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The Nature of G-d

The nature of G-d is one of the few areas of abstract Jewish belief where there is no disagreement.

God Exists

The fact of G-d's existence is accepted without question. The Torah begins by stating "In the beginning, G-d created . . .".  It does not tell who G-d is or how He came to be.

In general, Judaism views the existence of God as a necessary prerequisite for the existence of the universe.  The existence of the universe is sufficient proof of the existence of G-d.

G-d is One

One of the primary expressions of Jewish faith, recited twice daily in prayer, is the Shema, which begins "Hear, Israel:  the L-RD is our God, the L-RD is one".  This simple statement encompasses several different ideas:

  • There is only one G-d.
  • No other being participated in the work of creation.
  • G-d is a unity.  He is a single, whole, complete indivisible entity.  He cannot be divided into parts or described by attributes.
  • Any attempt to ascribe attributes to G-d is merely man's imperfect attempt to understand the infinite.
  • G-d is the only being to whom we should offer praise.  The Shema can also be translated as "the L-RD is our G-d, the L-RD alone", meaning that no other is our God, and we should not pray to any other.

God is the Creator of Everything

Everything in the universe was created by G-d, and only by G-d.  Judaism completely rejects the dualistic notion that evil was created by a Satan or some other deity.  All comes from G-d.  As Isaiah said, "I am the L-RD, and there is none else.  I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil.  I am the L-RD, that does all these things" (Isaiah 45,6-7).

God is Incorporeal

Although many places in scripture and Talmud speak of various parts of G-d's body (the Hand of G-d, G-d's wings, etc.) or speak of G-d in anthropomorphic terms (G-d walking in the garden of Eden, G-d laying tefillin, etc.), Judaism firmly maintains that G-d has no body.  Any reference to G-d's body is simply a figure of speech, a means of making G-d's actions more comprehensible to beings living in a material world.  Much of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed is devoted to explaining each of these anthropomorphic references and proving that they should be understood figuratively.

We are forbidden to represent God in a physical form. 

God is Neither Male nor Female

This followed directly from the idea that G-d has no physical form.  G-d has, of course, no body; therefore, the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd.  We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience's sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is.

Although we usually speak of G-d in masculine terms, there are times when we refer to G-d using feminine terms.  The Shechinah, the manifestation of G-d's presence that fills the universe, is conceived of in feminine terms, and the word Shechinah is a feminine word.

G-d is Omnipresent

G-d is always near for us to call upon and He sees all that we do, wherever we are. Closely tied in with this is the idea that G-d is universal:  He is not just the G-d of the Jews, but the G-d of all nations.

G-d is Omnipotent

G-d can do anything.  It is said that the only thing that is beyond His control is the fear of Him; that is, He has given us free will, and He does not compel us to do His will.  

G-d is Omniscient

G-d knows all things, past, present, and future.  He knows our thoughts.

G-d is Eternal

G-d transcends time.  He has no beginning and no end.

G-d is Both Just and Merciful

We have often heard Christians speak of Judaism as the religion of the strict Law, which no human being is good enough to fulfill (hence the need for the so-called sacrifice of Jesus).  This is a gross mischaracterization of Jewish belief.  Judaism has always maintained that G-d's justice is tempered by mercy, the two qualities perfectly balanced.  Of the two Names of G-d most commonly used in scripture, one refers to his quality of justice and the other to his quality of mercy.  The two names were used together in the story of Creation, showing that the world was created with both justice and mercy.

G-d is Holy and Perfect

Needs no explanation.

G-d is our Father

Christianity maintains that G-d has one son; Judaism maintains that G-d has billions of sons and daughters.  We are all G-d's children, and the people of Israel are His firstborn (Exodus 4,22).  The Talmud teaches that there are three participants in the formation of every human being:  the mother and father, who provide the physical form, and G-d, who provides the soul, the personality, and the intelligence.  It is said that one of G-d's greatest gifts to humanity is the knowledge that we are His children and created in His image.

Last updated on: 12/16/2017
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