Yesterday Chaviva wrote a thought-provoking post about faith--what does that word mean in Judaism, anyway? I've been pondering this question myself lately, although not specifically in a Jewish context. My main beef with the school of mean, vocal atheists who write books (disclaimer: I'm sure they're very nice in their private lives, love their kids, support the local A.S.P.C.A., etc., but they always seem to be yelling whenever I meet them) is that they link faith and proof. I think you can boil down their arguments thus: Since the idea of God can't be proven, believers are deluded. Proof is one side of the scale, faith the other, and it must tip in one direction. There can't be balance.
But I don't believe these words are opposites. They don't belong in the same sentence, let alone definition. I think the words "leap of" should always precede "faith," because spiritual faith is like love--like jumping off a cliff with no idea how or where you'll land, but knowing you must. Faith is a conscious choice, always on purpose. It can be comfortable once you get there, but the journey is often terrifying. Just as having proof that your partner loves you can't guarantee that you love your partner back, so does the existence of verifiable data, or lack thereof, about the reality of God have little to do with an ability to take comfort in Divine presence. To me, faith is an awareness of not being alone, ever, and an expression of awe at mysteries beyond our understanding. Religious communities are places where these feelings can be articulated (and, yes, not always to the benefit of humankind--in this I must agree with the angry atheist writers).
Since belief in God is not a prerequisite for being a Jew, I think "Jewish faith" is about trust, and awe of the beauty, in one another--in our ability to share support as communities and a people, to honor the memories of our ancestors through ritual, and to gather strength to insure our traditions will continue. Some see the face of God manifest in these ideas; others don't. Either way, they are not concepts that require scientific proof to be valid, but rather are about taking a chance and believing that we will catch each other when we fall.