Judaism and Christianity are two closely related Abrahamic religions that are in some ways parallel to each other and in other ways fundamentally divergent in theology and practice. Whereas the article on the Judeo-Christian tradition emphasizes continuities and convergences between the two religions, this article emphasizes that Judaism and Christianity each have widely diverging views of their respective relationship to the other, and of elements they have in common, such as the Bible and God.

Neither religion is monolithic

As with the article on the Judeo-Christian tradition, this article makes generalizations about Jewish and Christian beliefs and practices. Nevertheless, it is very important to understand that neither religion is monolithic; there is no single "Judaism", as there is no single "Christianity". Instead, there are wide variations on a theme concerning belief and practice both among individual Jews and Christians and between different Jewish and Christian groups (indeed, there exist some Christians and Jews who hold that other Christians and Jews are not in fact the same religion.)

Raison d'être of the religion

Each religion has a mythos, that is, an internal description of its raison d'être.

That of Christianity is to provide all human beings with the only valid path to salvation (John 14:26, Great Commission). Christians believe people are by nature sinful. Christians believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and God the Son, God made incarnate; that Jesus' death by crucifixion was a sacrifice to atone for all humanity's sins, and that acceptance of Jesus as the Christ saves one from sin (John 3:16).

Judaism's raison d'être is to give concrete form to the covenant between God and the Jewish people. The Torah, both written and oral, both tell the story of this covenant, and provide Jews with the terms of the covenant. The Torah (teaching) thus guides Jews to walk in God's ways (Deut 30:16), to help them learn how to live a holy life on earth, and to bring holiness into the world and into every part of life so that life may be elevated to a high level of sanctity (Lev 19:2). This will allow the Jewish people as a community to be a "light unto the nations" (Isa 42:6, 49:6, 60:3) over the course of history (ie, a role model) and part of the divine intent of bringing about an age of peace and sanctity. Judaism does not see the afterlife as a core part of this, or a major factor needed to justify why it is necessary. Ideally a faithful life and good deeds should be ends in themselves, not means. See also Jewish principles of faith.

The nature of religion: national versus universal

Judaism does not characterize itself as a religion so much as a way of life (although one can speak of the Jewish religion and religious Jews). The subject of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) is the history of the Children of Israel (also called Hebrews), especially in terms of their relationship with God. Thus, Judaism has also been characterized as a culture or as a civilization. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan defines Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. One crucial sign of this is that one need not believe, or even do, anything to be Jewish; the historic definition of 'Jewishness' requires only that one be born of a Jewish mother, or that one convert to Judaism in accord with Jewish law. (Today, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews also include those born of Jewish fathers and Gentile mothers if the children are raised as Jews.)

To religious Jews, Jewish peoplehood is closely tied to their relationship with God, and thus has a strong theological component. This relationship is encapsulated in the notion that Jews are a chosen people. Although many non-Jews have taken this as a sign of arrogance or exclusivity, Jewish scholars and theologians have emphasized that a special relationship between Jews and God does not in any way preclude other nations having their own relationship with God, and does not mean Jews are superior to members of other nations. In this sense, "chosen" means chosen to undertake a duty, a responsibility or a role, rather than chosen as higher status or more deserving. For strictly observant Jews, being "chosen" fundamentally means that it was Gods wish that a group of people would exist in a covenant with Him, and would be bound to obey a certain set of laws (see Torah and halakha) as a duty of their covenant. They view their divine purpose as being ideally a "light upon the nations" and a "holy people" (ie, a people who live their lives fully in accordance with Divine will), not "the one path to God".

Jews hold that other nations and peoples are not required (or expected) to obey Jewish law. The only laws Judaism believes are automatically binding on other nations are known as the Seven Laws of Noah (which are humanitarian rather than religious). Thus, as a national religion, Judaism holds that others may have their own, different, paths to God (or holiness, or "salvation").

Christianity, on the other hand, is characterized by its claim to universality, which marks a significant break from Jewish identity and thought. Christians believe that Christianity represents the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and the nation of Israel, that Israel would be a blessing to all nations. Although Christians generally believe their religion to be very inclusive (since not only Jews but all gentiles can be Christian), Jews see Christianity as highly exclusive, because it views non-Christians (such as Jews) as having an incomplete or imperfect relationship with God, and therefore excluded from grace, salvation, or heaven. From this point of view, Christianity, despite its claims, is not universal.

This crucial difference between the two religions has other implications. For example, conversion to Judaism is more like a form of adoption, or changing national citizenship (i.e. becoming a formal member of the people, or tribe), whereas conversion to Christianity is explicitly a declaration of faith. Depending on the denomination, this conversion sometimes has a social component, as the individual is in many ways adopted into a Church, with a strong family model.

Both Judaism and Christianity have been affected by the diverse cultures of their respective members. For example, what Jews from Eastern Europe and from North Africa consider "Jewish food" has more in common with the cuisines of non-Jewish Eastern Europeans and North Africans than with each other. According to non-Orthodox Jews and critical historians, Jewish law too has been affected by surrounding cultures (for example, some scholars argue that the establishment of absolute monotheism in Judaism was a reaction against the dualism of Zoroastrianism that Jews encountered when living under Persian rule; Jews rejected polygamy during the middle ages, influenced by their Christian neighbors). According to Orthodox Jews too there are variations in Jewish custom from one part of the world to another. It was for this reason that Joseph Karo's Shulchan Aruch HaRav became established as the authoritative code of Jewish law after Moshe Isserlis added his commentary, documenting variations in local custom.

Concepts of God

Both Jews and Christians believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for Jews the God of the Tanakh, for Christians the God of the Old Testament, the creator of the universe. Both religions reject the view that God is entirely immanent, and within the world as a physical presence, (although Christians believe in the incarnation of God). Both religions reject the view that God is entirely transcendent, and thus separate from the world, as the pre-Christian Greek Unknown God, (although this can be argued in some Judaic thought). Both religions reject atheism, on the one hand, and polytheism, on the other.

Both religions agree that God shares both transcendent and immanent qualities. How these religions resolve this issue is where the religions differ. Most of Christianity posits that God is the Trinity; in this view God exists as three distinct entities which share a single divine essence, or substance. In those three there is one, and in that one there are three; the one God is indivisible, while the three entities are distinct and unconfused, Abba God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It teaches that God became especially immanent in physical form through the Incarnation of Jesus, who is believed to be at once fully God and fully human. By contrast, Judaism sees God as a single entity, and views trinitarianism as both incomprehensible and a violation of the Bible's teaching that God is one. It rejects the notion that Jesus or any other object or living being could be 'God', that God could have a literal 'son' in physical form or is divisible in any way, or that God could be made to be joined to the material world in such fashion. Although Judaism provides Jews with a word to label God's transcendence (Ein Sof, without end) and immanence (Shekhinah, in-dwelling), but these are merely human words to describe two ways of experiencing God; God is one and indivisible.

Some Jewish and Christian philosophers hold that due to these differences, it may well be that Jews and Christians don't believe in the same god at all. The majority Jewish view, codified in Jewish law, is that Christians do worship the same God that Jews do but with extras - called a 'Sheetoof' (combination). The vast majority of Christians have always held that they worship the same God as the Jews.

Understanding of the Bible

Jews and Christians seek authority from many of the same basic books, but they conceive of these books in significantly different ways.

The Hebrew Bible is comprised of three parts:

  • Torah - the five books of Moses
  • Nevi'im - the writings of the Prophets, and
  • Ketuvim - other writings canonised over time, such as the Books of Esther, Jonah, Ruth or Job.

Collectively, these are known as the Tanakh, a Hebrew acronym for the first letters of each. Rabbinical Judaism traditionally believes that these written works were also accompanied by an oral tradition which taught how to perform commandments that are not stated explicitly in the Torah (i.e. what a Menorah looks like and what is meant by "Frontlets" in the Shema), and that it was revealed to Moses at Sinai and passed down through generations and eventually written down in the Talmud (see below).

Judaism accept as authoritative an oral law which explains the meaning and application of the laws in the Tanakh. These works of oral law are today collected in the Mishnah, which was written down around 200 C.E., and a Babylonian and a Jerusalem Talmud, which were edited around 600 C.E. and 450 C.E., respectively.

Since the transcription of the Talmud, notable rabbis have compiled law codes that are generally held in high regard: the Mishnah Torah, the Tur, and the Shulchan Aruch, which is generally held to be authoritative by Orthodox Jews. The Zohar, which was written in the thirteenth century, is generally held as the most important mystical treatise of the Jews.

Within the Torah, Jews find 613 Mitzvot (formal divine commandments), of which some are positive obligations, and others negatives that must be avoided. These form the basis of their understanding of the law. The in-depth examination to understand the commandments and their true significance and scope, to "walk in My ways", forms a major thread within the Talmud and other Jewish writings.

For Jews, the Torah is one's primary guide to the relationship between God and man, a living document that has unfolded and will continue to unfold whole new insights over the generations and millennia. A saying that captures this goes, "Turn it [the Torah's words] over and over again, for everything is in it."

Jews do not accept the characterization of their sacred texts as an Old Testament, nor do they believe that the New Testament has religious authority. Many Jews see Christians as having quite an ambivalent view of the Torah (or the Mosaic Law part of the Old Testament as it is known to Christians), on the one hand it is God's absolute word, on the other hand at times treating commandments very selectively. As it seems to some Jews, Christians cite from the Old Testament commandments to support one point of view but then ignore other commandments of a similar class which are also of equal weight. Examples of this are certain commandments where God states explicitly they shall abide "for ever", or where God states a particular thing is an "abomination", but which are not undertaken by most Christians. Some forms of Christianity even go so far as Antinomianism.

Christians reject the Jewish oral law (Matt. 15:6). However in a similar way Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity consider their Sacred Tradition as the correct interpretation, while Protestants hold to the principle of sola scriptura. Christians disagree with the Jewish order of sacred texts (and some Christian traditions have included in their Old Testament books that are not included in today's Jewish canon, although they were included in the Jewish Septuagint). Historically, the Jewish oral tradition was not written down until the period of the Roman Empire, in the early centuries CE(Babylonian Talmud Jerusalem Talmud) and later developed more thoroughly through codification. Many Christians reject the covenant with God embodied in traditional Jewish scriptures and oral traditions as obsolete, and thus refer to their canon of Hebrew books as the "Old Testament." Some Christians believe that God has established a New Covenant with people, and that this new covenant is established in an additional set of books collectively called the New Testament, together with the oral teachings of Jesus to the Apostles which have been handed down to this day.

Sin and Original Sin

In both religions, one's offenses against the will of God are called sin (in Christianity the full name is "actual sin"). These sins can be thoughts, words, or deeds.

Catholicism categorizes sins into various groups. A wounding of the relationship with God is often called venial sin; a complete rupture of the relationship with God is often called mortal sin. Without salvation from sin (see below), a person's separation from God is permanent, causing such a person to enter Hell in the afterlife.

Original Sin is a slightly different concept in Christianity, it is not part of Jewish belief or philosophy. Original sin refers to the idea that the sin of Adam and Eve's disobedience (sin "at the origin") has passed on a spiritual heritage, so to speak. Christians teach that human beings inherit a corrupted or damaged human nature in which the tendency to do bad is greater than it would have been otherwise, so much so that human nature would not be capable now of participating in the afterlife with God. This is not a matter of being "guilty" of anything; each person is only personally guilty of their own actual sins. However, this understanding of original sin is what lies behind the Christian emphasis on the need for spiritual salvation from a spiritual Saviour, who can forgive and set aside sin even though humans are not inherently pure and worthy of such salvation. St. Paul in Romans and First Corinthians placed special emphasis on this doctrine, and stressed that belief in Jesus would allow Christians to overcome death and attain salvation in the hereafter.

Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and some Protestants teach the Sacrament of Baptism is the means by which each person's damaged human nature is healed and Sanctifying Grace (capacity to enjoy and participate in the spiritual life of God) is restored. This is referred to as "being born of water and the Spirit," following the terminology in the Gospel of St. John. Most Protestants believe this salvific grace comes about at the moment of personal decision to follow Jesus, and that Baptism is a symbol of the grace already received.

The Hebrew word for sin, het, literally means "to go astray." Just as Jewish law, halachah provides the proper "way" (or path) to live, sin involves straying from that path. Judaism teaches that humans are born morally neutral and have free will. Jews have no concept of Original Sin, and do not accept it; instead, Judaism affirms that people are born with a yetzer hatov, (literally, "the good inclination", in some views, a tendency towards goodness, in others, a tendency towards having a productive life and a tendency to be concerned with others) and with a yetzer hara, (literally "the evil inclination", in some views, a tendency towards evil, and in others, a tendency towards base or animal behaviour and a tendency to be selfish). In Judaism all human beings are believed to have free will and can choose the path in life that they will take. There is almost always a "way back" if a person wills it. (Although texts mention certain categories for whom the way back will be exceedingly hard, such as the slanderer, and the malicious person)

The rabbis recognize a positive value to the yetzer hara: one tradition identifies it with God's observation on the last day of creation that His accomplishment was "very good" (God's work on the preceding days was just described as "good") and explain that without the yetzer ha'ra there would be no marriage, children, commerce or other fruits of human labor; the implication is that yetzer ha'tov and yetzer ha'ra are best understood not as moral categories of good and evil but as selfless versus selfish orientations, either of which used rightly can serve God's will.

Or as Rabbi Hillel famously summarised the Jewish philosophy:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
"But if I am not for others - what am I?
"And if not now [if I do not choose now], [then] when?

Another explanation is, without the existence of the yetzer ha'ra, there would be no merit earned in following God's commandments; choice is only meaningful if there has indeed been a choice made. So whereas creation was "good" before, it became "very good" when the evil inclination was added, for then it became possible to truly say that man could make a true choice to obey God's "mitzvot" (wishes or commandments). This is because Judaism views the following of God's ways as a desirable end in and of itself rather than a means to an end.

Jews recognize two kinds of "sin," offenses against other people, and offenses against God. Offenses against God may be understood as violation of a contract (the covenant between God and the Children of Israel). Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews have believed that right action (as opposed to right belief) is the way for a person to atone for one's sins. Midrash Avot de Rabbi Natan states the following:

One time, when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was walking in Jerusalem with Rabbi Yehosua, they arrived at where the Temple now stood in ruins. "Woe to us" cried Rabbi Yehosua, "for this house where atonement was made for Israel's sins now lies in ruins!" Answered Rabban Yochanan, "We have another, equally important source of atonement, the practice of gemilut hasadim ("loving kindness"), as it is stated "I desire loving kindness and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).

The Babylonian Talmud states:

Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eleazar both explain that as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now, one's table atones [when the poor are invited as guests]. (Tractate Berachot, 55a.)

The liturgy of the Days of Awe (the High Holy Days; i.e. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) states that prayer, repentance and tzedakah (the dutiful giving of charity) atone for sin. But prayer cannot atone for wrongs done, without an honest sincere attempt to rectify any wrong done to the best of one's ability, and the sincere intention to avoid repetition. Atonement to Jews means to repent and set aside, and the word "T'shuvah" used for atonement actually means "to return". Judaism is optimistic in that it always sees a way that a determined person may return to what is good, and that God waits for that day too.

Faith versus good deeds

Judaism teaches that the purpose of the Torah is to show that good deeds are considered in holiness as much or even more important than belief in God, and that both are required of people. An old Jewish saying captures this sentiment, "If you hear the Messiah has come, and you are doing a job, finish the job properly, then go and see." Although the Torah commands Jews to believe in God, Jews see belief in God as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a Jewish life. The quintessential verbal expression of Judaism is the Shema Yisrael, the statement that the God of the Bible is their God, and that this God is unique and one. The quintessential physical expression of Judaism is behaving in accordance with the 613 Mitzvot (the commandments specified in the Torah), and thus live one's life in God's ways.

Thus fundamentally in Judaism, one is enjoined to bring holiness into life (with the guidance of Gods laws), rather than removing oneself from life to be holy.

Much of Christianity also teaches that God wants people to perform good works, but all branches hold that good works alone will not lead to salvation, which is called Legalism. Some Christian denominations hold that salvation depends upon transformational faith in Jesus which expresses itself in good works as a testament (or witness) to ones faith for others to see (primarily Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism), while others (including most Protestants) hold that faith alone is necessary for salvation. However, the difference is not as great as it seems, because it really hinges on the definition of "faith" used. The first group generally uses the term "faith" to mean "intellectual and heartfelt assent and submission." Such a faith will not be salvific until a person has allowed it to effect a life transforming conversion (turning towards God) in their being (see ontological faith). The Christians that hold to "salvation by faith alone" (also called by its Latin name "sola fide") define faith as being implicitly ontological--mere intellectual assent is not termed "faith" by these groups. Faith, then, is life-transforming by definition.

A practical outcome of this difference is the attitudes of the two religions to death bed conversions. According to most forms of Christianity, one may lead an evil life, but shortly before one's death one may repent for one's sins, believe in and accept Jesus as Christian dogma (generally derived from the Bible) teaches, and then that person will be rewarded with a heavenly afterlife by God; this will be the same heavenly paradise that a comparatively less sinful person who believed in Jesus much earlier would receive. In contrast, all forms of Judaism teach that God judges a person based on their whole lifetime of actions and beliefs, and that deathbed conversions are therefore meaningless and have minimal effect on God's view of their life.


Love is a central value in both Judaism and Christianity. In Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, literary critic Harold Bloom argues that their notions of love are fundamentally different. Specifically, he links the Jewish conception of love to justice, and the Christian conception of love to charity.

As in English, the Hebrew word for "love," ahavah אהבה, is used to describe intimate or romantic feelings or relationships, such as the love between parent and child in Genesis 22:2; 25: 28; 37:3; the love between close friends in I Samuel 18:2, 20:17; or the love between a young man and young woman in Song of Songs.

Like many Jewish scholars and theologians, Bloom understands Judaism as fundamentally a religion of love. But he argues that one can understand the Hebrew conception of love only by looking at one of the core commandments of Judaism, Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself." This commandment is, arguably, at the center of the Jewish faith. As the third book of the Torah, Leviticus is literally the central book. Historically, Jews have considered it of central importance: traditionally, children began their study of the Torah with Leviticus, and the midrashic literature on Leviticus is among the longest and most detailed of midrashic literature (see Bamberger 1981: 737). Bernard Bamberger considers Leviticus 19, beginning with God's commandment in verse 3 – "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy" – to be "the climactic chapter of the book, the one most often read and quoted" (1981:889). Leviticus 19:18 is itself the climax of this chapter.

As theologian Franz Rosenzweig has pointed out, "love" in this context is remarkably different from the more common examples of love in that it constitutes an impersonal relationship:

...the neighbor is only a representative. He is not loved for his own sake, nor for his beautiful eyes, but only because he just happens to be standing there, because he happens to be nighest to me. Another could easily stand in his place — precisely at this place nearest me. The neighbor is the other ...

(This point is underscored by another verse in the same chapter, Leviticus 19: 34, commanding the Children of Israel to love strangers.)

According to Franz Rosenzweig, the commandment to love one's neighbor itself arises out of another unique love: the relationship between God and the Children of Israel. That the relationship between God and the Children of Israel is a romantic relationship and comparable to the marital bond is made clear in Hosea 2:19 (see also Ezekiel 16:8, 60; Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14; 31:32). The centrality of love to the relationship between God and Israel is epitomized in Deuteronomy 6: 4-5: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." Arguably, this commandment is as central to Judaism as as Leviticus 19: 18, as it was recited twice daily in the Temple in Jerusalem, and in the prayers of all observant Jews. Moreover, the Rabbis dictated that all Jews should recite this verse at the moment of their death (this custom contrasts with Mathew 27: 46, "About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' — which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" see also Mark 15: 33; Luke 23: 46, however, is closer to the spirit of Jewish practice: "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last.")

Apparently by the Hellenistic period these two commandments were understood to be central to Jewish faith (see Mark 12: 28-32). Rosenzweig believes that these two commandments to love are inextricably connected, but in a complex way. He finds it remarkable that throughout the Torah God demands that Israel love Him, yet never professes love for Israel (except in the future; that if Israel loves God He will bless them in return). But he does not see this as evidence that God does not love Israel; on the contrary. Rosenzweig asks, how can someone command love? The only answer, he argues, is that only a lover can do so; only one who loves can demand, "love me!' in return (Rosenzweig 1970: 176-177). The consequences of this demand, according to Rosenzweig, provide the foundation for Judaism.

The first consequence of being loved, according to Rosenzweig, is a feeling of shame:

In the admission of love, the soul bares itself. To admit that one requites love and in the future wants nothing but to be loved — this is sweet. But it is hard to admit that one was without love in the past. And yet — love would not be the moving, the gripping, the searing experience that it is if the moved, gripped, seared soul were not conscious of the fact that up to this moment it had not been moved or gripped. Thus a shock was necessary before the self could become the beloved soul. And the soul is ashamed of its former self, and that it did not, under its own power, break this spell in which it was confined. This is the shame that blocks the beloved mouth that wishes to make acknowledgment. The mouth has to acknowledge its past and still present weakness by wishing to acknowledge its already present and future bliss. (Rosenzweig 1970: 179)

Thus, the immediate response to God's commandment to love is to confess, "I have sinned." For Rosenzweig this confession is not a source of shame; on the contrary, by speaking a truth about the past, it makes love in the present possible and thus "abolishes shame."

Consequently, Rosenzwieg does not believe that this confession requires absolution:

It is not God that need cleanse it [the soul of the beloved, i.e. Israel] of its sin. Rather it cleanses itself in the presence of his love. It is certain of God's love in the very moment that shame withdraws from it and it surrenders itself in free, present admission — as certain as if God had spoken into its ear that "I forgive" which is longed for earlier when it confessed to him its sins of the past. It no longer needs this formal absolution. It is freed of its burden at the very moment of daring to assume all of it on its shoulders. So too the beloved no longer needs the acknowledgment of the lover which she longed for before she admitted her love. At the very moment when she herself dares to admit it, she is as certain of his love as if he were whispering his acknowledgment into her ear. (Rosenzweig 1970: 180-181)

In other words, Rosenzweig sees in the Hebrew Bible a "grammar of love" in which God can communicate "I love you" only by demanding "You must love me," and Israel can communicate "I love you" only by confessing "I have sinned." Therefore, this confession does not lead God to offer an unnecessary absolution; it merely expresses Israel's love for God.

But "What then is God's answer to this 'I am thine' by which the beloved soul acknowledges him" if it is not "absolution?" Rosenzweig's answer is: revelation: "He cannot make himself known to the soul before the soul has acknowledged him. But now he must do so. For this it is by which revelation first reaches completion. In its groundless presentness, revelation must now permanently touch the ground." (Rosenzweig 1970: 182) Revelation, epitomized by Sinai, is God's response to Israel's love. Contrary to Paul, who argued that "through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3: 20), Rosenzweig argues that it is because of and after a confession of sin that God reveals to Israel knowledge of the law.

For Rosenzweig as for the Rabbis, Song of Songs provides a paradigm for understanding the love between God and Israel, a love that "is strong as death" (Song of Songs 8:6; Rosenzweig 1970: 202). God's love is as strong as death because it is love for the People Israel, and it is as a collective that Israel returns God's love. Thus, although one may die, God and Israel, and the love between them, lives on. In other words, Song of Songs is "the focal book of revelation" (Rosenzweig 1970: 202) where the "grammar of love" is most clearly expressed. But, Rosenzweig argues, this love that is as strong as death ultimately transcends itself, as it takes the form of God's law — for it is the law that binds Israel as a people, and through observance of the law that each Jew relives the moment of revelation at Mt. Sinai. Ultimately, Song of Songs points back to Leviticus and the rest of the Torah.

Song of Songs largely describes a clandestine love affair, forbidden by the woman's brothers (Song of Songs 8: 8-9), and scorned by her friends (Song of Songs 5:9). For Rosenzweig, the concealed nature of this romance is emblematic of the way lovers lose themselves in one another. Yet the book itself struggles against this private love. "O that you were like a brother to me," the woman cries, "that nursed at my mother's breast! If I met you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me" (Song of Songs 8:1). The point, for Rosenzweig, is that love neither can nor should remain private.

Now she is his. Is she? Does not something ultimate still separate them at the pinncale of love — beyond even that "Thou art mine" of the lover, beyond even that peace which the beloved found in his eyes, this last word of her overflowing heart? Does there not still remain one last separation? The lover has explained his love for her .... But will this explanation do? Does not life demand more than explanation, more than the calling by name? Does it not demand reality? And a sob escapes the blisfully overflowing heart of the beloved and forms into words, words which haltingly point to something unfulfilled, something which cannot be fuliflled in the immediate revelation of love: "O that you were like a brother to me!" Not enough that the beloved lover calls his bride by the name of sister in the flickering twilight of allusion. The name ought to be the truth. It should be heard in the bright light of "the street," not whispered into the beloved ear in the dusk of intimate duo-solitude, but in the eyes of the multitude, officially — "who would grant" that! Yes, who would grant that? Love no longer grants it. In truth, this "who would grant" is no longer directed to the beloved lover. Love after all always remains between two people; it knows only of I and Thou, not the street. This longing cannot be fulfilled in love ... (Rosenzweig 1970: 203-204)

It cannot be fulfilled in love. For Rosenzweig, as for the Rabbis, it can be fulfilled only in law. This is the meaning of revelation: Israel's love for God provides Him with the means to enter the world, and through His commandments to Israel their love enters "the street." It is through the revelation of God's commandments, according to Rosenzweig, that the love portrayed in Song of Songs becomes the love commanded in Leviticus. Just as God's love for the Children of Israel is one of the ways that he extends Himself into the world, the necessary response by the Jews — the way to love God in return — is to extend their own love out towards their fellow human beings.

This extension of God's love into the world, through the People Israel, is the point of Leviticus 19:18. According to Bloom, however, this love has a different character than the romantic love celebrated in Song of Songs. He argues that to understand the commandment to love one's neighbor one must look at the other commandments that form its context, beginning with verse 9:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not defraud your neighbor. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning. You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. Do not deal basely with your fellows. Do not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. Reprove your neighbor, but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

According to Bloom these accompanying commandments reveal that for Israel, love "in the street" takes the form of "just dealing." Similarly, theologian William Herberg argued that "justice" is at the heart of the Jewish notion of love, and the foundation for Jewish law:

The ultimate criterion of justice, as of everything else in human life, is the divine imperative — the law of love .... Justice is the institutionalization of love in society .... This law of love requires that every man be treated as a Thou, a person, an end in himself, never merely as a thing or a means to another's end. When this demand is translated into laws and institutions under the conditions of human life in history, justice arises. (1951: 148)

The arguments of Rosenzweig, Herberg, and Bloom echo the teachings of the the Rabbis, who taught that the written and oral Torahs provide the way to express this love-as-just-dealing. This view is encapuslated in one of the most famous rabbinic stories, that of the time a man once challenged Hillel the Elder, an important Pharisee who lived at the end of the 1st century BCE, to explain the entire law (Torah) while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it." Rosenzweig suggests that Hillel presented the commandment from Leviticus in the negative form (do not do it) as a way of setting up his own, affirmative, commandment: to go and study the law — in other words, the only way to fulfil Leviticus 19:18 is to observe all the laws of the Torah, the practical embodiment of the commandment to love. Similarly, Maimonides wrote that it should only be out of love for God, rather than fear of punishment or hope for reward, that Jews should obey the law: "When man loves God with a love that is fitting he automatically carries out all the precepts of love" (Maimonides Yad Chapter 10, quoted in Jacobs 1973: 159).

Whereas Jews believe that law is the ultimate fulfilmeent of lova, Christians believe that love is "the fulfillment of the Law" (Romans 13:8-10). Nevertheless, Jesus shared Hillel's — and presumably many Jews' — notion of love and the law, when he echoed the Phariseic position that

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

When asked in reference to the latter commandment "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29), Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), in which the answer to the question is ultimately a foreigner (perhaps echoing Leviticus 19: 34).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus extended the commandment to include not only "your neighbor" but "your enemy" as well:

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your cloak also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the pagans do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)

Jesus lived out this teaching at the end of his life. During his arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion, Jesus offered no resistance, totally submitting to his persecutors, however unjust. During Jesus' arrest, one of his desciples struck with a sword the ear of a man coming to seize Jesus, but Jesus commanded him to put away the sword, and healed the ear. (Luke 22:50-51) Jesus even prayed for his persecutors from the cross, calling out "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)

Because of this, Jesus' selfless life of service, and the belief that Jesus died for the salvation of His people, Christian love is personified by Jesus, the supreme example being his martyrdom on the cross. Jesus commanded his desciples to follow his example: "My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13) Furthermore, this same love is believed to be shared between the Father, the Son, and all Christians: "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:9-10). Finally, Jesus proclaimed love to be the defining characteristic of all Christians: "By this all men will know you are my desciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

Still, even more remarkable statements about love are made in the New Testament by the apostle John and by Paul. The most famous, and widely considered one of the earliest and most succinct summaries of the Christian faith, runs "For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have eternal life" (John 3:16). Adding to this is "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

In the first epistle of John, he makes the bold statement "God is Love" (1 John 4:8,16). So love is not merely a characteristic of God, but the characteristic, which alone sums up God's complete essence.

Bloom argues that the Hebrew word for love, ahavah אהבה , is fundamentally understood as "just dealing." In the classic characterization of Christian love, Paul's discourse in First Epistle to the Corinthians, sometimes called the "love chapter," rather than using either of the two other Greek words that loosely translate to English as "love" (erōs ερως, meaning erotic love, or philos φιλος , meaning familial love), Paul used the word agápē αγαπη, which is probably more literally translated as "charity," and was first translated as "love" by William Tyndale:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8) ... And now these three remain: Faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Taking all this into account, Christian love can generally be described as: unconditional, self-sacrificing, charitable, altruistic, selfless, service-oriented, obedient, humble, peaceful, and compassionate.

The Corinthians passage is not only remarkable for the quality of love it describes. The intent of the passage is clearly to elevate love above other things traditionally considered good, including wisdom, faith, and charitable giving. It also explicitly makes love more important than the things mentioned in the previous passage: supernatural gifts, spiritual strength and positions of leadership. Many assert that this this, combined with Jesus' teachings and John's claims, expands Christian love beyond that in Leviticus. Bloom maintains that the difference is in the character of love.

To summarize, both Judaism and Christianity hold Leviticus 19:18 most sacred. Judaism understands this as "Deal justly with whomever you meet." Christianity understands this as "Give selflessly to all."


Both Jews and Christians regard pregnancy as a gift from God, and hold children to be miracles.

The only statements in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Christian Old Testament) about the status of a fetus state that killing an unborn infant does not have the same status as killing a born human being, and mandates a much lesser penalty (a fine); it should be added that the instance cited in the Tanakh contemplates the accidental, rather than the deliberate, causing of an abortion.

The Oral Law states that the fetus is not yet a full human being until it has been born (either the head or the body is mostly outside of the mother), therefore killing a fetus is not murder, and abortion - in restricted circumstances - has always been legal under Jewish law. Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus 'lav nefesh hu--it is not a person.' The Talmud contains the expression 'ubar yerech imo--the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,' i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman's body." Judaism prefers that such abortions, when necessary, take place before the first 40 days where the Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 69b states that: "the embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day." Afterwards, it is considered subhuman until it is born. Christians who agree with these views may refer to this idea as abortion before the "quickening" of the soul by God in the fetus.

There are two additional passages in the Talmud which shed some light on the Jewish belief about abortion. They imply that the fetus is considered part of the mother, and not a separate entity:

  • One section states that if a man purchases a cow that is found to be pregnant, then he is the owner both of the cow and the fetus.
  • Another section states that if a pregnant woman converts to Judaism, that her conversion applies also to her fetus.

Judaism unilaterally supports, in fact mandates, abortion if doctors believe that it is necessary to save the life of the mother. Many rabbinic authorities allow abortions on the grounds of gross genetic imperfections of the fetus, such as Tay-Sachs disease. They also allow abortion if the mother were suicidal because of such defects. However, Judaism holds that abortion is impermissible for family planning or convenience reasons. Each case must be decided individually, however, and the decision should lie with the mother, father, and Rabbi.

Most branches of Christianity have historically held abortion to be generally wrong, referring to Old Testament passages such as Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1, as well as New Testament passages concerning both Jesus and John the Baptist while they were in utero. Also, the Didache, an early Church document, explicitly forbids abortion along with infanticide, both common practices in the Roman Empire, as murder. The view that abortion is 'equivalent to murder' is not actually widely held outside fundamentalist Protestantism in the United States. The Roman Catholic church, for example, permits medical procedures to be carried out on a mother for the purpose of saving her life, even if doing so would put the foetus at risk. Many Protestant Christians claim that the Ten Commandments prohibit abortion under the heading of "Do not murder". Others reject this view, as they hold that the context of the entire set of Biblical laws includes those laws which restrict them to already born human beings.

War, violence and pacifism

Jews and Christians accept as valid and binding many of the same moral principles taught in the Torah. There is a great deal of overlap between the ethical systems of these two faiths. Nonetheless, there are some highly significant doctrinal differences.

Judaism has a great many teachings about peace and compromise, and its teachings make physical violence the last possible option. Nonetheless, the Talmud teaches that "If someone comes with the intention to murder you, then one is obligated to kill in self-defense [rather than be killed]". The clear implication is that to bare one's throat would be tantamount to suicide (which Jewish law forbids) and it would also be considered helping a murderer kill someone and "placing an obstacle in front of a blind man" (making it easier for another person to falter in their ways). The tension between the laws dealing with peace, and the obligation to self-defense, has led to a set of Jewish teachings that have been described as tactical-pacifism. This is the avoidance of force and violence whenever possible, but the use of force when necessary to save the lives of one's self and one's people.

Under extreme circumstances, although killing oneself is forbidden under normal Jewish law as being a denial of God's goodness in the world, Jews have committed suicide or mass suicide as a final resort, with religious approval, when there has seemed no choice but to either be killed or forced to betray their religion (see Masada, First French persecution of the Jews, and York Castle for examples). As a grim reminder of those times, there is even a prayer in the Jewish liturgy for "when the knife is at the throat", for those dying "to sanctify God's Name". (See: Martyrdom)

Because Judaism focusses on this life, many questions to do with survival and conflict (such as the classic moral dilemma of two people in a desert with only enough water for one to survive) were analysed in great depth by the rabbis within the Talmud, in the attempt to understand the principles a godly person should draw upon in such a circumstance.

The Sermon on the Mount records that Jesus taught that if someone comes to harm you, then one must turn the other cheek. This has led four fairly sizable Protestant Christian denominations to develop a theology of pacifism, the avoidance of force and violence at all times. They are known historically as the peace churches, and have incorporated Christ's teachings on nonviolence into their theology so as to apply it to participation in the use of violent force; those denominations are the Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and the Church of the Brethren. Many other churches have people who hold to the doctrine without making it a part of their doctrines, or who apply it to individuals but not to governments. The vast majority of Christian nations and groups have not adopted this theology, nor have they followed it in practice.


Both Christianity and Judaism believe in some form of judgement.

The Christian view is very well defined - every human is a sinner, and nothing but being saved by God's grace (and not through any merit of ones own actions) can change the damnatory sentence to salvation. There is a judgement after death, and Christ will return to judge the living and dead. Those positively judged will be saved and live in God's presence in heaven, those who are negatively judged will be cast to eternal hell (or in some versions, annihilated).

Jewish teaching is somewhat ambivalent on Judgement. Initially indeed there was no such concept in Judaism, however over time, and especially as exposed to other cultures' concept that every wrong must be somehow balanced by punishment in the end, and vice versa, a mixture of concepts and philosophies entered Judaism. At heart though, Jews do not look for an afterlife as a reward or motivation. The reward for a good life is simply the pleasure it gives God, and the rightness of doing ones duty and living a holy life in his ways. Little emphasis is given in Jewish life to the struggle for a place in the afterlife.

That said, in Jewish liturgy there is significant prayer and talk of a "book of life" that one is written into, a metaphorical allusion that God judges each person each year and possibly after death. Many Jewish sages understand this to be metaphorical. For example - one Day of Atonement prayer says it will be decided "who will be made strong, and who weak, who will have good health, who poor, who will be at peace and who not at peace... but prayer pentitence and charity avert a stern decree". However others translate this to mean, by ones decisions to change oneself (or otherwise), it will become inevitable who will do good and create peace in the coming year, and who will do ill and create lack of peace, and so on.

Capital punishment

Although the Jewish bible has many references to capital punishment, in fact very early on, the Jewish sages and rabbis used their authority, and the demands for justice emphasized in the bible, to make it all but impossible for a Jewish court to impose a death sentence. Even when such a sentence might have been imposed, the "cities of refuge" and other sanctuaries, were at hand for those unintentionally guilty of capital offences.

In this manner, the Talmud seriously limits the use of the death penalty to only be applicable to those criminals who were warned not to commit a capital crime in the presence of two witnesses, and persisted in committing the crime also in front of at least two witnesses. It was said in the Talmud about the death penalty in Judaism, that if a court killed one person in seventy years, it was a barbarous (or "bloody") court and should be condemned as such.

Although many people have died as a result of Christian actions, such as the crusades, these were not capital punishment as such. In fact, Christianity has usually reserved the death penalty for heresy, the denial of the orthodox view of God's view, and witchcraft or similar non-Christian practices, which struck at the roots of Christianity as practiced. For example, in Spain, unrepentant Jews were exiled, and it was only those crypto-Jews who had accepted baptism under pressure but retained Jewish customs in private, who were punished in this way.

At a time when belief in a literal judgement and eternal hell was widespread, capital punishment in this sense was seen as appropriate for two reasons:

  • It kept the faith pure and removed harmful influences that might corrupt or mislead others.
  • It was considered better that a person confessed (by torture if necessary), and was punished and suffered briefly on earth, than that they were punished by eternal damnation in the life after.

Heaven and Hell

Judaism is largely unconcerned with the problem of death or an afterlife; the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes states that death is final; the place of the dead is called sheol, which means "the grave." Aside from the ghostly apparition of Samuel, called up by a witch at King Saul's command, the Hebrew Bible does not mention an afterlife. According to critical scholars, Biblical Jews first believed that God always punished evil, but always during a person's life — or, if the person is repentant, in the life of one of that persons' descendants. Towards the end of the Biblical period, Jews began questioning whether God's punishments and rewards were always executed during a person's life. A belief in an afterlife only developed in the Second Temple period, but was contested by various Jewish sects. The Pharisees believed that upon death people rested in their graves until they would be physically resurrected with the coming of the messiah (in other words, they did not believe in an eternal soul independent of the body). The Rabbis adopted this as a core belief, and it is the thirteenth of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith.

There is very little Jewish literature on heaven or hell as human destinations. "Heaven" typically refers to a place where God debates Talmudic laws with the angels; "hell," in Hebrew Gehenna, refers to the Valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem, abhorrent to Jews who believed that it used to be the place where children were sacrificed to Moloch; in Biblical times it was a garbage dump, and the place to which the scapegoat was sent on Yom Kippur.

Jewish depictions of heaven as a place where humans go upon death are few, and depict it as a place where Jews spend eternity studying the Written and Oral Torah.

Jewish depictions of hell as a place humans go upon death are even fewer. According to most depictions, upon death, Jews who have sinned spend twelve miserable months in gehenna before going to heaven, although some accounts suggest that certain classes of sinners never go to heaven.

In short, Judaism does not have a notion of hell as a place ruled by Satan (God's dominion is total, and Satan is but one of God's angels), and does not have a notion of eternal damnation. The reason sinful Jews spend eleven months in gehenna is not so much a form of punishment but rather a period of purification necessary before entering heaven, or before being physically resurrected in the Messianic Age.

Christians in general hold that Hell is a fiery place of torment that never ceases. A small minority believe it is not permanent and that those who go there will eventualy be extinguished. Those who hold that it never ceases also believe that those who die go directly to Heaven or hell, whereas those who see it as transitory believe that the dead are unconscious until the judgment day after which some inherit immortality and live on the restored earth (paradise) and reprobates go for a period of torment in hell.

Many Christians see heaven and hell as rewards and punishments necessary to motivate good and bad behavior. Although the Pharisees and Rabbis believed that good people would be rewarded in a "world to come," the notion that this promise should motivate good behavior is anathema in Judaism. Thus, Maimonides wrote:

A man should not say: I shall carry out the precepts of the Torah and study her wisdom in order to receive all the blessings written therein or in order to merit the life of the World to Come and I shall keep away from the sins forbidden by the Torah in order to be spared the curses mentioned in the Torah or in order not to be cut off from the life of the World to Come. It is not proper to serve God in this fashion. For one sho serves thus serves out of fear. Such as way is not that of the prophets and sages. Only the ignorant, and the women and children serve god in this way. These are trained to serve out of fear until they obtain sufficient knowledge to serve out of love. One who serves God out of love studies the Torah and practices the precepts and walks in the way of wisdom for no ulterior motive at all, neither out of fear of evil nor in order to acquire the good, but follows the truth because it is true and the good will follow the merit of attaining to it. It is the stage of Abraham our father whom the Holy One, blessed be He, called "My friend" (Isaiah 41:8 – ohavi = the one who loves me) because he served out of love alone. It is regarding this stage that the Holy One, Blessed be He, commanded us through Moses, as it is said: "You shall love the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 6:5). When man loves God with a love that is fitting he automatically carries out all the precepts of love.

(Maimonides Yad Chapter 10, quoted in Jacobs 1973: 159)

The Messiah

Jews believe that a descendant of King David will one day appear to restore the Kingdom of Israel. Jews refer to this person as Moshiach, translated as messiah in English and Christos in Greek. The Hebrew word 'moshiach' (messiah) means 'anointed one,' and refers to a mortal human being. The moshiach is held to be a human being who will be a descendant of King David, and who will usher in an era of peace, prosperity, and spiritual understanding for Israel and all the nations of the world. The traditional Jewish understanding of the messiah is fully human, born of human parents, without any supernatural element, and is best elucidated by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), in his commentary on the Talmud. The messiah is expected to have a relationship with God similar to that of the prophets of the Tanakh. In brief, he holds that the job description, as such, is this:

All of the people Israel will come back to Torah; The people of Israel with be gathered back to the land of Israel; The Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt; Israel will live among the nations as an equal, and will be strong enough to defend herself; Eventually, war, hatred and famine will end, and an era of peace and prosperity will come upon the Earth.

He adds:

"And if a king shall stand up from among the House of David, studying Torah and indulging in commandments like his father David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he will coerce all Israel to follow it and to strengthen its weak points, and will fight The Lord's wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded [and won all nations surrounding him. Old prints and mss.] and built a Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the strayed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together ... But if he did not succeed until now, or if he was killed, it becomes known that he is not this one of whom the Torah had promised us, and he is indeed like all [other] proper and wholesome kings of the House of David who died."

He also clarified the nature of the Messiah:

"Do not imagine that the anointed King must perform miracles and signs and create new things in the world or resurrect the dead and so on. The matter is not so: For Rabbi Akiba was a great scholar of the sages of the Mishnah, and he was the assistant-warrior of the king Ben Coziba [Simon bar Kokhba] ... He and all the Sages of his generation deemed him the anointed king, until he was killed by sins; only since he was killed, they knew that he was not. The Sages asked him neither a miracle nor a sign..." (Main article: Moshiach)

The Christian view of Jesus goes beyond such claims. Although Jews and Christians both refer to biblical prophecies concerning the coming of the messiah, they interpret them differently. For Christians, the messiah, Jesus Christ, is fully human and fully divine. In this view, Jesus offers salvation to all humans by his self-sacrifice. He is the divine Word of God who clothes himself in our humanity, so that human beings can be participants in divine life. Jesus sits in heaven at the right hand of God and will judge humanity by his very presence in the end of days. The liberation and peace brought by the messiah, in Christian terms, is primarily the result of his manifesting the truth of God in all spheres of life. Prophetic references to the future glory of Jerusalem are not interpreted in merely political or geographical terms, but as indications of the restoration of all creation that his unveiled presence will bring about.

Christian readings of the Hebrew Bible find hundreds of references to Jesus. This takes the form in some cases of specific prophesy, but in most cases of foreshadowing by types or forerunners. Traditionally, most Christian readings of the Bible maintained that almost every prophecy was actually about the coming of Jesus, if read corectly. In other words, Christianity traditionally has taught that the entire Old Testament of the Bible was a prophecy about the coming of Jesus.

To learn more about the differences between these two concepts, see messiah, Jewish messiah, and Jesus.

Catholic views

Catholicism traditionally taught that "there is no salvation outside the Church", which some, particularly Fr. Feeney in the 19th century, interpreted as saying only Catholics can be saved. However, the Catholic Church's position is a bit more nuanced than that. The Catholic Church teaches that God's intended way of saving the human race is through the Catholic Church, and there is no source of saving grace which is not already contained within the Church. It should be noted that in this sense, any church founded on Peter's rock, may properly be called a "Catholic" Church - Roman Catholic is but one of these though the largest. At the same time, it does not deny the possibility that those not visibly members of the Church may attain salvation as well. Jesus is the path of salvation, and whilst some know they are on that path others can travel the same Way without knowing the name of the street they are on. In recent times, this teaching has been most notably expressed in the encyclicals Singulari Quidem (1856), Quanto Conficiamur Moerore (1863) and Dominus Iesus (2000). The latter document has taken criticism for claiming that non-Christians are in a "gravely deficient situation" as compared to Catholics.

Pope John Paul II on October 2 of 2000 emphasized that this document did not say that non-Christians were actively denied salvation: "...this confession does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united". The Pope then, on December 6, issued a statement to further emphasize that the Church continued to support its traditional stance that salvation was available to believers of other faiths: "The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes--the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life--will enter God's kingdom." He further added, "All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of Grace to the building of this Kingdom." On August 13, 2002, American Catholic bishops issued a joint statement with leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, called "Reflections on Covenant and Mission", which affirmed that Christians should not target Jews for conversion. The document stated: "Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God" and "Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God's Kingdom." However, some U.S.-led Baptist and other fundamentalist denominations still believe it is their duty to engage in what they refer to as outreach to "unbelieving" Jews (see Jews for Jesus).

Eastern Orthodox views

Eastern Orthodox Christianity emphasizes a continuing life of repentance or metanoia, which includes an increasing improvement in thought, belief and action. Regarding the salvation of Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians, the Orthodox have traditionally taught the same as the Catholic Church: that there is no salvation outside the church. People of all genders, races, economic and social positions, and so forth are welcome in the church. People of any religion are welcome to convert. Orthodoxy recognizes that other religions may contain truth, to the extent that they are in agreement with Christianity. (Some of the early church fathers pointed to Socrates' belief in one God; a few more modern Orthodox Christian theologians have found traces of trinitarianism in the writings of Laozi.)

Many Orthodox theologians believe that all people will have an opportunity to embrace union with God, including Jesus, after their death, and so become part of the Church at that time. God is thought to be good, just, and merciful; it would not seem just to condemn someone because they never heard the Gospel message, or were taught a distorted version of the Gospel by heretics. Therefore, the reasoning goes, they must at some point have an opportunity to make a genuine informed decision. Ultimately, those who persist in rejecting God condemn themselves, by cutting themselves off from the ultimate source of all Life, and from the God who is Love embodied. Jews, Muslims, and members of other faiths, then, are expected to convert to Christianity in the afterlife. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also holds this belief, and holds baptismal services in which righteous people are baptized in behalf of their ancestors who, it is believed, are given the opportunity to accept the ordinance.

Jewish views

Judaism holds that whatever salvation may exist is found only through good works and heartfelt prayer. The majority of Jewish works on this subject hold that one's faith or beliefs alone play a minimal role. However, for a contrary Jewish position see Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed, which limits the afterlife only to people who attain a relatively high level of intellectual perfection, thereby allowing the active intellect to be made eternal through God.

Judaism teaches that all gentiles can receive a share in "the world to come". This is codified in the Mishna Avot 4:29, the Babylonian Talmud in tractates Avodah Zarah 10b, and Ketubot 111b, and in Maimonides's 12th century law code, the Mishneh Torah, in Hilkhot Melachim (Laws of Kings) 8.11.

Judaism has no strong tradition of offenses being punished by eternal damnation (the Hebrew Bible itself has very few references to any afterlife, and the word Sheol that is often translated as "Hell" is as often as not simply translated as "the grave"). Some violations (e.g. suicide) would be punished by separation from the community (e.g. not being buried in a Jewish cemetery).

Judaism's view is summed up by a biblical observation about the Torah: in the beginning God clothes the naked (Adam), and at the end God buries the dead (Moses). The Children of Israel mourned for 40 days - then got on with their lives. No reference is made in the Torah to anything beyond, and this is true even for Moses of whom it is said "nobody has arisen like him, who knew God face to face".

The Biblical conception of God is that his covenant is with the Jewish people, not individual Jews. In the context of this covenant, the death of individual Jews is inconsequential and various older Biblical passages suggest that individual death is final. It is the continued existence of the Jewish nation that is emphasized and the way that a human life should be led. With the rise of Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) thinking, and later the rise of Christianity, Jews became more concerned with the problem of individual death and an afterlife. The Pharisees, and then the Rabbis, made it an essential element of their faith that upon the arrival of the messiah the dead shall be resurrected. This is still a central belief in Orthodox Judaism and to a lesser extent in other branches of Judaism. Some Christian thinkers have opined that a crucial difference between Jewish and Christian beliefs is that Jews believe it is the body that is resurrected. The "soul" or "spirit" has no life or meaning independent of a living body. However, Jewish scholars and theologians point to the many aspects of Judaism that affect the "eternal soul" and "the world to come," indicating that the notion of an afterlife and the concept of post-death award and punishment is indeed deeply ingrained within the Jewish religion.


Judaism is not an evangelistic religion. Orthodox Judaism in fact deliberately makes it very difficult to convert and become a Jew, and requires a significant and full-time effort in living, study, righteousness, and conduct over several years. The final decision is by no means a foregone conclusion. A person cannot become Jewish by marrying a Jew, or by joining a synagogue, nor by any degree of involvement in the community or religion, but only by explicitly undertaking (under supervision) a formal and intense work over years aimed towards that goal. Some less strict versions of Judaism have made this process somewhat easier but it is still far from common.

In the distant past Judaism was more evangelistic, but this was still more akin just to "greater openness to converts" (c.f. Ruth) rather than active soliciting of conversions. Since Jews believe that one need not be a Jew to approach God, there is no religious pressure to convert non-Jews to their faith. See also proselyte.

By contrast, Christianity is an explicitly evangelical religion. Christians are commanded by Jesus to "go forth and Baptize all nations". At some times and in certain places joyful evangelism has veered into high-pressure coercion, resulting in at best significant ill-will and at worst human rights abuse.

This is broadly in line with the distinction made elsewhere that Jewish conversion is more like adoption into a tribe, nation or people, Christian conversion more like a declaration of personal faith.


  • Jews believe that the number 666 is holy and mystical, rather than evil.
  • Jews, unlike many members of Christianity, do not believe that deceased Saints have any power or that they do anything (like miracles) in this world. Nor do they pray to them. At most Jews may go to a Tzadik's grave to ask one to interceed in heaven on their behalf, but any result is always from God, and the request is not a prayer.

Mutual views

In addition to each having varied views on the other as a religion, there has also been a long and often painful history of conflict, persecution and at times, reconciliation, between the two religions, which have influenced their mutual views of their relationship over time.

Persecution, genocide and forcible conversion of Jews (ie hate crime) were common for many centuries, with occasional gestures to reconciliation from time to time. Pogroms were common throughout Christian Europe, including organized violence, restrictive land ownership and professional lives, forcible relocation and ghettoization, mandatory dress codes, and at times humiliating actions and torture. All had major effects on Jewish cultures.

More recently, even within the last century alone, some Jews remember the Holocaust and the current wave of evangelism as yet more reasons to doubt goodwill, while others look to the many peaceful gestures towards harmony since that time, likewise some Christians are at peace and others suspicious of Jews.

What is clear is that formally, there is mostly peaceful living side by side, with strong inter-dialogue at many levels to reconcile past differences between the two groups, and many Christians emphasize common historical heritage and religious continuity with the ancient spiritual lineage of the Jews. What is also likely is that for a long time to come, some within each will continue to consider the other with varying degrees of suspicion and hostility.

Common Jewish views of Christianity

Main article: Jewish view of Jesus

Jesus plays no role whatsoever in Judaism. Jews are familiar with Jesus only due to their being immersed in a Christian-oriented society. Most Jews believe that Jesus was a real person. Many view him as just one in a long list of failed Jewish claimants to be the messiah, none of whom fulfilled the tests of a prophet specified in the Five Books of Moses. Others see Jesus as a teacher who worked with the gentiles and ascribe the messianic claims they find objectionable to his later followers. Because much physical and spiritual violence was done to Jews in the name of Jesus and his followers, and because evangelism is still an active aspect of many church's activities, many religious Jews are uncomfortable with discussing Jesus and treat him as a non-person. Finally, to still others, perhaps to most Jews, Jesus is simply irrelevant, a central figure in a religion that isn't theirs, much as Muhammad might seem to many Christians.

On a religious level, Judaism does not believe that God requires the sacrifice of any human. This is emphasized in medieval Jewish traditions concerning the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. In the Jewish explanation, this is a story whereby God wanted to test Abraham's faith and willingness, and Isaac was never going to be actually sacrificed. Thus, Judaism rejects the notion that anyone can or should die for anyone else's sin. As a religion, Judaism is far more focused on the practicalities of understanding how one may live a sacred life in this world according to God's will, rather than hope of spiritual salvation in a future one. Judaism does not believe in the Christian concept of Hell, nor that only those following one specific faith can be "saved". Judaism does have a punishment stage in the afterlife (i.e. Gehenna, a one year maximum purgatory) as well as a Heaven (Gan Eden), but the religion does not intend it as a focus.

Christmas and other Christian festivals have no religious significance in Judaism and are not celebrated. Celebration of non-Jewish holy days is considered Avodah Zarah or "Foreign Worship" and is forbidden; however some secular Jews in the West treat Christmas as a secular (but not religious) holiday.

Common Christian views of Judaism

Main article: Christianity

In general, Christians view Christianity as the fulfilment and successor of Judaism, and Christianity initially carried forward (and still does albeit in slightly modified form) much of the doctrine and many of the practices from that faith, including monotheism, the belief in a Messiah, and certain forms of worship (such as prayer, and reading from religious texts). Other beliefs around original sin atoned for by God giving his son, or the Son (who is God) coming down to earth for the sake of humanity, and a subsequent sacrifice of that Son, and the belief in the triune nature of God, are essential differences introduced in Christianity that have no counterpart in Judaism.

Christians consider that the Law was necessary as an intermediate stage, but once the world was able to understand the significance of the Crucifixion, then adherence to Law was superseded by faith in Christ as the path to God, and that many of the laws in the Old Testament (the Jewish Five Books of Moses) are no longer required to be applied in life, since humanity is now able to understand and be saved by Jesus directly.

Many Christians today hold to supersessionism, the belief that the Jews' chosenness found its ultimate fulfillment through the message of Jesus: Jews who remain non-Christian are no longer considered to be chosen, since they reject Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. This position has been softened or even completely abrogated by some churches where Jews are recognized to have a special status due to their covenant with God, so that this continues to be an area of on-going dispute among Christians.

Some forms of Christianity which view the Jewish people as close to God, seek to understand and incorporate elements of Jewish understanding or perspective into their Christian beliefs as a means to respect their "parent" religion or to more fully seek out and return to their Christian roots. (Sometimes known as Judaizers because of the Judaic roots they seek to learn from). More evangelistic Christians tend to see Jews as essentially misguided by not choosing Christ, and as a people whom there is a more specific duty to evangelise or convert. (See Missionaries)


  • Bamberger, Bernard 1981 "Commentary to Leviticus" in The Torah: A Modern Commentary edited by W. Gunther Plaut. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations. ISBN 0807400556
  • Bloom, Harold 2005 Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine Riverhead

ISBN 1573223220

  • Herberg, Will 1951 Judaism and Modern Man: An Interpretation of Jewish religion Jewish Publication Society ASIN B0007E19UE
  • Jacobs, Louis 1973 A Jewish Theology Behrman House ISBN0874412269
  • Rosenzweig, Franz 2005 The Star of Redemption University of Wisconsin Press ISBN 0299207242

See also

External links

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