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ANTINOMIANISM (from Greek anti, "against," and nomos, "law"), opposition to the law and, more especially, a religiously inspired rejection and abolition of moral, ritual, and other traditionally accepted rules and standards. Antinomianism in the narrow sense has usually been applied to one of the main trends in the early church which, in the wake of Paul's disparagement of the Mosaic Law in favor of the law of the "New Covenant," asserted that those who are saved may "do evil that good may come" (Rom. 3:8). Paul himself indignantly repudiated this accusation (ibid. 3) though he held that the Mosaic Law was no longer valid after the coming of Christ. In a wider sense the term is used to designate doctrines asserting that at certain times (e.g., in the messianic era when the old things have passed away and a new order is established) or for certain individuals or groups (e.g., those who have attained higher knowledge, salvation, or initiation into certain mysteries) men are no longer bound by constricting rules and norms applicable to less perfect times or individuals. It is not surprising, therefore, that the problem of antinomianism should have posed itself mainly in connection with Gnostic, mystical, or messianic movements. Licentiousness seems to have been characteristic of some Gnostic sects, even as the doctrine of the "freedom of the children of light" or Luther's teachings regarding justification by faith only, without regard to works, contributed to manifestations of antinomianism among the Anabaptists and among some 17th-century English sects. Antinomian tendencies in Judaism often based themselves on arbitrary interpretations of rabbinic statements to the effect that in the "world to come" all ritual prohibitions would be abolished (see also *Gnosticism ).

On the other hand, ritual and customs were an integral part of the Torah, the "divine law," and like the Torah itself, were said to possess eternal and absolute validity. Post-Exilic Judaism took great pains to observe every single precept contained in the Torah. Pharisaic Judaism, although it regarded all commandments as equally sacred, did sense a difference between ritual laws and moral laws, as well as between reasonable laws and such that could not be rationally justified. A baraita (Yoma 67b) makes a distinction between mishpatim, i.e., commandments which "even if they had not been written down, would have been written down as a matter of course," such as the prohibitions of idolatry, incest, murder, etc., and ḥukkot, i.e., commandments "which the Satan always urges one to transgress," such as the consumption of pork, the use of cloth that is part wool and part linen, levirate marriages, etc. The baraita goes on to say: "You might argue that this (i.e., the ḥukkot) is of no account; therefore it is written 'I am God' (Lev. 18:4) – I, God, have fixed the laws and you have no right to question them." This passage in the baraita amounts to a clear rejection of antinomian freedom of judgment and clearly expresses the attitude of observant Judaism of all periods to the problem of ritual laws. It was not, however, a solution designed to satisfy the inquisitive mind. The need to find meaning and purpose in the ritual laws seems to have been felt first in the Hellenistic period, when it became indispensable for the propagation of Judaism among the pagans, especially the learned among them. It was necessary to explain to them not only the ancient traditions and legends and adapt them to the Greek way of thinking but above all to justify the law itself. Hellenistic Judaism conceived the Torah as nomos, the law being the supreme expression of Jewish religious distinctiveness; it was of the utmost importance to explain to the pagans the inner meaning of Jewish religious laws. Attempts were made to give the laws a symbolic interpretation and thereby to bring out their profound meaning (Aristobulus, the letter of Aristeas, Philo, Josephus, etc.). At the same time, an antinomian trend also made itself felt; the attempt to explain the law had the natural result of a relaxation in its observance. Philo testifies to this trend when he states: "There are, however, people who regard the written law as images of spiritual concepts, take great pains in exploring the latter, while neglecting the former. These are people that I must censure. For one must be careful to do both: to explore the hidden meaning and to practice the plain meaning. Even though the commandment on Sabbath observance contains the hidden meaning that action is the prerogative of God and His creatures should remain passive, this does not absolve us of the obligation to observe the sanctity of the Sabbath. Similarly, although the holy days and festivals are only images of our spiritual joy and our gratitude to God, we are not permitted to renounce the customary ceremonies and rituals. Circumcision may essentially only mean the removal of all passion, lust, and godless thought, yet we are not permitted to disregard the custom, as it is commanded; for if we were to adhere only to the higher meaning of the law, we would also have to give up sanctification in the Temple and untold other essential ceremonies" (cf. Philo, Migration, 89 ff.; Wolfson, Philo, 1 (1948), 66–71). A similar danger of the erosion of ritual practice and the observance of the law was felt as a result of the rise and spread of Graeco-Arab philosophy among the Jews after the tenth century.

In medieval Jewish thought, antinomian tendencies appeared in three different manners: (a) in allegorical exegesis of the commandments, which regarded them as symbolic of rational and scientific attainment; (b) in spiritualistic interpretation of worship as the supreme human goal; (c) in astrological antinomianism. Antinomian allusions began to appear regularly in Abraham *Ibn Ezra 's Bible commentaries. For instance, Ibn Ezra maintained that worship of images was legitimate outside the Holy Land, but was prohibited within the Land of Israel on account of its special astrological status (viz., Commentary to Deut. 31:16). Maimonides laid the foundations for allegorical interpretation of biblical and talmudic sources, although he generally refrained from applying such allegorical interpretation to the commandments. Nevertheless, he suggested that the Torah teaches an abstract form of worship of God (Guide for the Perplexed 3:32). In the controversy over philosophy which erupted in the 13th century, the conservative faction accused the rationalists of antinomian attitudes and behavior, based on their alleged allegorization of the commandments, charges which continued to be leveled despite repeated and strenuous denials by the rationalists, such as *Levi b. Abraham b. Hayyim . Such Jewish attacks on rationalism and accusations of antinomianism parallel and reflect the suppression by the Church of the "heresy" of the rationalist Albigensians (from Albi, in southern France), who had begun in the 11th century to interpret Scripture allegorically, and who denied the literal interpretation of the miraculous events in the life and resurrection of Jesus that are central to Catholic doctrine, allegorization allegedly resulting in laxity in morals. The rationalist threat was met by repeated Church bans (1209, 1210, 1215) on the study of the works of Arabic philosophy and science, and of Aristotle. These bans were renewed in 1231 by Pope Gregory IX, who then established the permanent Inquisition under the Dominicans, with the aim of eradicating the heresy.

In the 14th century, many rationalists did, in fact, display antinomian attitudes, in some cases in their supercommentaries to Ibn Ezra, arguing that "the essence of the worship of God is in the heart" (Samuel ibn Zarza, Mikhlol Yofi, Ms. Paris, f. 729–730; Sec. 2, f. 207a). Much additional evidence to antinomian attitudes leading to laxity or abandonment of ritual observance may be found in medieval Jewish sources, although it is not at all clear whether these sources are proof of concrete cases of antinomian behavior, or only of a certain type of homiletical style.

The allegorical interpretations of the philosophical meanings of the laws clearly encouraged laxity among those who thought that the outer observances were merely a means for expressing philosophical truths. Philo's remarks incidentally suggest that the antinomians found no fault with the Temple and the cult of animal sacrifice; in general, however, it was precisely the rejection of the cult of sacrifice which was a cardinal point of many antinomian groups. Epiphanius (Adversus Haereses 1:18) mentions a pre-Christian Jewish sect, the Nazarenes, which rejected the Pentateuch, regarding it as a forgery; they observed most Jewish customs but did not accept the cult of animal sacrifice (cf. Meyer, Urspr, 2 (1921), 408 ff.; Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, 1 (1961), 402f.). Similar views were also held by many Judeo-Christian sects. Some scholars claimed to find allusions to antinomianism and Gnosticism in several of the books of the Bible and the Talmud (M. Friedlaender, Der vorchristliche juedische Gnosticismus (1898), 71 ff.). The rejection of the ceremonial law by the modern *Reform movement can be regarded as a form of antinomianism, but in recent years there can be detected a distinct tendency toward at least a partial return to ceremonial observance.

[Dov Schwartz (2nd ed.)]

In Kabbalah

Since the Kabbalah's basic aim was to strengthen the Jewish religious tradition, it is in general far removed from antinomian tendencies. Its attitude to the halakhah is positive but it endeavors to endow the precepts with symbolic value. For this reason we find in the early Kabbalah phenomena which may be regarded only as latent antinomianism. There are three such occurrences: (1) The doctrine of Sefer ha-*Temunah (first printed in 1784) on the changes of the reading of the Torah due to new combinations of its letters in the various stages of the cosmic cycle. Each such stage is called shemittah and what is forbidden in the shemittah during which we live may become permitted, and even considered a commandment, during another shemittah. Adherents to this doctrine also held that in actual fact the alphabet contained 23 letters, but that one letter became "unseen" in our shemittah; its revelation in the next shemittah will, of course, deeply change our manner of understanding the Torah. (2) The doctrine of the book Ra'aya Meheimna ("The Faithful Shepherd," part of the *Zohar dealing with the interpretation of the commandments): during the period of exile the Torah derives from the Eẓ ha-Da'at ("the Tree of Knowledge") and for this reason it contains purity and defilement, things that are permitted and things that are prohibited, and so on. At the time of *redemption , however, the Torah will be revealed from the Eẓ ha-Ḥayyim ("the Tree of Life") and with the annihilation of the yeẓer ha-ra ("evil inclination"), prohibitions and limitations will no longer be necessary. Thus, its secret (i.e., mystic) knowledge, the pure spirituality which is its essence, will become manifest and people will act according to it. This spiritual Torah which is concealed in our revealed Torah is called Torah de-Aẓilut ("Torah of the Higher World"). (3) The doctrine of the books Peli'ah and *Kanah (written around 1340–80), according to which there is no literal meaning in the Talmud and in the halakhah; the secret (mystic) knowledge itself is the literal meaning. One should observe the halakhic values for this reason only; for, if one should suppose that these values have the literal, customary meaning, then there is no need to keep many of them, since it is possible to prove through inner criticism of the halakhah and by the way of talmudic discussion itself that numerous essential halakhic rules do not apply in exile and that most of the ritual precepts are not observed in it at all.

Common to all three doctrines is the fact that in actual reality, in our time, there is no place for antinomianism. But the existence of the halakhic world is always dependent on a certain esoteric condition, and with the change of this condition the value of the talmudic halakhah will also change, although the absolute value of the Torah as a divine revelation will not change at all. Actual antinomianism became manifest only in the radical groups of the Shabbatean movement. However, it was based on the three above-mentioned doctrines. Since they believed that redemption had already come they reached the conclusion that the Torah de-Beri'ah ("the Torah in its present form"), which is the material Torah of traditional Judaism, should be abolished and one should act according to the esoteric Torah, Torah de-Aẓilut. This antinomianism was a revolutionary element in the Shabbatean sect and brought in its wake destructive phenomena in the lives of the radical Shabbateans. Serious sins were considered meritorious, and particularly those sins punishable with karet ("divine punishment by premature death"), such as adultery. Antinomian activities were also introduced as a special religious rite (reading the traditional phrase matir assurim as "who permits what is forbidden" rather than as "who frees prisoners"). It attained its most extreme form with the Frankists (see Jacob *Frank ). This antinomianism of the Shabbateans and the Frankists was connected with their messianic claims and was based on the talmudic statement that in the messianic period all commandments would be abolished, "all sacrifices would disappear, except for the sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Lev. R. 9: 7; 27: 12), and that all fasts would be converted into feasts.

[Gershom Scholem]

One of the main sources of kabbalistic antinomianism is the astrological theory of changes of law which depend on Saturn and Jupiter. The rule of a certain planet over a certain period of time, a cosmic cycle, and the corresponding nature of the law that governs during this cycle, has been transferred by some kabbalists to the rule of a certain Sefirah, whose specific nature is reflected in the structure of the Torah.

[Moshe Idel (2nd ed.)]


Scholem, in: Keneset, 2 (1937), 347–92; M. Balaban, Le-Toledot ha-Tenu'ah ha-Frankit, 1 (1934), 18–72; Dubnow, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 7 (1901), 314–20; J.M. Rosenthal, Perspectives in Jewish Learning, 3 (1969), 48–53. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Twersky, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah) (1980), 392–97; D. Schwartz, The Philosophy of a Fourteenth Century Jewish Neoplatonic Circle (Heb., 1996), 246–49; I. Ta-Shma, in: Jewish Law Annual 18–19 (1992–94), 479–95.

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