BEATITUDE


BEATITUDE (Heb. הַצְלָחָה, haẓlaḥah; osher), the blissful state of the soul in the World-to-Come (*Olam ha-Ba) that constitutes the ultimate end of human life. Medieval Jewish philosophy fused rabbinic religious ethics and eschatology with the teleological and rationalist conception of happiness (eudaimonia) as analyzed by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, thus investing them with new shades of meaning that were conceptual rather than pictorial. Within a rationalist teleological framework, Jewish philosophers maintained that the attainment of religious perfection requires the acquisition of moral and intellectual virtues through the study of philosophy, culminating in the knowledge of God or even in a mystical union of the rational soul, or intellect, with God. Within this broad framework, the interpretation of beatitude varied over time, reflecting changing anthropological schemas within Jewish philosophy, the interplay of Jewish philosophy with Islamic and Christian cultures, the rivalry between Judaism and the monotheistic religions concerning individual salvation, and the internal Jewish debate between rationalists and traditionalists about the ideal life for Jews. Jewish reflections on beatitude were part of the larger discourse on happiness in premodern Judaism.

*Saadiah Gaon, an exponent of the Jewish *Kalam school, was the first Jewish philosopher to reflect systematically about the ultimate end of human life and to articulate a philosophical anthropology as the basis for Jewish ethics. According to Saadiah human beings are a temporary combination of two substances – body and soul. Both are created by God and both are united by Him. The substance of the soul is refined, "comparable in purity to that of the heavenly sphere [and] like the latter, it attains luminosity as a result of the light which it receives from God" (Beliefs and Opinions, 242). After analyzing what people commonly consider the good life for humans, Saadiah shows that no social good can be pursued for its own sake and that the ultimate end of human life is intellectual – knowledge and devotion to God. Although the two substances, body and soul, separate at death and the soul of the righteous person continues to live on as an immortal substance, at the end of time, as a result of divine intervention, the individual soul will be recombined with its corresponding body. Saadiah interprets the rabbinic statement, "In the world to come… the righteous will sit with their crowns on their heads and enjoy the splendor of the Shekhinah" (Ber. 17a) to mean that life in the hereafter consists in the enjoyment of a specially created luminous substance which sustains the righteous and burns the sinners (Beliefs and Opinions, 9:4–5).

In Jewish neoplatonic philosophy, however, a different philosophical anthropology prevailed. Here the bliss of the World-to-Come is understood as the climax of the soul's ascent from its entanglement in matter to union with the supernal world. Isaac *Israeli was the first to link traditional Jewish eschatology with neoplatonic mysticism. Holding that the soul in its ascent passes through three stages, purification, illumination, and union with the supernal light, Israeli identifies the bliss experienced in the afterlife with the last of these stages. However, this union can already be achieved in this world, provided that man withdraws from the influence of the flesh and of the lower souls. The union achieved by the soul at its highest stage is not union with God (though Israeli speaks of the soul's being attached to God), but with "wisdom" which, together with "first matter," occupies a place just below God in Israeli's metaphysical scheme. Israeli identifies the soul's final stage with the religious notion of "Paradise" (Book of Definitions, in A. Altmann and S.M. Stern (eds.), Isaac Israeli (1958), 25–26). By contrast with his spiritual concept of human blessedness, he provides a more physical account of punishment in the hereafter. The soul of the sinner will be sad, in pain, tortured by fire (ibid., 26–27). Some prominent features of Israeli's eschatology occur also in Joseph Ibn *Ẓaddik's Olam Katan.

In the 11th century, both Solomon ibn *Gabirol and *Baḥya ibn Paquda followed essentially the same pattern of neoplatonic thought, although they represent different social programs. Ibn Gabirol was a product of the Jewish courtier class and its commitment to the adab culture, whereas Bahya ibn Paquda was a jurist and a critic of a superficial adaptation of the adab culture by Jews who only cared about social advancement and worldly success. Ibn Gabirol saw the goal of the existence of man in the "attachment" of his soul to the supernal world that is the "return of like to like." This goal is to be reached by "knowledge," i.e., the contemplative life of the intellect, and by "work," i.e., the practice of the ethical virtues. The former is the exercise of intellectual virtues, whereas the latter pertains to the acquisition of moral virtues, which are linked to parts of the body. Ibn Gabirol explained the precise connection between specific moral traits and human physiology in his Islah al-Akhlaq translated into Hebrew as Tikkun Middot ha-Nefesh ("The Improvement of Moral Qualities"). This was a manual for the cultivation of proper character traits composed for the sake of the Jewish adib and reflecting the commitment of Jews to the social ideals of adab culture. Together moral and intellectual perfections free the soul from the captivity of nature, and purify it from its turbidity and darkness (Mekor ḥayyim, 1:2). Ibn Gabirol holds that "knowledge" leads to "works," which, in turn, enable the soul to rise to the contemplation of the spiritual world. The highest level of contemplation consists in the ecstatic vision of the "first universal matter" in which all supernal forms are contained (3:56–58). There is, however, a still higher goal to be attained. Beyond universal matter (and universal form) there exists, in Ibn Gabirol's ontological scheme, the "will" of God and, in the final passage of his Mekor Ḥayyim, he speaks of a progress of knowledge leading to a knowledge of the "will." Holding that a still higher stage may be achieved, Ibn Gabirol calls for an ascent to the "will's" beginning and source, i.e., God. The fruit of this effort is freedom from death and man's "attachment" to the "fountain of life" (mekor Ḥayyim), i.e., communion with God. Beatitude in the hereafter is, in Ibn Gabirol's view, not a mere continuation of the bliss of the contemplative life, but a gift of God (5:43, end).

With Ibn Gabirol, Baḥya shares the new intellectualist piety characteristic of Jewish philosophy in Muslim Spain. He too sees the upward way as the "road to felicity" (Ḥovot ha-Levavot, 1:7), passing through the stages of purification, illumination, and the vision of the "supernal and exalted forms" (8:4). He identifies the love of God with the soul's longing for union with the supernal light, i.e., supernal wisdom (10:1), holding that it arises from the purifying effects of the ascetic life (10:11) and from the scrutiny of the soul (10:8). According to Baḥya, man is an "exile" in this world (8:3), and the "bliss of the next world" should be his most cherished goal (4:4, end). The reward promised for the hereafter is said to consist in the "utmost distinction [conferred on man] by God" and in the "approximation to the supernal light" (4:4). This definition combines the notion of reward as a gift from God with the neoplatonic concept of illumination and union as a result of the soul's ascent. *Judah Halevi, another member of the courtier class in Muslim Spain who was critical of some of its tendencies, even though he absorbed the neoplatonic schema, teaches that the bliss of the World-to-Come is essentially identical with the supreme stage attainable in this world. This stage is conceived in neoplatonic terms as an "attachment" to the "supernal world" and to the "divine light" (Kuzari, 1:103; 3:20), and is more sharply defined as a suprarational prophetic stage. In Halevi's view the life of piety is essentially of the same order as the prophetic stage of illumination and communion with God. Accordingly, the pious man can achieve the bliss of attachment to God already in this world.

Discussions of beatitude became more sophisticated in Jewish Aristotelianism, but also more problematic from Jewish traditional perspective. While Jewish Aristotelians interpreted beatitude solely as a cognitive state in which the human intellect conjoins with the incorporeal intelligence, they disagreed on whether immortality is individual or collective, reflecting thereby a difference of opinion which also existed among Islamic philosophers. Among the Muslims, *al-Farabi (in his earlier works) and *Avicenna affirmed that the individual human intellect becomes immortal once it has achieved the stage of the "acquired intellect" (see *Intellect), while *Avempace and *Averroes held that in the afterlife there exists one intellect for all men, denying thereby that anything individual remains after death. Closely related to the question of immortality was that of man's "ultimate felicity," a state which Aristotelians generally identified with the "conjunction" of man's "acquired intellect" with the "agent intellect," or sometimes even with God. Reflecting the differences of opinion concerning immortality, those affirming that immortality was individual allowed for "ultimate felicity" in this world and the next, while the proponents of collective immortality held that "ultimate felicity" was possible only in this world.

The position of *Maimonides concerning immortality cannot be easily determined. In his Guide of the Perplexed (1:74, the seventh method), the discussion implies that he inclines to Avempace's doctrine of the unity of souls in the hereafter, which amounts to the denial of individual immortality. By contrast, he speaks of the "acquired intellect" as "separate from the organic body" (1:72), and sharply distinguishes the potential intellect with which man is born, and which is a "mere disposition," from the actual intellect, which remains after death, thus implying that immortality is individual (1:70; see also 1:41). Moreover, the whole tenor of his description of the state of man's attachment to God (3:51) points in the direction of an individual afterlife. Concerning beatitude, Maimonides holds that "ultimate felicity" is possible in this world, as well as in the next. While still in his bodily state a human being may achieve the state of continually being with God (whereby Maimonides seems to refer to "conjunction" with the agent intellect), by means of the intellectual worship of Him. Among humans, Moses achieved this state in the most excellent manner, but approximating this intellectual perfection is, in principle, also possible for others. This stage of ultimate felicity is continued in the afterlife. Maimonides' endeavor to impress his readers with the spiritual character of the bliss of the afterlife is particularly pronounced in his discussion in his commentary on the Mishnah (introd. to Sanh., perek Ḥelek), and reappears in his Mishneh Torah (hilkhot Teshuvah, ch. 8). Maimonides interprets the meaning of the previously cited rabbinic dictum: "In the world to come there is no eating, no drinking, no bathing, no anointing, no sexual intercourse; but the righteous sit with crowns upon their heads and enjoy the splendor of the Shekhinah" in the following manner: "'crowns upon their heads' means the survival of the soul by virtue of the survival of knowledge, the two being one and the same thing; 'enjoying the splendor of the Shekhinah' means taking delight in the intellection of the Creator, even as the holy ḥayyot and the other angelic orders delight in their comprehension of His existence." Maimonides, it should be noted, distinguished between the World-to-Come, which is an incorporeal state, and Paradise, which is a place here on earth. The treatise known as Perakim be-Haẓlaḥah ("Chapters on Beatitude") has been wrongly ascribed to Maimonides, but it expresses views similar to his. Affirming that felicity is possible in this world and the next, the treatise distinguishes between the ecstatic experience of prophecy and the ultimate felicity of the soul's union with God in the next world. Prophecy is described as the stage of human perfection at which the rational soul, like a polished mirror, reflects the light of the supernal world. At this stage one is happy, though one's joy is tempered with the fear of God. Prophecy can be reached only after a search for wisdom and after subjecting the senses to a rigorous discipline. Imagination functions at this level under the complete control of the intellect (cf. Maimonides' letter in Koveẓ Teshuvot ha-Rambam, 2:39b, where the same motif is quoted in the name of Abraham Ibn Ezra's commentary on Ex. 23:20). The ultimate felicity, on the other hand, is the reward which all righteous may expect in the next world according to the measure of their worthiness. The author adds that this view of the afterlife is in agreement with the views of the philosophers, whereby he seems to refer to al-Farabi (in his earlier works) and Avicenna. The author assures his reader that every man can rise to a rank close to Moses' (for which there is a parallel in Guide, 3:51), and, echoing neoplatonic traditions, he states that ultimate felicity consists in the union with God following the purification of the soul and its illumination by the supernal light.

The meaning of beatitude and its implication for Jewish culture became a hotly debated issue, constituting the socalled Maimonidean Controversy of the 13th century. Its first phase (1202–4) concerned the fate of the human soul after death and the resurrection of the body; the second phase (1232–35) was about the composition of Jewish education; the third phase (c. 1290) pertained to the allegorical interpretation of the Torah; and the fourth (1303–5) to the validity of astrology, the discipline that most captured scientific naturalism, in traditional Jewish society. All of these debates were aspects of a larger question: what is the necessary and sufficient knowledge for the attainment of the ultimate end of human life defined as beatitude? The debates were exceptionally acrimonious because what was at stake was the salvation of the individual soul, a topic hotly debated not only among Jews but also between Judaism and Christianity. As Jewish rationalism spread in Spain, Provençe, and Italy during the 13th century, Jewish philosophers differentiated between two orders of felicity: one in this world and one of a still higher degree in the hereafter. This distinction is found in Shem Tov ibn *Falaquera's Sefer ha-Ma'alot (ed. L. Venetianer (1894), 15–19), where the "true happiness of the soul at its ultimate perfection" is said to lead to the eternal life. Invoking the notion of a twofold felicity, *Hillel b. Samuel in his Tagmulei ha-Nefesh (Lyck, 1874) states that humans, through the perfection of the moral and intellectual virtues, may achieve a rank even higher than that of the angels, but the beatific vision becomes possible only after death. The perfected human is then illumined by the "eternal light," rises from rank to rank, and at the end is granted the vision of God. This state, in Hillel's view, is the meaning of Paradise (ibid., 23a–24a). Hillel's analysis of ultimate felicity manifests a familiarity with and influence of Christian scholastic discourse, especially of Thomas *Aquinas.

Jewish philosophers who accepted *Averroes' epistemology either openly or implicitly denied the validity of the belief in individual immortality. Thus, for example, Samuel ibn Tibbon appears to subscribe to Averroes' doctrine of the unity of souls, when in his Ma'amar Yikkavu ha-Mayim (ed. M. Bisliches, Pressburg, 1837) he says of the soul which has become perfect and separate from matter at death that it conjoins with the agent intellect, and that "they become one single thing, for now the soul becomes divine, of a superior and immortal order, like the agent intellect with which it is united" (p. 91). It may be assumed, especially in the light of his commentary on Ecclesiastes, that Ibn Tibbon speaks here of a "total fusion" which leaves no room for individual survival (see G. Vajda, Recherches sur la philosophie et la Kabbale (1962), 27 n. 3). *Levi b. Gershom, on the other hand, upheld the notion of individual immortality and of individual degrees of bliss in the hereafter. In his Milḥamot Adonai (1:13) he says that the "degrees of the happy ones" vary greatly according to the degree of unity achieved by the acquired intellect in its conception of the intelligibles. The degree of bliss in the hereafter – identified by him with Paradise – depends on the degree and type of knowledge achieved while on earth.

Traditionalist Reaction

The pronounced intellectualism of the philosophers' concept of beatitude provoked a great deal of indignant protest from the traditionalists who regarded the life of piety rather than intellectual pursuits as the gateway to eternal felicity. The kabbalist Jacob b. Sheshet *Gerondi (in his Meshiv Devarim Nekhoḥim; see Vajda, op. cit., 110–1) attacked Samuel ibn Tibbon's interpretation of the ladder in Jacob's dream as an allegory of man's intellectual progress. The Zohar was profoundly concerned with ultimate felicity and could be viewed as a dramatization of an ethical theory about the intrinsically good life as well as an implicit polemic against the systematic discourses of the rational philosophers. For the Zohar the Torah itself is considered as the source of the well-lived life in this world and the blissful life of the World-to-Come. Unlike the philosophers, for whom cognizing intelligibles culled from the observation of nature leads to enlightenment, for the Zohar, enlightenment comes only from fathoming those mysteries of the Torah that pertain to the inner life of the Godhead. The kabbalists, who possess this esoteric knowledge, are able to fathom the inner meaning of each and every mitzvah and perform it correctly, thereby producing holiness in the performer and in the world and even increasing the holiness of the Godhead, by bringing about the re-union of the masculine and feminine aspect of God. The ultimate end of the pursuit of religious perfection is thus the perfection of God. According to Zoharic anthropology the very fact of the afterlife is not a theoretical problem because the soul is an individuated entity even before its association with the particular body. When the body dies, the individual soul survives the event; its very existence as a separate substance does not depend on the body itself. The career of the soul after the death of the body depends on the balance between the merits and sins that one has accrued throughout life. If one lived a holy life, the soul returns to her divine source.

During the 14th century the path toward beatitude became the focal point of the Jewish-Christian polemics, when learned rabbinic Jews such as *Abner of Burgos, converted to Christianity and debated with their former coreligionists. Abner challenged his conversation partner, Isaac *Polleqar, to differentiate between faith and rational knowledge and argued that the highest expression of faith is the love of God but that love is not commensurate with the degree of intellectual perfection. Abner's position influenced Ḥasdai *Crescas, who was the main critic of the philosophic conception of beatitude. In his Or Adonai (3:3), he rejected the theory that the soul achieves its immortality only through the process of knowledge. The degrees of bliss in the hereafter correspond to the degrees of love of God and attachment to him. Crescas replaced the Maimonidean view of ultimate felicity with a non-intellectualist interpretation of human love that focused on the willingness of the individual to be committed to God. For Crescas ultimate felicity consists of a kind of life that is commensurate with the nature of the soul as in incorporeal substance; the happiness of the soul is predicated not on cognitive activity but on the ability of the will to freely choose the good. Human love for God is reflected not in the contemplation of intelligibles but in the actual performance of the commandments. The anti-intellectualist attitude gained ground in the last phase of Jewish life in Spain.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, philosophic reflections on beatitude changed in response to traumatic events in Jewish history: the persecutions and mass conversion of Jews in Spain in 1391 and the expulsions from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497), growing Jewish familiarity with Christian scholasticism and Renaissance humanism, and increasing blending of rationalist philosophy and Kabbalah. In Italy the typical example of this intellectual syncretism was Johanan Alemanno, for whom the final end of human life was a mystical union with God's attributes, the Sefirot, or more particularly with the central sefirah, Tiferet ("Beauty"). Alemanno understood the mystical union with God in accord with his spiritual mentor, Abraham *Abulafia, who envisioned this state as prophecy. Using the Platonic characterization of "divine madness," Alemanno depicted this ecstatic state as the culmination of the erotic pursuit of wisdom. In that state the human soul loses any taint of corporeality and is able to become one with the form of the Good. The highest example of erotic spirituality, according to Alemanno, is the Song of Songs, which Alemanno read as a guide to the attainment of a mystical union with God in this life.

For Sephardi exiles in the Ottoman Empire reflections on ultimate felicity, or beatitude, became an obsession, looming large in their biblical commentaries, sermons, and systematic theology. Moses *Almosnino harmonized Jewish Arisotelianism and the Zohar in order to provide answers to Jewish perplexity after the expulsion from Iberia. His analysis of the pursuit of perfection agrees with Crescas that love of God is the ultimate end of human love. Through the love of God one attains the perfection of all virtues in this world for which one is rewarded with eternal life. The love of God is everlasting and inexhaustible because it is an unconditional love. This love is not a communication between two perfect intellects but the love of the infinite details of the beloved. Only a perfect will that can discern the infinite variations of particulars can love God, the most perfect Will, unconditionally. Therefore, those who unconditionally love the Torah, the manifestation of God's infinite love, love God and enjoy everlasting salvation. Love of God yields the blissful union of the separated soul with God, enjoying an incomparable spiritual delight. The bliss of personal immortality is reserved for perfect Jews, a community that includes men and women. Women could enter the World-To-Come, because for Almosnino, in contrast to the rationalist tradition, ultimate felicity does not depend on philosophical wisdom but on faith, the perfection of the will, and the actual performance of mitzvot. Almosnino did not ignore the traditional hope for the coming of the messiah but depoliticized it by spiritualizing its meaning. In the Messianic Age, a total transformation of human existence from corporeality to spirituality will take place so that all Jews will envision the "face of the Shekhinah" during their lifetimes because their bodies will no longer be material entities. The bliss of immortality could thus be enjoyed despite the continuation of political exile.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

A. Altmann (ed.), Biblical and Other Studies (1963), 222ff.; idem, in: Harry A. Wolfson Jubilee Volume, 1 (1965), 47–87; A. Altmann and S.M. Stern, Isaac Israeli (1958), index S.V. union; J. Guttmann, Die Philosophie des Salomon ibn Gabirol (1889), 165ff., 264, and passim; I. Heinemann, Die Lehre von der Zweckbestimmung des Menschen (1926), passim; S. Horovitz, in: Jahresbericht des juedisch-theologischen Seminars (Breslau, 1906), 146, 198ff.; (1912), 244ff.; D. Kaufmann, Studien ueber Salomon ibn Gabirol (1889), 19ff. and passim; S. Pines, in: Tarbiz, 27 (1957/58), 218–33; M.Z. Schreiner, in: Mi-Mizraḥ u-mi-Ma'arav, 4 (1889), 26ff.; G. Vajda, La théologie ascétique de Baḥya ibn Paquda (1947), 131ff.; idem, L 'amour de Dieu dans la théologie juive du moyen âge (1957), index S.V. adhésion. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Fishbane, "The Inwardness of Joy in Jewish Spirituality," in: L.S. Rouner (ed.), In Pursuit of Happiness (1995), 71–88; D. Frank, "The End of the Guide: Maimonides on the Best Life for Man," in: Judaism, 34 (1985): 485–95; W.Z. Harvey, "R. Hasdai Crescas and His Critique of Philosophical Happiness" (Heb.), in: Proceedings of the Sixth World Congress of Jewish Studies, vol. 3 (1977), 143–49; M.M. Kellner, Maimonides on Human Perfection (1990); H. Kreisel, Maimonides' Political Thought: Studies in Ethics, Law, and the Human Ideal (1999); E.I.J. Rosenthal, "The Concept of 'Eudaimoni'" in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy," in: idem, Studia Semitica, 2 (1971), 127–44. N. Roth, "Attaining 'Happiness (Eudaimonia) in Medieval and Jewish Philosophy," in: Centerpoint, 4 (1981), 21–32; 37; H. Tirosh-Samuelson, Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge and Well-Being (2003).

[Alexander Altmann /

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson (2nd ed.)]


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