By Shlomoh Sherman
November 17, 2019

What do non-Jewish people often get confused or wrong about the Jewish faith?  asked on QUORA

Most sophisticated gentiles residing in heavily populated Jewish areas such as New York City or Los Angeles pretty much understand what the Jewish religion is all about. When you get away from large cities into smaller towns or rural areas of the country, people there have unrealistic ideas about Judaism.

I can only tell you about misconceptions I have heard from well-meaning people regarding the Jews´ religion.
1.As Manny Jacobowitz points out, some gentiles think that CHANNUKAH is a Jewish version of Christmas. It´s not. Christmas celebrates the birth of the Christian savior. CHANNUKAH celebrates the survival of the Jewish religion and ethnic identity in the face of forced Hellenism by the Seleucid Empire. The commonality between the two is that they both celebrate salvation; in the Jewish case, saving the Jewish People from loss due to assimilation; in the Christian case, saving the souls of believers from damnation. Both holidays fall at the same time of year, near to the winter solstice; both holidays use lights as symbols of joy and well-being; both holidays involve the giving of gifts, although before the 20th century, Jewish gift giving was very modest, involving the giving of small coins; in the 2oth century, gift-giving came to imitate the more extravagant customs followed by Christians at Christmastime.

2.Many Christians believe that Jews concentrate heavily on messianic expectations. Jews do hope for the coming of a messiah or a messianic age but this theme has become minor in the modern age. There are prayers embedded in the liturgy that expresses hope for a messiah but Jews focus more on everyday life and doing MITSVOT which means following the commandments found in the TORAH. They don´t worry about who the Messiah will be or what will happen when he comes.

3.Some gentiles think that the way Jews practice their religion is based on verses in the scripture. That has not been true for over 2600 years. Jews use the TALMUD to inform them of how to be religiously Jewish. The TALMUD is based on the study of the TORAH and it amplifies the TORAH teaching, showing Jews just HOW to follow the scripture´s commands.

4.Some nonJews believe that religious dietary laws are based on issues of health. They are not. The KOSHER laws are based on ideas of purity. Certain foods are deemed unfit for consumption simply because the TORAH forbids their consumption. No reason is given for the avoidance of these foods. It is just a means of identification with the Jewish People by observation of the laws of purity.

5.Some people are under the impression that Jews still practice animal sacrifice for atonement or at the Passover SEDER. Jews have not practiced animal sacrifice since the year 70 of the Common Era. Samaritans still sacrifice a lamb at Passover time. Jews do not.

6.It comes as a shock to me but some gentiles actually believe that Jews believe that God died on the cross for their salvation in the form of Jesus. Most Jews know close to nothing about Jesus, about the real Jesus, and they don´t see him as divine or a messiah or a prophet or a rabbi. They see him as someone mistaken about the future of the Jewish nation and that he paid dearly for his mistaken assumptions. Many believe that he actually started the Christian religion, which he did not.

7.Some gentiles believe that in order to be a Jew, one has to be born Jewish, that is, that Jewishness is strictly based on DNA. This idea is probably based on the fact that the Christian scriptures refer to Jews as “the physical seed of Abraham’. They are not aware that since time immemorial, millions of gentiles have converted to the Jewish faith/ethnos, although since Jews came under the domination of Christianity and Islam, they have been forbidden to proselytize until the birth of the modern age. Today, in the United States, there are about 1,000 conversions to Judaism from various backgrounds every year. Some estimate that the number is higher.

8.Many people believe that the Jewish concept of Chosen People means a concept of ethnic superiority or some kind of master race. It does not. It means chosen by God to follow the injunctions of the TORAH, thereby keeping the Jewish identity intact.

9.Lastly, some gentiles believe that Jews think one has to be Jewish in order to be “saved’ or to “go to heaven.’ That is not true. Jews believe that all righteous people of every nation or religion will win God´s grace and reside in eternity with Him. That is one reason why Jews do not see the need to ask people to convert to Judaism. Good people are good wherever they find themselves in any community.

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