About God in Judaism
Must a Jew believe in God? It is certainly the case that God has always been central to normative Judaism. The medieval thinker Maimonides begins his legal masterpiece Mishneh Torah with the assertion that belief in God is the fundamental of all fundamentals. Jews are commanded to believe in God, and this is the commandment upon which all of Judaism depends. On the other hand, there are traditional sources—albeit few and far between—that minimize the role of God in Judaism. A rabbinic text, Pesikta D’Rav Kehane, interprets God’s lament in the book of Jeremiah that the Jews “have forsaken me and not kept my Torah,” to mean: if only they had forsaken me and kept my Torah. This source supports the claim that Judaism demands action—fulfilling the commandments of the Torah—but not belief (even this text, however, does not endorse atheism). That being said, there are, and always have been, Jewish atheists. Today there are 10,000 American Jews and 32 synagogues affiliated with Secular Humanistic Judaism, a non-theistic Jewish movement founded in 1963 by Sherwin Wine. Nonetheless, the major Jewish denominations are uncomfortable with the idea of a Judaism without God.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.