Lutheranism shares many things with Judaism. Both religions trace lineage to Abraham, both believe in the holiness of the Hebrew Bible and both believe there is only one God. Despite this, the shared 500-year history of the two faiths, especially in Germany, has been tumultuous. The differences between the two religions are usually focused around Jesus of Nazareth.
Overview of Lutheranism
Lutheranism, founded by Martin Luther, is a sect of Christianity that broke away from Catholicism during the 16th-century Reformation. Lutheranism holds many standard Christian beliefs, such as the divinity of Jesus; Jesus' death and resurrection as atonement for the sins of mankind; and the existence of the Trinity. In addition, Lutherans use the "three alones" to differentiate themselves from Catholics: grace alone, faith alone and Scripture alone. The means that people are saved through God's undeserved grace alone; this grace is obtained by faith alone, apart from works; and Scripture is the only authority in determining Christian doctrine.
Overview of Judaism
Judaism traces its lineage back to Abraham, 4,000 years ago, and it is the parent religion of Christianity and Islam. Jews believe in the one true God -- the God who led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and to the Promised Land in modern-day Israel and Palestine. Jewish belief is centered around a covenant with God, and the Jews' part of that covenant is to keep God's laws and seek holiness in every aspect of their lives. Jewish law includes practices such as circumcision, dietary laws such as refraining from pork and the observance of holy holidays such as Yom Kippur.
The greatest doctrinal difference between the two religions is that Judaism, unlike Lutheranism, does not believe in the divinity of Jesus. For Lutherans, Jesus is the Savior of the world. For Jews, he was a reform-minded Pharisee from 2,000 years ago. Lutheranism emphasizes right belief and right doctrine, teaching that only faith in Jesus Christ can save people. Judaism, on the other hand, emphasizes correct action. Judaism is also intrinsically linked with the Hebrew ethnic identity, while Lutheranism is not centered around any specific ethnic group. Lutherans seek converts wherever they can be found, but Jews do not proselytize.
Martin Luther and the Jews
The relationship between Lutherans and Jews was strained from the beginning. Martin Luther's venom was usually directed at the Catholic pope, but he also railed against Judaism late in his career. The most glaring example was a pamphlet titled "On the Jews and Their Lies," which is full of anti-Jewish insults and includes a call to persecute the Jewish community. For Luther, the differences between his religion and Judaism were so stark that he felt the Jews were leading people toward damnation, and he aimed to stop it at any cost. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, has officially rejected all of Martin Luther's anti-Semitic writings.
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