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What Do Jews Believe?: The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism Paperback – January 23, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What Do Jews Believe?: The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism, by David Ariel, is a basic exploration of the broad question posed by its title. Ariel's contention is that "Judaism is not a religion of fixed doctrines or dogmas but a complex system of evolving beliefs." And yet despite its diversity, "no matter how literally or metaphorically we choose to interpret them, ... sacred myths form the framework for the Jew's ongoing search for personal meaning in his or her own life, the life of the Jewish community, and society at large." What Do Jews Believe? describes some essential "sacred myths," such as the existence and nature of God, the meaning of the Torah, the importance of prayer, and the significance of chosenness. Ariel's selection and exploration of these myths is guided by the following questions: Which Jewish beliefs have survived from antiquity to the present day, how have they evolved over time, and what beliefs distinguish Judaism today? As he pursues these questions, Ariel enthusiastically describes Judaism's seminal influence on the rise of humanism, which makes his book especially credible for readers whose sympathies are more secular than his own.

Perhaps the best part of this book is its conclusion, a tzavaah, or ethical will, written as an open letter to his children. In it, he quotes a letter from a mother to her child, written while they were living in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, before they both were murdered by the Nazis. This letter offers an extraordinarily persuasive and poignant summary of what exactly makes a Jew a Jew: "Judaism, my child, is the struggle to bring down God upon earth, a struggle for the sanctification of the human heart. This struggle your people wages not with physical force but with spirit and by constant striving for truth and justice. So, do you understand, my child, how we are distinct from others and wherein lies the secret of our existence on earth?" To these words, Ariel adds a moving piece of advice to his own children, and to his readers: "Remember, your life is like a book. Write in it what you want to be known about you." --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Ariel, president of the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies, here offers a lucid and accessible study of the central beliefs of Judaism. With grand and sure strokes, the author paints the history of the "sacred myths" of Judaism?God, Torah, human destiny, chosenness, prayer, theodicy, mitzvot and messiah?using the colorful texts of biblical writers, rabbinic scholars and contemporary Jewish leaders. For example, in his remarks on messiah, Ariel moves from the biblical expectation of two messiahs to the fervor of contemporary messianic movements like the Lubavitch Hasidim. In a concluding letter to his children, Ariel argues that the great value of Judaism is its attempt to discover God's image in ourselves. In sum, this is a powerful introduction to the rich history and lively character of Judaism.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (January 23, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805210598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805210590
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr David Ariel is President and Founder of OnePeopleNet. Previously, he served as President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford. He also served as President of Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland, Ohio. Throughout his career, he has made Jewish knowledge accessible to wider audiences through his writings, lectures, and classes for adults. He is the author of four books including Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest in Judaism; What Do Jews Believe?; and Spiritual Judaism. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts. For more about him, go to www.davidariel.org and www.onepeoplenet.net

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
David Ariel , in "What Do Jews Believe" gives a balanced account of the evolution of Jewish thought and beliefs, demonstrating that Judaism is a living, changing system, always renewing itself. Each chapter covers a different concept: God, the problem of good and evil, mitzvot, prayer, Jewish identity, and starting with the Torah, traces the development of those concepts in the Talmud and among the various sages and schools in Jewish history right up to the present. The book, though an overview, is by necessity deep reading , yet I can think of no other which has succeeded in presenting such an enormous and difficult topic so clearly and fairly. One is left with an awe of and appreciation for Judaism's capacity for creative diversity, while remaining grounded in scripture and history. I consider this book a must for one's personal library.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gregory J. Casteel on October 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
First, I should point out that I am not Jewish; nor am I an expert on Judaism. I read this book because I wanted to learn more about Judaism. So, I am not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the information in this book; nor am I in a position to tell if the writing is objective or biased towards a particular viewpoint. All I can comment on is how informative and how "readable" the book is.

The aim of the book is to give an overview of Jewish religious doctrines, in all of their complexity and variations. And they ARE quite complex and varied. The author devotes a lot of space to discussing the various ways that Jews have understood their religion throughout history. He addresses the many doctrinal debates and competing perspectives within Judaism; and appears to do so fairly evenhandedly (though, again, I am not really in a position to judge his objectivity). The book is packed full of information. In fact, it almost has too much information (if that is possible). It's very informative; but it can be rather dense at times. I often found myself having to re-read certain paragraphs in order to fully digest the information. This is not light, casual reading for someone who is only mildly curious about Judaism. I would recommend it only for those who have a strong interest in the subject.

But it IS very informative. I feel that I have learned a lot about Judaism from reading it; so I'm glad I got the book. On the other hand, it's so densely packed with information that my brain just can't seem to process it all into an orderly framework. I'm still not quite sure I fully understand what Jews believe. But I know more than I did.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By tzipi on November 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
I like the book because it presents belief and history across the spectrum of Jewish thought. It doesn't say some Jews believe this.. some Jews believe that. Ariel explains why Jews believe what they believe and those beliefs evolved.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eric Mayforth on February 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
There are more than five million Jews in America, and everyone knows of many famous people in this society who are Jewish, but most people in the U.S. today probably do not know much about what Jews believe. I certainly didn't learn much about Judaism as I grew up in rural Michigan and rural Texas.

David Ariel has written this volume outlining basic Jewish beliefs. The author asserts that there is a rubric of "sacred myths" that unites all Jews, and that Judaism is a set of evolving beliefs about God and life. This book lays out Jewish views on creation, humanity, ethics, good and evil, the afterlife, the Torah, and many other topics. Also discussed is the Jewish view of the Messiah and how Judaism differs from Christianity.

"What Do Jews Believe" is a good, not-too-long, not-too-short volume that should satisfy non-Jews who would like to gain a basic understanding of Judaism.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
The most lucid explanation of the basic ideas of Judaism I've ever read. Reccomended for the scholar and the layman. Be sure to read the ethical will to Dr. Ariel's children.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Suren P. Pandya on March 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book is excellent for those who wish to understand the heart of Judaism. For the longest time, those who are not jews have greatly misunderstood the beliefs and practices of the jewish faith, leading to blood bath after blood bath. Ariel presents the variation and beauty of jewish beliefs spanning accross many centuries all the way upto to our own. His presentation is informative and concise so that it is easy to understand. A great read for anyone who is interested in Judaism or the beliefs of of jews.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jacob Godfree on March 9, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was a simply fantastic read. I feel it really captures the development, and belief system of ancient and modern Judaism. Would recommend to anyone learning about Judaism.
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Format: Paperback
Informative Book. This is the first book that I am reading about Judaism. My mom is Jewish and my dad of another faith. Growing up I thought my dad was a believer in his faith. But he wasn't. Mom kept her Jewish Faith to herself because they agreed to bring us under another religion. Recently, I asked myself who was the God that Jesus believed. My answer came to me, "Why the Jewish God," of course. The Christian Churches barely taught who God was or what is his personality. This book has a chapter on God. If I was younger I would go to school and learn about Judaism. I can't believe the flexibility in this faith. This is what I learned from this book so far.

“In one sense, the Jews saw God as gender neutral … He is fundamentally one, transcendent and invisible.”
Ariel also writes: “In Judaism, the search for understanding God never reaches a final destination.”
Rabbi Heschel “sees God reaching out to us.” In short, God is both hidden and present. He is both above and below.

Author David S. Ariel also writes that “Jews have believed that the image of God in human beings refers to the spiritual dimension of human existence. Judaism posits the existence of a spiritual realm beyond the individual that animates and energizes the life of the soul. The body is formed from the earth, and the soul is from God.”
Although my faith in God is being restored by author Ariel teachings about the Jewish God, I am happy that at least now, I can practice faith without a desperate need to have a knowledge of God. Instead, with the help of this book, I can have a deeper relationship with God.

If any Christian believers come across this, I would urge you to get a copy and learn about the God that Jesus believed.
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