Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Jew & A: Monotheism

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism
On October 16, 2008
At 10:00 pm
Comments : 5

I am WAY late this one and there are two more Jew & A questions in the queue. I would love to tell you about beautiful Albany but I forgot to take pictures of the foilage (you heard me, foilage, Lisa) and there’s no time! Jew & A questions await. OK, here goes.

Macgyvernut writes:

I don’t know if you remember but once on [site redacted], I was talking about a book I was reading and how some passage talked about how the Israelites didn’t believe God was the only God.

I found the passage I was talking about, and wanted to get your opinion on it. The book is called, “A History of God, the 4000 yr Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam”

“The idea of a covenant tells us that the Israelites were not yet monotheists, since it only made sense in a polytheistic setting. The Israelites did not believe that Yahweh, the God of Sinai, was the only God but promised, in their covenant, that they would ignore all other deities and worship him alone. It is very difficult to find a single monotheistic statement in the whole of the Pentateuch. Even the Ten Commandments delivered on Mount Sinai take the existence of other gods for granted: ‘There shall be no strange gods before my face.'”

What do you think of that passage? I have always felt there were other Gods, but the Israelites decided to worship only God. And I guess I’ve always felt that because of the First Commandment, and it’s wording.

And I guess because of this belief is why I am so open to the idea that the God I worship is not necessarily the only God out there. He’s just the one I choose to worship.

Well, I know nothing of this book and I’m too lazy to Google, so here is my feeling about this passage going in utterly blind (a familiar situation, might I add) and taking it totally out of context but rather, addressing what you are seeing in it. But of course the Israelites worshiped other gods. Everyone did. It was like the pet rock of the ancient Near East. People were crazy for gods!

Then, God came along with the covenant and they promised not to anymore. But it was awfully tempting. Just try to get your tween daughter to dress modestly and you’ll see what I mean. BUT and this is a big but, which is why I capitalized it, the other gods weren’t real. They were faux. Fake. Imvisibo friends. See, people thought they were real and could be worshiped but they weren’t and that’s what the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, is referring to. If I say, “don’t use Monopoly money to pay for your groceries,” it doesn’t imply there are lots of different kinds of money and the green stuff is simply better. It means the game moolah, although pretty and in delightful increments, just isn’t going to work out for you. It’s best not to treat it as real.

As a matter of fact, and I was a Near Eastern Studies major for three whole semesters so you just know I’m an expert, the real point of Judaism in its earliest forms was to totally separate the Jews from their neighbors and make sure every possible distinction was made. And lots of concepts in Judaism are based on separation and distinction: light and dark, holiday and every day, holy and not holy, pure and defiled, etc. One of the reasons Judaism has survived all this time is that the Jews constantly have it hammered into them by their laws, “you are different from the others and you have to make sure you stay separate in your ways of doing things.”

But, as I said earlier, the stuff your friends and neighbors do always seems so much more exciting! Especially when you smell pot smoke coming through your vents. But I digress. The point is, the Torah makes it clear: there is only one God and to worship any other person, place, thing, animal, vegetable, or mineral as a god is a grave sin and brings down the wrath of the One True God. Because that’s all they are: things… not deities.

If there is one prayer that is the most important in Judaism, it’s the Sh’ma. It’s even supposed to be the last thing you say should you glimpse your imminent death. It goes: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And it’s not enough to declare that there is only one God several times a day, before you go to sleep at night, and before you head for the hereafter. The word for one in Hebrew is echad. The word for other is acher. You can hear they sound alike. So there is a chance you could say the Sh’ma and it could be mis-overheard by someone who would then think you had said, “another God” rather than “one God,” which would be abhorrent. So when you say that last word, you have to emphasize that last syllable, so you say “echaDDD.” That’s how important it is. That’s how sure the Jewish faith is that there is only one God.

Thanks for writing!

U2 – One


5 Comments for this post

  1. Girlnextdoortn says:

    Becca. Wow.

    The tone you use with the Jew&A entries is amazing- completely rational, with gentle humor and layman-friendly terms. I really respect how you answered this question (and all the J&A’s), because you always treat your reader as an intelligent person and answer the question with the seriousness of your convictions yet you don’t take yourself overly seriously. The Monopoly money analogy was brilliant- funny and yet it made your point blindingly clear.

    Anyway, all this to say that I really respect how knowledgeable and comfortable you are in your faith. You wear it like skin. (Was that creepy to say?)

  2. CajunQueen says:

    You explain things so well. Thank you for that.

  3. Arjewtino says:

    I like your Monopoly money analogy, Becca.

    But what happens to faith when our currency is inflated?

  4. kb says:

    I have to say, I have had that Karen Armstrong book on my nightstand for about 5 years, and even though I’m only halfway through it (it’s dense, and I’m not a real good stick-to-it-er), it’s one I’ve given highest recommendations of over the years.

  5. Becca says:

    Thanks! I don’t know how else to explain things, really. I’m lucky in that this is the way things were explained to me and I was always taught that there’s no such thing as a stupid question so you’d best answer thoughtfully.

    TN, not creepy at all, unless Cruella DeVil said it. 😉

    Arj, I don’t know but I might try using that Monopoly money real soon.

    kb, I actually changed my post (although only a few people saw it the original way) because I’m not sure if it’s the book or what was being read into it. Always a danger when you’re seeing things out of context.

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