Differences between Islam and Judaism
The first point I would like to make here is that when we talk about Islam we may mean different things. First there is the essence meaning of Islam: submission to the will of God. This was the religion of Adam, of Noah, and all the Jewish prophets. Then another meaning of Islam is the historical, academically accepted and taught Islam, based on the teachings of Muhammad. Yet another distinct meaning people have when they talk about Islam is defined as what the Muslims of today understand as being Islam. These meanings of course overlap to a large extent.
This is important to understand to deal with the basic point of difference between Islam and Judaism. In general terms what has become established as Judaism is understood to be both a deviation away from the essential teachings of Islam which were taught by all the prophets, and something which is reformed, abrogated and replaced by Islam, as taught by the last prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
What is the deviation of Judaism?
The essential deviation of Judaism was to elevate the material success of the Jewish race to being the core religious value, overriding all other concerns. This manifests itself in a number of key differences to Islam. But before going into these differences, it is necessary to explain how the Quran refers to the Jews, so as to see what their status is in Islam. The Jews were chosen by Allah for a special favor and a special responsibility:
O Children of Israel! call to mind the (special) favor which I bestowed upon you, and fulfil your covenant with Me as I fulfill My Covenant with you, and fear none but Me.
Chapter 2 Verse 40
God did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of ‘Imran above all people,-
Offspring, one of the other: And God heareth and knoweth all things.
Chapter 3 Verses 33-34
And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: “I will make thee an imam (religious leader) to the Nations.” He pleaded: “And also (imams) from my offspring!” He answered: “But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers.”
Chapter 2 Verse 124
We see from these quotes out of the Quran that Allah specifically promised Abraham to make religious leaders for the nations of the world out of his offspring. This was manifested in the numerous prophets given to Abraham’s children, in particular to the “children of Israel” – “Israel” was one of the grandsons of Abraham.
This was the nature of the covenant between Allah and the children of Israel. In particular this imposes the responsibility to teach other nations the religion of submission to the will of God – Islam. Throughout the history of the Jews, there were periods of virtue and periods where the Jews backtracked and became polytheists. When they fell into sins Allah punished them, but Allah also sent them new prophets to call them back to the right path. Nevertheless, most of the Jewish people rejected the prophets sent to them including Jesus (peace be upon them all).
…They were covered with humiliation and misery; they drew on themselves the wrath of God. This because they went on rejecting the Signs of God and slaying His Messengers without just cause. This because they rebelled and went on transgressing.
Chapter 2 Verse 61
Through various means, what was a clear teaching of a duty towards mankind became neglected and reversed. It reached the point where the institutions of Judaism taught that the non-Jews were there, simply to be used by the Jews. The Jews were considered the people chosen by Allah and everyone else therefore had to serve them. They even taught that Allah was restricted in such a way that he must serve the Jewish race. Through this the Jewish race placed its material success as the defining moral good which even Allah was subject to. This is strongly refuted in the Quran:
The Jews say: “God’s hand is tied up.” Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for the (blasphemy) they utter. Nay, both His hands are widely outstretched: He giveth and spendeth (of His bounty) as He pleaseth. But the revelation that cometh to thee from God increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. …
Chapter 5 Verse 64
Islamic monotheism refutes this god-like position of the Jewish race and by making Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) a prophet, Allah showed that the promise of spiritual leadership was with Abraham, not the Jewish race as such. This is because Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a descendant of Abraham through his firstborn son Ishmael, and because Abraham was not a Jew. (The very word “Judaism” – and “Jewish” – associates the religion with the people from Judea and that is a long time after Abraham)
Islam, in contrast, promotes and prescribes universal morality, applicable to and achievable by all human beings. No person is better than another in Allah’s sight except through their seeking to obey Allah:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
Chapter 49 Verse 13
This is the Islamic framework for understanding Judaism as well as for explaining the essential difference between Islam and Judaism. Other differences are often manifestations of this core difference.
A particular well known example of the way their teachings favored the Jewish race is in their law about usury (interest). This forbids Jews from lending money to one another with usury but allowed them to lend to non-Jews (Goyim) based on interest. This led to the European stereotype of Shylock the despised Jewish money lender – found in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”.
It is also important to note the claim some Jews make for exclusively lenient treatment in the next life or for exclusive “salvation”. These are refuted in the Quran:
And they say: “The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days.” Say: “Have ye taken a promise from God, for He never breaks His promise? or is it that ye say of God what ye do not know?”
Chapter 2 Verse 80
And they say: “None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” Those are their (vain) desires. Say: “Produce your proof if ye are truthful.”
Nay,-whoever submits His whole self to God and is a doer of good,- He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Chapter 2 Verses 111-112
Even with these differences Islam recognizes that some Jews will be practicing and indeed faithful:
Among the People of the Book are some who, if entrusted with a hoard of gold, will (readily) pay it back; others, who, if entrusted with a single silver coin, will not repay it unless thou constantly stoodest demanding, because, they say, “there is no call on us (to keep faith) with these ignorant (Pagans).” but they tell a lie against God, and (well) they know it.
Chapter 3 Verse 75
Aside from this race issue and the problems it brings, there are many similarities in the practices and teachings of Islam and Judaism: regular prayers, fasting, circumcision, charity, clear monotheism, and a broad religious law covering practically all aspects of life. However, the Islamic law is easier in a number of areas, such as, for example, in diet restrictions and the Sabbath. These reflect the abrogation of Judaic law with Islamic law which, as I explained earlier on is the second defining aspect of the differences between Islam and Judaism.
It is never the wish of those without Faith among the People of the Book, nor of the Pagans, that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But God will choose for His special Mercy whom He will – for God is Lord of grace abounding.
None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that God Hath power over all things?
Chapter 2 ,Verses 105-106
Going into detail about how Islamic law differs from Judaic law is a major task beyond what I can explain here. It is a subject that could occupy many years of study. I can only give fairly general answers here which I hope you nevertheless find useful.