Eric Herschthal’s question: “Can religion, especially Judaism, work if you don’t believe in God?” ironically and unintentionally puts its finger on exactly the issue (“Are You There, God?” April 13). His article is well written, articulate, rational and totally beside the point.
Briefly put, there is a reason why the Torah is not an essay like Herschthal’s. The Torah is a series of stories illustrating the personal drama of individual people interacting with the divine. It is totally inaccurate in Torah-speak to say that “In Judaism, questions of belief in God are secondary.” In the Torah, belief in God is assumed.
Only later — perhaps, again ironically, when belief in the existence of God may have been questioned due to tragic historical events — did the focus shift to “study” and questions of “observance” and “Jewish law.”
To “be able to explain everything in the Jewish religion without having God in the picture” is totally rational, yet totally ignorant of what makes people want to be religious. They sense a dimension that goes beyond the totally rational. They intuitively sense that there is “something else.” To the degree that formal organizational Judaism focuses on the oh-so-politically-correct and safe “ethical monotheism” and “tikkun olam” — “good deeds improving the world” — it ignores the emotional reasons and spiritual strivings.
The “crisis in Jewish life” is that so very many young, spiritually inclined Jews — the very Jews who should be the lifeblood of a thriving alive religion — are looking elsewhere for spiritual inspiration.
Until and unless Jewish formal organizations can tap into the “guts” of spiritually seeking Jews, the real question won’t be “is there any truth in this tradition?” The challenge will be: “Who will care?”