Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I heard of a discussion over Peseach about whether Hashem is corporeal.

Which classical Jewish sources (Talmud/Achronim/Rishonim) offer definitive opinions about this? (Please cite references!)

I am aware that the Rambam held non-corporeal but I don't know about other sources.

share|improve this question
Just stick to the Rambam who asserts that to refer to God as a corporeal Being is idolatry. HaShem is an eternal Spirit, and the only way to relate to Him is in a spiritual manner. – Ben Masada Dec 17 '10 at 23:24
See download.yutorah.org/1993/905/704648.pdf pages 4-7 (and the book based on that article, amazon.com/The-Limits-Orthodox-Theology-Civilization/dp/… ) – Shmuel Jun 12 '14 at 4:18

The Rambam writes emphatically that God is non-corporeal. The Raavad, whose job is usually to disagree with the Rambam (he interrupts thrice in the Rambam's introduction, including challenging the need for the book altogether), agrees, but then says "many great rabbis in the past were mistaken about this."

share|improve this answer

Anytime there is a anthropomorphic expression regarding Hashem, Unkelos changes the term to be non-anthropomorphic. For sources, just look in the Chumash for any expression of Hashem having a body part or any emotion (out stretched arm or Vayichar Af, Hashem is angry).

share|improve this answer
Or even when it speaks of Hashem hearing, where Onkelos consistently translates it as "it was heard before Him." – Alex Nov 25 '10 at 23:56
yes! Good addition. Thanks! Now you can make it even more advanced and look in the Moreh Nevuchim on the differences between hearing, seeing and touching. – RCW Nov 26 '10 at 2:38

R' Natan Slifkin published an article in Hakirah last year entitled "Was Rashi a Corporealist?" (PDF link). I think I only skimmed it at the time, but I believe he discusses various rabbinic notables who may or may not have believed in a corporeal God. There was a dissent (PDF) by R' Saul Zucker in the same journal, and a great deal of further discussion on R' Slifkin's blog and probably elsewhere.

share|improve this answer
In another article in the latest Hakirah, hakirah.org/Vol%209%20Slifkin.pdf , (not the complete article yet) Rabbi Slifkin makes it clear that the proper thing for us nowadays is to believe is that Hashem is not corporeal. – Yahu Apr 12 '10 at 19:50

Many of the Rishonim speak of "other scholars" who believed in God's Corporeality in some fashion, but don't provide details. One Rishon who viewed God as corporeal, or able to assume corporeal form, was R. Moses b. Hasdai Taku, a Tosafist, in his work, Ketav Tamim. Please see "Maimonides' Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology? by Marc B. Shapiro," pages 4-7 (and the book based on that article), for details and a list of Rishonim who mention those who believed in a corporeal God.

share|improve this answer
The way you characterize RMT is not absolute: yediah.blogspot.com/2011/07/… – Baby Seal Feb 16 '15 at 20:01

Various Biblical verses are cited by Rishonim to indicate that God is incorporeal such as Deuteronomy (4:15) "You shall greatly beware for your souls, for you did not see any image on the day God spoke to you..."

This is cited by Chovos Halevavos (Shaar Hayichud ch. 10):

וכבר הזהירנו הנביא שנשמר מחשוב שיש לה' צורה או דמיון כמ"ש (דברים ד) ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם כי לא ראיתם כל תמונה

and by Rambam (Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 1:8):

הֲרֵי מְפֹרָשׁ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבַנְּבִיאִים שֶׁאֵין הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא גּוּף וּגְוִיָּה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר...וְנֶאֱמַר (דברים ד-טו) 'כִּי לֹא רְאִיתֶם כָּל תְּמוּנָה'. וְנֶאֱמַר (ישעיה מ-כה) 'וְאֶל מִי תְדַמְּיוּנִי וְאֶשְׁוֶה'. וְאִלּוּ הָיָה גּוּף הָיָה דּוֹמֶה לִשְׁאָר גּוּפִים

share|improve this answer
Please explain this downvote; it is a compelling proof from a classic Jewish source-the Bible! – mevaqesh Feb 18 '15 at 4:17

The Kuzari and the Ran clearly take the position of G-d being incorporeal.

One place in the Kuzari is in Ma'amar Shelishi, #17:

ואחרי ברכות אבות וגבורות בהן יתאר האלוק כמתחבר עם העולם הגשמי הזה, בא החסיד לרומם את האלוק ולקדשהו בהכריזו כי נשוא הוא האלוק משידבק ויתקשר בו תאר מן התארים הגשמיים

(Translation mine) After the blessings of Avos and Gevuros, in which Hashem is described as if He is attached to this physical world, the Chassid comes to elevate Hashem and to sanctify Him by announcing that Hashem is at a level above that at which any attachment and connection to any physical description could apply.

The Ran is in Derush Ha'teshi'i:

ופירוש הענין כך הוא - בתחילה אמר "ומי גוי גדול אשר לו אלקים קרובים אליו וגו'" ויהיה קרוב לטעות ולומר שיש לשי"ת איזה יחס וקשר ויבא לדמות ולחשוב באלקותו איזה דבר ממקרה הגשם. לפיכך אמר עם היות שתראה זה תמיד, השמר לך ושמור נפשך מאד פן תשכח המעמד הנכבד ההוא שהיה מקורבת השי"ת עם ברואיו מה שלה היה לפניו ולאחריו, ועם כל זה לא הגיע מענינו שתראו שום תמונה כי איננה...

(Translation mine) First Hashem said "Who is a great nation to whom Hashem is close..." and a person might likely come to make a mistake and think that Hashem has some connection and relationship, and he will come to imagine and think some aspects of physicality about Hashem's Godliness. Therefore He said...be very careful lest you forget this momentous event at which Hashem was closer to His creations that ever was and ever will be, and even so you did not see any image, because there is none to see.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.