web analytics
April 21, 2015 / 2 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


You’re Jewish – But Do You Believe In God?

Front-Page-122013

According to the recently released Pew Research survey of U.S. Jewry that has garnered so much media attention, nearly one-fourth of American Jews don’t believe in God.

“Belief in God,” the survey dryly notes, “is much more common among the general public than among Jews.”

I can’t say I’m surprised.

Some time ago, during a break between prayers at a synagogue I was visiting, I asked a number of the congregants a two-part question: Do you believe in God? And if so, why?

It was obvious the question touched a nerve. Many congregants admitted at least some doubt about the existence of a supreme being, while others couldn’t provide clear-cut reasons for their belief in one.

This led me to wonder why these people, all highly educated, would devote a great deal of their time to praying and other religious observances and activities when they lacked the fundamental belief that was supposed to have brought them to a house of worship in the first place. Or if they did believe in God, why they couldn’t clearly articulate the basis of their belief.

I suspected the responses from this small sample of Jewish congregants were not entirely unrepresentative of the beliefs of other Jews. I had heard and read of Jews across the spectrum of denominations who identify as Jews – who have strong feelings about Judaism and Israel and who ardently uphold many Jewish practices – yet lack belief in God.

Of course, believing in God doesn’t make one Jewish. Many people identify themselves as Jews for a host of reasons other than believing in the God of Israel, and they are just as Jewish as the most pious Jew. Being Jewish is a birthright, not a belief right. According to halacha, anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. Period.

But religion is synonymous with the worship of God. All the holiday celebrations, rituals, practices, and customs are wonderful and joyous and positive and effective in promoting bonding between fellow Jews, but they are merely corollaries – cultural perks, if you will – to Judaism’s being a God-based religion.

The fundamental tenet of Judaism is belief in God – a firm, unwavering, unshakeable belief in God.

As was true for many of my fellow congregants the night I conducted my impromptu survey, my belief in God, if not innate (and there is a case to be made that we are hardwired to believe in a supreme being), was inculcated in me at an early age. It was continually nurtured and cultivated by my parents and my religious schoolteachers concomitant with the practice of Jewish customs in the home.

But with the empirical teachings of my secular education, that belief wasn’t just something I perfunctorily accepted. While some people lose faith as a result of the widespread human suffering throughout history, as well as having to endure the passing of loved ones and friends, on a strictly intellectual level I felt the need to find principles of logic outside the realm of religion that supported the existence of a supreme being.

For me, the quest for affirmation was to find ideas that in philosophical ways supported the existence of a Creator. While I was aware that concrete proof of God could not be found in the direct way some people seek, I knew I could be satisfied with rationales that strongly indicated the existence of a supreme being.

* * * * *

I came up with a litany of plausible explanations for the existence of God, none of them original but all of which have been proffered over the centuries.

About the Author: Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series "History's Lost and Found." He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “You’re Jewish – But Do You Believe In God?”

  1. I think you are oversimplifying it, Mr. Rachlin. An orthodox Jew must make three, not one, leaps of faith. The one you cover is the easiest to make: the belief in God. One must also believe that having created this wonderful universe, God still cares what is happening here. More difficult, but still easy. For why create a universe only to abandon it to its own devices. The third leap of faith is much more demanding: That the Torah we have is actually the word of God. That the commandments we have are given to us by God. I have met many people who accept the first two, but balk at the third leap of faith…

  2. Len Moskowitz says:

    Harvey Rachlin wrote:

    > According to halacha, anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. Period.

    This is not quite correct.

    A valid court of national stature can revoke Jewish identity (k'dushat yisrael). Two examples are the Kutim (Samaritans) and the "lost" ten tribes of Israel.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein
My Encounter with Rav Lichtenstein
Latest Indepth Stories
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein

What was supposed to have been a 15 minute interview, turned into an intense learning session and intellectual battle, the likes of which I had never experienced in my entire life.

Rabbi Lichtenstein (z"l).

Rav Lichtenstein did not learn Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Achronim, rather he learned with them

Israel Supreme Court at Night

How can NIF claim they don’t support BDS when they try to repeal laws forbidding boycotts of Israel?

Rabbi Lichtenstein (z"l).

“Rav Lichtenstein’s vision and inspiration served to guide the development of Tzohar.”

As Holocaust survivors decline rapidly attacks on the veracity of the Holocaust rapidly escalates

The Constitution created history’s most powerful legislature & inherent foreign policy power battle

The S-300 poses a major problem; Israel will have to get creative as to if, when & where it strikes

“The resentment towards us (Jews/Israelis) was really intense. They clearly hate Zionism & Zionists”

Egypt has been more effective against Gazan smuggling tunnels than Israel’s military operations

She had many names and was many things to many people, but to me she was just Babineni.

Is ISIS in Gaza? “No, but there are ISIS loyalists here..we pray to God they unite under ISIS’ flag”

Rabbi Portal was that great “inspirer,” changing people for the better, enriching the lives of all

Iran knows Obama, Putin, and the Europeans don’t have a Red Line beyond which they will go to war

There is no way to explain the Holocaust. I know survivors who are not on speaking terms with G-d. I know many who are the opposite. I have no right to go there…

When a whole side of your family perishes, friends become the extended family you do not have.

“We stand with Israel because of its values and its greatness and because its such a wonderful ally”

More Articles from Harvey Rachlin

My Jewish star was battered, indeed it was a wreck
But I picked it up anyway and put it around my neck
To know that hatred mangled it was surely very painful
But just the same to me it is still very beautiful.

Our current feature consists of two parts: (1) Israel and Jewish politics and (2) Jewish organizations.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives.

Everything I imbibe is with my inimitable fervor for being Jewish.

For our purposes, we will focus on Jewish-related subjects and call it “What’s Your Jewish Perspective?”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/youre-jewish-but-do-you-believe-in-god/2013/12/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: