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Suffering in Judaism

Different religions have a distinct way of perceiving the sources and causes of suffering. In Judaism, the view of sorrow is that it is merely a characteristic of physical existence (Fitzpatrick et al., 2016). This means that misery does not necessarily have to be a result of punishment for misdeeds. The life and the very being of humans include pain, grief, and woe. Many events in a person’s life can cause distress, and this includes illness, accidents, catastrophes, or even the loss of beloved people.

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However, some types of Judaism believe that human anguish is the result of punishment from God for breaking the covenant that He made with people. This is especially the case of biblical Judaism, whose religion is founded on the teachings of the Old Testament and the creation of the State of Israel. Human travail can be explained in several books, including Deuteronomy, which states that people will suffer when they abandon the ways of God.

Other types of Judaism believe that human sorrow cannot be explained. The rabbinic literature quotes the words of Rabbi Yannai, who states that people cannot explain the wellbeing of the wicked or the grief of the righteous (“Jewish answers to suffering and evil,” n.d.). The rabbinic literature focuses, instead, on human responses to grief. The general idea in Judaism, therefore, is that suffering is part of life.

The grieving process and customs may also differ across the types of Judaism. Among the rabbis, for example, reading certain religious texts and seeking divine intervention is a major response to suffering. Consolation from other human beings is also part of the grieving process, and the spiritual texts often accompanied those individuals offering their consolation. Among the Jews, atonement was also done, especially because of the belief that suffering is the result of deviating from the ways of God (Fitzpatrick et al., 2016). If death should follow the sorrow, atonement is a way of making peace and asking for forgiveness so that one can gain eternal life.

In the case of death, the grieving process and customs involve certain practices. For the Jews, worship and prayer are part of grieving and other rituals and festivals that mark the rite of passage. Even though not particularly prescribed by the religion, the grieving process in many types of Judaism may include the gathering of family and friends to console the bereaved or the ill person. Words of hope and encouragement using the spiritual text are given, including prayers and worship.

Christianity has several similarities with biblical Judaism on views of suffering and the process of grieving. This is because Christianity believes a sin to be the cause of all human sorrow. The texts in the Old Testament are also used by Christians to explain anguish. Most importantly, Christianity is founded on the belief that God has plans for every individual, and He must have a reason for any person’s pain.

Additionally, God gave humanity the commandments which guide all people’s actions. Any deviance is, therefore, a cause of woe. A major distinction between Judaism and Christianity, however, is the fact that a person’s misery among Christians is perceived as preparation for heaven (“Evil and suffering,” n.d.). In other words, suffering helps people become better persons and improve their souls so they can enter heaven. All travail will be rewarded in heaven, an aspect the rabbinic literature also supports. The Rabbis, in turn, believe that if God was to punish people, then it is in the next life and not this. Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, therefore, differ in that Christianity accepts suffering as a sign of God’s punishment.

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Evil and suffering. (n.d.). Web.

Fitzpatrick, S., Kerridge, I., Jordens, C., Zoloth, L., Tollefsen, C., Tsomo, K., … Sarma, D. (2016). Religious perspectives on human suffering: Implications for medicine and bioethics. Journal of Religion and Health, 55(1), 159−173. Web.

Jewish answers to suffering and evil. (n.d.). Web.

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