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Two Jews, Many Opinions

In the 12th century the great Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, commonly referred to as Maimonides, put together the Thirteen Principles of Judaism. The Thirteen 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.

As a newly bat-mitzvahed girl, my early adolescent years were filled with angsty yet excited arguments about my new-found 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 judgement on my budding opinions. 

Shortly before I turned thirteen, my older Orthodox cousin invited me to sit and study with him on the Friday night before my other cousin’s bar mitzvah. My cousin, Elden, handed me a book and opened it to a page displaying the Thirteen 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 that 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 twelve-year-old, I reluctantly agreed to every principle. Today, I’m honestly not so sure that I would–and that’s okay. 

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. 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 of 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 okay for me to have differing opinions from his. While I reluctantly agreed with all thirteen 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 lots of different traditions, we have lots of different liturgical melodies, and we have lots of different 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.

If anything, I hope you take away this: when somebody challenges your opinions, take it as an opportunity to evaluate your own point of view; it’s an opportunity to learn, to find meaning and growth, and it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. 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. 

This article is also published on Fresh Ink for Teens.

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1 Comment

Great piece, Emma! I love that you are able to have such a close learning relationship with your cousin from such a different Jewish background.

Emma Mair with Family
Full image
2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Emma Mair (center right) pictured with her cousin Elden (left), and her great aunt (center left) and uncle (right).
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How to cite this page

Mair, Emma. "Two Jews, Many Opinions." 18 December 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 22, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/two-jews-many-opinions>.

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