Doctrine & Dogma
10) God is all-knowing
11) God rewards good and punishes transgression
12) The Messiah will redeem Israel
13) The dead will be resurrected
Aside from claiming that belief in these principles was necessary for personal salvation, Maimonides asserted that one was not a true member of the "community of Israel" until one understood and affirmed them. This may have been Maimonides' most radical theological innovation. In rabbinic Judaism, one was considered Jewish if one's mother was Jewish or if one converted (the conversion process included a commitment to fulfilling the commandments, but not an explicit commitment to believe in certain doctrines).
In the centuries following Maimonides' death, several other scholars drew up lists of Jewish dogmas. In many instances, these lists differed from Maimonides', either in substance or style. Joseph Albo (c.1380-1444), for example, believed that Judaism had only three fundamental principles, corresponding roughly to Maimonides' first, eighth, and eleventh principles.
Why did lists of Jewish belief suddenly emerge in the Middle Ages?
Many scholars--including the 15th Century Isaac Abravanel--believe that it was a response to outside forces. The 10th century, when Saadiah was writing, saw the strengthening of two religious traditions, Islam and Karaism--a sectarian Jewish movement. Muslims and Karaites alike were monotheists who employed Greek thought to construct systematic theologies and principles of faith. Jewish thinkers were influenced to do the same.
Whatever the reason for their emergence, the notion that Judaism has official beliefs took hold, and Maimonides' list gained mass acceptance. Two liturgical versions of the Thirteen Principles (the yigdal hymn and the ani ma'amin) retain a prominent place in traditional Jewish prayer books to this day.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.