Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

I Believe In…

on July 30, 2014

I’m reading a book called Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg, and even though it was published over 60 years ago, Judaism hasn’t changed too much since then, comparatively.

Many religions have creeds. Creeds set forth the beliefs of a religion, and by saying them, members are joined together by their common thoughts and bound to their gods in the words they promise. The ones specific to Catholicism are The Apostle’s Creed and The Nicene Creed, one of which is said at every Sunday mass. It begins, “We believe in One God, Father Almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible, and in Jesus Christ, the only begotten son…”

Does Judaism have such a creed, an outlining of beliefs, a statement of ideals?

Non-dogmatists would argue that Judaism does not have a creed. Where are these ideals written down? Who created them? Even when Maimonides, a respected Jewish philosopher, proposed Thirteen Principles Of Faith, they were rejected.

Dogmatists claim Judaism does have a creed. What kind of religion could exist without a backbone, a foundation of beliefs on which to build and grow? How could the Jewish people survive against the pagans for so long without a set of ideals holding them together?

Both sides have valid points, but Steinberg suggests that neither has the complete picture. A middle approach would say that Judaism has a specific religious outlook but not a single dogma that professes this outlook. Here are some of the main thoughts outlined by the “moderator” in Steinberg’s argument, the middle of the road interpretation:

– The existence of the Jews does not depend on upholding a creed because they are more than just a religion. They are a nation bound together by tradition. Other religions, such as Christianity, are solely religious groups, comprised of people who are very different but held together by similar beliefs. More similar than different, the Jews all share common rituals, bloodlines, and history and do not need a creed to act as a unifying force.

– Judaism did not have its beginnings in a creed, unlike how the Roman Catholic Church had the Council of Nicea at its formation to declare laws. Rather, the growth of this religion was more organic, and the individuals that practiced it held distinct, personal convictions that are too complex to be captured by any propositions. The natural progression of the entire group cannot be summarized in a declaration of beliefs.

– A formal creed would limit freedom of thought, which is necessary to acquire knowledge and understanding. This is one of the aspects I love most about Judaism- there are no right or wrong answers to questions, everything is left up to interpretation, and people are asked to come to their own conclusions about an issue. Impossible when a doctrine tells you how to think.

– Ethics are of a greater importance than doctrine. It is more important to show justice and mercy than to possess the correct idea, and morals take precedence over logic. In some other religions, the rule leads to moral understanding. There is a rule, and by following it, good things will happen. It yields positive results. In Judaism, the moral leads to the rule that is followed. Judaism teaches how to interact with others and conduct oneself, and then allows Jews to determine how and what they should think. The Christian sentiment “Believe and ye shall be saved” can be turned on its head in Judaism and is in the book of Jeremiah: “Would that men forsook Me,” says G-d, “if only they kept My law”. Conduct over conviction teaches save, and then believe.

The moderator presents us with ideals that are tangible but unwritten. Does Judaism have a core of beliefs that binds it together? I think so. But these beliefs are not set in stone or written on parchment. No, they are impressed upon the hearts of the Jewish people, passed down generation to generation, and kept alive through actions that will always speak louder than any written words.


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