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?
I think the premise of this question is mistaken, for a few reasons:
- 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.)
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.
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)
Rabbi Hirsch wrote a pamphlet as an answer against one that was written by a Reformer. It is called Religion Allied With Progress, found in the collected writings volume 6 starting on page 107.
This excerpt begins on page 112. I have bold typed the main point I'm bringing at the end.
The rabbinical authorities ousted the proclamation of articles of faith for Judaism not because they believed that Judaism has no basic tenets but because they regarded every aspect of Judaism as basic. Judaism, they held, knows neither thirteen articles of faith, nor three. In Judaism, every commandment and every prohibition constitutes a fundamental religious principle and anyone who dies the validity of even one of the 613 commandments and prohibitions thereby places himself outside the pale of Judaism.
Page 113. Indeed, Maimonides himself would have been the last to claim that the acceptance of his thirteen so-called articles of faith made a Jew a Jew, or even that these tenets contain the essence of Judaism. Pirush hamishnayos on Chelek yisod 8 and 9 he himself sharply condemns any attempt to divide the laws of the Torah into essential and non-essential categories. He writes etc.
There is complete agreement among all the Rabbinical authorities in this respect; hence there was nothing inherently wrong in enumerating basic tenets of Judaism as Maimonides did. However, there was reason to fear that such enumeration might be misinterpreted by the ignorant, by the wicked or by unlearned authors of pamphlets, and that is why some authorities were rightly opposed to any attempt to schematize Judaism.
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.