"We don't accept that we are born in sin"

One Jewish lady with whom I meet has often said to us, "You Christians make too much of this matter of sin. It would be far better just to talk about the good in people". Another lady cannot accept that she is basically sinful but says that, for the Jew, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the means through which forgiveness is obtained for the things she does wrong.

In the book, A Guide to Jewish Knowledge published by the Jewish Chronicle, we read:

Man is born without sin. His soul is pure and although in life temptation may be great and he shows an inclination to sin, Judaism repudiates any idea that he is born with an original sin that is transmitted to him from the first Adam. Man may have the tendency to sin but this is a very different thing from suggesting that he has destiny to sin. Further, although man may be sinful by inclination he has within him the power to rid himself of sin.

In the light of this official rabbinic teaching, we have to understand our own position on this matter. Though we have inherited the disease of sin from Adam, we are also guilty before God because of our own sin i.e. people are in rebellion against God. It is in the sight of a holy, righteous and almighty God that we are sinners, not necessarily in the sight of our fellow humans. Man judges by human standards and finds some people to be better and some to be worse. However, in the Torah (Genesis 8:21) we read: "...the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth", and these are words spoken directly by God.

The prophet Isaiah said: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way". This righteous prophet was indicating that it is only human to want to fulfil our own ambitions in life rather than to fulfil the will and purposes of God. King David said in Psalm 51:5 that his sin was clearly a condition from birth.

If sin is not universal why is Yom Kippur observed among the Jewish people as the most solemn of all festivals? Why is it that Jews who never enter a synagogue at any other time somehow manage to crowd their way into a congregation, for at least an hour, on the Day of Atonement? Some are prepared to pay the membership fee for the whole year just in order to do so. I am sure there must be some inner longing to deal with this great problem of the uncircumcised heart. Yet there is a great promise given by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:6: "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live". May the Jewish people come to recognise and acknowledge the Anointed One of Daniel 9:24 who came "… to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness."

This article first appeared in the September 2006 edition of the Herald

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