The Limits of Orthodox Theology

BookThe Limits of Orthodox Theology

The Limits of Orthodox Theology

Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


December 1st, 2003

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It is commonly asserted that Maimonides' famous Thirteen Principles are the last word in Orthodox Jewish theology. This is a very popular notion, and is often repeated by scholars from all camps in Judaism. Yet such a position ignores the long history of Jewish theology in which Maimonides' Principles have been subject to great dispute. The book begins with a discussion of the significance of the Principles and illustrates how they assumed such a central place in traditional Judaism. Each principle is then considered in turn: the reasons underlying Maimonides' formulations are expounded and the disputes that have arisen concerning them are discussed in detail. Marc B. Shapiro's authoritative analysis makes it quite clear that the notion that Maimonides' Principles are the last word in traditional Jewish theology is a misconception, and that even Maimonides himself was not fully convinced of every aspect of his formulations. Although structured around Maimonides' Principles, this book can also be seen as an encyclopedia of traditional Jewish thought concerning the central issues of Jewish theology. The diversity of opinion in Jewish tradition on such issues as God, Creation, and the Revelation of the Torah is sure to surprise readers.

'Inspiring and breath-taking ... highly recommended.'
- Yisrael Dubitsky, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
'Marc Shapiro puts an explicit contemporary context on this remarkable collection of sources that disagreed with one part or other of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles ... By showing the extent to which past authors disagreed with those Principles, Shapiro seeks to debunk assertions by contemporary writers that place those Principles at the core of Orthodox belief ... the work is astonishing in its rage. Shapiro uses his daunting biographical abilities and his considerable skill as a writer to present his material-well-known and obscure-cogently and entertainingly. To the reader interested in the limits of the theological imagination of Jews, it is not likely to be soon rivalled.'
- Gidon Rothstein, AJS Review
'A courageous and meticulously research book that straddles two worlds-that of abstract scholarship and of practical religious vision ... The real tour de force of the book is the enormous amount of material he musters to make his case.'
- Bradley Shavit Artson, Conservative Judaism
'Combines remarkable erudition with clarity of vision.'
- Menachem Kellner, Edah Journal
'His research is exhaustive, almost encyclopedic, and it is highly convincing ... his aim is truly constructive and his tone is passionately concerned.'
- Erin Leib, Jerusalem Report
'This exhaustive yet readable study ... is astonishingly well researched ... a polemical work of considerable erudition, which will find a broad audience.'
- Harvey Belovski, Jewish Chronicle
'Ground-breaking ... As Shapiro so clearly demonstrates in this landmark work, the need is not only for theological discussions, but for theology.'
- Miriam Shaviv, Jewish Quarterly
'Shapiro's book is doubly remarkable: it is at the same time a commentary on Maimonides' Thirteen Principles, and a successful summary of the central themes of Jewish theology, offering deep insight into what the blurb calls traditional Jewish thought".'
- Stefan Schreiner, Judaica
'Articulate and thought-provoking ... This book is no less important on social than on scholarly grounds. Shapiro presents his stance with great passion, giving readers the sense that he is involved in a truth spreading mission. His passion appears to me justified and legitimate, since abstract theology is indeed an essential element in the shaping of current Orthodox society, particularly in Israel but also outside it. In sum: this book provides scholars with a justification for a view that most of them had already sensed and accepted and opens up to a broader intellectual public a path to understanding Jewish philosophy.'
- Dov Schwartz, Review of Rabbinic Judaism

Author Information

Marc B. Shapiro holds the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Brandeis and Harvard universities, he is editing the collected writings of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, the first volume of which appeared in 1998, and the second in 2003.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Note on Transliteration and Conventions Used in the Text12
List of Abbreviations14
1. Introduction16
2. The Existence and Unity of God53
3. The Incorporeality of God60
4. Creation Ex Nihilo86
5. Only God is to be Worshipped93
6. Prophecy and the Uniqueness of Moses102
7. Revelation of the Torah106
8. Eternity of the Torah137
9. God’s Knowledge; Reward and Punishment147
10. The Messiah; Resurrection of the Dead154
Appendix I: Other Areas of Dispute174
Appendix II: Illustrations178
Index of Biblical and Rabbinic References220
General Index226