The Jewish Idea of God

Coming from a non-Jewish background there are several stand-out differences between the concept of God I had growing up and what is presented to me through what I have learnt so far. I grew up in a small, predominantly Catholic town. Mind you I never realised just how many people were Catholic until I left it.

The God of Judaism is at once more personal and yet less humanised. God is not depicted in Judaism, a commandment in the Torah is given as the main reason for this, i.e. to avoid idolatry of the image itself (graven image) rather than the God it is supposed to represent. This was extended to include not depicting any humans or angels at times throughout history although the hand of God was depicted in isolation. So immediately there is a sense of God being less a discrete being and more of an omniscient force.

There are a multitude of blessings said everyday by some Jews, for nearly every conceivable thing (including going to the toilet!). Not every Jew says all of them of course, some may say none except the blessings on Shabbat before eating. The idea that the influence of God is directly referred to so many times per day gives an indication of the primacy that the divine has in traditional Jewish life. It also gives an opportunity for infinite variations on how one interacts with God. The scope for individualisation of religious experience is huge.

Then there are the Jewish philosophers, with ideas ranging from God IS nature, to God is essentially the life-force in the universe, to God being a personal God that has an emotional response to humanity and it’s evils. The range of perceptions of God is broad, and that’s okay!

The belief in and worship of God links Jews with the past, the remembrance of history is incredibly important in Judaism. The Torah is basically a historical record of the Jewish people and how they came into being after all. The Jewish people were chosen by God, not because they were special, but because they were the only ones who agreed to follow the commandments, and only then with a great deal of grumbling (seriously, God gets fed up with the Hebrews many times and threatens to destroy them, Moses talks God out of it a fair amount of the time).

So the Jewish idea of God is that God is central to the Jewish experience, being the reason for their existence and continued survival. Most of the defining Jewish communal experiences are centred around ritualised interaction with God. There is a lot of scope for variation in how you can even perceive God and also in how one can personally interact with and honour God. I think that this ability to individualise your practical religious experience is a very powerful and eminently practical concept.

Published by theundercoverjewess

Starting my conversion to Judaism...

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