Jun 12, 2008

Faith or something like it.


When I was growing up in the Christian atmosphere, everything was about faith. If you have faith in Jesus as the son of G-d and faith in the belief that he died for our sins, you'd be saved. All it took was faith. It wasn't necessarily belief or understanding, it was just that word -- faith.

From Merriam-Webster:

Etymology: Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust
Date: 13th century

1 a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one's promises (2): sincerity of intentions
2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust
3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs faith
Firstly, I'm shocked that the word only dates to the 13th century. Secondly, I went to my faithful Torah site and searched the translated text for the word "faith," and it only appeared twice, in Genesis 32:11 and Exodus 21:8. Is it true that the word faith appears nowhere else in Torah? I expanded the search and it appears in Haftorot and Brachot here and there, but not in abundance.

I guess I'm trying to decipher where -- or if -- the word "faith" fits into Judaism. The common construct within Christianity, I believe, is the "firm belief in something for which there is no proof ... complete trust." No questions asked, just pure, unwavering faith. When questions would be asked, it always came back to simply having faith. It was necessary, essential, it was the purpose. There was faith, and that was enough.

In Judaism, though, we question. We argue, debate, knock our heads against the wall trying to figure things out. We seek answers and at some point there is a certain sense of necessary believing, but I don't think it's faith in the manner that I understand what faith means.

Whenever people comment to me about something or say "you just gotta have faith," I always respond with "faith is a Christian construct." But then I started thinking about it.

So, readers, I ask you: What is "faith" in Judaism? Does it exist? What does it mean?

Please answer! If you want to shoot me an e-mail, feel free. You can find it in the profile info. Either way, I'd like to hear and share some answers because I'm perplexed.


Anonymous said...

As far as i am aware, there is no "blind" faith in Judaism; we are meant to KNOW within ourselves that God exists, etc etc.

We speak of Emunah Sheleima, perfect faith or belief - i.e. without the doubts thrown up by someone tell us "just have faith in it". Emunah is from Ne'eman, whihc means truth (I think).

Those are my first thoughts, anyhow!

Gorski said...

Can't speak to Judaism, and I don't have long at the moment anyways--but as a Catholic (and maybe just as a contrary old crank), this is a sticking point between me and typical Protestantism as well.

"Faith" to me has more to do with "faithfulness" than "believing in something for which there is no proof". Fides is, after all, closely related to fidelis--"faithful". (Catholics may recognize Adeste fidelis--"come all ye faithful"--and Marines may recognize semper fidelis, "always faithful"...)

Fides is about trust, yes--but isn't trust something we earn through our actions? You trust your friends in general; I think you trust me after quite a few years--but was I somebody you trusted the first time I talked to you, or was that something that developed over the years as you got to know me and know who I was and what I stood for? So trust and faithfulness are pretty closely related, too--trust is something that grows out of actions, not something that forms in a vacuum.

Ancient Christians weren't isolating themselves from others on the basis of an abstract God they couldn't prove. They were faithful to a God who did stuff for them, took care of them, led others to Himself through them. (There were plenty of miracle-workers among early Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, just as there were among ancient Jews...)

This concept of faith being irrational is a difficult one to eradicate, since it seems to be entrenched both among faithful and atheist.

But something I notice semiregularly as a Catholic is that we use some words for so long that the colloquial meaning has drifted away from what we meant when the first Catholic to use that word talked about it.

So: In my mind and in my practice, I am faithful to God not because I have a list of things I'll stay true to in the face of all evidence, but because my actions are faithful to him... much as I am faithful to my wife, and much as I have faith in her to do the same for me. And I think it's faithfulness that God seeks, rather than blind, irrational fervor.

It's all related in a way that I don't hear in the usual phrasing of a discussion on "faith in Jesus" being a source of salvation.

Curious to see what else people have to say on the subject, especially with regards to Jewish tradition, about which I know substantially less.

Peace and blessings to you, kiddo.


Chris said...

One of the assignments that my students had to write for Jewish Cultural History was an analysis of the Akedah narrative--the Binding of Isaac. It's astonishing how many of them--in particular how many of of my Jewish students--gave me homilies on the importance of "faith."

I always chided them for not attending carefully to the details of the text--the issue here is "fear," not faith per se. I remember wondering at the time if they were getting this "faith" reading from Jewish tradition, or from their own upbringings (within American Judaism) or from a more generalized American cultural heritage.

It reminds me of something Ben Sommer (my professor at Northwestern) used to say: all Americans are Protestants. Doesn't matter if they're Jewish, Catholic, whatever. If you grow up here, you think like a Protestant. And faith is the beginning and the end of Protestantism.

alto artist said...

What great food for thought, thank you! I replied on my blog, here:



Anonymous said...

To me, you're barking up the right tree here. If people really understood the most essential words in the religious lexicon - for example, love, faith, vocation, God - I think we'd find out how much people have in common spiritually. ("Spiritual" would be another term needing clarification.)

Instead, especially in the west, we identify the essence of religious life so firmly with our varying and irreconciliable belief systems that we don't notice major aspects of spiritual life that have the potential to unite us.

Zohara bat Sarah said...

When the change for me happened that I shifted from being just involved into the Jewish community to beginning to study Judaism for myself, I wrote this idea down: "faith = the belief that life will work out." That's what faith still is to me.

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