I was told Hashem created us with free will; so we can make a choice to do good or evil, right? Well, Hashem knows what we are going to do in 10 minutes. So do we really have free will? Hashem can see the future!

  • This question regarding Yedia and Bechira is one of the most famous Jewish theological questions. I was recently told that the MaHaram M'Pano says that the Gematria of Yedia and Bechira = Shidduch! – Gershon Gold Sep 29 '10 at 1:05
  • related? judaism.stackexchange.com/q/16307/759 – Double AA Jun 13 '12 at 5:14
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    I once heard Herman Wouk speak and say, "we always have free will; but we have to respect that there are consequences. You have the freedom to jump off a tall building, but you should understand that your action will have dire consequences." – Bruce James Dec 31 '13 at 18:34
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    All is preordained save the fear of heaven - פTalmud Bavli – avi Jan 2 '14 at 22:45
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    @avi All is preordained save cold and heat - Talmud Bavli – Double AA Jan 13 '14 at 0:02

I would like to offer a different approach. I don't believe God's knowing what we will do in the future contradicts free will. The first step is to define free-will. I would like to offer a suggestion that free-will is when one is the cause of their own good or evil. The main emphasis is that mankind is the cause. Now, let me offer the following example to resolve the issue. Let us say that Person A, Mark, is watching a fire start at the bottom of a house. If you ask "Mark", do you know that the house will burn down? He would respond of course. Now, just because "Mark" has knowledge that the House will burn down, does that make him the cause of the house burning down? Of course not. Knowledge does not equal causation. Similarly, as we established before, Free-will is where Man is the cause of his own good or evil. Just because God knows what man will do, does not make him the cause. Man is the cause. So, really the question just drops away. I hope this helps.

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    I have heard the analogy: If time travel were possible, and I went to the future and saw Mark do something, this does not mean that he is no longer responsible for it when he does it, just because I already know he will. – jake Mar 1 '11 at 23:16
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    Your answer is insufficient. The reason you know the house will burn down is exactly because the house and the fire are inanimate objects with NO FREE WILL. If you back up your scenario 5 minutes. Mark sees John standing near the house with a can of gasoline and matches in his hand. Can Mark tell me if the house will burn down or not. The answer is obviously NO because the decision whether or not to commit arson is in the hands of John not Mark. Mark may be John's best friend and know him very well but he still can't know for sure what choice John will make. – Aaron Shaffier Sep 1 '11 at 5:01
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    @AaronShaffier Thank you for the question. In the example I gave I was trying to isolate one issue, "Does knowledge equal causation?" Therefore it is sufficient to utilize inanimate objects to illustrate the point. In the example you gave regarding a person predicting the behavior of his friend, the reason he can not know with certainty is that presumably he does not know all the factors going into John's decision. When predicting human behavior (assuming no free will) the challenge is ignorance of all the factors involved. – RCW Sep 20 '12 at 4:06

Because Hashem exists above time, it's not the future to him. He can know it and it won't affect our free will.

  • עיין ספר עמוד העבודה של רבי ברוק קאסובר – kouty Aug 6 '18 at 12:01
  • That's just a cop out. God is above "insert problem here". Also it doesn't even really answer the question why would Hashem being above time matter here? – Orion Aug 6 '18 at 13:46
  • @Orion, I disagree, I think this is exactly the right answer for this particular question because for God knowing the future and knowing the past are the same thing. Kind of like watching a home video for the second time - your knowledge of the outcome doesn't affect the people's free will. – Dovev Hefetz Aug 8 '18 at 11:39
  • @Dovev so it has nothing to with being above time. Your answer really is that knowing something will happen doesn't mean you're causing that thing to happen – Orion Aug 8 '18 at 18:39
  • @Orion: I also disagree. I just didn't write an answer because I think this question is a duplicate. What is asked here about judging is equally true of Hashem and free will in general, and we have that question already asked. – Micha Berger Sep 12 '18 at 18:43

It is interesting to note that the question may have a formulation in the Tanach itself. In the book of Iyov, Iyov asks God:

Hast Thou eyes of flesh? or seest Thou as man seeth? (Iyov 10:4)

The Malbim (19th century) explains this verse as saying, since God is omniscient and already knows the future, man can't be held responsible for his sins.

(The Malbim himself doesn't seem to find this question particularly troubling since he manages to resolve it with only a few words: "והאל יתברך הוא למעלה מן הזמן," God is above time.)

  • How does God being above time help anything? – Orion Aug 6 '18 at 13:48

I see that the issue of the Rambam was raised above, but I can not fit the comment above, so here it is. The question the Rambam is asking (in Teshuvah 5:5), I believe, is how to reconcile Hashems knowledge with the premise that Hashem knows what man will do. What the Rambam is trying to clarify is how Hashem knows what man will do. If the way Hashem knows is the same way a watchmaker knows how a clock works, which is that he knows all the causes that went into making the watch, therefore he can predict the results by tracing the chain of causality. Similarly one might suggest that the way Hashem knows what we will do is because he created the world and knows all the causes that went into the creation. So, if he knows all the causes he can trace the chain of causation from the beginning of time and know exactly what will happen in the future. However, if this is the way Hashem knows, then this would preclude Free Choice. Because, Free choice is where man is the cause of his own actions, their is no other cause. Meaning that man is operating outside the chain of causality and is the prime mover of the decision. Therefore if the way Hashem knew what man will do, is via this chain of causality, Hashem would not be able to know what man will do if Man has free choice. So the Rambam is setting up a contradiction between the way Hashem knows things and the premise that man has free will. I believe the Rambam answers the problem by saying that the way Hashem knows things is not through knowing the chain of causality (as a human creator of something might know) but rather the way Hashem knows things is through a different way that does not contradict free will. This third way of knowing is something we can not fully grasp. Hence, the contradiction is removed.

  • the Rambam wrote specifically not like this on the mishna in Rosh Hashana "all are examined in one sweeping look (skira achat)" but rather that God is not bound to time, all of the past and the future are before Him simultaneously as something in the present – ray Apr 19 '14 at 21:22
  • To sum up this point, HaRaMBa"M in Moreh Nevukhim (Part III, Chapter 20) cites Yesha'yahu 55:8-9 ("'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways', says the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.'"). – Lee May 24 '16 at 21:23
  • @Lee Good quote! – RCW Aug 2 '16 at 17:21

Yes,The Rambam says it is Beyond the Scope of human understanding.


If you want a philosophically rigorous analysis of this issue, I recommend the following article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-will-foreknowledge/

  • Amichai, welcome to mi.yodeya and thank you for your informative link! Is there an equally rigorous treatment of the concepts and logical progression developed there as they are carried forth by the Jewish philosophers or other sources? – WAF Jun 29 '10 at 3:04
  • The Rambam Hilchot Tshuva 5:5 is a famous source in this regard. Essentially the Rambam starts to address the question and then gives up. The Raavad commenting on the Rambam gets upset that the Rambam even tries to answer the question. Then the Raavad offers his own answer but admits that his answer isn't really any good either. A more obscure source is the Malbim commenting on the verse in Iyov 10:4. – Amichai Jun 29 '10 at 4:02
  • The Rambam is not addressing that question. Read his words very carefully! – Yahu Jun 29 '10 at 5:15
  • @Yahu could you (or anyone else) please elaborate – Amichai Jun 29 '10 at 6:49
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    @Yahu: The Ravaad accuses the Rambam of giving up and that appears to be exactly what the Rambam does. It's a little unfair for you to keep saying "Read his words very carefully" and "read carefully" again and again. If you have an explanation of his words, then offer it. But how can you criticize those who read his words according to their simple meaning, and the way the Ravaad read them, and then say we aren't reading carefully? It's not very helpful. If you have something to say, then say it. – Curiouser Aug 31 '11 at 20:18

Yes, we do. IMHO, this is the only Divine attribute we have been granted in absolute terms. As long as we are aware of the consequences through the law of cause and effect, we can do almost anything we feel like to. (Gen. 4:7) And HaShem respects our freewill, although He advises us what to choose that it be well with us. (Deut. 30:15,16)

  • Doesn't answer the question. The question is a contradiction and this answer is a "yes!" – Shmuel Brin Dec 25 '13 at 6:15
  • @ShmuelBrin it's a weak answer (that addresses the contradiction by saying that Hashem knows and lets us do it anyway), but I don't think it's a non-answer. – Monica Cellio Dec 25 '13 at 13:25

Moses asks Gd to send in the hands of who you send, (Ex. 4:13). One of Rashi's explanations is that Moses was arguing that he wasn't going to fully accomplish his task, and that Gd should choose someone who actually would. He hasn't even sinned yet! But in devarim, we see Moses praying to enter the land until Gd tells him to stop, (Deut. 3:23-26). Didn't he already know that his prayers were in vain?

Also see Kings II 21:10-15 and 22:15-20. Gd has decided to destroy the temple. His anger will not be extinguished, (22:17). Even Josiah will only merit to delay the destruction, per Hulda's words. Yet Jeremiah, (Jer. 4:1-2), still calls for repentance and promises aversion of exile.

Taking these at simple face value, (pshat), one can draw 2 conclusions. The first is that the future is predetermined, and there is nothing we can do to change it. The second is that we still have free choice, even to change that future!

If I may, I'd like to offer a parable. When an author writes a book, he knows how it will end. He creates heroes and villains, who meet with various ends. The author has it all planned out, but as the pages turn, the plot transpires on a different plane, where there are possibilities and varied outcomes, and suspense and uncertainty. From the author's point of view, there really isn't any free choice. Things aren't fair. The villain didn't get to choose bad over good. He was created to be bad. But from the book's perspective, within the story, the villain makes decisions, evil ones that lead to his ignominious end.

Gd is the Author. We are the characters. The difference between our story and a novel is that in our story, the Author will occasionally tell us what happens in the next chapter, and what will absolutely happen.

The danger of knowing the next chapter is the reason that Jacob was unable to reveal the 'end' to his children. If we knew what happened in the end, we would just sit and wait for it, and consequently we wouldn't bring it about. If someone spoils the ending of a book, why read it? Perhaps that is why prophecy is so esoteric. Take the admonition in Deuteronomy. In hindsight, Gd flat out told us how then next 3000+ years were going to pan out. But He did it in a foggy 'either or-ish' format, because if we knew what we were in for, we would have just laid down in the desert to wait for death.

The greatness of prophets like Moses and Jeremiah, or kings like Josiah is that they have the ending of the story spoiled, the accept it as being a part of the plan, and play their role in their respective chapters. Essentially, they take on the role of actors, emulating Gd who, in the context of our story, is playing along. Moses stopped praying because it was time for him to make his exit. His act was over. Jeremiah and Josiah didn't just give up because they knew it was their job to speak and rule to a people who needed to repent and stay on a straight path, even though they never would.

So whether or not we have free choice really depends on how you look at it. Insofar as we exist, we absolutely do. Outside of reality, where Gd so-to-speak resides, we do not, but we also do not exist on that plane.

Edit: I have subsequently heard from my Rabbi that Mordechai antagonized Haman intending for Haman to try to wipe out the Jews, because he knew that they would be saved, and that they needed to repent. He also told me that he has seen in the Baalei Tosafos on Pirkei Avot that one of the things passed down from Sinai was knowledge historical events.

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    So you're saying that we really don't have free choice (just like characters in a novel don't), it's just Hashem letting us pretend that we do. But then we have the original question. Imagine Shakespeare "bumps" into his "creations" and gives him over the head for a bad move. The creation could just answer "Well, I didn't want to. You made me!" – Shmuel Brin Dec 25 '13 at 6:18
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    Well, Gd only punishes us within this world and Gehinom, which is also a material plane, relative to Him. and in this plane is in the story, where are choices are meaningful. Its important to keep in mind that outside of this story, the only place where we lack free choice and are pre-programmed, we also don't exist! Its as unfair as an imaginary character in a book's fate. We the readers don't really care, because those characters aren't real to us. – Baby Seal Dec 25 '13 at 6:33
  • But G-d forced us! – Shmuel Brin Dec 25 '13 at 6:35
  • Characters in a book don't have free choice. The proof is a poorly written book. – Shmuel Brin Dec 25 '13 at 6:35
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    But within the pages, characters can struggle with themselves and with conflict and make decisions. I've read books like that. – Baby Seal Dec 25 '13 at 6:37

The fact is that even through psychology we can predict human behavior. If someone gets abused when he is little, we know pretty much the feeling that he will have to live through for the rest of his life! Now, why do we even try then, since it has already been decided? If I tell a child not to eat too much candy because she will get sick, she won't really believe me until she eats too much candy and gets sick on her own! So G-d can keep telling us, when we get to the end of death, not to do this and that; but somehow I feel as if we are going to try it. Just look at Adam and Eve!

According to this, life is just a trial. We have the ability to use any trick that's up our sleeves — which I think we have outdid ourselves in already; I think G-d is even shocked at how low we went! But it is nevertheless evident that these tricks don't work. Now we know that we have no business to be on the moon (because we have found nothing that important except for a rock); now we know that a nuclear bomb is never a good idea, not even a gun! Now we know, the land belongs to G-d, thus to all! We think that heaven is a place we go when we die, but this is wrong: No one individual gets to go to heaven; its either we all go or none of us will.

And those who died, even if they are in the clouds, cannot possibly be happy watching us suffer, so they are looking at us, in what is supposed to be heaven, and it seems a lot more like hell because they can look but they cannot do anything. They know the truth but cannot say it; we are torturing them! They are waiting on us so we all can go to heaven together here on this earth!

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    It would be helpful if you could provide a basis for your claim that either everyone or no one goes to heaven – b a Oct 3 '12 at 4:18
  • Psychology can speak of certain behaviors resulting from certain experiences, but ultimately these are only probabilities, not certainties. People have the ability to overcome their negative experiences. – Hod - Monica's Army Oct 3 '12 at 17:28

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