Faith and Practice

I once asked my mother the difference between science and religion. Rather than answering me, my mother engaged me in conversation on the topic. Ultimately, I hypothesized that the difference lies in the purpose of the two: science is about questions, but religion is about answers. The difficulty with that hypothesis is how it translates to Judaism.

Unlike Christianity, which focuses almost exclusively on faith, Judaism places a high emphasis on practice. Where Christians believe that they have the answers they need and simply “move on,” Jews hold on to and focus on those answers with the tenacity of a pit bull. One of the great goals shared by Judaism and Christianity is the desire to preserve a childlike wonder at the Almighty’s handiwork. But as Judaism focuses on the answers provided by the TaNaKh (and for Rabbinic Jews, by the Talmud), it is easy to overlook wonderment.

It’s easy to be cocksure that we have everything we need and that we know everything we need to know. It’s easy to be worldly in our faith. I don’t mean worldly as opposed to ascetic, but in terms of putting our own confidence in ourselves ahead of our hope and ahead of our faith in the Infinite. It’s easy to lose that wonder with which G-d blessed us in a sea of rules, laws, and traditions.

That’s one way in which I really appreciate Karaism. There lies in it a fluidity between practice and faith. The rules and traditions allow plenty of room for the individual to discover his faith. They create a lifestyle that is easily adaptable to modern life, sidestepping the ultimatum so many find between life and faith. They provide levels of practice, allowing the individual to grow into his devotion in the understanding that the best he can do is all that is expected of him, not more, not less. And, most importantly, they serve as road markers on a spiritual quest, rather than self-contained answers or ultimate goals. The finding of a marker does not overshadow the larger quest, but illumines the way a little further.

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