During these pre-election days in Israel, one hears many politicians declaiming his or her “ani ma’amin”, by which they mean their credo. Ani ma’amin means “I believe” and is taken from the Thirteen Principles of Faith of Maimonides. The most famous principle is the twelfth: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await his coming every day.”
The Middle Ages saw a trend in enumerating various aspects of Jewish faith, be it the principles or the commandments. Many sages compiled their own versions of the Principles of Faith. Indeed Maimonides’s list stirred up controversy in his day; it was only centuries later that his Thirteen Principles came to be seen as authoritative.
The word ma’amin, believe, comes from the Hebrew word for firm or lasting. Thus the psalmist describes the decrees of the Lord as ne’emanah or enduring (Psalm 19:8) Abraham’s faith in God is translated as “He put his trust [vehe’emin] in the Lord” (Genesis 15:5).
Today’s Israelis borrow Maimonides’s formulation and use the centuries-old expression ani ma’amin to refer to their principles on any topic from dieting to politics. It is yet another example of how a religious term can take on secular meanings in the evolution of the biblical tongue.