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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 (48)
March 18, 2017
Emunah -is humane if you rearrange the letters
January 13, 2017
I get it
I forgot to bring my wallet to work and thought "oy looks like I wont be eating today. I guess i'll take advantage and make it a day of fast to honor Hashem." Minutes later, I get dispatched to a call where some one fired two bullets into a school the night before. I responded to investigate and while sitting for hours looking at survailence video whilest my stomache chirned, a collegue said,she was ordeing food and asked what I wanted. To my joy I said "hey Ill have what youre getting." After I finished my meal, My whole perception of what I judged as a reckless an evil act by someone the night before was in fact an act of mercy on Hashem's part, to feed me that day because of my forgetfulness.
I blessed Hashem And resolved myself to never again judge anyone's actions.
If you see the wisdom in this, I now know what Emunah is.
July 17, 2016
To Diego in Califonia
You bring up a view that I hadn't thought of before. It's a bit counter intuitive, but I'm learning that Judaism has many paradoxes.
It really gives me a different perspective. It's like the metaphor f chasing a butterfly, but if you stop chasing it comes to you. I have been chasing emunah to no avail, but accepting & trusting in Hashem, it will be there during the times we need it most.
Did I understand you correctly? We just have to trust that Hashem knows what we need.
My husband saw the urology surgeon. This visit no blood in urine or abnormalities. The surgeon asked if he beloved in G-d because the bleeding he had in March led to the tests was sign from G-d, because now he sees nothing & never would have sent him for tests. So, any cancer would have remained hidden. That is emunah? G-d revealed the possible cancer.
B"H since then he is pain free. Now, surgeon will schedule my husband's surgery. OTW, he wouldn't have even ordered tests!
G-d revealed the hidden. That's emunah!
Now, Maine, left Albuquerque
July 17, 2016
The road to emunha is short once you make a decision
Emunah is something you decide, not something you acquire. Emunah may escape you in the direst moments, in the periods of absolute darkness that we all seem to go through from time to time.

The absence of emunah is in itself a blessing if you so desire to obtain it as the air you breath, as it will prepare you to go through your tribulations and search for what seems the ever eluding source of wisdom and strength.

But our desire to connect to the Creator must surpass our infidelity and disbelief. Once we are at an extreme position, we then choose to abandon the Creator completely or give in ourselves to him, deciding that no sorrow is congruent with his love and divine message.

Our Father knows what we always need. It's in our decision, where we completely and unequivocally trust him and trust his will, that we find emunah and receive the awaited miracles.

It may appear as a strange dichotomy, but it is our lack of emunah that prevents us from obtaining its wonderful riches.
Diego Bronstein
Cali, Colombia
June 30, 2016
To Diane in Albuquerque
I agree with you that so many of these kinds of books don't have examples that even closely relate to my own situation or that of anyone I know. I wish I had some wise word to say that could ease your mind. All I can say is that, for myself, I found the only place to turn is the Word of G-d himself. I have found comfort in the beauty of His word, and that has led me to once again see the beauty of His creation all around me. It seems when all the big things are going wrong, it takes the small joys to keep us going. May He bless you and give your mind ease.
Las Vegas, N.M.
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
The landscape of classic Jewish thought is painted with a finite set of themes and motifs...
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