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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Sect. 11 TOC Q12.2 >

Question 12.1:
What is the Jewish concept of G-d? Do Jews think of G-d as an angry old man with a long white beard?

Answer:

No. That image is an anthropomorphism of an extreme application of judgment (seen as anger), and wisdom (associated with old men). The image is part of the "angry jealous Old Testament G-d" misconception, which ignores G-d's showing kindness and mercy throughout the Torah.

Traditional Jews view G-d as omnipotent and unique, tempering judgment with mercy. The verse from Shemos [Exodus] 23:23 "And I will remove my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen" is taken to mean that we will come to know G-d through His works, and through observing his commandments. See Handbook of Jewish Thought by R' Aryeh Kaplan.

Jews conceive of G-d as an absolutely simple Unity (implying absolutely no constituent divisions), beyond all constraints (including time and place), and beyond all limitations of human conception. To the extent that we are even able to refer to G-d, it is solely through our assignment of human-like attributes to what we perceive as G-d's interactions with creation. These attributes provide us with simple terms to which we can relate, but in no way limit or constrain G-d.

All descriptions of G-d that involve human characteristics are attempts by human beings to understand the infinite. These human characteristics can only be crude approximations of the attributes of G-d, in the same way that a robot's hand, while fashioned in the image of our own, can only be a crude approximation of the complexity of a human hand.

Likewise, we often ascribe to G-d the ultimate expression of desirable traits that fallible humans can only imperfectly attain. Thus the term "Rachman," as used to refer to G-d, is not "merciful" but the merciful, and is the standard against which the human characteristic of mercy is measured.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <maintainer@scjfaq.org>