The Principles of Joseph Albo

Judaism has only three main pillars of faith

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Elaborating the Basics

It is hardly possible for a Jewish thinker to go further in tolerance of freedom of thought. Although Albo's unbeliever of the class he describes is in error, he is like any other person who sins in error and can still be counted among the "sages and pious men of Israel." Albo, in fact, extends his three basic principles to others derived from them, so that including the three he first mentions there are eleven basic principles. These are: the existence of God; the unity of God; His incorporeality; His independence of time; His perfection; prophecy; the authenticity of God's messenger, the prophet; revelation; God's knowledge, providence; and reward and punishment.

Although only these are principles, according to Albo's definition, there are six further dogmas the willful rejection of which, with full knowledge that it is a dogma of Judaism, renders a person a heretic who has no share in the World to Come. These are: belief in creation ex nihilo; the superiority of Moses' prophecy; the immutability of the Torah; that human perfection can be attained by fulfilling even a single one of the commandments of the Torah; the resurrection of the dead; the coming of the Messiah.

Although this might be seen as Albo taking back with one hand what he has given with the other, it has to be realized that Albo, as he remarks, is thinking only of a willful rejection of a belief which a person knows to be taught by the Torah. For all that, Albo's distinction between a principle and that which is not a principle remains purely in the realm of semantics, without any practical consequences.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.