Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam) was a 12th century Jewish philosopher, codifier, commentator and physician. He is best known for his codification of Jewish law (Mishneh Torah), his philosophical writings (Moreh Nevuchim/Guide for the Perplexed) and his Thirteen Principles of Faith.
Although Maimonides lived in an age when there were many great Torah scholars (Isaac Alfasi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Nachmanides, etc), a large part of the Jewish lay population was devout but unlearned. Thus Maimonides found it necessary, while writing a commentary on the Mishnah of Sanhedrin, to elucidate 13 specific principles of faith in which Jews must believe. At the conclusion of his composition of these points, Maimonides noted that anyone who believed that these principles could be easily comprehended in their entirety, was misguided, for they each require a great deal of study to understand the true essence of their meaning.
In short, the Thirteen Principles of Faith as listed by Maimonides are:
1. The existence of the Creator
2. God’s unity (one God)
3. God’s incorporeality (spiritual essence)
4. The eternity of God
5. Only God is worthy of our prayers
6. The existence of prophecy
7. Moses was the greatest prophet
8. God gave the Torah to Moses and the Jewish people
9. There is not, and never will be, another Torah
10. God’s omniscience
11. The existence of reward and punishment
12. The Messiah (Moshiach) will come
13. The dead will return to life t’chi’yat ha’may’tim
During his lifetime, Maimonides’ writing was often considered controversial. In time, however, these thirteen principles were accepted by most Jewish authorities. At an unknown point in history, an anonymous author composed a more poetic version of the Thirteen Principles in which each principle begins with the declaration: Ani ma’amin b’emunah she’lay’mah - I believe with complete faith. Another poetic rendition, known as Yigdal, is included in the daily prayer service.
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