In her article “Is Judaism A Religion Or A Culture?" (Sept. 2), Leora Batnitzky discusses what defines Judaism.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch emphasized a number of times in his writings that Judaism is not a religion.
In his commentary on Shemos [Exodus] 6:7 — “I will take you to Myself as a people and I will be a God to you; you will come to know that I am Hashem, your God, Who brings you out from under the burdens of Egypt” — Rav Hirsch wrote:
Li l’am. [“To Me as a people.”] These two short words are the first statement of Israel’s destiny. They express the quality that makes Judaism so unique. It is entirely inappropriate to refer to Judaism as “the Jewish religion”; it is thoughtless to define Judaism as a religion, to classify it with the other religions and then to be amazed that this “religion” includes so many elements that transcend the conventional bounds of “religion.”
Li l’am: Israel is to be a people unto God. This statement alone already makes it clear that Judaism, as established by God, is not a religion at all. True, Judaism also embraces elements generally characterized as “religion,” but the term “Judaism” is completely different and infinitely broader. In “religion,” God has only temples, churches, priestly orders, congregations, etc. Nations, peoples, are subject only to kings and governments; they are founded on the concept of statehood, not on religion and God.
In Judaism, however, God founded not a church, but a nation; a whole national life is to be fashioned by Him. Israel will be His people, not just a congregation of believers.