This is something that's always bothered me about the classic "yeshivish" presentation of Judaism.

Most "yeshivish" people will claim that the yetzer hara is an entity that is almost completely separate from a person. This bothers me, because it feels like it's just a cop-out, just an excuse so people can absolve themselves from being fully responsible their bad actions ("It's not me, really; the yetzer hara made me do it!").

So i want to know if the yetzer hara is really something that can be considered separately from the human being. If my basic Hebrew skills aren't failing me, the word "yetzer" does actually mean something like "Evil Inclination" (how "yetzer hara" is usually translated) or "nature," and doesn't necessarily refer to something external to the person, I think. Therefor, I don't think that just any reference to yetzer hara will suffice to establish "yetzer hara as a separate entity."

Is the yetzer hara a separate entity from a person? If so, what is the earliest reference to this in Judaic literature?

(Bonus: If it is true that the yetzer hara is not a part of a person, how is this not somehow escapist?)

  • 1
    It's only eacapist if you utilize the excuse. If you own up to your actions then it's not an escape.
    – Double AA
    Jun 25, 2017 at 18:20
  • I hear you, Double AA. Thanks for the links, mhs210.
    – Samuel
    Jun 25, 2017 at 19:10
  • 2
    Just because he told you to jump off the bridge doesn't mean you had to listen. I was a counselor for a group of rising first graders at a summer camp last year, and one of the kids kicked another one. He claimed his yetzer hara made him do it, and the Rebbe in charge of the camp had a nice long conversation with him about how he's fully responsible for his actions, not his yetzer hara.
    – DonielF
    Jun 25, 2017 at 19:19
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    The premise of your introductory comments and bonus question is difficult to understand: why would the y"h being further removed from a person be more of a cop-out? The opposite case could just as easily be made - if the y"h is an intrinsic part of me, then I had no choice but to sin - that's just who I am, it's part of my very makeup. But if it's separate from me, I can choose to listen to it or not. None of these types of arguments are very compelling, however; there's really no reason to assume any correlation at all between this aspect of the y"h and the free will to choose.
    – Jay
    Jun 26, 2017 at 14:39

1 Answer 1


The Gemara in Bava Basra 16a says:

אמר ר"ל הוא שטן הוא יצר הרע הוא מלאך המות הוא שטן

Reish Lakish says: Satan, the evil inclination, and the Angel of Death are one

The Gemara in Sukka 52a says:

תנו רבנן ואת הצפוני ארחיק מעליכם זה יצר הרע שצפון ועומד בלבו של אדם

The Sages taught concerning the verse: “But I will remove the northern one [hatzefoni] far off from you,” that this is referring to the evil inclination. And why is the evil inclination referred to as tzefoni? It is due to the fact that it is always hidden [tzafun] in the heart of man.

All of the above are referring to the internal drives of the human being. They are the inner emotions, instincts and desires that drive the human being. These at times cause us to make mistakes. We are responsible for the decisions we make and the consequences of our actions. These inner forces at times can cause us to make mistakes. They are not inherently bad. They can be directed to the good and towards correct decisions. For example, aggression often causes us to make mistakes in how we treat others. However, David Hamelech used this part of his nature to fight Milchamas Hashem.

  • @Samuel see sefaria.org/Ketubot.51b.12?lang=bi where the halocho uses the yetzer hrara as an excuse (probably because this is after the penetration (since the penetration is the main part of the sin))
    – hazoriz
    Jun 27, 2017 at 0:29
  • @hazoriz Fascinating gemara. I believe the point is that the activity began against her will. Although once the activity began she may have changed her feelings on the matter, this is due to the fact that she can't think clearly and her desire/pleasure will over power her will. However, I believe this case to be a different case than the norm. In all other situations the person is responsible to ensure they don't get into a situation that would cause their desire (yetzer) to overcome them. They must prevent being in the situation. However, in this case the situation was forced on them.
    – RCW
    Jun 27, 2017 at 23:53

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