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First off, Jews certainly do maintain that there is good and evil in the world. But let's clear up some terms first.
Consider the parameters of good vs. evil. Imagine a line going from -100 to +100, with -100 being evil, -50 being "bad", 0 being neutral, +50 being "good", and +100 being pious, like this:
-100 (evil)----- -50 (bad)---- 0 (neutral)----- +50 (good)---- +99 (pious)
The Jewish tradition acknowledges the entire line, and cites examples for each point. It also contends that most of us only go from, say, -65 to +65. However, it also acknowledges that we're capable of going from -100 to +99 (for only G-d stands at +100). And it offers that G-d has provided us with the mitzvah system both as a barometer of what's -100, -65, -50, 0, +50, +65, and +99, as well as a means of attaining the full human potential of +99.
In Judaism, all the evil in the world is either:
Made by man and permitted by God because the evil is not worse than reducing all of humankind to mindless automata.
An effect of nature that God allowed because the alternative would be to prove His existance by intervention, thereby eliminating free will.
Something that only seems to be evil from our limited perspective, but wouldn't be judged evil if we have all the facts. These often become clear with sufficient hindsight, although they often do not, as well.
Judaism does not believe there is a separate creator of evil; that would be dualism. Judaism doesn't ask "Why is there evil?". Jews are not in the job of trying to understand the Mind of Godwe can't. Rather, the Jew asks "How ought I respond?" We do not center our lives on the things we can't control, on those things which occur to us. To do so would be to focus on man as the sentence's object, not a free-willed being made in the Image of God with the power to be its subject.
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.
Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at email@example.com.
© (c) 1993-2004
Daniel P. Faigin <firstname.lastname@example.org>