Ru'aḥ Ha-Kodesh

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RU'AḤ HA-KODESH (Heb. רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ; lit. "the Holy Spirit"). Although the phrase Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh occurs in the Bible (cf. Ps. 51:13; Isa 63:10), its specific connotation as divine inspiration is wholly post-biblical. In rabbinic thought it is the spirit of prophecy which comes from God, a divine inspiration giving man an insight into the future and into the will of God. Traditionally the Pentateuch was given directly by God to Moses, but the other canonical writings were all produced under the inspiration of Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh. Thus the determination of what should be included as canonical scripture turns on whether or not a given work was composed with the aid of the Holy Spirit (see Tosef., Yad. 2:14; Song R. 1:1, no. 5). This power of the spirit was given to the prophets in unequal measure (Lev. R. 15:2), and could be passed on to a disciple, Joshua inheriting it from Moses, and Elisha from Elijah (Deut. 34:9; ii Kings 2:9–10). There are a number of references to the cessation of the Ru'ah ha-Kodesh from Israel, some dating it from the end of the First, some from the end of the Second Temple (cf. Yoma 21b). The most significant passage for the central use of the term as prophetic inspiration is "When the last of the prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, died, the Holy Spirit ceased from Israel" (Yoma 9b).

Apart from its function as prophetic inspiration the Holy Spirit also rests on charismatic or exceptionally holy individuals, who are not prophets in the accepted sense (cf. ser, 10:48). They are thus possessed of an ability to divine the future (Er. 64b). When the rabbis were gathered in Jericho a divine voice announced to them that there were two among them who were worthy of Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh (tj, Hor. 3:7; 48c). The Holy Spirit is also promised to other categories, e.g., those who teach Torah in public (Song R. 1:1 no. 8), those who study from pure motives (li-shemah; sez, 1), and those who perform even one mitzvah in complete faith (Mekh. Be-Shallaḥ, 2:6). The Midrash says: "All that the righteous do, they do with the power of Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh" (Tanḥ. Va-Yeḥi 13). Ru'ah ha-Kodesh may be attained by the saintly man, and the spiritual stages toward its attainment are found in the Mishnah: "Phinehas b. Jair says: 'Heedfulness leads to cleanliness, and cleanliness leads to purity, and purity leads to abstinence, and abstinence leads to holiness, and holiness leads to humility, and humility leads to the fear of sin, and the fear of sin leads to saintliness, and saintliness leads to [the gift of] Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh'" (Sot. 9:15 end; see also Av. Zar. 20b and tj, Shab. 1:3, 3c for different versions).

A connection between the possession of Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh and ecstasy, or religious joy, is found in the ceremony of water drawing, Simḥat Bet ha-Sho'evah, on the festival of Sukkot. The Mishnah said that he who had never seen this ceremony, which was accompanied by dancing, singing, and music (Suk. 5:4), had never seen true joy (Suk. 5:1). Yet this was also considered a ceremony in which the participants, as it were, drew inspiration from the Holy Spirit itself, which can only be possessed by those whose hearts are full of religious joy (tj, Suk. 5:1, 55a). The people of Israel as a whole were in some way guided by the power of Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh. Thus when the problem arose among the rabbis as to whether the paschal offering should be brought on the Sabbath, it was to how the ordinary people would act concerning the Sabbath restrictions that the rabbis turned for a decision. Hillel declared: "Leave it to them, for the Holy Spirit is on them. If they are not in themselves prophets, they are the sons of prophets" (Tosef., Pes. 4:2).

A more problematical use of the term Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh is when it is in some way hypostatized, or used as a synonym for God. This tendency toward hypostatization is already apparent in such expressions as "Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh resting" on a person or a place, or someone "receiving Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh." But it is pronounced in descriptions of the Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh speaking (Pes. 117a), or acting as defense counsel on Israel's behalf (Lev. R. 6:1), or leaving Israel and returning to God (Eccles. R. 12:7). This hypostatization is essentially the product of free play of imagery, and does not have the connotations of Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh as an entity separate from God. Neither are there any overtones of the Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh somehow forming part of the Godhead, as is found in the Christian concept of the Holy Ghost, which was a translation of Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh. The problems centering on this use of the term Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh are the product of its different uses shading into one another. Sometimes it is used merely as a synonym for God, and at others it refers to the power of prophecy through divine inspiration. In order to maintain a perspective on the matter, the monotheistic background and the image character of rabbinic thinking must always be kept in mind.

There are a number of texts in which the two terms Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh and *Shekhinah are found interchanged in different versions (cf. Pes. 117b; Shab. 30b; and tj, Suk. 5:1, 55a; see also Tosef., Sot. 13:3f.; Sot. 48b; Sanh. 11a). This interchange may be due to the fact that though Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh and Shekhinah are conceptually distinct, they are identical over a certain range and are both sometimes used as straight synonyms for God. G.F. Moore, however, considers the exchange of terms to be mainly the result of copyists' errors (Judaism, 1 (1927), 437). Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh must also be distinguished from the *bat kol, or heavenly voice. Both are, in some sense, a revelation of the divine, but their mode of action and relative importance differ. The bat kol is an artificial element, pictured literally as a heavenly voice, and not always accepted as halakhically determinative (see bm 59a, where the pronouncements of a bat kol are rejected). Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh, on the other hand, works through man as divine inspiration, and is theologically incontrovertible.

[Alan Unterman]

In Jewish Philosophy


To *Philo also the Divine Spirit is that which inspires the prophet to prophecy. In De Specialibus Legibus (4:49) he writes that: "no pronouncement of a prophet is ever his own; he is an interpreter prompted by Another in all his utterances, when knowing not what he does he is filled with inspiration, as the reason withdraws and surrenders the citadel of the soul to a new visitor and tenant, the Divine Spirit (τὄυ θείου πνεύματος) which plays upon the vocal organism and dictates words which clearly impress its prophetic message." Influenced by Plato's notion of divine inspiration or frenzy, Philo interprets Abraham's "deep sleep" (Gen. 15:12) as a form of ecstasy which the prophet experiences: "This is what regularly befalls the prophets. The mind is evicted at the arrival of the Divine Spirit, but when that departs the mind returns to its tenancy" (Her. 265). According to Philo, the Divine Spirit "comes upon" man, "fills" him, visits him, or speaks to him only occasionally. But in an exceptional case, such as that of Moses, the Divine Spirit remains continuously in man's soul.

Philo maintains that the Divine Spirit is a separate spiritual entity – a "unique corporeal soul" whose function is to act as an "intermediary of divine communications to man" (H.A. Wolfson, Philo, 2 (1948), 32). While unique, it is of the same nature as the incorporeal soul of man or as the angels, which are unembodied souls. Although Philo does not apply the term *Logos to the Divine Spirit, he does refer to it as Wisdom, which he identifies with the Logos.

Philo however uses the term Divine Spirit in several other senses as well: in the sense of the rational soul, as in De Specialibus Legibus (4:123), where he identifies the Divine Spirit with the "breath of life breathed upon the first man" – which is the rational soul (see H.A. Wolfson, Philo, 1 (1948), 395); in the sense of air, the third element, as in Genesis 1:2: "the spirit of God was moving above the water" (Gig. 22); and in the sense of the "pure knowledge in which every wise man naturally shares." Philo bases this last sense of the term on Exodus 31:2 in which Bezalel is said to have been filled by God "…with the Divine Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to devise in every work" (Gig. 23).

The concept of the Divine Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls is similar to that of Philo, insofar as it is regarded as a spirit that "comes upon" man or "speaks" to him. In the scrolls, man, as a result of purification from carnal pollution (connected with baptism) is reborn and receives a new spirit. While there are many Platonic and Gnostic elements in the conception of Divine Spirit found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, D. Flusser maintains that the origin of the concept is Jewish (Scripta Hierosolymitana, (1958), 252ff.). The influence that the Dead Sea Scrolls exercised upon the Christian concept of the Holy Ghost is well known.

[Rivka G. Horwitz]

Medieval Jewish Philosophy

The concept of Holy Spirit (Ruaḥ Ha-Kodesh) is intrinsically connected to medieval Jewish philosophical approaches to prophecy. Essentially one can find two different yet related usages of this concept, as can already be seen by Philo. It may refer to a separate entity which is the source of prophecy, as well as other forms of divine providence; it also may refer to that which is received by choice individuals. In the latter case, some thinkers distinguished this reception from prophecy proper.

saadiah gaon

*Saadiah Gaon deals with the Holy Spirit in his Commentary on the Book of Creation. In this treatise he insists that it is not a hypostasis or divine intermediary, as it is conceived by the Christians. At the same time he ascribes to it many of the characteristics that are reminiscent of the *Logos, particularly as this notion was conceived in the Arabic-speaking world. The author of the Book of Creation terms the first of the Sefirot "the Spirit of the Living God" [Ru'aḥ Elohim Ḥayyim] which he also identifies as the Holy Spirit (4:1). Saadiah interprets the Holy Spirit as a reference to the divine will, but goes on to maintain that God's will is not a distinct entity. Rather it signifies that God creates everything without engaging in physical activity. He offers an analogy of God's relation to the world, comparing it to the relation of the animate force to living creatures. God is, figuratively speaking, the animate force of the world, or better yet, the intellect of the world: "The volition of the Creator – that is, His power – spreads in the air, which is simple and subtle. It exists in it [the world] and moves it, as the animate force moves the body. The Creator is found in all of this and governs it, just as the intellect is found in the animate force and governs it" (J. Kafih (ed.), Sefer Yeẓirah im Perush ha-Gaon Rabbenu Sa'adya b. R. Yosef Fayyumi [1972], 106). The continuation of Saadiah's remarks, however, suggests a different picture. He describes the Spirit as the most subtle entity created by God and it fills the entire world. This entity is known also as the "Glory" (kavod) and the "Indwelling" (shekhinah); in it is produced the speech heard by the prophets. Moreover, not only the visible and audible manifestations of prophecy originate in this entity, but also exceptional wisdom and the power of valor that God bestows upon choice individuals (108–9). The rabbinic bat kol is treated by Saadiah as yet another manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

In his subsequent treatise, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Saadiah attacks the Christians for treating both the Spirit of God and the Word of God as divine beings (2:5–6). While he does not deal explicitly with the notion of Holy Spirit, he describes the Glory or Shekhinah as possessing the purest substance of God's created entities. The only task, however, that he ascribes to it is to provide visible proof to the prophet of the truth of the divine communication (2:10; 3:5). The Speech heard by the prophets is treated simply as sounds created by God and conveyed through the air (2:12). In Saadiah's Haggadah for Passover there is an explicit and unique reference the notion that God did not redeem Israel from Egypt by means of the Speech (Dibber), a clear rejection of the Logos idea. One can detect in his approach a desire to counter the danger posed to strict monotheism by ascribing to the Holy Spirit too active a role in the divine governance of the affairs of the world.

judah halevi

The early 12th-century philosopher *Judah Halevi refers to the Holy Spirit in several passages of the Kuzari. He presents in the name of the Aristotelian philosophers the view that the Holy Spirit is identical to the Active Intellect, the source of the emanation of prophecy. Halevi rejects this approach, maintaining that prophecy comes directly from God and not any intermediary (1:87). In explaining the visible manifestations of prophecy Halevi utilizes Saadiah's discussion in the Commentary to the Book of Creation, though he draws a distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Glory. Halevi writes: "The air and all the bodies act by His will … From the subtle spiritual body called the Holy Spirit were shaped the spiritual forms called the Holy Glory, figuratively called God" (2:4). The Holy Spirit and Glory assume here the role of passive intermediaries. As in the case of Saadiah, Halevi at times speaks also of non-visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In a passage in which Halevi presents his own commentary on the Book of Creation he adds that the angels are created from the Holy Spirit and souls conjoin with it (4:25). The Spirit is also described by him as "enwrapping the prophet" (4:15) resulting in the individual's reception of prophecy, or in his being aided and strengthened in a given matter. The same phenomenon occurs during the anointing of a nazirite, the anointing of the king, and when the High Priest consults the *Urim and Thummim in order to divine the future. One passage in the Kuzari alludes to a strong connection between the Holy Spirit and the Amr Ilahi (Divine Matter or Command), a notion whose definition has been a source of controversy among scholars. Halevi illustrates divine speech by "the speech of the prophets when they are enwrapped by the Holy Spirit. The Divine Matter directs all their words. The prophet exercises absolutely no volition in his speech (5:20)." Visible and non-visible manifestations also are true of the Shekhinah (2:62; 3:19; 5:23), which Halevi at times treats interchangeably with the Holy Spirit.

One may also interpret the notion of being "enwrapped by the Holy Spirit" in a less literal manner and see in it a figurative image for the reception of a special type of knowledge or ability. In the presentation of the philosophers' worldview in the last part of the Kuzari, based on a short treatise by Avicenna, Halevi writes: "In some individuals, the rational faculty succeeds in conjoining with the Universal Intellect. It is thereby elevated above the use of syllogism and deliberation, or the toil of learning, by means of inspiration (ilham) and revelation (wahy). Its special trait is termed "sanctity" and the "holy spirit" (512)." In 4:15 Halevi indicates that the prophet is enwrapped by the Holy Spirit after his soul "conjoins with the angels."


*Maimonides does not use the Holy Spirit to refer to a spiritual entity but confines his usage to the emanation received by the prophets or other special individuals, such as the High Priest when he consults the Urim and Thummim. In Eight Chapters 7 and in Laws of the Principles of the Torah 7:1, 6 he appears to use the term as synonymous with prophecy (though in 7:1 the term may refer to the acquired intellect). In his discussion of the levels of prophecy in the Guide of the Perplexed (2:45), on the other hand, he counts the reception of the Holy Spirit as the two lowest degrees of prophecy and distinguishes them from prophecy proper. The first of these degrees consists of divine help that moves an individual to perform a great and righteous action. The next degree consists of a situation in which "an individual finds that a certain thing has descended upon him and that another force has come upon him and has made him speak; so that he talks in wise sayings, in words of praise, in useful admonitory dicta, or concerning governmental or divine matter – and all this while he is awake and his senses function as usual." Saadiah in his Commentary on the Book of Creation also speaks of these two manifestations of the Holy Spirit as discrete from prophecy proper, though he is less interested than Maimonides in drawing a sharp distinction between the two phenomena. By means of this distinction Maimonides ascribes an inferior standing to the books of the Bible that belong to the Hagiographa, treating their authors as non-prophets. The distinction also enables Maimonides to ascribe a non-prophetic status to Balaam, who received the Holy Spirit but did not possess the requisite perfection to attain prophecy in his view. The same is true of the High Priest when consulting the Urim and Thummim

Maimonides' distinction between prophecy and the Holy Spirit, as well as his confining the use of Holy Spirit to refer to a certain type of reception and not to a spiritual entity, influenced subsequent Jewish philosophers. Even Ḥasdai *Crescas and Joseph *Albo who broke with Maimonides on many points of his philosophy continued to accept his approach on this issue.

[Howard Kreisel (2nd ed.)]

The Modern Period

The concept of the Holy Spirit is of central importance in Hermann *Cohen's last book Die Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (1929, pp. 116–30). Objecting to Philo's conception of the Logos as an independent being intermediate between God and man, he maintains that the Holy Spirit characterizes the correlation between God and man. He relates the Holy Spirit to ethical purification on the basis of Leviticus 22:32, and claims that it finds expression in active ethical behavior rather than the passive receptivity of grace. Through ethical purification man attains a new spirit. The Holy Spirit can neither be alone with God nor alone with man, but is present only in correlation.

For the liberal thinker K. Kohler the Holy Spirit is the gift of reason given by God to man (Jewish Theology (1918), 200ff.). While the rabbis believed that the first man was endowed with the most perfected reason and was familiar with "every branch of knowledge," in the modern period it is believed that man's knowledge has increased through the ages. Thus Kohler believed that the Holy Spirit should be seen as dynamic. It is the spirit that manifests itself most clearly in the development and evolution of all areas of life – social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual – "toward the highest of goals" (ibid., 230).

[Rivka G. Horwitz]


G.F. Moore, Judaism, 3 vols. (1927–30), index, s.v.Holy Spirit; A. Marmorstein, Studies in Jewish Theology (1950), 122–44; A.J. Heschel, Torah min ha-Shamayim be-Aspaklaryah shel ha-Dorot, 2 vols. (1962–65). add. bibliography: A. Altmann, Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (1969), 140–60; H. Kreisel, Prophecy: The History of an Idea in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (2001), index, s.v. Holy Spirit; Shekhinah.