Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 4]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Jewish Articles of Faith


A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]



B) Chapter Summary:

“… the word used in Jewish literature for faith is Emunah, from the root Aman, to be firm; this denotes firm reliance upon God, and likewise firm adherence to him, hence both faith and faithfulness. Both Scripture and the Rabbis demanded confiding trust in God, His messengers, and His words, not the formal acceptance of a prescribed belief.”1

“Only when contact with the non-Jewish world emphasized the need for a clear expression of the belief in the unity of God, such as was found in the Shema, and when the proselyte was expected to declare in some definite form the fundamentals of the faith he espoused, was the importance of a concrete confession felt.”2

“… Judaism lays all stress upon conduct, not confession; upon a hallowed life, not a hollow creed.”3

“To the rabbis, the “root” of faith is the recognition of a divine Judge to whom we owe account for all our doings. The recital of the Shema, which is called in the Mishnah “accepting the yoke of God’s sovereignty,” and which is followed by the solemn affirmation, “True and firm belief is this for us” (Emeth we Yatzib or Emeth we Emunah), is, in fact, the earliest form of the confession of faith. In the course of time this confession of belief in the unity of God was no longer deemed sufficient to serve as basis for the whole structure of Judaism; so the various schools and authorities endeavored to work out in detail a series of fundamental doctrines.”4

“3. The Mishnah, in Sanhedrin, X, 1, which seems to date back to the beginnings of Pharisaism, declares the following three to have no share in the world to come: he who denies the resurrection of the dead; he who says that the Torah—both the written and the oral Law—is not divinely revealed; and the Epicurean, who does not believe in the moral government of the world.”5

“Rabbi Hananel, the great North African Talmudist, about the middle of the tenth century, seems to have been under the influence of Mohammedan and Karaite doctrines, when he speaks of four fundamentals of the faith: God, the prophets, the future reward and punishment, and the Messiah.”6

See Rappaport; “Biography of R. Hananel,” in Bikkure ha Ittim, 1842.

“4. The doctrine of the One and Only God stands, as a matter of course, in the foreground. Philo of Alexandria, at the end of his treatise on Creation, singles out five principles which are bound up with it, viz.: 1, God’s existence and His government of the world; 2, His unity; 3, the world as His creation; 4, the harmonious plan by which it was established; and 5, His Providence.

Josephus, too, in his apology for Judaism written against Apion, emphasizes the belief in God’s all-encompassing Providence, His incorporeality, and His self-sufficiency as the Creator of the universe.”7

“Abraham ben David (Ibn Daud) of Toledo sets forth in his “Sublime Faith” six essentials of the Jewish faith: 1, the existence; 2, the unity; 3, the incorporeality; 4, the omnipotence of God (to this he subjoins the existence of angelic beings); 5, revelation and the immutability of the Law; and 6, divine Providence.

Maimonides, the greatest of all medieval thinkers, propounded thirteen articles of faith, which took the place of a creed in the Synagogue for the following centuries, as they were incorporated in the liturgy both in the form of a credo (Ani Maamin) and in a poetic version. His first five articles were: 1, the existence; 2, the unity; 3, the incorporeality; 4, the eternity of God; and 5, that He alone should be the object of worship; to which we must add his 10th, divine Providence.”8

“[Samuel David Luzzatto] holds that Judaism, as the faith transmitted to us from Abraham our ancestor, must be considered, not as a mere speculative mode of reasoning, but as a moral life force, manifested in the practice of righteousness and brotherly love. Indeed, this view is supported by modern Biblical research, which brings out as the salient point in Biblical teaching the ethical character of the God taught by the prophets, and shows that the essential truth of revelation is not to be found in a metaphysical but in an ethical monotheism.”9

“The Jewish conception of God thus makes truth, as well as righteousness and love, both a moral duty for man and a historical task comprising all humanity.”10

“5. The second fundamental article of the Jewish faith is divine revelation, or, as the Mishnah expresses it, the belief that the Torah emanates from God (min ha shamayim). In the Maimonidean thirteen articles, this is divided into four: his 6th, belief in the prophets; 7, in the prophecy of Moses as the greatest of all; 8, in the divine origin of the Torah, both the written and the oral Law; and 9, its immutability.”11

“6. The third fundamental article of the Jewish faith is the belief in a moral government of the world, which manifests itself in the reward of good and the punishment of evil, either here or hereafter. Maimonides divides this into two articles, which really belong together, his 10th, God’s knowledge of all human acts and motives, and 11, reward and punishment. The latter includes the hereafter and the last Day of Judgment, which, of course, applies to all human beings.”12 

“7. Closely connected with retribution is the belief in the resurrection of the dead, which is last among the thirteen articles. This belief, which originally among the Pharisees had a national and political character, and was therefore connected especially with the Holy Land (as will be seen in Chapter LIV below), received in the Rabbinical schools more and more a universal form. Maimonides went so far as to follow the Platonic view rather than that of the Bible or the Talmud, and thus transformed it into a belief in the continuity of the soul after death. In this form, however, it is actually a postulate, or corollary, of the belief in retribution.”13

“8. The old hope for the national resurrection of Israel took in the Maimonidean system the form of a belief in the coming of the Messiah (article 12), to which, in the commentary on the Mishnah, he gives the character of a belief in the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Joseph Albo, with others, disputes strongly the fundamental character of this belief; he shows the untenability of Maimonides’ position by referring to many Talmudic passages, and at the same time he casts polemical side glances upon the Christian Church, which is really founded on Messianism in the special form of its Christology. Jehuda ha Levi, in his Cuzari, substitutes for this as a fundamental doctrine the belief in the election of Israel for its world-mission.”14

“9. The thirteen articles of Maimonides, in setting forth a Jewish Credo, formed a vigorous opposition to the Christian and Mohammedan creeds; they therefore met almost universal acceptance among the Jewish people, and were given a place in the common prayerbook, in spite of their deficiencies, as shown by Crescas and his school.”15

“10. Another doctrine of Judaism, which was greatly underrated by medieval scholars, and which has been emphasized in modern times only in contrast to the Christian theory of original sin, is that man was created in the image of God. Judaism holds that the soul of man came forth pure from the hand of its Maker, endowed with freedom, unsullied by any inherent evil or inherited sin. Thus man is, through the exercise of his own free will, capable of attaining to an ever higher degree his mental, moral, and spiritual powers in the course of history. This is the Biblical idea of God’s spirit as immanent in man; all prophetic truth is based upon it; and though it was often obscured, this theory was voiced by many of the masters of Rabbinical lore, such as R. Akiba and others.”16

“11. Every attempt to formulate the doctrines or articles of faith of Judaism was made, in order to guard the Jewish faith from the intrusion of foreign beliefs, never to impose disputed beliefs upon the Jewish community itself. Many, indeed, challenged the fundamental character of the thirteen articles of Maimonides. Albo reduced them to three, viz.: the belief in God, in revelation, and retribution; others, with more arbitrariness than judgement, singled out three, five, six, or even more as principal doctrines; while rigid conservatives, such as Isaac Abravanel and David ben Zimra, altogether disapproved the attempt to formulate articles of faith.”17

“The present age of historical research imposes the same necessity of restatement or reformulation upon us. We must do as Maimonides did,—as Jews have always done,—point out anew the really fundamental doctrines, and discard those which have lost their holdup on the modern Jew, or which conflict directly with his religious consciousness. If Judaism is to retain its prominent position among the powers of thought, and to be clearly understood by the modern world, it must again reshape its religious truths in harmony with the dominant ideas of the age.” 18 

“Many attempts of this character have been made by modern rabbis and teachers, most of them founded upon Albo’s three articles. Those who penetrated somewhat more deeply into the essence of Judaism added a fourth article, the belief in Israel’s priestly mission, and at the same time, instead of the belief in retribution, included the doctrine of man’s kinship with God, or, if one may coin the word, his God-childship.”19

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