What Do Jews Believe?
Judaism does not have a formal mandatory beliefs
The most accepted summary of Jewish beliefs is Rambam's 13 principles of faith
Even these basic principles have been debated
Judaism focuses on the relationships between the Creator, mankind, and the land of Israel
This is a far more difficult question than you might expect. Judaism has no
dogma, no formal set of beliefs that one must hold to be a Jew. In Judaism,
actions are far more important than beliefs, although there is certainly a
place for belief within Judaism.
13 Principles of Faith
The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely-accepted list of
Jewish beliefs is Rambam's thirteen principles of
faith. These principles, which Rambam thought were the minimum requirements of
Jewish belief, are:
- G-d exists
- G-d is one and unique
- G-d is incorporeal
- G-d is eternal
- Prayer is to be directed to G-d alone and to
- The words of the prophets are true
- Moses' prophecies are true, and Moses was the
greatest of the prophets
- The Written Torah (first 5 books of the
Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings now contained in
the Talmud and other writings) were given to
- There will be no other Torah
- G-d knows the thoughts and deeds of men
- G-d will reward the good and punish the wicked
- The Messiah will come
- The dead will be
As you can see, these are very basic and general principles. Yet as basic as
these principles are, the necessity of believing each one of these has been
disputed at one time or another, and the liberal
movements of Judaism dispute many of these
Unlike many other religions, Judaism does not focus much on abstract
cosmological concepts. Although Jews have certainly considered the
nature of G-d, man, the
universe, life and the
afterlife at great length (see
Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism), there is no
mandated, official, definitive belief on these subjects, outside of the very
general concepts discussed above. There is substantial room for personal
opinion on all of these matters, because as I said before, Judaism is more
concerned about actions than beliefs.
Judaism focuses on relationships: the relationship between G-d and mankind,
between G-d and the Jewish people, between the
Jewish people and the land of Israel, and between
human beings. Our scriptures tell the story of the development of these
relationships, from the time of creation, through the creation of the
relationship between G-d and Abraham, to the
creation of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, and forward.
The scriptures also specify the mutual obligations created by these
relationships, although various movements of Judaism disagree about the nature
of these obligations. Some say they are absolute, unchanging laws from G-d
(Orthodox); some say they are laws from G-d that change and evolve over time
(Conservative); some say that they are guidelines that you can choose whether
or not to follow (Reform, Reconstructionist). For more on these distinctions,
see Movements of Judaism.
So, what are these actions that Judaism is so concerned about? According to
Orthodox Judaism, these actions include 613
commandments given by G-d in the Torah as well
as laws instituted by the rabbis and long-standing
customs. These actions are discussed in depth on the page regarding
Halakhah: Jewish Law and the pages following it.
Suggestions for Further Reading
As I said above, Judaism focuses more on actions than on beliefs, and books
about Judaism tend to do the same. Most books emphasize holidays, practices and
observances. The best summary of Jewish beliefs I've seen is Milton Steinberg's
Judaism. This book presents and contrasts the traditional and modern
perspectives, and shows that we have more in common than many of us realize.
© Copyright 5756-5771 (1995-2011), Tracey R Rich
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