Defending Your Belief in Judaism

A number of people have asked me for some arguments they can use when being proselytized to by Christian missionaries. I have resisted writing such work for years because it is not my style to make such arguments. I recently encountered a person who tried to convert me and claimed it would afford me certain benefits in life if I would become a Christian (not the first time I have encountered this). Naturally, I declined. Personally, I do not proselytize or try to convert others. As a result, I do not spend much time forming arguments for defending what I believe. I do help those who come to me with questions because they are already leaning in my general direction. That I do not try to convince others means I generally just listen to their perspective politely and ask a few questions. I rarely “attack” their positions because I am merely curious to hear a new perspective. Sadly, this misleads people into believing that I am open to conversion when I am most definitely not.

I am providing the text below not to give offense to any religious belief, in fact I hope no one is ever dissuaded from their beliefs by this article. The goal here is only to help those who wish to be able to defend their Jewish beliefs against efforts at conversion. So the other person will understand that we are not just people who believe in nothing and are merely refusing to accept the “gift” that they are offering, but in fact an entirely different religious system. What follows are a series of questions and arguments for missionaries to put them on the defensive and aid in the defense of Jewish beliefs.

Moses and the ten commandments is a painting by Giora Eshkol

1. My first question to those who proselytize to me is this: Is the Christian deity omnipotent (all knowing and all powerful)? If g-d is not omnipotent then why believe in it/him? A magical deity who lives in a mystical realm far removed from our daily lives and separated from our existence like Zeus on Olympus, who is disinterested in us, and whose powers are limited is not at all the one true deity who is described in the Torah. Christians tell us that the only way to reach this disinterested, separate deity is through a belief in Jesus and/or by participation in a particular Church. Those who do not believe in Jesus are automatically condemned to perdition. A good person, who lives a moral life and helps others but who does not believe in Jesus is condemned to perdition while a wicked person who lives a life of selfishness and cruelty toward others but who on their deathbed accepts a belief in Jesus goes to paradise? How is this just? Why can’t g-d judge everyone fairly regardless of their belief in Jesus? If he is omnipotent and just, why can He not judge objectively? If he can judge objectively, then why believe in Jesus? If he cannot, then their g-d is both limited and unjust from a Jewish perspective.

Christians also believe in a fallen angel, a force for evil. How could a good, just, and omnipotent deity allow such an evil counterpoint to exist? This concept is drawn from the schema of Zoroastrianism. In Judaism there is a debate as to whether there are angels and if there are, they all certainly serve Hashem. Our G-d has no supernatural enemies. So, this Christian g-d is limited, powerless before evil, and grants paradise to believers regardless of their conduct?

2. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Devil… How is this not polytheism? Christians often bring up the 10 Commandments, Decalogue, or 10 Utterances as we call them in Judaism while making their arguments. The Philonic counting of these commandments begins with the first commandment: “You shall have no other g-ds before Me.” (modernized from the King James translation). How can one follow the First Commandment while believing in so many supernatural beings and forces of equal or greater importance? How does this differ from ancient Greek or Nordic beliefs?

3. How is Jesus not an idol? The Second Commandment is more lengthy but says not to make images, statues, or forms and bow down to them to serve them. Ancient pagans made images of Zeus, Apollo, and Athena and worshipped them. How is Jesus any different? He is the image of a man who is to be worshiped as g-d and in whom everyone must believe in order to go to paradise. 

Summarize: Their g-d is not omnipotent? Their g-d is unjust? Only people who believe in an idol can approach g-d? This does not sound so compelling. Why would any deity establish an eternal paradise as an afterlife for *some of the people who believe a given thing and condemn most people to eternal torment? Why would anyone want to believe this? This is terrifying! Basically, everyone is going to perdition and even jumping through all of the hoops of Christianity does not guarantee a place in paradise. This deity seems cruel, weak, and unjust. This deity is nothing like the omnipotent, forgiving, and just Hashem we read about in the Mikra (Hebrew Scriptures).

I, for one, have no interest in believing in a deity presented in the form of a man or an animal. If you are going to worship a man as a deity, why not Zeus, Appollonius, or Odin? How can anyone read the Mikra and arrive at the conclusion that it is okay to worship a man as g-d? Or to worship multiple g-ds? How many passages prohibit idolatry? How many prohibit the worshipping of men and images? How many passages speak of false deities of wood, stone, or metal that have eyes that do not see, mouths that do not speak, and who cannot defend themselves from attack? If these beliefs and practices are prohibited then how can one escape the obvious hypocrisy of worshipping a man as g-d?

Sometimes, Christians will try to argue that the Prophets referred to Yeshua’s arrival. How can this be when all of the Prophecies were fulfilled centuries before Jesus was born?

Now for the coup de gras: Facetiously offer an alternative belief system that we might see as similar: If I were open to believing in a deity who is not omnipotent, to polytheism, and I was willing to worship idols; why not believe in Forn Sidr (The Old Ways)? This is the old Norse religion: Odin, Freyja, and Thor are among the g-ds worshipped in this belief system. Here we have Odin the g-d of wisdom in the form of a man who is not omnipotent and who is limited in many ways. He is selfish, narcissistic, and disinterested in the human world. Odin once sacrificed himself on the Yggdrasil Tree where he died and hanged for nine nights before being resurrected with a knowledge of the future. His son Thor is the g-d of lighting and thunder, the champion of mankind who slays giants and protects man from destructive supernatural forces. In terms of human conduct, those who believe in Forn Sidr have a simple honor code. In Medieval times, Forn Sidr involved a slightly more sophisticated version of “might makes right.” 

Asgard and Bifrost in Otto Schenk’s interpretation of Wagner’s drama.

So under the Medieval interpretation of this belief system, a believer can basically behave as he or she pleases. There are no rules preventing promiscuity or forbidding violence outright. Cowardice and dishonesty are frowned upon more than anything. When compared to Christianity, this certainly sounds like a lot more fun! A powerful man or woman can be a noble Nordic lord, virtually a demig-d in their own realm.

If a person dies in combat or at least with a weapon in his or her hand they go to Asgard as their afterlife. The warrior will be escorted to Asgard by Valkryies (Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries playing in the background) to the hall of Valhalla (Valhöll) where Odin presides. There they will experience eternal revels with fellow Nordic warriors as they drink, feast, and cavort with beautiful women or handsome men. Half of the warriors who die in battle are taken to the Field of Folkvanger where the fertility deity Freyja, wife of Odin, presides. Likewise, a place of feasting, drinking, and lechery. Again, this all sounds like a better deal than becoming an angel who sings and such.

I’ll Stick with Judaism, Thank You

In Judaism we believe in one omnipotent deity who created everything and causes it to exist in the present tense. He is both supremely just and kind and He demands decency and righteousness of His Holy Nation (masculine pronouns here gender inclusive as Hashem is neither male nor female). While He is universal, He concerns Himself with the worries and fears of individuals and nations of people. He has singled out one nation (the Jews) to carry His law and provide an example to others. So mankind can discipline itself to behave righteously. We do not hurt people, steal from them, commit fraud, or lead people astray. The discipline of observing these moral laws and of Jewish ethics are rewards in and of themselves. Still, above and beyond these blessings is the protection Hashem has obviously afforded the Jewish people, who are still here after 4,000 years of history, and 3,500 years after the exodus from Egypt.

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