Judaism: The Universalism of Judaism and Personal Freedom
The unique Jewish perspective of universalism is one
of its main differences with other major religions.
For instance, Jews have never looked upon Christians
or Moslems as "infidels," and do not require
one set of beliefs over another in order to be redeemed.
Judaisms central criterion for personal redemption
is the deeds and actions that each individual performs.
The "gates of heaven" are open to all, regardless
of religious affiliation.
As Judaism has developed, its emphasis on actions in
this world, rather than living for an afterlife, has
become even stronger. This central theme of Jewish tradition
is one of the principal reasons Jews have been in the
forefront of the quest for a democratic society, with
freedom and justice for everyone.
It is no mere happenstance that disproportionately
large numbers of Jews have been in the vanguard of battles
to uphold freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom
of the press, and equal protection of the law. It is
no accident that Jews have joined with blacks in the
forefront of the battle for civil rights, not only in
the United States but in other countries as well, including
South Africa. It is no accident that the percentage
of Jews who voted for New York Mayor David Dinkins in
1990 was far higher than any other group in the white
population in New York City.
The central political issues affecting women today
offer some of the best examples of the uniqueness of
Judaism. Jews have been leaders in the battle for equal
rights for women, and there is overwhelming Jewish support
for the Equal Rights Amendment. In the debate between
those who would deny a woman the right to have an abortion
and those who believe that a woman should have the freedom
to choose, the great majority of Jewsregardless
of their own personal feelings about abortionbelieve
that every woman should have the right to choose, guided
by her own conscience and religious beliefs.
Consequently, in contrast to the strong support that
some religious groups have given to the anti-abortion
movement, there is virtually no support from the Conservative,
Reconstructionist and Reform movements. Among Orthodox
Jews (10% to 15% of all North American Jews), there
is some support for the anti-abortion movement, but
there are many Orthodox Jews who favor freedom of choice.
A 1991 survey of Bnai Brith Women, a womans
organization with over 100,000 members from all branches
of Judaism, showed that 92% were pro-choice.
The belief in individual freedom is deeply rooted in
Jewish history which, in part, is a chronology of a
peoples fight for personal freedom. The Biblical
story of the Exodus, retold each year during the Jewish
festival of Passover, is the oldest continuous celebration
of freedom in recorded history. The well-known story
of Passover recounts the enslavement of the Jewish people
by the tyrannical Egyptian Pharaoh and their liberation
through the leadership of Moses.
Passover not only inculcates in every Jewish woman,
man and child the love of individual freedom and the
responsibility of every person to ensure freedom for
all, but it also exemplifies one of the most important
and unique aspects of Judaism: The central role of the
family and the home in the observance of Jewish holidays.
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