Jews and Christians

I have spent much of my adult life working to bring Jews and Christians together. In particular, I have tried to explain to fellow Jews that traditional Christians are our best friends in the world today. 

Moreover, I believe that America’s founders, virtually every one a Christian, developed the best value system ever applied to a society. And they did so by basing their Christianity on the moral ideals of the Hebrew Bible — the inscription on the Liberty Bell is from the Torah — and by universalizing those values. What are known as Judeo-Christian values became America’s core values and formed the finest country ever made.

Nevertheless, while there is such a thing as Judeo-Christian values, no one speaks of “Judeo-Christian theology.” Judaism and Christianity differ theologically — primarily around the identity of Jesus of Nazareth — and that is what nearly everyone who thinks about Christian-Jewish differences thinks about.

But there are other differences between Christians/Christianity and Jews/Judaism that are not all related to Jesus, and that can help explain Jews and Christians to each other. 

Here are some that I have to come to identify after a lifetime in Judaism and decades immersed in the lives of faithful Christians. They are written solely in order to help Jews and Christians better understand one another.

1. The most obvious and perhaps most important difference concerns how an individual attains what Christianity refers to as salvation, or what Judaism calls the rewards of the hereafter. Judaism believes that the only way to achieve heavenly reward is through good works, while traditional Christian teaching is that it is only attained through faith (in Jesus). One ramification of this difference is that all Jews, including the most ultra-Orthodox, believe that anyone who lives a moral life — no matter what his faith or lack of faith — has “a portion in the world to come.” 

It is important to add that good and faithful Christians also teach that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26):  The only way to show that one has faith is through works.

It also important to add that this Christian belief has also led to positive as well as negative consequences. Among the former, it has animated innumerable idealistic Christians to go to the poorest places on earth and serve people there. The great Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who devoted his life to being a medical missionary in Africa, was such an example.

2. Judaism allows for divorce much more readily than either Catholicism — which never does — or traditional Protestantism, which rarely does. (The one exception within Judaism is the case of the agunah, the woman whose husband refuses to grant a religious divorce, and who, even under physical, moral and social duress, refuses to do so.) While Judaism does teach that “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16), neither God nor Judaism demands that people live in marital misery until death.

3. Christians tend to place greater emphasis on sins of thought than does Judaism. The best-known example concerns lust. As Jesus says in Matthew, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Judaism has no such normative teaching. 

It is true that the 10th Commandment prohibits coveting whatever belongs to one’s neighbor. But prohibitions on thoughts are rare within Judaism and the 10th Commandment only prohibits coveting — which means desiring to steal. It does not cover lust or any other thought. 

4. Many Protestant Christians believe that all sins are equal in God’s eyes. I have asked such Christians on my radio show if they think that God deems murder and taking a stapler from work equally wrong, and they have answered in the affirmative. “All sin is rebellion against God,” they tell me, and while we humans must judge and punish some sins as more serious than others, God does not.

5. Many Catholic and Protestant Christians — whether traditional or liberal in their theology and politics — believe that it is their Christian duty to forgive all sinners of all sins whether or not the sinner repents and no matter who the sinner hurts. Thus, the pastor at a church attended by President Bill Clinton while he was president admonished his congregants to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the American terrorist who murdered 168 people in Oklahoma City.

6. Most believing Christians have a more personal relationship with God/Jesus than most religious Jews have with God. Christians regularly speak about their love for God, whereas Jews are far more comfortable with expressing their love for Judaism (Christians rarely speak of loving Christianity).

7. With regard to prayer, Jews almost exclusively rely on reciting prayers written for them, and Christians rely more on spontaneous prayer. 

8. Christians tend to accept suffering with fewer complaints in general and fewer complaints against God. Christians tend to view their suffering as little compared to the suffering of Christ, or even as being Christ-like. Jews tend to regard suffering as a flaw in God’s order that must be alleviated. 

Committed Christians and committed Jews have much to teach, and much to learn from, one another. And in America, thank God, we are truly free to do so.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism

1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.

The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.

Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.

2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.

3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.

If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.

4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.

A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.

On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.

Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues. 

5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel. 

One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.

In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.

Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.

Mark Paredes writes the Jews and Mormons blog for the Jewish Journal and is a member of the LDS church's Jewish Relations Committee for Southern California. Read the Jews and Mormons blog at

No Shvitz

Hot on the heels of the Jewish Community Center closings, YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles announced in late June that it would close the saunas and steam rooms in seven of the eight centers that still had them. (The Hollywood-Wilshire Y will leave its sauna open on a 90-day trial basis with increased monitoring.) The announcement sparked anger and protest from YMCA members who have used the facilities for years.

To find out more about the sauna closings, and the relevance of YMCAs to the Jewish community, The Jewish Journal turned to a man who knows both quite well. Larry Rosen is the president and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. Rosen, who grew up a member of Temple Israel of Westchester, has spent 32 of his 54 ("and three-fourths") years as a YMCA professional. Los Angeles YMCA bylaws state its goals are: "To develop and improve the spiritual, social, mental and physical life of youth and adults in accordance with the spirit and teachings of Jesus…." But Rosen points out another part of his organization’s self-definition: "….Association of persons of all ages, ethnic groups and religious affiliations who are united in a common effort to put Judeo-Christian principles into practice…."

Jewish Journal: The YMCA Web site says the values of the YMCA are Judeo-Christian.

Larry Rosen: And that’s true. In fact the Los Angeles YMCA mission is putting Judeo-Christian principles into practice. All but the most strictly religious Jews don’t seem to have a problem with it. The truth is that since the end of World War II, Jews have gone to YMCAs in huge numbers, in every urban area in America, including Los Angeles. It is not either uncommon or unusual in any respect for Jews to be active in both membership, as you can now see on the staff, and in the volunteer leadership of YMCAs. The other thing is that YMCAs because they are so much larger and more widespread an institution than the JCCs, have always had a larger array of programming than the JCCs are able to produce.

JJ: You said that it’s not uncommon for Jews to be members and leaders of YMCA. Why do you think that is?

LR: There’s a big reason. It’s ecumenical, it’s not spiritually neutral, neither is it spiritually doctrinaire. There’s nothing about it that is alien to the Jewish experience. That’s why I think it is a very comfortable environment for Jews.

JJ: So how does the programming of a YMCA differ from that at a JCC?

LR: Between the volume and the geographical distribution and the kind of pervasive nature in American life, the Y has been more available to more people than JCCs have ever been able to be. That’s not a statement about quality, it’s an acknowledgment. Much of what people have gotten from JCCs they can’t get from YMCAs. What they can’t get is the concentration on Jewish life. That’s the thing that’s missing and that’s what I consider the great loss if the JCCs disappear. But in terms of health and fitness, child care and all these other things that people need in an urban environment, they can get that from YMCAs.

JJ: Why are the saunas and steam rooms closing?

LR: We are concerned that we’ve proven ourselves unable to control the inappropriate use of these facilities. People using them inappropriately put themselves at risk. So here’s the deal, take the alter-kacker going for a shvitz. The typical pattern has been that somebody either equates a good shvitz with a good workout, which is not true. A good shvitz is a good way to dehydrate yourself, raise your heart rate, your blood pressure and put yourself at risk for the other hazards of dehydration. So a good shvitz is not a good workout, but there’s a lot of mythology, or culture. It resists education, that’s one of the things we’re concerned about. Telling that gentleman that he’s putting himself at risk when he feels fine, is not a conversation that we can have successfully, and have not had successfully for decades. The other time that is a genuine risk, and a common one, is use immediately after exercise. A pattern of, say, "after a good workout, big swim, 30 minutes on a treadmill," fill in the blank, "I like to go have a steam, or a sauna." It’s the worst time in the world to do that in terms of putting yourself at risk. Over the decades, we haven’t found any successful way to monitor, control or prevent these risks that members incur by inappropriate use. That’s why we’ve closed them. Now those concerns remain and we are going to study them further.

JJ: So how do you react to the protesters who say you’re shutting them for financial or other reasons?

LR: This is not a popular decision; it isn’t a decision for popular vote. We know that these are popular. This is a health and safety decision. So on one hand, people can protest until the next ice age, but if it is a genuine health and safety issue, which is the subject of our continuing exploration, then I don’t care how many people vote for it. So protests don’t help. They don’t mean anything in this decision. The only thing that would help would be evidence of methods we can use to prevent people from putting themselves in harm’s way. That’s the only thing we care about.