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Question 18.4.19:
Fallacy: Reform rejects most of Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith


A common claim is the Reform rejects most of Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith. The real answer is: "It depends how you look at it". In some interpretations, Reform accepts many of the articles. In other interpretations, Reform does not. Part of this is due to the freedom of belief and practice that characterizes Reform Judaism.

In examining this question, it is worth exploring why the question is relevant at all. According to "The Jewish Encylopedia", Judaism cannot be said to possess "Articles of Faith", as is found in Christianity or Islam. The encylopedia notes that: Many attempts have indeed been made at systematizing and reducing to a fixed phraseology and sequence the contents of the Jewish religion. But these have always lacked the one essential element: authoritative sanction on the part of a supreme ecclesiastical body. And for this reason they have not been recognized as final or regarded as of universally binding force. Though to a certain extent incorporated in the liturgy and utilized for purposes of instruction, these formulations of the cardinal tenets of Judaism carried no greater weight than that imparted to them by the fame and scholarship of their respective authors.

Acceptance of Maimonides's Thirteen Principles of Faith is not required by halakha, and in fact prominent Jewish authorities both before and after Maimonides have offered a number of different formulations of the principles of Jewish faith. The successors of Maimonides, from the thirteenth to the fifteeneth century--Nahmanides , Abba Mari ben Moses, Simon ben Zemah, Du ran, Isaac Arama, and Joseph Jaabez--reduced his thirteen articles to three: Belief in G-d; Creation (or revelation); and in providence/retribution.

Others, like Crescas and David ben Samuel Estella, spoke of seven fundmental articles, laying stress on free-will. David ben Yom-Tob ibn Bilia, in his "Yesodot ha- Maskil" (Fundamentals of the Thinking Man), adds to the thirteen of Maimonides thirteen of his own. Yedaiah Penini, in the last chapter of his "Behinat ha-Dat," enumerated no less than thirty-five cardinal principles.

In the fourteenth century Asher ben Jehiel of Toledo raised his voice against the Maimonidean Articles of Faith, declaring them to be only temporary, and suggested that another be added to recognize that the Exile is a punishment for the sins of Israel. Isaac Abravanel, his "Rosh Amanah," took the same attitude towards Maimonides' creed. While defending Maimonides against Hasdai and Albo, he refused to accept dogmatic articles for Judaism, holding, with all the cabalists, that the 613 commandments of the Law are all tantamount to Articles of Faith.

However, note that while no one formulation of a creed is accepted by all, certain elements of faith are accepted by all traditional sources and considered binding by traditional movements: the existence of one G-d, divine revelation of Torah on Sinai and others.

That said, here is one interpretation of how Reform addresses the "Articles of Faith":

  1. G-d exists and the existance transcends time.

    Reform agrees with this. The 1999 Statement of Principles says: "We affirm the reality and oneness of G-d, even as we may differ in our understanding of the Divine presence."

  2. G-d is one and there is nothing like G-d.

    Reform agrees with this. As the previous quote from the statement of principles said: "We affirm the ...oneness of G-d".

  3. G-d has no semblance and is bodiless.

    Reform does not dictate a form for G-d, noting (as in the previous quote from the Statement of Principles): "[We] may differ in our understanding of the Divine presence." For almost all Reform Jews, G-d is treated as without semblance or body.

  4. The existance of G-d preceeded creation.

    Reform doctrine does not contradict this statement.

  5. G-d is eternal and prayer should be directed to G-d

    Reform agrees with this. The fact that prayer should be directed to G-d is captured in the 1999 Statement of Principles in the line "We respond to G-d daily: through public and private prayer...". The statement makes no statements, but does not contradict, the eternal nature of G-d. It does state: "We trust in our tradition's promise that, although G-d created us as finite beings, the spirit within us is eternal."

  6. G-d communicated with prophets

    Reform agrees with this, as it holds with divine inspiration.

  7. The prophecy of Moses was true, and that he was the chief of all prophets, both those before him and those after him.

    Reform agrees (in some sense) with the first clause, but has replaced the second clause ("chief of all the prophets") with the theory of Progressive Revelation. For Reform Jews, the prophecy of Moses was not the highest degree of prophecy; rather his was the first in a long chain of progressive revelations in which mankind gradually began to understand the will of G-d better and better. As such, the laws of Moses are held as strongly binding as they are in traditional movements, and it is today's generation that must assess what G-d wants of them. This view has been affirmed from classic Reform to the present (Gunther Plaut, Eugene Borowitz, Walter Jacobs, etc.)

  8. The entire Torah now in our hands is the same one that was given to Moses.

    Whereas traditional Jews view the Written Torah as the same that Moses taught, for practical purposes, plus or minus scribal errors, Reform (as well as Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews) take a different approach. These liberal movements accept the results of biblical scholarship, and archeological and linguistic research. They accept that the core of the Torah may indeed have come from Moses, but that the document that we have to today has been edited together from several documents, and assumed the final form that we know in the time of Ezra (about 440 BCE).

  9. G-d will never change Torah.

    Reform actually agrees with this. However, Reform believes that what was written was expressed in the language/context of its time, and must be reinterpretated for the language/context of today. Hence, Torah doesn't change, but our interpretation and understanding of it does. This is captured in the 1999 Statement of Principles in the line: "We cherish the truths revealed in Torah, G-d's ongoing revelation to our people and the record of our people's ongoing relationship with G-d."

  10. G-d knows humanity's thoughts and deeds

    Reform's High Holy Day liturgies retain these concepts. In the past, Reform has removed from the liturgy those concepts that are incompatible with Reform (such as the nature of the Messiah). Hence, this concept remains compatible with Reform.

  11. G-d rewards and punishes

    Reform's High Holy Day liturgies retain these concepts, leading to the conclusion that this concept remains compatible with Reform.

  12. G-d will send a messiah.

    Reform holds with a concept of a messianic age, as opposed to an individual. The traditional messianic notion is not part of Reform.

  13. G-d will revive the dead.

    In the literalist interpretation, this is not a Reform belief. However, Reform does hold with alternate approaches to fulfilling the underlying prophesies.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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