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Jewish tradition has shown a positive interest in human emotions, and they are portrayed and discussed in the Bible, Talmud, Jewish philosophy, and mysticism.


Biblical figures are frequently emotional, and in this lies much of their human appeal and credibility. Genesis introduces feelings of *Love, *Joy, Fear, and their opposites (in, e.g., 3:6; 4:5; 29:18; and 37:3) that are later found in such figures as Saul and David, the psalmist, and the lovers of the Song of Songs. Similarly, in His initial appearances God is portrayed as a deity who acts out of deep feelings of compassion and anger (Gen. 4:10; 15; 6:5; 8:21; 18:17; 29:31), emotions which are revealed at Sinai as essential to His nature (Ex. 20:5, 6; 34:6). The Israelites encountered God's fearsome, possessive love, frequently expressed in jealous wrath and moral indignation, in their desert wanderings, and the prophets tended to identify with these same emotions (see Ex. 19:3; 32:9; Num. 14:11; 17:8; Isa. 65:3; Jer. 7:19; Ezek. 16:36). However, the Torah advocates a different set of relationships and emotions as an ideal, one in which God loves His people and wishes them to respond in love as well as fear (Deut. 6:5; 10:12, 15), and in which man is exhorted to rid himself of hatred and lust, relate to his fellow man in love and kindness, and joyfully observe God's commandments (Ex. 20:14; Lev. 14:17, 18; Deut. 16:11). Then God will bless men both materially and spiritually, meaning with emotional peace and happiness (Num. 6:24–26; Isa., 65:17ff.).


Prophetic and rabbinic Judaism also appeal, in particular, to such emotions, as in Micah's terse summary of the religious ethic (6:8: "to do justice, to love kindness (ḥesed), and to walk humbly with your God"; and in Hillel's paraphrase of Lev. 19:18: "what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man" (Shab. 31a)). Anger, jealousy, lust, and pride are all condemned by the rabbis (see, e.g., Avot 2:11; 4:21); the Talmud even blames the destruction of the Second Temple on the Jews for the sin of unjustified hatred, Sinat ḥinnam (Yoma 9b). The ideal emotional type, according to the rabbis, is one who controls his passions and is goodhearted, humble, and peace loving (Avot 1:12; 2:9; 4:1; 5:11). Such a man finds emotional gratification in the study and observance of the law, enjoying a happiness (simḥah shel mitzvah) that, while itself a reward, is an intimation of future bliss as well. Prayer (as well as devotional, i.e., musar, literature, and most poetry), study, and ritual increasingly became outlets for the Jewish psyche in exile, and deeply felt personal and national emotions were formalized in such holidays as Simhat Torah and such commemorations as the Ninth of Av.

Medieval Jewish Philosophy

Medieval Jewish philosophy resumed the attempt of Hellenistic Jewish thought to subjugate the emotions to the intellect, and attempted, even more than rabbinic exegesis did, to rationalize away the biblical depiction of God's emotions (see *Allegorical Interpretation and *God, Attributes of). Using Arabic mediated Greek models, Jewish philosophers analyzed emotions in terms of both the humors and organs of the body and the faculties, or parts, of the soul. Whatever the variation in details (for which see *Soul), however, the philosophers generally agreed with Aristotle that moderation should be observed in expressing emotion (see, e.g., Solomon ibn Gabirol, The Improvement of the Moral Qualities (1901), pt. 4, 84–86; and The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics (1966), 54ff.). Yet for all its rational emphasis, like that of its Arabic and late Greek predecessors, Jewish philosophy views the dispassionate, analytical search for Truth as a religious quest, beginning in anxious doubt and culminating in feelings of certitude and the bliss of divine love (Saadiah Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. by S. Rosenblatt (1948), introduction, 6ff.; Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. by S. Pines (1963), introduction, 5ff., 51, 618ff.).

Mysticism and Hasidism

Jewish mysticism seeks to lead man from a state of psychic alienation to one of ecstatic intimacy with God. Mostly, however, it attempts to reach this emotional goal through an intellectual process and a discipline parallel to that of philosophy. It is mainly *Ḥasidism, with its suggestion of antinomianism and its anti-intellectual direction, that emphasizes the emotions – particularly joy, trust, and gratitude - as a primary means to the religious life.


S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909), 148–69; S. Belkin, In his Image (1960), 185–93.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.