Spiritual life

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


“Spirituality” is a word for which there is no counterpart in classical Hebrew. Ruhaniut, the word in modern Hebrew, is itself a translation of the English term. Ruhaniut is derived from ruah, which means breath or wind, and, derivately, spirit. Its first occurrence is at the very beginning of the Torah: When God began to create heaven and earth - the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water - God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. By Maimonides' time ruah had developed a wide range of uses, including, very importantly, ruah ha-qodesh, the spirit of holiness (or, as more usually translated, “the holy spirit”), and, very differently, ruah tumah, the spirit of ritual impurity (often used to mean demons). The one meaning the word does not have in classical or even medieval Hebrew is “spiritual” in the sense of “spiritual life.” The closest one can come to this expression, I think, in classical Judaism is “holy life.”

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Maimonides
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781139000819
ISBN (Print)9780521819749
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2005 and 2006.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities

Cite this