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In the Bible

The personality was considered as a whole in the biblical period. Thus the soul was not sharply distinguished from the body. In biblical Hebrew the words neshamah and ru'aḥ both mean "breath" and nefesh refers to the person or even the body (cf. Num. 6:6). For ways of expressing mind see *Heart.

Rabbinic Doctrine

For the rabbinic view of the soul see *Body and Soul.

In Medieval Jewish Philosophy

The soul in medieval Jewish philosophy is often depicted as the king and ruler of the body, its principle of life, organization, and perception. It is likened, in similes which go back to antiquity, to the rider of a steed, the captain of a ship, and the governor of a state. Yet, paradoxically, the soul is also often considered as a stranger on earth, an alien yearning for its supernal home. Philosophers view this latter characteristic, indicative of the soul's ability to survive the death of the body, as a function of its intellectual as well as moral perfection. Intellectual perfection was understood to comprise a true understanding of the nature of all being, both physical and metaphysical, including the nature of the soul. Descriptions of the soul followed Platonic and Aristotelian views, with later Greek thought supplying the models by which man's soul was related to heavenly substances.*Saadiah Gaon had a partial familiarity, derived from Pseudo-Plutarch's De placitis philosophorum, with these and many other systems of thought, none of which consistently appealed to his primarily theological perspective. He delared that each soul is created from nothing by God – the sole eternal being – at the moment of the completion of the formation of the body, and that body and soul form a unit bound together in this life and, eventually, in the hereafter. The soul requires the good acts of the body to perfect its peculiarly immaterial, celestial-like substance, even as the body needs the faculties of sensation and reason which the soul provides. Saadiah believed, with Plato (see Republic 4:435b; Timaeus 69c), that the soul has intellectual, spiritual, and passionate expressions; however, following Aristotle, he maintained that these were faculties of a single soul, located in the heart (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Treatise 6).

Man's soul was believed by most of the philosophers to have affinities with the souls of plants and animals, on the one hand, and with either the World Soul of the Neoplatonists or, in the Aristotelian system, the souls of the celestial bodies – the soul of a celestial body being a kind of rational principle separate from and responsible for the movement, if not life, of the sphere – on the other. In the Neoplatonic cosmology accepted by Isaac *Israeli, Solomon ibn *Gabirol, Joseph ibn *Ẓaddik, and Pseudo-*Baḥya, the World Soul emanates from the Universal Intellect and therefore has intellectual powers, which it transmits, together with the subsequently emanated physical qualities of Nature, to the individual soul. Man's soul, a substance or form independent of the body, thus contains "natural" or vegetative, animal, and rational aspects, and as such reflects the World Soul. These faculties are usually treated as separate, distinct souls, located respectively in the liver, heart, and brain.

From Israeli on, the vegetative soul is generally held responsible for nourishment, growth, and generation; the animal soul, for a type of instinctive intelligence known as estimation, as well as for locomotion and sensory perception; and the rational soul, for discursive knowledge, both practical and theoretical. Israeli, following the Arab philosopher al-*Kindī, also introduced into Jewish philosophy the Proclean stages of purification and illumination of the soul, substituting an ultimate stage of "spiritualization," i.e., a union with the First Form, the Supernal Wisdom or Intellect, for Proclus' divine union. The ascent of the soul, the upward way, is facilitated by withdrawal from the soul's passions and appetites, an ascetic direction particularly emphasized by Baḥya ibn Paquda (Duties of the Heart, ch. 10). Paradise is, for Israeli, union with the supernal light of wisdom, and hell the failure to attain this stage, the soul being weighed down by its corporeal aspects (see A. Altmann and S.M. Stern, Isaac Israeli (1958), 165–70, 185–94).

Aristotle's De anima, seen through the eyes of such Greek commentators as *Alexander of Aphrodisias and *Themistius, and such Arab scholars as al-*Fārābī and *Avicenna, serves as the main inspiration for Abraham *Ibn Daud, Moses *Maimonides, and most subsequent philosophers. They view the soul as the form of the body, a single substance comprised (in addition to the earlier tripartite division) of nutritive, sensitive, imaginative, appetitive, and rational faculties. Descriptions of the functional anatomy of these faculties mostly follow Galen as well as Aristotle, with the emotions of the appetitive faculty particularly responsible for ethical behavior, and the imagination and intellect considered as the organs of prophecy. The Aristotelians, like the Neoplatonists, teach that the good is the mean between psychic extremes (see Maimonides, Shemonah Perakim, 1 and 4). The ideal of most philosophers is an extremely intellectual as well as virtuous person, whose intellect has reached a stage of completely immaterial, actual perfection. In this state the individual "acquired" intellect, which is comprised of universal intelligibles, may conjoin with the Active Intellect. It is this conjunction with the Active Intellect that constitutes immortality (Maimonides, Guide, 1:70, 72; 3:27; 54).

This impersonal and incorporeal approach to immortality was heightened by the view of Averroes as propounded, for example, by *Moses of Narbonne, in which the individual intellect is understood to be essentially related to the Active Intellect from its very beginning as a potential intellect. Against such denials of personal immortality, *Levi b. *Gershom contended that the "acquired" intellect became an independent eternal substance (Milḥamot Adonai, 1:12); while Ḥasdai *Crescas, in a general critique of his predecessors' views, claimed the same status for the soul itself, using the term "soul" as more than a euphemism for the intellect. Crescas believed that the perfection of the soul was achieved more through love than through knowledge of God (Or Adonai, 2:6, 1). His attack upon Aristotelianism calls to mind that of *Judah Halevi, who mentions in passing the Aristotelian view of the soul (Kuzari, 5:12, 14, 21). Judah Halevi's own contribution to the subject was to posit a divine yet "natural" endowment (ha-inyan ha-Elohi) which, apparently related to the Jewish soul, made the Jew a superior being (Kuzari, 1:95; 2:14). A somewhat similar view was advanced by Judah Halevi's 12th-century contemporary, *Abraham bar Ḥiyya, who believed that the rational soul in all its purity was to be found among the elect of Israel alone. Such national feelings have little place in Crescas' more rigorously argued philosophy, and even less in the 16th-century Dialoghi di Amore of Judah *Abrabanel. Judah Abrabanel believed that love was a universal expression of both the animated structure of the universe, and of its yearning for unity with God. Through intellection and conjunction with the Active Intellect – which, following Alexander of Aphrodisias, Abrabanel identified with God – man could enter into a direct relationship with the Divine (Dialoghi, 3). This mixture of love and intellect is pronounced in the synthesis of Aristotelian and Cartesian ideas effected by *Spinoza, in which the influence of medieval Jewish philosophy is marked. Spinoza advocated the impersonal approach to immortality, consistent with his denial of independent substantial existents of any kind. He believed that all things are ensouled, or endowed with a psychic dimension of intelligibility that is ultimately part of God. The emotions, he felt, could be controlled through an analysis of their causes, allowing for an intellectual love of God which follows the mind's knowledge of its inherent oneness with God/Nature. The man who reaches this degree of knowledge is blessed with the thought that his mind, as part of God, is eternal (Ethics, 5).


Husik, Philosophy, index; Guttmann, Philosophies, index; H. Davidson, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1967), 75–94; H. Malter, in: JQR, 2 (1911–12), 453–79; S. Horovitz, Die Psychologie bei den juedischen Religionsphilosophen des Mittelalters von Saadia bis Maimuni, 4 vols. (1898–1912).

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