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There are 3 religions that says so. The obvious one is Christianity with that being it's central term. The second one is Hindu. Khrisna is said to be a God incarnate.

But in torah I often see stories about Abraham meeting some guys and recognize that the guy is G_d himself.

Genesis 18 for example says And Jehovah appeareth unto him among the oaks of Mamre, and he is sitting at the opening of the tent, about the heat of the day; 2 and he lifteth up his eyes and looketh, and lo, three men standing by him, and he seeth, and runneth to meet them from the opening of the tent, and boweth himself towards the earth, 3 And he saith, 'My Lord, if, I pray thee, I have found grace in thine eyes, do not, I pray thee, pass on from thy servant

http://yltbible.com/genesis/18.htm

So here Jehovah (=God?) appear unto him among the oaks and sit. So who is this Jehovah that sit at the opening of the tent? I thought God never incarnate? How can he sit at the opening of the tent?

Also we have Jacob wrestle with G_d with G_d's performance not being very impressive. G_d can't escape Jacob's hold.

So do jews believe that G_d, once in a while, take humans' form?

I was writing an answer on main differences between christians and jewish torah. I thought jewish translation would definitely translate el/elohym as angels or divine beings in case of Jacob wrestling. I was surprised to find out that jewish translation is actually the same with christian translation. http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0132.htm

28 And he said unto him: 'What is thy name?' And he said: 'Jacob.' כט וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ--כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל: כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל. 29 And he said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.' ל וַיִּשְׁאַל יַעֲקֹב, וַיֹּאמֶר הַגִּידָה-נָּא שְׁמֶךָ, וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ, שָׁם. 30 And Jacob asked him, and said: 'Tell me, I pray thee, thy name.' And he said: 'Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?' And he blessed him there. לא וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם, פְּנִיאֵל: כִּי-רָאִיתִי אֱלֹהִים פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים, וַתִּנָּצֵל נַפְשִׁי. 31 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: 'for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.'

Hei, it's actual jewish translation. http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0132.htm . Compare to http://bible.cc/genesis/32-28.htm

Many people argued that the word elohim does not necessarily means God. However, the jewish translation clearly translate that as God in this particular verse

And he said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.' http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0132.htm

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welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks for bringing your question here! –  Isaac Moses Aug 1 '11 at 13:48
    
So is Abraham questioning God or one of his angels when he talked about Sodom? yltbible.com/genesis/18.htm . The word is Jehovah there –  Jim Thio Aug 23 '11 at 6:23
    
I thought jewish translation would definitely translate el/elohym as angels or divine beings in case of Jacob wrestling. I was surprised to find out that jewish translation is actually the same with christian translation. mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0132.htm . –  Jim Thio Oct 30 '11 at 8:49
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Why is this so voted down? Are people dismissing it as a non-question? –  Adam Mosheh Apr 11 '12 at 4:48
    
I tended to ask controversial questions. I seek God. Sorry if I offend anyone. Where else would I find him if not on jewish/christian forum? +1 for Adam nevertheless. –  Jim Thio Apr 11 '12 at 9:29

6 Answers 6

up vote 22 down vote accepted

No, no, no. Judaism makes clear that G-d has no physical form, nor does (nor can) He ever take one on.

You're confusing several stories about angels, which are heavenly beings that can take human form, with their Boss.

Abraham invites three guests who turn out to be angels; similarly, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man, who is likely to have been an angel. He is told "you wrestled with both Elohim and man successfully"; see this question for more; if you track the detailed uses of the word Elohim in the Bible, it doesn't always mean G-d. Here it's translated "Heavenly forces."

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So all those are angels? As a half agnostic half christian I am surprised. I never knew all these. –  Jim Thio Aug 1 '11 at 15:05
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@Jim: the expression there is "they heard the voice of G-d walking around..." - not G-d Himself. See also zaq's answer. –  Alex Aug 1 '11 at 15:43
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@Jim Thio, not angels in the sense of fat toddlers with wings and harps; that's another religion, not us. The word used in torah for the beings in these various encounters is usually but not always "malach", best translated as "messenger" or "emissary". Malachim in Judaism are part of the heavenly court, created by God to do specific jobs; they are not independent agents or the spirits of dead people. –  Monica Cellio Aug 1 '11 at 17:38
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Just on the 'messenger' not 'angel' point - I often make this correction as well, but I read recently that the Greek word from which 'angel' derives means the same thing. Your distinction is no less important as a result. I just found it interesting. –  WAF Aug 1 '11 at 19:26
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Shalom, saying G-d "can't" is a fallacy. By definition of omnipotent, you cannot say that G-d is incapable of something. In essence, you've stumbled upon the paradox of attempting to describe the infinite. It cannot be done. Judaism applies adjectives to G-d only insofar as he has applied those same attributes to himself (and us- m'bsari echze Elokai). But those are not limiters on G-d. Describing G-d's essence is a dangerous pursuit, prone to lots of contradictions, mostly because hasagos hamehus is beyond us. Interesting article on this –  HodofHod Oct 31 '11 at 14:19

This is one of the "perplexing" topics that the Rambam addresses in his "Guide of the Perplexed". While the examples you give are of Angels (see Shalom's answer), a cursory glance of the Bible, could make it seem like there is reason to wonder whether God can be corporeal, since the Torah does refer to God with "physical" attributes like hand, finger, and back, as well as physical actions like standing and sitting.

However, in Judaism we don't hold to a literal interpretation of the Torah, since Hebrew words are frequently equivocal, or have multiple meanings, and when analyzed, they reveal deeper meanings of the text. For instance, the word standing could literally mean a physical body standing-up or it can metaphorically mean everlasting (standing for eternity).

The Rambam explains how every one of the "physical" characteristics, as they relate to God, are equivocal terms like 'standing', and he brings many other passages as proof that the words are used in those other metaphorical and non-physical ways.


The Rambam also explains that the Torah passage "Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One" has a deep meaning that expresses God's incorporeality.

For something to exist physically, it necessarily follows that there can be two or more of it (i.e. two apples, three quarks, a trillion stars). By saying God is one, we are denying that there can be any multiplicity of God, meaning he can't be physically manifested. As soon as God would take physical form, it would be possible for him to be two or more, but since he is completely non-corporeal, we say he is "One".

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No.

To add to Shalom's answer, the word Elohim is not only used to mean G-d. It can also mean gods, angels, or even men. It is used to mean any source or seat of power, be it Divine, otherwise heavenly or spiritual, or governmental.

This is not a conclusive, or even well-written article, but see here for one example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elohim#Rabbinic_Judaism

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Thanks. This is a big thing for me. While the word elohim does not always mean God, christians always translate that as God. Go figure. –  Jim Thio Sep 30 '11 at 6:14
    
While it maybe true that Elohim could mean angels, etc. For some reason Jewish bible translation translate El and Elohim as God when God takes anthropomorphic characteristic. See mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0106.htm I wonder why. Mechon mamre could translate that as sons of power. Yet it translate that as sons of God. –  Jim Thio Nov 12 '11 at 8:20
    
@JimThio There is a tradition what Elokim means in each place (part of the tradition might be lost) –  shmuel 2 days ago

Shalom’s answer is pretty clear, but in case anyone needs more evidence, here are two unambiguous passages from common parts of the liturgy that make clear that Hashem is not corporeal and has no body, and that all descriptions of Hashem in those terms are allegorical.

From Yigdal, sung at the beginnings and ends of many services (ArtScroll translation):

.אֵין לוֹ דְּמוּת הַגּוּף וְאֵינוֹ גוּף. לֹא נַעֲרוֹךְ אֵלָיו קְדֻשָּתוֹ
He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal; nor has His holiness any comparison.

And from Shir ha’Kavod, which is sung at the end of morning services on Shabbat and festivals (ArtScroll translation):

.אֲדַמְּךָ אֲכַנְּךָ וְלֹא יְדַעְתִּֿיךָ ,אֲסַפְּרָח כְבוֹדְךָ וְלֹא רְאִיתִיךָ
I shall relate Your glory, though I see You not; I shall allegorize You, I shall describe You, though I know You not.

.בְּיַד נְבִיאֶֿיךָ בְּסוֹד עֲבָדֶֿיךָ, דִּמִּֿיתָ הֲדַר כְּבוֹד הוֹדֶֿךָ
Through the hand of Your prophets, through the counsel of Your servants; You allegorized the splendrous glory of Your power.

.דִּמוּ אוֹתְךָ וְלֹא כפִי יֶשְךָ, וַיְשַׁווּךָ לְפִי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ
They allegorized You, but not according to Your reality, and they portrayed You according to Your deeds.

.הִמְשִׁילוּךָ בְּרֹב חֶזְיוֹנוֹת, הִנְּךָ אֶחָד בְּכָל דִּמְיוֹנוֹת
They symbolized You in many varied visions; yet You are a Unity containing all the allegories.

Shir ha’Kavod then goes on to describe Hashem in many of these beautiful, embodied allegories, having made clear that they’re just allegories that only share a glimpse of Him.

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During the early middle ages, there were certainly plenty of Jews in Europe who believed that Gd could be corporeal (though not incarnate... bit of a difference there) However, many Rabbis of the era went to great lengths to dispel anybody of that notion.

There are three historical points of interest regarding Gd having a body.

  1. The Temple in Jersuelem, and the Mishkan had architecture which was very similiar to other temples of the area and era. However, there is one glaring difference when comparing temple sites. A. Many pagan temple sites have large thrones or marked footprints of where hteir diety would walk, stand, or sit. The Jewish temple has no throne room or simiilar structures. B. The 'Holy of Holies" where Gd is described as residing, is the smallest space in the temple, not the biggest (as it is with other cultures)

These various traits imply that Judaism always recognized that Gd has no body and would never use one.

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It looks like you started writing a list of three historical points of interest and broke off. –  Isaac Moses Aug 1 '11 at 20:26
    
that I did, I'll have to see what I was writing and fix it later –  avi Aug 2 '11 at 5:28
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avi, good start to these ideas... –  Adam Mosheh Mar 22 '12 at 2:32
    
would really love to hear more of your thoughts on this! –  Baby Seal Apr 23 at 15:17
    
I'm a little late to the discussion about this answer....but you might want to get around to finishing that list! [ that is, if you remember the items on that list....I probably wouldn't, personally :) ] –  Shokhet 2 days ago

Well, the Lubavitcher Rebbe famously (controversially?) spoke of this topic in a talk on the last day of Pesach 5710 and said "And thus there is no place for the objection regarding [praying to] an intermediary -- since he [the Previous Rebbe] is the essence and substance [of God] himself, that God had placed himself in a body"

http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14925&st=&pgnum=235

Now, I've heard from some (not all) Lubavitchers that this is not meant to be understood literally, but in any case there is certainly precedent by a major Torah scholar for at least describing God incarnated in a body.

The rest of the paragraph from which that line is quoted says:

"Just as 'Israel, Torah, and God are all one', that is to say, not only that Israel is connected to Torah and Torah to God, rather they are 'one' literally, so too is the connection between the Hasidim and the Rebbe -- it's not like two separate things, rather they are made 'all one' literally. And the Rebbe is not an 'interrupting intermediary' rather he is a 'connecting intermediary'. And with regard to the Hasid, he and the Rebbe and God are all one. I haven't seen this said explicitly in the teachings of Hasidut, but it is the 'feeling' of those teachings, and whoever wants to feel this, let him feel it, and whoever doesn't, I don't want to argue with him -- he'll have what he has. And thus there is no place for the objection regarding [praying to] an intermediary -- since he [the Previous Rebbe] is the essence and substance [of God] himself, that God had placed himself in a body."

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What you're suggesting - that the Rebbe considered himself an incarnation of God - is outrageous-sounding. Could you possibly provide some context for the statement you're quoting for those of us (probably a majority) who don't read Yiddish? –  Isaac Moses Aug 1 '11 at 15:21
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I said that it's "outrageous-sounding," which I think most people would agree with, not that it's outrageous. I asked for context to help people who might be astonished by this claim understand it in context. Such an extraordinary-sounding claim is difficult to accept unquestioningly based on a single sentence translated from a document that I can't read. Pointing to secondary sources that discuss this trend in the Rebbe's writing would also be useful. –  Isaac Moses Aug 1 '11 at 15:38
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SE doctrine is apparently that commentless voting is there by design and doesn't necessarily constitute bad behavior. –  Isaac Moses Aug 1 '11 at 15:48
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Not only that, but reading the very next line in that sicha easily disposes of any notion of this referring to an incarnation of G-d, ח"ו. He continues: וע"ד מאמר הזהר מאן פני האדון דא רשב"י אדער ווי בעת השליחות איז אפי' מלאך נקרא בשם הוי' אדער ווי משה רבינו האט געזאגט ונתתי עשב - "similar to how the Zohar calls Rashbi as 'the face of G-d," or how even an angel is called by G-d's name when on a mission, or how Moshe says [in first person] 'I will give grass..." [because "the Shechinah is speaking from his throat"]." –  Alex Aug 1 '11 at 18:09
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In short, then, the Rebbe is not saying anything about "incarnations"; that is a deliberate falsification by those who have it in for Chabad (or for Chassidus generally) for less-than-pure motives. –  Alex Aug 1 '11 at 18:10

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