From the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:4) it seems that if not for the concept of free choice, there would be no concept of reward and punishment.

The question is: even if there would be no concept of free will, couldn’t we just say that the pleasure and suffering that come as a result of one’s actions are merely a consequence, just as if one stumbles over a rock by no fault of his own, he will inevitably get hurt, although he never chose to stumble over it, and had no way of preventing it from happening?

  • There's a similar concept that Rambam lists G-d's knowledge of our actions as a different article of faith from reward and punishment. It couldn't necessarily be derived, because one could construe a world where the actions automatically trigger reactions, without an omniscient being controlling anything in between them.
    – Shalom
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 2:06
  • If it's "just a consequence", though, how do you explain that the Torah adamantly insists not to blame a victim of rape?
    – Shalom
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 2:07
  • Pain resulting from the illusion of will can barely be described as a consequence, let alone a reward or punishment. Is hitting your head punishment for tripping on a rock?
    – shmosel
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 2:18
  • @User123 Trying to avoid it in the future only is possible if there is free will.
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 23:52
  • @User123 Animals don't have a concept of right and wrong. That doesn't mean they have no choice. People who deny free will try to say all a person or animal's actions are predetermined by their programming, and the attempt to avoid pain is also predetermined.
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 2:33

4 Answers 4


The same Rambam explains that yes, reward and punishment is a consequence, but it's not a consequence of nature, but a consequence of Hashem's Justice.

השפט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט

Shall the whole world's Judge not act justly!

It would not be just to cause suffering to someone who doesn't deserve it, nor withold pleasure from someone who does. It would not be just for people who did horrific things to be able to get away with it, or to get an everlasting reward.

Justice, however can only be used to judge cases between parties who have free will. There is no animal court. When a robot does something wrong, you repair it, you don't "punish" it.


To be honest, I don't fully understand the question. Sure, we could say that reward and punishment are just natural consequences of ones' actions, but they aren't. It would be like saying that a criminal going to jail is a natural consequence of his actions, when in fact it's an intentional and measured response by the justice system. Now here on earth it happens to be that it's important to send people to jail even without the concept of free will, simply as a deterrent. But G-d doesn't need deterrents to stop people from doing bad things. Clearly, this is why the Rambam writes that the existence of reward and punishment proves free will; there is no point in punishing people for doing things they had no choice in, when G-d can simply remove their ability to do bad things!


Judgment can be used synonymously as consequence of the actions, however judgment is concerned with justice due to free choices, not for accidents and deterministic consequences. The ancient people believed more about the consequence of our actions in this life, hence, the ancient Wisdom literature is full of similar teachings as the Indian Karma theory of consequence/justice received in this life itself. The righteous does not suffer and enjoys prosperity and multitude of descendants. The concept of deeper wisdom of the eternal afterlife developed later. Determinism or the denial of freewill is a depressing philosophy of either the unbelieving naturalist or a naive legalistic believer who follow the ancient Gnostic fatalism such as Manichaeism, as believed by Augustin of Hippo, Muhammad, John Calvin.

Sleepwalking crimes of automatism are not punished by the law.

Quoting from Dr Craig of reasonablefaith:

A determinist cannot live consistently as though everything he thinks and does is causally determined—especially his choice to believe that determinism is true! Thinking that you’re determined to believe that everything you believe is determined produces a kind of vertigo. Nobody can live as though all that he thinks and does is determined by causes outside himself. Even determinists recognize that we have to act “as if” we had free will and so weigh our options and decide on what course of action to take, even though at the end of the day we are determined to take the choices we do. Determinism is thus an unliveable view.

This presents a real problem not just for the Calvinist, but for the naturalist. For insofar as naturalism implies that all our thoughts and actions are determined by natural causes outside ourselves, free will is an illusion. But we cannot escape this illusion and so must go on making choices as though we had free will, even though we don’t. Naturalism is thus an unliveable worldview.


Your question seems to presuppose that logic is determinative and of equal status as the Torah. Maybe not in this instance per the other answer, but more generally this is a reason why Rambam faced opposition and you can find this for example in Avodat haKodesh (Ibn Gabbai) section 3:1 where he says this is the main problem namely Rambam elevated intellect and reason and logic to the same level and status as the Torah as the two great lights (as in separate and equal), and raising Aristotaean logic to an unchecked place it shouldn't have in Judaism.

So to answer your question by logic yes but by the Torah and tradition it sounds like you don't find it -- necessarily.

  • According to practically all opinions of Rishonim logic is determinative in Torah.
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 23:51
  • @N.T. key words "in Torah"? You support my position then Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 18:14

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