Maintaining a false dichotomy

Many years ago I remember an elderly man talking to a group of school children in a synagogue explaining to them that at the heart of Judaism was ‘deed not creed’. He went on to say that Judaism isn’t about what you believed, but how you acted. In essence, he concluded, as long as we adhere to the Shema, the rest is commentary. The children seemed to be impressed with these ‘wise’ words spoken by a Jewish man of such wide life experience. They troubled me then, and still do. Yet we still find such ‘parolen’ casually marshalled together to defend our faith against those who seem to espouse a merely faith-framed religion. The words have become a part of a demarcation zone, handed down and rarely challenged, Even an eminent Rabbi of Benjamin Blech’s standing cannot resist the inevitable draw of this statement (p48, Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism) when he concludes ‘Judaism places deed over creed’.

Pause for a moment and consider this: as long as we do the ‘right thing’ what we believe is unimportant? Now, to be fair, I know that no Rabbi ever means that when these words are spoken, but to say them utterly undermines the reality of the Torah and the full revelation given to us by G-d. It is precisely because we believe and have faith that we act in a certain way. Just one example will suffice: it is logical for a pantheist to worship a tree because the a priori belief is that deity is resident in all the natural order and objects. Belief frames actions. Avraham was willing to leave his home nation and family (action) because of his nascent faith and trust (belief) in the One true G-d who had revealed Himself to him. So for Moses Mendelssohn to state ‘There is not in the Mosaic Law a single command ‘Thou shalt believe’. Faith is not commanded. Only actions are.’ (ibid p48) is to miss the point completely. The reality of this false deed/creed divide is seen even in the first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt’, in other words a bold statement of historical, verifiable deeds which revealed the nature and character of our G-d; a statement and action that actually demands a response from us. And that response as an act of belief and faith is to keep the commandments that follow. Belief, faith, trust always precede action. These precede it because they frame our response to G-d and who He is, how He has revealed Himself to us. The commandments only make sense (the deeds) once we have established who we worship (the creed). As the leader of the first Messianic Jewish Din in Jerusalem said 2000 years ago ‘some will say ‘you have faith, I have deeds’, Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’. Indeed as we know from the Scriptures ‘without faith it is impossible to please G-d’. Belief, faith, trust, accepting the yoke of Torah, all these and more connect in the spiritual realm to generate the deeds that follow true faith and belief. To act kiddush hashem is to fundamentally demonstrate the false dichotomy of the deeds v. creeds paradigm. Avraham believed G-d and had faith. Let us construct a Judaism that reflects this reality today in faith AND deed.

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