Once, when manning one of the outreach trailers known as “mitzvah tanks,” I asked a passerby if he would like to put on tefillin.

“No, I don’t want to be hypocritical,” he replied. He explained that he did not believe in G‑d and therefore did not want to observe His commandments. When his mother had been sick he had prayed, perhaps the first sincere prayer he had offered in years, and yet his prayer was not answered. His mother had passed away.

“From that time onward,” he concluded, “I do not believe in G‑d.”

Ultimately, he put on tefillin. There is no need to elaborate on the arguments I used to persuade him to do so, because what he really needed was some warm concern, not theological debate. But his statements are worthy of analysis, for they reflect many common misconceptions about faith.

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