The God of the Holocaust and pogroms. The God who commanded us to exterminate Amalek’s children because their remote ancestors attacked Jews in Sinai. The God who demanded thousands of slaughtered animals on his holidays. The God who commanded us to kill our fellow Jews over their private sexual habits. Is it not a decent human being’s obligation to rebel against such a God, to refuse him our “power of consent,” however futile the gesture?
For Christians, the answer is simple. Their religion is narrowed down to ethics, beautiful because of its fuzziness, like postimpressionism. Among its founder’s pronouncements, one may only disagree with the apocalyptic visions of righteous people herding their family members into eternal damnation. The possibility is rather remote. Rabbinical Judaism went much the same way, excising the harsh commandments from practical halacha.
Christians have yet another reason to submit to divine whims: salvation. That shameful doctrine has entered the sectarian Judaism of Essenes and Pharisees to the vehement opposition of the Temple priests, the Sadducees. The Torah does not know resurrection, only eternal sleep in Sheol. Prophets—disregarded completely by the priests as folk tales—hint at resurrection. But the doctrine of eternal punishment and paradise blossomed in the later literature for the very same reason it has entered Christianity: to attract the flock.
Bliss in the future world is a great reason to bear inconveniences, danger, and immoral religious demands in this world. Nothing could be further from Judaism. In a famous midrash, when Jews accepted the commandments in Sinai, God hanged a mountain above us and demanded that we accept them again—out of fear. Fear of God and love of God are the two driving forces in Judaism, repeatedly emphasized in the Torah as the reasons for observance. It is neither fear nor love if we observe the commandments with the expectation of rewards in this world or the next one. Cost-reward calculation is the way of businessmen and slaves, not religious people.
We must submit to divine will simply because that is the right thing to do. Thus a hammer submits to a carpenter, or soldiers to their commanders. The hammer may be broken in the process, the soldiers may risk death for no good reason, but they submit nevertheless. The idea is to become a team: a military company or a nation apart, in God’s service. The team’s goals thus take precedence over our own lives. Neither the commander nor God can reward us adequately. A medal, perhaps, or the status of “his people.” Our actions are not geared toward reward.
Does God exploit us unjustly by refusing adequate reward for troublesome and risky service? Definitely, yes. But think of it: you can ask your child to go buy milk without rewarding him, but you have to pay a stranger to do so. We are like children to God, his nation. Our relationship is too close to spoil it with barter.
There is no hope in true Judaism. We will not be better off by obeying God. Likely, we will be worse off. The Commandments are not problematic: even Christians accept that the commandments were operative for 1,500 years. But think: why do we observe them? A man who falls in love observes some very odd rituals to show the woman his feelings. In the best-case scenario, he will be rewarded with a nagging wife; realistically, there is no reward to expect. Love of God is the reason for observing the commandments, even though the observance ultimately leads to even more inconveniences.