My colleagues have explained some of the differences between the Buddhist and Hindu uses of this term, and how it both fits and does not fit within Judaism. So in a sense, it really depends on what you are asking.
If you mean by the term, ‘does what goes around come around’, probably I would say yes, that could be found in Judaism (as you do, so do others to you; tzedakah averts the severity of the decree; etc.).
If, however, you mean that ‘because I sinned in the past (or a past life) I have to pay back now (in this one)’, I would say no, that doesn’t seem to fit within normative Judaism. Similarly, if you mean, ‘do I keep coming back and living lives until I get it right’, then I would have to say probably not. Not that it is impossible for a Jew to hold this view – there is, after all, no dogma about what happens after we die – but it seems contrary to the ‘here and now’ aspect of Judaism, that we are both rewarded and punished in this life for our actions, as well as to the concept of a merciful and compassionate G-d.
Karma in Buddhism and Hinduism refers to two different things. The first is the impact on the world by the actions that we do in a spiritual sense. The second is the impact on our own essence, which then translates into whether and how we are reincarnated. Stated that way, these are really not Jewish concepts, though there are some parallels to some mystical ideas that speak about the cosmic consequences of the actions we engage in.
Reincarnation is also not a mainstream Jewish position. So again, except for a small part of the mystical universe, this would have no resonance with Jewish thought.
Answered by: Rabbi --- Not Active with JVO Suspended
Various sources in Jewish tradition express beliefs that have similarities to what most people associate with the term “karma”. Whether it be “Midah Kneged Midah”, a measure for a measure, or the idea in the Talmud, “As one does, so do they do to him”, or even the kabbalistic concept that what we do as humans in this world determines how God, in heaven, behaves towards us. Further, it is clear that Judaism believes in the significance of our actions, the power that they have and, therefore, the ramifications each choice carries.
Yet, Judaism contains within it ideas that are contrary to the core idea of karma. We simply do not believe that we are fatalistically tied to the consequences of an action committed in the past. Through our concept of teshuva, our radical belief in our ability to change ourselves and God’s judgment of us, we can break out of any cycle and change our “fate”. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and Judgment, we pronounce that “Repentance, Prayer and Acts of Righteousness can avert the severity of the decree”. As part of our liturgy we proclaim that even after we have committed certain actions we still can alter the spiritual consequences and begin anew.
The Jewish notion of fate is different in another important way as well. The concept of karma is often portrayed as hyper-individualized. In Jewish text, consequences to behavior are almost always expressed on a broader scale, in reference to the entire Jewish people or even the world. Even in our confessions on Yom Kippur in the private Amidah, we pronounce our sins in the plural, for what "we" have done. Our actions may not rebound directly on us. Rather, they contribute to the state of the community at large. The good actions of our fellows help mitigate the evil ones while the evil ones do the same vis a vis the good. Fate, judgment and consequences are determined in Judaism on a broader scale.
Finally, it is important to point out that like other Western religions, Judaism also expresses a belief in a merciful God. We believe, therefore, in the possibility that though we may not “deserve it”, we can be spared the just consequences of our actions because of Divine compassion. Thus, because of God’s mercy our actions do not always come back directly to us in kind. In that sense the Jewish concept of judgment and fate is a “kinder” one and one that allows each of us, during the span of this lifetime, to grow and change in significant ways.
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