RIGHTEOUSNESS


RIGHTEOUSNESS, the fulfillment of all legal and moral obligations. Righteousness is not an abstract notion but rather consists in doing what is just and right in all relationships; "…keep justice and do righteousness at all times" (Ps. 106:3; cf. Isa. 64:4; Jer. 22:3; Ezek. 18:19–27; Ps. 15:2). Righteous action results in social stability and ultimately in peace: And the work of righteousness shall be peace (Isa. 32:17; cf. Hos. 10:12; Avot 2:7).

In the Bible righteousness bears a distinctly legal character; the righteous man is the innocent party, while the wicked man is the guilty one: "And the judges judge them by justifying the righteous and condemning the wicked" (Deut. 25:1; cf. Ex. 23:7; II Sam. 15:4; Isa. 5:23). Righteousness requires not merely abstention from evil, but a constant pursuit of justice and the performance of positive deeds (Deut. 16:20; Jer. 22:3; cf. Prov. 16:17; Gen. R. 30:9; Jub. 7:20; Tob. 3:2; Kid. 40a). The meaning of righteousness is broadened to include actions beyond the letter of the law in the realms of ethics and ritual (Ezek. 8:5; Tob. 1:10–12; Eccles. 7; Lev. R. 27:1). Paralleling the concept of righteousness is that of wickedness (see *Ẓedaqah and *Rishʿah). Failure to perform obligations leads indirectly to the upsetting of social stability and, ultimately, to the deliberate undermining of the social structure (Isa. 5:23; Hos. 10:13; Amos 5:12; Avot 5:18; Sanh. 101b; RH 17a).

Against the juridical background of righteousness, the paradox of divine justice comes into prominence. A doctrine of exactly balanced rewards and punishments contradicts the reality in which the just man suffers in consequence of his very righteousness (Eccles. 7:15; cf. Gen. 18:23; Jer. 12:1; Hab. 1:13; Mal. 3:15; Ps. 32:10; Job, passim; Wisd. 2–3; Lev. R. 27; Ber. 7a; Shab. 55b; Hor. 10b). This individual problem takes on a national character in Jewish history, throughout which an innocent nation is constantly being persecuted (Wisd. 10:15; IV Ezra 10:22). The paradox becomes even more striking in view of the legal character of the covenant between God and His people: "And I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness and in justice" (Hos. 2:21).

Attempts to come to grips with this paradox account for the notion that the righteous man suffers for and with his generation, and that his death expiates for their sins (MK 28a; Ex. R. 43:1; cf. Gen R. 34:2; Sanh. 108a). Often, however, man's anger and righteous indignation in the face of overwhelming injustice causes him to invoke that absolute righteousness which rests only with God: "for Thou art righteous" (Neh. 9:8; cf. II Chron. 12:6; lsa. 5:16; 45:22–25; Ps. 89: 16; II Macc. 12:6; Ḥag. 12b).

Because righteousness is not an inherent human characteristic, but rather a learned trait resulting from sustained performance of obligations, man can never attain the peak of righteous perfection: "For there is not a righteous man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not" (Eccles. 7:20; cf. Ps. 143:2; Job 4:17; 15:14; Dan. 9:18). The impossibility of achieving absolute righteousness, however, does not preclude the constant striving toward this end. The Jew emulates the Patriarchs, conscious that God evaluates even their righteousness in relative terms (Gen. R. 30:9; Shab. 55a; Sanh. 107a; cf. Hab. 2:4; Yoma 38b; RH 16b; Sanh. 93a; Num. R. 3:1; Song R. 3:3; Zohar, Gen. 9). Judaism holds in contempt those who assume a pretense of piety and righteousness: "Be not righteous overmuch neither make thyself overwise" (Eccles. 7:16; cf. Eccles. 7:5; Nid. 30b), while, on the other hand, it exalts the ẓaddikim nistarim ("the hidden righteous") of each generation (Suk. 45b; Hul. 92a; Gen. R. 35:2).

The prophets conceive of the ideal society in terms of righteousness (Isa. 28:17; 60:21; Jer. 23:5–7; Hos. 10:12; Zech. 8:8; Ps. 7:10; 18:25; Dan. 9:24). Subsequent attempts to formulate a code for an ideal society rest heavily on practical principles of daily righteous conduct (En. 10:21; 13:10; Ps. of Sol. 17:27; Meg. 17b; cf. the teachings of the "Teacher of Righteousness" in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Eschatologically, righteous action within a righteous society will restore peace in the world and will reestablish Jerusalem as the citadel of righteousness: "And I will restore thy judges… afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness" (Isa. 1:26–27; Jer. 31:22).

[Zvi H. Szubin]

In rabbinic literature the term ẓedakah means "charity," "almsgiving," "practical benevolence," but does not refer to righteousness in general for which there is no special term. However, the name ẓaddik, "righteous man" (pl. ẓaddikim), is found throughout rabbinic literature denoting the good man, the man free from sin, the one who carries out his obligation to God and to man by obeying the precepts of the Torah. Occasionally in the literature the term ẓaddik denotes the specially pious, the man of extraordinary goodness, the holy man or saint, as when it is said that there are never less than 36 ẓaddikim in the world who see the Divine Presence each day (Suk. 45b). But in general the term ẓaddik does not necessarily suggest unusual piety, but simply the carrying out of God's will. This can be seen from the division of men (RH 16b) into the thoroughly righteous (ẓaddikim gemurim), the thoroughly wicked (resha'im gemurim), and the average persons (beinonim). In one passage (Ber. 61b) the distinction is made that the ẓaddikim are governed by the good inclination, the wicked by the evil inclination, and the average by both inclinations. When *Rabbah commented that he was an average person *Abbaye objected that this would mean that most people are wicked. The term "righteous" is used of women as well as of men (Song. R. 1:17; Sot. 11b). The ẓaddikim among the gentiles have a share in the world to come (Tos. Sanh. 13:2).

The ẓaddikim, in their humility, promise to do only a little for others but in reality do much (BM 87a). The ẓaddikim are so scrupulous in avoiding the slightest taint of theft that their honestly acquired property becomes dearer to them than their own person and they risk their lives to preserve it (Ḥul. 91a). They have a strong social conscience. They rise up early in the morning to attend to the needs of the community (Yalkut, Ex. 264). Even at the time of their death they worry not about their own affairs but about their communal responsibilities (Sifrei, Num. 138).

Even when they are dead the ẓaddikim are called "living," unlike the wicked who are called "dead" even while they are still alive (Ber. 18a). When a ẓaddik resides in a city, he adorns that city so that when he departs its glory departs with him (Gen. R. 68:6). The very stones of a place quarrel among themselves for the privilege of serving as a pillow for the ẓaddik who is obliged to sleep out of doors (Ḥul. 91b). Beauty, strength, riches, honor, wisdom, old age, gray hairs, and children are comely to the ẓaddikim and comely to the world (Avot 6:8). But the ẓaddikim suffer in this life. Whenever they wish to have a life of comfort Satan complains that they ought to be satisfied with the reward stored up for them in the hereafter and not wish to enjoy, too, the ease of this world (Gen. R. 84:3). God causes the ẓaddikim to suffer in this world to purge them of the few sins of which they are guilty, just as when a tree stands in a clean place with its branches overlapping an unclean place the branches are lopped off so that the whole tree can stand in a clean place (Kid. 40b). In another passage, however, it is said that Moses received no answer when he asked God why it is that one ẓaddik meets with good fortune in this world while another meets with evil (Ber. 7a).

A man can repent sincerely in his heart of the sins he has committed and by so doing change his status from that of rasha ("wicked") to that of ẓaddik. Thus if a man who is thoroughly wicked betroths a woman on the understanding that he is a ẓaddik the act is valid. Conversely, if a known ẓaddik betrothed a woman on the understanding that he is a rasha the act is also valid because he may have been guilty of an acceptance of idolatry in his heart and this would change his status (Kid. 49b). A man who has been a perfect ẓaddik all his life and is sorry for the good deeds he has done thereby cancels out all those good deeds. Conversely, a complete rasha who repents of his evil deeds at the end of his life cancels out thereby all those evil deeds (Kid. 40b). Nevertheless, a good deed is not disqualified by any self-seeking motive. For example, a man who gives charity so that his children may live or that he may have reward for it in the hereafter can still be considered a perfect ẓaddik (Pes. 8a–b).

In medieval Jewish thought a definite tendency can be observed to extend the scope of righteousness. Not only is greater inwardness demanded of the ẓaddik, but he is expected to observe as the norm rules of conduct which in rabbinic literature are set down as the ideal for the especially pious. The medieval moralistic literature consists mainly of such demands classified and codified as standards to which all should aspire. A typical example is the anonymous work with the revealing title of *Orḥot Ẓaddikim, "The Ways of the Righteous" (tr. S. Cohen (1969)). Thus the saying of R. Yose, who is described (Avot 2:8) as a ḥasid ("saint"), that all man's deeds should be for the sake of heaven (Avot 2:12), is formulated in the Codes (Tur, OḤ 231) as the rule for all men. When a man eats and drinks, for example, it should not be in order to enjoy his food and drink but to have strength for God's service. The same applies to his working, sleeping, marital relations, and conversing with others. All should be done for the sake of heaven and not for personal gratification.

In Maimonides' writings, the life of righteousness is made to embrace the Greek ideal of harmony and balance in choosing the middle way. The good man should be neither too prone to anger nor as indifferent to insult as a corpse; neither too ambitious nor too lazy; neither frivolous nor melancholic; neither greedy nor a spendthrift (Yad, Deot 1:4–5). Man is free to choose the way he wishes to follow. It is given to every man to be as great a ẓaddik as Moses or as great a rasha as Jeroboam (Yad, Teshuvah 5:2). Maimonides defines the ẓaddik as the man with more good deeds to his credit than bad. The rasha has more bad deeds than good ones, while the average man (beinoni) has his good and bad deeds equally balanced. The same assessment is made by God of a country and of the world as a whole. But it is not the mere quantity of the deeds which counts in this assessment. A good deed can be of such quality that it can succeed in outweighing many bad deeds, and the converse is also true (Yad, Teshuvah 3:1–2).

Among the kabbalists the term ẓaddik is given, as in a few instances in rabbinic literature, the meaning of "saint." The ẓaddik is no longer simply the ordinary good man but a holy man of elevated degree. In the Zohar, ẓaddik is the name of one of the *SefirotYesod, "foundation." This is the creative principle and is symbolized by the phallus. Consequently, the ẓaddik on earth is especially careful to avoid any flaw in the "sign of the covenant," i.e., he keeps himself free from all forms of sexual impurity. "One who does not guard the sign of the Covenant as he should cannot be called a ẓaddik" (Zohar, Gen. 94a). Among the biblical heroes, the counterpart of Yesod is Joseph who refused to yield to the blandishments of Potiphar's wife and who, as a result, is called "Joseph the ẓaddik" (Zohar, Ex. 23a). In Ḥasidism, too, the Ẓaddik is the miracle-working saint and holy man, the hasidic master. The term ḥasid could not have been applied to him since this was the name given to his followers, the ḥasidim. Once the term had been used in this sense the rabbinic references to the ẓaddik were interpreted in the Hasidic literature as referring to the holy man. In Ḥabad theory the terms ẓaddik and rasha are acknowledged to be used in the rabbinic literature, in some instances in the loose sense of one who is acquitted in judgment by God and one who is declared guilty. But the true definition of the ẓaddik is that he is the man "who has no evil inclination because he has killed it by fasting" (Likkutei Amarim, I, 1). The prescriptions for leading the good life found in the classical sources are not for such rare souls who do not need them, but for the "average men" (beinonim). The beinoni is now, in fact, not "average" at all but the righteous man who struggles against the evil within him in order to do God's will.

The pursuit of righteousness was the aim of the Lithuanian Musar movement but the approach was decidedly non-mystical. In response to the claim of Ḥasidism that the ẓaddik is invested with the power to cause harm by his curse, Israel Salanter, the founder of the movement, is said to have retorted that if that were so, the ẓaddik can be a danger to others and should be obliged to pay for any harm he may do in this way. The followers of Israel Meir ha-Kohen (the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim) used to say that while it was the boast of the ḥasidim that their ẓaddik decrees and God fulfills, of the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim it was rather true that God decrees and the ẓaddik fulfills. The righteous man, according to the Musarists, is other-worldly, ascetic, profoundly concerned with his ethical obligations, and devoted to the study of the Torah and the practice of the precepts. The Musar leaders and teachers were frequently referred to as ha-rav ha-ẓaddik, "The rabbi, the ẓaddik…"

In modern writings on Jewish religious thought, especially those in Western languages, the emphasis is chiefly on the ethical and moral content of righteousness and on its universal application.

[Louis Jacobs]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909); R. Mach, Der Ẓaddik in Talmud und Midrasch (1957); I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 2 (1961), 655–733; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal; Pirkei Emmunot ve-De'ot (1969), 428–54.


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