Is Life Predestined in the Jewish Religion?

The idea of predestination by God versus free will of man has been debated in Judaism for centuries.
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The idea of predestination suggests that God has a plan and that mankind cannot deviate from it. Whether or not the teachings of Judaism adhere to the idea of predestination has been the subject of debate among theologians and scholars for centuries. Most recently, with the surge in popularity of the paradoxical studies in Jewish spirituality, such as those found in Kabbalah study, the union of both predestination and free will has become an accepted position within the Jewish religion.

1 Predestination vs. Free Will

The different social and political sects of ancient Judaism held varying beliefs on the idea of predestination versus free will. The aristocratic Sadducees believed in free will and rejected the notion of divine predestination. The ascetic Essenes ascribed wholly to the idea of predestination, whereas the Pharisee scribes and sages took the middle road and put forth the idea that both predestination and free will of man coexist in Jewish religion.

2 Arguments for Predestination

The legend of Eleazar ben Pedat in the Talmud (Ta'an. 25a) tells the story of a man suffering from poverty who asks God to intervene. God's reply is "My son, wouldst thou have Me overthrow the world?" This story suggests that everything is predestined, and there is no way to change God's plan.
Rabbi Chisdai Crescas, renowned Jewish philosopher during the Middle Ages, is known for his defense of predestination and argued that even repentance is an act of divine grace that allows humans to renew their servitude to God.

3 Free Will Within Predestination

In Pirkei Avot 3:19, the Talmud states, "Everything is foreseen, yet freedom is given to choose." This line presents the classic paradox of the idea of free will within predestination in Judaism. Another example that suggests the coexistence of the two concepts is found in Deuteronomy 30:15-19: "See I have placed before you today life and good, death and evil ... [and you shall choose life]." Here, man is both presented with a choice and then told which one to choose.

4 Uniting Predestination and Free Will

The Jewish religion does promote the idea of predestination; however, it also promotes that within God's plan, man has free will. The work of man is to be able to differentiate between good and evil so that he may choose good. In order to do this, he must follow God's teachings; his free will lies in the decision of whether or not to devote himself to God.

Lynn Blanch is a writer, translator and educator. She is the co-founder of an educational/cultural nonprofit in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese and has published a travel blog. She holds a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College.