system of doctrine, as religious truth or world-mission, this belief pledged the little tribe of Judah to a warfare of many thousands of years against the hordes of heathendom with all their idolatry and brutality, their deification of man and their degradation of deity to human rank.”1

“Judaism is in a true sense a religion of the people. It is free from all priestly tutelage and hierarchical interference. It has no ecclesiastical system of belief, guarded and supervised by men invested with superior powers. Its teachers and leaders have always been men from among the people, like the prophets of yore, with no sacerdotal privilege or title; in fact, in his own household each father is the God-appointed teacher of his children.”2

“Neither is Judaism the creation of a single person, either prophet or a man with divine claims. It points back to the patriarchs as its first source of revelation. It speaks not of the God of Moses, of Amos and Isaiah, but of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thereby declaring the Jewish genius to be the creator of its own religious ideas.”3

“[Judaism is] a religion of life, which it wishes to sanctify by duty rather than by laying stress on the hereafter. It looks to the deed and the purity of the motive , not to the empty creed and the blind belief.”4

“Nor is it a religion of redemption , contemning this earthly life; for Judaism repudiates the assumption of a radical power of evil in man or in the world. Faith in the ultimate triumph of the good is essential to it.”5

“Judaism sets forth its doctrine of God’s unity and of life’s holiness in a far superior form than does Christianity. It neither permits the deity to be degraded into the sphere of the sensual and human, nor does it base its morality upon a love bereft of the vital principle of justice.

Against the rigid monotheism of Islam, which demands blind submission to the stern decrees of inexorable fate, Judaism on the other hand urges its belief in God’s paternal love and mercy, which educates all the children of men, through trial and suffering, for their high destiny.”[footnote]pp. 17-18

“Judaism denies most emphatically the right of Christianity or any other religion to arrogate to itself the title of “the absolute religion” or to claim to be “the finest blossom and the ripest fruit of religious development” …

The full unfolding of the religious and moral life of mankind is the work of countless generations yet to come, and many divine heralds of truth and righteousness have yet to contribute their share.”6

“In this work of untold ages, Judaism claims that it has achieved and is still achieving its full part as the prophetic world-religion. Its law of righteousness, which takes for its scope the whole of human life, in its political and social relations as well as its personal aspects, forms the foundation of its ethics for all time; while its hope for a future realization of the Kingdom of God has actually become the aim of human history.”7

“As a matter of fact, when the true object of religion is the hallowing of life rather than the salvation of the soul, there is little room left for sectarian exclusiveness, or for a heaven for believers and a hell for unbelievers. With this broad outlook upon life, Judaism lays claim, not to perfection, but to perfectibility; it has supreme capacity for growing toward the highest ideals of mankind, as beheld by the prophets in their Messianic visions.”8

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