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What Is The Difference Between Judaism and Christianity?

You'd be shocked how many times I am asked this. Well, if you're a publically Jewish person, you're probably not shocked.


The vast majority of the times I get the question, it is from Christians who are trying to unlearn what they were taught in Sunday school or are confused to why Jews don't believe in the New Testament. Judaism and Christianity are vastly different, despite Christianity being an offshoot of Judaism, and some Christians often teaching that Jews are just Christians minus Jesus.


While I will detail specific differences in this post, this metaphor usually helps:



There is a blue puzzle. It isn't done yet, but there are many pieces in place. Let's call it Puzzle A. Someone copies 5 pieces from Puzzle A and moves them to a different board to create Puzzle B. They then put on a pair of yellow-tinted glasses. When they look down at the puzzle pieces they took from Puzzle A; they don't see them as blue; they see them as green.


They then create their own puzzle pieces to fill out Puzzle B.


Back at Puzzle A, more pieces have been added, so it no longer looks exactly the same as it did when Puzzle B took 5 pieces.


Puzzle A is Judaism; Puzzle B is Christianity.


Christianity split off thousands of years ago, and both have evolved from those initial pieces. Judaism has grown immensely, as has Christianity. However, even foundational beliefs are different, as Christianity has different core beliefs. To be clear, the pieces that Christianity took from Judaism are not interpreted the same because our foundational understandings of the world are different. To relate it to the puzzle: Christians see it green, while Jews see it blue.


So, what are those differences?


Original Sin

In the Garden of Eden, Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge and encouraged Adam to eat. In Christianity, all humans are sinners because of this. Each person is born a sinner and becomes good through Christ (1).


In Judaism, we believe that each person is born with a clean slate (6).


This baseline difference greatly changes the interpretation and understanding of our shared texts.


Who Or What is G.d?

Christianity is monotheistic because they believe in one G.d, though there is also the Holy Trinity. G.d is the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son, Jesus (with the exception of fringe sects like Mormonism, who see them as three separate entities) (7). This trinity is directly against the Jewish idea of monotheism. Even in denominations where there is no holy spirit, the idea of Jesus of G.d's son, or an extension of G.d, goes against Judaism.


Now, to say that Jews all believe the same things about G.d would also be incorrect; however, Jewish perception of G.d is not the same as the Christian one. It is against Judaism to have an intermediary between a person and G.d, like Jesus or a priest.


Questioning G.d

Israel means "wrestles with G.d." Jews, the people of Israel, wrestle with G.d in every way, including wrestling with texts about G.d.


To explain how Jews interact with G.d, I turn to the Talmud, which tells the story of Rabbis arguing over law from the Torah. A heavenly voice speaks and declares that one Rabbi is correct. The other rabbis turn to the heavens and decree that HaShem is not part of the discussion as HaShem already said their bit. Most importantly, the Prophet Elijah relays the moment of, "The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me." (8).


To wrestle with G.d, and our own texts about G.d, is to be Jewish. It is an incredibly important part of Judaism. Our G.d actively encourages us to argue, fight, wrestle, contemplate their existence, and celebrate when we do so.


However, this same concept does not exist in Christianity. Questioning G.d and the sacred texts do not appear in the same way in Christianity as it does in Judaism, where arguing and questioning is tradition.


Proselytizing

This is a huge part of Christianity. Think of missions and door to door missionaries who intentionally go out and seek converts. Because Christianity believes people go to heaven when they accept Jesus Christ, they use it as an excuse to go out and seek converts. This can be as simple as standing on a street corner, commenting on someone's Instagram, or as extreme as Mormon missions.


In Judaism, proselytization is forbidden. We do not seek out converts. It is even a tradition to turn away a convert three times before allowing them to begin their conversion. While this can take many forms (ask three times in a conversation versus asking three times, with three months between each question), the point is that Judaism does not actively seek out converts.


Sects & Denominations

Christianity is defined as a religion that sees Jesus Christ as the Messiah. However, this doesn't mean that all Christian sects identify with it. For example, Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are not considered Christians by other sects, nor do they often identify themselves as Christians. It is a common phenomenon for Christians to say, "I am not Christian; I am ___." Whether it be Catholic, Unitarian, Methodist, Jehovah's Witness, Lutheran, etc.


While this can largely be attributed to power struggles within Christianity, its overall impact does make it different from Judaism.


In Judaism, while we have movements, you will very rarely, if ever, see someone say, "I am not Jewish, I am ____." Our movements are adjectives that describe how we practice, rather than identities of their own.


Commandments

Judaism has 613 commandments or mitzvot that we are required to keep. That is the covenant we have made with G.d. You can read the full list here.


However, Christians are only asked to keep 10, which they use the New Testament to interpret (4). The Catholic Church views the commandments as Divine Positive Law, meaning they were given by G.d (5).


Chosen People

People have long used the idea that Jews are the chosen people in an adverse way. Some people use it in their philosemitic fantasies, while others use it to excuse antisemitism. However, neither understand it properly.


To be chosen is to be required to follow the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, as we see above. No other group on earth is believed to be required to follow those laws, while Jews are. Jews chose to enter into a covenant with G.d to follow these laws. To sum up, chosen people essentially means "people who take up the covenant to follow these 613 laws". (9)


Sacred Texts

Christians and Jews "share" the Tanakh (the Torah, Navi (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). However, not all Christians use all of the Tanakh; many only use the Torah, which they call "the Old Testament."


Even the shared texts are interpreted differently, including different translations based on the context of religious beliefs.

A Jew cannot use a Christian translation of the Old Testament as it has been Christianized.


Here is one example from the Washington Post, "For example, most editions of the Old Testament, intended for a Christian readership (obtained from a Greek translation of the original Hebrew), will translate Isaiah 7:14 to state that “a virgin shall conceive. . .” The English translation of the original Hebrew, used in the corresponding passage in the Hebrew Bible, states that “a young woman shall conceive. . . .”. (10).


The Talmud, which is made up of the Mishnah and Gemara, which are texts of Torah commentary by Jewish scholars, is central to Rabbinic Judaism (11). This is reflective of the fact that in Judaism, the interpretation and discussion of the word of G.d are just as sacred as the word itself; however, even within these discussions, there is no "correct" answer or interpretation. The term "two rabbis, three opinions" is an example of how there are many correct answers in Judaism.


Messiah

In Judaism, we have precise rules for what will happen when the Moschiach (or messiah) comes. Because of this, Jesus Christ does not fit the standard of the Messiah in Judaism, which you can read more about here.


However, in Christianity, Jesus is identified as the Messiah, which gave him the name "Christ," which comes from the Greek word for Messiah (3). They identify him as the "son of G.d" or as an extension of G.d, while in Judaism, the Moshiach is believed to be just a righteous human (not a demi-gd or child of G.d).


The Afterlife

The afterlife is a huge part of many sects of Christianity. For many, just accepting Jesus as their messiah is enough to gain them a place in heaven. For many, their actions gain them a better or worse place in that heaven, while sinning earns you a place in Hell. Some believe that those who do not accept Jesus are automatically going to hell (though some sects believe that those who didn't know of Jesus may not go to hell, it is specifically for those who know of Jesus and still choose to renounce him). Depending on the sect, there are different beliefs; for example, Catholics uniquely believe in Purgatory, and Mormons believe that in order to go to Heaven, they must be sealed in the Mormon church. (2).


However, in Judaism, the precedent is placed upon life here on earth. Jews have many versions of the afterlife, each as valid as the next. From gilgul (reincarnation) to Gehinnon/Gehenna (hell/purgatory) where you can only be for a year, Garden of Eden as heaven, some other heaven known only as Olam Ha'Ba (the world to come), to nothing happening after you die, there are many iterations of what comes next. Still, each is meant only to push you to live a righteous life now. To put it simply, we are not meant to live for moral dessert.


In nearly every Jewish belief, it is not mandatory to be Jewish to go to the next world (read: heaven, reincarnation, etc.) (6). However, every iteration of our beliefs push us to be good, righteous human beings in Olam HaZeh (this world), rather than focusing on the next.


The Conclusion

Judaism and Christianity are incredibly different, and recent efforts to conflate the two is little more than an attempt to erase Judaism and our beliefs. Christianity and Judaism may share certain texts, and Christianity may have been born of Judaism, but they do not share the same beliefs or values in the modern-day. This is why it is vital to denounce the use of terms like "Judeo-Christian" and work against the consistent implications that Judaism is little more than Christianity minus Jesus.


This is an overview of the topic. There are many more differences; however, this is meant to be a basic guide. For more detail, please check out the sources below or feel free to contact your local rabbi or Jewish educator to continue learning.



Sources:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/originalsin_1.shtml

  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zn6ncdm/revision/3#:~:text=life%20after%20death%3F-,Christian%20beliefs%20about%20life%20after%20death%20are%20based%20on%20the,relationship%20with%20God%20is%20restored.

  3. https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/IsraelExperience/Religion/Pages/Image_of_Messiah_in_Judaism_and_Christianity.aspx#:~:text=In%20Christian%20doctrine%2C%20Jesus%20is,(Mark%201%3A1).

  4. https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/transforming-world/commandments

  5. https://www.dummies.com/religion/christianity/catholicism/catholicism-and-the-ten-commandments/

  6. https://web.archive.org/web/20200806153804/http://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/christianity-vs-judaism-major-differences/

  7. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/basics_1.shtml#:~:text=Christians%20believe%20that%20there%20is,God%20functions%20as%20a%20Trinity.

  8. https://www.sefaria.org/Bava_Metzia.59b.6?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

  9. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-quot-chosen-people-quot

  10. washingtonpost.com/opinions/jews-do-not-read-the-old-testament/2014/03/06/b5a588ae-a317-11e3-b865-38b254d92063_story.html

  11. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/talmud-101/

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