I'm a little unsure as to some aspects of Jewish faith. I've asked a few questions on here that have received fairly negative ratings, I suppose they may have seemed like 'foolish' questions, or look like something a 'heretic' might ask. I'm asking whoever reads this to please treat this question seriously. I've been Jewish my entire life, but after doing some further studying, I've found a few things that almost force me to question this faith.

It seems, or at least, it can be made to seem, that Judaism consists of many people blindly following what they are told, relying on the integrity of those who teach them, are intolerant of others' lives, divides between gender, races, and ethnicities, even outside of the Jewish People(Ham), and prohibits interracial or interfaith relations, some extending this even to friendship or acquaintance. Also, after looking at some economic practices, like a Milva Haktuvah Bishtar, it looks like one could easily commit a legally acceptable theft by Jewish law. Basically, immoral acts that seem to be allowed or even encouraged by Judaism.

My question is this: of what I listed above, which, if any, are untrue. With whichever remain as true, does that mean these things are right, what should be done, or even acceptable? If racism and intolerance are desired, then I feel there is a big gap in fundamental ideas between you and me. If they are not, and what's listed above is accurate, why follow this faith?

I've found myself struggling with this doubt and am hoping to at least be pointed in the right direction here. Thank you for whatever help you can provide.

EDIT: My mentioning of different interracial and interfaith issues are not intended to be exactly the same. I guess I'll have to ask other questions to be more specific on them later.

EDIT: If I'm not mistaken, gentiles, especially Amon and Moav, or at least the men of these groups, are forbidden from truly joining Judaism, even if they'd attempt conversion. Is this incorrect? If not, isn't that discrimination on the basis of immutable traits?

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    I'm sorry to hear that you're struggling with issues of faith; that can be hard. You might find better results if you find a rabbi to talk to; online Q&As are good, but a face-to-face would probably be a whole lot better. That said, you might get better results here if you asked one of these questions at a time -- on Mi Yodeya, we generally try to ask one question per question. – MTL Nov 28 '14 at 2:54
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    Why does allowed imply encouraged? – Double AA Nov 28 '14 at 3:57
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    Very related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/28636/… – הנער הזה Nov 28 '14 at 16:02
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    Hi Yaakov, your question is a little hard to answer because A) it's really multiple questions and B) you haven't really give specific examples of things you struggle with and why you struggle with them. For example, you mention "divides between gender" but you don't mention what divides you're talking about or why you feel those divides need to be addressed. – Daniel Nov 28 '14 at 19:48
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    I'd really enjoy seeing each point in this question looked at separately on Mi Yodeya, because that way each one will get individual attention -- you'll get much better answers that way. ( Also, I'd love to see you elaborate on what your issue with "Milva Haktuvah Bishtar" is....I don't know what seems to be immoral about writing down a loan. ) – MTL Nov 30 '14 at 15:53

Q. Judaism consists of many people blindly following what they are told,

A. While we have faith and a normative set of rules, there is constant learning, study and questioning. In some ways, Americans who drive the speed limit are simply following what they are told.

Q. ...are intolerable of others' lives,

A. I don't know why you would think that. While there are things Judaism does not like, to claim that the religion is "intolerable" (maybe "intolerant"?) is not part of Judaism at all.

Q. ...divides between gender, races, and ethnicities,

A. Yes, there are differences between the genders. I often find that having 2 separate bathrooms is a good thing. I don't know what division between races you mention.

Q. ...even outside of the Jewish People(Ham),

A. There are rules that do set Jews apart as a group and try to create group identity. This often means limiting interaction with others when that interaction would compromise the group identity.

Q. prohibits interracial or interfaith relations, some extending this even to friendship or acquaintance.

A. Interracial? No -- there are Jews of many races and nothing about race limits interaction. But interfaith relationships are problematic because they create halachic concerns and even non-romantic relationships can lead to compromising Judaism.

Q. Also, after looking at some economic practices, like a Milva Haktuvah Bishtar, it looks like one could easily commit a legally acceptable theft by Jewish law.

A. Maybe you need to learn about the operating principles on the whole and not at isolated cases. Here is a resource or three:

http://www.torah.org/advanced/business-halacha/5757/vol4no1.html http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/ribis3.html http://www.dailyhalacha.com/m/halacha.aspx?id=1488

Q. Basically, immoral acts that seem to be allowed or even encouraged by Judaism.

A. While halacha might allow as acceptable a behavior which happens to fly in the face of a certain society's local moral code, I think that these exceptions do not define Judaism and that Judaism does not encourage behaviors against public policy (dina demalchuta dina jumps to mind).

It seems that your learning has been stilted and skewed, and highly selective. You should probably start from the beginning, with a competent teacher and/or rabbi who can guide you and explain how ideas are built and how halacha develops.

  • I meant to say intolerant not intolerable, thank you for catching that. I can't say for sure how skewed my teaching has been, I've attended only Jewish parochial schools my entire life, including Chumash and Talmud classes, as well as classes on Jewish philosophy and history. As for the Milva, I was referring to when someone is in debt and sells property to another person. Perhaps my understanding is false, but if not, under certain circumstances, the property can be seized by the lender, leaving the buyer with neither the money or property, while the one who was lent money has not paid... – Yaakov Schectman Nov 30 '14 at 13:49
  • the lender anything. e.g. Lender has lost nothing, borrower has not paid anything back, the purchaser has lost both the money and the property. As for races, I was referring to the post-delugian incident with Ham, who is regarded usually as the ancestor of the African and Middle Eastern peoples(at least for a while). Could you provide an example as for the non-romantic relationship compromising Judaism? Perhaps prohibit wasn't the best word choice either, but it certainly seems discouraged. As for blindly following, if I'm not mistaken, most pre-Islam opinions claimed we shouldn't... – Yaakov Schectman Nov 30 '14 at 13:52
  • know any reasons for Mitzvot. While following without knowing each reason isn't always blindly following, this stance changed due to the influence of Islam. If another religion caused such a change to be necessary to continue the existence of Judaism, why did that change take so long? I suppose this is a question on its own, perhaps I'll ask it on here some other time – Yaakov Schectman Nov 30 '14 at 13:59

You have an image of Judaism as immoral, parochial and oppressive. But this is the opposite of how Jews throughout the ages have seen Judaism.

I recommend reading a few books by authors to emphasize that Judaism is a system which (when implemented correctly) not only establishes morality, happiness and fulfillment for individuals and families, but also achieves social justice and harmony, with the Jewish people and ultimately within the entire world as well. For example, read Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances by Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition, or any books by former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Many historians believe that the idea of human rights and universal morality -- the idea that everyone has inherent worth and should be an object of kindness and compassion -- originated with Judaism. Before Jewish values spread throughout the world, human sacrifice, and horrible systems of slavery and injustice were commonplace.

Even today, Orthodox Judaism (especially Modern Orthodox Judaism) presents a unique and powerful combination between traditionalism based on a time-tested and authentic sacred tradition on the one hand, and both genders being involved in every profession and endeavor in the world that is compatible with Torah values on the other. Much of the rest of the world has abandoned traditional religious ideas, leading to all sorts of maladies (such as the epidemic of divorce and single parenthood), or are trapped in harmful customs and beliefs (such as anti-Semitism, norms preventing women from getting an education, and a belief in using interpersonal violence to "solve" one's problems.)

Judaism's ban on intermarriage is not racist or even ethnically discriminatory. Jews can be of any race or ethnicity, as long as they are born Jewish or convert halachically. Marrying only Jews has nothing to do with hatred or ill will toward anyone else. Marrying Jewish is an absolute requirement for the preservation of Judaism through the generations. Otherwise everything would be lost.

There may be isolated instances in which the halacha does not require Jews to treat Jews and non-Jews completely alike. But many of these can be explained by the fact that Jews have often been surrounded by rapidly hostile peoples. It may not have been wise, for example, to return a lost object to anti-Semites, if they will probably accuse you of stealing it and try to kill you.

However, in general the Talmud strongly emphasizes the importance of emulating Hashem's traits of love and mercy toward all creatures. So even if something may be technically not obligatory (such as returning a lost object to a gentile), we should still do it unless we have a very good reason. (This is also codified in the halacha -- we should return a lost object as long as it will be a kiddush Hashem.) Indeed, we should do everything we can to help other people whether they are Jews or not (and we should also have mercy on animals as well, and help relieve their suffering). See Tomer Devorah by Ramak.

In terms of following what we are told, there is enormous variety of theological and even halachic views, even within Orthodox Judaism. We do need to trust in our Sages, especially since there is no way to tell how to perform most of the commandments of the Torah without the oral tradition (from Sinai to the times of the Talmud, when it was written down.) The Torah emphasizes so strongly how important fulfilling the mitzvot is, but leaves out many key details.

For example, what does a "sign between your eyes" mean? Only through the oral Torah do we know this means tefillin. We must have faith in the views of the Sages, particularly when it comes to basic halacha. With regard to hashkafa, however, beyond some basic beliefs, there is much flexibility for personal preferences and insights.

  • Maybe it just means any kind of sign that you decide you want to do? – Double AA Nov 28 '14 at 16:46
  • an "epidemic of single parenthood"?? – Double AA Nov 28 '14 at 16:46
  • Yes, the decline of traditional sexual and marriage norms (outside of Orthodox Jews and strict adherents of other traditional religions) has resulted in a rapid expansion, now encompassing a large proportion of the population, of single parent families, and children raised in such families on average have far worse outcomes in all kinds of measures. (Of course, the word epidemic is used only metaphorically -- strictly speaking the term relates to the spread of physical disease.) – Kordovero Nov 28 '14 at 17:09
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    Can you cite any of these measures from reputable peer-reviewed sources? In general I have an extremely hard time guessing after meeting someone if their parents are divorced. Can you teach me the tricks? – Double AA Nov 28 '14 at 17:12
  • There are hundreds of reputable peer-review studies documenting these outcomes, which you can easily find by Googling. To state this obvious, this does not mean you can tell whether a particular individual was raised by a single parent. – Kordovero Nov 28 '14 at 17:35

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