I want to define free-will for this question as a moral right and wrong decision, not an arbitrary decision or a true/false decision. I am familiar with sources that say that angels do not have free will of this type. I have also often heard quoted an idea that "angels have free will, but it is just so clear to them that they should make the right decision that they almost never make the wrong decision." Can anyone provide sources predating the 20th century (the earlier the better) which support this idea?

  • judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/27977/…
    – Michoel
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 7:03
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/18789/…
    – Michoel
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 7:04
  • I actually saw both of those and phrased my question the way I did because neither of those answer my question. The Rambam about moving is not a moral decision. Rav Moshe and R' Shafier are not pre-20th century sources. The Gemaras brought in the other thread are not compelling (as the opposing view of course understands them differently). Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 7:07
  • YEZ, while the answers at judaism.stackexchange.com/q/27977 may not satisfy you, it seems to be a duplicate of your question. Am I missing something? If the only problem there is that the answers don't suffice (but the question matches yours), then see mi.yodeya.com/help/no-one-answers.
    – msh210
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 7:59
  • if the they live in an arena where ""angels have free will, but it is just so clear to them that they should make the right decision that they never make the wrong decision." than I don't know why that is called free will
    – eramm
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 13:20

5 Answers 5


There's a responsa quoted in Otzar Hageonim (vol. 1 pg. 6) about praying to angels, where he quotes several Gemaras and Midrashim that angels have free will. Several commentators, among them Rashi (19:22), discuss this in the story of Sedom where Chazal indicate that the angels may have sinned at various points. Ohr Hachayim there (19:20) takes this a step further and actually says that it was in the hands of the angels to decide who to kill and destroy, once they were given permission to descend (a very literal interpretation of כיון שנתנה רשות למשחית).

Radak to Beraishis 19:21 states (I'll quote it since it isn't online as far as I know):

נראה מזה כי כשהקב"ה שולח מלאך נותן להם רשות להוסיף או לגרוע מעט משליחותם כפי אשר יראו ויבינו כי בעלי שכל הם - When God sends an angel he gives them permission to add or subtract slightly as they see fit because they are intelligent beings

Rabbeinu Bachya also writes that though angels don't have free will, they can still make mistakes. See his comments to Beraishis 3:6 (שאע"פ שאין בהם יצה"ר הרי הם נוטים לפעמים מן הדרך הראוי) as well as 19:13. As @YEZ pointed out, though, these commentators (Radak, Rabbeinu Bachya, and Ohr Hachayim) probably understand that these angels were mistaken in their judgement, but because they misjudged the situation, not because they have a will to violate God's command or act immorally (as explained by the Ramchal, in Daas Tevunos 2:31).

Returning to the original question, then, we have the letter from the Geonim which strongly implies (I believe) that angels have actual moral free will. I thought the Rambam also believed that angels could theoretically have free will, as he seems to state in Moreh Nevuchim (2:7): "they have will and choice... though they will always choose the good". I should point out though that in his introduction to Cheilek, in the fifth foundation, he states unequivocally that angels are not free agents

R. Yonasan Eibshutz also states (Yaaros Devash 1:2, second column here) that the Torah was given to man who has free will as opposed to angels, but if the angels were on earth, they too would have free will (and do evil). This very idea is actually found much earlier, in Yalkut Shimoni Beraishis 6:44. Both of these ideas sound like the opinion referenced in the question, 'they can choose to do evil but do not because the truth is clear to them'. Such an idea is popular, I think, among contemporary thinkers (such as R. Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe, Shemos 1:1)

  • Thanks for the sources. However, most of them can be explained in line with the Rabbeinu Bachya - see Da'as Tevunos Chelek 2 siman 31 (somewhere around there) if you want to see the explanation of this position. They are not necessarily talking about moral right-wrong decisions. Yaaros Devash is telling, but more seems to imply the opposite - angels as they are do not have free will. Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 2:09
  • I'm sorry but I'm not sure what position of the Daas Tevunos you're referring to, can you provide a link please? I thought that you were looking for sources indicating that angels have the intellectual capacity for moral decision making, even if that ability wouldn't be put into practice. I may have misunderstood you're use of 'moral' Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 4:05
  • 1
    That is what I'm looking for, but the ability to make decisions does not equal the ability to make moral decisions - e.g. in the Radak, how to translate their mission and decide who to kill is not a moral decision. The angels "sinning" is interpreted by that school of thought to be making a judgement mistake, not having decided to willingly disobey Hashem. Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 17:37
  • The Teshuvos Geonim is the same as the others - talking about having רשות does not constitute moral authority. I don't think R' Eibshutz is a proof- if they were on Earth, they would then have a physical component, and then they would be different than they are now - perhaps the coming to Earth would be the cause of their free will. In fact, his language implies to the contrary - "if only you were בעלי בחירה" sounds like you aren't, but if you were... So we are left with the Rambam, who contradicts himself. (Incidentally, you uncovered my hidden agenda - to find a source for R' Moshe) Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 3:04
  • @YEZ hm, that's not how I understood R. Eibschutz, but now that I read more of it I see your point. IIRC the idea is also in an Ohr Sameach in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 3:28

this issue is clearly addressed by rebbi yonoson eibeshitz yaros devash vol 1 drush 2


Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian citing the 'Sabba' of Kelm in the fomer's work Lev Eliyahu (Wisdom and Ethics, section 1 page 297) states without attribution that angels have free will but are so overpowered by their holiness (closeness to God?) they they choose not to sin.

The author of Shevet Mussar in his work Aggadat Eliyahu (expounding on Yerushalmi Brachot 1:7) explains that when angels are sent into the physical world they are substantively changed so as to be able to exist in our world which in turn gives them the ability to "have slight free will".

In Yaaros Devash (section 1 derush 15) he cites the Zohar 1:117a which explains that God had to take the Jews out of Egypt himself because Egypt was such a place of impurity that if an angel had entered it would have become ensconced in impurity (implying angels have an ability to sin, hence free will).

Ramchal in Daat Tevunos (Chelek Bet, see also Ginzei Ramchal sections 30-34) explains that angels can err without having free will per se, basically through lack of complete comprehension of the divine will. See also Iyov 4:18 - הֵן בַּעֲבָדָיו, לֹא יַאֲמִין; וּבְמַלְאָכָיו, יָשִׂים תָּהֳלָה.

  • The Ramchal was actually the reason I wanted it stated explicitly otherwise. R' Lopian only arguably predates the 20th century. Shevet Mussar implies they don't have free will without being altered somehow (however that works), and Yaaros Devash also is not a proof, aside from his not actually saying they would sin, as he writes elsewhere (1:2) the same idea as the Shevet Mussar, that they change upon coming to Earth. +1 for the sources though. Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 19:36
  • @YeZ R' Lopian is citing the alter of kelm who does predate the 20th century. Shevet Mussar implies they don't have free will until they enter the world, but upon doing so they become physical to a certain extent and thus do have free will, same is true of the Yaaros Devash who is quoting the Zohar. I understood that to be comparable to the soul of a human. Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 11:08

There's a Gemara (Yoma 77a) which says that Hashem punished Gavriel with "60 Pulsa NeDenura" (whippings of fire). It implies that he made some kind of mistake there.

EDIT: In that passage the Gemmora explicitly suggests that Gavriel could act against his orders:

"בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה הוֹצִיאוּ לְגַבְרִיאֵל מֵאֲחוֹרֵי הַפַּרְגּוֹד, וּמַחְיוּהוּ שִׁיתִּין פּוּלְסֵי דְנוּרָא. אֲמַרוּ לֵיהּ: אִי לָא עֲבַדְתְּ — לָא עֲבַדְתְּ, אִי עֲבַדְתְּ — אַמַּאי לָא עֲבַדְתְּ כִּדְפַקְּדוּךְ?" "Rabbi Yoḥanan said: At that moment, they cast out Gabriel from behind the curtain, and they struck him with sixty blows of fire. They said to him: If you did not do it, you did not do it; if you did do it, why did you not do it according to what you were commanded? "



"בקשו מלאכי השרת לומר שירה,
אמר הקב"ה מעשי ידי טובעים בים ואתם אומרים לפני שירה"
Yalkut_Shimoni 1085.10

"Upon seeing the Egyptians drowning in the sea, angels [sought to] recite praises, [but] God said "creatures my hand made are drowning in the sea and you recite praises?"

According to this Midrash, the angels behaved on their own.

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