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Is the concept of God in Jewish religious traditions often characterized by attributes like self-centeredness, a demand for worship, jealousy, and punishment for not adhering to beliefs?

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  • G-d, blessed be He, isn't self-centred for He cares about us. He shared goodness by creating. He is jealous as a human-emotional term-translation indicating that He cares that we don't go astray for He does not wish to see His creations ruin themselves perpetually. He demands worship because it is good for us & it is the most appropriate form of interaction with Him for He is that Holy. All 'beliefs' in Judaism are there for good reasons, & not following them leads to ruin, so those who harm others by not following the beliefs must get punished (e.g. removing them from those who are good).
    – setszu
    Aug 23, 2023 at 2:25
  • Not really, Judaism has far more of an "it's up to you attitude" than most people realise.
    – The GRAPKE
    Aug 23, 2023 at 7:00
  • Welcome to MiYodeya Manny and thanks for this first question. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Aug 23, 2023 at 8:57

2 Answers 2

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Welcome to Mi Yodeya.

I am certain this question is being asked like it normally is: innocently. However, this is actually an old Christian trope, going back to at least Marcion of Sinope, and has a horrible history of being invoked in the prelude to horrific abuse of the Jewish community. As such I've voted to close it, as I am not sure Mi Yodeya is here to provide response to such things.

Answer: Marcion of Sinope: try our new bible! Tyrant free. Source

Given that this misconception is so widespread by now (Rabbi Sacks AH had to mention that this was an antisemitic trope to a very surprised Richard Dawkins, a complete atheist, in their debate, and Stephen Fry, another atheist, has made this point viral recently), and is therefore almost a legitimate question, I'll give it an answer if I may.

Well 2 answers: the first is just go and read the entire Tanach, or even 50% of it; that would be the minimum level of prerequisite research required to bring to a question like this, ideally! I will give a couple of quotes at the end, but putting Hashem in the full context the Tanach offers will go a long way towards educating oneself on what He is like, and dispelling this myth.

The main answer I would like to give, is that the Torah reveals Hashem to be real. Not simply in the sense of "existing" (when it comes to that, the philosophical understandings of Hashem are very rich and deep, but not really the main thing we discuss), but in the sense of being a real someone. He may not have a body, but He is there and He is in a very close and personal relationship with us, and He needs that relationship and us infinitely. This is His project, people and desire.

So He is real, we are real, and therefore this relationship we are in with Him is real. A real relationship has anger sometimes. It has demands. It has consequences, which come from the relationship, rather than self-centeredness. He Himself defines goodness as "considering you more important to Me than I am to Myself".

The western idea of Hashem is quite Aristotelean, and this view can lead us to think of Him as a perfect infinite unchanging rock, who is aloof and unaffected by us, and therefore the key context to understanding Hashem is missing. The reader will miss that Hashem is real and actually cares. We are made in His Image, as the Torah tells us at the very beginning, and therefore we shouldn't have fallen into this trap of viewing His heartfelt dynamic relationship with us as depicting some sort of uncaring tyrant, ch'v, in the same ways we shouldn't view our parents, or our spouses, as being tyrannically in their love and closeness to us. Alas, we are easily impressed by silly, cynical tropes, especially under the influence of Greek thinking...

How deeply He cares is actually quite a personal, private matter, and as the Tanach progresses, it gets more and more revealed. The Tanach is indeed the full story of a relationship between God and His people, and at the beginning, the closeness is less obvious as the relationship is still new... Indeed, in any close and personal relationship, there is a lot of mystery, especially when it is new and they are still figuring each other out (how much more so when you are in a relationship with Hashem).

Jewish Tradition is now a nearly-4000 year story of everything we have got to know about Hashem through alacritous study, and can't possibly be squeezed into 30,000 characters of a Stack Exchange answer. There's so much to know, and now that you know that OP's point is just a trope, you won't be surprised to find out what should indeed really be true: that He is absolutely wonderful in every way, the source of all goodness (everyone likes goodness, right?), and there is an endless amount of study to get to know Him properly.

Here are some quotes from Tanach, followed by a quote from the Talmud.

From Torah:

Shemot 34:6-7:

ויעבר יהוה  על־פניו ויקרא ה  ה אל רחום וחנון ארך אפים ורב־חסד ואמת נצר חסד לאלפים נשא עון ופשע וחטאה ונקה לא ינקה

And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord, mighty, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in love and truth, keeping love to thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.

Our tradition records that this is the highest name of Hashem, the Tetragrammaton, and this name is when we want to describe who He is in essence. Basically, this verse in a nutshell: "I love you with my very being and therefore I have very high expectations of you which are no joke, however I know that it's very very hard so I will be extremely understanding and patient with you, and help you get there with all my love"

From Prophets:

Hashem cries over our suffering (Yirmiyahu 13:17):

וְאִם לֹא תִשְׁמָעוּהָ בְּמִסְתָּרִים תִּבְכֶּה־נַפְשִׁי מִפְּנֵי גֵוָה וְדָמֹעַ תִּדְמַע וְתֵרַד עֵינִי דִּמְעָה כִּי נִשְׁבָּה עֵדֶר ה׃          

But if you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret for your pride; and my eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock is carried away captive.

Hashem is in a real relationship with us, with its ups and downs, but the love is the real "face" of Hashem (Yishayahu 4-8):

אל־תיראי כי־לא תבושי ואל־תכלמי כי לא תחפירי כי בשת עלומיך תשכחי וחרפת אלמנותיך לא תזכרי־עוד כי בעליך עשיך ה צבאות שמו וגאלך קדוש ישראל אלהי כל־הארץ יקרא כי־כאשה עזובה ועצובת רוח קראך ה ואשת נעורים כי תמאס אמר אלקיך ברגע קטן עזבתיך וברחמים גדלים אקבצך בשצף קצף הסתרתי פני רגע ממך ובחסד עולם רחמתיך אמר גאלך ה

Fear not; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be confounded; for you shall not be put to shame: but you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood any more. For your Maker is your Husband: the Lord of hosts is His name; and your redeemer is the Holy One of Yisrael; The God of the whole earth He is called. For the Lord has called you as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit; but a wife of youth, can she be cast off? says your God. For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you. In the overflowing of anger I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting faithful love will I have mercy on you, says your redeemer, the Lord.

From Writings

This is a basic tenant of Judaism (Tehillim 23:6):

אך  טוב וחסד ירדפוני כל־ימי חיי ושבתי בבית־ה לארך ימים 

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long years.

Hashem is intimate and deeply, passionately loving (Shir HaShirim 7:7, 11, 8:6-7):

מה־יפית ומה־נעמת אהבה בתענוגים

How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!

אני לדודי ועלי תשוקתו         

I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is towards me.

שימני כחותם על־לבך כחותם על־זרועך כי־עזה כמות אהבה קשה כשאול קנאה רשפיה רשפי אש שלהבתיה מים רבים לא יוכלו לכבות את־האהבה ונהרות לא ישטפוה אם־יתן איש את־כל־הון ביתו באהבה בוז יבוזו לו

Set Me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as She᾽ol: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which have a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.

Here we learn that such an intense love, such a passionate real relationship is "strong as death" and involves "jealousy as cruel as hell". We have this in the west; we view parental love as "controlling", martial bonding as "stifling", jealousy as a "red flag". Indeed if such a jealous love is as hot as hell, it's no wonder that hearing of a new testament that tells us that God's love is cool (so much so that He wouldn't mind if you go to hell forever if you don't love Him back) would be appealing. The Jews would rather withstand the temporary "hell" of this intensely real, vulnerable love, than the eternal hell of His love not being real, and wish everyone else would have the strength and courage to do so as well, in their personal lives and in their relationship with God.

From Talmud

Chagiga 5b (with Steinsaltz translation):

״וארא והנה רוח סערה באה מן הצפון ענן גדול ואש מתלקחת ונוגה לו סביב ומתוכה כעין החשמל מתוך האש״. להיכן אזל? אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: שהלך לכבוש את כל העולם כולו תחת נבוכדנצר הרשע. וכל כך למה? שלא יאמרו אומות העולם: ביד אומה שפלה מסר הקדוש ברוך הוא את בניו. אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: מי גרם לי שאהיה שמש לעובדי פסילים — עונותיהן של ישראל הן גרמו לי.

The verse states: “And I looked and, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire flashing up, so that a brightness was round about it; and out of its midst was like the color of electrum, out of the midst of the fire” (Ezekiel 1:4). The Gemara poses a question: Where did that wind go? Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: It went to conquer the entire world under the wicked Nebuchadnezzar. And why was all of this necessary? Why was it necessary that the entire world be subjected to his dominion? So that the nations of the world would not say: The Holy One, Blessed be He, delivered His children into the hands of a lowly nation. Since it was already decreed that the kingdom of Israel would fall into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, God made him into a great conqueror, so that Israel would not be ashamed of being defeated by him. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said with regard to this: Who caused Me to be an attendant to worshippers of molten images, forcing Me to wage their wars? It was the sins of Israel that led Me to do so.

This really answers your question most directly. It clearly demonstrates that all acts of suffering inflicted upon us by Hashem are only for our own very best good, and do not reflect any cruel feelings on His part. On the contrary, it goes against His very being, so much so that He goes to the trouble of actually helping idolators for the "small" concern of His people's dignity.


There is much endless further reading in the Jewish tradition on the subject of who is Hashem and what is He like/about. Rabbi Heschel (God in Search of Man) and Rabbi Sacks (Covenant and Conversation) come to mind. Chabad Chassidus is a recommendation of mine, and Rabbi Manis Friedman's lectures especially.

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    All terms referring to G-d having emotions are metaphorical, just like terms referring to G-d having physical body parts.
    – N.T.
    Aug 24, 2023 at 10:54
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The only Jewish tradition of God that has those characteristics is those whose concept of God is limited to just the Biblical text. As far as I know all Rabbinate and Karaite Jews interpret God through traditions that do not teach God as having negative characteristics. Portions of the Torah that may not show God in a positive light are reinterpreted and validated with outside traditions to not make God "look so bad."

Thats the thing about the Jews though. They aren't going to censor their books because of problematic verses. And so yes, if you treat certain Biblical verses as devoid of any outside tradition you can come away with the impression that the Biblical God may resemble such negative characteristics.

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