What Do Jews Believe?

The 13 Principles of the Jewish Faith

Boy reading from Torah scroll
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Written in the 12th century by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or Rambam, the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith (Shloshah Asar Ikkarim) are considered the "fundamental truths of our religion and its very foundations." 

The treatise is also known as the Thirteen Attributes of Faith or the Thirteen Creeds. 

The Principles

Written as part of his commentary on the Mishnah in Sanhedrin 10, these are the Thirteen Principles that are considered core to Judaism, specifically within the Orthodox community.

 

  1. The belief in the existence of the God, the Creator.
  2. The belief in God's absolute and unparalleled unity.
  3. The belief that God is incorporeal. God will not be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.
  4. The belief that God is eternal.
  5. The imperative to worship God and no false gods; all prayer should be directed only to God.
  6. The belief that God communicates with man through prophecy and that this prophecy is true.
  7. The belief in the primacy of the prophecy of Moses our teacher.
  8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah -- both the Written and the Oral (Talmud).
  9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah.
  10. The belief in God's omniscience and providence, that God knows the thoughts and deeds of man.
  11. The belief in divine reward and retribution.
  12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.
  13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead.

The Thirteen Principles conclude with the following:

"When all these foundations are perfectly understood and believed in by a person he enters the community of Israel and one is obligated to love and pity him … But if a man doubts any of these foundations, he leaves the community [of Israel], denies the fundamentals, and is called a sectarian, apikores ... One is required to hate him and destroy him."

According to Maimonides, anyone who did not believe in these Thirteen Principles and live a life accordingly was to be declared a heretic and loses their portion in Olam ha'Ba (the World to Come). 

Controversy

Although Maimonides based these principles on Talmudic sources, they were considered controversial when first proposed. According to Menachem Kellner in "Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought," these principles were ignored for much of the medieval period thanks to criticism by Rabbi Hasdai Crescas and Rabbi Joseph Albo for minimizing the requirement for the acceptance of the whole of the Torah and its 613 commandments (mitzvot).

For example, Principle 5, the imperative to worship God exclusively without intermediaries. However, many of the prayers of repentance recited on fast days and during the High Holidays, as well as a portion of Shalom Aleichem that is sung prior to the Sabbath evening meal, are directed at angels. Many rabbinic leaders have approved of petitioning angels to intercede on one's behalf with God, with one leader of Babylonian Jewry (between 7th and 11th centuries) stating that an angel could even fulfill an individual's prayer and petition without consulting God (Ozar ha'Geonim, Shabbat 4-6).

 

Furthermore, the principles regarding the Messiah and resurrection are not widely accepted by Conservative and Reform Judaism, and these tend to be two of the most difficult principles for many to grasp. By and large, outside of Orthodoxy, these principles are viewed as suggestions or options for leading a Jewish life. 

Other Faiths

Interestingly, the Mormon religion has a set of thirteen principles composed by John Smith and Wiccans also have a set of thirteen principles

How To

Aside from living a life according to these Thirteen Principles, many congregations will recite these in a poetic format, beginning with the words "I believe ..." (​Ani ma'amin) every day after the morning services in synagogue. 

Also, the poetic Yigdalwhich is based on the Thirteen Principles, is sung on Friday nights after the conclusion of the Sabbath service.

It was composed by Daniel ben Judah Dayyan and completed in 1404. 

Summing Up Judaism

There is a story in the Talmud that is often told when someone is asked to summarize the essence of Judaism. During the 1st century B.C.E., the great sage Hillel was asked to sum up Judaism while standing on one foot. He replied:

"Certainly! What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary, now go and study" (Talmud Shabbat 31a).

Hence, at its core Judaism is concerned with the well-being of humanity. The particulars of every Jew's individual belief system is the commentary.