What are the main beliefs of Judaism?

June 29, 2020 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

BELIEFS OF JUDAISM

Q. What are the main beliefs of Judaism?

A. There are two answers. One follows the approach of Maimonides and other great Jewish philosophers.

Maimonides’ thirteen principles are found in the Siddur in two forms ­- “Ani Ma’amin” and “Yigdal”, though both are later reworkings of the author’s own words.

Lists of Jewish beliefs were also made by Saadia Gaon, Yehudah HaLevi, Joseph Albo and others.

All are philosophical analyses, spelling out the nature of God, Torah, reward and punishment, etc. Influenced by the philosophical mood of the time, they try to express Judaism in formula form.

But they have their drawbacks. They imply that one has to assent to set formulas in order to be a Jew, and this is not the way Judaism has usually worked.

More: they are clinical and theoretical; as a student once said to Hermann Cohen, “You have told us about the God of the philosophers, but what about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”

The second approach is that of living Judaism. You do not find it in any one list, but it is everywhere in the Bible, Talmud and Midrash.

It is “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one” … “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might” … “Love your neighbour as yourself” … “Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” … “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?” … “Keep far from a false word” … “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God”…

According to Rabbi Simlai, the 3rd century sage, it was the prophet Habakkuk who best summed up Judaism when he said, “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).

The main thing is thus not the acceptance of a set of rarefied propositions but living out one’s faith in the real world.

Chasdai Crescas put it this way: “Salvation is attained not by subscription to metaphysical dogmas but solely by love of God that fulfils itself in action.”

Hence Samson Raphael Hirsch’s famous assertion, “The creed of the Jew consists of his calendar”: i.e. look at how a Jew lives, and that will show what he or she believes in.

A PHYSICAL MESSIAH

Q. I am puzzled. If God is not physical, why do we need a physical Messiah?

A. They are two different issues.

That God is not physical is axiomatic. But there is no reason why He should not use physical instrumentalities. After all, though the Torah says, “I the Lord am your Healer” (Ex. 15:26), the doctor is regarded as God’s representative in bringing healing.

God is our Redeemer (Job 19:25 etc.), but Judaism has long accepted that his earthly agent in bringing about redemption will be the Mashi’ach.

Indeed, each of us has the potential to perform messianic deeds; we can each be a Divine “shali’ach”.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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