Hinduism and Judaism

September 5, 2011 | by Aish.com

My husband is Hindu and I am Jewish. I am trying to grow in my Judaism, but I need to be delicate so as not to do too much too fast or he may object. Do you know of any resource that identifies the things in common between Judaism and Hinduism? When I bring out similarities, it makes him more comfortable (i.e. conservative/modest dress, reincarnation beliefs). If I know more similarities, I am hopeful I could progress faster and with less resistance on my husband's part.

In general, what does Judaism say about books such as the Hindu Bhagavad Gita?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

Hinduism does not have a uniform belief, but rather includes elements of monotheism, polytheism, and even atheism – depending on the particular tradition and philosophy. Thus it is difficult to assess whether their "gods" are names of the different powers of one central God, or are different spiritual being, angels, forces, etc., carrying out God's will.

The Jewish criterion regarding idolatry – as it relates to non-Jews – is also subject to debate. The accepted ruling is that if a non-Jew believes in a single all-powerful God, even if he accepts other forces together with God (such as the Christian belief in the Trinity), it is not idolatry. (Note that this distinction only pertains to non-Jews.) However, any other type of belief in a deity independent of God is idolatry (Code of Jewish Law – Rema O.C. 156:1).

Being that Hinduism embraces all and some of these beliefs (depending on the tribe), it is also difficult evaluate precisely what their attitude is to their icons and statues. Are they gods in themselves? Is the sun a god and power on its own? Or are they just symbols of God?

Interestingly, after the death of Abraham's wife Sarah, the Torah says that Abraham took a wife named Keturah. They had children together, and the Torah says: "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the concubine children, Abraham gave gifts. Then he sent them away... to the land of the East." (Genesis 25:1-5) The words, "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac," indicate the Isaac alone was the spiritual inheritor of Abraham's legacy – which was the ability to continue the Jewish faith. The other children, however, did not go to the East empty-handed. According to the Zohar, the "gifts" refers to many of the mystical traditions of Abraham. Hence, the ancient eastern religions have their roots with Abraham.

Regarding eastern religions and meditation, Jews pray three times a day, as we have been meditating for thousands of years. One can still meditate even though one embraces Judaism. Naturally it will be necessary for one who has been used to meditating with the aid of a mantra to choose a mantra that is not offensive to Judaism. (Some mantras are names of idolatrous eastern gods.)

An excellent guide is called "Jewish Meditation" by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Schocken Pub.).

I haven’t seen any books specifically on Hinduism and Judaism, but there are some excellent books dealing with Eastern religions in general:

• "The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India" by Rodger Kamanetz (Harper Books)

• "Letters to a Buddhist Jew" by Rabbi Akiva Tatz

• "Torah and Dharma: Jewish Seekers in Eastern Religions" by Judith Linzer, which explores the phenomenon of Jews seeking spiritual fulfillment in Eastern religions

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