Criticism of Judaism

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Criticism of Judaism refers to criticism of Jewish religious doctrines, texts, laws and practices. Early criticism originated in inter-faith polemics between Christianity and Judaism. Important disputations in the Middle Ages gave rise to widely publicized criticisms. Modern criticisms also reflect the inter-branch Jewish schisms between Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism.

Doctrines and precepts

Personal God

Baruch Spinoza,[1] Mordecai Kaplan,[2] and prominent atheists[3] have criticized Judaism because its theology and religious texts describe a personal God who has conversations with important figures from ancient Judaism (Moses, Abraham, etc.) and forms relationships and covenants with the Jewish people. Spinoza and Kaplan instead believed God is abstract, impersonal, or a force of nature.[1][2] Theologian and philosopher Franz Rosenzweig suggested that the two viewpoints are both valid and are complementary within Judaism.[4]

Chosen people

Most branches of Judaism consider Jews to be the "chosen people" in the sense that they have special role to "preserve God's revelations"[5] or to "affirm our common humanity".[6] This attitude is reflected, for example, in the policy statement of Reform Judaism which holds that Jews have a responsibility to "cooperate with all men in the establishment of the kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, Justice, truth and peace on earth."[7] Some secular and critics affiliated with other religions claim the concept implies favoritism or superiority,[8] as have some Jewish critics, such as Baruch Spinoza.[9] Many Jews find the concept of chosenness problematic or an anachronism,[10] and such concerns led to the formation of Reconstructionist Judaism, whose founder, Mordecai Kaplan, rejected the concept of the Jews as the chosen people and argued that the view of the Jews as the chosen people was ethnocentric.[11]

Inter-branch criticisms

Criticism of Conservative Judaism from other branches

Conservative Judaism is criticized by some leaders of Orthodox Judaism for not properly following Halakha (Jewish religious law).[12] It is also criticized by some leaders of Reform Judaism for being at odds with the principles of its young adult members on issues such as intermarriage, patrilineal descent, and the ordination of homosexuals — all issues that Conservative Judaism opposes and Reform Judaism supports.[13] (The Conservative movement has since moved in the direction of allowing for gay rabbis and the "celebration of same-sex commitment ceremonies."[14])

Criticism of traditional Judaism by reform movement

The reform movement grew out of dissatisfaction with several aspects of traditional Judaism or Rabbinic Judaism, as documented in polemics and other 19th and early 20th century writings.[15] Louis Jacobs, a prominent Masorti Rabbi, described the polemics between the Orthodox and the Reform movements as follows:

"The polemics between Orthodox, as the traditionalists came to be called, and the Reformers were fierce. The Orthodox treated Reform as rank heresy, as no more than a religion of convenience which, if followed, would lead Jews altogether out of Judaism. The Reformers retorted that, on the contrary, the danger to Jewish survival was occasioned by the Orthodox who, through their obscurantism, failed to see that the new challenges facing Judaism had to be faced consciously in the present as Judaism had faced, albeit unconsciously, similar challenges in the past."

— Louis Jacobs, The Jewish religion: a companion, Oxford University Press, p. 4. (1995)

David Einhorn, an American Reform rabbi, calls Reform Judaism a "liberation" of Judaism :

"There is at present a rent in Judaism which affects its very life, and which no covering, however glittering, can repair. The evil which threatens to corrode gradually all the healthy bone and marrow must be completely eradicated, and this can be done only if, in the name and in the interest of the religion, we remove from the sphere of our religious life all that is corrupt and untenable, and solemnly absolve ourselves from all obligations toward it in the future; thus we may achieve the liberation of Judaism for ourselves and for our children, so as to prevent the estrangement from Judaism."

— David Einhorn, Philipson, David (1907) The Reform Movement in Judaism, Macmillan.

The criticisms of traditional Judaism included criticisms asserting that the Torah's laws are not strictly binding;[15][16] criticisms asserting that many ceremonies and rituals are not necessary;[17] criticisms asserting that Rabbinical leadership is too authoritarian;[15][18] criticisms asserting that there was too much superstition; criticisms asserting that traditional Judaism leads to isolation from other communities;[19] and criticisms asserting that traditional Judaism over-emphasized the exile.[15][20]

Some of these criticisms were anticipated in a much earlier time, by philosopher Uriel da Costa (1585–1640) who criticized the Rabbinic authorities and the Talmud for lack of authenticity and spirituality.[1]

Criticism from Christianity

Paul's criticism of Judaism

Paul criticizes Jews for their failure to believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Romans 9:30–10:13) and for their view about their favored status and lack of equality with gentiles (Roman 3:27).[21] In Romans 7–12, one criticism of Judaism made by Paul is that it is a religion based in law instead of faith. In many interpretations of this criticism made prior to the mid 20th century, Judaism was held to be fundamentally flawed by the sin of self-righteousness.[22] The issue is complicated by differences in the versions of Judaism extant at the time. Some scholars argue that Paul's criticism of Judaism are correct, others suggest that Paul's criticism is directed at Hellenistic Judaism, the forms with which Paul was most familiar,[23] rather than Rabbinic Judaism, which eschewed the militant line of Judaism which Paul embraced prior to his conversion.[24] There is also the question as to whom Paul was addressing. Paul saw himself as an apostle to the Gentiles, and it is unclear as to whether the text of Romans was directed to Jewish followers of Jesus (as was Paul), to Gentiles, or to both.[22] If adherence to Jewish law were a requirement for salvation, then salvation would be denied to Gentiles.[25] Krister Stendahl argues along similar lines that according to Paul, Judaism's rejection of Jesus as a savior is what allows salvation of non-Jews, that this rejection is part of God's overall plan, and that Israel will also be saved (per Romans 11:26–27).[22][25]

Some scholars argue that the fundamental issue underlying Paul's criticism of Judaism hinges on his understanding of Judaism's relationship to Jewish law. E. P. Sanders, for example, argues that the view held by many New Testament scholars from Weber on,[22] represent a caricature of Judaism.and that this interpretation of Paul's criticism is thus flawed by the misunderstanding of the tenets of Judaism.[26] Sander's interpretation asserts Judaism is instead best understood as a "covenantal nominism", in which God's grace is given and affirmed in the covenant, to which the appropriate response is to live within the bounds established in order to preserve the relationship.[27] James Dunn agrees with Sanders's view that Paul would not have criticized Judaism for claiming that salvation comes from adherence to the law or the performance of good works, since those are not tenets of Judaism, but argues against Sanders that Paul's criticism of Judaism represents a rebuttal of the "xenophobic" and ethnocentric form of Judaism to which Paul had previously belonged.[26][27] Dunn argues that Paul does not see his position as a betrayal of Judaism, but rather represents development of an open Judaism.[27] A similar argument is presented by George Smiga, who claims that criticism of Judaism found in the New Testament are best understood as varieties of religious polemic, intended as a call to conversion rather than criticism in the sense of common usage.[28]

Regarding the death of Jesus

The idea that Judaism, and the Jewish people collectively, are responsible for the death of Jesus, often represented in the claim that "Jews killed Jesus", figures prominently in anti-Semitic writings. It was initially stated by Paul in the New Testament (1 Thes. 2:14-15).[29] Historians are divided on the question of who precisely was responsible for the death of Jesus, the Roman authorities, the Jewish leaders deliberating in a religious court, or both. The Roman Catholic church formally disavowed its long complicity in anti-Semitism by issuing a proclamation in 1965 repudiating the notion that the Jewish people bore any guilt for Jesus's death.

Criticism from Islam

A prominent place in the Qur'anic polemic against the Jews is given to the conception of the religion of Abraham. The Qur'an presents Muslims as neither Jews nor Christians but followers of Abraham who was in a physical sense the father of the Jews and the Arabs and lived before the revelation of Torah. In order to show that the religion practiced by the Jews is not the pure religion of Abraham, the Qur'an mentions the incident of worshiping of the calf, argues that Jews do not believe in part of the revelation given to them, and that their taking of usury shows their worldliness and disobedience of God. Furthermore, the Quran claims they attribute to God what he has not revealed. According to the Qur'an, the Jews exalted a figure named Uzair as the "son of God." (See the Quranic statements about perceived Jewish exaltation). The character of Ezra, who was presumed to be the figure mentioned by the Qur'an (albeit with no corroborative evidence to suggest Ezra & Uzair to be the same person) became important in the works of the later Andalusian Muslim scholar Ibn Hazm who explicitly accused Ezra of being a liar and a heretic who falsified and added interpolations into the Biblical text. In his polemic against Judaism, Ibn Hazm provided a list of what he said were chronological and geographical inaccuracies and contradictions; theological impossibilities (anthropomorphic expressions, stories of fornication and whoredom, and the attributing of sins to prophets), as well as lack of reliable transmission (tawatur) of the text.[30][31] Heribert Busse writes "The only explanation is the presumption that Muhammad, in the heat of debate, wanted to accuse the Jews of heretical doctrine on a par with the heresy of the Christian doctrine that teaches the divine nature of Jesus. In doing so, he could take advantage of the high esteem granted Ezra in Judaism."[32] Criticism in the Qur'an against the Jews (the clergy & tribal leaders) who perverted religious piety and sought the help of polytheistic Arabs to destroy the monotheistic Arabs called Muslims, are very similar to the criticism of Israelite and Judean biblical prophets against the corrupted "priests, prophets and kings". The response of the Jewish disbelievers (unlike that of Israelite believers or 'neutrals') was the same as those of old: hostility, hate and assassination attempts.

Philosophical criticism

Philosophical criticism of Judaism is either part of religious criticism in general, or specifically focused on aspects unique to the Jewish religion. Immanuel Kant is an example of the latter. Kant believed that Judaism fails to "satisfy the essential criteria of [a] religion" by requiring external obedience to moral laws, having a secular focus, and lacking a concern for immortality.[33] However, Kant was not antisemitic. He had many Jewish students, supported their quest for faculty positions, and greatly admired the 18th century thinker, Moses Mendelssohn.[34]

Thomas Jefferson was critical of Judaism as he was of all revealed religion. He was also critical of Judaism's rituals for failing to further practical virtues. He believed Judaism lacked a belief in an afterlife, which he held was necessary for human ethical behavior in this life. Nevertheless, he argued for full rights of citizenship for America's Jews and assiduously defended their freedom of religion.[35][36]


Shechitah (Kosher slaughter)

Kosher slaughter has historically attracted criticism from non-Jews as allegedly being inhumane and unsanitary,[37] in part as an antisemitic canard that eating ritually slaughtered meat caused degeneration,[38] and in part out of economic motivation to remove Jews from the meat industry.[37] Sometimes, however, these criticisms were directed at Judaism as a religion. In 1893, animal advocates campaigning against kosher slaughter in Aberdeen attempted to link cruelty with Jewish religious practice.[39] In the 1920s, Polish critics of kosher slaughter claimed that the practice actually had no basis in scripture.[37] In contrast, Jewish authorities argue that the slaughter methods are based directly upon Genesis 9:3, and that "these laws are binding on Jews today."[40]

More recently, kosher slaughter has attracted criticism from some groups concerned with animal welfare, who contend that the absence of any form of anesthesia or stunning prior to the severance of the animal's jugular vein causes unnecessary pain and suffering. Calls for the abolition of kosher slaughter have been made in 2008 by Germany's federal chamber of veterinarians,[41] and in 2011 by the Party for Animals in the Dutch parliament.[42] In both incidents, Jewish groups responded that the criticisms were attacks against their religion.[41][42]

Supporters of kosher slaughter counter that Judaism requires the practice precisely because it is considered humane.[40] Research conducted by Temple Grandin and Joe M. Regenstein shows that, practiced correctly with proper restraint systems, kosher slaughter results in little pain and suffering, and notes that behavioral reactions to the incision made during kosher slaughter are less than those to noises such as clanging or hissing, inversion or pressure during restraint.[43]

Brit milah (circumcision ritual)

Judaism has been criticized in both ancient and modern times for its practice of brit milah, a circumcision ritual performed on young boys. The ritual is perceived by some as painful, cruel, tantamount to genital mutilation, and conducted without the boy's consent.[44]

Hellenistic culture found circumcision to be repulsive, circumcision was regarded as a physical deformity, and circumcised men were forbidden to participate in the Olympic Games.[45] Some Hellenistic Jews practised epispasm.[46] [47] In the Roman Empire, circumcision was regarded as a barbaric and disgusting custom. According to the Talmud, the consul Titus Flavius Clemens was condemned to death by the Roman Senate in 95 CE for circumcising himself and converting to Judaism. The emperor Hadrian (117-138) forbade circumcision.[47] Paul expressed similar sentiments about circumcision, calling it "mutilation" in Philippians 3. "Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh."[48]

See also


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  10. Writers such as Israel Shahak have noted that for all the claims that any criticism of Judaism is "anti-Semitic," Judaism's own texts have potions which treat non-Jews differently.
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  11. Avi Shafran, "The Conservative Lie", Moment, February 2001.
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    • "Abraham Geiger ... stressed the belief in progress: the Bible and Talmud represent an early, primitive stage in a revelation that is still continuing. Many traditional ceremonies (such as circumcision) are distressing to modern sensibility or incompatible with modern life... Geiger become increasingly convinced of the need to 'dethrone the Talmud'... " - De Lange, Nicholas (2000),An introduction to Judaism, Cambridge University Press, p. 73
    • "According to [Mordecai] Kaplan, the Jewish heritage, including the belief in God, must be reinterpreted so that it will be consistent with the intellectual outlook of the twentieth century. The Torah, which is Jewish civilization in practice, must be given a new functional interpretation." - Scult, Mel (1993) Judaism faces the twentieth century: a biography of Mordecai M. Kaplan, Wayne State University Press, p. 341.
    • "Israel drew within herself, shunned the world, and lived apart. In her seclusion her religion became her all. The interpretation of the Law and the construction put upon the commandments tended toward the upholding of the letter rather than the spirit. ... Reform was born to protect the spirit of the Law, to place the spirit above the letter, to make the latter subservient to the former.... The abolition of those forms and ceremonies that were not conducive to proper living, or that had, by reason of altered environment, become meaningless, was of the highest importance to the spiritual welfare of Israel." - Stern, Myer (1895), The rise and progress of reform Judaism: , Harvard University, p. 5.
    • "Reform Judaism rejected the concept of Divine revelation, and ... the law is considered instructional and inspirational but not binding, ... and by eliminating many ritual practices..." - Dosick, Wayne D. (1995), Living Judaism: the complete guide to Jewish belief, tradition, and practice, HarperCollins, p. 62.
    • "Reform Judaism first took hold in Germany in the early nineteenth century. This tradition asserts that many of the ritualistic practices and dogmas of the past are outmoded..... Reform Jews assumed a prerogative to choose which Biblical laws were worthy of their allegiance and which were not.... Orthodox Jews adhere to a literal interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and continue to observe all the traditional Jewish laws... Conservative Jews ... were ... less likely than the Orthodox to accept the infallibility of sacred texts asserting that 'the divine origin of Jewish law ... [was subject] to human development and application'". - Berger, Ronald J. (2002), Fathoming the Holocaust: a social problems approach, Aldine Transaction, p. 179-180.
    • "We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation." - Pittsburgh Platform, section 4.
    • " the view of rabbinical Judaism every command of the written law in the Pentateuch (Torah sh'bikthab), and of the oral law (Torah sh'b'al peh), as codified in the Shulchan Aruk, is equally binding. The ceremonial law has equal potency with the religious and moral commands. Reform Judaism, on the other hand, claims that a distinction must be made between the universal precepts of religion and morality and the enactments arising from the circumstances and conditions of special times and places. Customs and ceremonies must change with the varying needs of different generations. Successive ages have their individual requirements for the satisfaction of the religious nature. No ceremonial law can be eternally binding. " - Philipson, David (1907) The Reform Movement in Judaism, Macmillan (reprinted by University of California, 2007), p. 5-6.
    • ".. the immense authoritarian power of the orthodox Rabbis and Hasidic Zadikkim in the traditionalist communities ... As a result, there was open conflict between the rebellious youth .. and the religious establishment.... This was the context in which a virulent 'anti-clericalism' developed among progressive Jewish intellectuals, leaving countless evidence in the shape of polemical articles, autobiographical works, and imaginative literature." - Lowy, Michael (1992), Redemption and utopia: Jewish libertarian thought in Central Europe : a study in elective affinity, Stanford University Press, p. 45.
    • "[Reform Judaism was] originally founded as a response by Jewish laity to the perceived authoritarian rigidity of traditional or Orthodox Judaism and its rabbis." - Palmer-Fernández, Gabriel (2004), The encyclopedia of religion and war, Routledge, p. 253.
    • "Mosaism and rabbinic Judaism were appropriate for earlier ages, [Kohler] argued. But the age of man's maturity called for freedom from the letter, from blind authority, 'from all restriction which curb the minds and encroach upon the hearts'. The contemporary Jew had 'outgrown the guiding strings ... of infancy'; he was ready to walk on his own. What he required was not law, but a 'living Judaism', both enlightened and pious, appealing to reason and emotion." - Meyer, Michael A. (1995) Response to modernity: a history of the Reform Movement in Judaism, Wayne State University Press, p. 267.
    • "There is a fatal split among Jews, first, because religious tenets and institutions have been kept forcibly on a level of a vanished era, and not permeated with the divine breath of refreshing life, while life itself hurried forward stormily; and secondly, because the religious leaders, lacking all knowledge of the world and of men, dreamed of other times and conditions, and held themselves aloof from the life of the new generation - hence resulted a superficial rationalism, inimical to all positive and historical faith, side by side with a rigid, unreasoning formalism". - Philipson, David (1907) The Reform Movement in Judaism, Macmillan (reprinted by University of California, 2007), (quoting Abraham Kohn, rabbi of Hohemems in Tirol); p. 93-95.
    • "Emancipation implied the breakdown of the Jews' millennial social and cultural isolation ... It was said for the first time in European history the Jews could participate in non-Jewish culture without the stigma of apostacy". Mendes-Flohr, Paul R. (1995). The Jew in the modern world: a documentary history. Oxford University Press US,. p. 155. ISBN 019507453X.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • "Sociologically, the way of life of halakhic Judaism vouchsafed Jewry to an unambiguously distinct ... identity - an identity that was the source of a profound discomfort to those Jews who sought cultural, social, and political integration in the Gentile community in which they lived." - The Jew in the modern world: a documentary history Paul R. Mendes-Flohr (Ed.), p. 156
    • " We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israels great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state." - Pittsburgh Platform
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  33. 40.0 40.1
  34. 41.0 41.1 "Halal, Kosher Slaughter Unacceptable, say German Vets". Deutsche Welle. 10 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  36. Religious slaughter and animal welfare: a discussion for meat scientists
    • Cohen, Shaye J. D. (2005). Why aren't Jewish women circumcised?: gender and covenant in Judaism. University of California Press. pp. 207–224. ISBN 0520212509.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Glick, Leonard B. (2005). Marked in your flesh: circumcision from ancient Judea to modern America. Oxford University Press. pp. 115–148. ISBN 019517674X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Mark, Elizabeth Wyner (2003). The covenant of circumcision: new perspectives on an ancient Jewish rite. UPNE. pp. 157–160. ISBN 1584653078.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    See also Tabory and Erez, "Circumscribed Circumcision", pages 161-167, in this book.
    • Silverman, Eric Kline (2006). From Abraham to America: a history of Jewish circumcision. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 177–212. ISBN 0742516695.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Feldman, Louis (1996). Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World. Princeton University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Jewish Encyclopedia: Circumcision: In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature: "Contact with Grecian life, especially at the games of the arena [which involved nudity], made this distinction obnoxious to the Hellenists, or antinationalists; and the consequence was their attempt to appear like the Greeks by epispasm ("making themselves foreskins"; I Macc. i. 15; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 5, § 1; Assumptio Mosis, viii.; I Cor. vii. 18; , Tosef., Shab. xv. 9; Yeb. 72a, b; Yer. Peah i. 16b; Yeb. viii. 9a). All the more did the law-observing Jews defy the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes prohibiting circumcision (I Macc. i. 48, 60; ii. 46); and the Jewish women showed their loyalty to the Law, even at the risk of their lives, by themselves circumcising their sons.";
  39. 47.0 47.1 Hodges, Frederick, M. (2001). "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme" (PDF). The Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 75 (Fall 2001): 375–405. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0119. PMID 11568485. Retrieved 2007-07-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Philippians 3:2

External links