Sunday, June 14, 2009

the significance of the ikkarim

Based on the chiddush of R' Chaim Soloveitchik we can better explain the significance of the ikakrim. The problem with the Rambam's list (as noted by the Sefer haIkkarim) is that if it means to include only fundamental principles, it is too broad; if it means to include all necessary beliefs, it is far too narrow -- not everything a Jew is required to believe is included in the ikkarim. So what makes these 13 special?

R' Chaim held that the ikkarim must be affirmatively believed. It is not the sin of denial which makes one into an apikores (in which case context and cause would be valid considerations), but it is the lack of positive affirmation, which no excuse can substitute for, which seperates believer from heretic. Even if one does not affirm the ikkarim because of a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge, that failure practically sets one apart from the Jewish people. Other beliefs may be no less fundamental, but it is only the sin of intentional denial which would violate the prohibition against minus.


  1. Chaim,

    The chiddush doesn't answer the question; it merely extends it - what makes these 13 so special that the rules of minus are different for them than for any other fundamental principle?

  2. That type of "why" question is outside the scope of what a Brisker like R' Chaim would investigate. All Brisk is concerned with is categorization. The problem the Ikkarim raises is what makes these ikkarim distinct from other beliefs. Once it can be demonstrated that the ikkarim are a unique halachic category and there are resulting ramifications, the game is over. Why things fall into one category or another, why something is a chovas hagavra rather than a din in the cheftza, that's philosophy and not lomdus.

    There is a long footnote in the Sefer haIkkarim that tries to give an answer to what you are asking, but it's speculative. I don't know an answer based on text proof.

  3. The question isn't a "why" so much as a "what" - what is the difference between these 13 ideas and the rest, what is their commonality v. the remainder (i.e. how are they categorized). What you've pointed to is a ramification of the categorization - category A has minus via failure of belief, while category B only in affirmative denial - but not the principle on which they are categorized.

    The conclusion that they are in a different category also doesn't require the chiddush, as that is clear from the formulation of them as the "13 Ikkarim"

    (Sorry, don't really have a clue what the answer might be . . . just unsatisfied that one has been reached :)

    (BTW, wanted to make sure you saw my belated response on the "rationalist" post - spent sunday with the family :)

  4. Tuvia7:08 PM


    I am working on my Judaism now for years --- I find the ikkarim to be strange: they are "one liners" that don't seem to encapsulate the truth of the Jewish tradition.
    I read the book The Limits of Orthodox Theology, by Prof. Marc Shapiro -- he goes into it exhaustively.
    Can you enlighten me on this? I believe Prof. Shapiro is (probably) pushing his own point at times -- not being sensitive to aspects of the tradition -- but still, even an ikkur about the Torah we have being the same as the one Moshe Rebainu received seems, on the face of it, not accurate -- that is, even looking from within the Jewish tradition, there seems to be a discrepancy between that statement and the history as presented by the Talmud, and the findings of variations between Torah scrolls (both by scientists and rabbaim).

    So I find it definitely confusing!

    Look forward to your response,

    PS:In that book by Shapiro he mentions the idea of rabbaim not accepting even the word of gedolim that there can and have been discrepancies between Torah scrolls that needed adjudicating. That too is weird; Judaism has a process for adjudicating -- that alone tells us not all Torah scrolls were identical. And yet Prof. Shapiro recollects that, even now, there are Rabbaim who seem to believe that there never was any doubt about the text's accuracy? What can this mean?