Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Kiddush Ha-Shem and Ḥillul Ha-Shem

KIDDUSH HA-SHEM AND ḤILLUL HA-SHEM (Heb. קִדּוּשׁ הַשֵּׁם וְחִלּוּל הַשֵּׁם). The antithetical terms kiddush ha-Shem ("sanctification of the [Divine] Name") and ḥillul ha-Shem ("defamation of the [Divine] Name") are complementary antonyms and denote the two aspects of one of the most significant concepts in Judaism. They imply, respectively, the glorification of the God of Israel and the diminution of His honor. The specific terms are rabbinic; the concepts themselves, however, are biblical in origin and are included among the 613 commandments: "Ye shall keep My commandments and do them: I am the Lord. Ye shall not profane My holy Name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel; I am the Lord who hallow you" (Lev. 22:31, 32). The entire people was subject to these principles, although the priests were especially cautioned to avoid ḥillul ha-Shem (Lev. 21:6; 22:2).

In the Bible

Two patterns of thought are discernible in the biblical conception of kiddush ha-Shem and ḥillul ha-Shem. One considers God as the primary actor, while Israel remains passive; the other regards the Israelites as the initiators of either the sanctification or the desecration of God's Name. The first is fully crystallized in Ezekiel (chs. 20, 36, 39), for whom the sanctification of the Name is essentially an act of the Lord bestowed upon Israel before the onlooking nations of the world. The Name is sanctified when God wondrously redeems Israel and the gentiles behold the vindication of the divine promise and are moved to worship Him. Inversely, if the Lord visits privation or exile upon Israel, or suffers the people to remain in captivity, the nations question God's strength or faithfulness, and the Name is thus defamed. This general rubric holds true for Ezekiel (with the exception of 20:39) and for most instances of kiddush ha-Shem in the Pentateuch.

According to the second view, man is responsible for God's honor in the eyes of the world. Moses and Aaron were punished because of their failure to sanctify God's Name (Num. 20:12; Deut. 32:51). God's Name must be sanctified not only before the gentiles but in the eyes of Israel as well (ibid., and Lev. 22:32). Jeremiah accuses his countrymen of profaning God's Name when they circumvent the law and emancipate their slaves only to capture and enslave them again (34:16). Amos condemned extortion from the poor and immorality as ḥillul ha-Shem (2.7).

Rabbinic Literature

The rabbinic tradition laid more emphasis on the personal-ethical than on the national-redemptive significance of the concept. It developed especially the second view of the biblical theme: human initiative, and a wider designation so as to include Jews as well as non-Jews. It could even be performed in private with no one present, as in the case of Joseph who, by restraining himself in the face of temptation, fulfilled the sanctification of God's Name (Sot. 36b). This does not mean that the rabbis entirely ignored kiddush ha-Shem and ḥillul ha-Shem as divine acts. When God decided to visit destruction indiscriminately on both the righteous and the wicked of Sodom, Abraham protested that this would be ḥillul ha-Shem (Gen. R. 49:9). Were God to have permitted Absalom to slay his father David, His Name would have been publicly profaned (Sanh. 107a). The punishment of the righteous for their sins, relative to their own high standards, is divine kiddush ha-Shem (Sifra to Shemini 45d; Zev. 115b).

The sanctification of God's Name before gentiles was always a potent element in the folk understanding of the concept. The rabbis, however, for the most part, concerned themselves with the active role of man in the drama of bestowing glory upon, or detracting from, the honor of God. This human initiative in kiddush ha-Shem could be consummated in three different ways: martyrdom, exemplary ethical conduct, and prayer.


The readiness to sanctify God's Name has its most dramatic expression in the willingness to die a martyr, and since tannaitic times the term kiddush ha-Shem also denotes martyrdom (see below Historical Aspects). When a person willingly suffers death rather than violate one of three specific commandments (see below) he achieves kiddush ha-Shem; if he fails to do so in these cases, or in other instances where the halakhah demands martyrdom, he is guilty of ḥillul ha-Shem (Av. Zar. 27b; Sanh. 74a, b). On the verses, "Ye shall not profane My holy Name,… I am the Lord who hallow you, brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord" (Lev. 22:32, 33), the rabbis taught: "On this condition did I bring you out of the land of Egypt that you submit yourselves to sanctify My Name, that I be your God even by force; I the Lord am faithful to grant you your reward" (Sifra, Emor, Perek 9). Since the second century, "to die for the sanctification of the Name" has been the accepted idiom for dying a martyr's death. A martyr was, appropriately, called a kadosh, one who is holy. In time, this honorific was extended and applied as well to those who died solely because they were Jewish even without their consciously offering up their lives for religious purposes (Moshe Lamm, Darkah shel ha-Yahadut be-Mavet u-ve-Avelut (2005), 221–222.) A child, growing up in the Jewish tradition, was exposed to the concept of martyrdom as an ideal. From his earliest youth he was taught stories about martyrs, e.g., *Hannah and her seven sons, R. *Akiva and the other of the *ten martyrs; the latter in the form of a lamentation is part of the synagogue service on the *Day of Atonement and on the Ninth of *Av. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Dan. 3) are held up by the rabbis as models of conduct in the sanctification of the Name (Pes. 53b).

At the famous rabbinical council in *Lydda (second century), the laws of martyrdom were formulated. Kiddush ha-Shem was declared obligatory in the case of three commandments and a person had to suffer death rather than violate them: idolatry, unchastity (gillui arayot: including incest, adultery, and, under certain circumstances, any infraction of the code of sexual morality), and murder (Sanh. 74a). One should violate all other commandments rather than suffer death. Should a Jew, however, in the presence of ten other Jews, be coerced into transgressing these other laws in order to demonstrate his apostasy, he must sanctify God's Name and choose death. If ten Jews are not present, he should transgress rather than be killed. These rules hold for "normal" times. In times of religious persecution of the entire community, however, one must choose to die for kiddush ha-Shem even if no other Israelites are present, and one must not violate any commandment, including minor customs which are distinctively Jewish (Maim. Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 5:3). Martyrdom rather than violation, when transgression is permissible, became a point of discussion; the halakhah had to decide between two opposing principles – that of sanctifying God's Name versus that of preserving life ("and he shall live by them" (Lev. 18:5), i.e., the commandments). According to Maimonides, a person who chose kiddush ha-Shem where the law decides for life is culpable (Maim. ibid., 5:1); others consider such voluntary martyrdom praiseworthy (Tos. Av. Zar. 27b). The Ashkenazi talmudists were instinctual rather than rationalistic in their attitude to martyrdom – an attitude characteristic of most of medieval German Jewry. The tosafists reacted negatively to the problem as it is viewed in the halakhah. They recoiled – "Heaven forbid!" – from such formal halakhic reasoning that does not require martyrdom of a person forced to worship an idol in private, and they demanded obligatory kiddush ha-Shem (Tos. Av. Zar. 54a).

Among modern halakhic authorities, the question whether an individual should sacrifice his life in order to save the entire community is a point of contention. Rabbi A.I. Kook considered it obligatory as an emergency measure (Mishpat Kohen (19662), no. 143). Others regarded such action as meritorious but not mandatory (J.J. Weinberg, Seridei Esh, 1 (1961), 303–16). The problem arose often during the Holocaust in Europe. In one typical responsum of this period, the question was asked whether (considering the danger to the emissary who might be imprisoned and killed) a particular rabbi should accept his mission of approaching the Lithuanian henchmen of the Nazi authorities in Kovno in 1941 in order to release certain Jews. The answer was that he may not be ordered to accept the mission but he should do so as an act of piety; he did, and subsequently survived (E. Oshry, Mi-Ma'amakim, 2 (1963), responsum no. 1). The same work also includes a discussion on a contemporaneous practical problem: the wording of the blessing to be recited upon being martyred for the sanctification of God's Name (ibid., no. 4). The question was first raised by R. Isaiah ha-Levi *Horowitz (16th–17th centuries) who initially was reluctant to sanction a blessing over the mitzvah of martyrdom because one should not seek out a situation which would require him to surrender his life. Later, however, he agreed to the blessing over kiddush ha-Shem.

The sages of the Talmud were divided in their opinions as to whether gentiles are required to sanctify God's Name. *Abbaye held that a non-Jew who is forced to violate one of the seven Noachide laws is not obligated to suffer kiddush ha-Shem; *Rava maintained that he is (Sanh. 74b). The accepted ruling is that non-Jews are not required to sanctify the Name (TJ, Shev. 4:3, 35b; Maim. Yad, Melakhim, 10:2). According to some authorities, however, a gentile must perform kiddush ha-Shem rather than be forced to commit murder (Mishneh le-Melekh, to Yad, ibid.).


The ideal of man's initiative in sanctifying God's Name beyond the strict requirements of the law was developed by rabbinic tradition in the area of ethical conduct. When *Simeon b. *Shetaḥ bought an ass from an Arab and his servants were delighted at finding a jewel hanging from its neck, he at once returned the gem to its owner, who cried out, "Blessed be the God of the Jews Who renders His people so scrupulous in their dealings with other men" (TJ, BM., 2:5, 8c). His supererogatory conduct is considered kiddush ha-Shem. Joshua kept his oath to the Gibeonites, though they exacted it from him by fraud (Git. 46a). Moral acts such as Joseph's restraint in the face of temptation and Judah's public confession of his relations with Tamar are also considered kiddush ha-Shem (Sot. 10b).

The designation of an unethical act as ḥillul ha-Shem proved a powerful deterrent. The punishment for such is immediate, even if the sin was unintentional (Shab. 33a); it is the most heinous of all sins (TJ, Ned. 3:14, 38b) and only death can atone for it (Yoma 86a). According to R. Akiva, there is no forgiveness at all for it (ARN1 39).

In the Talmud, the concepts of kiddush ha-Shem and ḥillul ha-Shem are discussed with reference to stealing from a non-Jew (BK 113a–b). According to R. Akiva, the law itself prohibits this, and thus protects all property, whether of a Jew or non-Jew. R. Ishmael, however, holds that biblical law applies formally only to the relation of Jews with fellow Jews. The protection of non-Jews, therefore, requires a supplementary principle, that of kiddush ha-Shem. Hence, ethical perfection beyond the minimum standards of the law itself becomes law, that of sanctifying the Name: reflecting honor upon God and the Torah by striving for moral excellence. Although medieval talmudists almost unanimously decided in favor of R. Akiva, they had to use the themes of kiddush ha-Shem and ḥillul ha-Shem to plug occasional loopholes in the formal law. They often cited the Tosefta (BK 10:15) that stealing from a non-Jew is a worse crime than stealing from a Jew, since the former includes ḥillul ha-Shem as well as "ye shall not steal."

Kiddush ha-Shem imposes special and exacting standards of conduct on the scholar. He must, for instance, pay his debts promptly, never cause embarrassment to his colleagues, not walk four cubits without tallit or tefillin, and not overindulge in merrymaking (Yoma 86a; Av. Zar. 28a; Maim. Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 5:11).

While the ethical moment is quite strong in kiddush ha-Shem, the latter should not be interpreted exclusively as moral behavior toward others. Kiddush ha-Shem includes martyrdom for any of a number of reasons: refusing to worship an idol, under certain conditions circumcising one's son or studying Torah or abiding by the dietary laws. In all these cases, it is not necessarily a question of performance in the presence of non-Jews. The halakhah considers any consciously rebellious act against God as ḥillul ha-Shem (Maim. ibid., 5:10). The principal motif of kiddush ha-Shem is religious and this includes the ethical dimension; the aim of the latter is not so much to teach the world morality as to increase the respect of the world for the morality of Judaism (H.G. Friedman, see bibliography). Principally, kiddush ha-Shem seeks to demonstrate to Jew and non-Jew alike the power of the Jewish commitment to God and to Torah.


Kiddush ha-Shem also found expression in prayer. This took two forms. One was in a liturgical declaration of readiness to accept martyrdom if necessary: "'Nay, but for Thy sake are we killed all the day; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter' (Ps. 44:23). Is it then possible to be 'killed all the day?' When one takes upon himself to sanctify His great Name every day, he is accounted as 'sheep for the slaughter'" (Sif. Deut. 6:5). Similarly, when reciting the *Shema, a person must spiritually intend the readiness to offer himself for kiddush ha-Shem (Zohar, Num. 195b). Second, the recital of the prayer is itself regarded as an act of sanctification of God's Name. A number of such liturgical expressions of kiddush ha-Shem have been found in the Merkabah literature (G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (19652), Appendix C).

Two formal prayers stand out in this respect: the *Kedushah and the *Kaddish. The Kedushah is based on the Song of the Seraphim in Isaiah 6:1–3. The more esoteric Kedushah, recited before the Shema, refers to the praise of God by the angels, while the Kedushah of the *Amidah prayer speaks of Israel sanctifying God's Name. The more esoteric Kedushah, recited before the Shema, refers to the praise of God by the angels, while the Kedushah of the Amidah prayer speaks of Israel sanctifying God's Name. The latter is parallel to and perhaps surpasses the Kedushah of the angels, adding a cosmic element to the theme of kiddush ha-Shem. The Zohar (Lev. 93a) considers the key verse "I will be hallowed among the children of Israel" (Lev. 22:32) as the source and warrant for the Kedushah.

In the Kaddish, the key parts refer quite literally to the "sanctification" of the "Name." At a comparatively early period, the Kaddish was already ascribed to the biblical source of kiddush ha-Shem (Zedekiah b. Abraham ha-Rofe, Shibbolei ha-Leket, ed. S.K. Mirsky (1966), 149–50). The absence of any specific Divine Name in this prayer, and the emphasis on the "Name" as such, has been thought by some scholars to have been deliberate, in order to emphasize its idiomatic affinity to the biblical " kiddush ha-Shem. " It has been suggested that the Kaddish was originally recited by martyrs who, at the threshold of death, declared the sanctification of God's Name and consoled the bereaved onlookers by speaking of the redemption and the Messiah "in your lifetime and in your days" (J. Kaufman, Midreshei Ge'ullah (19542), 58 n. 12, quoting Ḥ.N. Bialik). S.Y. Agnon's interpretation carries the impact of poetic truth, if not historic accuracy: the orphan's recitation of the Kaddish (Samukh ve-Nireh, " Petiḥah le-Kaddish "), is a kind of consolation to God who sustained a double ḥillul ha-Shem – His Name both diminished and desecrated by the loss of even a single soldier (who as a human being is irreplaceable) in the legions of the Almighty; hence, the prayer that the injured Name be magnified and sanctified. R. Joseph B. *Soloveitchik writes movingly that "through the Kaddish we hurl defiance at death and its fiendish conspiracy against man. [The mourner] declares more or less the following: no matter how powerful death is … no matter how black one's despair is … we declare and profess publicly and solemnly that we are not giving up, that we are not surrendering, that we will carry on the work of our ancestors as if nothing had happened, that we will be satisfied with nothing less than the full realization of the ultimate goal – the establishment of God's kingdom ("Aninut and Avelut," in: David Shatz, B. Wolowelsky, and Reuven Ziegler (eds.), Out of the Whirlwind: Essays on Morality, Suffering, and the Human Condition (2003), p. 5).


H.G. Friedman, in: HUCA (1904), 193–214; I. Gruenwald, in: Molad, 1 (1967/68), 476–84; A. Holz, in: Judaism, 10 (1961), 360–7; J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (1961), ch. 7 and passim. HISTORICAL ASPECTS: Roth, Marranos; Baer, Spain; idem, in: Sefer Assaf (1953), 126–40; Baron, Social2, index, S.V. Martyrs; S. Spiegel, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… Mordekhai Menaḥem Kaplan (1953), 267–87; Ha-Ḥevrah ha-Historit ha-Yisre'elit, Milḥemet Kodesh u-Martirologyah (1968); H.H. Ben-Sasson, in: idem, Historiyyonim ve-Askolot Historiyyot (1962), 29–40; idem (ed.), Toledot Am Yisrael, 3 vols. (1969).

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