Works – Excerpt From Critique of Vol. 5

V. 53. Pages  195-198

Brown describes self-righteousness  as a “feeling that you have attained righteousness before God based on your  actions, or the feeling that you are morally superior to others.”


Brown speaks of: “the efforts of  religious Jews on the days leading up to Yom Kippur to have their good deeds  outweigh their bad deeds so their names might be written in the Book of Life for  another year?”


In place of the Jewish attitude (as  Brown understands it), Brown offers the word of Paul: “not having a  righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith  in Messiah – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith”(Phil.  3:9).”


Brown has again displayed a lack of  understanding of the facts on the ground within Judaism and, more importantly, a  lack of understanding of the spirit of Scripture.


It is true that the Jewish attitude  is to focus on our deeds, especially in the time-period leading to the Rosh  Hashana and Yom Kippur, as if our judgment depends upon our deeds. In the words  of Maimonides: “One should always see themselves, throughout the year, as if  they were halfway innocent and halfway guilty, and so the entire world, that it  is halfway innocent and halfway guilty; if he sins one sin, he causes himself  and the world to be considered guilty and he brings destruction upon himself; if  he does one meritorious deed, he has caused himself and the world to be  considered righteous, and he brought upon himself and upon them salvation and  deliverance” (3 Teshuva 4).  


The key words in this teaching are:  “all the time”. Immediately after doing a good deed, we should still be looking  at ourselves as though we are standing on the edge. When properly understood,  this teaching actually precludes self-righteousness. The thrust of the teaching  is that we must act as if everything depends upon our future actions, and that  at no given point in time could we rely on our past actions. I still haven’t met  the Jew who walks around with the attitude that he or she is righteous enough to  stand before God on the merit of his or her deeds. Maimonides (based on the  Talmud) is encouraging everyone, both a person steeped in sin and a person who  has lived a moral life to see themselves as one who stands on the edge. The  point is not to consider yourself righteous, but rather, to treat your actions  with all seriousness. Judaism emphasizes the concept expressed by David; “…no  living being is righteous before You (God), and echoed by Job (Psalm 143:2, Job  15:14, 25:4). Furthermore, we recognize that, with our deeds, we give nothing to  God that He does not already possess (1Chronicles 29:14, Job 35:7). At the same  time, this does not exempt us from our responsibility as God’s servants. God  puts the burden squarely on our shoulders when He commands us to obey His  commandments and in His mercy, He counts our deeds for righteousness despite the  fact that we gave Him nothing (Deuteronomy 6:25).


The joy and happiness we experience  when we fulfill God’s will is not the feeling of pride in our own  accomplishments. Rather, the happiness that results from our obedience to God is  rooted in the recognition that we have just received the greatest gift from God  and the greatest expression of His love.


To sum it up; we act as if  everything depends on our deeds, because that is how God wants us to act. We put  all of our trust in God, because we know that everything depends on His  mercy.


So Brown has misunderstood the  Jewish attitude towards good deeds, and towards God’s judgment. He has also  misunderstood a basic theme in Scripture.


The concept that righteousness  based on our deeds is somehow not from God while righteousness based on faith is  from God, is completely without any Scriptural foundation. God, in His mercy,  counts both our faith and our deeds towards us for righteousness (Genesis 15:6,  Deuteronomy 6:25). As long as these (the faith and the deeds) emanate from a  heart that is humble before God and that recognizes that God is the absolute  sovereign to whom both our faith and our deeds belong, then these are accepted  by God. But a faith that is not based on the recognition that God already  possesses our hearts, such as the faith that Paul and Brown are encouraging,  will never be accepted by God. Such a faith is the height of arrogance towards  God. How could a human being pledge his or her heart to anyone aside from the  One that created it to begin with?


Brown’s criticism of Judaism for  possessing an attitude of moral superiority should be directed at the Bible.  Throughout the Bible, God contrasts Israel’s position against the position of  the gentiles (Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:18,19, 33:29, Jeremiah  10:16). There is no question that the people of Israel received greater gifts  from God than did the other nations of the world. The question is: do we  recognize these as undeserved gifts? – as the Scriptures encourage us to do  (Deuteronomy 9:4). Judaism encourages us to acknowledge that which we were  granted from God as undeserved gifts and as a responsibility before God and man,  and not to use these gifts as an excuse for arrogance.   

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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5 Responses to Works – Excerpt From Critique of Vol. 5

  1. naaria says:

    The Torah of God teaches us that Ritual + Ethics = Holiness. If there is a cost of sin, why do some people act as if there were no benefit for not sinning (by thinking, saying, and/or doing right; or avoiding sin)? A few verses from the NT below which seems to me that Brown has “minimized” in favor of other select verses?

    Titus 2: 11-13. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope…”. To all men, including those who believe in God, but not Jesus? Living “self-controlled” isn’t impossible, but is actually Godly? We can live upright in that and even this age? But, we still got to “wait for hope” even if you got Jesus”

    “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” So Jesus, thinks it is bad not to seek in a “thirsty and hungry way” for righteousness, which results in the reward of “being filled”? Seeking righteousness, not merely being given it by you holding certain thoughts or by you saying a few magical words?

    “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven….” Seeking to do right is very rewarding in the “here and now” and later?

    “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Got to strive for these things and not merely believe and have “faith”?

    “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Ok, so Brown actually has to exceed the righteousness of those he would criticize for believing in righteousness? Maybe if Jews did less, Brown could more easily exceed the righteousness of Rabbis? Many strong believers in Jesus will say they “know Jesus”, but one day Jesus will tell them “he does not know them”, because of either what they DID or what they DIDN’T do?

    “that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” We are supposed to serve God in Holiness and Righteousness ALL our days? I guess this is not in vain nor is it self-righteousness? If we fail, I guess God is merciful and forgiving, right?

    The NT says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”. So, if you “sinfully” do good works, better not let anyone know or see, because it is good that we NOT glorify God??? Or someone thinks we are actually glorifying ourselves? That means we only should “have faith” instead of living our faith, because we are more concerned with the opinions of some people instead of the opinions of God?

  2. hyechiel says:

    Dear Mr. Brown;
    I recommend you read Micah, where G-d stipulated that these are the three things He requires of us; To do Justly, Love Mercy, and walk in Humility before the L-rd, our G-d.
    Nothing is said about any reward, or of how we see ourselves. It is what He expects from all of us; (oh, humanity, what does the L-rd require from us, but…)
    I am not here to cretisize any faith, just to emphasize the legimitcy of His way, and how we carry out His trust in us.

  3. Yehuda says:

    “Brown describes self-righteousness as a “feeling that you have attained righteousness before God based on your actions, or the feeling that you are morally superior to others.”

    I going to assume that Brown’s intention in that description is intended to be parsed into to distinct points.

    1) the “feeling that you have attained righteousness before God based on your actions”, or
    2) “…the feeling that you are morally superior to others.”

    I’m only interested in the second part for the moment.

    This is in line with the a larger Christian theme that any form of “judging” of others is hypocritical and self-righteous,and frankly, I have never understood it. If we have no ability to make moral judgements where does that leave us as a society? .I agree that engaging in moral judgements about yourself relative to others is,in general a counterproductive exercise. It is not likely to lead you to spiritual growth, although I don’t think it is a terrible crime.

    But let’s put aside self judgement. What about moral judgment of others? Is it wrong to look at the world and conclude that on the whole Mother Theresa was morally superior to Stalin? Is all judgement wrong?

    To me this aversion to judgement is not something that benefits society. It is a disengagement from what God actually expects from us which to to pursue justice and decry immorality and it leads to the kind of unbridled moral relativism from which nothing good ever comes.. .

    Just a passing thought.

  4. Yehuda
    According to Christian theology all are sinners – anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is damned to hell forever and ever; Joseph Stalin together with his innocent victims

  5. hyechiel says:

    Dear Friends;
    While re-reading the above, a thought came to me; If Job was so righteous, why did he loose his sons?
    The book was written after our Persian exile (Satan gives this away) but it is a re-write of a great man’s tribulations, when he fell short on an important issue.
    Pharoe was preturbed as to what to do about the Hebrew slaves increase in population.
    Pharoe had three advisors, Balaam, one other I do not recall his name, and Job.
    Balaam suggested throwing the infints into the nile. The other advisor agreed. Job, according to our version, did not agree but kept his mouth shut.
    When G-d asked what to do with Job, Satan suggested taking his sons from him. G-d said do what you want with his possisions, but do not harm Job.
    Job bewailed his lost, but did not bame G-d, and he repented of his sins, which he recognizeds could have led to his lost.
    G-d recognized the hardship Job suffered, and his remaining loyal to G-d, dispate his lost. G-d rewarded him not for his righteoousness, nor his loyalty, but for taking responsibility for his behavior and for those he may have hurted, because of it.
    I do not mean to be criticle of the Gospel, here, but I have never read anything more meaningful of how I can not get, but live the life I desire.
    i have sinned, and repented. Now, I have as good a life as I could hope for, and I thank HaShem for all.
    Yes, it took a righteous Gentile to get my attention, and I can recognize the righteousness of many others in my generation, as well as many of my people who show His way.

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