It dawned on me not long ago that we frequently confuse the secular concept “belief” with אמונה, Emunah, which can also be translated with the word “belief”. In the secular sense, believing is equivalent to joining a particular religion. “Do you believe in Jesus/Allah/Yaweh/Dharma/Great Spirit/Gaia?” is really asking which, if any, spiritual path you follow. Rather than a mode of thought/emotion, it’s a statement of opting in.
In Judaism, belief is independent of identity. אמונה, Emunah, is, indeed a mitzva, a commandment, an act that binds us to The Creator. It is one of six hundred thirteen mitzvot. It’s a goal, an ideal, and we’re mandated to continuously engage in this mitzva, not merely check it off once as a membership requirement. And, like all mitzvot, we rise and fall in our observance of it. And, the mitzva is to believe in God, not to believe in Judaism. There are times that relationship seems effortless and there are times that God seems so distant as to not be perceivable at all. The complacency of taking Emunah, either permanently accepted or permanently rejected, as a given is a dangerous illusion.
The basic fact of one’s Jewishness has nothing to do with one’s belief. Let me repeat this, the basic fact of one’s Jewishness has nothing to do with one’s belief. This reflects the complex reality that Judaism is, indeed, a religion, but it is also a peoplehood. It’s not a race nor an ethnicity, but it is both a nation and a religion. Not every Jew participates in the religion (this doesn’t mean that he isn’t mandated to, merely that he doesn’t engage). Many Jews believe and many don’t. Since God resists definition, even the belief that one Jew holds isn’t identical with the belief another has, not to mention usually not consistent within a single lifetime.
While it is, in one sense, very important what a Jew believes, in another, perhaps deeper one, it doesn’t matter at all. (Although from a communal perspective, people can, and have, “opt out” of their Judaism, but from a soul-based perspective it’s not at all clear.)
By its very nature, belief isn’t limited to logic, nor to objectivity. When the Rambam (Maimonides) lists his principle beliefs, he’s not presenting an in-or-out creed test. Rather, he’s declaring that, for example, belief in the existence of the Creator, belief in God’s eternity, belief in the divine origin of the Torah and the like are, for him, inescapable truths which, although they defy logic or empirical observation, are nonetheless, true.
As I’ve mentioned frequently, אמנה, Emunah, is related to the word אומן, Uman, which means an artist or craftsman. It’s unverifiable knowledge and it is always a work in progress.