Dear Rabbi,

Recently I used a prayer book that did not have the Thirteen Fundamental Principles of Faith in it.

Isn’t this an integral part of the prayer book?

Answer:

The Thirteen Fundamental Principles, or “Shloshah Asar Ikkarim,” were articulated by Maimonides, the great 12th-century legal codifier and Jewish philosopher. He calls these principles of Jewish faith “the fundamental truths of our religion and its very foundations.”1

In many editions of the prayer book, or “siddur”, published in the past several centuries, one can find a shortened list of the Thirteen Fundamental Principles, the Ani Ma’amins. Though it is popularly attributed to Maimonides, this list was actually compiled by an anonymous author. A simple comparison with Maimonides’ version in his commentary to the Mishnah reveals fundamental differences between the two.2

There are, however, several reasons why these Thirteen Fundamental Principles are not found as a part of the daily prayers in many prayer books:

  1. The Talmud defines prayer as praising G‑d or beseeching G‑d for one’s needs.3 Reciting the Principles of Faith does not fall into either of those categories.
  2. The prayers were formalized by the Men of the Great Assembly (around 30 BCE), and by the sages of the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods. Many rule that one should not add to these prayers.4 The 16th-century Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, the “Arizal,” stated that he did not wish to include in his prayer book any prayer or liturgical hymn that was not written by earlier generations who had expertise in the esoteric parts of G‑d’s teachings and could correctly compose a prayer. When instituting a prayer for the masses, he felt, one must be extra careful that every word is exact, in alignment with both the Talmudic and esoteric teachings of Judaism.5
  3. It is not clear who was the first to institute the daily recitation of the Thirteen Principles,6 as they do not appear in the siddur of the Arizal or in many other earlier prayer books, though their compilers lived after Maimonides.
  4. Additionally, many great sages have taken issue with Maimonides’ contention that certain parts of Judaism are more fundamental than others. And among others there is disagreement as to which principles should be included in the count.7

There are those who say it is very important to recite these Principles of Faith every day8; therefore, if one wishes to, one could say them after completing the daily prayers.9

See What is Prayer? from our Jewish Prayer minisite.