Judaism has a very interesting take on some of the fundamental questions that we have been examining throughout the semester. In this chapter, Houston Smith elaborates on three main concepts that govern a Jewish life; God’s role, social structures, and the role of history.
First and foremost, like the other western religion that we have studied, Judaism is monotheistic. This was very different and unorthodox at the time with the dominant societies of the world such as Babylon. Furthermore, not only do Jews follow monotheism, they seem to allocate more power and greatness to God than the other religions of their time, and other religions from the east. Houston Smith first emphasizes this when he states that “compared to the majesty of the heavens, people are dust” (p.280). Moreover, Smith explains very clearly that one of the concepts that dominate Jewish life is the sharing of the pleasures of life with God. He elaborates on this by stating that, in the same way that we share pleasures with our friends to augment the experience, we should likewise be sharing such pleasures with God himself for similar results (p.302). The last piece that Smith touches upon in relation to this matter comes when he states “divinity will not put up forever with exploitation, corruption and mediocrity” (p.294). This shows that the Jewish population is constantly trying to remain an honest, driven society in order to please God.
The second part of the Jewish life that Smith focuses on is the Jewish social life in the context of how its people should go about it as well as what needs to be done to achieve such structures. Smith opens by articulating that “the future of any people depends in large part on the justice of its social order, and (2) that individuals are responsible for the social structures of their society” (p.288). To summarize, Judaism strongly believes that the success of any society is largely dependent on how just its proceedings are, for without accountability and punishment within a society, its social structure will crumble.
The last essential concept of Judaism that Smith speaks upon is their reliance on history as both guidance and a form of education. The saying that we use so often in our world today, “those who do not learn form history are doomed to repeat it” stems from Judaism. I thought that this was a really telling quote when analyzing the importance that Judaism places on history. For example, when the Israelites were being held in sixth century Babylonia, Second Isaiah declared that his group needed to learn something from their poor state. In doing so he was able to recognize and learn two extremely important lessons. The first one being that he was now able to value freedom more than before. Despite the Jews entrapment by Egypt earlier in Judaism’s history it seemed that the Jewish people had started to develop a sense of entitlement to freedom and began to take it for granted. This event in Babylonia opened many eyes to this phenomenon. The second, yet equally as important, lesson that Second Isaiah took from this event was that those who stay faithful during rough times are rewarded for their struggle. When he and his fellow prisoners were released, they were not only let free, but more importantly, they were free to go back home and continue the practice of their own religion and beliefs. In relation to this, Second Isaiah also hypothesized that when you are willing to endure pain, you spare others from this same pain (p.295). This last lesson has transcended through the generations and is still one that is thought about by the Jewish population when going through hardship.