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Articles of Faith

ARTICLES OF FAITH. The term "dogma" which is well defined in Christianity has as such no place in Judaism. In Judaism the need for a profession of belief did not arise and rabbinic synods saw no necessity for drawing up concise formulas expressing Jewish beliefs. Theologically speaking, every Jew is born into God's covenant with the people of Israel, and membership in the community does not depend on credal affirmations of a formal character. Jewish beliefs are voiced in the form of prayer and in the twice-daily recital of the *Shema .

In Rabbinic Literature

Outside the liturgy, formulations of specific aspects of the Jewish faith abound in rabbinic literature from the Mishnah onward. The need to define the Jewish position vis-à-vis heretical views (see *Heresy and Heretics) occasioned the statement of the Mishnah (Sanh. 10:1) that, while all Israelites have a share in the world to come, it is withheld from those who deny the resurrection of the dead, the divine origin of the Torah, and from the " *Epicurean ." This statement comes close to formulating "dogmas" of Judaism, yet it is neither couched in the form of a credal affirmation nor is it comprehensive enough to serve as a total expression of Jewish beliefs. However, its insertion into the Mishnah invests it with authority, and it can readily be seen why Maimonides' famous formulation of 13 principles of Judaism was offered as a kind of elaboration of this particular passage. The formulation of articles of Jewish faith is largely a medieval development, even though *Philo (first century C.E.) had spoken of eight essential principles of scriptural religion: (1) existence of God; (2) His unity; (3) divine providence; (4) creation of the world; (5) unity of the world; (6) the existence of incorporeal ideas; (7) the revelation of the Law; and (8) its eternity (H.A. Wolfson, Philo, Foundations of Religious Philosophy, 1 (1947), 164 ff.). In the Middle Ages it arose from the theological discussions which had started in Muslim *Kalām and which then had spread to Jewish circles. The term ikkarim (lit. "roots"), the most widely used Hebrew term denoting the "principles" of Judaism, is a literal translation of the Arabic uṣūl denoting the "roots" of various disciplines (Kalām; the science of Ḥadīth or "tradition"; jurisprudence). The term uṣūl al-din ("the roots of religion") is synonymous with Kalām. In this sense Maimonides refers to the theologians employing the methods of Kalām as people concerned with uṣūl al-dīn (ikkarei ha-dat; Guide 3:51). Maimonides' formulation of articles of faith was not without precedent. *Hananel b. Hushi'el (in his commentary to Ex. 14:31) declared that faith is fourfold: belief (1) in God; (2) in the prophets; (3) in the world to come; and (4) in the advent of the Messiah. Among the Karaites the first enumeration of fundamental Jewish beliefs is found in Judah *Hadassi 's (middle of the 12th century) Eshkol ha-Kofer. This author lists ten articles (ishurim) of faith: (1) God's unity and wisdom; (2) His eternity and unlikeness to any other being; (3) He is the Creator of the world; (4) Moses and the rest of the prophets were sent by God; (5) the Torah which has been given through Moses is true; (6) the Jews are obliged to study the Hebrew language in order to be able to understand the Torah fully; (7) the holy Temple in Jerusalem was chosen by God as the eternal dwelling place of His glory; (8) the dead will be resurrected; (9) there will be a Divine judgment; and (10) God will mete out reward and punishment. It is not clear whether Judah Hadassi offered this statement as an innovation on his part or whether he followed earlier authorities.


Maimonides' "Thirteen Principles" are set down in his commentary on the Mishnah by way of introducing his comments on Sanhedrin 10. Writing in Arabic, Maimonides presents these articles of faith as uṣūl ("roots") and qawāʿid ("fundamentals") of Jewish beliefs (iʿtiqādāt) and of the Law (sharīʿa). The Hebrew versions render uṣūl by ikkarim and qawāʿid by either yesodot or ikkarim. The term uṣūl acquires here a new meaning: it no longer denotes the topics of the Kalām investigations, but the fundamental tenets of faith or the concise abstracts of religion as seen through the eyes of a philosopher. Maimonides undertook such a presentation to teach the rank and file of the community the true spiritual meaning of the belief in the world to come (ha-olam ha-ba) and to disabuse their minds of crude, materialistic notions. Since the ultimate felicity of man depends on the possession of true concepts concerning God, the formulation and brief exposition of true notions in the realm of faith is meant to help the multitude to avoid error and to purify belief. The "fundamentals" listed by Maimonides are (1) the existence of *God which is perfect and sufficient unto itself and which is the cause of the existence of all other beings. (2) God's unity which is unlike all other kinds of unity. (3) God must not be conceived in bodily terms, and the anthropomorphic expressions applied to God in Scripture have to be understood in a metaphorical sense. (4) God is eternal. (5) God alone is to be worshiped and obeyed. There are no mediating powers able freely to grant man's petitions, and intermediaries must not be invoked. (6) *Prophecy . (7) *Moses is unsurpassed by any other prophet. (8) The entire *Torah was given to Moses. (9) Moses' Torah will not be abrogated or superseded by another divine law nor will anything be added to, or taken away from it. (10) God knows the actions of men. (11) God rewards those who fulfill the commandments of the Torah, and punishes those who transgress them (see *Reward and Punishment). (12) The coming of the *Messiah . (13) The *resurrection of the dead.

In a postscript Maimonides distinguishes between the "sinners of Israel" who, while having yielded to their passions, are not thereby excluded from the Jewish community or the world to come, and one who "has denied a root principle" (kafar be-ikkar). Such an individual has excluded himself from the community and is called a heretic (min) and Epicurean. Maimonides thus attempted to invest his principles with the character of dogma, by making them criteria of orthodoxy and membership in the community of Israel; but it should be noted that his statement was a personal one and remained open to criticism and revision.

In their credal form ("I believe with perfect faith that…") Maimonides' "Thirteen Principles" appeared first probably in the Venice Haggadah of 1566. They are found in the Ashkenazi prayer book as an appendix to the regular morning service. Of the many poetic versions, the best known is the popular *Yigdal hymn (c. 1300). This hymn has been adopted in practically all rites.

Maimonides' "Thirteen Principles" became the prototype of a succession of formulations of the Jewish creed which first merely varied in the number, order, and the articles of belief selected, but which eventually (in the 15th century) introduced methodological criteria for determining whether a certain belief could be regarded as fundamental. The discussion was at no time purely academic. It was stimulated by the controversy over the allegorical interpretations of traditional beliefs according to Aristotelian doctrine, and it focused on such articles of faith as creatio ex nihilo, individual providence, etc. The formulation of ikkarim was designed to accentuate the vital beliefs of Judaism and to strengthen Orthodoxy. It was also meant to define the position of the Jewish faith vis-à-vis Christianity.

Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries

In the 13th century David b. Samuel *Kokhavi and Abba Mari *Astruc b. Moses b. Joseph of Lunel offered fresh formulations of the creed. David Kokhavi in his (unpublished) Migdal David uses the term ikkarim to refer to the three elements of Judaism: (1) commandments; (2) beliefs; and (3) the duty to engage in philosophical speculation in order fully to understand the Torah (M. Steinschneider, Hebr. Bibliographie, 8 (1865), 63, 100–3). The "beliefs" are outlined in great detail under seven headings called "pillars" (ammudim) of the faith: (1) creation of the world; (2) freedom of the will; (3) divine providence; (4) divine origin of the Torah; (5) reward and punishment; (6) the coming of the Redeemer; and (7) resurrection. The author claims that these articles follow a logical order. Abba Mari, a defender of Orthodoxy in the Maimonidean controversy, arranged, in his Minḥat Kena'ot (ed. by M. Bisliches, 1838), Jewish beliefs under three principles: (1) God is eternal, incorporeal, and His unity is absolute simplicity (7–11); (2) creatio ex nihilo and its corollary, miracles (11–16); (3) God's individual providence (17–19). In the 14th century, Shemariah of Negropont (Crete), an Italian philosopher and exegete (d. after 1352), chiefly known for his efforts to reconcile Karaites and Rabbanites, presented five principles of Judaism relating to the existence of God: (1) incorporeality; (2) absolute unity; (3) creation; (4) creation in time; and (5) by a divine fiat (M. Steinschneider, Catalogue… Muenchen, no. 210). Another philosophical writer, David b. Yom Tov *Ibn Bilia of Portugal, in a treatise called Yesodot ha-Maskil (published in E. Ashkenazi's Divrei Ḥakhamim (1849), no. 8) supplemented Maimonides' 13 articles by 13 of his own. These additional principles include such dogmas as belief in angels, in the superiority of the Torah over philosophy, in the canonicity of the text of the Torah, and in good actions as a reward in themselves. In spite of their stress on the superiority of the Torah they bear a highly intellectual flavor.

Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

The 15th century and the beginning of the 16th are particularly rich in works on Jewish dogmatics. Some of them are based on strictly methodological considerations, while others stress the purely revelational character of Jewish beliefs. To the first category belong the writings of Ḥasdai Crescas, Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran, Joseph Albo, and Elijah del Medigo; to the second, those of Isaac Arama, Joseph Jabeẓ and Isaac Abrabanel.


Crescas' Or Adonai (completed in 1410) is essentially a treatise on dogmatics, the structure of which is determined by a sharp differentiation between various categories of belief. (1) The existence, (2) unity, and (3) incorporeality of God (1:3) form the three root principles (shoresh vehatḥalah) of Judaism. A second group of beliefs comprises the six fundamentals (yesodot) or pillars (ammudim) of the Jewish faith without whose recognition the concept of Torah loses its meaning (2:1–6): (1) God's knowledge of all beings; (2) His providence; (3) His omnipotence; (4) prophecy; (5) free will; and (6) the purpose of the Torah as instilling in man the love of God and thereby helping him to achieve eternal felicity. The third group represents true beliefs characteristic of Judaism and indispensable for Orthodoxy, yet not fundamental (3:1–8; part 2:1–3). Eight in number, they are (1) creation of the world; (2) immortality of the soul; (3) reward and punishment; (4) resurrection; (5) immutability of the Torah; (6) supremacy of Moses' prophecy; (7) divine instruction of the high priests by way of the Urim and Thummim; and (8) the coming of the Messiah. In addition there are three true beliefs connected with specific commandments: (1) prayers are answered by God; (2) repentance is acceptable to God; and (3) the Day of Atonement and the holy seasons are ordained by God. Finally Crescas lists 13 problems concerning which reason is the arbiter; these include such questions as: will the world last forever; are there more worlds than one; are the celestial spheres animate and rational; do the motions of the celestial bodies influence the affairs of men; are amulets and magic efficacious?


Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran deals with the problem of dogmatics in his Ohev Mishpat (written in 1405; published, Venice, 1589) and Magen Avot (3 parts, Leghorn, 1785). He arranges Maimonides' 13 articles under three principles (ikkarim): (1) existence of God (implying His unity, incorporeality, eternity, and His being the only object of rightful worship); (2) revelation (implying prophecy, Moses' supremacy as a prophet, the divine origin of the Torah and its immutability); (3) reward and punishment (implying God's knowledge of things, providence, the coming of the Messiah, resurrection). He finds these three dogmas indicated in the statement of the Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1 (see above). He also mentions earlier attempts to reduce the dogmas to three, and draws a distinction between basic principles of the Torah and other beliefs, the denial of which do not constitute heresy but mere error.


Albo's Sefer ha-Ikkarim, the most popular work on Jewish dogmatics, is indebted to both Crescas and Duran. Albo criticizes Maimonides' selection of principles, and finds some fault also with Crescas. Like Duran he finds his basic articles in three "root principles" (ikkarim): (1) existence of God; (2) divine origin of the Torah; and (3) reward and punishment. From these "root principles" stem derivative "roots" (shorashim) which, together with the former, constitute the divine Law. The existence of God implies His unity, incorporeality, independence of time, and freedom from defects. The divine origin of the Torah implies God's knowledge, prophecy, and the authenticity of divine messengers or lawgivers. Reward and punishment implies individual (in addition to general) providence (1:13–15). Of lower rank, although obligatory, are six beliefs (emunot), the denial of which does not constitute heresy: (1) the creation of the world in time and ex nihilo; (2) the supremacy of Moses' prophecy; (3) the immutability of the Torah; (4) the attainment of the bliss of the next world by the fulfillment of a single commandment; (5) resurrection; 6) coming of the Messiah (1:23).


Elijah Delmedigo's Beḥinat ha-Dat (written in 1496; ed. by I.S. Reggio, 1833) is the last of the medieval works on Jewish dogmatics with a strong philosophic orientation. It reflects the doctrine of the "double truth" of the Christian Averroists (see *Averroes ). Delmedigo distinguishes between basic dogmas (shorashim) which have to be accepted without interpretation (perush; be'ur) by masses and philosophers alike, and ramifications (anafim) which the masses must accept literally, while the philosophers are required to search for their deeper meaning. For Delmedigo Maimonides' 13 articles belong to the category of basic dogmas. Some of them he holds to be verifiable by reason (existence, unity and incorporeality of God), while the rest have to be taken on trust. The 13 articles are reducible to three: (1) existence of God; (2) prophecy; and (3) reward and punishment. Such topics as the "reasons of the commandments" belong to the category of ramifications as does the whole field of rabbinic aggadah. Here the philosopher must exercise great caution in publicizing his interpretations in areas where allegorizing may do harm to the unsophisticated.


Isaac *Arama in his akedah Yizhak criticizes Crescas and Albo who saw as the criterion for a "fundamental" of Judaism whether a certain belief was basic to the general concept of revelation, an approach which had tacitly equated Torah with revealed religion in a universal rational sense. According to Arama the Torah reveals principles above and supplementary to reason. Hence a belief in the existence, unity, eternity, and simplicity of God cannot rank as a principle of the Torah (Maimonides and his followers) nor can free will and purpose (Crescas). The principles (ikkarim) of the Torah have to be discovered in the Torah itself. They are embedded in the commandments (mitzvot), particularly in the laws relating to the Sabbath and the festivals. Arama counts six "principles of the faith" (ikkarei ha-emunah): (1) the createdness of the world (Sabbath); (2) God's omnipotence (Passover); (3) prophecy and divine revelation (Feast of Weeks); (4) providence (New Year); (5) repentance (Day of Atonement); (6) the world to come (Tabernacles; ch. 67; in ch. 55 the Sabbath is described as implying all the six principles). Arama lays particular stress on the dogma of creation as the essential dogma of the Torah (ch. 67).


Akin in spirit to Arama are his two contemporaries Joseph Jabez and Isaac Abrabanel. Jabeẓ wrote two small treatises on dogmatics, called Ma'amar ha-Aḥdut and Yesod ha-Emunah (first published together with his Or ha-Ḥayyim in Ferrara, 1554). In the first he rejects Maimonides', Crescas', and Albo's formulations of principles, substituting three of his own, all of which are explications of divine unity: (1) God alone is the Creator; (2) God alone is wondrously active in exercising providence; and (3) God alone will be worshiped in the messianic future. In the second he maintains that Maimonides' 13 principles are traceable to these three, but he now formulates them as: (1) createdness of the world (ḥiddush ha-olam); (2) providence; and (3) unity of God. The third dogma implies that God alone will be worshiped in the messianic future. In both treatises the belief in creation is considered the most fundamental principle.


Isaac *Abrabanel 's Rosh Amanah (written from 1499 to 1502; Eng. trans., M. Kellner, 1981) is a closely argued treatise on the "roots and principles" of the Jewish faith. Twenty-two of the work's 24 chapters are devoted to an analysis of Maimonides', Crescas', and Albo's respective positions. Abrabanel raises 28 "doubts" or objections to Maimonides' formulation of the creed, but, resolving these questions, he arrives at a complete vindication of Maimonides' views, while those of Crescas and Albo are found wanting. Abrabanel's own attitude, however, is close to Isaac Arama's. The search for "fundamental principles" has its place only in the human sciences which operate with "fundamental principles" that are either self-evident or borrowed from other, more fundamental, sciences. In the case of the Torah, divinely revealed, there is no exterior frame of reference that could furnish the fundamental principles of its laws and beliefs; everything contained therein has to be believed and there is no sense in trying to establish principles of Jewish belief. Were he to single out one principle of the divine Torah, Abrabanel states, he would select that of the createdness of the world (ch. 22).


The medieval Jewish philosophical tradition is still reflected in Spinoza who in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (publ. 1670) formulates seven "dogmas of universal faith" or "fundamental principles which Scripture as a whole aims to convey": (1) God's existence; (2) unity; (3) omnipresence; (4) supreme authority and power; (5) man's worship of Him in obedience; (6) the felicity of the obedient; (7) forgiveness of penitent sinners (ch. 14). Spinoza's scriptural religion stands between the "universal religion" of the philosopher and the "religion of the masses" (Introd.; chs. 4, 7).

Modern Period

Moses Mendelssohn, the pioneer of the modern phase in Judaism, formulates the following principles of the Jewish religion: (1) God, the author and ruler of all things, is one and simple; (2) God knows all things, rewards the good and punishes evil by natural and, sometimes, supernatural means; (3) God has made known His laws in the Scriptures given through Moses to the children of Israel. Mendelssohn rejects the Christian dogmas of the trinity, original sin, etc., as incompatible with reason, and stresses the harmony between religion and reason within Judaism (Betrachtungen ueber Bonnets Palingenesie, in: Gesammelte Schriften, 3 (1843), 159–66). The truths to be recognized by the Jew are identical with the eternal verities of reason, and they do not depend on a divine revelation. Only the laws of Judaism are revealed. Hence the Jewish religion does not prescribe belief nor does it lay down dogmas (symbols, articles of faith). The Hebrew term emunah means "trust" in the divine promises.


Mendelssohn's distinction between the rational truths of Judaism and the revealed laws of the Torah did not appeal to the reformers of the 19th century, but it pervaded the catechisms and manuals of the Jewish religion written by the disciples of Mendelssohn in the early part of the century. It soon came up against opposition once the impact of *Kant 's critique of rational theology made itself felt. Moreover, *Hegel 's speculative interpretation of Christianity as the "absolute religion" was felt as a serious challenge. Solomon *Formstecher 's Religion des Geistes (1841) and Samuel *Hirsch 's Religionsphilosophie der Juden (1842) presented in their turn Judaism as the "absolute religion." In this changed climate of opinion Manuel *Joel (Zur Orientierung in der Cultusfrage, 1869) spoke of dogmas in Judaism as the essential prerequisite of its cult and ritual. Abraham *Geiger agreed with his repudiation of Mendelssohn and stressed the wealth of "ideas" with which Judaism entered history. He denied, however, the validity of the term "dogma" as applied to the Jewish religion, since the absence of ultimately fixed formulations of Jewish beliefs rendered the term "dogma" illegitimate. David *Einhorn , on the other hand, had no objection to using this term (Das Prinzip des Mosaismus (1854), 11–13). The same view was strongly expressed by Leopold Loew (Juedische Dogmen (1871), 138–49). The formulations of the Jewish creed by a number of Jewish theologians of the latter part of the 19th century manifest the strongly felt desire to offer some clear guidance on the essential affirmations of Judaism. To these belong Samuel Hirsch's Systematischer Katechismus der israelitischen Religion (1856); Solomon Formstecher's Mosaische Religionslehre (1860); and Joseph Aub's Grundlage zu einem wissenschaftlichen Unterricht in der mosaischen Religion (1865). The Orthodox creed found its powerful spokesman in Samson Raphael *Hirsch who in his Choreb, Versuche ueber Jissroels Pflichten in der Zerstreuung (1837; Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances, 1962) sought to interpret Judaism from within halakhah, expressing the view that "the catechism of the Jew is his calendar." Samuel David Luzzatto's Yesodei ha-Torah appeared in 1880, and Michael Friedlaender's The Jewish Religion in 1896. It was followed by Morris Joseph's Judaism as Creed and Life in 1903. Julien Weil wrote La Foi d'Israel (1926). Mordecai M. *Kaplan discussed "Creeds and Wants" in his Judaism in Transition (1941), 206–38. A later formulation of Jewish beliefs is given in the form of an epitome of Hermann Cohen's Religion der Vernunft in his The Purpose and Meaning of Jewish Existence (1964). A modification of Maimonides' creed in the light of modern biblical criticism is offered by Louis Jacobs in his The Principles of Judaism (1964).


L. Loew, Gesammelte Schriften, 1 (1889), 31–52, 133–76; Jacob Guttmann, Ueber Dogmenbildung im Judentum (1894); S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism (1896, repr. 1945), 147–81; J. Holzer, Zur Geschichte der Dogmenlehre… (1901), 5–42 (contains also Mavo le-Perek Ḥelek in Arabic and Hebrew); Maimonides, Commentary on Mishna, ed. and tr. by Y. Kafaḥ (1965), 195–217; D. Neumark, Toledot ha-Ikkarim be-Yisrael, 2 vols. (1912); I. Scheftelowitz, in: MGWJ, 34 (1926), 65–75; L. Baeck, ibid., 225–36; F. Goldmann, ibid., 441–57; Julius Guttmann, ibid., 35 (1927), 241–55; Guttmann, Philosophies, passim; A. Altmann, in: Der Morgen (Berlin-Amsterdam, 1937), 228–35; S. Heller-Wilensky, Rabbi Yiẓḥak Arama u-Mishnato ha-Filosofit (1956), 78–96; M. Goshen-Gottstein, in: Tarbiz, 26 (1957), 185–96; A. Hyman, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1967), 111–44; J. Petuchowski, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Studies in Nineteenth Century Jewish Intellectual History (1964), 47–64. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Kellner, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought (1986); H. Ben-Shammai, in: Da'a, 37 (1996), 11–26; M. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised (2004).

[Alexander Altmann]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.