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    Doctrines & dogmas – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Does Judaism have any set dogmas?

    A. Although some believe in what Solomon Schechter called “the great dogma of dogmalessness”, there clearly are authoritative Jewish beliefs.

    Maimonides’ view is that Judaism has truths which, while not enforced as rigorously as in Christianity, are essential for the afterlife. Mendelssohn argued that the basic tenets of Judaism are part of a general doctrine of reason; to him, Judaism is not revealed religion but revealed commandments. Chasdai Crescas distinguished between dogmas one must believe and doctrines one does believe.

    Baeck’s view is that Judaism does not require a “mystical, consecrating act of faith”, has no theological legislature, does not deny afterlife to unbelievers, and in place of “the ended, complete formula” prefers “the unending activity of thought”.

    Probably the best approach is that Judaism has characteristic axioms and ideas which have arisen out of encounter (i.e. Revelation) and experience. Baeck called them “classical phrases (which) will pass from generation to generation, each of which will view these phrases as the ancient and holy vessels of religious truth”.

    Nonetheless, within each of our beliefs there is a process of debate and a range of emphases. Concerning the nature of God, for instance, there is a dichotomy between the intellectual and emotional approaches. Whilst in matters of practice there is a right and a wrong way, in matters of belief there can be several right ways, provided they are within the basic parameters.

    Why is dogma less important in Judaism than in Christianity? Because Judaism has no need to articulate beliefs in order to provide a contrast to the other religion. Further, a Jew is already under the covenant and needs no act of affiliation. Even the Jewish atheist/agnostic rarely wishes to opt out of Jewishness (Rav Kook said their atheism/agnosticism is a stage in their striving, and eventually they too will be believers).

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