The Rambam's 13 Articles of Faith begin with the statement: "אני מאמין באמונה שלמה" - "I believe with complete faith...", words that then go on to express our faith that God "creates and guides" all creatures, that "all of the words of the prophets are true," that God rewards good people and punishes those who are evil, and that the Messiah will come. But what does "complete faith" mean? Does it have to be 100%? What about 99% or 60% for that matter belief in those things? How do we reconcile "complete faith" when even the rabbis commentaries are less than unequivocal. For example: the concept that God "creates and guides" all creatures seemingly contradicts the notion of free will. The fact that in this world bad people come out on top and the innocent suffer contradicts the first article of faith -- if our behavior is guided, then how can there be guilt? And when we say we believe that the Messiah will come, in which context are we saying that -- do we assume that the Messiah might come only through a catastrophic war and not through mass repentance? And does complete faith mean that we have to accept the entire Torah and works of the prophets in completely literal terms, or does "complete faith" allow for some verses to be understood as parable?

Moreover, are we required to have a leap of faith, accepting each of Rambam's articles of faith to be true without study, or can we come to our own conclusions after first learning the Torah?

And if someone thinks these things are true but doesn't have complete enough faith, what are the practical implications?

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    Those weren't written by the Rambam, and I strongly question how much you can read into the precise wording of the poet who composed that.
    – Double AA
    Jan 29, 2016 at 19:50
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    To repeat @DoubleAA's point. The Ani Maamins are a poetic reformulation of Rambam's principles that he lists in the begining of his commentary to the 10th chapter of the Mishnayot of Sanhedrin. That being said, few things can ever be known 100%. Certainly the more conviction was has for a belief, the better.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 29, 2016 at 20:26
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    "Complete faith" seems to infer 100% faith. Nothing is complete unless it is 100%.
    – ezra
    Jan 29, 2016 at 23:38
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    The Rambam actually speaks about the difference between "knowing" and "belief". I "know" that Ner Israel Rabbinical College is in Baltimore because I have been there. Someone who has not can only "believe". I "know" how many children that I have. Someone that I have told can only "believe". Rambam says that one must "know" about Hashem. Jan 31, 2016 at 14:52
  • @sabbahillel although in the 13 principles, the Rambam uses the term "belief"... (in the post script to the principles, and in the text of the first principle in the classic translation) Feb 1, 2016 at 1:43

1 Answer 1


The following is based on many lectures by Rabbi Manis Friedman, a student of Chabad, which have helped me understand this topic.

When it comes to anything, we can never be 100% sure the facts we have about it are complete, correct, properly understood, etc. This is self evident, just take a typical news story. We can't be sure we are hearing the full story, nor can we be certain the report has no agenda or skew, we can't trust our own reasoning and bias, we see how almost nobody has the intellectual vigour to properly separate out the unfalsifiable data like peoples' inner motivations and character from the empirical data etc and have to assume we are not perfect at it either... There are also epistemological issues, even "I think therefore I am" is dubious, philosophically...

Basically, the simplest rule of bittul and humility is to admit you don't know, you merely have a good guess.

However, it's hard to get through life without having some sort of foundation, so everyone ends up "believing" things, and according to this definition, belief is when you are convinced you do know something is true. You accept it completely, without doubt, and without worrying about any of the above.

Rambam comes along and says that as a Jew, it is your duty to believe 13 things. Just like everything in life, it's very possible that these 13 things are impossible to "know" for sure, due to all of the above and more, however it is your duty to accept them as 100% true, without a doubt.

This is Emunah Sheleima, and as the comments have pointed out, spending too much time on the wording is perhaps time better spent elsewhere. Especially after providing this answer, I think all Emunah is "Sheleima". If it isn't "Sheleima", it isn't Emunah.

Generally speaking, one can't magically believe something on will power alone, and this is often why religious people are considered unserious - the very rational among us feel they must be "making believe", i.e. they are lying to themselves that they really believe, and that's nice for them, but not something we can do.

So no, one isn't expected to "just believe" or take a "leap" of faith. One should study, contemplate, and come to see how reasonable these 13 articles are. Once they are reasonable, we are now duty bound to accept them as beliefs. This is very reasonable; again we all have an instinct and need to believe certain things, and even very rational people will develop a set of beliefs (every rational person gets on a plane even though they personally are uncertain how it flies, but have reasonable arguments why it's a fair belief to have, that it won't fall out of the sky). Rambam and Torah are telling us that as Jews, these are the 13 beliefs we should have.

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