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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).


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.

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