Rabbi Howard Bald
I read with great interest the recent statement entitled, Dabru Emet (Speak the Truth), published as an ad in major national papers and signed by one hundred and sixty rabbis. I am not an authority about Christian theology nor for that matter about any of the other religious systems that comprise the multitude of approaches to the spiritual, but I have had the great privilege of learning and imbibing the Torah teachings from some of the greatest Torah scholars. As a fortunate recipient of our tradition (mesorah), I do feel qualified, albeit with limitations, to state briefly some basic views about Judaism.
Our Torah demands of us to practice lovingkindness to both Jew and Gentile. Even to an idolatrous gentile, we are obligated to visit their sick, bury their dead, and provide charity for their poor. Whether a person acts rationally or irrationally in their spiritual approach does not change the obligation to extend kindness. No matter how absurd or primitive their belief system may be, the Jew must practice ways of peace toward that individual or group.
But here an important distinction must be stated. The demonstration of lovingkindness to others is not to be confused with an acceptance of their theological views. Mutual respect should not be confused with theological acceptance, and hence I believe that if the representatives of different religious systems desire to engage in discussions that go beyond the promoting of world peace and justice, i.e., real theological dialogue, they must be prepared to take no offense at the most serious of disagreements. Religious leaders who believe in the truth of their religious approach should never compromise their religious truths for even as noble an objective as peace. And if theological dialogue is not possible then let us simply live as loving neighbors agreeing to disagree.
The most fundamental statement of Judaism and reflective of its foundation is “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” What is the full implication of “the Lord is one”? Why is this concept so important to the Jew?
“The Lord is one” means: (1) that there exists a being who is the source of the entire universe, who is the creator and cause of all that exists and yet His existence cannot in any way be compared or related to anything created; (2) God cannot be construed in a physical manner. It is an anathema to a Jew to construe God in physical terms. It is true that we and the Torah speak in the “language of man” but we are constantly mindful that God is far beyond any human description and that no terms or attributes are applicable to God. It is no more possible for God to make Himself physical than it would be for God to destroy Himself; (3) God is not subject to change. The very notion of “the Lord is one” means that there cannot be two descriptions of God – God is truly one. Through prayer and mitzvot (system of commandments), the human being changes – never God. To apply to God emotions or changes in emotional states, is nothing more than mere illusion stemming from the human being’s desire to mold a god in the human image.
Jews throughout the world recite the Song of Unity (Shir haYichud) on Rosh Hashana, where it states: “You will be forever unchanging… Gladness and grief do not apply to You nor do the semblance of any creature…Physical things do not affect You nor can You be likened to anything with a soul… Therefore You need nothing…”
This is the God of Israel. No other notion of God is acceptable according to the dictates of our Torah.
As I stated at the outset, I am not in the position to be an arbiter of other people or of their religious systems. I am unclear as to what the personal beliefs are of many Jews, let alone Gentiles. I can only submit to you, the reader, that those who accept the above ideas believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of Israel and the Creator of the Universe.
Let me conclude by stating my willingness to teach the ideas of Judaism to anyone interested and to continue this conversation with those whose interest has been sparked. I can be contacted here.
May we merit to live in the time prophesized by the Prophet Zechariah, “God will be King over all the world – on that day God will be One and His Name will be One.”
Rabbi Howard Bald is a resident of Pikesville, MD, and the High School Principal of a Jewish Day School in Baltimore.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Howard Bald and Project Genesis. We welcome your comments.