Do Jews and Hindus Worship the Same God?

  • Alon Goshen-Gottstein
Part of the Interreligious Studies in Theory and Practice book series (INSTTP)


Reframing a question is often a very helpful way of moving a discussion forward. Having identified multiple positions concerning what constitutes Avoda Zara and having reflected on how these positions might be relevant to Hinduism, I would like to now approach these same sources from a novel angle, after reframing our lead question. Part III revolved around the question of whether Hinduism is Avoda Zara, mostly based on the precedent of Christianity. This is a classical Jewish formulation, and it grows out of a halachic frame of reference, providing a guideline to practical issues and setting certain attitudes in place. What would happen if the question was redefined from the essentially negative formulation of Avoda Zara to a more positive formulation? In Part IV I would like to revisit the above discussions by recasting them through the following question: Do Jews and Hindus worship the same God? The positions encountered in Part III would provide the building blocks by means of which we might be able to construct new conceptual edifices, around the guiding framework of the “same God.” The “same God” question allows us to seek commonality and recognition, rather than to focus on negativity, which would then have to be limited in practical or theoretical ways. It allows us to identify common ground, which in turn could lead to the sharing of spiritual insight, based on the recognition that we are approaching the “same God.” The “same God” question seems to me a powerful way of moving the discussion forward.


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  1. 1.
    One collection of essays is Do Jews, Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God (no editor), Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2012. A second collection of essays, edited by Miroslav Volf, is Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2012. While conscious articulation of this question is recent, one notes that this strategy provides a foundation for A. J. Heschel’s seminal essay, No Religion Is an Island.Google Scholar
  2. See No Religion Is an Island: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Interreligious Dialogue, ed. H. Kasimow and B. Sherwin, Orbis, Maryknoll, NY, 1991, especially pp. 9, 15.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    For a critique of this statement, see David Berger, Dabru Emet: Some Reservations about a Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity, Persecution, Polemic and Dialogue: Essays in Jewish Christian Relations, ed. David Berger, Academic Studies Press, Boston, MA, 2010, pp. 392–398,Google Scholar
  4. and Jon Levenson, How Not to Conduct Jewish-Christian Dialogue, Commentary 112,5, 2001, pp. 31–37.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    A possibility raised by Steinsaltz. See also Korn, Rethinking Christianity: Rabbinic Positions and Possibilities, Jewish Theology and World Religions, ed. A. Goshen-Gottstein and E. Korn, The Littmann Library, Oxford, 2012, pp. 203–204. The consideration is also raised in a halachic discussion by Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Minority Rights According to the Halacha, p. 175, note 10.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See Maimonides’ Responsa, ed. J. Blau, Jerusalem, 1960, vol. 1, responsum 149, pp. 284–285. On this responsum see H. Kreisel, Maimonides on Christianity and Islam, Jewish Civilization: Essays and Studies, ed. Ronald Brauner, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Philadelphia, PA, 1985Google Scholar
  7. and D. Novak, Maimonides’ Treatment of Christianity and Its Normative Implications, Jewish Theology and World Religions, ed. A. Goshen-Gottstein and E. Korn, The Littmann Library, Oxford, 2012, pp. 217–233.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    See Bavli Chulin 13b, and see the application of this ruling to Christians by Rabbenu Gershom, Responsum 21, quoted in Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance, Oxford University Press, New York, London, 1961, p. 33. I have come across a fascinating ar ticulation of the principle that contemporary idol worship is a continuation of parental customs in a Hindu tractate against the worship of idols.Google Scholar
  9. See Dialogue Between a Theist and an Idolator, an 1820 Tract Probably by Ram Mohun Roy, ed. Stephen Hay, Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta, 1963. On p. 85 the following argument is made: “If you say whether it is agreeable to reason and the Shaster (scriptures) or not, we must do what our forefathers did.” The argument goes on to invalidate this kind of justification for worship of idols.Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    Whether or not Hindus can be said to believe in a creator God, in a sense that Jews would recognize, is a matter both of philosophical difference between various schools and interpretive generosity, in one’s view of Hindu religious and philosophical systems. (A fact not considered by Flusser, who comfortably equates the Upanishad’s creator with Abraham’s faith. See Flusser, Abraham and the Upanishads, Between Jerusalem and Benares, ed. Hananya Goodman, SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 1994, pp. 33–40). For some schools (Mimamsa, possibly Vedanta), one cannot speak meaningfully of a creator God. Brahman is creator only by implication as there is nothing outside the absolute reality. Creation is, thus, not the essential function of God, but only a secondary definition. Shrivatsa Goswami emphasizes this perspective to me in personal communications, citing among others the work of T. R. V. Murti. At the same time, contemporary vedantins certainly do refer to God, the absolute, as creator. And it is worth noting that when de Nobilis engages Saivite theology, he reads it comfortably as referring to the creator God he knows. Reference to God as creator is therefore not simply a product of colonial exposure to other religions.Google Scholar
  11. See Anand Amaladass and Francis X. Clooney, Preaching Wisdom to the Wise : Three Treatises by Roberto de Nobili, Institute of Jesuit Sources, St. Louis, MO, 2000, pp. 45ff.Google Scholar

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© Alon Goshen-Gottstein 2016

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