Learn the 13 Principles of the Rambam in under 5 minutes

Learn the 13 Principles of the Rambam in under 5 minutes

The Problem – we are all ignorant

How many times have you read a Jewish periodical that bemoans how little our students know  about the fundamentals of our faith? These articles will extol the virtues of kiruv programs that teach these ideals to our students in a workshop or two. They quote students who were astounded. “How come I never learned this before?,” the students ask.
This problem has been on my mind for quite some time. When I started to teach 3rd grade, I decided to try teaching the basics of our faith on a 9 year old level. I began devoting 5-10 minutes each day using one tefillah as a spring board to explain our beliefs.
Right before I was about to teach Yigdal, which outlines the 13 Principles of Faith of the Rambam, a new article in the HaModia caught my eye. In it, the author challenged Orthodox Jews to name the 13 Principles of the Rambam. The 13 Principles of the Rambam is a list of philosophical truths  that all Orthodox Jews share.  The author questioned how many of Orthodox Jews can name all 13 by heart. If it were so important, he posited, we would know all all of them yet most of us don’t.

Finding a solution so we can all learn

I finally had enough. Instead of assigning nefarious motives to  schools and adults for neglecting these very important ideas, it was time to recognize the problem.Who can memorize 13 of anything? Had the Rambam decided that there were 7 principles of faith, we would have been fine. We can all memorize phone numbers after all.

But 13??? We don’t have a fighting chance. Unfortunately for us, the Rambam actually had 13 ideas that we all agree to as Orthodox Jews. It would be hard to cut out 6 just to make it easier to remember.

So, once I realized that the problem is not the lack of desire, but the limits of our memory, I set out to solve the problem.

Chunking

A few principles of cognitive psychology came to mind.
First is the concept of chunking.  It is very hard to remember a list longer than 7. If I divide the long list into smaller groups, it becomes much easier to remember.
Remembering a list of 13 is almost impossible. However, 3 groups of 4 is doable. Luckily the Rambam’s 13 principles has been chunked into 3 broad categories by people far greater than I. Teaching these chunks was step 1 in the universal awareness of the 13 Principles of the Rambam.

Symbols

Second – who learns with words anymore?
Take a look at the following pictures. How many of them do you recognize? Can you explain what each one means and where you might see it?
We could have probably have  conversations  about each of these simple pictures for quite some time. The reason is that these pictures have meaning to us and are stored differently in our mind than words are. The images arouse both emotional and intellectual responses and trigger huge amounts of information stored in our mind.
The authors of  the book “Classroom Instruction that Works” 2nd edition, devote a a full chapter to the importance of imagery in promoting memory and understanding. “Psychologists believe that information is stored in memory in two ways: as words (linguistic) and as images (nonlinguistic) (p 63).
Simple pictures make us remember things in a different way than words do. Images not only help us remember concrete things, but also help deepen our understanding of abstract ideas. Just as important, the images help us problem solve and analyze complex issues.
I decided that in addition to chunking, I would make a simple icon, a symbol,  for each of the 13 Principles. This graphic needed to be as simple as possible so it could be  stored in our memory as a single word image and retrieved easily.

Test yourself

Before I show you the results of my work, try it out for yourself. Here is a list of the 13 Principles of Faith in order. Study them for a 1 1/2 minutes and then see how many you can recall with your eyes closed.
1.  G-d exists
2.  He is One
3.  He has no body
4. He is eternal
5. All prayers go to Him and not to an intermediary.
6. G-d speaks to man through prophecy.
7. Moshe was the father of all prophets

8. Moshe gave a True Torah at Har Sinai
9. the Torah will never be changed.

10. G-d knows all

11. G-d rewards the good and punishes the bad
12. Moshiach will come
13. There will be the resurrection of the dead

 So what was your score? ______/13
Chunking
Now lets see how many you can remember after we chunk the information.
Study each list for thirty seconds, and try to test your memory after you study each section for 30 seconds. Then at the end, test how many you can remember in total.
G-d
1.  G-d exists
2.  He is One
3.  He has no body
4. He is eternal
5. All prayers go to Him and not to an intermediary.
The Torah of Moshe
6. G-d speaks to man through prophecy.
7. Moshe was the father of all prophets

8. Moshe gave a True Torah at Har Sinai
9. the Torah will never be changed.

 

Reward and Punishment
10. G-d knows all
11. G-d rewards the good and punishes the bad

12. Moshiach will come
13. There will be the resurrection of the dead

 So what was your score this time? ______/13
Symbols
Now lets see how images help us remember. Again study each list for 30 seconds, this time with its accompanying picture. After studying each section, test yourself on that section. At the end, test yourself on all of them.

Section 1: G-d

1.  G-d exists2.  He is One

3.  He has no body

4. He is eternal

5. All prayers go to Him and not to an intermediary.

Section 2: The Torah of Moshe


6. G-d speaks to man through prophecy.

7. Moshe was the father of all prophets

8. Moshe gave a True Torah at Har Sinai

9. the Torah will never be changed.















Section 3: Reward and Punishment


10. G-d knows all

11. G-d rewards the good and punishes the bad

12. Moshiach will come

13. There will be the resurrection of the dead

 

 So what was your score this time? ______/13
Did the chunking make a difference?
Did you feel like it was easier to learn it with the pictures?
I tried these graphics out with my students and with adults and the learning was more enjoyable and memorable than a long 40 minute lesson would have been.

Putting it all together – The Final Poster

I didn’t want to just make three separate posters, because all thirteen principles are part of our singular belief. So I put all 13 back together into one big poster.  I hope this poster that represents our faith and our beliefs helps everyone  learn what it means to be an Orthodox Jew.I hope that it can promote Jewish literacy in a pleasant and fun way so that we can all learn that which is  important to us.

Happy Learning!