Before we can start this discussion, we should make sure we all know what the term “Original Sin” means.
If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.
There are many different definitions, and I found that Wikipedia did the best job. Here is what they say:
Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is a Christian belief in a state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Theologians have characterized this condition in many ways, seeing it as ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon first alluded to the concept of original sin in the 2nd century in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine (354-430) also shaped and developed the doctrine, seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21) and 1 Corinthians (15:21-22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalms 51:5.
That’s a mouthful, or for those watching the video, an eyeful, but it is pretty good, overall, in identifying what we all knew already, which is that “Original Sin” is a Christian doctrine.
But wait a minute! Are you saying that Jews do not believe in original sin? How can that be, if David in Psalm 51 says we are all shaped in iniquity, and that his mother conceived him in sin?
In fact, within Judaism – Talmudic Judaism, that is – there is a condition called the Yetzer Hara, which is an evil inclination and we are all born with it. It drives us to selfishness and material desires, which will (unchecked) lead us to do evil. The Yetzer Hatov, the good inclination, comes to us when we are about 13 years of age and it controls the Yetzer Hara. In Freudian language, the Yetzer Hara is like the Id, and the Yetzer Hatov is like the Ego.
The main difference between the Jewish view and the Christian view is that Judaism says we are born with the potential to become a sinner, and Christianity says we are born sinners, already, because of the “fall”.
Well, what does God say?
It seems that God agrees that the sins which our parents perform will also fall on our children because in Exodus 20:5 God says this:
You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
So it appears, at first glance, that God is going to make the children suffer for the sins of their parents. This fits in with the Christian idea of original sin, but not really with the Jewish Yetzer Hara, so did the Rabbis get it wrong?
But (again) wait a minute! Look at what God says in Ezekiel 18:1-4:
The Lord’s word came to me: What do you mean by this proverb of yours about the land of Israel: “When parents eat unripe grapes, the children’s teeth suffer”? As surely as I live, says the Lord God, no longer will you use this proverb in Israel! All lives are mine; the life of the parent and the life of the child belong to me. Only the one who sins will die.
So the Rabbis were right when they said we are born with the desire to sin, but not already in sin. But now what happens to original sin? I mean, when God told this to Ezekiel, that was sometime between 590 and 571 BCE. That was something like 800 years before Augustine said we all are born sinners because of the sin of Adam and Eve.
And what about what God says in the Second Commandment?
The main conflict seems to be between what God tells Moses, i.e. that he will cause the children to suffer the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation, and what God tells Ezekiel, which is that the children won’t suffer for the parent’s sins.
What happened? Did God change his mind?
No, God didn’t change his mind; the conflict isn’t with God, it is within our understanding of what God meant when he gave the second commandment to Moses.
Let’s look closer at what God said about the children suffering: he said that the iniquity (sin) of the fathers will be visited on the children “…of them that hate me.” In other words, if the children follow the parent’s rejection of God, worshipping other gods and disobeying the Torah, then God will visit on them the same punishment that he visited on their parents. The rest of that verse states that God will be merciful to the thousandth generation of them that love him. The real meaning is that those who hate God and teach their children to do so will cause their children to suffer the same punishment they do for 3-4 generations, but those that worship God correctly and teach their children to do so will be rewarded for a thousand generations.
Now we can see that these two verses (Exodus and Ezekiel), which seem to contradict each other, are actually saying the same thing. If you do the bad things your parents did, you will get the same punishment they did, but if you follow righteousness, whether or not your parents were righteous won’t matter because each person will be held accountable only for what they do, themselves.
I think the Rabbis got it right in the Talmud when they say we are all born with the Yetzer Hara, which the Bible calls “iniquity”, which can overcome with the Yetzer Hatov.
As for the Christian belief in original sin, well…God says that doesn’t exist, and if God says it ain’t so, then it ain’t so.
If you have been brought up believing that you are born a sinner and that your infant child has to be baptized because it is already under sin, don’t worry about it. We are all born with the inclination to sin, but we are not born sinners, already. Really, do you think God would send an infant to eternal hell and torture?
I don’t think so.
What we are born with is the desire to sin, but we are not born as a sinner, already. We are not accountable for ourselves until we are old enough to know good from evil, and in both Judaism and Christianity that begins at about 6 years old, when parents (hopefully) start to send their kids to a religious school.
Now that you know the facts about original sin, make sure that you do what is right in God’s eyes, and even more important than that, make sure you teach your children to do what is right, as well.
Children are not held accountable for what their parents do, but if you do not teach your children the right way to live and worship, then you are setting them up to be punished by God.
Thank you for being here; please share these messages with others and subscribe. I always welcome your comments.
Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!