Notes for Religious Studies 369:

Introduction to Judaism

Justice and Morality

Sin, Repentance and Free Will

Biblical assumption that humans have free will and are therefore responsible--subject to reward and punishment--for their actions.
Possibility of repentance: People are capable of bettering themselves.
Josephus's account of the sectarian disagreement about free will:

Centrality of Repentance in rabbinic preaching, especially in connection with theme of judgement on Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement:

Humans could not pass the judgment if judged solely by standards of justice. Therefore we ask God to treat us mercifully based on our sincere determination to repent.

Concepts of Good Urge and Bad Urge in every individual. "Bad Urge" is not evil, but represents essential passions and desires--especially sexual ones--that must be channeled into constructive directions through the Torah.

Human Justice

Torah contains detailed system for administration of civil and criminal justice. These were expanded by the rabbis.
Prophetic commitment to actively pursuing social justice and condemning injustice--protecting the weak and unprivileged.


Biblical assumption that God is subject to humanly understandable standards of justice and fairness. Abraham and Moses challenge God.
Some biblical authors raised questions about justice in this world: the book of Job asks about the unfair suffering of the righteous.
Rabbinic views stated that: 

Medieval rationalists dealt with the abstract "problem of evil"--how an all-powerful, good God could allow evil. 
Kabbalah very graphic depictions of demonic evil emerging from the "Other Side"--related to workings of divine punishment associated with the Sefirah of Justice.
Lurianic myth of the "shattering of the vessels"

Holocaust Theology

Inability of conventional religious categories or explanations to justify the deaths and suffering of so many innocent victims.
Some responses included:

War and Peace

Biblical ambivalence: frequent references to holy war (especially for conquest of Canaan) as well as to ideal of peace as ultimate ideal for the present and future.
Later generations usually contextualized the biblical wars as applying only to that situation, but they should not serve as a precedent for future actions.