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What Jews Know About Salvation: Building on Our Salvations for a Happier Life and Better World

Salvation describes any personal, moral, spiritual or physical triumph “whether it changes our lives or changes the way we regard life.”

Gertel, the spiritual leader of Congregation Rodfei Zedek on Chicago’s south side, notes that both Christians and Jews have questioned whether Jews believe in salvation. The author contends that “God’s acts of redemption, rescue, and guidance” are woven throughout the Hebrew Bible and the experiences of Jews.
Gertel broadens the definition of salvation beyond what he calls the traditional Christian view of salvation from sin and the reward of an afterlife. He cites biblical examples that stress salvation in the here and now, not just the hereafter.
He notes that the Hebrew word translated “salvation” holds many meanings simultaneously.
Salvation describes any personal, moral, spiritual or physical triumph “whether it changes our lives or changes the way we regard life.” In such moments, we experience God’s gift and it leaves us forever changed. We respond with gratitude to God and a desire to help others.
After defining salvation, Gertel then identifies several types of salvation experiences from the Old Testament. He describes how God saves us from fear, from mistakes and from depression. He cites how we receive salvation through community (illustrated poignantly by the story of Jewish poet Emma Lazarus); through persistent prayer; and through comfort (with some thoughtful comment about using guilt to spur us on to better actions).
He also offers some powerful reflections about salvation through forgiveness, and his chapter on salvation through the “right time” gives a fresh look at the Ecclesiastes passage about times and seasons. The search for freedom by refugees around the world in the 1980s and 1990s led to other experiences of salvation embodied in the word “sanctuary.”
He concludes his book by discussing three relevant issues: peacemaking and the conflict in the Middle East; countering the violence running rampant among youth; and developing an understanding of salvation that includes the environment.
For Christians, Gertel’s book opens up new meaning from the Old Testament as he relates the rich tradition of Hebrew festivals and practices. He also notes how the multiple experiences of Jewish suffering, from the Exodus to the Exile to the Holocaust, renew the Jewish understanding of salvation. Israel continues to be the people who “strive with God,” experience God’s salvation, and bear witness to the world of God’s presence and care.
In the end, Gertel reminds us that the biblical view of salvation is always holistic, having to do with the body, mind and soul, and with the things of earth as well as the things of heaven. Christians would do well to remember that Jesus embodied this tradition, and continues in multiple ways to be “a God of deliverances” (Ps 68:20).
Michael Tutterow is senior pastor of Winter Park Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C.
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