Derek Sivers

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism - by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism - by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

ISBN: 159257131X
Date read: 2022-12-14
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Really interesting and entertainingly written. I didn't realize what a complete system Judaism is, dictating almost every decision in life.

my notes

Judaism offers answers to five of humankind’s most frequently posed questions:
What is God?
What’s so special about human beings?
How are we supposed to relate to other people?
Why do we need laws?
What’s the meaning and purpose of life?

Creation without a Creator didn’t make sense to Abraham.
If you call that a belief you can’t prove, Judaism says that the opposite view, that there is no Creator and “everything just happened by itself,” is also a belief you can’t prove - but one that is far more improbable and illogical.

To be an atheist is simply to refuse to acknowledge reality.
To believe in many gods is almost as meaningless as believing in none.

The first of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God,” is written with a Hebrew word that implies a singular “your.”
God speaks to every person directly and says, “I am accessible to you without any middle man.”

Abraham argued with God. God, for a Jew, can be held to his commitment to justice.

Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.

Hebrew grammar uses God in feminine form.
In the Hebrew the name for the Lord, Adonay, has a feminine ending.
A merciful God is more like a mother.
The Hebrew for God, Elohim, has a masculine ending.
It suggests that God is also a father.
The Jewish concept of Lord/God is a combination of male and female attributes.

People say “seeing is believing.” That’s not true. Seeing is knowing.
Believing is choosing to accept one opinion as more credible, more believable, than another.

Religion is based on belief. Faith is not the same as facts.
If God were to appear that, no one would believe in Him. People would simply be forced to accept His reality.
Proof of God’s existence isn’t desirable.

A world with God has meaning, has purpose, has a way to explain its existence.

Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world. ← from the Talmud
Every human being today is a potential Adam.
Kill a person and you cut off a future world.
Save one person and you are responsible for saving an entire world.

Yid: the subconscious desire of the soul to be true to its essence.

Kosher is the Hebrew term meaning “fit.”
It may refer to anything that is legitimate or legally permissible.

Only by sharpening one’s intellect and spending every waking moment of the day using one’s mind can we fulfill our mission on earth.

To be religious means to be ethical as much as it does to be pious.
A religious thief is as much an oxymoron as an atheist believer.

God is more interested in people being good to each other than in worshipping Him.

Charity, from the Latin word charitas, meaning high regard, love, conveys the idea of doing something more than you have to.

A group of people sitting in a ship. One of them took a drill and began to bore a hole under his seat.
When his shipmates protested, he said to them, “What has this got to do with you? I’m boring the hole under my own seat!”
His choice can sink all of society if we don’t intercede.

The Midrash pictures God turning to all the peoples of the world and asking them if they want to accept His Torah. Each one asks, “What is written in it?” and when informed of some of the strict laws, refuses it. For some, it was adultery; for others, theft or murder. Culturally, morally, and ethically, the nations at the time of Revelation (13th century B.C.E.) just weren’t ready. Only the Jews willingly accepted the law. That’s what makes them the choosing, not the chosen, people.

Privileges carry responsibilities.
Obeying rules is the rent we pay for the gift of being allowed to live here on earth.

To not develop and grow intellectually and spiritually is to make your years meaningless.
You’ve got to become all that you are capable of becoming.
And if you don’t, when you look back after death you’re going to have to admit that you made a mess of your life.

Those too egotistical or too miserly to willingly desire family or be concerned with the future are failures.

New Testament puts it, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
Judaism differs because it places deed over creed.
Here again, because God is a God of law, He is more concerned with what you do than with what you think.
There is not in the Mosaic Law a single command, ‘Thou shalt believe’ or ‘not believe.’ Faith is not commanded. Only actions are.
Judaism doesn’t mandate belief, only action.

Will Durant, the great historian, claimed the greatest lesson of history is: Man became free when he recognized that he was subject to law.

Christianity believes that the laws in the Old Testament were given to prove that they cannot be kept.
Man needed to see that he couldn’t gain salvation on his own.
Jesus, claims Christianity, had to die in order to gain forgiveness for man’s sins because mankind was incapable of deserving God’s favor by compliance with the law.
Judaism disagrees. Law, with all of its stringent demands, was given to man because God was demonstrating his belief that “You can do it!”

If there is no God, what we call right and wrong are just euphemisms for personal taste.
You don’t like stealing, so you call it wrong. I like stealing, so I call it right.
If there is no God, then objective good and evil simply do not exist.
What remains are subjective opinions concerning desired and undesired behavior.

Chukim are God’s way of allowing us to express confidence in His superior wisdom. If we only obey what we understand, then we are worshiping our knowledge.

Unnecessary abstention is a sin.
“Were the restrictions found in the Torah not sufficient for you?”

We’re not supposed to renounce the world, but repair it.

Please don’t call the Jewish Bible the Old Testament because that’s the name Christians gave it, and for Jews it comes with an uncomplimentary connotation.

The Talmud says that if you turn the other cheek after someone hits you, you share responsibility for the second blow.

Proverbs are short sentences drawn from long experiences.

The Mishna is a manual for living. It turns every waking minute into a spiritual experience: managing one’s business affairs, dealing with one’s parents, mate, and children, and arranging the days and years of one’s life.

A chidush is a “new” interpretation. Tradition has it that every Jew is born to add at least one new insight to the way in which the Torah is understood. Only in this way is one’s life truly justified. (Have you figured out your chidush yet?) In this spirit, new commentaries regularly appear with fresh interpretations of the Bible. They amaze us with their ability to introduce modern concepts.

Ideas are wonderful but they mean nothing if they aren’t turned into action.

The heart is drawn after the actions.
It’s not so much that thinking leads to doing as that doing leads to thinking.
Going through the motions alters the emotions.
If you behave lovingly, you will feel love.
You change your behavior first.

Pulpit Story:
Why can’t a Jew be an astronaut?
he first religious Jew offered the job had to refuse when he heard how many times the capsule orbits the earth.
“I won’t have any time to do any work for you. All I’ll have to do is morning prayer, afternoon prayer, evening prayer. Morning prayer, afternoon…”

Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah, literally “son and daughter of the commandments,” implies that the young man and the young woman are now in the category of Jewish law.
Law is their father and guide, and they are its son and daughter, its disciples.
At age 13, a Jewish boy becomes a man for only one reason: At this age, he is considered mature enough to be responsible for his actions.
Bar Mitzvah happens automatically. Responsibility is the result of coming of age, not of a party.
Girls mature at 12 and are responsible for their actions a full year before boys.

I’ve seen rabbis without beards, and I’ve also seen beards without rabbis. Of the two, I prefer the first.