Do I need to believe in God to be Jewish?

While evil and wicked behavior can be attributed to humanity, some may deny God’s existence because of natural suffering.

A man holds up his cellphones to the Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A man holds up his cellphones to the Western Wall
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Belief in a God who is involved in the affairs of the world is a central tenet of Judaism. Yet, Judaism emphasizes doing good deeds more than faith alone– ‘deed’ is more significant than ‘creed’. In the words of the Jerusalem Talmud, “Better that they abandon Me, but follow My laws.” One can doubt the existence of God as long as one observes the Torah.  

While evil and wicked behavior can be attributed to humanity, some may deny God’s existence because of natural suffering.

Judaism is well-aware of this classic question and acknowledges its difficulty. In the words of Mishnah in Ethics of  the Fathers (4:15), “It is not in our hands [to explain the reason] either of the security of the wicked, or even of the afflictions of the righteous.”

The book of Job, one of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, addresses the issue of theodicy, or the vindication of Divine justice in light of human suffering. Job, a good and righteous man, underwent great suffering. His friends suggested that his suffering was punishment for his sins. Eventually, God answers and speaks from a whirlwind, contrasting Job’s weakness with divine wisdom and omnipotence: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” There are questions that man simply cannot answer.