Emunah: Biblical Faith

In the Torah, faith in God means trust, not belief in particular propositions.

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If one disobeys a command and is therefore accused of lack of emunah, it makes much more sense to say that one is being accused of lack of trust in the commander than of quibbling over the accuracy of statements made by or about the commander.

Theology and the Torah

My claim here is that the Torah teaches belief in God, as opposed to beliefs about God. That is not to say that no specific beliefs are implied or even explicitly taught in the Torah. The Torah obviously assumes God's existence, although it nowhere states simply that God exists, or according to most interpreters, commands belief that God exists. The Torah also clearly teaches that God is one: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6: 4)…

If, then, there are specific beliefs taught in the Torah, why can we not say that the emunah which the Torah both demands of a Jew and seeks to inculcate, is belief that certain statements are true, as opposed to trust in God, trust which finds its expression in certain forms of behavior?

The answer to this question has to do with the Torah's understanding of itself and its understanding of the nature of human beings. To state part of the answer in summary fashion: the Torah teaches, occasionally explicitly, more often implicitly, certain beliefs about God, the universe, and human beings; notwithstanding this, the Torah has no systematic theology.

Judaism emerged through a struggle with idolatry, demanding loyalty to the one God, creator of the universe. This loyalty was to find expression in certain ways, pre‑eminently through obedience to God's will as expressed in the Torah.

So long as one expressed that essential loyalty in speech and (especially) in action, little attempt was made to enquire closely into the doctrines one affirmed; indeed, no attempt was even made to establish exactly what doctrines one ought to affirm. Furthermore, Judaism developed as a religion intimately bound up with a distinct and often beleaguered community.

Loyalty to the community was a further way in which loyalty to God and God's revelation was expressed. Loyalty to God, Torah, and Israel, therefore, is the hallmark of the Jew: loyal behavior, not systematic theology, is what is expected and demanded.

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Dr. Menachem Kellner is Sir Isaac and Lady Edith Wolfson Professor of Jewish Religious Thought at the University of Haifa.