Dear Rabbi Fried,
How do we know that all religions aren’t equally valid expressions of worshipping God? Perhaps all faiths are simultaneously true and legitimate for those who choose one or the other, without any one being better than the other? I would like to think that that’s what Judaism holds, and for that reason we don’t proselytize others, because they’re all OK in the eyes of Judaism. Would you agree?
It’s impossible for all religions to be simultaneously true, as most religions are mutually exclusive of all others. A fundamental belief of many branches of Christianity is that Judaism and Islam are heretical. In their eyes, the only way that a Jew or Muslim has a hope for the Next World is if they accept the Christian messiah. At the same time, one of the core convictions of Islam is that Jews and Christians are infidels, and the goal of Islam is to either conquer or convert all the infidels to their faith. How could they both be correct?
(This reminds me of the rabbi presiding over a dispute. One litigant presents his arguments and the rabbi says, “You know, you’re right.” The second man presents his side of the story and the rabbi says, “You know, you’re right.” The rebbetzin overhears and bursts into the room, asking, “How can they have two opposite arguments and both be right?” The rabbi answers, “You know, you’re right!”)
Most people, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto or Hindu, believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. These are basic tenets of their faiths, negating the possibility of all being simultaneously correct.
Traditional Judaism shares one thing in common with all the above religions: it also believes that all these religions are false. Religion, by definition, is based upon divine revelation. Knowledge of G-d not based upon communication between G-d and mankind is a philosophy, not a religion. You can believe in G-d even if He never communicated with you, but you cannot have a relationship without having a communication. All religions claim a relationship based upon a communication by G-d.
G-d could not have communicated contradictory, mutually exclusive truths to different nations (unless one feels G-d is not truthful, then He contradicts all these religions!).
One basic difference between Judaism and the above religions is our belief that non-Jews can achieve a place in the World to Come even as Gentiles. As long as they keep the basic laws of humanity, known as the Seven Noahide Laws (laws commanded by G-d to Noah for all of mankind when leaving the ark), they have earned a place in heaven. This is one of the reasons why we do not actively engage in seeking out converts, not because we consider all the religions as simultaneously true.
It’s important to note that this tenet may exclude the adherents of certain faiths. One of the basic Noahide laws is the prohibition of idol worship; such worship constitutes the foundation of many religions and certain sects of Christianity. On the other hand, Islam, for example, does not transgress that principle. This alone does not render Islam as truth in the eyes of Judaism, however; the seven laws also include the prohibition of murder!
Why and how we know, historically and philosophically, that G-d indeed spoke to the Jews and that Torah is indeed Truth, would need a separate column, perhaps sometime in the near future.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Rabbi Fried,