Do you have to be Jewish to be saved?
The simple answer is: No, absolutely not!
The Israelite religion has never believed or taught that God expects everyone to become Israelites; it did not ever envisage that the whole earth would become Yahwists. Nor did it teach that it was necessary for everyone to believe in the Israelite religion in order for God to love or care for them, or that God only ‘saves’ Israelites and not Gentiles. This religious exclusivism is alien to the Israelite mindset.
It taught that Gentile religions existed for Gentiles to follow, if that was their wish. However, it did see YHVH as the God of all the nations, and that one day the nations would turn to Zion to hear and obey God's teaching.
Basically, all peoples of the earth will eventually become citizens of God's kingdom on earth. That means they will follow the ways of justice, compassion, peace, respect, and moral decency. This is what YHVH hopes for the whole earth.
The mission of YHVH's followers is to be a light to the nations. This light is to illumine and point to God, not us. When members of any religion - Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist - turn from the ways of hatred and intolerance towards the ways of peace and justice, then they turn towards the ways of God's kingdom.
YHVH allows other religions to exist.
In Deut 4:19, it says:
“And when you look up to the sky and see the Sun, the Moon and the stars – all the heavenly array – do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping things that YHVH your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.”
From this has come the traditional Jewish belief that God allows Gentiles their own religions. Righteous Gentiles – the ones that live a good and moral life – are entitled to as much blessing from God as a good and moral Jew.
Now, it is true that Jews have always believed – because of what it says in the Torah & the Prophets – that worshipping idols is pointless. They have no life in them, they cannot see or speak or hear. Pagan gods are false gods, they are not real. Those who have entered the Covenant and follow YHVH’s teachings, are forbidden to worship these other gods.
However, God does not anywhere forbid Gentiles from having their own religions, or from following other gods. Nowhere does God expect every human being on earth to become a Jew. The fact that there are millions of people who follow pagan gods does no harm whatsoever to YHVH.
However, what God does expect, is that every human being will come to live a morally decent way of life, which the Rabbanites have codified into the Seven Laws of Noah. A Gentile who lives a good, compassionate and loving way of life is open to receive blessings from YHVH, even though that Gentile does not worship or acknowledge YHVH in any way.
Resisting the temptation to think like other religions
I think we have to resist the temptation to think like Islam and Paul’s Christianity, which cannot bear to think of anyone not belonging to their religion – it distresses and upsets them greatly. However, YHVH is so great, and His love is so bountiful and giving, that He is able to love and bless even those who do not accept Him. God is not a man that he should be upset over this, even though there might be some human beings who are upset on God’s behalf.
It is difficult for a Muslim to envision that a non-Muslim can be saved unless he/she becomes a Muslim; it is difficult for a fundamentalist Christian to envision that a non-Christian can be saved unless he/she becomes a born-again Christian. We must resist the temptation to be like other nations and think like this. We are called to walk an entirely different path, to engage the world differently.
What YHVH desires of other nations and other religions, is to live a decent and good life, to be just and peaceful, and to respect others. In effect, there will be two types of Gentile: the Gentile who lives a selfish and immoral life (who is no different from the Jew who lives a selfish and immoral life; one’s birthright as a child of Abraham doesn’t automatically make a person good); and the righteous Gentile, who adheres to the Code of Righteousness (see below).
The measure of a righteous non-Israelite society – the laws of the righteous Gentile
Gentiles – non-Yahwists - are expected to follow a certain minimum acceptable standard of moral behaviour to find favour in God’s eyes. Modern Rabbanites now have a list of 7 laws which they say are incumbent on all humanity. However, the number and nature of the rules included in this group have differed over the ages, with various criteria used at different times to help sages decide what constitutes a just and righteous non-Israelite society. One group had up to thirty different commandments. Within the Talmidi tradition, there are 10 laws which make up the Code of Righteousness, symbolically equal in number to the 10 edicts given to Israel at Sinai.
A decent Gentile society that is pleasing to YHVH should have respect:
1. for God, with a prohibition against using God’s name for evil purposes
2. for the rule of an ethical morality
3. for a process of righteous justice, with courts of justice and a just code of laws
4. for life, with a prohibition against committing murder
5. for the exclusivity of marriage, with a prohibition against committing adultery
6. for proper sexual conduct, with a prohibition against unions within certain degrees of kindred, and gross sexual immorality
7. for the property of the individual, with a prohibition against committing acts of theft
8. for those less fortunate in society, with laws that protect the poor
9. for God’s creation, with laws on the wise stewardship of Nature (Gen 1:26)
10. for God’s creatures, with laws against animal cruelty including the prohibition against eating flesh cut from a living animal (Gen 9:4)
As for the individual – the righteous Gentile – he/she should:
1. not use God’s name for evil purposes
2. follow a decent and moral way of life
3. act fairly and deal justly in his/her daily life
4. not commit murder
5. be faithful in marriage, and not commit adultery
6. not marry within certain degrees of kindred, or engage in pederasty, bestiality or commit rape.
7. not rob
8. have concern for the poor
9. respect God’s creation
10. respect God’s creatures
A righteous Gentile can be a member of any religion, or of none. Such an individual is loved and cared for by YHVH as much as any native-born Israelite, because YHVH is God of all nations, who are all His children too.