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What Is Emunah?

What Is Emunah?

Beyond Belief

('e-moō-na) אמונה root: אמן
Related words: Truth, Amen, Reliable, Artisan

What it is

Generally translated as faith.

We’re used to thinking of faith as a strategy for people who can’t think for themselves. "The fool believes everything," Solomon writes, "the wise man understands." Emunah, however, is an innate conviction, a perception of truth that transcends, rather than evades, reason. Quite the contrary, wisdom, understanding and knowledge can further enhance true emunah.

Nevertheless, emunah is not based on reason. Reason can never attain the certainty of emunah, since, reasonably speaking, a greater reasoning might always come along and prove your reasons wrong. In this way, emunah is similar to seeing first hand: Reason can help you better understand what you see, but it will have a hard time convincing you that you never saw it. So too, emunah endures even when reason can't catch up.

How to test for it

Practically speaking, a person may have faith because he is not interested or incapable of reasoning for himself. Therefore, his faith does not belong to him; he is simply relying on others. When a person has a profound emunah in any truth, he feels this truth to be part and parcel of his very own essence and being.

The litmus test would be a case of martyrdom. A person with sub-rational faith may or may not decide to give his life for his faith. A person with super-rational emunah sees no choice—to deny his emunah is to deny the quintessence of his being.

How to get it

As we said, emunah is innate, yet it may be enhanced through study, experience and reason. Without that nurture, a person’s emunah may remain divorced from his attitude and actions. The Talmud describes how a thief also believes in G‑d: On the brink of his forced entry, as he is about to risk his life—and the life of his victim—he cries out with all sincerity, "G‑d help me!" The thief has faith that there is a G‑d who hears his cries, yet it escapes him that this G‑d may be able to provide for him without requiring that he abrogate G‑d’s will by stealing from others. For emunah to affect him in this way he needs study and contemplation.

The most emunah-enriching studies are said to be Midrash and Kabbalah. The Kabbalists of the period following the Spanish exile (16th century) presented these ideas in a more rational form. Chassidut Chabad, an approach founded by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi near the end of 18th century, is a further extension of this trend, bringing the realm of emunah in greater proximity to human reason—and empowering human reason to glimpse into the transcendent realm of emunah.

Yet the greatest vitamin you can provide emunah is plain exercise. In fact, an artisan is called in Hebrew an "uman"—because he has practiced his craft repeatedly until it becomes natural for him. So too, emunah grows taller and deeper as you accustom yourself to see all the phenomena of life as manifestations of the Creator’s presence and glory. All the more so is emunah enriched by being tested and withstanding those tests; and by making sacrifices in life for the sake of your emunah.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (36)
October 22, 2015
Nietzsche was correct!
There will soon be a cataclysmic war between good and evil. The numbers of the good will be few; the bad many. Nietzsche said that nihilism will overtake mankind when "our greatest values devalue themselves." Essentially, when we run out of sound reasons to support our faith and traditions, then nihilism will take its place to usher in a ruthless era of total destruction of everything good. At that fatal hour, only those with pure faith and no reason will stand to meet king Messiah (der Uebermensch) to usher in a new dawn, when reason and faith are finally reconciled once again. Nietzsche's "Uebermensch" of course was someone to create new values; however, our "Uebermensch" will instead reaffirm our old values in the face of overwhelming disbelief in anything. King Messiah will create new spirits of reverence for G-d Almighty, as prophet Jeremiah prophesied, and in this sense he will be an innovator, for no mortal ever inspired so much awe in man to follow His Law as king Messiah will!
August 19, 2014
envious of people who have emunah
I'm envious of people who have real emunah. I lost mine along the way somewhere, and no matter how much I study and listen and think... I cannot seem to genuinely feel that emunah again. I've seen too many inconsistencies and too many good people with real emunah face terrible pain and tragedy, greater than any part of our history. I cannot, for the life of me, find emunah again.
jacob S
Newark, NJ
May 27, 2014
I think that a profound " emunah" borderlines on pantheism. Which runs counter to the belief in One God. This raises the profound questions, as to whether the belief in One God is based solely on rational understanding and emunah is the transcending aspect of this understanding. Thus making emunah a transcendence beyond the religious aspect of the One God making religion obsolete from true wisdom. In short, emunah, frees and releases you from the bonds of religion, by opening the window of true knowledge the view of creation.
Carlo Vitale
April 3, 2014
For Maurice
Can't really call it "edited out." The first print edition of the Talmud was made by a non-Jew. He hired a Jew to chose between different versions of the text and we've been fixing his mistakes ever since.
Tzvi Freeman
April 2, 2014
Thanks. Why was it edited out?
Maurice M Mizrahi
April 2, 2014
Talmud source
The Talmudic citation is from Brachot 63a. But you won't find it in your standard edition of the Talmud. That's the version in the hand written Frankfurt Talmud.
Tzvi Freeman
April 2, 2014
What is the reference for the Talmud quote?
Maurice M Mizrahi
February 11, 2014
emunah is being grounded
I think emunah means trust--like the trust we feel for those we truly know love us. Whatever the anguish we pass through, we sense the loving Presence accompanying us in love, trying to steady us and help us survive and flourish. It reminds me of the pillar and the flame
September 11, 2013
emunah has to be veiled
Yes: reason, experience and knowledge all depend on being alive, events like ALS, cancer, Alzheimer are into our life as sign of dangerous degeneration of cells and brain and so on. This is the reason why emunah has to be and is veiled, to become the proper contact with our origin, with G-d as our origin. This innate evidence to be touched into life, even if suffering is and can be a great part of it, and in this case emunah becomes unveiled, because we can talk about it.
Ilia Pedrina
March 10, 2013
Faith As A Choice
We can choose at any moment to believe in an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing
" G-d" while telling ourselves that "G-d" is beyond our understanding. What about cancer? ALS? Alzheimer's? We can choose to believe that these are not evidence that "G-d" does not exist, or know, or care, or have complete power...maybe "tzimtzum" is the closest we can come to understanding how evil can exist at the same time as "G-d".

Are we stronger for choosing to believe in "G-d"? Maybe people who make the effort to believe become stronger at enduring life.

One thing I'm starting to is a choice, not a conclusion from the evidence of the senses.