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When discussing which beliefs are heretical to orthodox Judaism the phrase "there is no shulchan aruch on deos-beliefs" comes up often. I would like to know why this is the case. Why can there not be a single set of canonized, agreed upon beliefs which if you don't hold, l'halacha you are a kofer/apikorus/min?

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Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has two english seforim on this topic just listing hundreds of beliefs of Judaism Handbook of Jewish Thought –  Efraim Nov 7 '13 at 15:45
@Efraim – What are those books called? –  Adam Mosheh Nov 19 '13 at 23:09
Who would write it that everyone would agree to? –  Double AA Nov 19 '13 at 23:19
Handbook of Jewish Thought –  Efraim Nov 19 '13 at 23:55
@DoubleAA Mechaber/Rama? –  Shmuel Brin Nov 20 '13 at 1:29

3 Answers 3

I think the premise of this question is mistaken, for a few reasons:

  1. If the question is why the Shulchan Aruch itself does not codify a list of beliefs, the answer is that the Shulchan Aruch is not comprehensive (it does not have many important areas of bein adam le-chavero either, e.g., lashon hara. This doesn't mean that they aren't obligatory.)
  2. If the question is why there aren't seforim written about the beliefs of Judaism, this is obviously false. All the basic books of Jewish thought discuss these topics, including

    • R. Saadya Gaon's Emunot ve-De'ot
    • Hovot ha-Levavot
    • Emunah Ramah
    • Or Hashem
    • Sefer ha-Ikkarim
    • Rosh Amanah
    • and the Rambam's treatment in the Mishneh Torah, Peirush ha-Mishnah and Moreh Nevukhim.

    There are many areas of belief in Judaism where there is no single legitimate approach, and thus no room for "canonization." However, there are other fundamental areas of belief where there is less room for debate. Despite the arguments in the seforim mentioned, they agree on most of these fundamental issues, which Jews have traditionally summarized in various forms of the Rambam's 13 ikkarim.

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In short: God interacts with the world and gave us the Law. –  Double AA Nov 7 '13 at 17:04
This answer really covers everything I would have changed my answer to cover in the new form of the question. I'll just carry over the link which is a good summary of sources and debates on the idea of calling something having any meaning, even if there isn't a dispute about their correctness, and delete my answer. –  Yishai Nov 7 '13 at 17:05
there is a vast difference between a book of philosophy and a a set of agreed upon beliefs. If one does not believe in the oral tradition according to the rambam's 13 principles he is not a heretic. I don't even think the rambam believes that. but it didn't make it into the 13 ikkarim. –  please remove my account Nov 20 '13 at 14:16
@pleaseremovemyaccount not sure what you're talking about, the Rambam says in the 8th ikkar: וכן פירושה המקובל גם הוא מפי הגבורה, וזה שאנו עושים היום צורת הסוכה והלולב והשופר והציצית והתפילים וזולתם היא עצמה הצורה שאמר ה' למשה ואמר לנו –  wfb Nov 20 '13 at 17:24
@pleaseremovemyaccount Are you reading the Rambam's actual formulations or later "poetic summaries"? –  Double AA Nov 20 '13 at 18:55

The Rambam's 13 principles of faith are fundamental beliefs. They are said to be based on the 10th perek in Sanhedrin which lists things that "אין להם חלק לעולם הבא" e.g. non-believers of resurrection of the dead, non-believers of Torah from heaven and apikorus. The remainder of the perek lists more.

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How does this answer the question? Lots of people argue on various parts of the Rambam's list. –  Double AA Nov 7 '13 at 21:43
@DoubleAA The thirteen principles are the 'minimum' required for belief according to the Rambam (of course I don't deny that there are those that argue with the Rambam). Those who don't believe in these may be considered an apikorus, min, kofer, etc. as the question asks –  bondonk Nov 7 '13 at 22:19
And the Rambam might think those who argue on him are apikorsim, minim, koferim etc. So how is this a single canonized set of beliefs? –  Double AA Nov 7 '13 at 22:23
The shulchan aruch is not a 'single set of canonized beliefs' either. Not everyone follows every aspect of the shulchan aruch, there are differences of opinion. Likewise, the Rambam categorised some things that would categorise others as apikorsim, etc. and of course there are those that disagree with him. –  bondonk Nov 21 '13 at 23:54
I'm well aware of that. –  Double AA Nov 22 '13 at 2:39

The Rambam repeatedly wrote that we can't make conclusive/authoritative on matters of faith/hashkafa:


וכבר אמרתי פעמים רבות כשיש מחלוקת בין החכמים בסברת אמונה אין תכליתו מעשה מן המעשים שאין אומרים שם הלכה כפלוני ואין הלכה כבן עזאי

"And I've already written several times, that when there's a dispute between the sages in arguments of faith, the purpose/end is not to [establish] practice- since we don't say the halacha is like so-and-so and against Ben-Azai" (Commentary on the Mishnah, Sotah 3:5)


כל מחלוקת שתהיה בין החכמים, שאינה באה לידי מעשה אלא שהיא אמונת דבר בלבד — אין צד לפסוק הלכה כאחד מהם

"All disputes amongst the sages that have no practical application, but are only in matters of faith, there's no position to decide halacha according to one of them" (Commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek)


וכבר ביארנו שכל סברא מן הסברות שאינה באה לידי מעשה מן המעשים שיפול בו מחלוקת בין החכמים לא נאמר בו הלכה כפלוני

(Commentary on the Mishnah, Shavuot 1:4)


וכבר ביארנו בחיבורנו בפירוש המשנה, שכל מחלוקת שאינה מחייבת מחלקת למעשה אלא בסברא בלבד, לא אפסוק בה הלכה, ולא אמר: הלכה כפלוני

(ספר המצות, לא תעשה קל"ג)


וכל דבר שיש בו מחלקת ולא יבוא אל מעשה אפשר להכריע בו אחד משני המאמרים על חברו

(מאמר תחיית המתים)

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I apologize for the quality of the translations. Feel free to edit the answer to improve them... –  Ephraim Nov 21 '13 at 7:56

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