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This is a two part question:

  1. Where in the Torah is there an explicit command to believe in God? (e.g. You must believe in God). Yes, I know about the first of the ten commandments and Rambam's issue of the impossibility to command authority without already having authority. The question is rhetorically meant to imply that belief in the metaphysical reality of G-d is seemingly not assumed by the text to be necessary due to the lack of explicitly commanding it.

  2. If our forefathers didn't have blind faith why are we expected to? (i.e. What character in the Chumash demonstrated blind faith without prior prophetic communication or experiencing a miracle?). Midrashic interpretations are excluded. The source must obviously derive from a plain reading of the text.

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  • Can I ask why you are resolving to prove it just from plain reading of Tanach? The Tanach leaves out a lot of details, and there are plenty of examples of our ancestors who believed in Hashem, but we don't know how they came about that belief because it doesn't say
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 25, 2023 at 14:47
  • As for your first point, generally the machlokes is about whether one should believe or know that Hashem exist, there's no third option that the first commandment means something else?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 25, 2023 at 14:51
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    It is the RambaN who poses that paradox, not the RambaM. Anyway, our forefathers didn't need blind faith because they overtly experienced G-d in their lives. So to me the question is about when do.I see Him in mine. There is also a Reliabilism argument; the fact that sources you do / could rely on for other matters said there is. G-d. Just saying, "blind faith" isn't the only other option out there. Dec 26, 2023 at 11:07
  • @Sam didn't Avraham Avinu fits within number two? E.g. when he was younger and acknowledged G-d?
    – Shmuel
    Dec 26, 2023 at 12:05

4 Answers 4

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As the question notes, the Ramban says that the first mitzvah of the Aseres haDiberos cannot be to believe in G-d because the whole concept of "mitzvah - commandment" pre-supposes the existence of a Commander.

There are many Rishonim who do not see this as a problem. One could have a little belief and be commanded to learn enough to know, for example. Or one could just not see it as a problem to begin with - the non-believer is commanded whether or not he accepts that there is a G-d who did command him. Just as not knowing your country has a legislature doesn't stop them from passing laws that effect you.

So, there are two possibilities: either belief in G-d is indeed one of the 613 commandments, or most commandments - if not - require such belief as a precondition.

So yes, such belief is required, whether one can call it a mitzvah or whether one likes the Ramban's argument not to.

There are also the many specific mitzvos to commemorate Yetzias Mitzrayim - the Exodus, which would require believing in a G-d Who took us out of Egypt. As well as Shabbos, that the world was created (and, according to the Devarim version of the Aseres haDiberos, Shabbos is about Yetzias Mitzrayim too).

As for "blind faith", we aren't commanded to have "blind faith". Yes, the generation that lived through the Exodus and national revelation a Sinai had far more evidence to work with. Anyone who lived during the era of miracles would have more reason to believe than we do. (On the other hand, they likely only experienced miracles because they were of the sort that already believed just as well akready.)

But there is plenty of evidence around today too. That feeling one gets when totally immersed in a Shabbos that is working. How does a Shabbos of 39 Melakhos work so much better than a vague and intuitive day of rest anyway? Or the elegence of a good halachic discussion one it all finally clicks. Judaism is beautiful like an elegant math proof. And like that proof, the beauty is an assessment of something actually inherent in the ideas and how they interact and feel when we try living them.

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The title question: "Can a Jew not believe in God?" Yes. There are no pre-requisites to being a Jew at all - once a person is Jewish, nothing breaks that.

The sub questions:

  1. Is it permitted for a Jew to not believe in God? No. There are no formulations of the mitzvot that do not include a mitzva to either believe or know that there is a God, and the latter requires the former anyway.

  2. Is it understandable that without proof of God's existence, this is a very hard mitzva? Yes, especially for some (lots of) people nowadays.

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  • I have summed up your question (2) as it seems to be its own question, that might be a dupe of the link I sent. The summary I've taken is that it is expected to be much harder to fulfil this mitzva for many people nowadays, you are right. Either way, it is still a mitzva (1) that we should work on to the best of our ability, in any way that will help. It doesn't help anyone or anything to see if we can prove that it is not still a mitzva, but better to accept that it is, and that it is hard and Hashem understands, and is patient and we will not give up on it completely
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 26, 2023 at 12:17
  • Seems your first answer is addressing whether an atheist can be a Jew, which is not quite the title question.
    – shmosel
    Dec 28, 2023 at 13:07
  • @shmosel it can be read that way (well, "can a Jew be atheist and still remain Jewish" to be precise), so I felt it worth answering.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 28, 2023 at 13:12
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  1. If you already believe the Torah then it is pretty clear from the first pasuk of the Torah that Hashem exists. Is there any need to have an explicit mitzva? That said, perhaps Devarim 6:4 could be interpreted as a mitzva.
  2. I don't think we are expected to have blind faith. We're supposed to ask questions and having doubts is normal. If Hashem revealed himself clearly then we wouldn't have proper free will. It doesn't make much sense to insist on derivations from a plain meaning of the text as Judaism doesn't work that way. The plain reading of the written Torah is only part of the picture - the rest is the Oral Law. Also there is no reason that the written Torah should have to include something like that.
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  • I'm only going to focus on one of many issues I have with your proposed solution. As I stipulated in the 2nd question, G-d obviously revealed himself without a doubt to many of the major protagonist in the Torah, and yet there is no conflict with their freewill. Its obviously not a concern for the Torah, nor is that argument seriously considered philosophically consequential. Therefore, why cant he also reveal himself to us? I'm obviously no better than any of the forefathers, yet I am handicapped by a lack of divine revelation and they are not? How does that make sense?
    – Sam
    Dec 26, 2023 at 7:19
  • @Sam I would say that taking Avraham as an example, he achieved a very high level of faith before Hashem revealed Himself to him, and by that point, Avraham had already chosen to follow Hashem anyway. However, I'm basing that on 1) oral tradition and 2) the principle that we have free will, and for both I'm putting a certain amount of my own interpretation into it, so I'm not sure this is something you would be happy to accept based on the way you phrased your question. I'm not sure that there is an answer that can be proven in the terms that you want though. Dec 26, 2023 at 11:03
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I'm not sure I understand the premise the first question is based on but the premise the second question is based on does not seem correct.

Nobody in Chumash started believing in God due to experiencing a prior prophetic communication or experiencing a miracle. Even without the background given by Chazal, a simple reading of the story of Noah or Abraham would not lead to the conclusion that they had been agnostics who God randomly decided to speak to. Only afterward did they became believers. To ask you the same question you are asking "where do you see evidence in the simple text of anyone who had not been a believer before becoming one as a result of a prophetic communication or experiencing a miracle" The only possible place I can think of where that happened was the sailors in the story of Yonah and the supporters of Baal by Eliyohu on Har Hakarmel.

Another assumption the second question is based on that doesn't seem correct is that if people did believe without prophetic communication or experiencing a miracle then they must have been doing so as a result of blind faith. Even without Midrash the possibility of them believing as a result of independent investigation would still exist.

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  • I appreciate your comment, but I think you are making a faulty assumption. I am not arguing when the revelation occurs. It may occur later in the character's life. The point is that they have confirmation of their faith by direct communication of miraculous intervention. For example: all the forefathers directly communicating with G-d or all of Israel not truly believing until they see the miracle splitting the sea (Shemot 14:31). They held beliefs in something they empirically knew to be true. Why are we, who are supposedly less refined, handicapped without a similar divine intervention.
    – Sam
    Dec 26, 2023 at 7:38

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