In the 12th century, the great Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, commonly referred to as Maimonides, put together the 13 principles of Judaism. The 13 principles serve as the fundamental truths of the Jewish religion, and in many congregations, it’s customary to say “Ani Maamin” (I believe) when reciting them. According to Maimonides, mahloket l’shem shamayim (a debate in the name of G-d) isn’t possible when it comes to these principles.
Shortly after my bat mitzvah, I proudly flaunted my newfound appreciation of Judaism. While I had many things to learn, I’d always felt fairly confident in my Jewish identity and education, and whenever the opportunity presented itself I was thrilled to engage in conversations regarding Judaism, but I wasn’t yet prepared to face judgment on my budding opinions.
One Friday night, my cousin Elden invited me to study with him. He handed me a book and opened it to a page displaying the 13 principles. I’d never before heard of these principles, and when he asked me to read them aloud and tell him whether or not I agreed with them, I felt the pressure begin to build.
Not only were these principles foreign to me, but I felt that if I didn’t say “Ani Maamin” to each one, I would lose his respect. Armed with my supportive parents by my side, I read the principles aloud, and when I didn’t understand a concept, they explained it to me. As expected from an uncomfortable adolescent, I reluctantly agreed to every principle. Today, I’m honestly not so sure that I would—and that’s ok.
Family is important and plays a large role in an individual’s development. Growing up in an interfaith family, many of my extended family members had a vested interest in my spiritual upbringing. When my parents got married, Elden gave my dad “A Letter in the Scroll” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to teach him about the faith he was marrying into. And when I was confirmed last spring, Elden sent me lots of books to encourage my passion for studying Jewish scripture. He faithfully emailed me weekly Torah commentary from his yeshiva, and I read it intently every week, soaking up all the content he shared with me.
Elden leads a life that I can only dream of living. I wish I could find the time to observe Shabbat weekly, and the desire to give up cheeseburgers. I wish I could know as much about Judaism as he does, but I know that I’m learning every day, and he has played a huge part in that. Elden has encouraged me to lead a Jewish life and has supported my dream to one day become a rabbi. He came to my bat mitzvah, even though doing so made it difficult for him to observe Shabbat. For all that he has done for me, I’m grateful.
Despite Elden’s role in my Jewish development, I also recognize that it’s ok for me to have differing opinions from his. While I reluctantly agreed with all 13 principles that night, I realize now that I don’t need to agree with Elden on every account. It’s important to regularly engage in dialogue with people who don’t share your opinions, and when I disagree with Elden, it just helps me solidify my own beliefs.
The Jewish people are a people who ask many questions. We come from all over the world, we have varying traditions, liturgical melodies and opinions. If every Jew held the same beliefs and didn’t challenge one another, Judaism wouldn’t be the multifaceted religion that it is today.
When somebody challenges your opinions, take it as an opportunity to evaluate your own point of view and learn. These kinds of conversations have helped shape the Jew and the person I am today, and through argument and disagreement, I have been able to define what’s ultimately important to me.
Editor’s Note: This content was produced in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive.