God in Judaism

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This article is about contemporary theological discussion. For other uses, see God of Israel.

The conception of God in Judaism is strictly monotheistic. God is the absolute one, indivisible and incomparable being who is the ultimate cause of all existence. Jewish tradition teaches that the true aspect of God is incomprehensible and unknowable, and that it is only God's revealed aspect that brought the universe into existence, and interacts with mankind and the world.[citation needed] In Judaism, the one God of Israel is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is the guide of the world, delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Law of Moses at biblical Mount Sinai as described in the Torah.

God has a proper name, written YHWH (Hebrew: יְהֹוָה, Modern Yehovah, Tiberian Yəhōwāh) in the Hebrew Bible. In Jewish tradition another name of God is Elohim.


Further information: Yahweh and Tetragrammaton

The name of God used most often in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton (YHWH Hebrew: יהוה‎), frequently anglicized as Jehovah or Yahweh but written in most editions of the Bible as "the Lord". Jews traditionally do not pronounce it, and instead refer to God as HaShem, literally "the Name". In prayer this name is substituted with Adonai, meaning "Master" or "Lord".[1]

Although most scholars believe "Jehovah" to be a late (ca. 1100 CE) hybrid form derived by combining the Latin letters JHVH with the vowels of Adonai (the traditionally pronounced version of יהוה), many magical texts in Semitic and Greek establish an early pronunciation of the divine name as both Yehovah and Yahweh.[2]



The mass-revelation at the Mount Horeb 1312 BCE in an illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907
See also: Shituf

Judaism is based on a strict monotheism. This doctrine expresses the belief in one indivisible God. The worship of multiple gods (polytheism) and the concept of God having multiple persons (as in the doctrine of Trinity) are equally unimaginable in Judaism. The statement par excellence in terms of defining God is the Shema Yisrael, originally appearing in the Hebrew Bible: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One", also translated as "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is unique/alone".[Deut. 6:4]

The idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical in Judaism - it is considered akin to polytheism. "God, the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of series, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity unlike any other possible unity".[3]

Since all of existence emanates from God, whose ultimate existence is not dependent on anything else, some Jewish sages perceived God as interpenetrating the universe, which itself has been thought to be a manifestation of God's existence. In this way Judaism can be regarded as similar to being panentheistic, while always affirming genuine monotheism. In the writings of medieval Jewish philosophers such as Ibn Daud and Gersonides, perhaps influenced by neo-Aristotelian philosophy, one finds what can be termed limited omniscience.[4]

Other properties[edit]

God is conceived of as eternal, the creator of the universe, and the source of morality. God has the power to intervene in the world. Maimonides describes God in this fashion: "The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being."[5]

The Jewish belief in God's omnipotence is rooted in the Bible.[6]


Main article: Godhead (Judaism)

"Godhead" is the English-language term which in Judaism is sometimes used to refer to "God-as-God-is-in-Godself".

Rationalistic conception[edit]

In the philosophy of Maimonides and other Jewish-rationalistic philosophers, there is little which can be predicated about the Godhead other than its existence, and even this can only be asserted equivocally.

How then can a relation be represented between God and what is other than God when there is no notion comprising in any respect both of the two, inasmuch as existence is, in our opinion, affirmed of God, may God be exalted, and of what is other than God merely by way of absolute equivocation. There is, in truth, no relation in any respect between God and any of God's creatures.

— Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim (Pines 1963)

Mystical conception[edit]

In Kabbalah, the term "Godhead" usually refers to the concept of Ein Sof (אין סוף), which is the aspect of God that lies beyond the emanations (sefirot). The "knowability" of the Godhead in Kabbalistic thought is no better that what is conceived by rationalist thinkers. As Jacobs (1973) puts it, "Of God as God is in Godself—Ein Sof—nothing can be said at all, and no thought can reach there".

Ein Sof is a place to which forgetting and oblivion pertain. Why? Because concerning all the sefirot, one can search out their reality from the depth of supernal wisdom. From there it is possible to understand one thing from another. However, concerning Ein Sof, there is no aspect anywhere to search or probe; nothing can be known of it, for it is hidden and concealed in the mystery of absolute nothingness.

— David ben Judah Hehasid, Matt (1990)

Human interrelation with God[edit]

Most of classical Judaism views God as personal, meaning that humans can have a relationship with God and vice versa. Much of the midrash, and many prayers in the siddur portrays God as caring about humanity in much the same way that humans care about God.[citation needed]

Harold Kushner, a Conservative rabbi, writes that "God shows God's love for us by reaching down to bridge the immense gap between God and us. God shows God's love for us by inviting us to enter into a Covenant (brit) with God, and by sharing with us God's Torah."[7]

According to Judaism, people's actions do not have the ability to affect God positively or negatively. The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible states: "Gaze at the heavens and see, and view the skies, which are higher than you. If you sinned, how do you harm God, and if your transgressions are many, what do you do to God? If you are righteous, what do you give God? Or what does God take from your hand? Your wickedness [affects] a person like yourself, and your righteousness a child of humanity."[citation needed]

Any belief that an intermediary between humanity and God could be used, whether necessary or even optional, has traditionally been considered heretical. Maimonides writes that "God is the only one we may serve and praise....We may not act in this way toward anything beneath God, whether it be an angel, a star, or one of the elements.....There are no intermediaries between us and God. All our prayers should be directed towards God; nothing else should even be considered."[citation needed]

Some rabbinic authorities disagreed with this view. Notably, Nachmanides was of the opinion that it is permitted to ask the angels to beseech God on our behalf. This argument manifests notably in the Selichot prayer called "Machnisay Rachamim", a request to the angels to intercede with God. Modern printed editions of the Selichot include this prayer.

Modern scholarship[edit]

No consensus has been reached by academics on the origins of monotheism in ancient Israel, but Yahweh "clearly came out of the world of the gods of the Ancient Near East."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/Adonai/adonai.html
  2. ^ Roy Kotansky, Jeffrey Spier, "The 'Horned Hunter' on a Lost Gnostic Gem", The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 88, No. 3 (Jul., 1995), p. 318.)
  3. ^ Maimonides, 13 principles of faith, Second Principle
  4. ^ See Gersonides "Views on omniscience"
  5. ^ Mishneh Torah, book HaMadda', section Yesodei ha-Torah, chapter 1:1 (original Hebrew/English translation)
  6. ^ "Jewish Beliefs about God" in C/JEEP Curriculum Guide American Jewish Committee
  7. ^ To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking (Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, 1993)
  8. ^ Smith, Mark S.The early history of God: Yahweh and the other deities in ancient Israel. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 2nd ed., 2002. ISBN 978-0-8028-3972-5

Further reading[edit]