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.

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    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
    Commented Dec 17, 2010 at 23:24
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    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
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 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. Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 16:19

8 Answers 8


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."

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    Where do they write this? Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 16:07
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    @DonielF I know that, but I want him to add it to his answer... Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 17:18

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).

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    Or even when it speaks of Hashem hearing, where Onkelos consistently translates it as "it was heard before Him."
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 25, 2010 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
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 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.

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    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
    Commented Apr 12, 2010 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
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 10:57
  • R. Slifkin also wrote an additional article in Hakirah responding to R. Zucker.
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 17:10

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.

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    The way you characterize RMT is not absolute: yediah.blogspot.com/2011/07/…
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:01
  • See hashkafacircle.com/journal/R3_DS_Taku.pdf -- it is more like: The Rambam says that we cannot understand G-d. Therefore, all we can say is what He Isn't. G-d doesn't have a body. RMT holds that not understanding G-d means that we cannot take a position on whether or not He has a body. All we can do is speak in the idiom of the nevi'im, and leave what it means literally as an open question. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 18:45
  • In general, I found R Melech / Dr Marc Shapiro's book disappointing. But R Gil Student captured what I would have said better than I could have said it. RMS is looking for dispute, so his reads are often questionable. And then... he confuses a historical analysis with a halachic one. There are rulings about what is heresy when it comes to questions like stam yeinam or accepting a conversion candidate. Even if I agreed with the history, those minority opinions were rejected in practice. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 18:47

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
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 15:59

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

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    Please explain this downvote; it is a compelling proof from a classic Jewish source-the Bible!
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 4:17
  • sometimes downvotes are just that the voter disagreed with you. The system is profoundly flawed. (I proposed a Java enhancement on Reddit that was so unpopular, that account was voted so low it couldn't post on Reddit anymore. It wasn't a stupid idea, just an unpopular one.) Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 18:49

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.

  • Rafi, that's standard Chassidus. Problem I had when learning the Tanya which has yet to get an answer that satisfied me: If existence is an illusion, who is it who is under that illusion? All this talk about Mitzido vs mitzideinu should only be able to start once there is another tzad -- but it is the subjectivity of the existence of that other tzad that is being explained! So subjectively, it seems we exist to a we who only exists subjectively? "Cogito ergo sum!" (Descartes) I know I exist, because if it were an illusion, there would be no "I" here to be wrong. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 18:53

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