Personal God In Judaism And Christianity By Dr. Faydra Shapiro

My dear friends,

Today it is my honor to introduce you to my friend and colleague Dr. Faydra Shapiro. She is Jewish like myself, but unlike myself she is an Orthodox Jew. Faydra directs the Galilee Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, in northern Israel. She grew up in Canada and completed her PhD at McMaster University. For many years she was a university professor in a department of Religion and Culture in Canada. Her wonderful family made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) several years ago and she now directs the first program of its kind in Israel. She is also a proud mother of six young children. I invited her to contribute to our Jewish Studies for Christians study group on regular basis because I am persuaded that her voice, in looking at the Christian movement today as an Orthodox Jew, offers a much-needed perspective. I know that she will offer a friendly, at times corrective but balanced insight about Judaism that Christians need to hear.

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg


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ntroductions are funny things – sometimes it’s what is unsaid, what is assumed, that can tell you the most. Several years ago I gave a talk at a church in North America about Israel and Jewish-Christian relations. The listeners were very encouraging and as the talk drew to a close I felt I had really done a superb job of teaching and inspiring the audience. Until the moment when one elderly gentleman stood up to ask me a question. He said: “Thank you very much, Dr. Shapiro. That was a great talk. But one thing you didn’t really speak about was the role of your faith in Jesus Christ”. “Oh, dear”, I thought, my heart sinking. Clearly I had done a brilliant job, but I had missed an essential point. Since that day I take the time to state it plainly and for the record: I am a Jew. Admittedly a Jew with an out-of-the-ordinary interest in Christianity and the New Testament, but still, simply, an “Orthodox” Jew.

That doesn’t necessarily matter much, but it’s always useful to know where a person is coming from.

Today I want to discuss an issue that comes up often in my conversations with Christian – almost always evangelical – friends and students. This is the matter of “having a relationship with God”, and the belief that this is one of the benefits of the Jesus path. While I do recognize that the whole rhetoric of “relationship not religion” is a product of 1970s popular American evangelicalism, it is an attiude that has important implications even if it might not be mobilized by many Christians. Now again, let’s pay attention to the unsaid. Having a relationship with God as opposed to what? The other (clearly undesirable) option is “religion”. So with Jesus one can ostensibly have something true and immediate – a personal relationship with God, whereas Jews only have “religion”.

Let’s unpack this a little. “Relationship” is understood to refer to something intimate, experiential, mystical, personal, friendly, deep, spiritual. “Religion” is ascribed the associations of being rule-oriented, man-made, legalistic, formal, distanced and superficial. Given these resonances, clearly having a relationship is something desirable whereas religion is something to progress past. And it is not uncommon for Christian readings of the gospels to assume precisely this – that what Jesus offered people was a personal (intimate, deep) relationship with God specifically in distinction to the Jews who only offered (formal, sterile) religion.

You can imagine the impact that this kind of slogan has for Christian understandings of Judaism.

It’s also interesting how this emphasis resonates with the current wave of people who insist that they are “spiritual, not religious.”

The fact is that Judaism takes the idea of the individual’s relationship with God very seriously. It is obvious to Jews that both fear of God and love of God are important, and that emphasizing one over the over leads to an unhealthy imbalance. But the Jewish love of God and personal relationship with Him ends up looking quite different than that of contemporary evangelical Christianity for several reasons.

First, most Jews find popular evangelical lyrics and expressions like “My Saviour, my closest friend” and “Jesus take the wheel” to be far too casually intimate with the Holy One Blessed be He, to be comfortable. The concern is that this approach casts the sovereign, powerful, Master of the Universe into a being dangerously much like ourselves.

Second, Jews believe that doing His will is the highest expression of love, gratitude and clinging to God. In short, good relationships are expressed in action. Because performing mitzvoth (commandments) often looks so foreign to outsiders, it is very difficult for Christians to recognize things like keeping the dietary laws or Sabbath observance for what it is supposed to be – a declaration of love for God.

I believe that the ideal for both Judaism and Christianity is a balance and an integration of heart and hands, relationship and religion, informal and formal, spontaneous and fixed. Our challenge is to look for the unseen behind the slogan, and behind our assumptions – to learn to see the “spiritual” in Judaism and the role of “practice” or “holy living” in Christianity.

Soon Jews around the world will be marking the holiest day of the year – yom kippur (the Day of Atonement). It is a powerful day, dedicated to intensive prayer and fasting, with some of the most profound and moving liturgy of the Jewish tradition. Several times on that awesome day we will describe our relationship to God with these words:

For we are your people, and you are our God.
We are your children, and you are our Father.
We are your servants, and you are our Lord.
We are your community, and you are our Portion.
We are your heritage, and you are our Lot.
We are your flock, and you are our Shepherd.
We are your vineyard, and you are our Keeper.
We are your work, and you are our Maker.
We are your companions, and you are our Beloved.
We are your treasure, and you are our Friend.
We are your people, and you are our King.
We are your betrothed, and you are our Betrothed.

(Click here to hear it sung and to see the words in Hebrew)

About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

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  1. Margarita Sabate Arias

    What a wonderful sing., a love poem. I am catholic and I feel the same. Thanks Dr Shapiro for sharing it. The word religion comes from latin I think and means “join, link together”. I think that from the beginning G-d wants people is joining with him, but loving him, freely.

  2. Bethany Yagci

    I enjoyed your article Dr. Shapiro, and building bridges between Judaism and Christianity I think is very important in our generation especially. I must say that I cringe at some of the things Christians say too, even though I am a Christian. Many are much too comfortable for my own sensibilities. But we have to understand that Gentiles have had an utterly different experience than Mount Sinai. Still, when I read about it, it sticks with me, and it’s important to have a balance between the One who is to be highly revered, and the One who covers the needy gentile as Boaz did Ruth and calls you his very own. Because they are one and the same Spirit when it all comes down to it. Bless you.

    1. Dr. Faydra Shapiro - Galilee CSJCR

      I appreciate your point about balance! Well said.

  3. BJ

    Thanks Dr. Shapiro,
    You see what is not obvious to some.
    Some Christians have been doing what “is right in their own eyes” when, if they would simply read the Hebrew scriptures they certainly would get a sense of right and wrong directly from God. “To obey is better than… (sinning and having to)… sacrifice” 1st Sam.15:22. It is a way to love God. “Legalism” in the way that some Christians use the word today as “bad” is legalistic in itself, by condemning those that follow laws, and by breaking them themselves and claiming it’s fine, they become like the Pharisees who excused themselves from honoring their parents. Relationship comes when you can feel the heart of God in his provision.

    1. Dr. Faydra Shapiro - Galilee CSJCR

      Thank you for this comment. Beautiful last sentence!

  4. Dr. Stefano Giliberti

    Dear Dr. Faydra, it seems to me that the core of the question is whether or not spirituality is equivalent to religiosity.
    As the space allowed for comments here is too short, can you indicate me an email for sharing a more detailed discussion?


    1. Dr. Faydra Shapiro - Galilee CSJCR

      We would need to begin with you defining the difference for me. How do you understand “spirituality” and “religiosity”?

      1. Dr. Stefano Giliberti

        Dear Dr. Faydra, I have read your message just now…Well, It is difficult to say in a few words what spirituality is… Notwithstanding, I can try, taking into account that the Lord – who is spirit (see John 4: 24) – created human beings in His own image as spiritual beings (see Genesis 1: 27), who share with animal only the bodily and socio-psychological dimensions, as they were not created in the image of God. This means that animals are not responsible of their behavior, while human being are. So we can say that spirituality is intimately related to responsibility… To complete my thought I need more space than that allotted here for comments…
        Best regards anyway…

  5. Bernard Hadebe

    According to the bible, no one will justified by observing the law as in Galatians 2:16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. Perhaps that’s the difference between Judaism and Christianity

  6. Bernard Hadebe

    I don’t know which Christianity you are referring to that has mistaught Judaism . In the bible there is no religion called Judaism. The Old Testament is about God revealing himself to the the children of Israel which led to the birth of Jesus the author of the New Testament. It is expected of both Jews and Gentiles to believe in Jesus for salvation. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

    Ephesians 2:14-16 | NIV

  7. Tracey Haase

    Thank you for the introduction Dr Faydra Shapiro gave. Every time I read something from a Jewish perspective, my thoughts about christian living and worship are challenged.

  8. Kat

    Some of us only had crumbs from Judaism. I would ask Dr. Faydra and Dr. Eli what part God plays in their beliefs?

    1. Dr. Faydra Shapiro - Galilee CSJCR

      Hi Kat. I’m not completely sure how to answer that question. Perhaps if I knew more about where you wanted to go with it, I could give a more helpful answer….

      1. Kat

        My form of Judaism crumbs = 10 Commandments + Exodus 19:8 (moral reverence). My question was “Does God lift a finger or is the burden mine to carry (works)”? The Western Christians would say Jesus died for my sins.

        My Western Christian crumbs = accepting Christ (Judaism not taken into consideration) . Problem – I wanted to keep the Commandments. Therefore, my question still was “Does God/Jesus lift a finger to help me keep the Commandments.

        But what about the wheel? Do I make the wheel? How does God (oops Jesus) take control of the wheel without giving me Commandments ? 🙂

        1. Brad Thompson

          Kat I know you didn’t ask for my opinion, but GOD has recently lead me to the book of Hebrews. It’s amazing how much light is within the first chapter alone. You can research the concept of teshuvah and G_D name Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh (written with great respect). It’s a wonderful study and contains the plan of salvation for Israel and for us. G_D and HIS Son are intricately inter-twined together and can not be separated. Israel to is intricately inter-twined with G_D and can not be separated. When we attach ourselves to “the Messiah” we are being grafted into Israel. Psalms 51 is an illustration of one important aspect of spirituality in G_Ds eyes. I Pray GOD will bless us with understanding.

          1. Kat

            Brad, thank you.
            Before I had a word or a concept for teshuvah I repented. I wanted forgiveness, but my word forgiveness did not convey the Name of God. I believed God had to be just too. I prayed for “a way” (provision) for the forgiveness of my sins. The second time I repented it was for a different reason. I had added submitting to authorities to my form of Judaism (I had never been in any religious teachings). I didn’t repent because I broke a law, I repented because the law did not point me to God’s Commandments.
            Psalm 51 – I have always wondered if King David broke a law or if the laws failed to point him to the Commandments. 🙂

  9. Sharon Rothrock Dodge

    That is a beautiful song and verse. Todah for sharing.

    1. Dr. Faydra Shapiro - Galilee CSJCR

      My pleasure. I am glad you enjoyed it!

  10. Bill Gaffney

    What you should be aware of is Christianity has mistaught Judaism and its components for over 1800 year. Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism who believed in Jesus as messiah. The original

    BillChristians were Jews who practiced Judaism.