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The Position of Faith in the Jewish Religion. 53 


What do we mean by the word "faith"? It is sometimes 
objected to employ this term in connection with Judaism. 
Is Judaism a faith, or is it only a code of rules and 
regulations ? This question is one of great consequence to 
the future of Judaism. Faith is one of those words which 
have many meanings, and it is therefore essential, for the 
purpose of making these observations clear, to state what is 
here meant by the expression. Let us then define faith in 
two ways — first, as a faculty by which mankind is able to 
apprehend truths which do not lie completely within the 
sphere of ordinary demonstration; and secondly, as applied 
to Judaism, the word is to represent the particular body of 
truths which compose that part of Judaism which does not 
lie within the sphere of demonstration. This kind of state- 
ment seems necessary, because Judaism contains much that 
does appeal to the ordinary methods of understanding. A 
vast number of its rules and regulations can be reasonably 
justified by the common test of expediency and practical 
utility. But there is yet behind all these a group of ideas 
which cannot be explained in the same way. Throughout 
the Pentateuch and the Bible generally, not to mention the 
entire range of literature which has gathered round it and 
holds a place of sacred authority in the minds of most Jews, 
there are ideas and views which must necessarily be called 

It will be obvious to which set of thoughts I refer. The 
belief in God, and in the moral perfection of God, and in the 
doctrine of man having been created in the divine image ; 
and then again the election of Israel, and Israel having 
peculiar relations to God and to the world — all these are 
matters that stand out quite apart from other things which 
belong to Judaism, such as the latter six of the ten com- 
mandments, the dietary laws, and numerous other regula- 
tions, all of which appeal straightway to our common sense 

54 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

rather than to this faculty of faith. There is no doubt that 
Judaism, as understood by a large majority of adherents, 
contains rules and regulations so numerous and minute, that 
they appear almost to stand in the place which, in the case 
of Christianity, is filled by faith. Faith in other creeds 
means something more than the apprehension of truths that 
lie outside the sphere of ordinary demonstration. The dif- 
ference in this respect between the claims of faith in the case 
of Judaism and in the case of Christianity is that in Judaism 
it assumes only what is not inconsistent with reason, though 
logically undemonstrable ; whereas in Christianity faith claims 
a function altogether independent of reason, and sometimes 
hostile to it. The propositions contained in the Athanasian 
creed are all more or less capable of being submitted to the 
tribunal of reason or logical test. Reason and logic can say 
Aye or Nay to the question as to whether there can be three 
undivided parts in one uncompounded whole. Yet faith here 
claims to be the sole arbiter of the question. But in the case 
of Judaism reason can neither affirm or deny the presence of a 
Divine Being, nor the other propositions which grow out of 
that one. The ordinary methods of logical test and demon- 
stration have nothing whatever to say to assertions of this 
kind. And it is precisely these matters with which faith in 
the case of Judaism is called into exercise. Wherever there is 
a point in which mathematical or other demonstration is pos- 
sible, faith has no function in Judaism. For this reason a Jew 
can, consistently with his adherence to Judaism, accept every 
fully established teaching of literary criticism in respect to 
the interpretation of Scripture, and in regard to the notions 
of miracles, whereas the strict adherent of Christianity in any 
of its forms cannot do so. Faith in regard to Judaism and 
faith in regard to Christianity have different claims, and do 
not hold in all respects quite the same place. But it is none 
the less true that Judaism without faith is as unreal as 
Christianity without it. Judaism is quite as dependent upon 
faith as Christianity is, although its faith has other claims, 
and in no case conflicts with reason. The fundamental teach- 
ing and profession of Judaism in Deut. vi. 4, " Hear, O Israel, 
the Lord our God is one, and thou shalt love the Lord thy 
God with all thy heart, etc.," is one that could bring neither 
comprehension nor acceptance without at once making a 
claim upon the faculty of faith. To a man without faith, 
such a command could convey no meaning. It is quite 
otherwise with many other statements and commands con- 
tained in the Pentateuch. " Thou shalt not steal," or *' Thou 
shalt not kill," are perfectly intelligible to a person whose 

The Position of Faith in the Jewish Religion. 55 

faith is entirely dormant, and might be obeyed without 
reference to the faculty of faith. 

Professor Graetz, in his instructive article in the first 
number of this Review, wrote : " In order not to mistake the 
essential characteristics of Judaism, one must not regard it 
as & faith, or speak of it as ' the Jewish faith.' The applica- 
tion of a word is by no means unimportant. The word often 
becomes a net, in which thought gets tangled unawares. 
From an ecclesiastical standpoint, the word 'faith' implies 
the acceptance of an inconceivable miraculous fact, insuf- 
ficiently established by historical evidence, and with the 
audacious addition credo quia absurdum. Judaism has never 
required such a belief from its adherents." True ! but would 
it not have been more explicit if Professor Graetz had gone 
on to state that the credo quia absurdum was just the dif- 
ference between the use of the word faith in the two different 
systems of Christianity and Judaism, rather than to have 
expunged the word altogether? For on another page he 
proceeds to explain that "the positive side (of Judaism) is 
to regard the highest Being as one and unique, and as the 
essence of all ethical perfections, and to worship it as the 
Godhead — in a single word, monotheism in the widest accep- 
tation of the term." Then he goes on to remind us that the 
divine perfection gives the ideal for the moral life. " ' Be ye 
holy, even as I am holy,' is the perpetually recurring refrain 
in the oldest records of Judaism," says Professor Graetz. To 
what faculty then of the human mind does this " idea of 
divine perfection " appeal if not to the faculty of faith ? And 
what is the belief in the Supreme Being at all, and in the 
" ideal for the moral life," if it be not a faith ? Surely to 
deny the use of the term " faith " in such a case as this is to 
rob our vocabulary of the only word which can adequately 
express our meaning. It is just possible that the aversion of 
Professor Graetz and other Jews less scholarly to the use of 
the word faith in connection with Judaism may be accounted 
for by two considerations. First, on account of the different 
use to which the term is applied in Christianity. Faith there 
is made to reconcile propositions that are so much at variance 
with the Jewish religion that there may be a lurking fear 
that if " faith" is once admitted into the Jewish vocabulary it 
may serve to raise up dogmas that are opposed to Judaism. 
Surely the more satisfactory way of dealing with the question 
is to define clearly what the special province of faith is in 
regard to Judaism, and thus to present the clear contrast 
between its functions in the two systems. Secondly, what 
may be called the religious genius of the Jewish race may 

56 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

induce people to mistake the true cause for their acceptance 
of truths which do not lie within the sphere of ordinary 
demonstration. The beliefs in the Supreme Being and in the 
election of Israel are so deeply rooted in the Jewish mind 
that it may be supposed that these two propositions are 
acceptable to the Israelite by mere intuition or hereditary 
mental habit, and have been acquired by the individual Jew 
without any reference to the exercise of the faculty called 
faith. That, however, appears to be a somewhat loose way 
of getting rid of precise terms, and is altogether a shifting of 
the ground. It would be much more accurate to say that 
faith is a faculty with which the Israelite appears to be 
endowed in such a remarkable degree that the dogmas of his 
race present themselves with so much force that they look 
like axioms, and seem to be imbibed from his birth without 
any extraordinary effort at seeking to believe. That, no 
doubt, is true, as to the mental assent which nearly every 
born Israelite seems to give to certain propositions. But 
what shall we say about the application of those beliefs 
throughout the history of Israel, and throughout an indi- 
vidual career ? There is something more than credulity 
required to make particular propositions, like the existence of 
the Supreme Being, and the relation of man to God, act as 
living forces upon human character. Here something is 
called into action which cannot be expressed in the English 
language by any other word than " faith." It is something 
much more than the intellectual process of belief that has 
led so many thousands of Jews to die for Judaism. No mere 
mental process would reconcile millions of men to lives of 
oppression and martyrdom, and still less would any opinion 
have the force about it to give them the necessary endurance 
and patience under all kinds of suffering. Something is 
called into exercise which is fraught with saving power, 
something that has in it not only the intellectual element of 
assenting to or dissenting from certain statements, but the 
higher or spiritual quality which we recognise as love and 
devotion. Faith is the exact and only word which conveys 
all this meaning and my contention is that it is at least as 
tremendous a factor in Judaism as it is in Christianity. 

In order to appreciate the true value of faith as a factor of 
Judaism, it is necessary to contrast the two distinct functions 
which it is intended to perform in regard to Judaism, and in 
regard to Christianity. The reason for this necessity arises 
from the fact that popular notions attach certain meanings to 
words which do not always represent their exact significance. 
Faith is popularly supposed to do service by reconciling the 

The Position of Faith in the Jewish Religion. 57 

supernatural or the miraculous, and in this sense Professor 
Graetz is right when he defines it "from an ecclesiastical 
standpoint " as the word which " implies the acceptance of an 
inconceivable miraculous fact, insufficiently established by 
historical evidence." In this respect faith has an enormous 
province in Christianity, whereas in Judaism it has none. 
Christianity is structurally founded upon " an inconceivable 
miraculous fact," and Judaism is not so founded. Miracle 
belief is a necessity in Christian theology, but it is by no 
means indispensable in Hebrew theology. 

Professor Graetz appears to have fallen into the not un- 
common error of dismissing a particular term because that 
term has many applications, some of which are not those that 
Judaism requires. I have thus attempted to show what 
Judaism does not require of faith. Let us now see the part 
that faith has to take in the Jewish Religion. First the very 
apprehension of the Supreme Being is an act of faith; secondly 
the conviction that the Supreme Being has decreed that one 
particular group of people shall be for all time his " Kingdom 
of Priests " or " Holy Nation " for some special purpose is 
another act of faith. And here faith becomes transformed, as 
it were, from a passive to an active state. The Israelite being 
convinced much more by faith than by mere reason that he is 
in actual fellowship with a commission divinely appointed, 
his life is conducted entirely with reference to that commis- 
sion, and nothing but faith enables him so to conduct himself. 
Here the idea of faith as an abstract word becomes the name 
of a particular factor in human nature, and is thence a virtue. 
It embraces within itself many other virtues. It creates or 
calls into play virtues that were otherwise hidden or inactive. 
As an example it is pregnant with courage, with hope, with 
patience, with determination, with self-sacrifice, sometimes 
with inventive power, and in its highest form, beginning 
from the starting point of the sacred commission, it fruc- 
tifies into an enthusiasm of humanity — that is a love of 
mankind, an unquenchable desire to labour for the good of 
fellow men. Such an enthusiasm as this Jewish faith is 
capable of working is the exact reverse of what it might 
vulgarly be supposed to have commenced from. The 
separateness of race and the thought of God having made a 
particular choice, bear a totally different colour under the 
elevating influences of faith. The separateness means distinct 
obligations specially incumbent, and the particular choice 
signifies one out of the many ways of Providence for 
bestowing good and blessings upon mankind. To the mind of 
a strictly religious Jew, the history of his race presents one 

58 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

vast spectacle of a discipline, namely, the discipline of faith. 
From the bondage in Egypt to the wandering in the desert, and 
from the destructions of the two Temples, the exile and the 
dispersion, to the latest sufferings in South-Eastern Europe, he 
traces the hand of God refining him in the furnace of affliction, 
and perpetually equipping him with a greater and holier gift 
of that which he considers the highest of all gifts, namely, 
the gift of faith. This is the most impressive illustration of 
the power of faith which history has yet supplied. The history 
of the Jewish race is the history of faith in a sense more 
remarkable and striking than any other history. Faith as a 
great human virtue is thus exalted in the life of Israel, and 
stands out as the most brilliant example to mankind. So far 
from Judaism being without the factor of faith it rather 
appears to be the one Religion of all others in which faith in 
the sense of a virtue — not a mere mental process — plays the 
fullest part. Where is there faith so highly developed as that 
which enables the European Jew of the nineteenth century 
to see in a record of thirty-three centuries of the most varied 
and varying detail— one unbroken continuity, one unbatned 
plan, a single destiny, an eternal truth ? 

Since writing the foregoing, I have had the advantage of 
reading the luminous article on "English Judaism," by Mr. 
Israel Zangwill, in the July number of this Review. That 
article appears to be a comprehensive survey of the numerous 
different conceptions of Judaism which Mr. Zangwill has 
observed among his fellow Israelites in England. He has 
tabulated these conceptions under thirty-two different labels. 
Perhaps that is a needless multiplication, seeing that some of 
them lie outside Judaism altogether, and that many of them, 
according to the very labels employed, are no conceptions at 
all. With regard to Mr. ZangwilPs multiplication of labels, it 
might be observed that his industry in that direction could 
have been spared if he had made the simple observation that 
there is a vast variety in human temperament, and there are 
many shades of mental and spiritual character among all men, 
and, therefore, that no two men see things exactly in the 
same way. But the object of my reference to that article 
here is, that it being an impartial essay on the question, 
" What is Judaism ? " written with large resources of informa- 
tion, and conceived throughout with critical power, I regard 
it as a valuable confirmation of my own proposition, that 
faith is an indispensable factor of Judaism, and that a parti- 
cular kind of faith is its special and distinguishing charac- 
teristic. The apparent despondency as to the future of 
Judaism with which Mr. Zangwill's paper concludes does 

The Position of Faith in the Jeicish Religion. 59 

not appear to me to be the necessary result of his investi- 
gations. Nor am I convinced by his arguments, on page 
400, that the transition of Jewish conceptions from one 
age to another, and from one mind to another, does either 
"historically" or "logically" suggest a change of name, 
because that very characteristic faith belonging to and distin- 
guishing Judaism is of a kind which indicates the singular 
power of adaptability inherent in it. If Judaism were only 
a code of regulations and not a faith, it would hardly be 
necessary to despond about its future now, because it could 
not have lasted beyond a very limited period, and then only 
within quite restricted conditions. It is just because it was 
a faith, and pre-eminently a faith above all things, that it has 
endured up to the present — not only over a vast span of time, 
but under numerous different conditions of extraordinary and 
exceptional variety. Where there is no faith, that is no 
spark of trust and confidence in the divine purpose respecting 
Israel, the Jewish religion is undistinguishable, even though 
there is ample evidence of racial identity. On the other hand, 
where there is this faith, that unquenchable thirst for the 
waters of spiritual life, together with the unshaken conviction 
that the " Guardian of Israel slumbers not nor sleeps," the 
Jewish religion may be equally recognised in the minyan 
room of a Polish city, or in the " reformed " synagogue of 
Western Europe. The unity of Israel is established by reason 
of that common faith far more than by the uniformity of 
traditional observances. Here, again, Mr. Zangwill has shown 
that so-called " orthodox " adherence to ceremonialism may be 
observed among Jews of different opinions upon religion 
itself. In other words, religious diversity is possible with 
ritual resemblance. Diversity in ritual practice is surely of 
much less consequence to the future of Judaism than diversity 
in religious conviction. It can truly be said that some of the 
worst Jews are among the most observant, but it cannot be 
said that the best Jews are among those who have no reli- 
gious convictions and are without faith. From the first 
calling of Abraham to be the father of a great nation, in 
whom all the families of the earth would be blessed, to 
the sanctification of the emancipated groups at the foot of 
Sinai, two distinct propositions were made apparent : 1. That 
Israel had a divine call, and 2. That that call was to have 
consequences which concerned mankind at large. Both these 
propositions are of the nature of religious beliefs, and are 
essential to any description of Judaism. Far more essential 
are they than any dogmas as to the manner of the revelation. 
Whithersoever literary criticism may lead us in respect to 

60 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the interpretation of statements touching the circumstances 
of what is understood by revelation, there remains the here- 
ditary impression among Jews that their distinct existence 
as Jews signifies a highly spiritual purpose, affecting the 
religious aspect of civilization. They are Jews in consequence 
of their conviction about the great event to which they owed 
their nationality. They have continued throughout the ages 
to be Jews by reason of the continuance of that conviction, 
and Judaism will cease when that conviction evaporates, but 
not before. No amount of ceremonialism can keep the 
Jewish religion alive without the faith that constitutes it. 
With that faith present, Judaism will not merely survive, 
but operate as a potent force among the religious influences 
of mankind. It will thus operate under, or in spite of, con- 
ditions of ever varying adhesion to ceremonialism. It will 
exist amid very much ceremonialism, and it will also exist 
with comparatively little. The ceremonialism is in part 
incidental to Judaism, in some measure it is indeed a mere 
accretion. In no case can Judaism be intelligently defined 
as a composition of ceremonialism. Eveiy thoughtful person 
is bound to distinguish between the rules and regulations 
of an institution and the object for which the institution 
exists, and the source of its vitality. A mere outward 
observance, however rigid and minute, whether traceable to 
the "Auld Lang Syne" motive or any other not based on 
spiritual conviction, is no pledge whatever of the future of 
Judaism. But the form of Jewish adhesion which Mr. 
Zangwill says "gladdens the simple heart of the Russian 
pauper as he sings the hymns of hope and trust after his 
humble Friday night's meal," is not of the dead nature of 
mere outward ceremonialism, but it is the living faith which 
"gladdens the simple heart" of that Russian pauper. It is 
not ceremonialism by itself but the living faith behind it, 
which, as Mr. Zangwill truly says, " still solaces the foot-sore 
hawker, amid the jeers and blows of the drunkard and the 
bully, and transfigures the squalid Ghetto with celestial light." 
Where there is this vital faith among the members of the 
Jewish race there is Judaism, and it is the same in the 
villages of Russian Poland as in the Universities of Oxford 
and Cambridge ; the same in New York City as in the East 
End of London, provided always that we are sure of the 
presence of that vital faith, and that those who are conscious 
of it are equally conscious of their fellowship with the great 
mass of Israel, scattered though it may have been through 
all historic times and through all known regions. The Jewish 
claim to the guardianship of eternal truth would never have 

The Position of Faith in the Jewish Religion. 61 

been established without the corresponding claim to the power 
of universal adaptability. The power of assimilation which is 
so remarkable in the Jewish race, their absolute capacity to 
become patriots of every country and to acquire every cast of 
mind, together with the fact that Judaism is present to-day, 
with equal evidence of organization, in Jerusalem and in 
Paris, in London and in Constantinople, in the Polish Ghettos 
and in the cities of the United States, are without doubt 
abundant testimony wherewith to establish this claim to the 
possession of eternal truth. 

In conclusion, whatever may be the opinions of individuals 
as to the desirability or the obligation of certain views or 
observances from a Jewish point of view, Judaism is essen- 
tially a faith of the highest spiritual character. And 
although that faith does not make claims of the same kind 
as faith does in other religions, it does demand the most 
steady and resolute adherence to truths enunciated three 
thousand years ago. 

Oswald John Simon.