Did a Karaite Invent the Concept of Principles of Faith?

Professor Lasker provides direct translations of many classical Karaite works.

Professor Lasker provides direct translations of many classical Karaite works.

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’.


Judah Hadassi


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.


Filed under Daniel Lasker, Eli Shmuel, Judah Hadassi, Maimonides

9 Responses to Did a Karaite Invent the Concept of Principles of Faith?


    I am have been looking for a Karaite conversion. Help.

  2. Zvi

    While King Shelomo was bound by the prophesy conveyed by Nathan to build a Bayt Miqdash for YHWH on Har haMoriyah, and the Temple spoken of by the prophet Yeḥezqel b. Buzi may have referred to what was then the future second Temple for all we know, we will be under no Divine imperative — neither from the Nevi’im nor from the Torah — to build the Third Temple when we are finally free to renew our days as of old on Har haMoriyah. So why not settle for what the Torah demands, namely rebuilding the Mishkan/Tabernacle upon Har haMoriyah? I am not alone in this opinion and my aversion to having another edifice made in a Greek architectural style.

  3. Zvi

    The 10th century Qaraite sage Ya`aqov al-Qirqisani tells us that some Qaraites of his day did not believe in the Resurrection of the Dead. Perhaps those Qaraites who denied the Resurrection interpreted it metaphorically. This also seems to have been the interpretation of many Sadducees. Either way, these people were still Qaraites in the full sense of the word and were recognized as such by their contemporaries. Similarly, the 10th Principle of Faith according to Baschyatchi declares that a Messiah from the House of Dawid will come at the time of the Redemption. According to al-Qirqisani, some Qaraites of his day believed that all the Messianic and eschatological prophecies were fulfilled in the early Second Temple era at the time of Zerubavel. It becomes clear that Hadassi’s 10 Principles of Faith represent the view of one stream within Qaraism, but not Qaraism as a whole. Indeed, Hadassi and Baschyatchi were not the only Qaraite sages to set out Principles of Faith. For example, al-Qirqisani tells us that some of the Qraites of Persia maintained that anyone who does not pronounce the name YHWH as it is written is a non-believer.
    (Credit goes to the Karaite Konnection)

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  7. Ari Bright

    Great article but it should be pointed out that the earliest statement of principles of faith in Judaism comes from Philo Judaeus (Yedidya HaCohen) who listed his version of Judaism’s 8 Principles of Belief.

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