Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The holiness of the body

What do you think of this declaration?

"Nothing is more important for man than to be continuously aware of the fact that his body, like his spirit, is a creation Divinely consecrated, which is to be mastered and educated by the spirit. And there is nothing that he forgets more easily than this, especially as it is a human characteristic to transform the external appearance of the body according to human liking."

(R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb paragraph 431)


  1. It would help to see it in German.I can guess at his meaning but without the original German it is just guesswork.

  2. I think I need to really get in shape.
    Rav Kook writes in the beginning of Orot HaTeshuva that teshuva applies to the guf, as well (Rav Moshe Weinberger explains this as meaning that we need to stay fit and also in regard to general health).

    I'll also plug a new blog started by a friend of my, Rabbi Gershon Seif, that is RSRH-based: www.rsrh4all.com

  3. Thanks for the plug, Neil!

    RSRH on Beraishis 1:27 (page 32 in the old Hirsch chumash)says the reason the Torah repeats the words tzelem Elokim over and over when describing the human body's form is to emphasise how much the Torah values the "godlike dignity of the human body. And Actually the Whole Torah rests primarily on making the body holy."

  4. Here's my summary of the largere piece:

    The Torah emphasizes the godlike dignity of the human body. This is a central theme of the Torah.
    Man is capable of his godly mission on earth, even with his physicality and all his urges. In fact, Man was specifically designed to grow upward and become holy with his body.

    It is a grave error to only see godliness in Man’s mind and spirit, thereby given the body free reign to be involved in all sorts of depravity.

    A holy body is the foundation for all growth of the spirit. The higher the spiritual and mental greatness, the more demands on keeping the body holy. As such, the first commandment the Jewish people are given is ברית מילה. Israel’s mission is to rebuild a purer Mankind, therefore their very first commandment is to dedicate the body to God.

    Many of the mitzvos have this theme, such as laws of sexual relations, eating, ritual purity and cleansing oneself of ritual impurity.

    Beraishis 1:27, Pages 32-33

  5. Adam-
    I've never seen a German Horeb; is it in print?

    Neil, R' Gershon-
    Thanks! I am particularly taken by the second half of the statement, relating this to body modification.

  6. R' Schwab (Artscroll, R' Schwab on Prayer, p. 16) has interesting things to say on the subject. He quotes Kesubos 111a that non-Jewws are like donkeys. He explains this to mean that they don't have holiness of the body, unlike a Jew. Therefore, when a Jew dies, he is a mes mitzvah, because his body is still holy; but when a non-Jew dies, the soul (holy part) in him left, so he no longer is inherently holy. Artscroll puts a bracketed note to see Maayan Beis HaShoevah, Terumah 25:3, in case you have it.

    R' Schwab, as far as I know, was very influenced by R' Hirsch.

  7. Gershon Seif thank you. That may not explain the exact statement that the rebitzins husband was referring to but it does make the general context clearer.

  8. With regard to ba's comment contrasting the body of the Jew and gentile, one could possibly argue a distinction between the body of a male and female given the Abarbanel to Genesis 1:27 ( the verse cited above by gershon seif) that men and not women are created be-tzelem E-lokim and hence the use of the singular in the verse at the end.

  9. It's pretty safe to trust a good translator who understands the subject matter. I suspect that we as amateur translators would fall short.

  10. i admit the translation is probably right. It is just that to get an idea of what rav hirsh means i though it would be helpful to see the German.

  11. It makes sense. The body is Tzelem Elokim

  12. Why does it make sense? "Consecrated?"
    I can't figure out what he is getting at. It sounds like a modified Rambam approach but who knows?

  13. If the body is created be-tzelem Elokim, that implies it is consecrated, just as G-d is.

  14. I've added some more on this topic.
    Here's a part of it:

    In this world, the world of the senses and with his sensuous nature, Man is to live his life and uplift it all in the service of God. The Christian concept that the sensuous nature of Man comes from Satan is a twisted concept that has been the curse of Man throughout history. (I believe RSRH is saying that by rejecting the body as a part of the service to God, Christianity has missed the main intention of Man’s mission; to uplift his body and this world. By striving to relegate the body as something evil, the body remains unholy or worse. The world does not become transformed and elevated, the opposite occurs. This misguided concept allows for moments of religious ecstasy and yet the whole of life is left out of the religious experience. This invites the most decadent elements of human nature to develop. GS)

    to see more, go here: