Jewish without God?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Question: Must one believe in God to be considered Jewish?

Rabbi: This is akin to asking, “Must one help people in order to be called kind?” Kindness is synonymous with helping others. If one never helped another person, he is not kind. So too, the definition of a Jew is one who is convinced that God exists, that He is the sole creator, that He rewards and punishes, that He is not physical, and that there are no intelligent beings that can counter God’s will (idolatry is false).  

So, the answer is this: “Yes, one must believe in God to be Jewish.”

The most vital element of Judaism is recognizing a single Creator of the universe. Without this recognition and conviction, one is not Jewish and has no portion in the afterlife—Olam Haba—as afterlife is the direct result of a perfected soul. And a perfected soul is one who distinguishes reality from fantasy, and adheres to the authority of Torah’s Author. One who is not perfect—and worse, fails to recognize God—has no means through which he can enjoy the afterlife, which is a state of the soul rejoicing in greater knowledge of God. Without knowledge of God to begin with, one cannot rejoice in “greater” knowledge of God when the veil (the senses) separating the soul from knowledge is removed.

Additionally, the atheist and the agnostic possess no knowledge; their lives are meaningless. In their capacity as humans, they have failed, for they abandoned the use of their unique faculty: the intellect in pursuit of God. As all that exists is due to God’s will, and as the atheist and the agnostic deny this, their understanding of the universe is false. They do not believe that the wisdom which permeates every corner of the universe is intentionally presented to man for him to discover ever-increasing knowledge about God and His plan for mankind. They pass through their lives with the fallacy that there is no plan for mankind. While the agnostic and atheist view mountains and streams as mere accidental formations, the Torah Jew understands this topography as a means of channeling waters to societies distant from water sources; an expression of God’s wisdom and benevolence. Elevated terrain also offer a distant views, a defense from enemies as man sees them with greater time to prepare militarily. And mountainous regions offer greater square acreage than flatlands for crops. But to atheists and agnostics, this is not a plan of an Intelligent Designer.   

The agnostic and atheist cannot explain why man alone possesses an intellect. But the Torah Jew understands that God’s plan of the human intellect is for man to live his life immersed in study and analysis of nature and Torah, witnessing God’s brilliance. The Torah Jew—or any human who follows Bible, God’s plan for mankind—finds the greatest enjoyment in this pursuit. But the atheist and the agnostic do not give greater purpose to man over animals; the intellect is something that they cannot say is “intended” for man. Therefore, they are without any guidance to determine how to live the most enjoyable existence. At best, they will construct some practical laws to protect property and physical harm so that they might be undisturbed in pursuit of either wealth or lusts. Practical issues such as “Do we kill man to save an animal, or kill an animal to save a man?” place the atheist and the agnostic in quandaries which lead to foolishness and their earlier demise.

Without a recognition that all that exists follows a brilliant plan, they will not look for that plan. They will also reject Torah. Thereby they lose out on the primary purpose of their lives which is to enjoy God’s wisdom and His plan for mankind. Some might become mathematicians or scientists but their theorems come to a brick wall when faced with the question of what the greater purpose is for these sciences; are they mere functional tools to grasp and manipulate matter? If so, what greater purpose is thereby served? Einstein was unique in this respect as he saw a “mind” guiding the universe. Abraham too came to the same conclusion and abandoned idolatry. These intellects followed the soul’s path of thought which seeks to understand. But understanding is abruptly halted when one removes a Will in the universe. One comes to a frustrating dead end, as he cannot answer why Earth and man exist. 

Without knowledge of God, one truly knows nothing and cannot possibly have an afterlife. He is outside the pale of the Jewish nation.