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Judaism, Mormonism and “Salvation”

January 24, 2008

On Wed, 23 Jan 2008 20:27:23 -0800 (PST), Red Davis <thereddavis@yahoo.com> wrote:

>The great question is: Is there anything you must do to be saved?

>I ask it because anti-Mormons like to yell at us LDS that we are lost because we “believe in salvation by works” when “salvation is by grace alone, not by works” — and that if we want to be saved, we must perform a work to be saved — leave the LDS Church.

Interesting question.

The Hebrew word for “salvation” (Gulut) or “Saved” (Gulah) appears hundred of times in the Hebrew bible and in our prayers. However, it almost universally refers to physical salvation from harm or exile (Galut). Thus I sometimes say that for Jews, salvation means to be free of the Christians! :-) [I'm mostly kidding here]

By “salvation,” you probably mean final forgiveness from sins and eventual reward in the afterlife and avoiding hell.

First of all, traditional Judaism, like Mormonism, rejects the concept of eternal hell. Hell for us is much like the Catholic purgatory or (a little less) like your spirit prison. It is a temporary place where the soul is purged of sin preparatory to meet God. Thus, in a sense, Jews believe in universal salvation.

Now, as to forgiveness of sins in this life…

In reference to grace works divide, Judaism is not as easy to categorize as many Christians might imagine (I presume we are assumed to be 100% “works based”). I would say that we accept a “mixed” system similar to Mormonism in some respects. Our scriptures and prayers refer to forgiveness as an act of God’s “Chessed.” Chessed is usually translated as “kindness” but in terms of meaning it is essentially the same word as “grace.” That is to say, “unmerited kindness.”

Beyond that we really have two forms of forgiveness which are accessed by a variety of means. Unlike Christians, Jews have a strong concept of communal forgiveness. Yom Kippur, for example is about communal forgiveness primarily (For the individual, it also is about forgiveness for unintentional sins). That is to say, it’s about God forgiving Israel as a communal unit and maintaining his relationship with us. Thus in the service there are several “confessionals” in which _everyone_ confesses to virtually _every_ category of sin that anyone could commit even though it is unlikely that any individual in the room committed many of them. The idea is that some Jew somewhere probably did sometime, and we ALL are sorry about that. I have to say, we really are. I think that, like Mormons, Jews have a strong sense of communal responsibility. Thus when one of us screws up, we all feel it. I think that this is not really true among Christians (but maybe I’m wrong here).

Anyway, there is then the issue of individual, intentional sin. That has to be taken care of at an individual level. The process is somewhat similar to Mormonism in that it emphasizes repentance. That is, sorrow for the sin and a commitment to not commit it again. At that point one asks God for forgiveness and an abrogation of the punishment. Six days a week excluding holidays the prays make room for “Tachnun” which is essentially a prayer for individual forgiveness and “Chessed” (grace). To us, it is still grace because the punishment is still deserved but we ask God to suspend it and he does.

This is where we differ most from Christians because there is no intermediary necessary. We say we are sorry. We ask God to forgive us and he does. Simple. Neat. No need for Jesus or any sacrifice.

I’ve always thought it somewhat odd that Christians think that God needs some sort of sacrifice, perfect or otherwise, for God to forgive us. It is incredibly limiting on God’s power. Indeed it denies God a power my 16 month old son already possesses — the power to forgive.

I fully realize that the whole sacrifice thing in Christianity comes originally from us but I think that Christians generally totally misunderstand it. First of all, the vast majority of sacrifices were not for sin. They were to commemorate holidays and pleasant life events with “holy barbecue.” People ate the sacrifices. In another sense, it was based on the idea that the life of a thing was in its blood (Lev 17). One could eat the meat but the life, the blood, belonged to God and had to be returned to him in the form of smoke. Kosher slaughter to this day treats the blood specially. It is totally drained and then the meat is salted and soaked to remove any last traces of it.

There were, however, sacrifices for sin. The Yom Kippur sacrifice was for the community. If one chose, one could seal his repentance with an individual sacrifice for a specific sin. On the other hand, these were for unintentional sins.

Leviticus 4:1-3 KJV Leviticus 4:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them: 3 If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering.

These situations were neither universal not were they encouraged. For example, The bible text is clear that God forgave King David for his sin regarding Bathsheba without any sacrifice:

2 Samuel 12:13 13 And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin.

David then writes in the Psalms:

Psalm 51:16-17 16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

I’ve has a number of Christians mystified that Judaism continues without the temple. They assume that we need the sacrificial system to achieve what they term salvation. But really the balance of the Hebrew bible is that it is not God’s preferred way. For example:

Micah 6:6-8 6 Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

So what alternative is provided.

KJV Hosea 14:1 O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. 2 Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.

Or as translated in the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) version:

JPS Hosea 14:3 Take words with you And return to the LORD. Say to Him: “Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; Instead of bulls we will pay The offering of our lips.

In other words, God is not particularly thrilled with sacrifice. It’s not necessary. Repentance and a request for forgiveness is all you need.

I think that this is the primary reason for the Jewish rejection of Jesus. He solves a problem we don’t have. He’s more or less superfluous. Pagan gentiles, on the other hand, seemed to need “God/men” or “God in the flesh.” They appeared to need some more tangible sign of God’s forgiveness than abstract prayer. We’d already been working through that one for a millennium or so it really was not an issue for us anymore. But for Romans and Greeks… Well, they needed a hero.

Now, I imagine that some are asking (particularly and lurking evangelicals), “What about original sin? What happens if there are sins that one has intentionally committed that have not been repented of and forgiven when one dies?

Well first of all, there is no “original sin” in Judaism. Yes there was a “first sin.” Yes, it did bring about death. But it was basically inevitable and no one much worries about it. Indeed, it was probably for the best or God would not have allowed it to happen. In this, the Jewish view is almost identical to the Mormon view. (Only we don’t believe that it was a personal “Satan” in the garden. Just a smart snake. Seriously. Read it carefully. That’s al it says. I personally believe in evolution and take the whole thing as a metaphor).

Beyond that, for sincere Orthodox Jews (which I am not), this is somewhat unlikely because they work on this every day. At most, we’d be talking about minimal issues. But even for the worst of us, hell has an end. I think the general (traditional) Jewish attitude is that if one dies with sin on his conscious, a few days in hell is deserved and one should take it like a Mensch. God loves his children and he wouldn’t do it if it weren’t good for us in the long run. It’s just part of the plan.

Hope you found this interesting…

Moshe Akiva

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