Most religious Jews are aware of Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith. But Maimonides himself was not even the first person of his era to compose principles of faith.
It turns out that Maimonides was beat to the punch by the 12th Century Karaite Sage Judah Hadassi. Today, we’ll examine whether Hadassi was the first to create such a list and we provide a video by Eli Shmuel discussing Haddassi’s principles of faith.
According to Professor Daniel Lasker, Judah Hadassi was “the last representative of classical” Karaite thought of the Jerusalem-based Mourners of Zion. [1.] And many Karaites are proud to assert that Hadassi penned Judaism’s first principles of faith. This is likely not correct.
While it is true that Judah Hadassi did precede Maimonides’ in articulating principles of faith, Judah Hadassi tells us that his principles were derived from his Karaite predecessors. And Saadia Gaon, a Rabbanite who wrote many anti-Karaite polemics, had developed his own principles of faith prior to Hadassi. [2.]
But, at least according to Professor Lasker, “the manner in which [Hadassi] arranged them [i.e., the articles of faith] was a novelty in Jewish thought.” [3.] In addition to the manner in which Hadassi set forth his principles, Hadassi’s principles differed from Saadia’s and Maimonides in that only Hadassi’s principles emphasized the importance of learning the language of the Torah and the significance of the Temple. So there you have it: Karaites contribute to novelty in Jewish thought. Chadesh Yameinu Kekedem!
So here’s Eli Shmuel discussing the first five principles of faith. You may recall that in his last video (on Shechita), Eli said that he would only eat meat slaughtered by religious Karaites who believe in these principles of faith. And as professor Lasker notes, Eli is not alone: “[Hadassi’s] principles of Judaism were particularly important to later Karaites, since a ritual slaughterer had to be knowledgeable of those principles in order for his meat to be considered fit for consumption.” [4.]
And here is a comparison of Judah Hadassi’s principles of faith with Maimonides’.
|1||“The uniqueness of God’s creation and wisdom; God is the Creator who causes life and death”||God is the sole Creator and Ruler of all things|
|2||“He is the first, one without a second, powerful, knowing, existent, and living in his essence as we understand; there is none like him.” [With Hadassi’s explanations that God has no physical form]||God is One: “He was, He is, and He will be.”|
|3||“The whole world was created”||God has no physical body; physical concepts do not apply to Him, and nothing resembles God.|
|4||“To know clearly the awe of His Torah, that He sent a messenger by His command, Moses . . . as well as all of the other prophets.”||God is first and last|
|5||“To know by clear knowledge that what He sent was the Torah, which is truth, and all of its words are truth by His command.”||One may only pray to God, and may not pray to anything or anyone else.|
|6||To know the language of the Torah.||The words of the prophets are true.|
|7||The Jerusalem Temple is God’s Palace.||Moses’ prophecy was absolutely true, and Moses was the chief of all prophets before him and after him.|
|8||The Resurrection of the dead.||The entire Torah that we now have was given to Moses|
|9||There will be a day of judgment||The Torah will never change and that there will never be another God|
|10||The belief in reward and punishment.||God is all-knowing|
|11||N/A||Divine Reward and punishment|
|12||N/A||The coming of the messiah and the messianic era|
|13||N/A||The resurrection of the dead|
* * *
1. Daniel J. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi, Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy, p. 42.
2. Id., at 42-43 & n.8
3. Id., at 43.
4. Id, at 42 n.8.
All direct quotations of Hadassi’s principles appear in Professor Lasker’s book.