Sunday 16 June 2019


Rambam writing in Arabic with Hebrew characters.


Many are familiar with the beautiful and ‘haunting’[1] traditional melody of Ani Ma’amin that reminds us to believe in, and await, the Messiah every day that passes. This stirring tune is attributed to Azriel David Fastag, a Modzitzer Chassid, who is said to have composed it while in a cattle car on the way to Treblinka. He told his travelling companions that he would give half his share in the world to come to anyone who would convey his melody to the Modzitzer Rebbe who had already escaped Europe in 1940. 

Two men volunteered and jumped from the moving train. One was killed from the fall and the other survived and brought the melody to Israel where he gave it over to the Rebbe’s son, who in turn passed it on to his father[2]. The melody was also adopted by many Jews who went to the gas chambers singing Ani Ma’amin.

In this article, we shall examine the origin, development and wording of the Thirteen Principles of Faith as we know them through the thirteen stanzas of Ani Ma’amin.


The Thirteen Principles of Faith originated in the writings of Rambam, in his Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishna (Sanhedrin, Chapter 10[3]) known as Perek Chelek.[4] This was written around 1168, when Rambam was thirty years old.

[Rambam was not the only rabbi to formulate Principles of Faith. Albo, for example, formulated three basic Principals of Faith. See The Albo - Pushing the limits of Inclusive Theology.]

Rambam’s Perek Chelek was originally written in Judeo-Arabic, or Arabic in Hebrew characters, and towards the end of a fascinating discussion in his Introduction, he enumerated Thirteen Principles which Jews are required to believe in.[5]

To date, there are about six different Hebrew translations[6] of the original Arabic text. This, naturally, creates problems in terms of wording, definitions and translations of key concepts which are crucial to defining exactly what we are supposed to believe in.


Surprisingly, the opening formula “I believe with perfect faith” is noticeably absent from the original Arabic text. 

According to Encyclopaedia Judaica it is “reminiscent of early Christian creeds” and “has no basis in the Arabic original”.

It was only in a Hebrew translation of the Arabic (by Shlomo ben Yosef ibn Yakov) that expressions like le ha’amin (to believe) were first interpolated or inserted into the text.


Up to this point, we have only been discussing the translations of the original Arabic Perek Chelek, which was part of Rambam’s Commentary on the Mishna. The compilation of Ani Ma’amin, however, was a later development and basically a summary of what was found in Perek Chelek. Ani Ma’amin is today printed in almost every prayer book and is often recited daily after the morning service.

Although the general consensus is that we do not know who wrote the formulations of the Ani Ma’amin - according to the Torah Temimah, R. Baruch Epstein (d. 1942)[7], they were written by Rambam himself. This is most unlikely as the first time Ani Ma’amin began to surface was around the 1500s which was three centuries after Rambam.


Another piyut or poem, similarly composed and worked around the Thirteen Principles as they were found in Perek Chelek, was Yigdal. This well-known hymn is also of unknown authorship, although Shadal[8] suggests it may have been composed by R. Daniel ben Yehudah around the 1300s. 

Once again there is the suggestion - this time by R. Yakov Emden in his siddur - that it was composed by Rambam himself, and again this is highly unlikely as the first time Yigdal appeared in a siddur was in 1486.


Some fundamentally important and rather nuanced implications become apparent when we look at how Ani Ma’amin is recorded in the different Sefardi and Ashkenazi rites:


Here is an example of a difference between Sefardi and Ashkenazi versions of Ani Ma’amin:
Principal no. 8 in the Ashkenazi rite, reads:

 “I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah, that we now have in our hands, is that which was given to Moses.”

However, in the terse Sefardi version it simply states (as Principal no. 9[9]):


“I believe...that the Torah was given from Heaven.”

No mention is made in the Sefardi version that one has to believe that “the entire Torah, that we now have in our hands, is that which was given to Moses.” 

Thus the concept of Torah min haShamayim - the belief that Torah was given from Heaven - is left somewhat less defined than in the Ashkenazi version.


In the popular Ashkenazi version of Ani Ma’amim (and in all the songs) the text of the Principal no. 12 reads: 

“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Mashiach, and although he may tarry, nevertheless, I wait every day for him to come.”

However, in the Sefardi version, it simply states:

 “I believe...that the King Messiah will come.”

No mention is made of awaiting the Messiah on a daily basis

[I did notice, though, that in one particular Sefardi edition, the words 'bimheirah be'yameinu', or 'speedily in our days' was somehow inserted after the sentence above.] 

Furthermore in Rambam’s original writing in Perek Chelek, there is also absolutely no mention of awaiting “every day for him to come”.

Rambam’s original text simply reads:

“If he delays, wait for him (Hab 2:3).”[10]

Rambam references Habbakuk 2:3 which, referring to the Redemption, reads, “[T]hough it tarry, wait for it,” but there is no mention of anything close to waiting constantly “each day that passes.”

As an interesting exercise, I looked up every English translation of the Bible from the (Brenton) Septuagint to King James, and even to the Good News version including cross-references to other parts of Jewish and non-Jewish Scriptures (in a ‘Treasury of Scripture’) and could not find a single reference to waiting for the Messiah “each day that passes.”

Also, in the Yigdal paraphrase, it states, “At the end of days, He will send his Messiah...” This too seems to negate the idea of waiting “each day” for an anticipated event destined to only take place “at the end of days.”

Somehow the anonymous author of Ani Ma’amin slipped that phrase in - and ever since then it appears to have become part of the popular narrative with no basis from its source text in Perek Chelek nor its mother text in Habbakuk.

To illustrate how a culture has built up around this notion of waiting for the Messiah “each day that passes” consider the following extract from popular contemporary media:

“When you are davening for a sick person, do you ask that Hashem should heal them whenever He decides, or, do you ask that Hashem should heal them now?
The same way we ask for a Refua Sheleima that it should take place now, we should ask for Moshiach today.
Ani Ma’amin is not just saying that we hope Moshiach comes, but is a demand for Moshiach to finally come today!”[11]


In a fascinating article by Professor Marc Shapiro[12], published in Torah U-Madda Journal, we see how Torah scholars themselves not always agreed with the ‘definitive’ Thirteen Principals of Rambam.

[Note: The intent here is neither to challenge nor champion the Thirteen Principals, but simply to show the divergence of Torah thought even on such fundamental matters.]

Here are just some examples of stark rabbinic dissent against the Thirteen Principals:    
Principal no. 3 proclaims that G-d has no body: - As we have seen in previous posts, the notion that G-d has some form of corporeality (body) was not uncommon amongst some Tannaim and Baalei haTosafot.

Principal no. 7 proclaims that Moshe was the greatest prophet: - Yet R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi wrote (1745-1813) in Likutei Amarim that the prophetic experience of the Ari Zal was superior to that of Moshe.

Principal no. 8 proclaims that “The entire Torah, that we now have in our hands,  is that which was given to Moses” [Ashkenazi version]: - Some Talmudic texts quote sections from the Torah (and Nach) that are slightly different from the Torah scrolls we use today. [See The Aleppo Codex.]

R. Shlomo ben Aderet, known as Rashba (1235-1310), dealt with the issue of whether or not we should change our Torah texts to match the versions as presented in the Talmudic texts.

R. Moshe Sofer, known as the Chatam Sofer (1762-1839), maintained that there was no need to say a blessing on writing a Sefer Torah today because it is possible that the versions recorded in the Talmud may indeed be more correct.

Principal no. 9 proclaims that the Torah will never be abrogated (changed): - According to R. Yosef Albo (1380-1444) it is theoretically possible for a prophet whose credentials are verified in the same way as Moshe’s were, to change the Torah - except for the Ten Commandments which can never be abolished.

Principal no. 12 proclaims the awaiting of Messiah: - According to one opinion recorded in the Talmud itself, R. Hillel (not to be confused with the earlier Hillel) maintains:

“There is no Messiah coming for the Jewish People, as they already ate from him (as all the prophesies relating to the Messiah were already fulfilled) during the days of Hezekiah.”  

And commentary tells us that according to R. Hillel, there will be no Messiah but G-d Himself will redeem the Jewish people instead.


There are three ways we can view the Thirteen Principals:

1) Notwithstanding all the above, it must be said that the consensus among the Jewish People has always been to accept the Thirteen Principals of Rambam as authoritatively binding. This is a fact. 

The argument goes that the same way as we have divergent views on matters of Halacha, yet only rule according to the ‘universally accepted’ view – so too we follow the Thirteen Principals because despite some dissension, they were generally accepted.

2) It must also be pointed out that some do suggest that Rambam made a distinction between certain of his Principals which were deemed crucial or primary, as opposed to others which were famously granted as ‘concessions to the masses’. Rambam himself writes that there are two categories of ‘truths’ - ‘true truths’ and ‘necessary truths’. 

A ‘true truth’ allows one to understand something factually and intellectually while a ‘necessary truth’ is a mistaken belief which allows one to fulfil a social purpose, be obedient to the Torah and alleviate one’s fears. The latter were often found to be effective for what Rambam referred to rather ingloriously as the ‘ignorant masses.’ (See Guide for the Perplexed 3:28.) 

Also, Rambam openly stated in the beginning of his Guide that we must not always take his writings at face value, and that he often hides many of his personal views.

3) There is a third option, somewhat forthrightly articulated by R. Dr Israel Drazin who writes:

 “[M]any Jews, including rabbis, do not realize that Judaism allows a wide spectrum of beliefs.” 

This “ignorance”, he says: “is caused by their narrow focus on the Talmuds, codes of Jewish Law and responsa literature, while ignoring the theological literature...

Orthodox Jews can hold nonconforming and dissenting views - even on fundamental issues – without being considered rebels against Judaism.”[13]

Either way, whichever approach we choose to adopt, our point of departure should include consultation with the original Arabic writings of Rambam - not the many Hebrew translations and certainly not the Ani Ma’amim nor the Yigdal - in order to establish the exact legal and theological tenor of Rambam’s Thirteen Principals as he intended them to be understood.

[1] As described in Jewish Virtual Library, Ani Ma’amin.
[2] Or, in another version, the survivor sang it to the Modzitzer Rebbe in America (Faith Without Ani Ma’amin, R. Tamir Granot).
[3] In some editions it is Chapter 11.
[4] It is called Perek Chelek after the opening words of the Mishna which reads ‘Kol Yisrael yeish lahem chelek laOlam haBah.’
[5] There is some discussion as to whether Rambam intended all Thirteen Principles to be of equal importance.
[6] R. Shlomo ben Yosef ibn Yakov of Saragossa; R. Shmuel Ibn Tibbon (1150-1230); R. Yehudah alHarizi (1165-1225); Abarvanel in his Rosh Amanah (1437-1508); R. Yosef Kapach (1917-2000); and R. Yitzchak Shilat.
[7] See his commentary on the siddur.
[8] R. Shmuel David Luzzatto !1800-1865).
[9] The order of Principals is not identical.
[10] Maimonides Introduction to Perek Helek (Maimonides Heritage Center). The Twelfth Fundamental Principal. P. 22. In Rambam's Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Malachim ch. 11) Ramban writes that one who does not believe in Mashiach and one who does not wait for him denies the Torah. But again there is no mention of waiting every day.
[11] Maor - Daily Rebbe Video. June 12 2017
[12] Maimonides’ Thirteen Principals: The Last Word in Jewish Theology? by Marc Shapiro.
[13] The Rejection of Maimonides’ “Jewish Beliefs” by Recognized Jewish Scholars and Rabbis, by Israel Drazin.

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