On a recent trip to Baltimore, technical difficulties with my ticket prevented me from boarding until I was one of the final people waiting to board the Washington D.C. bound Megabus. During my struggle, an Indian man who looked like he was in his late twenties came off of the bus to ask if he was allowed to sit in the front row of the top deck, (seats with the best view, which are usually reserved for people willing to pay extra.) Because the bus was about to disembark on its journey and they had not yet been occupied; however, he was granted permission to take one of those seats.
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As the very last person boarding the very full bus, I was left with a very limited choice of viable seat partners, so I decided that taking the front seat next to this Indian man would be my best option. He seemed easygoing and pretty lowkey (especially in comparison to the other rather interesting characters on that very delayed Thursday night Baltimore/Washington D.C. bound bus.) In addition, it’s not often that you get seats at the front of a double decker with a perfect view of the open road, so I took my seat at the front of the second level of the bus. Not long into the bus ride he told me that he came to America a few years prior for a high power job. He ended up quitting it to pursue a master’s degree at Columbia, an action frowned upon by his family, as leaving this action contradicted their traditional value system.
This decision was fully supported by his high school sweetheart and fiance, another Columbia masters recipient whom he was commuting to visit, he did every week as was currently working in D.C. At some point my religious values became evident to him, and though by living and working in New York had exposed him to many Jews, religious and not, he had many unanswered questions about Judaism. Over the next five hours. He asked a lot of those questions about Judaism, which I answered to the best of my ability. As I answered his questions, he related what I said to his own life, telling me about Hinduism, the caste system and the Hindu religions many holidays and gods. Following this encounter, I was determined to find out what the most halachically acceptable way to act if such circumstances would ever befall me once again. In this paper I will explore the background of Hinduism, and use Jewish texts as a vehicle to answer the question, what is the Halachik view of Hinduism. To do so I will answer questions like what do Hindus believe, is it truly Avodah Zarah or just shittuf, and are they allowed to make a new religion, so I can get to the bottom of what Hindus believe and whether it is in line with some of the views of Yiddishkeit. Looking back at history, it is can be extrapolated that Hinduism has no definite starting point, like that of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Hindu traditions are, however still quite ancient they can be traced back several centuries, all the way back to before 2000 BCE at the Indus River Valley Civilization. Indus River Valley Civilization was one of the earliest civilizations. It was located along the river, Indus, near present-day Pakistan and northwest India. Religion there involved ritual bathing, evidenced at the great bath at Mohenjo-Daro. There were also figurines that are believed to be depicting gods (bbc).
After 1750 BCE it seems that the Indus River Valley Civilization declined and essentially disappeared. This region’s strong ties to Hinduism begin Circa 1500-500 BCE, when there was a long period of Aryan migration of people from the Caucasus that migrated down to the Indo-Gangetic Plain. We know about these Aryans primarily because they left behind religious texts written in Sanskirt. This period of time know as the Vedic Period, as it was when the Vedas were composed by the Aryans. The Vedas are also the earliest text of what would come to be Hinduism, and it discusses several of their many gods as well as rituals and offerings brought to appease these gods. Some of these rituals are still involved in worship today, however several more enduring concepts and ideas were developed Circa 500 BCE-500 CE. It is at this time that Dharma, a central concept of Hinduism is expressed. It is later on during this period at around 500 CE when devotion to major deities like Vishnu, shiva ****and devi?***** became prevalent. During the medieval period Gurus and poets began to proliferate religious literature, and traveled debating the pious members of other religions of that time. (BBC)
Dharma holds a lot of significance to Hindus. it refers to their virtues and the duty of every person’s specific role in life and society. It is the force upon which society as well as the entire universe is standing on. By adhering to a strict set of rules decided specifically for you and your group, you as an individual are keeping the universe in balance. The aforementioned groups are dictated by the Caste system. the Caste system has a divine explanation found in one of the vedas. It discusses how they divided Pourisha, the universe pervading spirit. Pourisha was divided into 4 parts: the mouth, the arms, the thighs, and the feet. Brahmuns, whom are at the top of the hierarchy are the mouth, as they are the pious and holy priests who speak to G-d. A rung lower are the kshatriyas, are represented by the arms as they are the warriors. Second to bottom are the Vaisyas, represented by the thighs; they are the merchants and artisans who provided money for priests and warriors. At the lowest level reside the Suras, the farmers and laborers they are the feet as well as the foundation of the social order. (Crash course) Dharma, which is dependent primarily on birth and caste may seem a little extreme at times, if faced with the option death or betray dharma, dying while staying faithful to your Dharma is the only correct answer. Dharma has not been rejected by the majority of mainstream Hindu society because of their views of the infinite soul and the afterlife. This belief is outlined in other major concepts of Hinduism, Samsara Moksha and Karma.
Hindus believe that all living organisms possess a soul, the Atman, and samsara is the cycle of rebirth. Hindus believe that when a person dies, their soul is transferred into another living being as its being born. Karma is defined very clearly in a later commentary on the Vedas that later became revered as sacred as well called tbe Aranyaka Upanishad, the doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action (Hume). If a person fulfills his dharma and has good karma, things improve, and you’re born into a higher being. But the ultimate goal of a Hindu is Moksha, to be released from the cycle of endless reincarnations altogether and merge with the one G-d Brahman This state is also referred to as nirvana. Hindus acknowledge that achievement in the past life got you where you are today. Not abiding Dharma or straying from a given caste is guaranteed to result in a worse life when that person is reincarnated. The path to salvation is individualized and by abiding by it, a person is effectively keeping the world balanced. But the question still remains, what is it that Hindus believe in.
When looked at from the perspective of an uninformed outsider, Hinduism, as a religion with 33 million gods can seem like a quintessential example of Avodah Zarah. There is Brahma who creates and recreated the universe and everything in it periodically, Vishnu the peacemaker, restoring balance to the universe, Shiva who destroys the universe on a cyclical basis to that it can once again be restored by Brahma. Ganapati, the first son of Shiva has the head of the elephant and is renouned ad the remover of The Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda is one of the first writings to talk about the metaphysical and posit what entity created the universe or question if that entity even knows how it completed such a feat. In this hymn it keeps talking about The One Truth and Reality which can be understood as monotheism (Werner), but at the same time it isn’t denying the existence of any other gods. But what exactly is avodah zarah? Hindus It seems that they are an oxymoron. do believe in one infinite G- They Ultimately Hindus believe that there is one infinite, formless, limitless G-d that is superior to the other G-ds but they simultaneously acknowledge the existence of other possible deities who have separate but equal powers (Wilkins). They do believe in G-d, but the The question now can be asked, is this worship considered to be Avodah Zara Religion: Hinduism. BBC, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/. Kane, P.V. (1953). History of Dharmastra: Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law in India. https://archive.org/details/HistoryOfDharmasastraancientAndMediaevalReligiousAndCivilLawV.4/page/n899 CrashCourse. Buddha and Ashoka: Crash Course World History #6 YouTube, 1 Mar. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Nn5uqE3C9w&list=PLhFpjatfwvpHQUsU4OGlXc0u2O1sXyPzn. Hume, Robert Ernest, and Georg C. O. Haas. The Thirteen Principal Upanishads. Oxford University Press, 1921. William Joseph Wilkins, Hindu Mythology: Vedic and Pur??nic, p. 8, at Google Books, London Missionary Society, Calcutta///// William Joseph Wilkins, Hindu Mythology: Vedic and Pur??nic, p. 8, at Google Books, London Missionary Society, Calcutta K Werner (1982), Men, gods and powers in the Vedic outlook, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 114, Issue 01, pages 14“24;/////// H Coward (1995), Book Review:”” The Limits of Scripture: Vivekananda’s Reinterpretation of the Vedas””, Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, Volume 8, Issue 1, pages 45“47, Quote: “”There is little doubt that the theo-monistic category is an appropriate one for viewing a wide variety of experiences in the Hindu tradition””.
There is this one truth which is monotheism but at the same time it isn’t denying the existence of any other gods, and there are other G-ds too. The Rig Veda praises various deities, none superior nor inferior, in a henotheistic manner. Muller Without the word there are a bunch of gods and there all equal but henotheistic means focusing on one G-d but without denying the possible existence of many other G-ds – So there is one G-d that is superior to the other G-ds and they are focusting on that the one truth but the other possible deities that they aren’t denying the existence of and speculating about those all are like, basically equal? – The other gods are actually equal to the one they’re focusing on but they have other jobs or whatever but they could be equal? Tamar/wik/source but at the same time talks about many other gods that are all equal.
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