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Difference between Judaism and Christianity
Topics: Judaism, Christianity / Pages: 11 (2750 words) / Published: Nov 1st, 2013

The contrasts and differences between Judaism and Christianity has been an unceasing question of personal concern since starting my religious education. It is undeniable that these two religions hold abundance in common, which is primarily due to the fact that Judaism is the patriarch of Christianity. The central base is mutual for both religions – the Old Testament. However I will later acknowledge the distinctness and authenticity of each primeval religion.

Judaism was founded cca. 1300 BCE, on Mount Sinai, Egypt. This is publicised in Exodus 19. God lead the Children of Israel (Joseph’s twelve sons) on a journey through wilderness to Mt. Sinai. “Here, God revealed himself to the children of Israel and offered them a great covenant.”1 If the people of Israel obeyed his covenant they were promised to be the most beloved of nations, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God furthermore communicated a covenant through Abraham. Following this, he renewed and affirmed this covenant with Moses. Moses can be described as the greatest prophet because he held an intimate relationship with the Lord; he converged with him face to face. Additionally Moses performed miracles superior to those of his fellow prophets. When Moses went and told the people the Lord’s words and laws, they responded in one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do” (Exodus 24:3). There are several types of Jews today; Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed Jews, each defined by how strict they adhere to their religious conviction. Granting Judaism and Christianity share historic ancestries, the two religions diverted their relations in the first century. Christianity was founded cca. 30 AD in Jerusalem, Israel. Christianity finds its source with the birth of Jesus Christ. This new religion emerged from the previous religion; Judaism. Claiming to be the son of God, Jesus’ followers listened to his preaching and teachings performed which in turn became the word of the Bible. Jesus is recognised for the miracles performed and the parables shared. These followers were of Jewish decent but more importantly are the earliest Christian community. Nonetheless there is one pivotal difference. Unlike Judaism, Christianity believes divine revelation is not merely through the Prophets and the Bible, but also through the person of Jesus. There are several types of Christians today; Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

“Central in the Jewish belief is that there is only one God, and that there is a special pact between God and the Jews.”2 They believe God chose the Jews to spread the God news to the world; a Messiah (saviour) will come. The Jewish race fervour the belief the Messiah will come. The Hebrew word “Mashiach” has been adopted by the Jews in reference to the forthcoming Messiah. They feel the “Mashiach” will approach the world subsequent to “war and suffering.”3 This is acclaimed in the Jewish scripture: Ezekiel 38:16. On the other hand, Christians trust their Messiah is Jesus Christ. Judaism claims Jesus is a false prophet, who was conceived through a natural birth. Contrastingly Christians believe Jesus is the son God, the incarnation of God and remarkably the saviour of the world. John 10:36 provides; “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemes; because I said, I am the Son of God.” Isaiah says in 7:14; “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).” Gabriel insisted the child would be baptised the son of God. Amid the gospel writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus is pronounced the son God on frequent occasions.

Monotheism is the confidence in the existence of a single God. Monotheism is a distinctive element of Abrahamic religions such as Judaism and Christianity prescribed. Judaism assigns God’s (Yahweh’s) cohesion as absolutely unquestionable. However Trinitarian monotheism is the Christian doctrine and belief where God is expanded through three distinct dimensions; God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Judaism is a religion instructed through 613 Mitzvot (laws/ rules) prescribed in the Torah, a sacred scripture belonging to Judaism. These Mitzvot are the commandments in which all Jews obey, in order to fulfil themselves, and thus discover the approaching “Mashiach.” Jews are instructed that the oneness of the Mitzvot should not be undertaken unconsciously, but rather naturally and organically by an individual Jew. There are 248 positive rules, i.e those things that Jews are commanded to do and 365 negative laws, i.e those things that Jews are commanded not to do. The Mitzvot are composed of ethical and ritual components. There are 13 principles of faith derived from the fundamental 613 Mitzvot. Also Jews are adjured by the 10 commandments, which are recognised as the moral foundation for the Christian community. Conversely to Judaism, Christian followers solely abide by the 10 commandments and the sacraments.

The Tanakh is the Hebrew bible which corresponds to a Christian’s Old Testament. It is the quintessential Jewish sacred text. This sacred scripture contains the 613 Mitzvot previously mentioned. Essentially the Tanakh contains the Torah, the Nevi’im and the Ketuvim. The first five books are titled the Torah (Pentateuch), the core holy writings of the ancient Jews, conventionally written by Moses under divine revelation by God. The Nevi’im contains the writings of the Prophets, whereas the Ketuvim contains the writings offered to the Jews. In addition to the written scriptures there is an oral Torah, a tradition which gives an explanation of the Torah. Jews believe God taught the oral Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Later interpretations and readings were formed to give precise explaination of the oral Torah, known as the Mishnah. In the 5th century A.D, the Mishnah was further supported in the Gemara. Presently the Mishnah and the Gemara together constitute the Talmud. Adversely the Christians’ bible is divided into two parts; the Old and New Testaments. The bible contains 66 books while the Catholic bible contains these 66 books and an extra 7 books. The first section of the bible, the Old Testament, contains the 39 books of the Hebrew scripture and the subsequent portion is called New Testament containing a series of 27 books. The bible was written by an estimated 40 people. Moses and John, the Apostle, are credited for their predominant work in the compiling of the Christian bible.

“The Jewish people are followers of the world’s oldest monotheistic faith and have traditions stretching back to the earliest days of civilisation. Not only do the followers of Judaism speak of their faith as a religion,”4 they too exceedingly comply by the regulations set in place designed for practicing their faith. It is obvious performing the practices of Judaism reaps rewards of fruitfulness. The Mitzvot encourage the regular attendance to services at the synagogue and temple. The Jews are obliged to celebrate the Sabbath traditionally held from sunset on Friday evening till sunset on Saturday evening. Generally the Sabbath terminates with the onset of the three stars in the evening sky. In autumn, Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At this time, Jews believe that God opens the Book of Life for ten days. Rosh Hashanah is widely referred to as the Jewish New Year, where one abstains from eating and repents their sins. The Jewish New Year celebration concludes on the tenth day: Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) where one requests forgiveness in the hope of being sealed in God’s Book of Life. The Passover is another significant celebration in the Jewish calendar. Passover is a holy day for practicing Jews who commemorate their discharge from slavery in Ancient Egypt. Christianity too, like Judaism practices their faith. The church, chapel, cathedral and basilica are communal sites where Christians profess their faith. Resembling Judaism, Christianity places much emphasis on the holidays they celebrate. Christians celebrate Christmas annually to highlight the birth of Jesus. Advent is a four week time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, it begins the Christian year. Easter is when Christians rejoice Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The forty day period before Easter (excluding Sundays) is called Lent. Like Advent, Lent is a practice to aid the preparation, and in this case, for Easter. Lent is a time where Christians remember the forty days and forty nights Jesus spent in the desert alone, with no food, being tempted by the devil whilst praying abundantly.

Historically special Jewish courts enforced the laws of Judaism. Today these courts lie in existence but less power is exerted by them. Authority is not vested in any one individual or organisation but rather through the sacred texts, and it is the duty of rabbis and scholars to interpret them. Christian authority is split between primary authority and delegated authority. The primary authority for Christianity resides in God (Corinthians 5:18): “He is our maker, preserver, and benefactor, and has therefore, the absolute right to command, and it is our absolute duty to obey.” Christians believe the first delegation of authority was from God to his son Jesus (Matthew 28:18). Jesus came and spoke to his people; “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. And in turn, Jesus offered his authority to his twelve apostles,” Corinthians 5:20; “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ.” The hierarchy of the Christian Church varies under the classification of Christianity. The Catholic Christian followers tolerate the chief rule of the pope, bishops and priests and numerous others. Dissimilar, Protestant Christian believers attend to the priests, preachers and pastors of the clergy.
Kashrut (kosher) is the frame of the Jewish law outlining what foods are allowed to be eaten and what foods are disallowed. Moreover it clarifies the how food must be eaten and prepared. There are blessings that attentive Jews recite over their food at meal times. The laws of Kashrut are proposed in the Torah. Jews show their obedience to God abiding by these dietary rules prescribed in the Book of Leviticus. One of the principal Kashrut requirements develops the necessity to separate meat and dairy products. Exodus 23:19 reads; “You must not boil a kid in his mother’s milk.” The Rabbis have constructed regulations “relating to the separation of meat and dairy and also the separation of dishes, silverware, pots, pans; sinks for washing the dishes in, and even separate refrigerators for keeping dairy and meat products. One cannot place meat on a dairy dish (or vice versa), or the dish (pot, pan, etc.), becomes contaminated.”5 Deuteronomy 12:21 outlines the how mammals and birds are to be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law. Keeping kosher strictly in line with the teachings and scripture involves the proper animal slaughter, with the subsequent draining of the blood, as well as the prohibition not to eat any of the fat. Both the blood and the fat..... carry and are repositories for, toxins (poisons), respectively. That 's why Yahweh commands us not to eat either of them;”6 Furthermore, Leviticus 3:17 states; “It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you must not eat any fat or any blood.” Dissimilar to the Jewish faith, Christianity emphasises little prominence on dietary regulations. However it does employ symbolism to it. “Yet food plays an important role in Christianity. Food and dining are central to the story of the Last Supper.” 7 The bread and wine served at a Catholic mass are representations of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The most notable dietary law expired from Roman Catholic Christianity in the second half of the 20th century. This was to abstain from eating meat on Friday, which ceased after the Second Vatican Council. However, some elderly individuals stills abide by this practice today. Furthermore, “The 40 days of Lent have traditionally been a period of mortification, including practices of fast and abstinence; the rules, however, were greatly modified in the mid-20th century.”8

As previously mentioned, Judaism is the earliest monotheist religion. It core language of prayer and study is Hebrew, and to a very small extent Aramaic. Unquestionably at the present, Jews speak the language of their residing. However, up until a century ago, Yiddish was the international language of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. It is a hybrid of Hebrew and medieval German. The language rich in literature, music and theatre, deteriorated due to its criticism as a barrier to nationalisation. Yiddish is offered as a subject in several large universities worldwide, which today provides Jews the opportunity to delve into the experience of their forebears, and regain contact with their heritage. Resembling Judaism, the Christian’s Old Testament was in Hebrew and a minor amount in Aramaic. The New Testament sacred scripture is written in Greek, which was the language that spread beyond Palestine at the time of Jesus. Consistent with other religions, Christians undertook the language of the country they subsided. With about two billion Christian inhabitants in the world today, it is inevitable the majority of languages in existence, similar to Judaism are the mother tongue of Christian believers.
On the doorsteps of traditional Jewish homes you will find a small case commonly known as the Mezuzah. It is a constant reminder to the Jews of God’s presence and God’s assigned Mitzvot. Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:19 reveals; “And you shall write (the words that I command you today) on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” The words of the Shema (one of the basic Jewish prayers) are inscribed on a tiny scroll of parchment and placed in the Mezuzah. The six pointed Star of David is one of the most recognised symbols of Judaism. It is claimed to represent the shape of the sword of King David in the 7th century. Scholars have attributed deep theological significance to the symbol. For example, “some note that the top triangle strives upward, toward God, while the lower triangle strives downward, toward the real world.”9 This symbol of intertwined triangles is common to the Middle East and North Africa, and alleged to bring luck. One of the worldliest known and recognised pieces of Jewish clothing is the Yarmulke, a head covering used at prayer time. “It is an ancient practice for Jews to cover their heads during prayer. This probably derives from the fact that in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head (the custom in Western cultures is the opposite: it is a sign of respect to remove one 's hat). Thus, by covering the head during prayer, one showed respect for God”10 It is clearly outlined in the Talmud too; “Cover your head so that the fear of heaven may be upon you (Exodus 28:4).” Christianity in addition to Judaism, embrace sign and symbols passed down to them from their predecessors. The cross is one of the earliest and mostly extensively recognised Christian symbols. More specifically it signifies and memorialises the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “The fish was an early symbol of Christian faith that endures today..... as a sign of Christian faith.”11 It denotes baptism, because a fish’s home is in the water. ICHTHUS is often engraved into the body of the Christian symbol. ICHTHUS indicates God the Father, Son and Saviour. The Chi-Rho is a Christian emblem consisting of an intersection of the Greek letters “X” and “P". These two letters written together correspond to the Greek word for Christ.

After examining aspects of these two great Abrahamic religions, I have come to recognise the similarities and differences of these religious communities. There are undoubtedly elements of Judaism and Christianity which are connected and have similarities. However, despite these connections, both faiths have traits which are distinct and unrelated, which include the leaders, authorities, laws, scriptures, celebrations, regulations, languages and signs and symbols adhered to. Jewish people and their lives differ greatly from those of Christian faiths, as a result of their religious beliefs.

Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
Mc Grath, Allister E. Theology The Basics, Second Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.
Woodhead, Linda and Paul Heeles. Religion in Modern Times, An Interpretive Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000.
Bowker, John. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press: 1997.
Schmidt, Roger. Exploring Religion, Second Edition. California, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1988.
De Barra, Micheál. Faith Seeking Understanding. Dublin: Veritas 2005.
Duffy, Connie. Religion for Living, Junior Certificate Religious Education, Second Edition. Meath: Alpha Press Ltd, 2010.

References: Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. Mc Grath, Allister E. Theology The Basics, Second Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Woodhead, Linda and Paul Heeles. Religion in Modern Times, An Interpretive Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. Schmidt, Roger. Exploring Religion, Second Edition. California, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1988. Duffy, Connie. Religion for Living, Junior Certificate Religious Education, Second Edition. Meath: Alpha Press Ltd, 2010.

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