The purpose of these notes is to demonstrate that the image of God in the Torah we the humans were created in allows to have many competing religious streams in Judaism (and in Christianity) in addition to those streams which follow Halakha.
The Torah is the first known human document describing the creation of our world and us the humans in this world as well as the Creator Himself. As the Torah asserts, we the humans found God the Creator and had begun a conversation with Him. By initiating this conversation we had begun the process of discovering (a) how the world we live in was created and (b) what we the humans are supposed to do in this world. And any process of discovery is Science by definition.
Indeed, the dictionary definition of Science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. And that is what Religion is doing from the very beginning of human existence – it systematically studying – through observation and experiment – the world of human existence that is a part of the natural world.
The proof of any scientific discovery is the evidence which is defined as “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid”. And that is how Religion is convincing the humans that the laws of human existence which have been discovered by Religion and observed by the humans are true and valid – true and valid because the humans are able to fulfill their human destiny if they follow those laws.
The human destiny is defined in the Torah. The definition starts with a simple statement that the humans are created in the image of God (this definition is preserved in the Christian Bible). In accordance with the Torah, the image of God has the following fundamental traits: (a) God is Creator, (b) God is a unique individual, and (c) God is eternal. If it is so, we the humans have to be creators, have to be individuals and have to be eternal.
Judaism is supposed to interpret the Torah’s guidance for human behavior having an interpretation tailored to a unique Jewish hypothesis of the “made in the image of God”. Let’s see what it is.
We the humans exist not just for mere physical survival as the animals do – we exist for doing creative work for the eternity as individuals (rabbis and priests, architects and engineers, artists, and composers, religionists and social workers, laborers, etc.). Creative work is based on competition of different ideas, and Judaism explores those ideas by three different fundamental approaches.
(1) This approach is based on the observation that God created our world perpetually changing – changing along the lines of unchangeable laws created by God. Because the world is changing constantly, God’s guidance for human behavior has to be constantly tailored to the changing life conditions for individuals and their collective organizations – changing along the lines of fundamental Torah’s concepts. The God’s guidance is supposed to guide the individuals and their collective organizations in the spiritual and material creative work. What should be created and how to spiritually react to new life conditions have to be found by an individual. Rabbis and other religious authorities are supposed to teach how to make individual choices but not demand obedience to the will of authority. In this approach the meaning of creative work is to develop new things what have not been in existence before. With this approach people are judged individually by the results of their creative work. This approach requires living together with Gentile population but being Jewish-wise positively distinguished as an example of being “made in the image of God”. This approach encourages strengthening Judeo-Christian spiritual unity based on Torah’s Ten Commandments and joint work on making the world a better place for everybody. That is a Judaism’s pillar which is based on Intellect given to us by God precisely for this purpose.
(2) Another approach is based on the belief that God the Creator created everything as practically unchangeable. If it is so, an unchangeable God’s guidance for human behavior can be developed, and people can be judged by obedience to this guidance with no flexibility for individual deviation from the guidance allowed. And a sizable segment of the Jewish people created such guidance called Halakha. The Halakha guidance may be slowly changing but unwillingly, with great resistance and only if the real life forces to do so. With this approach the meaning of creative work is transformed from the creating the new things to supporting or restoring everything what have been in existence. Two traits are characteristic for this approach: (a) only rabbis have the right to declare what is right and what is wrong in Judaism – all others are denied this right; (b) Halakhic Jews are spiritually segregating themselves from the non-Jewish world – they are not anymore a visible example of Torah-based spiritual principles for the entire world. With this approach people are judged by obedience to laws, rituals and guidance created by other people who are considered to be “religious authority”. That is a Judaism’s pillar which is based on Halakha.
(3) And finally, the last approach is based on the idea that if God made everybody in His image, and the Gentiles are the majority among those made in His image, it is wise not to distinguish yourself among them. This approach leads to integration with a greater Gentile society and even to assimilation. With this approach people are judged by obedience to a secular ideology dominated in a Gentile society. That is a Judaism’s pillar which is based on Integration.
Such great diversity is encouraged by God through the Torah.
Indeed, God handed out the Torah to the Jewish people with “Free Will” that encouraged the Jews and non-Jews alike to tailor God’s life-journey guidance to different life traditions and conditions the humans may live in. And such free-will tailoring gave birth to numerous religious and scientific schools of thought competing with each other for discovering the true God’s laws with all discoverers having their own definition of the “true”.
About two millenniums ago four major Jewish groups were competing for the “most truthful” interpretation of the Torah – Essenes, Sadduces, Pharisees and Zealots, and Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Humanistic Jews continue the competition these days.
About two millenniums ago one more Jewish group came to existence – the group headed by Joshua and mostly concerned with spreading the Torah guidance outside the Jewish communities to Gentile population, and this group laid out the foundation of Christianity with many competing groups within Christianity. While the Jews detailed their interpretation of the God’s guidance in Talmud the Christians did it in New Testament.
So the competition among various religions and religious streams is a normal thing as envisioned by the Torah. However, the competition has to be peaceful aimed at discovering the true God’s guidance. However, the history knows many examples of ugly and murderous competition. Why it is so? Those in Religion who perceive Religion as a way for discovering God’s world and guidance prefer and support peaceful competition as prescribed by God. Those in Religion for whom human spiritual power over people’s mind is the prime goal are fearful that they may not win in peaceful competition and therefore are using non-peaceful means to preserve the power.