Q. Is Judaism flawless?
A. If you had asked whether Jews are flawless, the answer would of course be no. All Jews probably do their best, but some behave foolishly, irresponsibly, cruelly, sinfully. Not that they are born this way; Judaism does not believe in “original sin”. The Jewish approach would be to say that everyone really wants to do the right thing but an occasional ru’ach sh’tut – a “spirit of stupidity” – gets in the way. Conscious, however, of having acted badly, one has a remedy available genuine repentance though if one has harmed another person, it is not enough to ask God’s forgiveness. Peace must be restored with the wronged person.
But you ask about whether Judaism is flawless. We believe so. The Psalmist says, Torat HaShem t’mimah – “the law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19). As a balance between thought and deed, individual and community, vision and reality, Judaism is remarkable.
The Jewish system does not make gods out of men but tries to bring Godliness into every human being. It does not legislate for angels but for earthly creatures living on earth. It does not claim that God has handed man the world on a platter, but that He has given us a share in the perfection of the creation. It does not leave everything up to man, but neither does it leave man with nothing to do. It sees what mischief often happens on earth, but it never loses its faith in tomorrow.
What do we say about other religions? In his fascinating book, “A Jewish Theology” (London, 1973, pages 287-291), Louis Jacobs says there are three possible attitudes:
1. Judaism is true: all other religions are false.
2. All religions are equally true (or false).
3. There is more truth in Judaism than in other religions.
There is much to be said for the first option. We deeply respect the conscience and convictions of adherents of other faiths, but we have to deny the crucial positions that they take on the nature of God, the status of their leaders, and their view of Torah. But on the other hand we cannot fail to recognise that there are elements of truth in every religion.
One suggestion is to say that Judaism is true for Jews, and other religions are true for their own adherents. But this also creates problems, because it implies that all religions will continue in their own ways to the end of time, when the more Jewish approach is that in the end of days, “Out of Zion will go Torah (to the world), and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).