Religious Beliefs

Is there a Jewish creed?

Several important creedal formulations have appeared at different times in Jewish history, but a good starting point is the single sentence from Deuteronomy 6:4. It is called simply “the Shema.” Devout Jews recite these few words more often than almost any other phrase. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (or “the Lord our God is one Lord”). Two essential ingredients in Jewish belief are enshrined here in elegant simplicity: first, the notion that the people constitute a community of faith, and second, the affirmation of the absolute unity of God. In the next verse, Jews are enjoined to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength.

Another very ancient text that functions like a creedal statement appears in Deuteronomy 26:5-10. In his final instruction to the people, Moses tells them that when they come into their newly God-given land they are to make an offering and recite a short historical summary of all that God has done for them. “A wandering Aramaean was my father,” it begins, referring to Jacob, father of the twelve tribes. The text goes on to recount in brief how God rescued the people from slavery in Egypt and gave them a land in which to dwell. Apart from these two biblical texts, the anonymous fifteenth-century “I Believe” based on the “Thirteen Articles of Faith” of Maimonides (d. 1204) is the best-known creedal statement. Each of thirteen affirmations begins “I believe with an unwavering faith….” Articles one through five affirm that God is omnipotent and one, beyond all things material, master of time and space, and the sole object of prayer and devotion. Moses’ prophetic authority (along with that of the other prophets as other prophets), scripture’s authenticity and truth, and the finality of the divine Law are the subjects of articles six through nine. All of the remaining four articles speak of the ethical demands of adherence to the revealed law, of the final consequences of human choices in the form of reward or punishment, of the Messiah’s eventual coming, and of the ultimate resurrection of the dead.


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