Among religions, Judaism is hardly unique in having commandments, but the number of these, and Judaism’s insistence upon their importance, certainly distinguish it from other faiths. Reuven Ziegler, drawing on the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, seeks to explain why this is so:
The fact that it is more likely that actions will influence emotions than the reverse explains why halakhah devotes its primary attention to actions. If religion does not provide man with an objective framework of action containing specific divine norms, it will—at best—be vague and transient. At worst, it will lead to the most horrible excesses.
Soloveitchik believed that it is not only undesirable for one to try to escape his corporeality, it is also impossible. Any ideology based on the premise that a human can become a purely spiritual creature is doomed to failure. By focusing solely on the person’s contemplative–spiritual side, [such an ideology] fails to acknowledge the strength of his or her inner drives and passions. Seeking to do the impossible, it fails to do what is necessary, namely, to restrain and channel a person’s drives and use them positively. Freedom from the authority of specific norms, and from a sense of coercion in following them, leads to moral anarchy and finally degeneracy. By becoming concrete, objective, and specific, religion becomes strong enough to affect one’s entire life, to withstand temptation, to endure regardless of the individual’s mood, and to survive from generation to generation.
A religion that focuses solely on inner experience may lead to an “extravagant religious individualism” that is not geared toward the formation of a community. And as Soloveitchik notes in The Halakhic Mind, “the force and effectiveness of religion grows commensurately with increasing participation of the entire society in the religious drama.” Furthermore, an inner religion that is not expressed as a way of life attenuates one’s connection not only to one’s contemporary community, but also to one’s historical community.