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The Judeo-Christian Oxymoron

Copyright © 1997, 2003-2004, 2007, 2009 by David E. Ross

Whenever I hear someone make a public appeal to Judeo-Christian values in support or opposition to an issue, I cringe. The great diversity of beliefs and values within Christianity appears relatively small when compared with the differences between Judaism and Christianity.

Differences in beliefs and values between Jews and Christians are found in the following areas:

Religious Issue Jewish Philosophy
The nature of God God is indivisible, neither a duality nor a trinity. While often addressed or described anthropomorphically, God does not materialize in a human or any other comprehendible form. God acts directly, "not through an angel or by means of a seraph".
The relationship between God and the individual There is a direct relationship between God and each individual, without any divine or human intermediary. A rabbi (literally teacher) is a leader but not a priest.
The origin and punishment of sin The concept of original sin is unknown in Judaism. Sin is not inherent in the human existence.

Ordinary individuals living ordinary lives — enjoying entertainment, good food and drink, sex, an idle day, or a good back rub — are not necessarily tainted with sin merely because of their earthly pleasures. God gives us these pleasures, so they cannot be sinful.

Sin is punished during life or in how we die. We might know a sinful person and not recognize his or her punishment; we think "He is getting away with it." But God's punishments are not always obvious.

For the sin against God, true repentance on Yom Kippur erases the sin. For the sin against another person, only actual forgiveness from that person can erase the sin.

We are each solely and entirely responsible for our own sins. No one else — human or divine — can assume responsibility for our sins. Our punishment might even be in the manner of our deaths, but no one else can die for our sins.

The relative significance of piety versus deeds Having pure thoughts and offering sincere prayers to God are significant. However, piety lacks the importance of seeking justice for others, treating each person as if he or she were the Messiah, and living lives that set examples of behavior for your neighbors. In Judaism, deeds are far more important to God than attitudes.
The worthiness and redemption of non-believers It is not necessary to be Jewish to receive blessings from God or to live in God's grace after death. Jews have long celebrated the deeds of the "righteous gentile". Thus, Judaism rejects missionary efforts to convert gentiles into Jews and resents missionary efforts by others to convert Jews to other religions. These missionary efforts imply a superiority of one religion over another, which is a concept rejected by Judaism.

Other differences involve:

Not even monotheism can be considered common to both Jews and Christians. Given the Christian assertion of divinity for Jesus, the strict monotheism of Judaism appears more like that of Islam. Whatever common values Jews and Christians do share, they also share with a number of other religions.

Actually, an appeal to Judeo-Christian values usually reflects an attempt to generate Jewish support for a political agenda that many Jews who are well educated in their religion would reject. I have never heard an explicit appeal to "Judeo-Christian values" that included support for these Jewish values found in the Torah:

Of course, none of these are exclusively Jewish values. Righteous, moral Christians and followers of other religions live by some or all of these principles. But those who appeal for my support by invoking "Judeo-Christian values" never do so in support of these values that are basic to the Jewish religion.


"But what about Messianic 'Jews' and 'Jews' for Jesus?" Ah, that is another editorial, yet to be written. In the meantime, please note that mixing cabernet sauvignon with chablis does not make a rosé.


In a speech to a Christian church, Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence) demonstrated a severe lack of his supposed area of expertise. In a diatribe against Moslems, he stated that his mission is "a battle with Satan." The struggle against Islam, Boykin said, is "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian … and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

First of all, Judaism does not include the concept of Satan, the Devil, or any similar demon. Then, Boykin compounded his error by appealing to Judeo-Christian roots at the same time he declared the United States to be a Christian nation. You cannot appeal to Judeo-Christian roots when you then exclude Jews by declaring this to be a Christian nation. Actually, we are a secular nation, inhabited by citizens of many diverse religions.

Boykin's mission might indeed be a new crusade under the banner of the cross. However, he does not understand the mission of our nation — to be a home for believers of all types and non-believers too. Boykin clearly should not be in any position of power within our government, military or civilian.


It would be very interesting to compare the position of those Christians who appeal to Judeo-Christian principles with the position of Reform Judaism regarding gay rights. For discussions of where the largest branch of Judaism in the United States stands on this issue, see:

Other social issues on which Reform Judaism has taken formal positions include:

Quotes are taken directly from URJ or CCAR formal resolutions.

The next time you hear someone appeal to Judeo-Christian principles, ask that person where he or she stands on these issues.

Updated 22 October 2009


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