The Body: Themes & Theology

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Judaism’s profound appreciation for the human body has ancient beginnings:  "The Lord God formed the human from the dust of the earth; He blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and the human became a living being," the Torah recounts (Genesis 2:7). The body and soul have distinct origins, and the living human being needs both. The human body is many things in Judaism, first and foremost the repository of the soul.

Among the blessings the observant Jew says on rising in the morning are two related blessings, one regarding the human body and one regarding the human soul. The blessing regarding the body begins “Blessed are You who has created humanity in wisdom…" It then states, in quite vivid appreciation of human anatomy, that it is "well known that if any of [the bodily openings] that is to be open closes, or that is to be closed opens, we can not exist and stand before God." The companion blessing, regarding the soul, declares that "The soul You have given me is pure. You preserve it within me and will reclaim it from me…".

jewish bodyIn this sense, Judaism views the body the same way it does the soul: a human being is not the owner of his or her own body, but receives it from God to hold in trust. This has serious consequences and affects Judaism's views towards abortion, suicide and euthanasia, which cannot be seen as purely private matters.

The human body in Judaism--like food, money and sex--is in and of itself neutral with respect to sin. It does not carry the taint of “original” or innate sin, yet it can be an instrument of sin. The ancient rabbis taught that humanity was created with two yetsers (inclinations), the evil and the good. They viewed the "evil inclination" as something like the id in Freudian psychology, a driving force of physical needs/desires that can trip a person up, yet also provides the life force necessary for human society.

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