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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 12.40:
What must one do to lead "a good life" in Judaism?

Answer:

This is a very broad question, hence, the answer is going to be painfully oversimplified. Jewish tradition teaches that G-d revealed a system of law to the Jewish people in the Sinai desert during their exodus from Egypt. This system includes 613 commandments, each is composed of numerous laws. No one could actually keep all 613; some are encumbant only on men, some only on women, some on the king, some on the preisthood, many require a standing Temple on Mt Moriah in Jerusalem, etc. And some, like the laws of divorce, you don't really want to be in a situation where there is a need to invoke them. That's for Jews, who have a covenant with G-d to be "a kingdom of preists and a holy nation".

Non-Jews needn't do all that. They have all of 7 commandments, which divide into 66 chapters of laws, and myriads of details. These are part of G-d's covenant with Noah. These are called the "Noachide" laws, and are listed in the answer to Question 12.19. The basic seven laws are: (1) Don't worship other gods, nor be an atheist; (2) Don't murder; (3) Don't commit certain sexual relations (including but not limited to incest); (4) Don't eat flesh from a living animall; (5) Don't blaspheme; (6) Don't steal; (7) Have a legal and penal system.

Speaking philosophically, being good is usually defined in traditional Jewish sources in terms of three relationships: how one relates to G-d, to others, and to oneself. That last one needs some explanation. A person should develop their human nature, and rise above those traits we share with other mammals. Looking again at the first three of those Noachide commandments, idolatry is the ultimate violation of one's relationship with G-d; murder, of one's relationship with others; and sexual hedonism, of how one relates to oneself. One step down, we have blasphemy against G-d, stealing from others, and being cruel in one's pursuit for food. The last is society's responsibility to its members in pursuing the above.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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© (c) 1993-2003 Daniel P. Faigin <maintainer@scjfaq.org>