Does Judaism have an official set of principles of faith?
In much of Orthodoxy one is required to believe Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith – and a very specific interpretation of those principles. Most Haredi and Yeshivish Orthodox communities also require many ancillary beliefs about God, rabbinic literature, and their gedolim, “great rabbis.”
In contrast, more liberal Jewish movements such as Reform and Reconstructionist often teach that “there is no such thing as a Jewish theological principle, policy, or doctrine.”
In between these positions is the historical Jewish view: Judaism does have important theological beliefs and parameters, but they’ve never been canonized in one precise fashion. Rather, Jews have beliefs based on our Tanakh and rabbinic literature, and we are allowed to – and encouraged to – use reason to figure them out. As such, many Jewish philosophers wrote important books summarizing these principles, including:
Saadia Gaon wrote Emunot ve-Deot, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions. Written in 933 CE.
Bahya ibn Pakuda wrote Chovot HaLevavot, Duties of the Heart. Written around 1080 CE.
Abraham ibn Daud wrote the Arabic language Jewish work, Al-ʿaqida l-Rafiya, The Sublime Faith. The classical Hebrew translation is entitled Ha-Emunah Ha-Ramah. Written in 1168 CE.
Maimonides’ (Moses Ben Maimon) wrote his 13 principles of faith in his commentary on the Mishnah. Written between 1166-68 CE.
Joseph Albo wrote Sefer Ha-Ikkarim, Book of Principles, circa 1430 CE.
For the last two thousand years, Jewish people living in Jewish communities were immersed in a culture in which beliefs from these many works were read and discussed. As long as one stayed within some general semblance of them, there was no problem (aside of course the occasionally caustic debates between particular philosophers. As fascinating as those debates are, they usually had little effect on local Jews in their own communities.) The Jewish Encyclopedia summarizes the state of affairs quite nicely:
“In the same sense as Christianity or Islam, Judaism can not be credited with the possession of Articles of Faith. Many attempts have indeed been made at systematizing and reducing to a fixed phraseology and sequence the contents Of the Jewish religion. But these have always lacked the one essential element: authoritative sanction on the part of a supreme ecclesiastical body. And for this reason they have not been recognized as final or regarded as of universally binding force. Though to a certain extent incorporated in the liturgy and utilized for purposes of instruction, these formulations of the cardinal tenets of Judaism carried no greater weight than that imparted to them by the fame and scholarship of their respective authors. “
Today, with the development of modern Jewish denominations, the question of what constitutes authentic Jewish faith has risen to a new level, precisely because Reform denies the idea that we Jews have authentic beliefs, while Orthodoxy demands adherence to one particular formulation alone.
It is the aim of this article to help one understand that, sure, we do have beliefs, but no, they aren’t as narrowly set as some of the narrow minded might demand.
The Jewish Encyclopedia shows us one of the rare demarcation statements in the Talmud:
In another demarcation between acceptable and unacceptable belief, the Talmud records that Rabbi Akiva held it heretical to read from the “outside works”. This phrase is widely understood to refer to the apocrypha. In truth, this identification is not so clear. Akiva may have been referring to other books, possibly even some of the books of the Ketuvim (Writings), which eventually were canonized as part of the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible]. (2)
“Abba Saul designated as under suspicion of infidelity those that pronounce the ineffable name of the Deity. By implication, the contrary doctrine and attitude may thus be regarded as having been proclaimed as orthodox. On the other hand, Akiva himself declares that the command to love one’s neighbor the fundamental the principle of the Law; while Ben Asa assigns this distinction to the Biblical verse, “This is the book of the generations of man” (Genesis v.i.; Midrash Genesis Rabbah xxiv).” (1)
The 13 Principles of Faith is the most well known Jewish creed; it was formulated by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides, or Rambam (1135-1204 CE). These principles were controversial when first proposed, and they were not accepted by most of the Jewish community for the next few centuries. (3)
Over time two poetic restatements of these principles (Ani Ma’amim and Yigdal) became canonized in the siddur, and these principles eventually became widely held. Today most of the Orthodox Jewish community holds these beliefs to be obligatory.
However, “even a cursory examination of Jewish literature shows that Maimonides’ principles were never regarded as the last word in Jewish theology.” (4)
Further, many of the beliefs that people attribute to Maimonides were, in fact, the opposite of what he held to be true. Many “true believers” thus, ironically, hold beliefs that Maimonides held to be heretical.
Do we really accept the 13 principles of faith?
Below we quote each of these principles as phrased in the “Ani Ma’amim”, and discuss how modern Jewish denominations understand them. Maimonides’ comments are taken from his commentary on the Mishnah (10th chapter of Sanhedrin) and the Mishneh Torah (Yesodey HaTorah), using the translation of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. (5)
Note that the Ani Ma’amim was not written by Maimonides, and it sometimes contradicts Maimonides’ own views. We quote the Ani Ma’amim because in practice most Orthodox Jews base their faith on its formulation.
1. I believe that God creates and guides all creatures, and that God alone made, makes and will make everything.
Judaism affirms theism as the basis for religion, as does Islam and Christianity. Beyond merely teaching that a god exists – which rules out atheism and agnosticism – Judaism specifically notes that only one god exists, thereby ruling out polytheism. God is posited as a creator and a source of morality, and has the power to intervene in the world in some fashion. The term ‘God’ thus corresponds to an actual ontological reality, and is not merely a projection of the human psyche. Maimonides writes “There is a Being, perfect in every possible way, who is the ultimate cause of all existence. All existence depends on God and is derived from God.”
This is accepted by Orthodox, Conservative, most Reform and some Reconstructionist Jews.
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of the Reconstructionist movement, did not believe in God as most people had previously understood the term. Instead he spoke of the “God-idea”. He transvalued the word God to mean the set of natural processes within the universe that man can use to become self-fulfilled. He also defined God as “the power in the universe that makes for salvation”, where “salvation” is defined as man’s ability to achieve self-realization and fulfillment.
Or consider the theology of Rabbi Alvin Reines, professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Reform movement’s primary seminary, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He teaches that theology is not the study of God, but instead is the study of the possible meanings of the term “God”. He holds that those who do not believe in God can continue to use theistic language. He then presents a redefinition of the word God: “The enduring possibility of being”. Using his redefinition, he reasons that since nothing can exist without the possibility of its being, whenever we experience existence, we experience God. Thus, everyone can be said to believe in God. (15)
This phenomenon has been termed “conversion by definition”. (6) Rabbi Michael Samuels has noted that these reinterpretations exploit the traditional prestige of words that they have emptied of their original meaning. (7)
2. I believe that God is one, and that there is no unity that is in any way like God’s. He alone is our God, Who is, Who was and Who always will be.
Maimonides explains “If one even allows himself to think that there is another deity other than God, than he violates the commandment “You shall have no other gods before me”.
This is accepted by Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and many Reconstructionist Jews.
Mordecai Kaplan outlines the Reconstructionist view: God is part of “the cosmos itself” which is really “a unified field of relationships”. God is the sum of everything that is needed for “human fulfillment or salvation, both individual and collective, which is compatible with the cultural climate of contemporary life.” (8) Kaplan also defines God as “those forces in human life and its environment which make for health, happiness and progress.” (9)
3. I believe that God is not physical and is not affected by physical phenomenon, and that there is no comparison to God whatsoever.
Maimonides explains “In many places our holy scriptures do speak of God in physical terms. Thus we find concepts such as walking, standing, sitting and speaking used in relation to God. In all these cases, though, scripture is only speaking metaphorically. In the Talmud our sages teach us that “The Torah speaks in the language of man” (Berachot, 31b).
This principle is accepted by all denominations.
4. I believe that God is the very first and the very last.
Maimonides explains “The fourth principle involves the absolute eternity of the One. Nothing else shares God’s eternal quality. This is discussed many times in Scripture, and the Torah teaches it to us when it says “The Eternal God is a refuge” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
This principle is accepted by all denominations.
5. I believe that to God alone is it proper to pray, and it is not proper to pray to any other.
Maimonides writes “God is the only one we may serve and praise….We many not act in this way toward anything beneath God, whether it be an angel, a star, or one of the elements…..There are no intermediaries between us and God. All our prayers should be directed towards God; nothing else should even be considered.
Jewish law requires the worshiper to be aware that it is God being addressed, to “know before Whom you are standing” (Berakhot, 28b). Merely reading from a prayer book, appreciating the beauty of the poetry, or meditating on some words, does not by itself constitute Jewish prayer. To transform reading into praying, there must at least be a sense of standing in the presence of God and the intent to fulfill at least one of God’s commandments. (10)
This principle is accepted by Orthodox, Conservative and most Reform Jews.
In contrast, most Reconstructionist and some Reform Jews have redefined the word prayer. Instead of believing in a personal God, the word ‘God’ is redefined as a natural process or a philosophical idea, not an ontological reality. As such, what does it mean to pray? Mordecai Kaplan says “Prayer aims at deriving, from the Process that constitutes God, the power that would strengthen the forces and relationships by which we fulfill ourselves as persons.”(11) That is, prayer is an action that allows people to understand their desires, which need to be recognized in order to be fulfilled.
Some Reconstructionists seek to abolish all references to God, even in the context of this redefined concept of prayer. Ira Eisenstein, President Emeritus of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and an editor of the first Reconstructionist prayer book, writes:
“Prayer does not necessarily require a ‘thou’….When I pray I confine myself to the kind of text that enables me to achieve what Walter Kaufman calls ‘passionate reflection’….I suggest that traditional Jewish values become the central theme of passionate reflection. (12)
Eisenstein goes on to state that “a dialogue with some Other” does not constitute authentic prayer, and urges Reconstructionist Jews to pray “without the Thou [God]”. (12) If this is true, then prayer by all other Jews is not authentic prayer. Knowing how liberal Jews feel when told by certain Orthodox rabbis that their worship isn’t “authentic”, one wonders how a supposedly liberal rabbi can make statements with similar presumption.
This practice of prayer “without the Thou” is not a rare occurance; it is practiced by many Reconstructionists. It has been popularized by Marcia Falk, whose non-deity oriented poetry and prayers have entered new Reconstructionist liturgical works. (13)
In a direct contradiction of Maimonides’ fifth principle many Chassidic Jews pray to their deceased Rebbes, asking them to intercede on their behalf. They argue that they are only asking the souls of the dead to act as intermediaries between them and God, but this is precisely what Maimonides attacks as heresy. Chasidic Jews view their rebbes as a necessary intermediary in worship of God. Here is an extreme example of this:
“What’s Really Going On” By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg, Beis Moshiach
Rosh HaShana is not only the Day of Judgment, but most importantly, the day on which we crown the King of the universe and accept His sovereignty. On Rosh HaShana, we rise above the particulars of Torah and mitzvos and go directly to the King Himself. The common theme in all our Yomim Noraim prayers is the Creation’s acceptance of Hashem’s malchus, which, according to the Divine plan, is accomplished by acceptance of Melech HaMoshiach’s sovereignty. As mentioned before, this is why it is so important to declare “Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed” before the shofar is sounded and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur after “Hashem Hu HaElokim.” This custom was instituted in the Rebbe’s presence in Beis Chayeinu in 5754. As Chassidus explains, the way to achieve hiskashrus with HaKadosh Boruch Hu is by being connected to the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, the “connecting intermediary,” through whom we attach ourselves to the Infinite, as it states, “I stand between you and G-d, to convey to you G-d’s word.” This includes not only obeying all the Rebbe’s directives, seeking his advice and believing in his prophecies, but striving toward an essential hiskarshus with the Rebbe himself.
6. I believe that all the words of the prophets are true.
Maimonides explains “We must realize that there exist human beings who have such lofty qualities and achieve such great perfection that their souls become prepared to receive pure spiritual wisdom. Their human wisdom can then become bound up with Creative Mind of God and receive an inspired emanation from it. This is prophecy, and those people who achieve it are prophets.”
“All prophets have one thing in common. They all see their prophecy only in a dream, a vision or a trance. This is what the Torah means when it says “If there be a prophet among you, then I, God, will make Myself known to him in a vision – I will speak to him in a dream.” (Numbers 12:6)
This principle is accepted by Orthodox, Conservative, most Reform Jews.
7. I believe that the prophecy of Moses was true, and that he was the chief of all prophets, both those before him and those after him.
Maimonides explains “Moses was superior to all prophets, whether they preceded him or arose afterwards. Moses attained the highest possible human level. He perceived God to a degree surpassing every human that ever existed….God spoke to all other prophets through an intermediary. Moses alone did not need this; this is what the Torah means when God says “Mouth to mouth, I will speak to him.”
This principle is accepted by all Orthodox and most Conservative Jews. However, this does not imply that the text of the Torah should be understood literally. The rabbinic tradition maintains that God conveyed not only the words of the Torah, but the meaning of the Torah. God gave rules as to how the laws were to be understood and implemented, and these were passed down as an oral tradition. This oral law ultimately was written down almost 2,000 years later in the Mishna and the two Talmuds.
The founders of Reform Judaism replaced this principle with the idea of progressive revelation. In this view, Moses was not the highest degree of prophecy; rather it was the first in a long chain of progressive revelations in which mankind gradually began to better understand the will of God. As such, the laws of Moses are no longer binding, and it is today’s generation that must assess what God wants of them. (See the works of Gunther Plaut or Eugene Borowitz). This principle is also rejected by most Reconstructionists, but for a different reason; most posit that God is not a being with a will; thus no will can be revealed.
8. I believe that the entire Torah now in our hands is the same one that was given to Moses our teacher.
Maimonides explains “We do not know exactly how the Torah was transmitted to Moses. But when it was transmitted, Moses merely wrote it down like a secretary taking dictation….[Thus] every verse in the Torah is equally holy, as they all originate from God, and are all part of God’s Torah, which is perfect, holy and true….The person who says that some passages were written by Moses of his own accord is considered by our prophets and sages to be the worst sort of nonbeliever, and a perverter of the Torah….Such a person is in the category of those who say “The Torah is not in heaven”….Regarding such a person the Torah says “He has despised the word of God, his soul shall be utterly cut off.” (Numbers 15:31)
Maimonides writes that to a lesser degree, this principle also covers the Oral, as well as the Written Torah. This includes the Mishna, early halakhic Midrashim, and the two Talmuds. We, of course, are not supposed to believe that every word or rule in these works came directly from God. However, Maimonides says that we have to believe that all this material is nevertheless directly based on the law that God disclosed to Moses. Maimonides explains “One who does not believe in the Oral Torah…is counted as an apikores (heretic). However, this is only true when one denies the Oral Torah on the basis of his owns thoughts and opinions…this does not include the children of those who go astray or their descendants.”
No modern Jewish denomination totally accepts this principle. Orthodox Jews recognize that over the millennia, many scribal errors have crept into the Torah’s text. The Masoretes (7th to 10th centuries CE) compared all extant variations and attempted to create a definitive text. Also, there are a number of places in the Torah where gaps are seen – part of the story in these places has been edited out.
In general, though, Orthodox Jews view the Written and Oral Torah as virtually the same that Moses taught, for all practical purposes.
Due to advances in biblical scholarship, and archeological and linguistic research, all non-Orthodox Jews reject this principle outright. Instead, they accept that the core of the Oral and Written Torah may come from the Moses, but that the document that we have today has been edited together from several documents. Conservative Jews tend to believe that much of the Oral law is divinely inspired, while Reform and Reconstructionist Jews tend to view all of the Oral law as an entirely human creation. For more details see Richard Elliot Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible?”
9. I believe that the Torah will not be changed nor will there be another Torah from God.
Maimonides explains “If any prophet comes to alter the Torah, we immediately know that he is a false prophet. It does not matter whether he is Jewish or gentile, or how many signs and miracles he performs. If he says that God sent him to add or subtract a commandment…he is a false prophet. The same is true if he teaches that the commandments were only given for a limited time and not forever.
This principle is accepted by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, as long as one understands that this claim is understood within the system of the dual Torah, the written and the oral law. In contrast, Reform Jews state instead that Revelation is progressive, thus Jews are not bound by the understanding of Revelation that came from the Written or Oral Torah. This can be seen in the writings of the early Reformers, as well as modern day prominent Reform theologians such as Eugene Borowitz and Gunther Plaut. They teach that the laws of the Torah and Talmud are no longer binding; Instead, each Jews is empowered to interpret the word of God, and this interpretation literally creates new and separate commandments for each person. Reconstructionists dismissed the idea of mitzvot altogether, and replaced it with folk-ways that can be democratically altered by the will of the people.
10. I believe that God knows all the deeds of human beings and their thoughts.
Maimonides explains “The tenth principle is that God knows all that men do, and never turns His eyes away from them. It denies the opinion of those who say “God has abandoned His world”.
This principle is accepted by Orthodox, Conservative and most Reform Jews. It is rejected by some Reform and most Reconstructionist Jews, as Kaplan’s conception of God does not have the property of knowledge.
11. I believe that God rewards with good those who observe his commandments, and punishes those who violate His commandments.
This is a case where the Ani Ma’amim states the opposite of what Maimonides actually taught; Maimonides wrote that only fools believe that God rewarded or punished people. He believed that the only possible reward was that if a person perfected his intellect to the highest degree, then the part of his intellect that connected to God, the active intellect, would be immortalized.
The common understanding of this principle – against Maimonides’s view – is accepted by most Orthodox, and some Conservative and Reform Jews.
12. I believe in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.
Maimonides explains ”
We believe that the Messiah will be greater than any other king or ruler that has ever lives….One who doubts this denies the Torah itself. The Messianic age is when the Jews will regain their independence and all return to the land of Israel. The Messiah will be a very great king, he will achieve great fame, and his reputation among the gentile nations will be even greater than that of King Solomon. His great righteousness and the wonders that he will bring about will cause all peoples to make peace with him and all lands to serve him…. “
“Nothing will change in the Messianic age, however, except that Jews will regain their independence. Rich and poor, strong and weak, will still exist. However it will be very easy for people to make a living, and with very little effort they will be able to accomplish very much…. it will be a time when the number of wise men will increase…war shall not exist, and nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation…”
“Do not think that the ways of the world or the laws of nature will change, this is not true. The world will continue as it is.
This principle is accepted by Orthodox Jews. Conservative Jews vary in their beliefs, some affirming a personal messiah, while others affirm a messianic era. Emet Ve-Emunah (14), the Conservative movement’s statement of principles, notes:
“We do not know when the Messiah will come, nor whether he will be a charismatic human figure or is a symbol of the redemption of human-kind from the evils of the world. Through the doctrine of aMessianic figure, Judaism teaches us that every individual human being must live as if he or she, individually, has the responsibility to bring about the messianic age. Beyond that, we echo the words ofMaimonides based on the prophet Habakkuk (2:3) that though he may tarry, yet do we wait for him each day….
[Since no one can say for certain what will happen in the Messianic era] each of us is free to fashion personal speculation. Some of us accept these speculations are literally true, while others understand them as elaborate metaphors….For the world community we dream of an age when warfare will be abolished, when justice and compassion will be axioms of all, as it is said in Isaiah 11: “…the land shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” For our people, we dream of the ingathering of all Jews to Zion where we can again be masters of our own destiny and express our distinctive genius in every area of our national life. We affirm Isaiah’s prophecy (2:3) that ‘…Torah shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord fromJerusalem’. ” (14)
Reform Jews generally concur with this; they are more likely to believe in a messianic era than a personal messiah. Reconstructionist Jews reject the idea that God can send a personal messiah or bring about a messianic age, but they do teach that man can use the power or process termed God to help bring about such a world.
13. I believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead whenever the wish emanates from God.
Maimonides wrote much on this topic, but in most cases he wrote about the immortality of the soul for people of perfected intellect; his writings were not about any resurrection of dead bodies. This prompted hostile criticism from the rabbis of his day, and sparked a controversy over his true views, which has gone on unabated to this day.
Rabbinic works usually refer to this afterlife as “Olam Haba” (the world to come). Note that some books use this phrase to refer to the messianic era, a physical realm right here on Earth; in other works this phrase refers to a purely spiritual realm.
It was during Maimonides’s lifetime, that this lack of agreement flared into a full blown theological dispute, with Maimonides himself charged as being a heretic by many Jewish leaders.
Some Jews at this time taught that Judaism did not require a belief in the physical resurrection of the dead, as the afterlife would be a purely spiritual realm. They used Maimonides’ works on this subject to back up their position. In return, their opponents claimed that this was outright heresy; for them the afterlife was right here on Earth, where God would raise dead bodies from the grave so that the rsurrected could live eternally.
Maimonides was brought into this dispute by both sides, as the first group stated that his writings agreed with them, and the second group portrayed him as a heretic for writing that the afterlife is for the immaterial spirit alone. Eventually, Maimonides felt pressured to write a treatise on the subject, the “Ma’amar Tehiyyat Hametim” (the treatise on resurrection).
In it he shows that contrary to the prevailing dogma, the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] is ambiguous on resurrection; most verses on this topic can be read in two ways, and these are only hints or allusions. It is only the book of Daniel that Maimonides accepts as definitively stating that “many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence”. (12:2) This is taken as referring to a physical resurrection of the dead, which clearly would be a miracle. However, we must take care to understand Maimonides’ understanding of “miracles”, for it is not the same as the definition used by many sages of the Talmud, nor is it the same one used by many Orthodox Jews.
Maimonides writes that God never violates the laws of nature. Rather, all divine interaction is by way of angels. Maimonides also states that the layman’s understanding of the term “angel” is ignorant in the extreme; the Bible’s and Talmud’s references to “angels” are really metaphors for the various laws of nature, or the principlies by which the physical universe operates, or kinds of platonic eternal forms. Thus, if a unique event actually occurs, even it is perceived as a miracle, it is not a violation of the world’s order [“Perush ha-Mishnah” (Commentary on the Mishnah), Avot 5:6]
In contrast to the dogma of his day, Maimonides believes that miracles are not permanent. Thus, any dead who are resurrected must eventually die again. Maimonides thus disassociated the resurrection of the dead from both the afterlife as well as from the Messianic era.
Note that Maimonides says nothing of a universal resurrection. All he says it is that whatever resurrection does take place, it will occur at an indeterminate time before the world to come, which he repeatedly states will be purely spiritual. He writes “It appears to us on the basis of these verses [Daniel 11:2,13] that those people who will return to those bodies will eat, drink, copulate, beget, and die after a very long life, like the lives of those who will live in the Days of the Messiah.” This clearly states that (a) the resurrection is not the world to come, and (b) it has nothing to do with the messianic era.
In a move that infuriated his critics, chapter two of the letter on resurrection refers to those who believe that the world to come involves physically resurrected bodies; he refers to one with such beliefs as being an “utter fool” whose belief is “folly”: “If one of the multitude refuses to believe [that angels are incorporeal] and prefers to believe that angels have bodies and even that they eat, since it is written (Gen. 18:8) `they ate’, or that those who exist in the World to Come will also have bodies – we won’t hold it against him or consider him a heretic; we will not distance ourselves from him, nor will he regard one who speaks thus to be an utter fool. Let us hope that no fool will go farther than this in his folly.”
One can now see why so many people regarded Maimonides as heretical. At that time, many Jews believed that the physical resurrection was identical to the world to come; thus denial of a permanent and universal resurrection was considered tantamount to denying the words of the Talmudic sages. However, instead of denying the resurrection, or maintaining the current dogma, Maimonides posited a third way: That resurrection had nothing to do with the messianic era (here in this world) nor to do with Olam Haba (the purely spiritual afterlife). Rather, he considered resurrection to simply be a miracle that the book of Daniel predicted; thus at some point in time we could thus expect some instances of resurrection to temporarily occur, which would have no place in any eschatological scheme.
Emet Ve-Emunah, the statement of principles of Conservative Judaism, affirms “that death does not mean extinction and oblivion. This conviction is articulated in our tradition in two doctrines: The doctrine of the bodily resurrection of the dead, and the continuing existence after death, and through eternity, of the individual soul. In the course of Jewish history both of these doctrines have been understood in varying ways. For some of us these are literally true, while for others these are interpreted as metaphors….In sum, if God is truly God, if His power is the ultimate fact in the world, then His ability to touch us is not cut off by the grave.” (14)
Reform Judaism has generally denied that there is an afterlife. The Pittsburgh Platform declared that the afterlife (i.e. Gan Eden and Gehenna) has no place in Judaism . However, this and later statements also posited that the human soul is immortal. How the soul can exist after the death of a body without any form of afterlife is not dealt with, as the Reform creed of immortality was usually held to be more symbolic than literal. Rabbi Howard Jaffe writes that “Reform Judaism, while not taking any ‘official’ position on the matter, has for the most part ignored the question, and tended towards the belief that there is no such thing.” In the past decade a small but growing number of Reform Jews have begun to suggest that Reform Jews re-embrace some traditional Jewish afterlife concepts.
Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the idea that there is an immortal soul. For an excellent study and overview of the Jewish concept of immortality, the soul, and the afterlife, see Simcha Paull Raphael’s “Jewish Views of the Afterlife” (Jason Aronson Inc.)
Principles of faith after Maimonides
“Maimonides wrote this creed while still a young man. He never referred to it in his later works. Some believe that this is a clear sign that he changed his mind on this issue, and never intended them to be a binding set of principles.”(1) In practice, his 13 Principles did not gather universal acceptance. However, a succinct poem based on them eventually made its way into the Siddur [Jewish prayerbook] where it still is sung from each day (Yigdal).
“The successors of Maimonides, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century – Nachmanides , Abba Mari ben Moses, Simon ben Zemah, Duran, Albo, Isaac Arama, and Joseph Jaabez – reduced his thirteen articles to three: (a) Belief in God (b) Creation (or revelation) and (c) providence/retribution.” (1)
“Others, like Crescas and David ben Samuel Estella, spoke of seven fundamental articles, laying stress on free-will. On the other hand, David ben Yom-Tov ibn Bilia, in his “Yesodot ha- Maskil” (Fundamentals of the Thinking Man), adds to the thirteen of Maimonides thirteen of his own – a number which a contemporary of Albo also chose for his fundamentals; while Yedaiah Penini, in the last chapter of his “Behinat ha-Dat,” enumerated no less than thirty-five cardinal principles. ”
“In the fourteenth century Asher ben Yehiel of Toledo raised his voice against the Maimonidean Articles of Faith, declaring them to be only temporary, and suggested that another be added to recognize that the Exile is a punishment for the sins of Israel. Isaac Abravanel, in his “Rosh Emunah,” took the same attitude towards Maimonides’ creed. While defending Maimonides against Hasdai and Albo, he refused to accept dogmatic articles for Judaism, holding, with all the Kabalists, that the 613 commandments of the Law are all tantamount to Articles of Faith.” (1)
(1) “The Jewish Encyclopedia” New York: Funk and Wagnalls 1906-1910. Entry on Maimonides’ Principles of Faith.
(2) “Apocrypha”, Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing
(3) Menachem Kellner, “Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought”, Oxford Univ. Press, 1986
(4) Marc B. Shapiro, “Maimonides Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?” The Torah U-Maddah Journal, Vol.4, 1993, Yeshiva University
(5) Aryeh Kaplan “Maimonides’ principles: The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith” in “The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology, Volume I”, Mesorah Publications, 1994
(6) “God, Torah, Israel: Traditionalism Without Fundamentalism” Louis Jacobs, Hebrew Union College Press, Cincinnati, 1990
(7) Michael Samuels “The Lord is My Shepherd: The Theology of a Caring God”, Jason Aronson, 1996
(8) “The Reconstructionist” Mordecai Kaplan, Oct. 2, 1964, pp. 14-15
(9) “The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion”, Mordecai Kaplan, 1962, p.294
(10) “To Pray As a Jew” Hayim Halevy Donin, First quote, p.18, second quote, p.19,20.
(11) “Questions Jews Ask”, Mordecai Kaplan, 1956 p.103
(12) Ira Eisenstein, “Prayer as Passionate Reflection” Reconstructionism Today Vol.2(2) Winter 1994-95, p.9-10.
(13) Marcia Falk “Book of Blessings” Harper SanFrancisco, 1996. Although Falk’s book was published in 1996, many of her non-God oriented blessings were written a few years before; these were widely circulated in photocopy form in many Reconstructionist havurot. Some of these new non-God oriented prayers are now in many new Reconstructionist praerybooks. See her end notes for her explanation of why she feels Jews must remove the traditional concept of God from prayer, and replace it with self-oriented meditations.
(14) The Rabbinical Assembly “Emet Ve-Emunah: Statements of principles of Conservative Judaism”, JTSA, New York, 1988
(15) Alvin J. Reines “Hylotheism: A theology of pure process” in “Jewish Theology and Process Thought” Edited by Sandra B. Lubarsky and David Ray Griffin, The State University of New York Press, NY 1996.
References———-Eugene Borowitz “Reform Judaism Today”, Behrman House. (Originally published by UAHC Press, 1977) An omnibus volume that discusses the evolution of Reform Judaism. Covers the Reform vision of God, Torah, and Israel; what it means to be a Reform Jew today, and the place of Reform in the spectrum of Jewish rituals and practices.
Alfred J. Kolatch “This is the Torah”, Jonathan David Publishers, 1994
Moses Maimonides “The Guide for The Perplexed” Dover Publications, Inc.
W. Gunther Plaut “The Growth of Reform Judaism” World Union for Progressive Judaism, 1965.
Simcha Paull Raphael “Jewish Views of the Afterlife”, Jason Aronson Inc., 1994
“The Complete Artscroll Siddur – Nusach Ashkenaz” Ed. Rabbi Nosson Scherman, Second Edition, 1986 Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY
Rifat Sonsino and Daniel B. Syme “Finding God: Ten Jewish Responses”, Jason Aronson, Inc., 1993
“Platform on Reconstructionism” Published in the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot, Sept. 1986, pages D, E.
Copyright 2001, Robert D. Kaiser
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