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By Theodore Friedman, Baruch A. Levine, and Eliezer Schweid

KEDUSHAH (Heb. קְדֻשָּׁה). The biblical term for holiness is kodesh; mishnaic Hebrew, kedushah, and that which is regarded as holy is called kadosh. Jewish exegetes, following early rabbinic interpretation (Sifra) of Leviticus 19:2: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy," have consistently taken the verb kadesh to mean "distinguished, set apart." The Sifra paraphrases the command with the words "You shall be set apart" (Heb. perushim). The traditional interpretation coincides with the findings of modern phenomenologists of religion who describe the holy as "the wholly other" and as that which is suffused with a numinous quality. The latter is both majestic and fearsome (The Idea of the Holy, Rudolph Otto, 1923, ch. 8) or to use the term Otto popularized, "the mysterium tremendum."

General Considerations

The concept of holiness, because of its centrality in the Bible, affords an excellent illustration of how the biblical authors, under the dominance of the monotheistic idea, radically refashioned, in whole or part, notions of the sacred in the religions of the Near East. In primitive Semitic religions, as in primitive religions generally, the holy is considered an intrinsic, impersonal, neutral quality inherent in objects, persons, rites, and sites, a power charged with contagious efficacy and, therefore, taboo. Seldom is the quality of holiness ascribed to the deity. In biblical religion, on the contrary, holiness expresses the very nature of God and it is He who is its ultimate source and is denominated the Holy One. Objects, persons, sites, and activities that are employed in the service of God derive their sacred character from that relationship. The extrinsic character of the holy is reflected in the fact that by consecrating objects, sites, and persons to God, man renders them holy. Further, since holiness is conceived as the very essence of God, biblical religion, in both the priestly and prophetic writings, incorporates moral perfection as an essential aspect of holiness, though by no means its total content. Therefore, unlike contemporary ancient Near East religions, biblical Judaism does not confine the sacred to the sphere of the cult. God's moral perfection and purpose is not in static terms alone but in its redemptive acts in history. Indeed, holiness, since it is derived from God, is related to the realm of nature, history, human experience and conduct as well as to the election of Israel and the covenant. "The energy with which from the time of Moses onward the person of the divine Lord concentrates all religious thought and activity upon himself gives even the statements about holiness an essentially different background from that which they possess in the rest of the Near East" (Theology of the Old Testament, Walther Eichrodt, 1961, vol. 1, p. 271). Finally, since pagan religions regard holiness as a mysterious intrinsic power with which certain things, persons, locales, and acts are charged, the division between the realms of the holy and the profane are permanently, unalterably fixed. In fact, the latter represents an ever-present danger to the former. By contrast, biblical religion looks forward to the universal extension of the realm of the holy in the end of days so as to embrace the totality of things and persons.

While biblical religion recognizes an area of the profane ("impure") as capable of defiling and polluting the sacred, nowhere does it regard the former as possessing a threatening dangerous potency. The following elements of the concept of holiness are, however, held by the Bible in common with other ancient Near Eastern religions:

(1) the concept of the mortal danger involved in unauthorized approach to or contact with the sacred;

(2) the notion of various degrees of holiness; and

(3) the contagious, communicable character of the sacred. In the words of Eichrodt: "The whole system of taboo is pressed into the service of a loftier idea of God" (ibid., p. 274).

The following sections offer specific and varied biblical illustrations of the general considerations set forth above.

The Holiness of God

Seeking to express the ineffable holiness of God, an ultimate category, the biblical authors drew on a vast and varied series of predicates. With the single exception of God's moral perfection and action, they all fall within the scope of the "mysterium tremendum." The most frequent is "fearsome," "awesome," (Heb. nora; Ps. 89:7, 8; 99:3; 111:9). A site at which a theophany has been experienced is described as "awesome" and induces in the visioner a state of fear (Gen. 28:17). God's works are called "fearful" (Ex. 15:11; 34:10; Ps. 66:3, 5). This aspect of the divine holiness and man's attitude toward it are perhaps best summed up in the verse (I Sam. 6:20), "Who is able to stand before the Lord, the Holy God?" In several passages, e.g., Joshua 24:19, God's fearful, unapproachable holiness is equated with His jealousy, His unrelenting demand for exclusive virtue.

The fearful aspect of the divine holiness is reflected in the warning to keep one's distance from the outward manifestation of the divine presence (Ex. 3:5; 19:12, 13, 23; Num. 18:3; Josh. 5:15). To gaze directly upon the divine manifestation or even upon the sacred vessels when the latter are not in actual use may cause death (Ex. 33:20; Num. 4:20; 18:13; Judg. 13:22; I Kings 19:13). God is "glorious in holiness" (Ex. 15:11); His holiness is unique (I Sam. 2:2); His "way" is that of holiness (Ps. 77:14).

Preeminently, it is the divine name which is characterized as holy since the name of God expresses His essence (Lev. 20:3; 22:2, 32; Ps. 103:1; 105:3; 145:21; I Chron. 16:10). Noteworthy is Ezekiel's repeated use of the phrase "My Holy Name." To Isaiah, we owe the appellation of God as the "Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:23; 30:12, 15; 31:1; 37:23). The term is employed even more consistently by Deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 41:14; 43:3, 14; 45:11; 47:4; 48:15; 49:7; 54:5; 60:14). It appears once in Jeremiah (50:29) and in Psalms (71:22). Isaiah's tendency to characterize God as the "Holy One of Israel" may be assumed to derive from the divine call to the prophet (ch. 6) in which he hears the dramatic thrice-repeated proclamation of the seraphim (the trisagion) of "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory" (6:3). In this encounter, in the presence of the absolute holiness of God – the apparent intention of the dramatic repetition – the prophet is overcome by an acute sense of his own sinfulness and that of the people among whom he dwells (v. 5). The passage clearly implies, and indeed emphasizes, the moral aspect of God's holiness.

However, it is erroneous to assert, as is frequently done, that the interpretation of the divine holiness as essentially an expression of God's moral perfection is the unique contribution of the prophets. Distinctly priestly writers associate God's holiness with moral qualities. This is to be seen in the so-called Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26). In priestly law (Lev. 19) the purely ritualistic aspects of holiness are combined with distinctly moral injunctions. Priestly liturgy (Ps. 15; 24:3–6) stresses that only he who "has clean hands and a pure heart" can stand on God's holy mountain (Ps. 24:3, 4). The prophets deepen and broaden the moral dimension of the divine holiness. For Amos (2:7), oppression of the poor and sexual profligacy are tantamount to the profanation of God's holy name. For Hosea, divine compassion constitutes a basic element in God's holiness (Hos. 11:8f.), and the prophet insists on purity of heart and a radical break with moral offense as preconditions for any intimacy with the holy God. For Isaiah, it is righteousness that sanctifies the holy God (5:16). Deutero-Isaiah conceives of God's holiness as active in the realm of history as a redemptive power. The "Holy One of Israel" is the redeemer of Israel (Isa. 41:14; 43:3, 14; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:15). Divine holiness is thus conceived less as a state of being than as an expression of the fulfillment of divine purpose. It manifests itself in divine judgment and destruction (Isa. 1:4–9; 5:13, 16; 30:8–14; Ezek. 28:22; 36:20–32) as well as in divine mercy and salvation (Isa. 10:20–23; 12:6; 17:7–9; 29:19–21). For Ezekiel, God manifests His holiness in the sight of the nations (20:31; 28:25; 36:23; 38:23), when He vindicates Himself as supreme Lord of the world.

Fire as Symbol of God's Holiness

Perhaps the ambivalent effects of fire, at once warming and creative yet consuming and destructive, suggested it as an apt symbol of the divine holiness, itself conceived as essentially polar in effect (see below). Whatever the origin of fire as a symbol for the sacred, its employment in the Bible is as vast as it is varied. Only some of the passages in which it is associated with holiness can be cited here (Ex. 3:2, 3; 19:18; 24:17; Deut. 4:12, 24; 5:22–27; 9:3; Ezek. 1:4–28; Hab. 3:3, 4). Repeatedly in the laws and practices of the cult, fire imagery is used in those passages that emphasize holiness (Lev. 2:3, 9, 10; 6:16–18; 7:3–5).

The Transitive Effects of God's Holiness

As stated above, whatever or whoever is engaged in the service of God and therefore stands in an intimate relationship with Him becomes endowed with holiness. Essentially, that which brings man or things or locales into the realm of the holy is God's own activity or express command. The nation is sanctified and commanded to be holy since it has entered into a covenant relationship with the holy God (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 11:44ff.; 19:2; 20:7; Deut. 7:6; 26:19). The *Ark of the Covenant is holy since it is regarded as the throne of the invisible God. Though the phrase "Holy Ark" (Heb. Aron Kodesh) is not found in the Bible, numerous contexts indicate that it was regarded as sacred, as were all the vessels employed in the *tabernacle, as well, of course, as the sanctuary itself. The prophet, having been summoned and consecrated to God's service, is looked upon as a holy man (II Kings 4:9). Initially, it is God who ordains the holy seasons and places – "And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy" (Gen. 2:3). But the Sabbath, having been declared holy, must be sanctified by Israel (Ex. 20:8; Deut. 5:12; Jer. 17:22; Neh. 13:22). In the case of the *festivals, the divine declaration is joined with the injunction that they should be proclaimed: "These are my fixed times, the fixed time of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions" (Lev. 23:21). Likewise, it is God who sanctifies the Tent of Meeting, the altar, Aaron and his sons (Ex. 29:43) but each of these undergoes rites of consecration performed by humans (see Ex. 29 for the description of the elaborate rites of consecration of Aaron and his sons).

War, since it is carried out under the aegis of God as "Man of War" (Ex. 13:3), is service rendered to Him. In his martial activity, the warrior enters the sphere of the holy and becomes subject to the particular prohibitions incumbent upon those directly involved in that sphere (I Sam. 21:5–7; II Sam. 11:11). This concept serves as the basis for the verbal usage "to consecrate war" (Heb. kiddesh milḥamah; Micah 3:5; Jer. 6:4). Frequently, the enemy's goods and chattels are declared banned (Heb. ḥerem); that is to say, banned from human use. For the priestly biblical authors, the concept of holiness, as might be expected, finds its focus in the realm of the cult and everything involved in it. Accordingly, there is mention of "holy garments" (Ex. 28:2, 4; 29:21; 31:10); "holy offerings" (Ex. 28:36; Lev. 19:8); the "holy priestly crown" (Ex. 29:6; 39:30); "holy flesh" (Ex. 29:37); "holy anointing oil" (Ex. 30:31–37); the "holy tabernacle" and its furnishings (Ex. 40:9); "holy fruit" (Lev. 19:24); and "holy food" (Lev. 22:14).

The Polarity of Holiness

As has been noted, the concept of God's holiness is rooted in a basic polarity; the quality of holiness is majestic and hence attractive, and yet it remains fearsome. It is, therefore, no cause for wonder that this polarity finds expression in both the rituals and objects of holiness. In the law of the "red heifer," whereby the ashes of the sacrificial victim are used in a rite to purify one who has become defiled through contact with a corpse, the priest who ministers the rite becomes defiled (Num. 19:8–10; Lev. 16:26–28). This polarity is to be discerned in several biblical episodes describing an improper entrance into the inner precincts of the sanctuary. Here, in the holy of holies, the ritual of expiation is carried out. Yet, when *Nadab and *Abihu, the sons of Aaron, bring "strange fire" into the inner sanctuary, they are consumed by divine fire (Lev. 10:1–11; cf. Num. 16–17; II Sam. 6:6; cf. the warning in Ex. 19:10ff.).

The idea that holiness can be conveyed by mere touch or an intimate approach is illustrated in various biblical passages. Those, for instance, who come in physical contact with the altar automatically become holy (Ex. 29:37; 30:29; Lev. 6:11, 20). The notion is likewise reflected in the divine command that the vessels used by *Korah and his company were to be added to the altar as an outer covering because once having been brought "into God's presence," they had become holy (Num. 17:2).

Holiness and Glory

Glory (Heb. kavod) is intimately associated with God's holiness and signifies the self-manifesting presence of God, whereas holiness (Heb. kodesh) is expressive of God's transcendence (Ex. 14:4f.; Lev. 10:3; Num. 20:13; Ezek. 20:41), though the polar concepts of holiness and glory are strikingly joined by Isaiah – "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts, His glory fills the whole earth" (6:3). The hope that the divine glory will fill the whole earth takes on a messianic tinge in Numbers 14:21. The latter is conceptually linked with Zechariah 14:20, 21. There, in a messianic prophecy, Zechariah anticipates the day when even the bells of the horses will be engraved with the legend "Holy unto the Lord" as well as every pot in Jerusalem and Judah. The ultimate extension of the sphere of the holy so that it will embrace even the mundane and profane underscores the biblical concept of holiness not as a natural, inherent quality but rather as a quality conferred both by God and man. This aspect of holiness in the messianic age is reflected in the prophet Joel's promise that prophecy – an endowment of holiness – will become a gift possessed by young and old, by servants and handmaids (3:1,2).


G. van der Leuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation (1938); A.L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964), 171–205; C.H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (1965), glossary, no. 2210, S.V. qdš; C.F. Jean and J. Hoftijzer, Dictionnaire des Inscriptions Sémitiques de l'Ouest (1965), 253–4, S.V. qdš I, II, II, esp. III, 1; Pritchard, Texts, 428; J. Milgrom, Studies in Levitical Terminology, 1 (1970); B.A. Levine, in: JAOS, 85 (1965), 307–18; idem, in: Religions in Antiquity, ed. by J. Neusner (1967), 71–87; idem, in: Eretz Israel, 9 (1969), 88–96; idem, in: Leshonenu, 30 (1965–66), 3–4; M. Haran, in: HUCA, 36 (1965), 191–226; J. Pedersen, Israel, its Life and Culture, 1–2 (1926), 187–212, 244–59; 3–4 (1940), 150–534; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, vols. 1 and 2, index, S.V. Kedushah, esp. vol. 1, 537–59; J. Liver, in: EM, 5 (1968), 507–8, 526–31; R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy (19433), 30–41, 52–84; M.D. Cassuto, in: EM, 2 (1954), 354–8; J. Reenger, in: Zeitschrift fuer Assyriologie, 58 (1967), 110–88; R. Stadelmann, Syrisch-Palaestinensische Gottheiten in Aegypten (1962), 110–23; de Vaux, Anc Isr 221–9, 345–57, 406–13. IN RABBINIC LITERATURE: S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909), index S.V. holiness; G.F. Moore, Judaism (1927), index, S.V. holiness; A. Buechler, Types of Jewish-Palestinian Piety (1922); M. Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (1952), 167–88; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal, Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), index S.V. Kadosh, Kedushah; Montefiore and Loewe, Rabbinic Anthology (19602), index S.V. holiness.

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