I heard of a discussion over Peseach about whether Hashem is corporeal.

Which classical Jewish sources (Talmud/Achronim/Rishonim) offer definitive opinions about this? (Please cite references!)

I am aware that the Rambam held non-corporeal but I don't know about other sources.

  • 6
    Just stick to the Rambam who asserts that to refer to God as a corporeal Being is idolatry. HaShem is an eternal Spirit, and the only way to relate to Him is in a spiritual manner.
    – Ben Masada
    Dec 17 '10 at 23:24
  • 1
    See download.yutorah.org/1993/905/704648.pdf pages 4-7 (and the book based on that article, amazon.com/The-Limits-Orthodox-Theology-Civilization/dp/… )
    – Shmuel
    Jun 12 '14 at 4:18
  • It would be helpful if you either quote directly the Hebrew text or link to whatever you are referring to because the meaning of this subject generally gets lost in translation. Try to remember 3 general ideas. 1) G-d is not limited by anything, in any way. 2) There is no place devoid of G-d which includes all aspects of material, physical existence. and 3) Our thoughts are not like His. Jun 6 '19 at 16:19

The Rambam writes emphatically that God is non-corporeal. The Raavad, whose job is usually to disagree with the Rambam (he interrupts thrice in the Rambam's introduction, including challenging the need for the book altogether), agrees, but then says "many great rabbis in the past were mistaken about this."


Anytime there is a anthropomorphic expression regarding Hashem, Unkelos changes the term to be non-anthropomorphic. For sources, just look in the Chumash for any expression of Hashem having a body part or any emotion (out stretched arm or Vayichar Af, Hashem is angry).

  • 3
    Or even when it speaks of Hashem hearing, where Onkelos consistently translates it as "it was heard before Him."
    – Alex
    Nov 25 '10 at 23:56
  • yes! Good addition. Thanks! Now you can make it even more advanced and look in the Moreh Nevuchim on the differences between hearing, seeing and touching.
    – RCW
    Nov 26 '10 at 2:38

R' Natan Slifkin published an article in Hakirah last year entitled "Was Rashi a Corporealist?" (PDF link). I think I only skimmed it at the time, but I believe he discusses various rabbinic notables who may or may not have believed in a corporeal God. There was a dissent (PDF) by R' Saul Zucker in the same journal, and a great deal of further discussion on R' Slifkin's blog and probably elsewhere.

  • 2
    In another article in the latest Hakirah, hakirah.org/Vol%209%20Slifkin.pdf , (not the complete article yet) Rabbi Slifkin makes it clear that the proper thing for us nowadays is to believe is that Hashem is not corporeal.
    – Yahu
    Apr 12 '10 at 19:50
  • I think a note here is that non anthropormorphic is different than non corporeal. Non corporeal implies 'without a body, without material substance'. However to anthropomorphise in language eg. The hand of _ did it, is an expression using a symbol 'hand', it doesn't really imply that _ has a hand.
    – gamliela
    Oct 30 '17 at 10:57
  • R. Slifkin also wrote an additional article in Hakirah responding to R. Zucker.
    – Alex
    Aug 7 '18 at 17:10

According to R. Isaiah (the Younger) of Trani (c.1250), some of the Sages of the Talmud believed that God was corporeal:

Riaz Kuntres Harayos Sanhedrin 90a

וכמה היו מחכמי התלמוד הקדושים שמהם תצא תורה לישראל שלא נתנו לבם להתבונן בענין האלהות אלא הבינו המקראות כפשוטם ולפי תומם חשבו כי הקדוש ברוך הוא בעל גוף ותמונה

And many were the holy Sages of the Talmud – from whom Torah goes forth to Israel – that did not set their hearts to delve into the matter of godliness. Rather they understood the verses in accordance with their simple meaning, and in their innocence they thought that the Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He has a body and an image.

  • Just because he saw Rambam. He wouldn't dare to write it in Rashi times. Thanks for the source.
    – Al Berko
    Jun 6 '19 at 15:59

Many of the Rishonim speak of "other scholars" who believed in God's Corporeality in some fashion, but don't provide details. One Rishon who viewed God as corporeal, or able to assume corporeal form, was R. Moses b. Hasdai Taku, a Tosafist, in his work, Ketav Tamim. Please see "Maimonides' Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology? by Marc B. Shapiro," pages 4-7 (and the book based on that article), for details and a list of Rishonim who mention those who believed in a corporeal God.


Various Biblical verses are cited by Rishonim to indicate that God is incorporeal such as Deuteronomy (4:15) "You shall greatly beware for your souls, for you did not see any image on the day God spoke to you..."

This is cited by Chovos Halevavos (Shaar Hayichud ch. 10):

וכבר הזהירנו הנביא שנשמר מחשוב שיש לה' צורה או דמיון כמ"ש (דברים ד) ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם כי לא ראיתם כל תמונה

and by Rambam (Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 1:8):

הֲרֵי מְפֹרָשׁ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבַנְּבִיאִים שֶׁאֵין הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא גּוּף וּגְוִיָּה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר...וְנֶאֱמַר (דברים ד-טו) 'כִּי לֹא רְאִיתֶם כָּל תְּמוּנָה'. וְנֶאֱמַר (ישעיה מ-כה) 'וְאֶל מִי תְדַמְּיוּנִי וְאֶשְׁוֶה'. וְאִלּוּ הָיָה גּוּף הָיָה דּוֹמֶה לִשְׁאָר גּוּפִים

  • 3
    Please explain this downvote; it is a compelling proof from a classic Jewish source-the Bible!
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 18 '15 at 4:17

The Kuzari and the Ran clearly take the position of G-d being incorporeal.

One place in the Kuzari is in Ma'amar Shelishi, #17:

ואחרי ברכות אבות וגבורות בהן יתאר האלוק כמתחבר עם העולם הגשמי הזה, בא החסיד לרומם את האלוק ולקדשהו בהכריזו כי נשוא הוא האלוק משידבק ויתקשר בו תאר מן התארים הגשמיים

(Translation mine) After the blessings of Avos and Gevuros, in which Hashem is described as if He is attached to this physical world, the Chassid comes to elevate Hashem and to sanctify Him by announcing that Hashem is at a level above that at which any attachment and connection to any physical description could apply.

The Ran is in Derush Ha'teshi'i:

ופירוש הענין כך הוא - בתחילה אמר "ומי גוי גדול אשר לו אלקים קרובים אליו וגו'" ויהיה קרוב לטעות ולומר שיש לשי"ת איזה יחס וקשר ויבא לדמות ולחשוב באלקותו איזה דבר ממקרה הגשם. לפיכך אמר עם היות שתראה זה תמיד, השמר לך ושמור נפשך מאד פן תשכח המעמד הנכבד ההוא שהיה מקורבת השי"ת עם ברואיו מה שלה היה לפניו ולאחריו, ועם כל זה לא הגיע מענינו שתראו שום תמונה כי איננה...

(Translation mine) First Hashem said "Who is a great nation to whom Hashem is close..." and a person might likely come to make a mistake and think that Hashem has some connection and relationship, and he will come to imagine and think some aspects of physicality about Hashem's Godliness. Therefore He said...be very careful lest you forget this momentous event at which Hashem was closer to His creations that ever was and ever will be, and even so you did not see any image, because there is none to see.


I know this is "out there" but check out R' Akiva Tatz' book "Worldmask." In there he suggests that our reality is really an illusion and Gd is the reality. Therefore when it says "hand of Gd" or "sword of Gd," that hand or sword is the real one and ours is the illusion!

A more intuitive approach is that the Torah was written in the language of Man (Zevachim, 108b) so we can relate to Him in our limited capacity. Hashem is beyond limited anthropomorphic capabilities, so we relate to His Handiwork. "Was the sword of Gd" seems to suggest that the final result would be akin, so to say, to us using our own sword to accomplish that task, albeit on a much larger scale.

You must log in to answer this question.

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