God has many names such as El, El Shaddai, Adonai, Elohim, Almighty, Lord, King of the Universe. No matter what name we use, God is One and Indivisible. God has no human form and the use of terms such as “the hand of God” is a metaphor since the human mind cannot comprehend God on such a profound metaphysical level.
The following are some basic Jewish beliefs about God in comparison to those beliefs held by normative Christianity.
God Exists and is eternal
The Torah begins by stating “In the beginning, God created…” It does not tell who God is or how He came into being. The fact of God’s existence is accepted almost without question. In general, Judaism views the existence of God as a necessary prerequisite for the existence of the universe. The existence of the universe is sufficient proof for the existence of God.
God has no beginning and no end. He will always be there to fulfill His promises. When Moshe asked for God’s name, He replied, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,” the Hebrew word Ehyeh can be present or future tense, meaning “I am what I will be” or “I will be what I will be.” The ambiguity of the phrase is interpreted as a reference to God’s eternal nature.
God has a name
Throughout the Tanakh we see various names and titles for God – such as El, El Shaddai, King, Lord, Merciful, Ruler, Master of the Universe, Creator, etc. We are first introduced to God’s true name in Bereishit.
Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created. When the Eternal One (the Eternal One) God made earth and heaven… (Bereishit 2:4)1
Even though we see this name throughout Bereishit we do not get formally introduced to God’s name until the time of Moshe ha-Navi during Moshe’s encounter with God through a burning bush.
And God said to Moshe, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Yisraelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.’” And God said further to Moshe, “Thus shall you speak to the Yisraelites: the Eternal One (the Eternal One), the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchak, and the God of Yaakov, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever, this My appellation for all eternity.” (Shemot 3:14-15)1
Thus we learn God’s real, eternal name – the Eternal One (the Eternal One).
We are told that anyone who calls upon God’s name will be delivered from troubles and find refuge in God’s name.
But everyone who invoked the name the Eternal One (the Eternal One) shall escape; for there shall be a remnant on Har Tzyion and in Yerushalayim, as the Eternal One (the Eternal One) promised. Anyone who invokes the Eternal One (the Eternal One) will be among the survivors. (Yoel 3:5)1
God is One
One of the primary expressions of Jewish faith, recited twice daily in prayer, is the Shema, which begins שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד׃ (Hear, O Israel: the Eternal One (the Eternal One) is our God, the Eternal One (the Eternal One) is one.) This single statement contains three central Jewish beliefs:
There is only one God.
God is a unity. He cannot be divided into parts or described by attributes.
God is the only Being to whom we should offer praise. God is the Creator of everything.
Everything in the universe was created by God and only by God. As Yeshayahu said:
So that they may know, from east to west, that there is none but Me. I am the Eternal One (the Eternal One) and there is none else, I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create woe – I the Eternal One (the Eternal One) do all these things. (Yeshayahu 45:6-7)1
God is Incorporeal
Although many places in the Tanakh speak of various parts of God’s body or speaks of God in anthropomorphic terms, Judaism firmly maintains that God has no body. Any reference to God’s body is simply a means of making God’s actions more comprehensible to beings living in a material world. The human mind cannot comprehend the totality of God so man uses euphemisms to describe God (i.e. the hand of God). We are forbidden to represent God in a physical form. That is considered idolatry. The sin of the Golden Calf incident was not that the people chose another deity, but that they tried to represent God in a physical form. Even though God does not have a physical body but He does control this world.
Then Moshe held out his arm over the sea and the Eternal One (the Eternal One) drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split… (Shemot 14:21)1
God is Neither Male nor Female
God has no body, no genitalia, therefore the very idea that God is male or female is completely incorrect. We refer to God using masculine terms simply for convenience’s sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; God is no more male than a book. There are times when we refer to God using feminine terms. The Shechinah (a feminine word) is the manifestation of God’s presence that fills the universe and is conceived of in feminine terms.
God is Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient
God is in all places at all times. He fills the universe and exceeds its scope. Closely tied in with this idea is the fact that God is universal. He is not just the God of the Jews; He is the God of all nations. God can do anything. The belief in God’s omnipotence has been tested during the many persecutions of Jews, but Jews have always maintained that God has a reason for allowing these things, even if we cannot see the reason. God knows all things, past, present and future.
God created the world out of nothingness
When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water… (Bereishit 1:1-2)1
When God began His creation of the world – of the entirety of creation – He began with nothingness. God was the only thing in existence at the time of creation. God is above and beyond time and space and there was nothing in the beginning beside God Himself.
God is Both Just and Merciful
Karaite Judaism has always maintained that God’s justice is tempered by mercy, the two qualities perfectly balanced.
For My part, I am about to bring the Flood – waters upon the earth – to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. (Bereishit 6:17-18)1
God is Holy and Perfect
We are told time and again in the Tanakh that we are to be holy because God is holy.
For I the Eternal One (the Eternal One) am He who brought you up from the land of Mitzrayim to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy. (Vayikra 11:45)1
We are also told in the Tanakh that God is not like man – for God is perfect and what He wills will occur.
God is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind. Would He speak and not act, promise and not fulfill? My message was to bless: When He blesses, I cannot reverse it. (Bamidbar 23:19-20)1
God is our Father and our King
Judaism maintains that we are all God’s children. It is said that one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity is the knowledge that we are His children and created in God’s image. God is our father for he formed the world and all of creation and he also gave us the instructions by which we are to live our lives.
Surely You are our Father: Though Avraham regard us not, and Yisrael recognize us not, You, the Eternal One (the Eternal One), are our Father; from of old, Your name is “Our Redeemer.” (Yeshayahu 63:16)1
As the creator and the giver of life’s instructions, God is also considered the king of all creation.
I am your Holy One, the Eternal One (the Eternal One), Your King, the Creator of Yisrael. (Yeshayahu 43:15)1
God requires ethical behavior of humans
God demands ethical behavior of humans. We are to be stewards of the world and care for the earth and all the creatures contained therein. We are to act ethically toward our family members and our neighbors. We must act in ways that are caring for the orphan, the poor, and the stranger. We are commanded by God to act in responsible ways so as not to cause damage or harm to others or other people’s property.
God is a personal God
God is a personal God. He is not far away from those who seek Him and do His will. Even if he turns His face from Yisrael at times He has always vowed to return to Yisrael if only Yisrael would return to Him. God has a personal name – that of the Eternal One (the Eternal One) – which is used throughout the Tanakh. God has what we humans would call emotions – love, pity, mercy, and anger. God is always near if only man would reach out to Him.
God hears and answers prayers
We see throughout the Tanakh that mankind offers us prayers to God. We also see that God hears and answers the prayers of man. God may not answer the way that man hopes He will answer neither does God always answer immediately. However, we are assured throughout the Tanakh that God does indeed hear and answer the prayers of man.
In those days Hizqiyyahu fell dangerously ill. The prophet Yeshayahu son of Amoz came and said to him, “Thus said the Eternal One (the Eternal One): Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not get well.” Thereupon Hizqiyyahu turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Eternal One (the Eternal One). … Before Yeshayahu had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Eternal One (the Eternal One) came to him: “Go back and say to Hizqiyyahu, the ruler of My people: Thus said the Eternal One (the Eternal One), the God of your father David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. I am going to heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the House of the Eternal One (the Eternal One).” (Melakhim Beit 20:1-2, 4-5)1
God has made a special relationship with Yisrael
God has a special relationship with Yisrael. This relationship began with Avraham when he agreed to follow the commands of God, circumcise himself and all the males of his household, and declare that God is the only God. This relationship was passed down to Yitzchak and Yaakov and the tribes of Yisrael. Moshe led the tribes of Yisrael out of Mitzrayim to Har Sinai. At Har Sinai the tribes officially became a nation with God as their king. God has sworn to protect Yisrael and give her Eretz Yisrael for as long as the people shall obey God’s commands.
God made a special covenant with Yisrael – beginning with the promises made to Avraham and continuing through the time of Moshe and the prophets.
1David Stein (ed.). JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2000.