This is a usefully informative theological lesson for Christians from a rabbi.
Why Don’t Jews Believe in Original Sin? This is a delicate question, as it exposes one of the fundamental differences between the Christian outlook and the Jewish one…. So what, in fact, do Jews believe?
Consider the terms tov and ra, conventionally translated, as I wrote before, as “good” and “evil.” At every stage of the world’s creation, G-d pronounced it tov before proceeding to the next stage. On the creation of mankind, He pronounced it tov me’od (“very good”), and there is no indication thereafter that He changed his mind.
Ra does not actually mean “evil” in the English sense of the word. Some glimmering of its actual meaning can be ascertained from some of the other ways that the root is used. For instance, in Psalms II, 9 King David beseeches G-d to deal with his enemies: Tero‘em beshevet barzel (“You should smash them with an iron rod”), or in Isaiah XXIV, 19 the prophet begins his description of an earthquake: Ra’o hithro‘a‘a ha’aretz (“the Earth is completely shaken”). From these, we can see that it means something like “unstable, broken, dysfunctional” and therefore “bad.”
Human beings come into this world innocent of anything, but possessed of a capacity for good (commonly termed the yetzer hatov) as well as a destructive capacity, commonly termed the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara presents all the physical urges, the needs and wants, of the physical body which, like everything else in the physical realm, is subject to entropy — that is, it wears out and falls apart. But he is also provided with a soul, whose highest purpose is to control those urges and channel them into positive actions.
To this end, children are provided with parents and other mentors, whose job it is to teach them right from wrong and self-control, so that his soul is capable of taking charge and leading a proper, sanctified life. Until that moment when he is capable of taking over, any “sins” that the child commits are the responsibility of the parent.
So when does a Jewish individual begin to sin? At the age of bar or bath mitzva. These terms mean “son or daughter of the commandments” because on reaching that age, they become subject to the 613 commandments in the Torah, and their parents are no longer responsible for their actions. This landmark occurs when a boy is 13 years old and a girl is 12. One of the most emotional moments of the bar mitzva ceremony comes when the boy’s father pronounces the blessing, baruch sheptarani me‘onsho shel ze (“Blessed is He who has exempted me from this one’s punishment”).
What is the Jewish concept of the satan? Well, we agree with the Christians that he is a mal’ach, conventionally translated “angel,” but there’s nothing “fallen” about him. He works for the same Divine Boss as all the other mal’achim. Think of the satan (the word means “adversary”) as the proctor of an exam. The proctor isn’t actively rooting for you to fail the test; to the contrary, he wants you to pass. But he administers a tough test, to be certain that it tests all your capabilities and that you’ve mastered the material, i.e. the life lessons available from one’s parents and other mentors. If you manage to pass the test, no one is happier than the satan.
Now, my dear Christian reader, combine this doctrine of a very good, unfallen world that has been harmed by the destructive capacity of Man with the mandate of healing the world under the guidance of the angelic proctor with the ultimate aim of bringing it together, and perhaps you will begin to understand what Jesus was talking about and why the concept of Judeo-Christianity is not merely a contradiction in terms, but offensive to Jews and Christians alike.