Quick Jews-and-Hell Question
On the other hand, it also made me really happy I'd been raised a Christian and not Orthodox. The Orthodox (says Auslander) have to say a specific blessing over every piece of food they eat (one for fruit, one for meat, one for grains, one for milk products, etc.), and they have to combine the blessings if the ingredients are combined (as in blueberry pie), and they have to do them in a particular order. The agonies he goes through for simply eating a muffin are heartbreaking. (And, of course, funny for the same reason.) They have a million rules about what they can't do on the Sabbath; a hundred strictures on the yarmulke, on the mingling of the sexes, all of that. It's exhausting. By contrast, Jesus's own neo-sectarian, let's-get-rid-of-the-sillier-laws theology seems to anticipate Reform Judaism by several centuries. I've got my quibbles with conserative Christianity, but even with those, there's no question but that Christianity made the religious life a whole helluva lot easier than it is for the Orthodox.
But I've also found the book oddly troubling, because Auslander is basically tormented by belief that if he screws up on any of these activities--and especially if he eats a cheeseburger--he'll be punished in hell for all eternity. Hell? Really?, I thought. My understanding was that Jews don't believe in hell. You don't find any reference to hell in the Torah, and the first time anything like hell gets mentioned in the macro-Bible is in the gospel of Matthew. Which, of course, isn't technically a Jewish scripture. The belief in hell surely came from somewhere (in what is sometimes called the inter-testamental period), but I had always thought it was a Christian innovation--which has been one of my reasons to encourage Christians not to take it too seriously. If "hell" as we think of it (eternal punitive torment) is really the way we're supposed to take Jesus's references to "Gehenna" and "Sheol," then the Bible would have said something about it long before 4BC. It would have been too important to overlook.
Now I'm changing my guess. My guess is that Reform and Conservative Jews don't believe in hell, but that the Orthodox do. Or that certain unusually harsh sects of the Orthodox do. But the next obvious question is, where did they get it from? (Babylon? The Greeks?) And how do they justify their belief from reading the Torah?
I know I have a lot of scholarly-minded Jewish readers, so I hope someone can enlighten me. I also accept book references.
CELEBRITY CONNECTION: Shalom and I both appeared on the same episode of This American Life: #332, "Ten Commandments." He had "Do Not Take the Lord's Name in Vain," and I was further down the list at "Adultery." His story opens the episode, and it's really cool. Check it out at http://www.thislife.org/.