The Thirteen Principles of Faith

Maimonides' theological principles were never unanimously embraced.

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The following is largely based on Marc Shapiro's "Maimonides' Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?" published in The Torah U-Madda Journal, volume 4 (1993).

Maimonides wrote his Thirteen Principles of Faith in his introduction to the tenth chapter of Talmud Sanhedrin.

According to Maimonides, anyone who denies--or even doubts--any of these principles is a heretic with no place in the World to Come. Yet, these principles were hardly undisputed. Many scholars who preceded and succeeded Maimonides held contrary beliefs.

Below, is a list of the Thirteen Principles with references to some of these divergent beliefs. Unless otherwise noted, all the scholars mentioned are medieval authorities.

The Principles

Principle 1

God exists; God is perfect in every way, eternal, and the cause of all that exists. All other beings depend upon God for their existence.

Objections

Some medieval authorities believed that God created the world from eternal matter (see Principle 4). Thus, according to these scholars, it would not be true to say that God is the cause of all that exists.

Principle 2

God has absolute and unparalleled unity.

Principle 3

God is incorporeal--without a body.

Objections

In the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides asserts that anyone who believes that God is corporeal is a heretic. In reference to this, Abraham ben David Posquieres (also known as Rabad) comments that people greater than Maimonides have believed that God has a physical form. Rabad himself does not subscribe to this view, but objects to the claim that those who do are heretics.

In addition, Moses ben Hasdai Taku, a tosafist (medieval commentator on the Talmud), believed that God could take a physical form. Finally, Samuel David Luzzatto, a 19th-century scholar, defended the idea that God has a body, claiming that an embodied God was the only God conceivable to most people.

Ironically, Maimonides himself seemed to share this view. In the Guide of the Perplexed (I, 46) he writes: "For the multitude perceive nothing other than bodies as having a firmly established existence and as being indubitably true."

Principle 4

God existed prior to all else. (In a later version of the Thirteen Principles, Maimonides included the notion that God created the world from nothing [creation ex nihilo].)

Objections

In his commentary to Genesis 1:1, Abraham Ibn Ezra suggests that the word bara (created) implies cutting or setting a boundary. Scholars such as Joseph Tov Elem and David Arama understood this to mean that Ibn Ezra believed that God sculpted the world from eternal matter. Gersonides also believed that the world was created from eternal matter.

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Daniel Septimus

Daniel Septimus is Executive Director of The Sefaria Project. Previously, he served as Chief Executive Officer of MyJewishLearning, Inc.