Judaism, it is said, is a religion without a true creed. Creed is defined as:
creed (plural creeds)
- That which is believed; accepted doctrine, especially religious; a particular set of beliefs; any summary of principles or opinions professed or adhered to.
- A reading or statement of belief that summarizes the faith it represents; a definite summary of what is believed; a confession of faith for public use; esp., one which is brief and comprehensive.
Some have argued that the Shema declaration is, in effect, a creed – a statement in a belief in the One G"d. In his book, Understanding Jewish Theology, Jacob Neusner, writes that
"the Shema contains the entire proclamation of the Jewish creed."
Neusner goes on to describe the Shema as declaring G"d as One, G’d as revealer of Torah, and G"d as redeemer, thus delineating three categories of belief: One G"d, Torah as Divine revelation (inclusive of Torah and subsequent Jewish writings), and Israel as a community of holy people.
That’s a pretty amazing (and speculative, though supported historically) derivation from so few words. In my own view, the very simple nature of these 6 Hebrew words defy their ability to be considered a creed.
Over the centuries, some scholars have suggested the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Commandments, are a creed, but it’s difficult to see those as articles and statements of faith.
Philo tried creating a creed:
G"d exists, and reigns
G"d is One
The world is a creation
Creation is a One-ness
G"d’s will orders creation
Saadia Gaon tried. Judah HaLevy tried. The Rambam (Maimonides) tried. His thirteen articles of faith gained wide acceptance-but not because of any consensus, but rather through the weight of his scholarship.
While parts of all these understandings and others found their way into our liturgy, their remains no consensus.
If there is a creedal statement in Judaism, some find it right here in this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo. It is the words of the ritualistic statement to be uttered by every Jew when bringing their first fruits to the Temple:
"My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but he became a great and populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the L"rd, the G"d of our fathers, and the L"rd heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The L"rd freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm, and awesome power, and by signs and portents. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O L"rd, have given me" (Deut: 26:5-10)
Is that a creed? Compare it to the Nicene Creed of Christianity:
We believe in one God,
- the Father, the Almighty
- maker of heaven and earth,
- of all that is, seen and unseen.
- We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
- the only Son of God,
- eternally begotten of the Father,
- God from God, Light from Light,
- true God from true God,
- begotten, not made,
- of one Being with the Father.
- Through him all things were made.
- For us men and for our salvation
- he came down from heaven:
- by the power of the Holy Spirit
- he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
- For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
- he suffered death and was buried.
- On the third day he rose again
- in accordance with the Scriptures;
- he ascended into heaven
- and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
- He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
- and his kingdom will have no end
- We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life,
- who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
- With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
- He has spoken through the Prophets.
- We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
- We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
- We look for the resurrection of the dead,
- and the life of the world to come. Amen.
*-1975 ICET translation
The Nicene Creed speaks rather specifically about what the believer believes, within a religio-historical narrative. The first fruits declaration has the religio-historical narrative, but no clear statement of belief. It is also intended as a prayer-a prayer for acceptance of the offering of first fruits. The text is merely explanation of why we choose to make this offering. That in itself is sort of odd. Why do we need an explanation for why we are thanking G"d? No where else in the Torah is a prayer specifically outlined as it is here. Why this one prayer? What makes it so significant (This is one reason some call it a creed.)
Some scholars have speculated that the intent is to remind of us things for which we ought to be thankful, since we’re prone to forget. Makes sense, but hardly makes it a creed.
It is a statement of belief that the mentioned things took place-that we went to Egypt, were oppressed, redeemed by G"d and sent to a promised good land. In the absence of real historical evidence that any of these things ever actually took place, how does one understand these words, let alone understand them as creedal? Yet we say them year after year at our Pesakh Seder.
Yet these words are the religio-historical history of the seminal event in our existence as a people. Does it matter if the events described are historical fact or not?
Therein is possible justification for it being a creed. In the absence of empirical evidence, it seems illogical to make such a declaration. Yet we make it, even today. That is an article of faith, if ever there was one. A creed for a non-creedal religion. A creed that lies not at the heart of liturgical worship text, but a peripheral statement, a reminder of why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe. (Most people might call that an apologetic, rather than a creed.)
There is perhaps a more cynical view of why this might be considered a creed. Note how the rabbis twisted the true meaning of the words "arami oved avi" to read " An Aramean destroyed my father. Only a real creed would need such apologetic tinkering!
I leave you with that thought.
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester