The central idea of Judaism involves a commitment by the Jewish people to a single, omnipotent, incorporeal God, who is the creator and ruler of the universe and the source of a moral law for humanity. The idea of God as the creator of the universe opens the Biblical narrative Bereshit (“In the Beginning”) in the Book of Genesis.

The declaration of this belief appears throughout the Jewish source texts, including in the key prayer known as the Shema. The Shema, a recitation of Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, is a central feature of every synagogue service. It is also recited daily upon waking and on significant occasions such as approaching death. The Shema (whose name means “Listen/Hear”) begins:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One.
Blessed be his name, whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The concept of a moral law prescribed by God is one of the principal subjects of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The concept of the Creator’s moral law suffuses the Tanach, which comprises the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. (See ­Core Ethical Teachings of Judaism.)


Some statements of belief

A statement emphasising the majesty of God and condemning idolatry occurs in the First and Second Commandments at Exodus 20:2-6:

  1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make yourself a graven image; nor the form of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…

The attributes of God are recited in the songs of petition and praise collected in the Psalms. Psalms 19 and 24 are just two out of scores of examples:

“The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple.”

(Psalm 19)

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein;
for he has founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.

Who shall ascend the mountain of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false,
and does not swear deceitfully.”

(Psalm 24)

Every day observant Jews pronounce numerous belssings which commence with the words “Blessed art Thou, our God and King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments …”

The idea of the Covenant

Genesis tells how God establishes a ‘covenant’ with Abraham, which is to be passed on to future generations. The first statement of this special relationship appears in Chapter 12 of Genesis:

“And the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great…and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.'”

The covenant is sealed in Chapter 17, when Abraham agrees that the sign of the covenant will appear on the bodies of all his male descendants through circumcision – “Thus my covenant will be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact.” . At the same time, God promises:

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be to you for a God and to your seed after you. And I will give you and your seed after you the land of your sojournings, the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them for a God.”

Throughout the generations, Jews have circumcised every male child at the age of eight days (or later, if the baby is not well enough for the procedure at eight days). The Jewish ceremony of circumcision is known as a ‘brit’, which is the Hebrew word meaning ‘covenant’. Immediately after the ceremony, all those present then say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into the Torah, marriage and good deeds.”

Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith

Statue of Maimonides (Spain)

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135 – 1204), commonly known by his Greek name, Moses Maimonides, was a rabbi and physician, as well as the author of a number of important works of philosophy, law and medicine. Born in Cordoba, Spain, Maimonides fled Muslim persecution of the Jews there and eventually became physician to Saladin, the Kurdish ruler of Egypt.

Maimonides promulgated “The Thirteen Principles of the Faith”, which sets out his version of the fundamentals of Jewish belief. The Thirteen Principles appear in various forms in the Synagogue service, but it is important to note that they are not prescribed as dogma in Judaism, as similar pronouncements may be in the Christian tradition. For example, Articles 12 and 13 are not officially accepted by Conservative and Reform Jews.

Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles are:

1. I believe with perfect faith that God is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.

2. I believe with perfect faith that God is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our God He was, He is, and He will be.

3. I believe with perfect faith that God does not have a body. Physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all.

4. I believe with perfect faith that God is first and last.

5. I believe with perfect faith that it is only proper to pray to God. One may not pray to anyone or anything else.

6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.

7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.

8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.

9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another given by God.

10. I believe with perfect faith that God knows all of man’s deeds and thoughts. It is thus written (Psalm 33:15), “He has moulded every heart together, He understands what each one does.”

11. I believe with perfect faith that God rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress Him.

12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. However long it takes, I will await His coming every day.

13. I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when God wills it to happen.”

See also: for a Reform view, on an Orthodox concept of Messiah and on Orthodox views of life after death.