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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Body in Jewish Theology
In Hebrew the idea of "body" is expressed by the term "basar" (Assyrian, "bishru"), which, commonly translated "flesh," originally denoted blood-relation, clan (see Genesis 2:23,24), the physical appearance being regarded as the evidence of consanguinity, and only secondarily the "body," and hence the general state or condition of man, or man as a creature of flesh, and finally mankind, "all flesh" (Isaiah 66:23). A less frequently employed term is "gewiyāh," which with rare exceptions is used to designate not the living body, but the corpse. The Greek translators employ σάρξ, or, rarely, σῶμα, the former, in accordance with Greek usage, generally in the plural. In later Hebrew the words "geshem," "gushma," and "guph" were used, or the combination "basar wa dam" (σάρξ καὶ αἷμα). This latter phrase implies the distinction between God and man, as, for instance, in contexts contrasting "the Holy One, blessed be He!" with "the king of flesh and blood," which contrast is rooted neither in the thought of man's sinfulness over and against the perfection of the Creator nor in the opposition of the material to the spiritual—the antithesis posited by Philo between the Ψυχή or the νοU1FE6ς on the one hand, and the σῶμα, the "dead nature of ours," on the other—but in the conception of man as a weak, dependent, and mortal creature.
According to Genesis 2:7 the body is formed of dust and is, therefore, frail and mortal. It will return to dust, whence it was taken (ib. 3:19). It lives because the spirit of life was breathed into it (ib. 2:7; Ezekiel 37:8).
The defiling character of the dead or the diseased body, which is so prominently referred to in the purity laws in the Levitical code, has, by the modern critical school, been recognized as belonging to a range of ideas universally found in all religions at a certain stage of their development, and as being an adaptation of observances pertaining to an anterior phase of religious thought and practise. Speculations on the nature of sin, and its seat in the body of man, do not lie within the plane of the unreflected religious consciousness which is characteristic of Old Testament literature and life.
The following may be accepted as representing the rabbinical views on the nature, the function, and the destiny of the body.
In accordance with the Book of Genesis, man is considered to be created of two originally uncombined elements, soul and body; the former coming from the higher world, and the latter taken from the lower (Gen. R. 8:14; Ḥag. 16a). The destiny of the latter is to serve the former, and it is organized to fulfil the Torah. The dust of which the body of man (Adam) was formed was composed of contributions from all the regions of the earth (Sanh. 38a; Rashi to Genesis 2:7).
A shapeless body ("golem") came from the hand of the Creator (Gen. R. ), and filled the whole earth, or, according to another version, reached from earth to the sky. Bisexed, this creature had also two faces until, through the later differentiation according to sex, man found in woman his counterpart. This (ultimate) body of man retains (in the nails) traces of an original coat of light (Rashi on Genesis 2:21), but as now constructed it consists of 248 members (bones) and 365 nerves (compare Targum Yer. to Genesis 1:27), which numbers are assumed to correspond to the number of the mandatory and prohibitive commandments of the Law (see see ANATOMY).
The psychology of the times connecting certain functions of the soul with certain organs of the body is recognized in the rabbinical writings; while symbolism in reference to the various purposes of the organs and the processes of physical life also holds a place in the anatomical science of the Talmudical teachers. As to the relation which the body holds to the soul, and the questions when the soul enters the body, whether the soul is preexistent, and whether for every newly created body there is also a newly created soul, opinions differ; though the majority are in favor of the preexistence of the soul.
Body and Soul.
The body is not regarded as impure. The adjective "ṭamé" (impure), used of the body in contrast to the pure soul (Mek., Beshallaḥ, Shirah, 2; compare Sanh. 91a, b), refers rather to the physical process through which the body is produced from a "malodorous" drop (Abot 3:1). To strain the meaning of the word "saruḥah," used to conveythis idea, as does Weber ("Alt-Synagogale Theologie," p. 229), is inadmissible. The body is the seat of the "yeẓer hara'" (evil inclination). This latter is natural and necessary; it is not in itself a manifestation of congenital sinful depravity (Gen. R. ). Body and soul are alike responsible for deeds committed (Tan., Wayiḳra, 6) (YEẒER HA-RA''). Aaron ben Elijah, the Karaite ("Eẓ Ḥayyim," ), bases upon this responsibility of the body an argument in favor of resurrection (compare the parable of the blind and the lame in Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi's argument before the emperor Antoninus, Sanh. 91b).
To provide food and drink and dress in proper quantity and becoming style is a religious duty (Maimonides, "Yad," De'ot, ). Mutilations of the body are prohibited (Leviticus 19:27,28; Deuteronomy 23:3).
Even after death the body was regarded as demanding respectful treatment. Once the "temple" (tabernacle) of the soul and its servant, the cerement of dust was to be guarded against sacrilegious dissection (Ḥul. 11b). Hence the Levitical laws rendering impure the persons touching the dead body, according to the explanation of R. Johanan ben Zakkai (Yad. 4:6; Num. R.; see also Einhorn, "Ner Tamid," pp. 83 et seq., Philadelphia, 1866).
The body decays; but it will rise again at the time of the resurrection. The bodies of the risen are reproductions of those which they tenanted while living: cripples and the deformed will rise with the old deformities (Gen. R. , ) (see LUZ and see RESURRECTION). Early Talmudic conceits ascribe feeling to the body even after death (Shab. 152b; ḤIBBUṬ HA-ḲEBER; Wolff, "Muhamed. Eschatologie," p. 62, Leipsic, 1872).
Post-Talmudic Judaism virtually accepts the foregoing views, as does, for instance, Saadia, "Emu-not we-De'ot," , where he controverts the idea that the soul is abused by being made to reside in the body. The latter is the soul's necessary agent, and this body is the one best suited for the ends of man. The body is not impure. The Law declares certain secretions of the body to be unclean, but only after they have left, not while they are in, the body (Baḥya ben Joseph, "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot"). The human body evidences the Creator's wisdom (see Bahya Ben Joseph).
Like a red thread through the speculations of the medieval Jewish and Arabic thinkers runs the doctrine of the four elements. Man being the microcosm, and the world the macrocosm, the effort is made to establish a correspondence between the body of the former and that of the latter. The four elements are discovered in the four humors of man's body. Israeli's work on the elements, based upon the "Sefer Yeẓirah," influenced all subsequent thinkers in this direction. In Donolo and in Ibn Gabirol there is the theory that the blood in man corresponds to the air; the white humor, to the water; the black humor, to the earth; and the red bile, to the fire. The five senses of man are also very prominent in the symbolic and allegorical interpretation of the Biblical texts. Ethics and poetry as well borrowed instruction and inspiration from the five senses (Kaufmann, "Die Sinne," Leipsic, 1884) (see ADAM (2)). The body of man was thus studied from many points of view, but was always regarded as a marvelous construction witnessing to the wisdom of the Creator, whose praise was sung in benediction (Ber. 60a). The latter, after dwelling on the wonderful adaptability of the bodily organs to their functions, names God as "the Healer of all flesh and the wonderful Artificer."
It may be noticed that Reform Judaism has relinquished the belief in the resurrection of the body. The catechisms and prayer-books of the modern synagogues, however, teach that "the body is intended by the Creator to be the servant of the immortal soul, and as such is not congenitally depraved." "This very body—woven of dust—Thou hast dignified to be a dwelling-place of Thine, a minister unto Thy spirit. Even it issued pure from Thine hand. Thou hast implanted in it the capacity for sin, but not sin itself" (David Einhorn's "Prayer-Book," 2d Eng. ed., Chicago, 1896, part 2:207).
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Body in Jewish Theology'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/b/body-in-jewish-theology.html. 1901.
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