Is God Jewish?

November 25, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi…

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Is it wrong to buy a lottery ticket?

A. Judaism sets its face against gambling but it does not prohibit the casting of lots.

On Yom Kippur in Temple times, lots were cast to decide which goat would be designated for God and which for Azazal (Lev. 16:8). The allocation of territory amongst the tribes was carried out by lot (Num. 26:55). The Mishnah reports a lottery to determine who would carry out the Temple service (Yoma chapter 2, Tamid chapter 1).

Some congregations cast lots to decide who would recite Kaddish or be called to the Torah.

However, there was a fear of compulsive gambling, and a person who had no profession other than gambling was not permitted to be a judge or witness (Mishnah Sanhedrin).

Buying a lottery ticket or taking part in a raffle is much less of a problem; the amount one invests is tiny, one hardly expects to win, people are light-hearted about it, and the exercise is usually in aid of a good cause. Though the results cannot be predicted, no-one elevates it into a theological principle that man is helpless before his fate.

God, not Kismet, rules the world and directs the course of history. Things that seem the result of random chance are part of the Divine plan; Joseph says to his brothers, “It was not you that sent me here but God” (Gen. 45:8), and even when an opportunity appears to come out of the blue it must be God at work.

A German proverb says that business success is the four Gs – “Geld, Geduld, Genie and Gluck”, capital, patience, capacity and luck – but all require the Guiding Hand from On High.


Q. Is God Jewish?

A. You think that’s an easy question, don’t you?

You think the answer is simply that God does not have a religion – how could He? – and though He has a special relationship with the Jewish people, He is the Creator of the whole universe, and every one of the peoples enjoys His concern.

The Tanach says, “‘Are you not as the children of the Ethiopians to me, O children of Israel?’, says the Lord: ‘Have I not brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Kaphtor, and Aram from Kir?'” (Amos 9:7).

But in a sense it might still be said that God is Jewish.

The rabbis say that in order to show Israel how to pray, God (so to speak) puts on a tallit and acts as a chazan. Elsewhere it is said that Israel has tefillin that celebrate the uniqueness of God and God has, so to speak, tefillin that celebrate the uniqueness of Israel.

Rashi’s comment on the first line of the Shema looks forward to the day when HaShem, who is at this stage of history our God, will in time to come be the God of all humankind.

That does not mean to say that God is a member of the Jewish people, but that other peoples are yet to acknowledge and worship Him.


Q. What halachic rules apply to working in the public service?

A. The general principle is enunciated in the prayer for the congregation, which speaks of engaging in the service of the community “b’emunah”, reliably and honestly.

Service of the community in the narrower or wider sense requires that a person –
1. Concentrate on their official task. They must eat and sleep well, exercise regularly and look after their health in order to be able to work effectively.

They must not engage in any private business or secondary occupation. Heart and mind must be on their work.

The model is Moses who “went down from the mount to the people” (Ex. 19:14) – i.e. he did not let himself be deflected by private concerns.

2. Not use an official position for personal benefit.

“Rorting the system” must not even be considered. Accepting a bribe or turning a blind eye to something untoward “distorts the words of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19).

3. Be patient and polite to the public: an official “must be known for his deeds, and all these deeds must be pleasant and appropriate” (Maimonides, Hilchot De’ot 5:1).

4. Be accountable to the public.

When Moses went about the camp (Ex. 33:8), some of the people might have grumbled, “Whatever he eats and drinks comes from us; whatever he possesses comes from us”; hence Moses pledged, “When the task (of building the tabernacle) in complete, I will give a full account” (Midrash Tanchuma).

The Mishnah (Sh’kalim 3:2) recognises that public officials might be suspected of pocketing public funds; hence such people were not to wear garments with pockets or long sleeves which might invite unfavourable comments.

5. Be accompanied by others when collecting public funds and when distributing moneys.

6. Leave a time gap between moving from a public to a private position or vice versa in order to avoid the suspicion that they are exploiting the contacts, information or expertise they gained in the previous position.

7. At all times, know that they are answerable not only to their immediate superior and to the public, but to the all-seeing eye of God.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.


2 Responses to “Is God Jewish?”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    To my way of thinking, he certainly had you in mind for posterity when Abraham bartered with the Ephron for ground to bury his wife Sarah…..It became the first legal document of ownership still on record today……long before the Sultan awarded Francis of Assisi, his religious order still firmly ensconced in the Holy Land……

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    For those who follow one of the three monotheistic religions God is the same God for Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

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