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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. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (43)
June 3, 2016
To Victor in Bergenfield
Others have recommended the books by Rav Shalom Arush. But, I have been having problems finding a new one for a reasonable price. Amazon has different sellers with different prices. I wouldn't know which to get. Also, due to my eye problems, I usually prefer ebooks so I can enlarge the print, even with glasses.
I did buy & tried reading 2 books on emuna by Rabbi David Asher. And, I threw them down, especially the 2nd one. All the people he describes are so lucky to have things work out for them. How about describing people that things don't work out. How do they still have emunah? I want to hear about those like me who are ready to give up & say what's the use? I pray, try to keep mitzvot that I can! Yet, nothing good ever happens. & actually, things get worse. Someone told me its tikkun for something! I don't want tikkun. I want a good life. Why do things work out well for others? Why not me? Haven't been able to work 20 yrs. I can't do hishtadlut. Not my fault, I didn't ask for this!
June 1, 2016
The best experience in my life has been learning to acquire Emuna. I was blessed to find the writings of Rab Shalom Arush and his many books on that subject. Many real cases like the one of Diane in Albuquerque are discussed in through his books. I recommend the Garden of Emuna. For married couples I recommend the Garden of Peace ( for husbands) and the Garden of Wisdom ( for wives) Those books are miraculous.
victor morgado
March 28, 2016
It's hard to have emunah when life is falling apart!
I have several chronic disabilities. After 2 years of intense physical therapy, I was finally able to get out of the wheelchair & use a walker. Now, I use a cane. I thanked G-d, but I think He gave it to me as the doctors never had a diagnosis. I have severe scoliosis, but orthopedist thought neurological. i was finally happy.
Then, I started having eye, face, & neck spasms (all forms of Dystonia).Now, I have trouble reading, can't to drive, depended on husband, & need Botox every 12 wks. I'm always in chronic pain with fibromyalgia. Why?

My husband, 14 yrs cancer free (prostate). Now, growth found on his bladder. Why?
Where is the loving G-d? How can I have emunah? I try. I daven Shacharit. I'm trying to keep Shabbat. Buying what kosher food I can find.
I cry to G-d. I pray for healing. I'm trying. i just don't understand. I feel like I'm drowning. How do I find emuna in G-d who lets me drown?
What did I do to deserve this?
Ironically, my husband still has emuna. How do I get it?
Albuquerque, NM USA
February 29, 2016
what are the beliefs and ethical living
December 21, 2015
throughout the time, Emunah is always into time, unveiled if acts are bright: our acts can be bright if and only if we be into G-d's time, in other words, into that part of time that G-d leave us to live, with the consciousness of His weak strongness: history can be revolutioned just by this.... Thanks for all these thoughts and experiences! Ilia
Ilia Pedrina
Vicenza, Italy
December 20, 2015
Thank you very much for this amazing articulation of emunah! It's always reviving to the heart and soul...hatzlacha raba
December 17, 2015
@Jacob S, I think the reason you have lost emunah is because your reasoning has failed you, and since emunah transcends reasoning, perhaps you never had true emunah in the first place. Your convictions were based on your reasoning, only. There was no real trust. If you trusted God, you would have sought Him out further to understand His goodness. Or maybe you didn't because you did not contain a true love for Him. I cannot say, I can only speculate. If you desire emunah again, I would suggest seeking God fervently. The Word says that if we seek Him with all of our hearts, we will find Him. Thus, the answer to your sorrow lays in your desire for God Himself, which is the very reason He gave us the ability to reason and rationalize in the first place. He desires us to love Him with as genuine a love as His own love for us.
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
The landscape of classic Jewish thought is painted with a finite set of themes and motifs...
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