Judaism’s Rejection of the Original Sin
In the bible, the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis serves as scriptural evidence of humankind’s first transgression of God’s command resulting in the expulsion from paradise1. Christians claim that humans are tainted from the fall and many scholars reinforce the idea of a recovery narrative, which depicts the bible as following a pattern of decline and recovery, thereby reinforcing the belief that something was once lost and must be recovered. After mankind’s fall from the state of perfection, Christians believed that Jesus was their savior and would consequently sacrifice himself in order to redeem man. Through the act of disobedience in Genesis emerged the concept of the original sin, which stipulates that humans are born sinners and that sins pass from parent to child as an inherited characteristic2. Jewish believers, however, often criticize this notion and although they acknowledge that the human race came under the dominion of sin, which would affect their subsequent environment, Judaism, unlike Christianity denies that man is born into this world in a state of sin3.
Judaism affirms that the act of sinning is not part of the human condition but rather represents a conflict between two opposing inclinations (a good and an evil tendency) and that man has the ability to resist sin and can overcome the evil inclination by willing himself to become a righteous person.4 Therefore, Jewish people believe that man is inherently good/pure and that people have the ability to choose which impulse to act upon (the yetzer tov or the yetzer ra)5. The concept of the original sin is said to be especially difficult for the Jews to grasp since they refused to believe in the idea that the patriarchs and the prophets that were responsible for building the very foundations of their religion would not be allowed to enter heaven due to their inherited sin. For this reason, the culpability of Adam’s sin seems to have been (and may still be) considered blasphemous by many Jewish believers.6 As such, Jews do not prescribe to the original sin. This belief provides a sharp contrast to the Christian doctrine highlighted by Augustine’s claim: “[…]But man, corrupt by choice and condemned by justice, has produced a progeny that is both corrupt and condemned […] Our nature was already present in the seed from which we were to spring. And because this nature has been soiled by sin and doomed to death and justly condemned, no man was to be born of man in any other condition.”7 Augustine’s view and by extension the Christian view (for the most part) invokes an argument concerning the source of human evil and emphasizes the concept of the original sin, which is essential to Christianity. Indeed, fifteenth century writer Abraham Farissol indicated that the rejection of the original sin would crumble the very foundation of the Christian belief and the image of Jesus as their savior.8 Jewish believers and other scholars, on the other hand, refute this premise. Scholar Park McFayden criticizes the notion of the original sin by claiming that if men were born sinners, then humans would be universally guilty by default.9 Therefore, it would be hard to distinguish sinners from their victims since both would have been equally tainted by sin. In his view, the doctrine contradicts the logic behind the idea of a divine justice. McFayden also claims that if there was such a thing as collective guilt, we would be burdened by acts we have not committed and would thus be restricted from the freedom of making our own moral choices10. In order for a choice to be made, an equal possibility must be presented of either eventuality. Therefore, if humans are born in a state of sin, we have a proclivity to one side without being given the opportunity for choice. It is also important to note that by analyzing the story of Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Bible, one may notice that there is no clarification or...
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James Barr. The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality. Minneapolis: First
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Joel E. Rembaum. Medieval Jewish Critism of the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin.
United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1982/1983
Léo Moulin. Les Gauches et le péché original: Essai de method comparative. (n,d:
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New International Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011.
Yetzer hara [Def. 1]. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Online. In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved
April 8, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yetzer%20hara
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