What does Judaism have to say about the origin of the elements? I mean chemical elements like hydrogen, oxygen, gold, sulfur, etc. Is this discussed at all?

  • 1
    Well they were all created. But think back to Rambam who thought there were four elements that in different combinations made up everything (earth, water, air, and fire). Of course from a scientific standpoint they are made inside of stars.
    – A L
    Jul 18, 2013 at 3:41
  • @AL but what are stars made of? Jul 18, 2013 at 4:33
  • 1
    @HachamGabriel What exactly are you asking me? The stars were created on the 4th day. From a physical standpoint, if my astronomy class serves me, it's a result of a dust cloud or nebula (the result of a previous star that exploded) that was massive enough and condensed to the point where it gets hot enough for nuclear fusion to take place (and then you have a star). First generation stars didn't last long and formed shortly after the big bang when subatomic particles started getting together, but for all those fun details you could just look it up online.
    – A L
    Jul 18, 2013 at 5:36
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/22542/759
    – Double AA
    Jul 19, 2013 at 6:36

2 Answers 2


First off, see Wikipedia: Timeline of chemistry for the history of the development of our understanding of chemistry and the elements. See also Wikipedia: Timeline of chemical elements discoveries for the history of the discovery of particular elements; compare to the Timeline of Jewish history.

So if by 'Judaism' you mean classic texts such as the Talmud and early authorities, it's pretty clear that you will find nowhere in those works the modern notion of chemistry and the elements. So the short answer to your question is: nothing.

But to be a bit more specific, first regarding the particular examples mentioned: hydrogen and oxygen are clearly not mentioned in any context; sulfur, and particularly gold, obviously come up a lot in early sources, but again, not in the modern context of defining and distinguishing between the 'elements' on the 'table'.

As to the very concept of the elements: classic works are replete with references to, and discussions of, the classic, Aristotelian, four (or five) elements (and their relationship to hyle, particularly in terms of their origin), and following up on that lead may prove slightly helpful in satisfying your original question.

In conclusion, it should be noted that some have argued that the four elements discussed prolifically in Judaism are not to be understood in the context of chemistry at all, but rather physics: "Some hypothesize that they are four basic elements: positive, negative, antimatter, matter." (See also here).

  • It might be better stated that the four elements correspond to the four states of matter: earth=solid, water=liquid, air=gas, fire=plasma.
    – Mike
    Feb 26, 2014 at 1:09

This is getting into deep philosophy, but basically the Jewish concept is that G-d created everything but the world keeps going according to natural laws - also G-d's creation. The "created in stars" doesn't actually hold water since everything was created in a singularity in which the whole universe was in nothing. This is remarkably convergent with concepts such as Tohu veVohu and various concepts in Kabbalah.

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