I have seen "Baal Nefesh" used frequently in various contexts: sometimes as one who is scrupulous in halacha, other times as someone who is a quality person.

What is its simple translation/meaning?

  • Check it out in its original context: mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt2823.htm#2 Apparently it just means the guy is hungry!
    – Double AA
    Jan 21, 2013 at 6:54
  • @DoubleAA - That's according to Rashi. The Targum translates it as "master of the soul" (nearly the opposite of Rashi's interpretation as meaning someone beset with a gluttonous soul), and Metzudas David likewise interprets it as meaning someone who has the intellect to recognize that he should despise bad things.
    – Fred
    Jan 21, 2013 at 7:31
  • @Fred They're both appropriate Pshatim. While נפש literally means throat/neck, it's used quite often as a synecdoche to the human spirit/soul/רוח (which is breathed through the neck, much like נשמה literally means breath but is also often taken as the 'soul').
    – Double AA
    Jan 21, 2013 at 7:50
  • @DoubleAA It's true that the throat is considered karov lanefesh (B'rachos 44b), and that the hollow, neck-like opening within which the tongue of the supporting the beam of a scale is inserted is anthropomorphically referred to as נפש מאזנים (Bava Basra 89a), but the strict translation of נפש (as a noun) is person, soul, life-force, or desire (as in B'reishis 23:8). The commentaries on Mishlei (including the Ralbag, Malbim, and others who explain this as referring to a gluttonous person) interpret נפש not as throat, and there is no evidence that even Rashi translates this as throat.
    – Fred
    Jan 21, 2013 at 20:06
  • (For anyone following, Fred and I have continued discussion in the comments to my answer.)
    – Double AA
    Jan 22, 2013 at 1:23

4 Answers 4


SBA quotes the Yismach Mosheh that a "ba'al nefesh" is someone for whom the things related to the soul are more important than physical things. Rabbi Gil Student also quotes some statements by Rashi and Rabbeinu Chanan'el to define a ba'al nefesh. Rabbi Micha Berger quotes the Nefesh HaChayim as well; see there.

You can read the whole subject on Avodah here.


"Someone who really cares about their soul"; a "soul man", if you will. Often "the average Joe need not be stringent about this, but a soul man should be." If I'm not mistaken, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein occcasionally does rank stringencies, and I think he says "appropriate for anyone G-d fearing" is stronger than "appropriate for any soul man."


Jastrow demonstrates (מר IV, p. 834) through a number of Talmudic sources that the term was popular during the Second Commonwealth and the meaning is, specially in this construct, "master over his desire".

The eminent Talmudic scholar, Prof. Saul Lieberman, concurred with Jastrow's translation (Qiryat Sefer, 1937 p. 223).


Most literally the phrase Baal Nefesh is probably something like "master of [a] throat", although the simple meaning is more like "possessor of a soul". Either way though it seems to include just about everyone.

  • 1
    Maybe people are a bit befuddled by your determination that the most literal translation of נפש (even in the context of בעל נפש) is throat. Did you perhaps confuse it with בלועך from the same verse, which the Ibn Ezra defines as the pharynx (בית הבליעה)?
    – Fred
    Jan 21, 2013 at 20:18
  • @Fred I wasn't aware the literal translation was a matter of controversy. Wouldn't you agree that נשמה literally means breath? The usage as soul and then human or person is (very) common instance of synecdoche. The verse in Mishlei above is not a proof, though when you remember the literal meaning of nefesh you see hidden beauty in the psalmists's poetry. I thought I was clear in this answer the difference between exact translation and likely meaning.
    – Double AA
    Jan 21, 2013 at 20:34
  • That's true of נשמה, but that's not the word under discussion. I know that you are not arguing about the the simple meaning of the expression, but I have yet to see reasonable evidence that a literal translation of נפש here should be throat. I'm also not aware of a controversy, because I don't know of anyone who translates it as throat, but maybe I'm just ignorant. Am I missing something?
    – Fred
    Jan 21, 2013 at 20:54
  • 1
    @Fred The basic answer is that we have cognates of נפש in other Semetic languages such as Ugaritic and Akkadian which mean throat. Taken with the other pulmonary imagery (ויפח באפו, נשמה, רוח) I see no reason to not assume a correspondence. As for Biblical use, your best bet is probably Job 41:10-14 and then Tehillim 69:2. It fits in well with Mishlei 23:2 (as mentioned above) and of course Vayikra 23:29 ודעימיה. I'm sure there are other indications as well; you could try Google if you want. (Speculation: it would be interesting to see if/how this plays in to Shechita and Dam haNefesh.)
    – Double AA
    Jan 21, 2013 at 22:56
  • Ok, I get it now. A bit of a chiddush, but reasonable speculation. I'm a bit at odds with your phrasing that it "probably" is the literal translation (I'd prefer a less confident qualifier since I don't see this in other mefarshim). A bit of a rewrite (including working in the info from your comments and sourcing the Semitic cognates) would "probably" get me to upvote the answer (though I'm not the one who downvoted, so you won't get a double jump from me). ;)
    – Fred
    Jan 21, 2013 at 23:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .