Judaism – from monotheism to atheism?

Anyone interested in seeing where Judaism is heading should visit the website advertising the second “Sinai Indaba” event that commences in Johannesburg, South Africa this evening. About 3000 delegates (Jewish and other), are due to attend.

Firstly notice the two high-lighted characters in “Sinai Indaba” – namely the “I” and the “I”. Then play the promotional video in which Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, pitches the event on the motives “unite, inspire, discover” – but fails to mention the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob even once. In the same video watch short interviews with a range of delegates from last year’s event – from orthodox to secular – and consider why none of them make even a passing reference to God. “There is something for everyone,” one of them said.

While Judaism describes itself as monotheistic, its religion seemingly begins and ends with Torah, and the rabbis claim exclusive authority to add, subtract, modify and interpret – according to their collective, albeit diverse and disparate, will. The Talmudic tractate Baba Mezia  boasts of a time when the Voice from Heaven opposed the rabbis’ interpretation of the Law, but the rabbis rebuked the Voice and silenced the Speaker, who then responded “My children have defeated me. My children have defeated me.” [1] The Torah is no longer in Heaven where God would have a say over it, but on earth where it is irrevocably within their power, according to the rabbinic claim.

Concerning eternal destiny and the life to come, Judaism teaches that there is no need for personal salvation, as the Christians believe. The after-life, if it exists, is the automatic right of every Jew,[2] and no relationship or ‘transaction’ involving God is required.

It was Moses Mendelssohn’s ambition to make of the Jews a people defined by outward observances, rather than convictions and beliefs. This ambition has largely been realised, but what is left then to motivate a continuation of the observances, and preserve the Jewish race?

Understand from this dilemma the need for a further development of Judaism, being away from notions of “obedience” and “worship” to those of “identity”, “personal development” and “self-realisation and advancement through the Torah”. In other words, the high-lighted “I” and the “I”.

If this is now its primary focus, then Judaism has evolved into something remarkably similar to the original self-help religion, namely Buddhism. Both these ‘tracks’ offer a Rule of Life or philosophy that can be followed – to a greater or lesser degree, depending on individual preference – to achieve a balanced and harmonious existence, or other benefits, without intrinsic need of God.

While Buddhism emanates from a fundamentally pessimistic world view, and offers as the ultimate reward to its adherents, the annihilation of conscious life, Judaism is distinctly optimistic, and promotes an active engagement in all spheres, and achievement in every field of human endeavour. This is Judaism’s great attraction, given the seemingly limitless potentialities of the modern age.

But if God does exist, and if He is the God of the Bible, and if the Prophets who cried “thus sayeth the Lord” (co amar adonaidid in fact speak in His name, where does this leave the Jew?

If the Torah is not a tool for self-development, but a standard of holiness against which every Jew will be judged, where does this leave the Jew?

If the mortal world is destined for destruction, and all human achievement revealed as the fig leaves which Adam sewed to cover his nakedness, where does this leave the Jew?

What if the Voice from Heaven is the only voice relevant to our existence, and the One source of Life?

Long after Sinai, Moses instructed Israel, “obey His Voice … that thou mayest cleave unto Him: for He is thy life, and the length of thy days”. [3]

While the Bible teaches that “all who call upon the name of Jehovah will be saved,” [4]Judaism prohibits calling out the name of God.

How many Jews discern where their religion is taking them? Does anyone perceive the danger, and yet ask “what if God?”

Related article:  “Torah or God – Judaism’s crisis of absolutes”.

[1] At folio 59b.

[2] By application of a maxim derived from Isaiah 45.

[3] Deut. 30:20. ( …לאהבה את־יהוה אלהיך לשׁמע בקלו ולדבקה־בו כי הוא חייך וארך ימיך)

[4] Joel 3:5. (… והיה כל אשׁר־יקרא בשׁם יהוה ימלט )