Judaism and Religious Pluralism

Religious Pluralism
In the recent past John Hick has produced a significant amount of material defending a particular kind of religious pluralism. Even if one disagrees with Hick’s version thereof, a religion’s theological flexibility to incorporate a just pluralism of one sort or another is seen to be a virtue of said religion. A theology that promotes exclusivism is, by my lights at least, to be viewed with suspicion for it hardly befits an omnibenevolent God to exclude a significant proportion of humanity from salvation.
I am wondering, therefore, what is Judaism’s view on this matter? Is Judaism an exclusivist, inclusivist, or a pluralist religion (where these terms are to be understood a la Hick)? No doubt the various strands of Judaism will take up different and perhaps contrasting positions. But all will face at least these considerations:

1.     There is a tradition of 7 Noahide laws incumbent upon non-Jews i.e. Judaism is pluralist in the sense of 613 commands for Jews and 7 for non-Jews.
2. The Torah opens with God engaged with all humanity.
3. There is a very strong tradition of Jews as “the Chosen People;” this “choseness” being the result of a divine covenant between Abraham and his descendants. Can Judaism be pluralist if it is committed to God’s “favouring” one group over another?
4. Is God’s goodness and justness compatible with covenantal commitments?
My thoughts on these points is as follows.
5. It is opaque to me why 7 laws should suffice for non-Jews whilst Jews must fulfil 613. What accounts for the numerical difference? And is a Judaism of this sort really committed to the just desserts of fulfilling 7 laws being equal to the just desserts of fulfilling 613 commandments? Do the two “seats in heaven” have just as good a view of “the stage”?
6. The nature of a covenant seems odd to me. If X and I have an excellent relationship, how does that translate into my making a covenant with X which includes my commitment to X’s progeny? Why favour X’s progeny regardless of their behaviour? In other words, even if God loses faith in all humanity and slowly begins to narrow his focus onto a smaller family unit, why enter into a covenant with that unit AND their progeny unto eternity?
7. It seems hard to flesh out metaphysically how God might find a way to “redeem” all of humanity by way of choosing to show “His favour” to one small group thereof.
8. I think not; it seems intuitively correct, to me at least, to assume that any act on God’s part that results in almost all people in the history of the world not achieving salvation by no fault of their own as an unjust act.
  1. Matthew

    It's been a while since I've read Hick, but if we're to understand "exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist" as Hick uses those words, then I don't think any religion would be pluralist. The pluralist view is that all religions communicate the truth about ultimate reality, and all are ways of salvation into that ultimate reality. This despite the fact that outwardly it appears that they say different things. I think your worries about divine justice, though don't share them, could be headed off by a religion that was simply inclusive.

    You've given some interesting consideration, though since I think the setup is a little off I'm not sure how to comment on all of them. Here are a couple of remarks, fwiw…

    I would think that your (1) is an example of exclusivism. It says that the only way to salvation is to either follow the 613 mitzvot or 7 Noahide laws. If you're not following either, then… your out of luck. That strikes me as exclusive.

    I think your (2) is going to be consistent with exclusivist, inclusivist, or pluralist, positions.

  2. Gabriel

    PART 1:

    Thanks, Dani, for this post! At first I thought to myself that if you wanted to start a discussion about whether Judaism is pluralist, inclusivist, or exclusivist – according to Hick’s definitions – then it would have been helpful to say what Hick’s definitions are. However, having not read Hick for a longtime, I went to remind myself, and came immediately to see why you did not include a quote form him. Here is a quite from a very easy book of his, *The Rainbow of Faiths*:

    “So let us speak in terms of salvation claims. Here, exclusivism asserts that salvation is confided to Christians, or even more narrowly, in the traditional Catholic dogma, that extra ecclesium nulla salus, outside the church there is no salvation…

    The position taken by Vatican II… and also by the majority of both Catholic and Protestant theologians today… is aptly called inclusivism. This acknowledges that the salvific process is taking place throughout the world, within each of the great world faiths and also outside them, but insist that whenever it occurs it is the work of Christ. Salvation on this view, depends on Jesus’ atoning death on Calvary, though the benefits of that death are not confined to Christians but are available, in principle, to all human beings. Thus people of the other world faiths can be included within the sphere of Christian salvation…

    This Christian inclusivism takes two forms. One defines salvation in traditional terms, holding that in order to be saved one must personally accept Jesus as one’s lord and saviour, but adds that those who do no encounter him in this life may do so after death…

    The other form of inclusivism is compatible with the wider understanding of salvation as salvation/liberation, the actual transformation of men and women, and ultimately through them of societies, and can gladly acknowledge that this is happening – and happening in varying degrees now, in this life – outside Christianity as well as within. It insists, however, that the salvific influences of the Torah in the lives of Jews, of Islam in the lives of Muslims, of Hindu spiritual practices in the lives of Hindus, of the Buddhadharma in the lives of Buddhists, and so on, are all ultimately due to the slavific work of Christ, who is secretly at work within all these traditions… In order to make sense of the idea of Christ at work within the world religions, including those that precede Christianity, it will be necessary to leave aside the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, and his death on the cross, and to speak instead of a non-historical, or supra-historical, Christ figure or Logos… who secretly inspired the Buddha, and the writers of the Upanishads, and Moses and the great Hebrew prophets… But this Christ figure, or Logos, operating before and thus independently of the historical life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, then becomes in effect a name for the world-wide and history-long presence and impact upon human life of the Divine, the Transcendent, the Ultimate, the Real. In other worlds, in order to make sense of the idea that the great word religions are all inspired and made salvific by the same transcendent influence we have to go beyond the historical figure of Jesus to a universal source of all salvific transformation. Christians may call this the cosmic Christ… Hindus and Buddhists may call it the Dharma; Muslims may call it Allah; Taoists may call it the Tao; and so on. But what we then have is no longer (to put it paradoxically) an exclusively Christian inclusivism, but a plurality of mutually inclusive inclusivisms which is close to the kind of pluralism that I want to recommend. I am suggesting in effect that religious inclusivism is a vague conception which, when pressed to become clear, moves towards pluralism.” (pp. 18-23)

  3. Gabriel

    PART 2:

    A number of things occur to me. The first is that it is far from clear how on earth one would try to mimic the forms of exclusivism, and inclusivism, which Hick discusses here, in Judaism. What would the parallel forms of inclusivism *be*, when you take Christ’s saving work out of the picture? Thus, without a great deal of preliminary work, I’m not sure if we yet even have a question on the table. I simply don’t think that Hick’s classifications can be transferred, with no creativity, from Christianity to Judaism. This would, however, be a very interesting project… So, Dani – perhaps you could say a bit more about what you take these three possibilities to be, when it comes to Judaism?

    In making the transition, we must be very clear what we mean inclusivism and exclusivism to be inclusive and exclusive *of*. If we want to know whether Judaism is an exclusive religion, what are we asking: are we asking whether it excludes certain people form salvation? Are we asking whether it excludes certain people form a certain kind of relationship with God? Are we asking whether it excludes certain truth claims? These are all distinct matters. For example – relevant to some of the points that you make – Judaism may believe that the Jewish people has a unique relationship to God – but these need imply nothing about the salvation of those who are not included in the Jewish people.

  4. Gabriel

    PART 3:

    When you ask what ‘Judaism’s’ view of these matters is, the answer – as you acknowledge – will be: ’it depends’. Different people have put forward different positions. If you are after some inclusivist-in-some-sense-or-other sources, here are some pretty random ones regarding the possibility of salvation outside of Judaism:


    Shemot Rabbah 19:4 – “The Holy One declares no creature unfit, but receives all. The gates of mercy are open at all times, and he who wishes to enter may enter.”

    Bamidbar Rabbah 8:2 – “ ‘The Lord loves the righteous.’ Says the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘They love Me and I love them also.’ And why does the Holy One, blessed be He, love the righteous? Because their righteousness is not a matter of heritage or family. You will find that priests form a father’s house . . . Therefore a man may wish to become a priest and yet he cannot; he may wish to become a Levite and yet he cannot. Why? Because his father was not a priest or a Levite. But if a man, even a gentile, wishes to be righteous, he can do so, because the righteous do not form a house. Therefore it is said, ‘Ye that fear the Lord bless ye the Lord.’ It is not said, ‘the house of those that fear the Lord’ but ‘ye that fear the Lord’, for they form no father’s house. Of their own free will, they have come forward and loved the Holy One, blessed be He, and that is why He loves them. This is what is meant by the words, ‘The Lord loves the righteous.’ ”
    Eliyahu Rabbah, 10 – [The prophet Elijah said]: I call heaven and earth to witness that whether it be Jew or gentile, man or woman, manservant or maidservant, the holy spirit will rest on each in proportion to the deeds he or she performs.”

    Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:2 – “Rabbi Eliezer said that none of the gentiles has a portion in the world to come, as it says, ‘The wicked will return to Sheol, all the nations who have forgotten God’ (Psalms 9:18). Rabbi Joshua said that if Scripture had stated, ‘The wicked will return to Sheol [namely]: all the gentiles,’ and was thereafter silent, it would agree with your interpretation. However, since Scripture states, ‘who have forgotten G-d,’ it teaches that there are righteous among the nations, and they do have a portion in the world to come.”

  5. Gabriel

    PART 4:


    R’ Yisrael Lipschutz, Tiferet Yisrael to Avot 3:17 – “R. Elazar ben Azaryah said, ‘If there is no Torah there is no culture [derekh eretz]’ – The word ‘Torah’ here cannot be meant literally, since there are many ignorant people who have not learned it, and many pious among the gentiles who do not keep the Torah and yet are ethical and people of culture. Rather, the correct interpretation seems to me to be that every people has its own religion [dat Eloki] which comprises three foundational principles, [a] belief in a revealed Torah, [b] belief in [Divine] reward and punishment, and [c] belief in an afterlife (they disagree merely on the interpretation of these principles). These three principles are what is called here ‘Torah’.”

    Rambam, from Letter to Hasdai haLevi – “As to your question about the nations, know that the Lord desires the heart, and that the intention of the heart is the measure of all things. That is why our sages say, ‘The pious among the nations have a share in the world to come’, namely, if they have acquired what can be acquired of the knowledge of G-d, and if they ennoble their souls with worthy qualities. There is no doubt that every man who ennobles his soul with excellent morals and wisdom based on the faith in G-d, certainly belongs to those destined for the world to come. That is why our sages said, ‘Even a non-Jew who studies the Torah of our teacher Moses is like a high priest.’ ”

    R’ Shimshon Repha’el Hirsch, from ‘Talmud, Judaism and Society’ – “Judaism does not say, ‘There is no salvation outside of me.’ Although disparaged because of its alleged particularism, the Jewish religion actually teaches that the upright of all peoples are headed toward the highest goal. In particular, they have been at pains to stress that, while in other respects their views and ways of life may differ from those of Judaism, the peoples in whose midst the Jews are now living have accepted the Jewish Bible of the Old Testament as a book of Divine revelation. They profess their belief in the God of heaven and earth as proclaimed in the bible and they acknowledge the sovereignty of Divine Providence in both this life and the next. Their acceptance of the practical duties incumbent upon all men by the Will of God distinguishes these nations from the heathen and idolatrous nations of the Talmudic era. (‘Talmudic Judaism and Society’, in The Collected Writings of Samson Raphael Hirsch, vol. VII, Jewish Education, pp. 225-7)

  6. Gabriel

    PART 5:


    Moses Mendelssohn, from a letter to R’ Ya’akov Emden, 26th October 1773 – “These things are more difficult for me than flinty rock. Should all the dwellers on earth, from East to West, other than ourselves descend into the pit of perdition and be an object of condemnation to all human beings if they do not believe in the Torah which was given as an inheritance only to the congregation of Jacob, especially since this is not at all something expressly stated in the Torah but rather is a tradition among the chosen people or is deduced by its sages from the principles of the Torah… as Maimonides himself has stated in the ninth chapter, that the Noachite laws are all tradition in our possession from Moses our teacher and from the principles of the Torah it can be seen that the Noachites were given these commandments… What shall the nations do on whom the light of the Torah has not shone, and tradition has reached them only through untrustworthy authorities on whom one cannot rely> Could God, heaven forefend, condemn His creatures, destroy them, and wipe out their name when they have done no evil? Can this be called a true concept?” (quoted in Steven Schwarzschild’s ‘Do Noachites Have to Believe in Revelation (A Passage in Dispute between Maimonides, Spinoza, Mendelssohn and Hermann Cohen): A Contribution to a Jewish View of Natural Law’, in The Pursuit of the Ideal: Jewish Writings of Steven Schwarzschild, edited by Menachem Kellner, New York, State University of New York Press, 1990. p. 36)

    R’ Ya’akov Emden, She’elot Ya’avetz I:41 – “[R]ighteous or upright gentiles certainly have a portion [in the world to come], as is evident from the mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:2) that excludes ‘[three kings and] four laymen from the general [promise of a portion in the world to come]’ – for Balaam [listed there] was not an Israelite, yet it was necessary to explicitly [exclude him]. Thus any gentile is [included], provided he is not an evildoer…” (Translated in The Jewish Political Tradition, vol. II: Membership, by the editors, Michael Walzer, Menachem Lorerbaum, Noam J Zohar, and Ari Ackerman, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 505-6)
    R’ Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg (ba’al ha’S’ridei Esh), from ‘Zum Proselytproblem’ – “We believe that a Gentile can also be blessed, when he remains true to his religion and faithfully fulfils its precepts.” (quoted in Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg 1884-1966, by Marc Shapiro, London, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1999, p.183)

  7. Gabriel

    PART 6:

    D’varim, 4:19-20 – “And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest you be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all the nations under the whole heaven. But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of His inheritance, as ye are this day.” (King James translation)

    Rashbam on D’varim 4:19-20 – “ ‘[…the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven… which the Lord thy God] hath divided [unto all the nations under the whole heaven]’ in order to give light. And according to the essence of the simple meaning [of the text]: which He left for all the nations to worship, because He does not mind them [einoh choshesh bahem], but ‘the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth… to be unto him a people of His inheritance’ and to serve Him, and He will be for you for a God.”

    Micha 4:5 – “For all the nations will walk, each man in the name of his god; and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” (Translated by GC)

    R’ Cha’im David ha’Levi, from Aseh Lecha Rav, vol. 9, No. 30 – “…Judaism is not [a] proselytising [religion], and [in fact] it doesn’t relate to any other religion at all – including Christianity. Quite the contrary, the way of Judaism came to very clear expression in the worlds of the prophet Micha (4:5): ‘For all the nations will walk, each man in the name of his god; and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.’ For Judaism [it is as though] no other religion exists at all.” (Translated by GC, from Aseh Lecha Rav, vol. 9, by R’ Cha’im David ha’Levi, Tel Aviv, 1989, p. 64; source thanks to Johnny Solomon)

    Sh’mot Rabbah, Parashat Boh, 15:23 – “It is written: ‘Let them be only thine one, and not strangers’ with thee’ (Prov. 5:17). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘I do not warn idolaters concerning idolatry, but you,’ as it is said: ‘Ye shall make you no idols’ (Lev. 31:1).” (Translated by SM Lehrman, in his translation of Midrash Rabbah: Exodus, London, Soncino Press, 1939, p. 193)

  8. Gabriel

    PART 7:

    Vayikra Rabbah, Parashat Sh’mini, 13:2 – “ ‘He stood, and measured the earth… And He released the nations’ (Habakkuk, 3:6)… Ulla Bira’ah said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yochai: This is analogous to [the case of] a man who went to a threshing-floor, taking his dog and donkey with him. He loaded his donkey with five se’ah, and his dog with two se’ah. The donkey walked along, but the dog panted, so the man took one se’ah from it [the dog] and put it on the donkey. The dog, nevertheless, kept panting. Said [the man] to [the dog]: ‘When you are laden you pant, when you are not laden you also pant.’ So [it was with the non-Israelite nations]: even the seven commandments which the descendents of Noah accepted upon themselves – since they [the nations] could not cope with them – He stood up and transferred the load from them to Israel.” (Adapted by GC from a translated by J Israelstam, in his translation of Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus, London, Soncino Press, 1939, p. 165)

    Talmud Bavli, Masechet Baba Kamma, 38a – “R. Yoseph said: ‘He stood and measured the earth: He beheld, [and He released the nations]’ (Habakkuk, 3:6). What did He behold? He beheld the seven commandments which the descendents of Noah had accepted upon themselves, and [since] they did not adhere to them, He stood up and released them [from their obligation to adhere to the seven commands].” (Translated by GC; this can also be found in Avodah Zarah, 2b)

    Tosafot, Masechet Chagigah 13a, s.v. ein mosrin, in the version that is printed in Ein Ya’akov – “It could be said that… after the Torah was given [to the Jewish people at Sinai, God] permitted [the seven Noachide commandments] to them [the non-Jews, even though until that point they were obligated to abide by them]…”

    Chief Rabbi JH Hertz, from Early and Late –
    “An essential element of that [Jewish] vision [of God] is God’s holiness. And the Holy God can only be sanctified through righteousness, Isaiah has for all time declared. That is, moral conduct is the beginning and end of religion, and men and nations are to be judged purely by their moral life. ‘The righteous of all nations are heirs of immortality’, in an unchallenged dogma of the Synagogue. In this way undeviating insistence on absolute monotheism goes hand in hand with the broadest universalism. No wonder the first voice raised in Western Europe for religious toleration was a Jewish voice. It was 900 years ago that the Spanish-Jewish philosopher and religious poet, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, gave utterance, in a hymn that is still recited on the Day of Atonement in the older synagogues, to the then novel and daring conception, that every religion represents a longing for the Divine. He says,
    ‘Thou art the Lord and all beings are Thy servants, Thy domain:
    And through those who serve idols vain
    Thine honour is not detracted from
    For they all aim to Thee to come.’ ”
    (JH Hertz, Early and Late: Addresses, Messages, and Papers, Hindhead, The Soncino Press, 1943, pp. 197-8)

  9. Gabriel

    PART 8:

    And please allow me one final – astonishing – inclusivist quote. It is by R’ Netanel ibn al-Fayyumi. Maimonides, in his ‘Iggeret Teiman’, calls him “the highly honoured master and rabbi, Netanel – of blessed memory – bar Fayyumi”. It is taken from R’ Netanel’s book: The Bustan Al-Ukul (written in 1165), chap VI –

  10. Gabriel

    “Know then, my brother, that nothing prevents God from sending unto His world whomsoever He wishes whenever He wishes, since the world of holiness sends forth emanations unceasingly from the light world to the coarse world to liberate the souls from the sea of matter – the world of nature – and from destruction in the flames of hell. Even before the revelation of the Law He sent prophets to the nations, as our sages of blessed memory explain, ‘Seven prophets prophesied to the nations of the world before the giving of the Tiorah: Laban, Jethro, Balaam, Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.’ And again after its revelation nothing prevented Him from sending to them whom He wished that the world might not remain without religion. The prophets declared that the other nations would serve Him from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof: ‘For from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof great is my name among the nations’ (Malachi, 1:2). And further, ‘For unto me shall every knee bend and every tongue swear fielty’ (Isaiah, 40:23)…

    The Koran mentions that… ‘God desireth to declare these things unto you and direct you according to the ordinances of those who have gone before you’ (Sura 4:31). That indicates that Mohammed was a prophet unto tem but not to those who preceded them in the knowledge of God. And he said, ‘O People of the Book, He shall not accept a deed of you unless ye fulfil the Torah’ (Sura 5:72). And again, ‘If there is any doubt concerning what I reveal unto thee, the ask those who received my Book before thou didst.’ This indicates that He would not have commanded him to ask concerning the Book had He annulled it…

    [T]he Creator – magnified be His praise! – knows the ruin of this world and the abode of the future world. He therefore sends prophets in every age and period that they might urge the creatures to serve Him and do the good, and that they might be a road-guide to righteousness. The one who was saved was saved through his understanding; and the one who perished perished with full understanding. It is incumbent, then, upon every people to be led aright by what has been communicated to them through revelation and to emulate their prophets, their leaders and their regents. Not one people remained without a law, for all of them are from one Lord and unto Him they all return. All call unto Him, and all turn their faces unto Him, and every pious soul is translated to Him, as it is written, ‘And the spirit returns unto God who gave it’ (Ecclesiastes, 12:7)…

    A proof that He sends a prophet to every people according to their language is found in this passage of the Koran, ‘We sent a prophet according to the language of His people.’ Consequently had He sent a prophet to us [h]e would surely have been of our language, and again, had [h]e been for us why did God say to him, ‘Lo thou art one of the apostles sent to warn a people whose fathers I have not warned’ (Sura 14:4). He meant the people who served at-Lat and al-Uzzah. As for us, behold our fathers were not without warnings throughout an extended period, and likewise prophets did not fail them. But Mohammed’s message was to a people whose fathers had not been warned and who had no Divine Law through which to be led aright, therefore he directed them to his law since they were in need of it. And as for other people they had something to lead them aright. It is not proper to contradict those who are of another religion since their irreligion and their punishment are not our concern but that of the Praised and Exalted One. But it is our duty to fear and reverence Him as He commanded us in the Law which He delivered to our prophets.” (Translated from the Arabic by David Levine, in his translation of The Bustan Al-Ukul, by Nathanael ibn Al-Fayyumi, New York, The Columbia University Press, 1908, pp. 103-110)

  11. Gabriel

    PART 9:

    Perhaps the classification in Judaism could go like this:

    Exclusivist: The place in the world to come, of everyone born after the revelation at Sinai, depends on their doing something in response to the revelation at Sinai. So, for Jews, this depends on fulfilling the 613 commandments, including the ones that could not have been known apart from the revelation (the chukkim), and doing so with the intention to be fulfilling God’s revealed command; and for non-Jews, this depends on fulfilling the 7 Noachide laws, and doing so with the intention to be fulfilling God’s revealed command. – Thus, Jews or non-Jews who are wonderfully moral people would not have a place in the world to come – for the Jew, because he is not fulfilling the non-rational revealed commands, and for the non-Jews because his goodness is not a response to God’s explicit revelation, but merely something that he does of his own accord. Thus, some relationship with Jews – or at least with the Jewish story – is essential for a place in the world to come.

    Inclusivist: Anyone who leads a righteous life, will be allowed a place in the world to come, by the one God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is no need for that righteous person to have had any relationship with Jews, or with the Jewish story, in order to have a place in the world to come. The person may even not explicitly be a worshipper of the one true God. However, the one true God – in His kindness – works through all religions, even non-monotheistic ones such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and helps to guide their practitioners to righteousness. And, whoever does indeed succeed in being righteous, will be rewarded in the world to come by the one true God.

    Pluralist: The theological claims of all good religions (the ‘good’ is a very important proviso – which even Hick stresses!) are just as true as the claims of Judaism. They are all attempts to get some grip of the completely ineffable, so are all true, in a sense, and also untrue, in a sense. They all say something about the ineffable ultimate reality, and the role that It plays in our lives.

  12. Gabriel

    PART 10:

    This is very rough indeed – and a given position can easily flip into another. For example, imagine someone who seems to profess the pluralism described in the third classification. But then he insists that: Judaism is true for Jews, and Christianity is true for Christians etc. In that case, it seems to me that he has an aspect of rigidity almost as rigid as the exclusivist – as if I am a Jew, he will not be happy if I become a Christian. Perhaps that’s not quite right. Also, regarding triuth pluralism – we will need to classify the different kinds of truths of a religion. Some may be purely historical, and it is difficult to see how apparently conflicting historical claims could be compatible (if one religion says that the world is 6000 years old, and another says 6 billion). Others may involve God alone (beliefs about trinity, or sephirot, or God’s qualities etc) – these are more amenable to Hick’s ‘perspectivism’ (these are all true from different perspectives). Others may be blends of history and theology (Jesus was God incarnate, so was Siva, etc etc). The compatibility or incompatibility of these different kinds of truth claim will have to be understood separately.

    This leads us to the ambiguity of ‘pluralism’. I have described it above, as a pluralism about truth. But as such, it seems to be the odd one out – for neither of the other classifications really concern truth at all, but rather, salvation – or: place in the world to come. Pluralism could also be expressed in terms of place in the world to come: you are a pluralism is that sense if you think that there are a plurality of good ways – true ways, we may even say – to God, and to the world to come. Christianity and Judaism are both good ways to God and to righteousness and the world to come, and even Hunduism and Buddhism are. – But this kind of pluralism seems to be identical with how I have described inclusivism… So I’m not actually sure how helpful this three-way distinction really is. It also turns out that this kind of pluralism is a kind of truth-pluralism: after all, some of the truth claims of religions are about the best ways to behave, the ways to come close to God, the way to earn a place in the world to come.

    I am also very dubious indeed about talk of ‘salvation’, and about ‘places in the world to come’. What is salvation, in Hebrew? Yeshuah? If so, has this got anything to do with the world to come? ‘Liyeshuatcha kiviti Hashem!’ – ‘I have yearned for Your salvation, God!’ – is this referring to the world to come? I don’t think so. Is the world to come even a very large part of Judaism at all? This is another one of those silly questions (whose Judaism?). But it does raise as a problem, the terms in which exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism, should best be framed.

    Has anyone got any suggestuions as to how a helpful range of positions could be arranged, according to which we could classify different forms of (or conceptions of) Judaism?

  13. Adam Boxer

    an interesting source which you didnt bring is pg. 759 of the Hertz chumash – he says that chazal only condemned contemporary idolaters on their moral conduct, and assumed that their idolatrous practices were only "minhag avoteyhen b'yadan" and "could not therefore be held responsible for failure to reach a true notion of the Unity of God". This position would seem to be a good support for the inclusivist position- though it has some exclusivist character; ideally they would have a notion of One True God.

  14. Dan Dennis

    It depends on whether you think progress can be made in religion. Where that progress involves using reason to improve and modify the religion. If the answer is yes, then one would expect different religions to converge. Otherwise, well, you are stuck with views which are hundreds or thousands of years old (depending on your religion) and may well be exclusivist.

  15. Dani Rabinowitz

    Thank you for this awesome collection of sources. I guess I was trying to get at the following issues. What is the nature of the covenantal relation between God and the Jewish people such that the supposed fulfillment of the 613+ commandments assures the Jewish individual a place in heaven? What then of those (the overwhelming majority of humanity) who are not under these obligations? What is the nature of their “ticket” into heaven? And why the difference? Why does the individual, as a result of no choice of her own, have to abide by different entry streams into heaven? And surely the supposed 7 Noahide laws cannot be all it takes to get into heaven.

  16. Sam Lebens

    Some questions to ponder, in response to Dani's last comment:

    1. Is the primary function of the 613 commandments to buy us entry to heaven?
    2. Is the primary function of the 7 noahide laws to buy non-Jews entry into heaven?
    3. Does God's covenental relationship with the Jewish people mean that he can't have other, even other covental, relationships with non-Jewish nations/communities?

    Your comment seems to assume certain answers to these questions, but as far as I'm concerned, the questions are still open for discussion.

  17. Sam Lebens

    Some expansion on question 3:
    It could be that the nohide commandments constitute an ethical minimum that a society has to achieve to be considered worthy of survival.
    It could be that over time, various (hitherto)minimally worthy cultures develop profound and extensive relatioships with God with an ethical code that way exceeds the minimum requirements of the big 7.

  18. Sam Lebens

    Past Chief Rabbi of the UK, Lord Jacobowitz, wrote:

    In fact, I believe that every people – and indeed, in a more limited way, every individual – is “chosen” or destined for some distinct purpose in advancing the designs of Providence. Only, some fulfil their mission and others do not. Maybe the Greeks were chosen for their unique contributions to art and philosophy, the Romans for their pioneering services in law and government, the British for bringing parliamentary rule into the world, and the Americans for piloting democracy in a pluralistic society. The Jews were chosen by God to be ‘peculiar unto Me’ as the pioneers of religion and morality; that was and is their national purpose.

    This quote comes from "The Condition of Jewish Belief: A Symposium Compiled by the Editors of Commentary Magazine" 1966.

    It helps to flesh out the notion that God can have more than one meaningful relationship with more than one nation, and that our choseness doesn't have to come at the expense of other relationships.

  19. Dani Rabinowitz

    Thanks for this Sam

    I find this line of reasoning spurious. For one, I think the majority opinion amongst chazal has been that morality is not dependent upon God or halakha. So I have doubts about Jacobowitz's final claim. I also wonder how any nation can be charged with fulfilling some providential item when it is individual's and not nations that are the source of the ideas that change the course of history. What I would like to hear more about is the nature of the difference and similarities between a "covenant" and a "relationship." Lastly, I find it bizarre to think that God intends some "mission" for an individual or nation but that God refrains from informing them of that mission.

  20. Sam Lebens


    1. Interestingly, R. Jacobowitz mentioned religion and morality, without conflating the two. And there's very broad agreement among the rabbis that the two notions, though distinct, are in some sense or other related. So, I don't accept your critique of his final claim.

    2. The notion of zeitgeist is precisely the notion that ideas don't emerge from individual sources in isolation. They are often a cultural phenomenon.

    3. I don't have anything to say about the contrast between 'relationship' and 'covenant', but I'd too be interested to hear more.

    4. Why should God necessarily inform people of their mission? Sometimes we have to work out for ourselves what God's will is for us by assessing what are the needs around us, and what are our peculiar skill sets. It's a fair bet that God's will for any person or people is at the intersection where the needs of the world meet your particular skills and passions.

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