Skip to main content



KEDUSHAH (Heb. קְדֻשָּׁה). The biblical term for holiness is kodesh; mishnaic Hebrew, kedushah, and that which is regarded as holy is called kadosh. Jewish exegetes, following early rabbinic interpretation (Sifra) of Leviticus 19:2: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy," have consistently taken the verb kadesh to mean "distinguished, set apart." The Sifra paraphrases the command with the words "You shall be set apart" (Heb. perushim). The traditional interpretation coincides with the findings of modern phenomenologists of religion who describe the holy as "the wholly other" and as that which is suffused with a numinous quality. The latter is both majestic and fearsome (The Idea of the Holy, Rudolph Otto, 1923, ch. 8) or to use the term Otto popularized, "the mysterium tremendum."

General Considerations

The concept of holiness, because of its centrality in the Bible, affords an excellent illustration of how the biblical authors, under the dominance of the monotheistic idea, radically refashioned, in whole or part, notions of the sacred in the religions of the Near East. In primitive Semitic religions, as in primitive religions generally, the holy is considered an intrinsic, impersonal, neutral quality inherent in objects, persons, rites, and sites, a power charged with contagious efficacy and, therefore, taboo. Seldom is the quality of holiness ascribed to the deity. In biblical religion, on the contrary, holiness expresses the very nature of God and it is He who is its ultimate source and is denominated the Holy One. Objects, persons, sites, and activities that are employed in the service of God derive their sacred character from that relationship. The extrinsic character of the holy is reflected in the fact that by consecrating objects, sites, and persons to God, man renders them holy. Further, since holiness is conceived as the very essence of God, biblical religion, in both the priestly and prophetic writings, incorporates moral perfection as an essential aspect of holiness, though by no means its total content. Therefore, unlike contemporary ancient Near East religions, biblical Judaism does not confine the sacred to the sphere of the cult. God's moral perfection and purpose is not in static terms alone but in its redemptive acts in history. Indeed, holiness, since it is derived from God, is related to the realm of nature, history, human experience and conduct as well as to the election of Israel and the covenant. "The energy with which from the time of Moses onward the person of the divine Lord concentrates all religious thought and activity upon himself gives even the statements about holiness an essentially different background from that which they possess in the rest of the Near East" (Theology of the Old Testament, Walther Eichrodt, 1961, vol. 1, p. 271). Finally, since pagan religions regard holiness as a mysterious intrinsic power with which certain things, persons, locales, and acts are charged, the division between the realms of the holy and the profane are permanently, unalterably fixed. In fact, the latter represents an ever-present danger to the former. By contrast, biblical religion looks forward to the universal extension of the realm of the holy in the end of days so as to embrace the totality of things and persons.

While biblical religion recognizes an area of the profane ("impure") as capable of defiling and polluting the sacred, nowhere does it regard the former as possessing a threatening dangerous potency. The following elements of the concept of holiness are, however, held by the Bible in common with other ancient Near Eastern religions:

(1) the concept of the mortal danger involved in unauthorized approach to or contact with the sacred;

(2) the notion of various degrees of holiness; and

(3) the contagious, communicable character of the sacred. In the words of Eichrodt: "The whole system of taboo is pressed into the service of a loftier idea of God" (ibid., p. 274).

The following sections offer specific and varied biblical illustrations of the general considerations set forth above.

The Holiness of God

Seeking to express the ineffable holiness of God, an ultimate category, the biblical authors drew on a vast and varied series of predicates. With the single exception of God's moral perfection and action, they all fall within the scope of the "mysterium tremendum." The most frequent is "fearsome," "awesome," (Heb. nora; Ps. 89:7, 8; 99:3; 111:9). A site at which a theophany has been experienced is described as "awesome" and induces in the visioner a state of fear (Gen. 28:17). God's works are called "fearful" (Ex. 15:11; 34:10; Ps. 66:3, 5). This aspect of the divine holiness and man's attitude toward it are perhaps best summed up in the verse (i Sam. 6:20), "Who is able to stand before the Lord, the Holy God?" In several passages, e.g., Joshua 24:19, God's fearful, unapproachable holiness is equated with His jealousy, His unrelenting demand for exclusive virtue.

The fearful aspect of the divine holiness is reflected in the warning to keep one's distance from the outward manifestation of the divine presence (Ex. 3:5; 19:12, 13, 23; Num. 18:3; Josh. 5:15). To gaze directly upon the divine manifestation or even upon the sacred vessels when the latter are not in actual use may cause death (Ex. 33:20; Num. 4:20; 18:13; Judg. 13:22; i Kings 19:13). God is "glorious in holiness" (Ex. 15:11); His holiness is unique (i Sam. 2:2); His "way" is that of holiness (Ps. 77:14).

Preeminently, it is the divine name which is characterized as holy since the name of God expresses His essence (Lev. 20:3; 22:2, 32; Ps. 103:1; 105:3; 145:21; i Chron. 16:10). Noteworthy is Ezekiel's repeated use of the phrase "My Holy Name." To Isaiah, we owe the appellation of God as the "Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:23; 30:12, 15; 31:1; 37:23). The term is employed even more consistently by Deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 41:14; 43:3, 14; 45:11; 47:4; 48:15; 49:7; 54:5; 60:14). It appears once in Jeremiah (50:29) and in Psalms (71:22). Isaiah's tendency to characterize God as the "Holy One of Israel" may be assumed to derive from the divine call to the prophet (ch. 6) in which he hears the dramatic thrice-repeated proclamation of the seraphim (the trisagion) of "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory" (6:3). In this encounter, in the presence of the absolute holiness of God – the apparent intention of the dramatic repetition – the prophet is overcome by an acute sense of his own sinfulness and that of the people among whom he dwells (v. 5). The passage clearly implies, and indeed emphasizes, the moral aspect of God's holiness.

However, it is erroneous to assert, as is frequently done, that the interpretation of the divine holiness as essentially an expression of God's moral perfection is the unique contribution of the prophets. Distinctly priestly writers associate God's holiness with moral qualities. This is to be seen in the so-called Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26). In priestly law (Lev. 19) the purely ritualistic aspects of holiness are combined with distinctly moral injunctions. Priestly liturgy (Ps. 15; 24:3–6) stresses that only he who "has clean hands and a pure heart" can stand on God's holy mountain (Ps. 24:3, 4). The prophets deepen and broaden the moral dimension of the divine holiness. For Amos (2:7) oppression of the poor and sexual profligacy are tantamount to the profanation of God's holy name. For Hosea, divine compassion constitutes a basic element in God's holiness (Hos. 11:8f.), and the prophet insists on purity of heart and a radical break with moral offense as preconditions for any intimacy with the holy God. For Isaiah, it is righteousness that sanctifies the holy God (5:16). Deutero-Isaiah conceives of God's holiness as active in the realm of history as a redemptive power. The "Holy One of Israel" is the redeemer of Israel (Isa. 41:14; 43:3, 14; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:15). Divine holiness is thus conceived less as a state of being than as an expression of the fulfillment of divine purpose. It manifests itself in divine judgment and destruction (Isa. 1:4–9; 5:13, 16; 30:8–14; Ezek. 28:22; 36:20–32) as well as in divine mercy and salvation (Isa. 10:20–23; 12:6; 17:7–9; 29:19–21). For Ezekiel, God manifests His holiness in the sight of the nations (20:31; 28:25; 36:23; 38:23), when He vindicates Himself as supreme Lord of the world.

Fire as Symbol of God's Holiness

Perhaps the ambivalent effects of fire, at once warming and creative yet consuming and destructive, suggested it as an apt symbol of the divine holiness, itself conceived as essentially polar in effect (see below). Whatever the origin of fire as a symbol for the sacred, its employment in the Bible is as vast as it is varied. Only some of the passages in which it is associated with holiness can be cited here (Ex. 3:2, 3; 19:18; 24:17; Deut. 4:12, 24; 5:22–27; 9:3; Ezek. 1:4–28; Hab. 3:3, 4). Repeatedly in the laws and practices of the cult, fire imagery is used in those passages that emphasize holiness (Lev. 2:3, 9, 10; 6:16–18; 7:3–5).

The Transitive Effects of God's Holiness

As stated above, whatever or whoever is engaged in the service of God and therefore stands in intimate relationship with Him becomes endowed with holiness. Essentially, that which brings man or things or locales into the realm of the holy is God's own activity or express command. The nation is sanctified and commanded to be holy since it has entered into a covenant relationship with the holy God (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 11:44ff.; 19:2; 20:7; Deut. 7:6; 26:19). The *Ark of the Covenant is holy since it is regarded as the throne of the invisible God. Though the phrase "Holy Ark" (Heb. Aron Kodesh) is not found in the Bible, numerous contexts indicate that it was regarded as sacred as were all the vessels employed in the *tabernacle, as well, of course, as the sanctuary itself. The prophet, having been summoned and consecrated to God's service, is looked upon as a holy man (ii Kings 4:9). Initially, it is God who ordains the holy seasons and places – "And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy" (Gen. 2:3). But the Sabbath, having been declared holy, must be sanctified by Israel (Ex. 20:8; Deut. 5:12; Jer. 17:22; Neh. 13:22). In the case of the *festivals, the divine declaration is joined with the injunction that they should be proclaimed: "These are my fixed times, the fixed time of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions" (Lev. 23:21). Likewise, it is God who sanctifies the Tent of Meeting, the altar, Aaron and his sons (Ex. 29:43) but each of these undergoes rites of consecration performed by humans (see Ex. 29 for the description of the elaborate rites of consecration of Aaron and his sons).

War, since it is carried out under the aegis of God as "Man of War" (Ex. 13:3), is service rendered to Him. In his martial activity, the warrior enters the sphere of the holy and becomes subject to the particular prohibitions incumbent upon those directly involved in that sphere (i Sam. 21:5–7; ii Sam. 11:11). This concept serves as the basis for the verbal usage "to consecrate war" (Heb. kiddesh milḥamah; Micah 3:5; Jer. 6:4). Frequently, the enemy's goods and chattels are declared banned (Heb. ḥerem); that is to say, banned from human use. For the priestly biblical authors, the concept of holiness, as might be expected, finds its focus in the realm of the cult and everything involved in it. Accordingly, there is mention of "holy garments" (Ex. 28:2, 4; 29:21; 31:10); "holy offerings" (Ex. 28:36; Lev. 19:8); the "holy priestly crown" (Ex. 29:6; 39:30); "holy flesh" (Ex. 29:37); "holy anointing oil" (Ex. 30:31–37); the "holy tabernacle" and its furnishings (Ex. 40:9); "holy fruit" (Lev. 19:24); and "holy food" (Lev. 22:14).

The Polarity of Holiness

As has been noted, the concept of God's holiness is rooted in a basic polarity; the quality of holiness is majestic and hence attractive, and yet it remains fearsome. It is, therefore, no cause for wonder that this polarity finds expression in both the rituals and objects of holiness. In the law of the "red heifer," whereby the ashes of the sacrificial victim are used in a rite to purify one who has become defiled through contact with a corpse, the priest who ministers the rite becomes defiled (Num. 19:8–10; Lev. 16:26–28). This polarity is to be discerned in several biblical episodes describing an improper entrance into the inner precincts of the sanctuary. Here, in the holy of holies, the ritual of expiation is carried out. Yet, when *Nadab and *Abihu, the sons of Aaron, bring "strange fire" into the inner sanctuary, they are consumed by divine fire (Lev. 10:1–11; cf. Num. 16–17; ii Sam. 6:6; cf. the warning in Ex. 19:10ff.).

The idea that holiness can be conveyed by mere touch or intimate approach is illustrated in various biblical passages. Those, for instance, who come in physical contact with the altar automatically become holy (Ex. 29:37; 30:29; Lev. 6:11, 20). The notion is likewise reflected in the divine command that the vessels used by *Korah and his company were to be added to the altar as an outer covering because, once having been brought "into God's presence," they had become holy (Num. 17:2).

Holiness and Glory

Glory (Heb. kavod) is intimately associated with God's holiness and signifies the self-manifesting presence of God, whereas holiness (Heb. kodesh) is expressive of God's transcendence (Ex. 14:4f.; Lev. 10:3; Num. 20:13; Ezek. 20:41), though the polar concepts of holiness and glory are strikingly joined by Isaiah – "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts, His glory fills the whole earth" (6:3). The hope that the divine glory will fill the whole earth takes on a messianic tinge in Numbers 14:21. The latter is conceptually linked with Zechariah 14:20, 21. There, in a messianic prophecy, Zechariah anticipates the day when even the bells of the horses will be engraved with the legend "Holy unto the Lord" as well as every pot in Jerusalem and Judah. The ultimate extension of the sphere of the holy so that it will embrace even the mundane and profane underscores the biblical concept of holiness not as a natural, inherent quality, but rather as a quality conferred both by God and man. This aspect of holiness in the messianic age is reflected in the prophet Joel's promise that prophecy – an endowment of holiness – will become a gift possessed by young and old, by servants and handmaids (3:1,2).

[Theodore Friedman]

Comparative Considerations

The derivation of the common Semitic root q-d-š is still uncertain. It has been suggested that it means "pure, brilliant, dazzling," or the like, but this is questionable, tempting though it is, and no theory as to the character of holiness may legitimately be based on this alleged meaning. More important than etymology, is the actual history of the terms "holiness," and "holy." The comparative evidence suggests that nominal and adjectival forms of the root q-d-š were first used in professional titles given to various types of priests and priestesses. Usage was subsequently expanded to apply to divine beings, holy persons, sacred places, cultic objects, and to rites and celebrations. Finite verbal forms were used to convey the process of consecration by which holiness could be attributed; especially kiddesh (qiddesh), "to consecrate," and its derivatives, in biblical Hebrew.

Beginning in the Old Babylonian period the title qadištu (Heb. kedeshah (qedeshah)) designates a class of priestesses. It should be noted, however, that the same term, both in Akkadian and in Hebrew, can mean "prostitute, harlot," in contexts where no cultic associations are overtly evident (cf. Gen. 38:16, 21–22, where kedeshah (qedeshah) alternates with zonah, "harlot"). This connotation probably relates to the institution of temple prostitution, or at least to the orgiastic rites often associated with fertility cults. In Deuteronomy 23:18 and Hosea 4:14 the term kedeshah (qedeshah) is clearly related to the cult.

The masculine plural qdšm, "priests, cultic servitors," occurs in Ugaritic administrative lists, so that there are precursors to both kadesh (qadesh), the masculine, as well as kedeshah (qedeshah), the feminine, in biblical Hebrew. Ugaritic yields additional relevant evidence: the Ugaritic mqdšt parallels the Hebrew mikdash (miqdash, "temple, sanctuary"), and the Ugaritic qdš, like the Hebrew kodesh (qodesh), means "holiness; sanctuary." There can be little doubt, therefore, that the biblical kadesh (qadesh, qedeshim) designates a cultic function, as the biblical evidence itself strongly indicates (cf. Deut. 23:18; i Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:47; ii Kings 23:7). Another line of comparative inquiry relates to the Ugaritic designation bn qdš ("son (s) of holiness," i.e., "deities, divine beings"), which occurs in parallelism with ilm ("gods"). In this connection Aramaic yields qdšm, "gods," and bʿl qdšn, "chief of the gods." The connotation "deity, divine being" is preserved in usages of the Hebrew kadosh (qadosh) which, in addition to serving as an adjective, may be a substantive. Thus in Hosea 11:9, kadosh (qadosh) is parallel to e ʾ l ("deity"), and Job 5:1 reads: "Pray – call out! Is there any who answers you? And, to whom of the divine beings (Heb. kedoshim (qedoshim)) may you turn?" (cf. Isa. 10:17; 43:15, Ezek. 39:7; Hab. 1:12(?); 3:3; Ps. 16:3; Job 15:15, according to the keri, and possibly Deut. 33:3, a cryptic passage). It is this connotation which underlies the frequent epithet Kedosh Yisrael (Qedosh Yisrael), "the holy one (deity) of Israel" (frequently in Isaiah, in ii Kings 19:22; Jer. 51:5; Ps. 71:22, et al.). All of this is in addition to the adjective kadosh (qadosh) that designates an attribute of God, of holy persons, places, objects, etc. Isaiah 6:3 contains the well-known liturgy proclaiming God's holiness in the dramatic repetition: Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh (Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh).

Mention should be made of the Syrian goddess Qudšu, who is known in Ugaritic literature, and whose cult was imported into Egypt during the New Kingdom, along with those of other Syrian and Canaanite deities. From literary references and graphic representations of Qudšu it appears that this goddess was at times known as "the queen of heaven, mistress of all the gods," and that she was identified with the Egyptian goddess Hathor. It is difficult to ascertain exactly how the evidence concerning Qudšu relates to the Semitic root q-d-š and its associated phenomena. It would be unwarranted to conclude that the priests and priestesses known as kadesh (qadesh) and kedeshah (qedeshah) were so called because they were devoted to the cult of Qudšu, although this might have been true in certain cases. It is more likely that such priestly functionaries were devoted to various goddesses of fertility, one of whom was probably Qudšu. Biblical traditions are consistent in their abhorrence of such cultic servitors, and it may be deduced from various allusions that the objection was at least partially based on their sexual practices, characteristic of idolatrous cults (cf. Deut. 23:19; Jer. 2:20; Micah 1:7, et al.; and probably the use of the verb zanah "to commit harlotry" as a way of characterizing idolatry, as in Hos. 9:1, et al.). It is not certain, however, whether the particular vocalizations of kadesh (qadesh) and kedeshah (qedeshah) represent a tendentious change from the model of kadosh (qadosh), so as to express abhorrence, or whether these vocalizations actually reflect earlier vocalizations in Semitic, such as qadištu in Akkadian, and the probable qadīšūma in Ugaritic (cf. contemporary qadîšîm/ĭn in Aramaic).

[Baruch A. Levine]

In Rabbinic Literature

In rabbinic theology, holiness is repeatedly defined as separateness. The Sifra (Lev. 19:2) paraphrases the verse (Lev. 19:2) "Ye shall be holy" by "You shall be separated." While separation (Heb. perishut) is frequently equated with abstinence from illegitimate sexual relations as well as from lewdness generally and he who abstains from such practices is called holy (tj, Yev. 2:4, 3; cf. Lev. R. 24:6; Ber. 10b), the concept of holiness is by no means restricted to the connotation of sexual purity despite the emphasis placed on the latter meaning. An examination of a variety of contexts in which "separateness" (equated with holiness) appears yields the following distinct meanings:

(1) Strict abstention from all practices even remotely related to idolatry, e.g., attending circuses or cutting one's hair in the heathen fashion (Sifra, Kedoshim, Perek 9:2, Aḥarei, Perek 13:9; Sif. Deut. 85). Separation from the nations and their "abominations" (idolatrous practices) is tantamount to holiness. Accordingly, R. Nahum b. Simai is called a holy man because he never looked at the figure of the emperor engraved on a coin (tj, Av. Zar. 3:1, 42c). (Presumably, his refusal to do so was based on emperor worship prevalent in his time.)

(2) Separation from everything that is impure and thus defiling. This is suggested by the context of the verse (Lev. 11:44), one among several, on the basis of which the Sifra equates separateness with holiness.

(3) Abstention from meat and wine (bb 60b; Tosef. Sot. 15:11. See also Ta'an. 11a where the biblical designation of the Nazirite as holy is attributed to the latter's abstention from wine).

(4) Moderation or complete abstention from marital intercourse (Sot. 3:4; Shah. 87a; Gen. R. 35:1).

The connotation of sexual modesty and restraint is reflected in the reason given (Shab. 118b) for the appellation of R. Judah ha-Nasi as "Our Holy Master" (Heb. Rabbenu ha-Kadosh). It is probably the latter meaning of holiness that R. Phinehas b. Jair had in mind when he described some of the rungs of the ladder of virtue as "separateness leads to purity, purity leads to holiness" (Mid. Tannaim to Deut. 23:15; Av. Zar. 20b; tj, Shek. 3:4, 47c). However, in the case of other tannaim who earned the epithet holy (R. Meir-tj, Ber. 2:75b; Gen. R. 100:7 and R. Ḥiyya Gen. R. 33:3), the respective contexts indicate that the epithet bears no particular or especial reference to sexual matters. In this connection, it may be noted that in keeping with rabbinic thought, the human body too could be regarded as holy since sin defiles the body as well the soul. The rabbis state (Gen. R. 45:3) that Sarah declared to Hagar: "Happy art thou, that thou clingest to a holy body" (i.e., that of Abraham).

Holiness is considered God's very essence and the "Holy One, Blessed be He" (Heb. Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu) is the most frequent name of God found in rabbinic literature. God's holiness is incommensurate with that of man and is permanently beyond human attainment (Gen. R. 90:2). "For God is holy in all manner of holiness" (Tanḥ. B. Kedoshim 3). Even though the divine holiness is absolute, Israel sanctifies God (Ex. R. 15:24) just as God sanctifies Israel (ibid.), "As much as to say, if you make yourselves holy, I impute it to you as though you hallowed Me; and if you do not make yourselves holy, I impute it to you as though you did not hallow Me. Can the meaning be, if you make Me holy, I am holy, and if not, I am not made holy? Scripture, however, teaches: 'For I am holy.' I abide in My holiness whether you hallow Me or not." (Sifra Kedoshim Parashah 1:1.) Unlike God's holiness, that of Israel is not inherent. It is contingent upon its sanctification through the performance of the commandments. Their fulfillment lends holiness to Israel. The latter concept originated with the tannaim. Preeminent among the commandments whose observance sanctifies Israel are the Sabbath (Mekh. Shabbat 1) and the ritual fringes (Sif. Num. 115). This notion is expressed in the formula of the traditional benediction "… who has sanctified us by His commandments," the benediction recited on the performance of a commandment. It has been suggested that in this way rabbinic thought sought to strip the material objects involved in the performance of various commandments of any inherent holiness magico-mythical thought ascribed to them. Clearly implied is the notion that the observance of a commandment endows the observer with sanctity and that the object is merely a means thereto (Heb. tashmish kedushah). Material objects such as a Scroll of the Torah, phylacteries, and mezuzah possess sanctity only if they have been prepared by someone who is legally bound to perform the commandment involved and for the purpose for which they were originally intended (Git. 45b). The Mishnah (Kel. 1:6–9) enumerates ten ascending degrees of holiness beginning with the Land of Israel and concluding with the Holy of Holies. The notion of ascending degrees of holiness is reflected in the halakhic principle that sacred objects or, more precisely, objects that serve a sacred purpose should only be sold or exchanged for objects that possess a higher sanctity (Meg. 9b).

The epithet holy as applied to man is used sparingly in rabbinic literature. The angels, the Midrash declares, upon seeing Adam at the time of his creation wanted to sing and praise him as a holy being. But when God cast sleep upon him, they realized that he was a mere mortal and they refrained (Gen. R. 8:10). The Patriarchs, according to the Midrash (Yalkut Job 907), were not called holy until after their death. But here, as elsewhere in rabbinic thought, there is no dogmatic consistency. Thus, the Talmud declares (Yev. 20a) that he who fulfills the words of the sages is called holy. Man has it in his power to sanctify himself and, if he does so, even in small measure, he is greatly sanctified from above (Yoma 39a). Man is bidden to sanctify himself by voluntarily refraining from those things permitted to him by the Law (Yev. 20a). Nor is it abstemiousness alone that wins sanctity for man. When men fulfill the requirements of justice and thus exalt God, God causes His holiness to dwell among them (Deut. R; 5:6). The sanctity of man's deeds invokes God's aid (Lev. R. 24:4). An extraordinary act of charity is deemed a sanctification of the name of God (pdrk 146b). It is supremely hallowed when men are prepared to lay down their lives rather than abandon their religion or violate the law of God. Such an act is known as "sanctification of the Name" (Heb. *kiddush ha-Shem). It may fairly be said to embody the highest ideal of rabbinic Judaism (Ber. 61b). Solomon Schechter wrote "Holiness is the highest achievement of the Law and its deepest experience as well as the realization of righteousness. It is a composite of various aspects not easily definable, and, at times, seemingly contradictory" (Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, 199).

In Jewish Philosophy

Medieval Jewish philosophers rarely use the term "holiness" as a technical term. When they do use this term, it appears, as a rule, in connection with quotations from Scripture or from the sages, and its explication derives from these sources. Thus, "holiness" describes the distinction between spirit and flesh, between the eternal and temporal, and between the absolute and changing. God is holy, for He has been "hallowed [distinguished] from any like Him" and He is "aloof and above all change." The people of Israel is holy, because it separated itself from worldly pursuits and turned to the worship of God. The Sabbath is holy, since it is devoted to spiritual matters rather than worldly affairs (Abraham b. Ḥiyya, Meditation of the Sad Soul, passim). There is, therefore, a close connection between the notions of "holiness" and "uniqueness" in the sphere of theology, and "holiness" and "separation" in the sphere of ethics, though the term "holiness," in its primary meaning refers to the realm of ritual.


*Maimonides associates holiness with the idea of distinction and uniqueness, giving it an extreme intellectual interpretation. God is holy for He is absolutely different from creation. He is not similar to it in any of His attributes, and is independent from its being (Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 1:3). The angels are holy, for they are separate from any body (ibid., 4:12), and the heavenly spheres are holy, for their body can neither be destroyed nor changed (ibid., 3:9). Sanctification, therefore, means separation from the body. A place, name, or object are holy only insofar as they have been set aside from the outset to divine worship (ibid., 6 passim). Sanctification through the precepts of the Torah also implies uniqueness and separation. There are three ways, according to Maimonides, of sanctification through the precepts (Guide of the Perplexed, 3:47):

(1) sanctification by virtue, i.e., the restraint of physical desires and their satisfaction only up to the limits of necessity, in order to devote oneself wholly to God;

(2) the fulfillment of those precepts which remove man from concern with this world and its errors, and prepare him for the attainment of truth;

(3) the holiness of worship, which means observance of the laws of pollution and purity, which are not of primary importance in the doctrine of Maimonides.

A man who has attained the highest degree of sanctification, as did the Patriarchs or Moses, is freed from his dependence upon his flesh, and thus he imitates God, for he too acts without being involved in creation (ibid., 3:33).

Judah Halevi

*Judah Halevi also states that God is holy because He is of the spirit, aloof from the defects which inhere in matter, and governs creation without being dependent on it (Kuzari, 4:3). Nevertheless, Halevi is far from the intellectual and distinctive conception of Maimonides. Holiness, according to Judah Halevi, is a power that engulfs the soul which unfolds toward it. This is a living spiritual power flowing from God and present in everybody who worships Him (ibid.; see also 1:103). The people of Israel is called holy, for such a power, manifested mainly in prophecy, inspires the people, the Hebrew language, in the Land of Israel, and the Temple. There is some notion of separation in Judah Halevi's conception of holiness. The prophet and the worshiper must purify themselves from sin, from negative emotions, from sorrow and weariness, exactly as they have to be pure from vice and wicked acts; but this does not mean separation from the world. Nor is the purpose of purification the attainment of truth; it is rather a preparation for the proper performance of the commandments and rituals prescribed by the Torah. The consecrating person has to separate himself from the polluted, but not from the living flesh; he has to overcome dullness, tiredness, frustration and stupidity, but not to remove himself from the life of the senses and emotions.

Nachman Krochmal

The discussion of the term "holiness" in modern Jewish philosophy is associated with medieval ideas, but has undergone changes under the influence of various secular systems. Nachman *Krochmal, influenced by *Hegel, defines the holy as a static and lasting spiritual attribute, whose opposite is profane, which is dynamic and variable (Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman (1824), ch. 6). The holy is a symbol of the spiritual, i.e., it arouses spiritual thoughts. The precepts sanctify, for their fulfillment reflects perception and enforces it. Objects are pure insofar as the idea embodied in them can be perceived clearly, i.e., they are capable of receiving holiness, while the polluted is the body which is impenetrable to reason, i.e., a barrier to holiness (ibid.). This appears to be an integration of elements from both Maimonides and Judah Halevi, but actually, contrary to them, Krochmal conceived the spiritual as innate in nature and history, identifying it with reason. Sanctification, therefore, is not withdrawal from the world, but the self-realization of reason within existence itself.

Moritz Lazarus

Under the influence of neo-Kantianism, a change took place. Moritz *Lazarus identified the holy with conduct, according to the pure moral postulates of reason, which is free from causal necessity existing in nature. According to this system, God is identified with the idea of moral conduct. He has no reality beyond this ideal and only in this respect is He holy. Divine worship is, therefore, identical with ethics (the ritual is only a symbol of pure ethics). Thus, one is holy through moral conduct, and society is sanctified by subordinating it to the categorical imperative (Ethik des Judentums, 1 (1904), 311ff.), although, according to Lazarus, this can never be achieved.

Hermann Cohen

Hermann *Cohen, similarly, defines the holy as the sphere of ethical activity, the meeting place between human and divine reason. God is holy because the ideal of ethics is inherent in Him; but only man can accomplish this ideal, with God's help, thus consecrating himself and society by his conduct (Religion der Vernunft (1929), 116–29). Thus, according to him, holiness is the sphere where the human and the divine meet to perfect each other.

Franz Rosenzweig

A diametrically opposite view is to be found in the existentialist doctrine of Franz *Rozenzweig. He returns to the emphasis of the "otherness" or separation contained in holiness. God is placed opposite the world. He is holy, for He is eternal and, therefore, exists beyond the world. The world attains holiness only through revelation, which is the grace of God granted to man. Facing God, man is freed from the temporal and transient, and becomes associated with the eternal. This is the function of the biblical commandments, which consecrate the life of the Jew within the framework of his community (Der Stern der Erloesung, 3 (1954), passim). It should be pointed out that new trends have emerged, which derive directly from the *Kabbalah philosophy of the Middle Ages. Outstanding among them is the doctrine of R. Abraham I. *Kook, who interpreted holiness, in the spirit of the Kabbalah, as the all-embracing existence of the divine in its absolute unity.

[Eliezer Schweid]


G. van der Leuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation (1938); A.L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964), 171–205; c.h. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (1965), glossary, no. 2210, s.v.qdš; C.F. Jean and J. Hoftijzer, Dictionnaire des Inscriptions Sémitiques de l'Ouest (1965), 253–4, s.v.qdši, ii, ii, esp. iii, 1; Pritchard, Texts, 428; J. Milgrom, Studies in Levitical Terminology, 1 (1970); B.A. Levine, in: jaos, 85 (1965), 307–18; idem, in: Religions in Antiquity, ed. by J. Neusner (1967), 71–87; idem, in: Eretz Israel, 9 (1969), 88–96; idem, in: Leshonenu, 30 (1965–66), 3–4; M. Haran, in: huca, 36 (1965), 191–226; J. Pedersen, Israel, its Life and Culture, 1–2 (1926), 187–212, 244–59; 3–4 (1940), 150–534; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, vols. 1 and 2, index, s.v.Kedushah, esp. vol. 1, 537–59; J. Liver, in: em, 5 (1968), 507–8, 526–31; R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy (19433), 30–41, 52–84; M.D. Cassuto, in: em, 2 (1954), 354–8; J. Reenger, in: Zeitschrift fuer Assyriologie, 58 (1967), 110–88; R. Stadelmann, Syrisch-Palaestinensische Gottheiten in Aegypten (1962), 110–23; de Vaux, Anc Isr 221–9, 345–57, 406–13. in rabbinic literature: S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909), index s.v.holiness; G.F. Moore, Judaism (1927), index, s.v.holiness; A. Buechler, Types of Jewish-Palestinian Piety (1922); M. Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (1952), 167–88; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal, Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), index s.v.Kadosh, Kedushah; Montefiore and Loewe, Rabbinic Anthology (19602), index s.v.holiness.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Kedushah." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 20 Oct. 2018 <>.

"Kedushah." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (October 20, 2018).

"Kedushah." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved October 20, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.