I am not a Jew. In a few TV series, I saw/heard that Jews experience self-repression due to their belief. I heard that being Jewish means enduring a lot of guilt, or becoming aware of things to feel guilty for.

Does this apply to Judaism?

I appreciate Pros and Cons of this thesis by someone who is aware of Judaism.

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    @yoel I think a little limmud zechut is in order as it doesn't seem that English is the OP's native tongue.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 20:17
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    @yoel, I think this is an accurate description of a trope found in Western culture.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 20:20
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    Zurechtweiser, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this interesting question!
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 20:21
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    @Zurechtweiser, I assure you that no one intended insult. We're all just working together to make sure that the question is as clear and answerable as as possible.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 20:46
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    @Zurechtweiser by the way, "limmud zechut" means something like "favorable basis", which is to say that DoubleAA recommended I assume a neutral reason for a perceived negative tone, such as unfamiliarity with the subtleties of the phrasing. As English is a non-native tongue for a great many participants on this site, I assure you it is in no way an insult to suggest it.
    – yoel
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 20:55

3 Answers 3


I believe that the notion of guilt is one used as a stereotypical aspect of a variety of cultures -- often associated with strong female character (maternal guilt). It plays off of a number of other traits (communal or familial responsibility, a sense of tradition, high expectations etc.) In Judaism, many of these other aspects are present and if you mix in the social construct of centralized authority and a highly ordered, rule based system, guilt and a sense of moral center comes about. A google search on the matter reveals mentions of Catholic guilt as well as others and gives links that point to the theological and sociological underpinnings of many years ago, plus the more recent manifestations and sources.

Does it exist? Yes, and some would say moreso than in other cultures while some would disagree with that.

  • According to Judaism if you do not measure up to your familial responsibility or tradition what will be your punishment? Is it like in islam or christianity that you go to "hell"? Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 21:08
  • the conventional notion of hell and an underworld is very different and in many senses absent in Judaism. there is a notion of reward and punishment based on actions during life but the punishment ("hell") is more about reeducation and [temporary] separation from the divine, not fire and/or brimstone.
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 22:17
  • by the way, there is no sense of "endorsing" guilt in Judaism. While there are ideas talmudically of coercion by communal excision, I would not equate that with the stereotypical living guilt that my mother, oh so often, throws my way. (J/K ma)
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 22:20
  • What is one of the most important values in Judaism and what happens to you according to the belief if you violate it? Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 22:38
  • that's a difficult question. there are 613 mitzvot (commandments) and myriad laws governing life. there are also tenets of belief and loads of customs. I'm not sure where one would place "value" in a "reward/punishment" system.
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 2:10

See this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guilt_society and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shame_society They aren't really good articles, but they explain the point.

Judging from what you wrote in a comment: "if you do not measure up to your familial responsibility or tradition" I suspect you come from a Shame society, since responsibility coming from your family, rather than internal, is more common in a Shame society.

In general Judaism is a Guilt society. A feeling of wrongdoing comes internally rather than from how your family will be perceived.


If by guilt you mean a destructive self-loathing, then no, we are told to always "Serve G-d with joy" (Psalms 100:2) , but if you mean taking responsibility for the consequences of one's actions, then yes, Judaism does indeed endorse it. See here: chabad.org/article_cdo/aid/417253

  • Actually, we are told to always "Serve G-d with fear" (Pslams 2:11). עבדו את יקוק ביראה
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 19:27
  • @DoubleAA These verses are not contradictory. Fear of G-d leads to joy because it gives one a sense of security that the world is not random and uncaring. It certainly has nothing to do with destructive self-loathing.
    – Baruch
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 19:41
  • I never said it had to do with destructive self-loathing. But it does show that one isn't always supposed to be brimming with joy. עת לבכות ועת לשחוק
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 20:42
  • @DoubleAA "Serve G-d with fear" doesn't necessarily imply there are moments in which we're not supposed to be joyful. AFAIK, we should be both at the same time. It's not about crying / laughing, it's about sense of fear / joy.
    – yair
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 23:04

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