Judaism does not believe in faith.
The Hebrew term emuna has been loosely translated into “faith” but that is not quite right. To understand the true definition of emuna, we have to examine its original meaning and its association with other similar Hebrew terms. Interestingly, the word emuna is correlated to three Hebrew words. One is ne’eman, which means “faithful/dedicated.” Another is omanut, which means “artistry.” The third is emunim, meaning “exercises.” Therefore, emuna suggests faithfulness, art and exercise. In other words, emuna is a consistent exercise dedicated to faithfully portraying who you really are.
Emuna is not expressed through statements of, “I believe this and I believe that.” Emuna is an exercise that we must do every single day of our life: to faithfully portray our true self and our relationship to God – our Greater Self.
In English, the Hebrew word chet would be translated as “transgression” or “sin.” However according to Judaismchet is really self-betrayal. Judaism teaches that the ultimate question in life is whether we will succeed in portraying or betraying ourselves and our relationship to God. Self-portrayal is accomplished through living the mitzvot. But a chet is an act of self-betrayal. The Talmud teaches that a person transgresses only if and when a spirit of insanity comes over him. Sane people—those who live in harmony with their true self—don’t transgress.
The bottom line is this: A person of faith is not a person that says, “I believe.” It doesn’t matter what a person says they believe; what matters is what a person does. According to Judaism the way you say, “I believe” is through your actions. It’s by following the commandments in detail as outlined in halacha, Jewish law, which is actions that portray our real selves as souls connected to God.
To Be or Not to Be Yourself
What motivates human beings in general—that is, what drives us? Simply put, all we want to be is who we truly are—souls—expression of God. We seek to portray godliness through our thoughts, speech, and actions. We are driven to be like God, because we are a part of Him. We aspire to put into action our values and ideals because they portray our inner godly essence. In other words, according to Judaism the source of human motivation is emuna; the desire to faithfully portray our true self. We want to be who we are and therefore seek to express and portray godliness through our thoughts, speech, and actions.
Just as a successful artist is able to use paintbrushes to physically and truthfully express himself and portray what he believes, feels and sees, so too, for a Jew, the mitzvot express his or her godly essence. The mitzvot are rooted in the power of emuna. This is the meaning of the verse in Psalms [Psalms 119:86]: “All Your commandments are emuna.” In other words, all the details of the mitzvot are part of the painting of life, directing us how to portray our true selves as a part of God. The mitzvot guide us to do what we would naturally do if we were in touch with our true inner self.
When people ask me why they should be Jewish, my question is, “Are you Jewish?” Because if you are genetically Jewish—born of a Jewish mother—why not be Jewish? I don’t understand the question, “Why be Jewish?” Therefore, the real question is, “Am I Jewish?” If that is the kind of being that I am, if that is the note that I am in the symphony of God, then why not be that note?
An excerpt from “Living a Joyous Life: The true spirit of Jewish practice”