I've heard it said that animals don't possess a רוח

However, Ecclesiastes 3:21 uses the phrase רוּחַ הַבְּהֵמָה.

Is there any text that indicates that animals don't possess a spirit?

Edit: Upon accepting an answer, I don't intend to signify agreement with anyone's position. The purpose of the question is to find out how people who do believe that animals don't have spirits support their beliefs.

  • When you say 'ruach' do you mean as in the general "soul"? Or did you have in mind 'ruach' as in 'nefesh', 'ruach', 'neshama', 'chaya', 'yechida'?
    – HodofHod
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 12:29
  • I intend 'ruach' to mean 'spirit' (whereas 'nephesh' would be 'soul'.) 'neshema' is more immediately related to the concept of breath, so that might work. Just trying to figure out where someone derived the idea that animals don't have spirits. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 12:47
  • see here: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/9360/603
    – Menachem
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 17:47
  • The Rambam commentary in one of the answers was helpful, but still doesn't answer my question. thanks Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 23:49
  • from there: "Ruach - Every living thing has a Ruach as well, the life-giving force that animates the living thing."
    – Menachem
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 0:53

1 Answer 1


See Derekh HaShem here paragraph beginning with "והנה". A partial quotation:

כי אין נפש הבעלי חיים אלא דבר גשמי, מן הדקים שבגשמיות ― Although animals may have a soul, it is not a spiritual entity, it is the most fine of physical entities.

His sources include your possuk Koheles 3(21) *ורוח הבהמה *הירדת היא למטה לארץ. (see the Feldheim edition translated by Aryeh Kaplan for the sources.)

Here is the Chabad translation of our possuk with the translation of Rashi's commentary:

Who knows that the spirit of the children of men is that which ascends on high and the spirit of the beast is that which descends below to the earth?


Who knows: Like (Joel 2: 14): “Whoever knows shall repent.” Who is it who understands and puts his heart to [the fact] that the spirit of the children of men ascends above and stands in judgment, and the spirit of the beast descends below to the earth, and does not have to give an accounting. Therefore, one must not behave like a beast, which does not care about its deeds.

  • Thanks Avrohom. Am I to take it that Derek HaShem is using the very verse I led with as a proof text that animals don't possess spirits? If so, would you please summarize his argument in your answer? What I'm looking for is a direct Bible verse, or verses, and not commentary. If his is an exposition of a Bible verse, it'd be valid, but I'd need to see how he's deriving his exposition. For example, if the above quote is his exposition of Ecc. 3:21, I'd need to see the premises that lead to that conclusion. Thank you Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 1:06
  • @WalrustheCat Yes he does use your possuk. His point, I imagine, is that the ruach behaimah spirit of the animal הירדת היא למטה לארץ goes down to the land in contrast to the spirit of the sons of man העולה היא למעלה which goes to up above. So the animal ruach is physical and the human ruach is spiritual. That's the only verse quoted by Aryeh Kaplan. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 12:38
  • Interesting. Thanks for the scholarship. If no one else has any ideas, I will have to accept this as a basis for the claim that "animals don't have spirits." I know this is outside the scope of this question, but checking out the translations of this passage here (bible.cc/ecclesiastes/3-21.htm), you can see that all but 2 or 3 translate the passage as questioning the directional orientation of both classes of entities' spirits. The others assert the spirits' orientation, and seem to assert that said spirits are not known. It'd be interesting to see the translations' rationale. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 13:46
  • @WalrustheCat I have added to the answer, a Jewish translation of the possuk and Rashi's commentary. ופירוש הפסוק הוא, שבודאי רוח האדם עולה למעלה כמו לקמן , )יב, ז( "וישב העפר על הארץ כשהיה 6 והרוח תשוב אל האלהים אשר נתנה"ו ורוח בהמה יורדת למטה לאוץ עם הגוף : Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 15:41
  • @WalrustheCat Sorry I relased the above comment half completed. Please disregard the Hebrew part. I found a more recent Jewish commentary "Kol Efraim" which in summary and translation says that the ruach of a person goes above as it says in Chap 12 v7 "And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God, Who gave it." and the ruach of the animal goes down to the earth with the body. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 15:54

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