- Hardcover: 290 pages
- Publisher: Schocken; First Edition edition (February 14, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805241191
- ISBN-13: 978-0805241198
- Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #932,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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WHAT DO JEWS BELIEVE?: The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism Hardcover – February 14, 1995
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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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author used a nice format for describing each section that I caught onto after about the third time he started a new topic. He would start with the oldest concepts and discuss as these evolved over time during different developmental times of Jewish thought. I'm not sure I can remember them all, but it was something like this, age of the Talmud (as it was written by Moses), times of the Priests (while the 1st and 2nd Temple existed), then when the 2nd temple was destroyed and no more sacrifices could be made Jewish thought was regulated by the Rabbis and the most popular of them established large and influential schools to study the Talmud and interpret it to the people, often coming up with new thought and conflicting opinion. The Middle Ages brought a time of acceptance of some of the concepts of the Arab schools, Greek Philosophy, and even some Christian thinking on God. Then the period of "Modern" (1800's) thought is covered as scholars started to use a more scientific process to study word structure, archeology, and critical thought to try to determine Biblical (Talmudic) accuracy. Then finally, a description of current thinking from the different Jewish groups Orthodox, Reformed, Ameican, etc. Also, included are discussions of the school of mystic Jewish thought, Kaballa, which arose in Spain and was influential in several periods.
Of course, being Jewish, the author says Christians are confused and there were many false Messiahs including Jesus. He implies he can't believe that anyone would believe for 2000 years Jesus was the Messiah since none of the expectations of what the Messiah would do were accomplished by Jesus. (They expected the Messiah to be a mortal man and military ruler who will defeat the enemies of the Jews and rebuild King David's Kingdom on Earth.) And that the followers of Jesus purposely searched the Talmud to find and distort prophetic passages to use as "proof" of Jesus being the Messiah.
So, as I understand this book to say, Jewish thought is an evolving understanding of man's relationship to his creator. It changes and grows over time and can be influenced by changing human conditions like the horror of the Holocaust, and influenced by other things like scientific and archeological discoveries, etc. The Jew is responsible to God, bless His name, for following the instructions set down in the Talmud and interpreted by the Rabbis. His salvation is based on following these regulations, and that most of them have an aspect of doing "good deeds" for others including family, friends, the poor, the widow, orphans, and others who are less fortunate. Prayer is part of the regulations and helps to include the Jew in developing a sense of belonging to the community of worshippers.
There is lots more great information in this book and I recommend you read it for yourself.