Determinism according to Jewish sources- Part 1

One of the questions that people on this planet constantly ask themselves is about free will-בְּחִירָה חָפְשִׁית. Do we actually have it, or we are just puppets with strings in the hands of God?

Today I will share with you some Hebrew sources that discuss the idea of determinism, suggesting that everything is known in advance by God and nothing can be changed, as suggested in Ecclesiastes-

“מַה-שֶּׁהָיָה הוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה וּמַה-שֶּׁנַּעֲשָׂה הוּא שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂה; וְאֵין כָּל-חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ. יֵשׁ דָּבָר שֶׁיֹּאמַר “רְאֵה-זֶה חָדָשׁ הוּא: כְּבָר הָיָה לְעֹלָמִים אֲשֶׁר הָיָה מִלְּפָנֵנוּ

“That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new?’ Already it has existed for ages before us.”
(Ecc. 1:9-10)

Since everything has a reason and we can’t control its occurence, nothing will change. An interesting saying that appears in the Babylonian Talmud is:

“אמר ר’ חנינא: אין אדם נוקף אצבעו מלמטה, אלא אם כן מכריזין עליו מלמעלה”

 

“Rabbi Chaninah said: Man won’t move his finger on Earth unless from Heaven it’s been declared (that he should do so)”-Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 7b

Another interesting observation can be found in the words of Baruch Spinoza about a fable by using stone-

“אבן מקבלת תנועה מסיבה חיצונית, הדוחפת אותה .תנועה שמכוחה היא תוסיף לנוע בהכרח גם אחר כך, בשעה שהדחף — כבר. האבן בתנועתה היא אנוסה”

 

“The stone get its movement due to external reason that pushes the stone. This movement from its strength shall continue to move and the stone is forced to move.”

In our next article we shall analyze this fable and discuss how both Maimonides and the Hebrew Bible considered the notion of free will and determinism.

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