PROVIDENCE, in religion and philosophy, God's guidance or care of His creatures, emanating from His constant concern for them and for the achievement of His purposes. Providence includes both supervision of the acts of men and the guidance of the actors in specific directions. Its object is also to deal out fitting retribution – in order to establish justice in the world, retribution itself often serving as a means of guidance (see below). Hence there is a connection between providence and the principle of *reward and punishment. The origin of the term providence is Greek (πρόνοια, lit. "perceiving beforehand") and first appears in Jewish literature in the Wisdom of Solomon, 14:3; 17:2.

In the Bible

The basis of the belief in a constant and eternal divine providence is the biblical conception of God. In polytheism there is generally a belief in a fixed "order" of nature, which is above the gods. This "order" serves to some extent as a guarantee that right prevails in the world (this is the Greek θέμιζ or μοῖρα; the Egyptian ma'at; and the Iranian-Persian artha, "truth"). However, in this type of belief the right is, as it were, a product of action (this is also the Buddhist belief in "karma") and is not dependent on a divine providence with a universal moral purpose. On the contrary, through the use of certain magical acts, man can even overcome the will of the god. In any case, there is a basic belief in fate and necessity. By contrast, the belief in providence is in the first instance a belief in a God who has cognition and will, and who has unlimited control over nature and a personal relationship with all men – a relationship which is determined solely by their moral or immoral behavior. Biblical belief does not deny the existence of a fixed natural order – "the ordinances" of heaven and earth, of day and night (Jer. 31:35–36; 33:25) – but since God is the creator of nature and is not subject to its laws (e.g. Jer. 18:6ff.), He can guide man and reward him according to his merit, even through the supernatural means of miracles. Such guidance may be direct (through divine *revelation) or indirect – through a prophet or other animate or inanimate intermediaries ("Who maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a flaming fire," Ps. 104:4; cf. Joel 2:1ff.; Amos 3:7; Ps. 103:20–22). God's providence is both individual – extending to each and every person (Adam, Abel, Cain, etc.), and general-over peoples and groups, especially Israel, His chosen people. The guarding and guidance of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and their families (Sarah in the house of Pharaoh, Hagar in the desert, Joseph in Egypt, etc.) aimed at the ultimate purpose of creating an exemplary people exalted above all other nations (Deut. 26:18). The whole history of the Israelites, beginning with the Exodus from Egypt, is, according to the biblical conception, a continuous unfolding of divine providence's guidance of the people as a whole as well as of its individual members in the way marked out for them. Even the sufferings undergone by the people belong to the mysteries of divine providence (cf. e.g., the doctrinal introductions in Judg. 2:11–23; 3:1–8; 6:7–10, 13–17; 10:6–15; II Kings 14:26–27; 17:7ff.).

It can be said that the entire Bible is a record of divine providence, whether general or individual. While the Pentateuch and the Prophets emphasize general, national providence, Psalms and Proverbs are based on the belief that God is concerned with the individual, hears the cry of the wretched, desires the well-being of the righteous, and directs man, even against his will, to the destiny which He has determined for him ("The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord," Prov. 16:33; "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will," Prov. 21:1; etc.). Prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk) and psalmists (Ps. 9; 71; 77; 88) sometimes question the ways of providence and divine justice, but they ultimately affirm the traditional belief in providence. In the last analysis, this position is also maintained by the author of Ecclesiastes, who otherwise expresses the gravest doubts regarding providence ("But know that for all these things God will bring thee to judgment," Eccles. 11:9). This is true also of Job, but his doubts and misgivings are confined to the question of a divine providence which rules the universe, and particularly mankind.

The unlimited belief in providence would seem to conflict with the doctrine that man can freely choose good and evil (for which God rewards or punishes him), which is also integral to the biblical world view. This issue was grappled with only in later times, with the development of religious philosophy in the Middle Ages.

In the Apocrypha

In the Apocrypha, too, the belief is widespread that God watches over the deeds of mortals in order to requite the wicked and the righteous according to their deserts. The suffering of the righteous is but a temporary trial in order that they be well rewarded in the end. Tobit, for instance, for dealing kindly with the living and with the dead is persecuted by the authorities. It appears as if the hand of God, too, was turned against him but his righteousness is rewarded. In the end he is vindicated and is vouchsafed the victory of righteousness. The same applies to the community of Israel – the enemy invariably receives his punishment and the righteous nation is saved, almost unexpectedly. According to I Maccabees (9:46), Judah Maccabee urged the people to pray because he knew that God pays attention to prayer ("Now therefore cry unto Heaven that you may be delivered out of the hand of your enemies"). Similarly, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were convinced that their prayer saved them in time of trouble (II Macc. 1:8). As in ancient times, so too in the time of the Hasmoneans, God continued to save His people by means of angels sent by Him (Heliodorus, who went to desecrate the Temple, fell into a faint at the hand of angels: II Macc. 3; angels in heaven hastened to the assistance of Judah Maccabee: ibid. 10:29–30). Lysias also realized that the Hebrews were invincible because God helped them (ibid. 11:13).

In the concept of providence in the apocalyptic works, particularly in the writings of the *Dead Sea sect, one can detect a tendency toward an important innovation. In these works the idea is expressed that God, who has preknowledge of everything, also decrees everything in advance; both the wicked and the righteous are formed at their creation ("all the sons of light each one to his fortune according to the counsel of the Lord…; all the sons of darkness each one to his guilt according to the vengeance of the Lord," – Manual of Discipline 1:9–10; "From the Lord of Knowledge, all is and was… and before they came into being he prepared all their thought… and it is unchangeable," – ibid. 3:15–16; "and unto Israel and the angel of his truth [Michael?] [they] are a help to all the sons of light," while "the angel of darkness" rules over "all the dominion of the sons of wickedness," – ibid. 20–24; and see Jub. 1:20 and 2:2). According to Jubilees everything is also written beforehand in the "tablets of the heavens" (3:10). Josephus, too (Ant., 13:171–3, 18:11f.; Wars, 2:119f.), distinguishes between the different sects that arose in the time of the Second Temple, primarily on the basis of the difference between them in the concept of providence. According to him, "the Pharisees say that some things but not all depend on fate, but some depend upon us as to whether they occur or not" (Ant., 13:172). "The Essenes hold that fate rules everything and nothing happens to man without it; while the Sadducees abolish fate, holding that it does not exist at all, that human actions do not occur through its power, and that everything is dependent upon man himself who alone is the cause of the good, and evil results from man's folly" (ibid.; see also *Essenes; *Sadducees; *Boethusians; *Pharisees). If the definitions of Josephus are accurate, one may say that the Sadducees deviated from the biblical concept and believed in providence in general but not in detail; something of the same can be said of the Essenes in what pertains to their belief in predestination, but judging from the writings found in Qumran, this belief was not without qualifications and exceptions.

In the Talmud

The outlook of the scholars of the Mishnah and Talmud on the nature and purport of divine providence is summarized in the dictum of Akiva (Avot 3:15): "All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given; and the world is judged with goodness, and all is in accordance with the works." It is apparent that the first part of this dictum expresses an attempt to reconcile the principle of providence on the one hand with freedom of choice on the other; but it is possible that the idea here expressed is identical with that contained in the dictum: "Everything is in the hand of heaven except for the fear of heaven" (Ber. 33b), which is intended to build a bridge between freedom of choice and the idea of predestination. From various dicta in the Talmud it is possible to infer that the idea of providence during this era embraced not only all men but even all creatures. For the gazelle that is wont to cast its seed at parturition from the top of the mountain, the Holy One prepares "an eagle that catches it in its wings and places it before her, and were it to come a moment earlier or a moment later [the offspring] would die at once" (BB 16a–b); in similar vein is: "The Holy One sits and nourishes both the horns of the wild ox and the ova of lice" (Shab. 107b). Of man it was said: "No man bruises his finger on earth unless it is decreed in heaven" (Ḥul. 7b); and all is revealed and known before God: "even the small talk of a man's conversation with his wife" (Lev. R. 26:7). Similarly: "The Holy One sits and pairs couples – the daughter of so-and-so to so-and-so" (Lev. R. 8:1; Gen. R. 68:4; and cf. MK 18b), or: "He is occupied in making ladders, casting down the one and elevating the other" (Gen. R. 68:4).

The continuation of Akiva's dictum ("and the world is judged with goodness") accords apparently with the traditional outlook of the Talmud. Thus, for example, it was said that even if man has 999 angels declaring him guilty and only one speaking in his favor, God assesses him mercifully (TJ, Kid. 1:10, 61d; Shab. 32a); that God is distressed at the distress of the righteous and does not rejoice at the downfall of the wicked (Sanh. 39b; Tanh., be-Shallaḥ 10) and does not deal tyrannically with His creatures (Av. Zar. 3a); and he sits and waits for man and does not punish him until his measure is full (Sot. 9a).

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]

In Medieval Jewish Philosophy

The treatment of providence (hashgaḥah) in medieval Jewish philosophy reflects the discussion of this subject in late Greek philosophy, particularly in the writings of the second-century C.E. Aristotelian commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias, and in the theological schools of Islam. The Hebrew term hashgaḥah itself was apparently first coined by Samuel ibn Tibbon as a translation of the Arabic word ʿanāʾyah. In his Guide of the Perplexed (trans. by S. Pines, 1963), Maimonides uses the latter synonymously with tadbīr, the Hebrew equivalent of which is hanhagah (i.e., governance of the world). In most Hebrew philosophical works, however, hanhagah designates the universal providence which determines the natural order of the world as a whole, while hashgaḥah is generally used to designate individual providence. For the latter, Judah *Al-Ḥarizi also used the Hebrew term shemirah ("safekeeping"), and it should be noted that originally Ibn Tibbon, too, preferred this, as is shown in a manuscript copy of a letter to Maimonides (see below).

*Saadiah Gaon deals with the problem of providence in treatise 5 of his Emunot ve-De'ot (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. by S. Rosenblatt, 1948), whose subject is "Merits and Demerits." In chapter 1, he identifies providence with the reward and punishment meted out by God to the individual in this world, which is "the world of action"; though, ultimately, reward and punishment are reserved for the world to come. Echoes of the philosophical debate on the problem of providence may be found in other parts of Saadiah's book. Thus, he asks how it is possible that God's knowledge can encompass both the past and the future and "that he knows both equally" in a single, eternal, and immutable act of knowing (ibid., 2:13). His reply is that it is impossible to compare man's knowledge, which is acquired through the medium of the senses, with God's, which "is not acquired by any intermediate cause" and is not derived from temporal facts, but rather flows from His essence. This linking of the problem of providence with that of the nature of God's knowledge originated with Alexander of Aphrodisias, as did the question of the reconciliation of God's foreknowledge with man's freedom of the will. Saadiah's solution to the latter problem is to point out that the Creator's knowledge of events is not the cause of their occurrence. If that were the case, all events would be eternal, inasmuch as God's knowledge of them is eternal (ibid., 4:4). Abraham *Ibn Daud devotes an entire chapter of his book Emunah Ramah (6:2; ed. by S. Weil (1852), 93ff.) to the problems involved in the concept of providence. Ibn Daud, too, was considerably influenced by Alexander of Aphrodisias, who upheld "the nature of the possible," thereby allowing for human choice, in opposition to the absolute determinism of the *Stoics. Like Alexander, he limits God's knowledge to that which stems from the necessary laws of nature through natural causes, to the exclusion of the effects of accident or free will which are only possible. He argues that God's ignorance of things that come to be as a result of accident or free will does not imply an imperfection in His nature, for whatever is "possible" is also only possible for God, and hence He knows possible things only as possible, not as necessary.

Maimonides deals with the question of providence in light of the philosophic teachings on "governance" (hanhagah, tadbīr), which identify it with the action of the forces of nature (Guide, 2:10). He fully discusses hashgaḥah (ʿanāʾyah; ibid., 3:16–24), listing five main views on the matter: those of *Epicurus, *Aristotle, the Ash'arites, the Mu'tazilites (see *Kalām), and, lastly, of the Torah, which affirms both freedom of the human will and divine justice. The good and evil that befall man are the result of this justice, "for all His ways are judgment," and there exists a perfect correspondence between the achievements of the individual and his fate. This is determined by the level of man's intellect, however, rather than by his deeds, so that it follows that only he whose perfected intellect adheres to God is protected from all evil (Guide, 3:51). Such a man realizes that governance, providence, and purpose cannot be attributed to God in a human sense, and he will, therefore, "bear every misfortune lightly, nor will misfortunes multiply doubts concerning God… but will rather increase his love of God." Maimonides argues against Alexander of Aphrodisias and Ibn Daud that God's knowledge instantaneously encompasses the numerous things subject to change without any change in His essence; that God foresees all things that will come to be without any addition to His knowledge; and that He therefore knows both the possible ("privation," i.e., that which does not yet exist but is about to be) and the infinite (i.e., individuals and particulars which are unlimited in number). The philosophers, he states, arbitrarily asserted that it is impossible to know the possible or the infinite, but they overlooked the difference between God's knowledge and human knowledge. Just as man's intellect is inadequate to apprehend God's essence, so it cannot apprehend His knowledge (ibid., 2:20).

In his letter to Maimonides (published by Z. Diesendruck in: HUCA, 11 (1936), 341–66), Samuel ibn Tibbon calls attention to a contradiction between Maimonides' treatment of providence in Guide, 3:17ff., and his discussion at the end of the Guide in chapter 51, where, departing from the philosophical approach that providence is relevant only to the welfare of the soul, Maimonides expresses the conviction that the devout man will never be allowed to suffer any harm. Shem Tov ibn *Falaquera (Moreh ha-Moreh, 145–8), Moses ibn *Tibbon, in a note to his father's letter (ed. Diesendruck, op. cit.), *Moses of Narbonne, in his commentary on the Guide (3:51), and Efodi (Profiat *Duran), in his commentary on the same chapter, all dwell on this point. Shem Tov b. Joseph *Ibn Shem Tov, in his book Emunot (Ferrara, 1556, 8b–10a) and Isaac *Arama, in his Akedat Yiẓḥak, take Maimonides to task for having made the degree of providence exercised over man dependent on perfection of the intellect rather than on performance of the commandments. The Karaite *Aaron b. Elijah devotes several chapters of his book Eẓ Ḥayyim (ed. by F. Delitzsch (1841), 82–90) to the subject of providence, and he, too, criticizes Maimonides. Once the position has been taken that God's knowledge cannot be restricted, the activity of providence likewise cannot be made to depend only upon the degree of development of man's intellect. Just as God knows everything, so He watches over all things (ch. 88).

Isaac *Albalag, in his Tikkun De'ot, discusses providence in the course of his critique of the opinions of *Avicenna and al-*Ghazālī. It is impossible, he contends, to comprehend God's mode of cognition, but it is possible to attribute to Him a knowledge of things which are outside the realm of natural causation, i.e., free will and chance. God's knowledge and providence also provide the subject of a penetrating analysis in the Milḥamot Adonai of *Levi b. Gershom (treatises 2 and 3), who returns to the Aristotelian position as understood in the light of Alexander of Aphrodisias' commentary. It is inadmissible, he states, that God should know the possible and the numerically infinite, that is, the particulars qua particulars, but He does know all things through the order embracing them all.

In contrast to this view, Ḥasdai *Crescas argues in his Or Adonai (2:1–2) that the belief in individual providence is a fundamental principle of the Mosaic Law, according to which God's knowledge "encompasses the infinite" (i.e., the particular) and "the non-existent" (i.e., the possible) "without any change in the nature of the possible" (i.e., without His knowledge nullifying the reality of free will). Crescas maintains that the biblical and talmudic faith in providence is based on a belief in individual providence. His disciple, Joseph *Albo, also deals extensively with God's knowledge and providence in his Sefer ha-Ikkarim (4:1–15), during the course of his discussion concerning reward and punishment.

[Alexander Altmann]

In the Kabbalah

The question of divine providence almost never appears in the Kabbalah as a separate problem, and therefore few detailed and specific discussions were devoted to it. The idea of providence is identified in the Kabbalah with the assumption that there exists an orderly and continuous system of government of the cosmos, carried out by the Divine Potencies – the Sefirot – which are revealed in this government. The Kabbalah does no more than explain the way in which this system operates, while its actual existence is never questioned. The world is not governed by chance, but by unceasing divine providence, which is the secret meaning of the hidden order of all the planes of creation, and especially in the world of man. He who understands the mode of action of the Sefirot also understands the principles of divine providence which are manifested through this action. The idea of divine providence is interwoven in a mysterious way with the limitation of the area of action of causality in the world. For although most events which happen to living creatures, and especially to men, appear as if they occur in a natural way which is that of cause and effect, in reality these events contain individual manifestations of divine providence, which is responsible for everything that happens to man, down to the last detail. In this sense, the rule of divine providence is, in the opinion of *Naḥmanides, one of the "hidden wonders" of creation. The workings of nature ("I will give you your rains in their season," Lev. 26:4 and the like) are coordinated in hidden ways with the moral causality determined by the good and evil in men's actions.

In their discussions of divine providence, the early kabbalists stressed the activity of the tenth Sefirah, since the rule of the lower world is principally in its hands. This Sefirah is the Shekhinah, the presence of the divine potency in the world at all times. This presence is responsible for God's providence for His creatures; but according to some opinions the origin of divine providence is actually in the upper Sefirot. Symbolic expression is given to this idea, particularly in the *Zohar, in the description of the eyes in the image of *Adam Kadmon ("Primordial Man"), in his two manifestations, as the Arikh Anpin (lit. "The Long Face" but meaning "The Long Suffering") or Attikah Kaddishah ("the Holy Ancient One"), and as the Ze'eir Anpin ("The Short Face," indicating the "Impatient"). In the description of the organs in the head of Attikah Kaddishah, the eye which is always open is taken as a supernal symbol for the existence of divine providence, whose origin is in the first Sefirah. This upper providence consists solely of mercy, with no intermixture of harsh judgment. Only in the second manifestation, which is that of God in the image of the Ze'eir Anpin, is the working of judgment also found in the divine providence. For "…the eyes of the Lord… range through the whole earth" (Zech. 4:10), and they convey his providence to every place, both for judgment and for mercy. The pictorial image, "the eye of providence," is here understood as a symbolic expression which suggests a certain element in the divine order itself. The author of the Zohar is refuting those who deny divine providence and substitute chance as an important cause in the events of the cosmos. He considers them to be fools who are not fit to contemplate the depths of the wisdom of divine providence and who lower themselves to the level of animals (Zohar 3:157b). The author of the Zohar does not distinguish between general providence (of all creatures) and individual providence (of individual human beings). The latter is, of course, more important to him. Through the activity of divine providence, an abundance of blessing descends on the creatures, but this awakening of the power of providence is dependent on the deeds of created beings, on "awakening from below." A detailed consideration of the question of providence is set forth by Moses *Cordovero in Shi'ur Komah ("Measurement of the Body"). He, too, agrees with the philosophers that individual providence exists only in relation to man, while in relation to the rest of the created world, providence is only directed toward the generic essences. But he enlarges the category of individual providence and establishes that "divine providence applies to the lower creatures, even animals, for their well-being and their death, and this is not for the sake of the animals themselves, but for the sake of men," that is to say, to the extent to which the lives of animals are bound up with the lives of men, individual providence applies to them as well. "Individual providence does not apply to any ox or any lamb, but to the entire species together… but if divine providence applies to a man, it will encompass even his pitcher, should it break, and his dish, should it crack, and all his possessions – if he should be chastized or not" (p. 113). Cordovero distinguishes ten types of providence, from which it is possible to understand the various modes of action of individual providence among the gentiles and Israel. These modes of action are bound up with the various roles of the Sefirot and their channels which convey the abundance (of blessing) to all the worlds, in accordance with the special awakening of the lower creatures. He includes among them two types of providence which indicate the possibility of the limitation of divine providence in certain instances, or even its complete negation. Also, in his opinion, things may happen to a man without the guidance of providence, and it may even happen that a man's sins cause him to be left "to nature and to chance," which is the aspect of God's hiding his face from man. In fact, it is uncertain from moment to moment whether a particular event in an individual's life is of this latter type, or whether it is a result of divine providence: "And he cannot be sure – for who will tell him if he is among those of whom it is said: 'The righteous man is as sure as a lion' – perhaps God has hidden His face from him, because of some transgression, and he is left to chance" (p. 120).

Only in the Shabbatean Kabbalah is divine providence seen once again as a serious problem. Among *Shabbetai Ẓevi's disciples was handed down his oral teaching that the Cause of Causes, or the Ein-Sof ("the Infinite") "does not influence and does not oversee the lower world, and he caused the Sefirah Keter to come into being to be God and Tiferet to be King" (see Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, p. 784). This denial of the providence of Ein-Sof was considered a deep secret among the believers, and the Shabbatean Abraham *Cardozo, who was opposed to this doctrine, wrote that the emphasis on the secret nature of this teaching arose from the Shabbateans' knowledge that this was the opinion of Epicurus the Greek. The "taking" (netilah) of providence from Ein-Sof (which is designated in these circles by other terms as well) is found in several Shabbatean schools of thought, such as the Kabbalah of Baruchiah of Salonika, in Va-Avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin, which was severely attacked for the prominence it gave to this opinion, and in Shem Olam (Vienna, 1891) by Jonathan *Eybeschuetz. The latter work devoted several pages of casuistry to this question in order to prove that providence does not actually originate in the First Cause, but in the God of Israel, who is emanated from it, and who is called, by Eybeschuetz, the "image of the ten Sefirot." This "heretical" assumption, that the First Cause (or the highest element of the Godhead) does not guide the lower world at all, was among the principle innovations of Shabbatean doctrine which angered the sages of that period. The Orthodox kabbalists saw in this assumption proof that the Shabbateans had left the faith in the absolute unity of the Godhead, which does not permit, in matters pertaining to divine providence, differentiation between the emanating Ein-Sof and the emanated Sefirot. Even though the Ein-Sof carries out the activity of divine providence through the Sefirot, the Ein-Sof itself is the author of true providence. In the teachings of the Shabbateans, however, this quality of the First Cause or the Ein-Sof is blurred or put in doubt.

[Gershom Scholem]


IN THE BIBLE: E. Koenig, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1923), 208ff.; K. Kohler, Jewish Theology (19282), 167ff.; W. Eichrodt, Theologie des Alten Testaments, 2 (1935), 177ff.; M. Pohlenz, Die Stoa (1948), passim; O. Procksch, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1950), 503ff.; E.E. Urbach, in: Sefer ha-Yovel le Y. Kaufmann (1960), 122–48; idem, Ḥazal-Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969). IN KABBALAH: I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 1 (19572), 265–8; M. Cordovero, Shi'ur Komah (1883), 113–20; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, 779, 784; M.A. Perlmutter, R. Yehonatan Eybeschuetz ve-Yaḥaso el ha-Shabbeta'ut (1947), 133–41, 190–1. IN MEDIEVAL JEWISH PHILOSOPHY: Strauss, in: MGWJ, 45 (1937), 93–105; Pines, in: PAAJR, 24 (1955), 123–31; Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed (1963), introd. by Pines, lxv–lxxviii, lxxvi–lxxvii; idem, Le guide des égarés, ed. and trans. by S. Munk, 3 (1866), 111, 116ff.; J. Guttmann, Dat u-Madda (1955), 149–68; S. Heller-Wilensky, R. Yiẓḥak Arama u-Mishnato (1956), 132–6; G. Vajda, Isaac Albalag, Averroïste juif, traducteur et annotateur d'Al-Ghazali (1960), 15–17, 64–71, 144–7, 121–3; Guttmann, Philosophies, index; Husik, Philosophy, index.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.