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George H. Mead


Judaism believes that in the beginning G-d
created man. But Judaism doesn’t say that man was created in the exact image
of G-d. The explanation is simple. Judaism teaches that G-d is formless.
G-d is incorporeal. Maimonides (Rambam; Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) who lived
1135-1204 C.E. taught that word image or tzelem refers to the ‘nature or
essence’ of. In other words, G-d and man are not similar invisible existential
form but in nature, attributes. “Rashi explains that we are like G-d in
that we have the ability to understand and discern. Maimonides elaborates
that by using our intellect, we are able to perceive things without the
use of our physical senses, an ability that makes us like G-d, who perceives
without having physical sense.”
It is important at this point
to explain that Judaism does not believe in original sin. In other words
Judaism does not believe that you are born in sin. They believe and teach
in the existence of sin, but not in the existence of sin as an inherited
part of the human nature. As opposed to Christianity that believes that
man born in sin, or in a separation from God due to the sin in the garden
of the first human creations Adam and Eve. Judaism, therefore, believes that
man commits sinful acts, but he himself is not sinful, or totally separated
from G-d. Judaism teaches that even though man commits sin or acts that
are contrary to the teaching of G-d, there is atonement. But in contrast
to Christianity which atonement is gained ultimately believing that Jesus
died for your sins and applying that sacrifice to your sins, Judaism teaches
that atonement is gained through “works of righteousness, which include,
repentance, prayer, and the performing of good deeds.” So according to Judaism
, there is not a need for a personal savior, or a mediator like the person
of Jesus Christ as described in Christianity (McDowell,1992: 373-374).

The Jewish conception of the soul has changed
over time. So to get a firm grasp on what Judaism as a whole says about
the soul is almost inconceivable. The main reason for this is due to the
interpretation and reinterpretation of the Torah and religious traditions.
Having said that it is not impossible to get a general description of what
Judaism refers to as “the dual” nature. Like the sin nature in Christianity
and triadic nature of Islam, Judaism believes in the duality of human nature.
Yetzer is a term in Jewish thought meaning ‘impulse.’ This impulse or yetzer
explains the actions good or bad of human nature in Judaism. Jewish thought
describes to yetzers in the duality of human nature. These are the Yetzer
Ra and the Yetzer Tov. The Yetzer Ra defined means evil impulse. The selfish
desire for satisfaction of personal needs, which can lead a person to do
evil if not restrained by the yetzer tov. But as opposed to the Christian
view of the ‘sinful’ nature the yetzer ra is not corrupt nor does it desire
to “do evil.” But the yetzer ra is a selfish nature. It’s desire is to please
self. An explanation of the non-evilness of the yetzer ra is it’s desire
to satisfy common needs such as housing, food, and sexual gratification.
But the desire to have food can lead someone to steal, which is forbidden
by Jewish law. So the yetzer ra is not inherently bad as opposed to the
Christian view of sinful nature. Yetzer Tov is defined as good impulse,
the moral conscience, which motivates us to follow G-d’s law. These impulses
or yetzers compete for control over the actions of the body. This is at
the base of Jewish teaching. That man was created with the ability to perform
both good and bad deeds. Again not that man was created with an evil side
and a bad side. According to Judaism, the human nature is not a Dr. Jekyell
and Mr. Hyde complex where there is a beast within. http://www.baptist1.com/judaism/human.htm

While there are as mentioned above many variations
of the soul in Judaism, the following description and definition can be
found in contemporary Jewish religious thought. This is only one description.
Rachel Elior describes the development of the soul in Judaism as a two-fold
phenomenon. One view is that man is a “psychophysical unit, while the other
claims a separate metaphysical existence for the soul.” The view that man
and is soul is a physocphysical unit founded on the “Biblical world view”
leaves the soul ultimately bound to “time and nature existing within the
confines of physical reality alone.” The latter definition which developed
with the influence of Greek ideas of the immortality of the soul and the
metaphysical relation of the soul to the world “radiates deep religious

Thusly Jewish contemporary thought on the soul
is that man is not ultimately defined by the natural essence of himself,
but that the soul and ultimately man “does not…belong the natural world.”
Man is not ultimately corporeal, but because he was created by G-d and ultimately
will return to G-d, therefore he is not essentially physical but metaphysical
in his being. This is not to say that man does not have emotions, feelings,
desires, and senses, only that this does not make up who man really is.
To quote Elior, “…the soul’s existence does not depend upon its physical
expression, for it existed before the body and will remain after it. The
definition of man is therefore fundamentally metaphysical, belonging to
the supernatural order…” This separation of the soul from its physical
surroundings is key in understanding who Judaism says we are. The soul in
Judaism is not anthropocentrically interested, but it is theocentric in
its interest. That is to say the soul in Judaism is concerned with the things
of G-d and it’s origin from G-d and the latter of where the soul will return
to, to G-d. It’s important here to note that the anthropocentric view of
the soul is to hold that it is man’s existence that affects how and what
G-d’s relationship is with the world. Theocentric concept of the Jewish
soul claims that man’s only meaning comes from his relationship to G-d.
For example; man’s soul is on a set of steps. At the bottom of the steps
his goal is to step up towards G-d, but to do this he must step away from
the physical, his focus becomes metaphysical and thus goes to the next level.
So the Jewish soul is in process. As the soul progresses it is by “virtue
of the structure and elements of his soul, which reflect the divine reality
and endow him with the capacity to conceive G-d (Elior 888.)

The theocentric view of the soul in the Judaism
thought of the soul is based on the idea of the perfection, or “shlemut”
of man. Because man is other than his physical surroundings, the real is
found in the perfection of the soul. Man is considered “ab initio” or being
perfected. He is on a sojourning in the physical only to be permanently
existing in the metaphysical. It is this process of perfection that man
continues to rely on the supernatural realm for his identity (Elior 888.)

The Jewish concept of the soul was transformed
by Greek philosophy as being interpreted and reformulated in the middle
ages by Moslem and Christian theologians. The new philosophical view of
the Jewish soul was to be adapted to the Torah as a way of interpreting
life such as ethics, religious piety, prophecy, and how to know G-d. Aristotelianism,
Neo-Platonism, and Stoicism all influenced this new philosophy of the Jewish
soul in it’s relation to the soul and the body. This idea of the soul was
associated with the perfection of the soul. In other words the soul’s perfection
was gained by devekut or cleaving to G-d through devotion and prayer.

McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart. Handbook of Todays Religions. California:
Here’s Life Publishers, INC. 1992
Elior, Rachel. The Free Press. Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought. New
York: Collier Macmillian Publishers, 1972.
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