Criticism of Judaism

Criticism of Judaism
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Criticism of Judaism has existed since Judaism's formative stages, as with many other religions.


Heretical views within Judaism

In many religions ex-members and excommunicates became known for doctrinal disputes with their former faith. In Judaism a process similar to excommunication is called cherem. The process is a form of ecclesiastical censure that states the person is not to be listened to by the community. Among people declared cherem there were a few critics of Judaism.

The most famous might be Baruch Spinoza who was censured primarily for rejecting the orthodox understanding of the Torah and its view of God. His Theologico-Political Treatise in particular rejected the idea of the Jews as a chosen people and saw the Torah as merely a kind of Jewish constitution. He further felt that Judaism allowed for little in the way of speculation or internal reflection. Spinoza's critique of the Judaism of his day formed the foundation for his broader radical critique of theology that would follow in his later writings, which have been seen as precursors to later trends in Enlightenment thought. An earlier heretic, Uriel da Costa, a convert of Jewish ancestry, had also been met with a writ of cherem for his denial of the immortality of the soul. However, cherem has rarely been practised since the Enlightenment.

God as creator of the universe

Spinoza,[1] as well as some prominent modern atheists,[2] have criticized Judaism because its theology and religious texts describe a personal God who has conversations with important figures from ancient Judaism (Moses, Abraham, etc.) and forms relationships and covenants with the Jewish people. Spinoza instead believed God is abstract, impersonal, or a force of nature.[1] Theologian and philosopher Franz Rosenzweig suggested that the two viewpoints are both valid and are complementary within Judaism.[3]

Criticism from Christianity

Paul's criticism of Judaism

Paul criticizes Jews for their failure to believe in Jesus (Romans 9:30-10:13) and for their view about their favored status and lack of equality with gentiles (Roman 3:27).[4] In Romans 7-12, one criticism of Judaism made by Paul is that it is a religion based in law instead of faith, and holds that salvation is possible through adherence to the law and performance of good works. In many interpretations of this criticism made prior to the mid 20th century, Judaism was held to be fundamentally flawed by the sin of self-righteousness.[5] The issue is complicated by differences in the versions of Judaism extant at the time. Some scholars argue that Paul's criticism of Judaism are correct, others suggest that Paul's criticism is directed at Hellenistic or Palestinian Judaism, the forms with which Paul was most familiar,[6] rather than Rabbinic Judaism, which eschewed the militant line of Judaism which Paul embraced prior to his conversion.[7] There is also the question as to whom Paul was addressing. Paul saw himself as an apostle to the Gentiles, and it is unclear as to whether the text of Romans was directed to Jewish followers of Jesus (as was Paul), to Gentiles, or to both.[5] If adherence to Jewish law were a requirement for salvation, then salvation would be denied to Gentiles.[8] Krister Stendahl argues along similar lines that according to Paul, Judaism's rejection of Jesus as a savior is what allows salvation of non-Jews, that this rejection is part of God's overall plan, and that Israel will also be saved (per Romans 11:26-27).[8][5]

Some scholars argue that the fundamental issue underlying Paul's criticism of Judaism hinge on his understanding of Judaism's relationship to Jewish law. E. P. Sanders, for example, argues that the view held by many New Testament scholars from Weber on,[5] represent a caricature of Judaism.and that this interpretation of Paul's criticism is thus flawed by the misunderstanding of the tenets of Judaism.[9] Sander's interpretation asserts Judaism is instead best understood as a "convenantal nominism", in which God's grace is given and affirmed in the covenant, to which the appropriate response is to live within the bounds established in order to preserve the relationship.[10] James Dunn agrees with Sanders's view that Paul would not have criticized Judaism for claiming that salvation comes from adherence to the law or the performance of good works, since those are not tenets of Judaism, but argues against Sanders that Paul's criticism of Judaism represents a rebuttal of the "xenophobic" and ethnocentric form of Judaism to which Paul had previously belonged.[9][10] Dunn argues that Paul does not see his position as a betrayal of Judaism, but rather represents development of an open Judaism.[10] A similar argument is presented by George Smiga, who claims that criticism of Judaism found in the New Testament are best understood as varieties of religious polemic, intended as a call to conversion rather than criticism in the sense of common usage.[11]

Criticism from Islam

A prominent place in the Qur'anic polemic against the Jews is given to the conception of the religion of Abraham. The Qur'an presents Muslims as neither Jews nor Christians but followers of Abraham who was in a physical sense the father of the Jews and the Arabs and lived before the revelation of Torah. In order to show that the religion practiced by the Jews is not the pure religion of Abraham, the Qur'an mentions the incident of worshiping of the calf, argues that Jews do not believe in part of the revelation given to them, and that their taking of usury shows their worldliness and disobedience of God. Furthermore, the Quran claim they attribute to God what he has not revealed. According to the Qur'an, the Jews exalted a figure named Uzair as the "son of God." (See the Quranic statements about perceived Jewish exaltation). The character of Ezra, who was presumed to be the figure mentioned by the Qur'an (albeit with no corroborative evidence to suggest Ezra & Uzair to be the same person) became important in the works of the later Andalusian Muslim scholar Ibn Hazm who explicitly accused Ezra of being a liar and a heretic who falsified and added interpolations into the Biblical text. In his polemic against Judaism, Ibn Hazm provided a polemical list of what he considered "chronological and geographical inaccuracies and contradictions; theological impossibilities (anthropomorphic expressions, stories of fornication and whoredom, and the attributing of sins to prophets), as well as lack of reliable transmission (tawatur) of the text".[12][13]

Kosher slaughter

Kosher slaughter has historically attracted criticism from non-Jews as allegedly being inhumane and unsanitary,[14] in part as an antisemetic canard that eating ritually slaughtered meat caused degeneration,[15] and in part out of economic motivation to remove Jews from the meat industry.[14] Sometimes, however, these criticisms were directed at Judaism as a religion. In 1893, animal advocates campaigning against kosher slaughter in Aberdeen attempted to link cruelty with Jewish religious practice.[16] In the 1920s, Polish critics of kosher slaughter claimed that the practice actually had no basis in scripture.[14] In contrast, Jewish authorities argue that the slaughter methods are based directly upon Genesis IX:3, and that "these laws are binding on Jews today."[17]

More recently, kosher slaughter has attracted criticism from some groups concerned with animal welfare, who contend that the absence of any form of anesthesia or stunning prior to the severance of the animal's jugular vein causes unnecessary pain and suffering. Calls for the abolition of kosher slaughter have been made in 2008 by Germany's federal chamber of veterinarians,[18] and in 2011 by the Party for Animals in the Dutch parliament.[19] In both incidents, Jewish groups responded that the criticisms were attacks against their religion.[18][19]

Supporters of kosher slaughter counter that Judaism requires the practice precisely because it is considered humane.[17] Research conducted by Temple Grandin and Joe M. Regenstein shows that, practiced correctly with proper restraint systems, kosher slaughter results in little pain and suffering, and notes that behavioral reactions to the incision made during kosher slaughter are less than those to noises such as clanging or hissing, inversion or pressure during restraint.[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b Nadler, Steven (2001). Spinoza: a life. Cambridge University Press. pp. 66–72, 135–136, 145–146, 274–281. ISBN 0521002931. 
  2. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God delusion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 37, 245. ISBN 0618680004. 
  3. ^ Oppenheim, Michael D. (1997). Speaking/writing of God: Jewish philosophical reflections. SUNY press. p. 107. 
  4. ^ E. P. Sanders, Paul the Law and Jewish People, Fortress Press, p.154
  5. ^ a b c d Zetterholm, Magnus. Approaches to Paul: A Student's Guide to Recent Scholarship. Fortress Press. pp. 4–8, 98–105. ISBN 9780800663377. 
  6. ^ Sanders, E. P. (1977). Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion. Fortress Press. pp. 4, 8, 549. ISBN 0800604997. 
  7. ^ Hacker, Klaus (2003). "Paul's Life". The Cambridge companion to St. Paul (Cambridge University Press): 23, 28. ISBN 0521781558.'s%20criticism%20of%20judaism%20inauthor%3AJames%20inauthor%3Adunn&lr&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is&as_brr=0&client=firefox-a&pg=PR6#v=snippet&q=%22criticism%20of%20judaism%22&f=false. 
  8. ^ a b Sanders, E. P. (1983). Paul the Law, and the Jewish People. Fortress Press. p. 159. ISBN 0800618785. 
  9. ^ a b Gorman, Michael J.. Apostle of the crucified Lord: a theological introduction to Paul and his letters. pp. 19–20.'s%20%22criticism%20of%20judaism%22&pg=PR4#v=onepage&q=james%20dunn%20paul's%20%22criticism%20of%20judaism%22&f=false. 
  10. ^ a b c Horrell, David G. (2002). "Paul". The biblical world (Routledge) 2: 273–5. ISBN 0415161053.'s%20%22criticism%20of%20judaism%22&pg=PA273#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  11. ^ Smiga, George M. (1992). Pain and polemic: anti-Judaism in the Gospels. Paulist Press. pp. 18–21. ISBN 0809133555. 
  12. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam, Uzayr
  13. ^ Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Tahrif, Encyclopedia of Islam
  14. ^ a b c Melzer, Emanuel (1997). No way out: the politics of Polish Jewry, 1935–1939. Hebrew Union College Press. pp. 81–90. ISBN 0878204180. 
  15. ^ Poliakov, Léon (1968). The History of Anti-semitism: From Voltaire to Wagner. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 153. ISBN 0812237668. 
  16. ^ Collins, Kenneth (November 2010). "A Community on Trial: The Aberdeen Shechita Case, 1893". Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 30: 75. 
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^ a b "Halal, Kosher Slaughter Unacceptable, say German Vets". Deutsche Welle. 10.07.2008.,2144,3474409,00.html. 
  19. ^ a b Runyan, Tamar (May 5, 2011). "Dutch Jews Mobilize Against Attempt to Outlaw Kosher Slaughter". 
  20. ^ Religious slaughter and animal welfare: a discussion for meat scientists

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