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Freedom and Choice: an Anthology

Freedom and Choice: an Anthology


"See," proclaims the Torah in Deuteronomy 30:15, "I have set before you life and goodness, and death and evil... And you shall choose life."

"If G‑d were to decree," writes Maimonides, "that a person be righteous or wicked; or if there were to exist something in the very essence of a person's nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed... how could G‑d command us through the prophets 'do this' and 'do not do that'...? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G‑d punish the wicked and reward the righteous...?"

On many accounts, the idea of "Freedom of Choice" seems a self-evident truth. It seems indispensable not only to any "religion", but also to any world-vision that holds the human being responsible for his or her actions. It resonates with the most fundamental element of our self-knowledge: that life is something that we live ("live" being an active verb) and our actions are things that we do. The fact that our choices and decisions have consequence does not need to be proven to us — we experience it first hand, 24 hours a day, 3,600 seconds an hour.

But no sooner do we attempt to scratch the surface of this self-evident truth, that a flood of questions, paradoxes, absurdities and dilemmas overwhelm us. For this self-evident truth clashes with other, seemingly no less immutable truths: the apparently mechanical nature of our reality, the laws of cause and effect, and — from a theological standpoint — G‑d's absolute knowledge of the "future" and His omnipotence and Oneness

Much has been written on the subject through the ages by theologians and philosophers. Most fascinating are discussions to be found in Kabbalistic and Chassidic writings, where the very concepts of "freedom" and "choice" assume multiple meanings, questioning some of our most basic assumptions about ourselves, our will, our soul and our world. In particular, the Lubavitcher Rebbe has expressed some very innovative ideas on the subject.

Over the years, a large number of essays, stories and short pieces on "Freedom" and "Choice" have appeared in Magazine. Here is a collection of twenty approaches — ranging from 300-word "insights" to a six-part series of essays — to the most basic of human convictions: that we are beings possessing the freedom to make choices that decide our actions and influence our fate.

Short Insights

The Lady, the Tiger and Freedom of Choice
By Yanki Tauber

The Right Not to Know
By Yanki Tauber

By Yanki Tauber

A Choice of Choices
By Yanki Tauber

A Tale of Two Birds of Paradise
By Tzvi Freeman

The Discovery of Darkness
By Tzvi Freeman

Why Does Esau Hate Jacob?
By Yanki Tauber

In-Depth Essays

The Paradox of Freedom of Choice: Six Questions
By Tzvi Freeman

How Does G‑d Decide What's Right and What's Wrong?
By Tzvi Freeman

The Bubble
By Tzvi Freeman

Inverse Realities
By Tzvi Freeman

Beyond Yes and No
By Tzvi Freeman

On the Essence of Choice
By Yanki Tauber

The Question that Everyone Asks
By Yanki Tauber

Is Judaism a Theocracy?
By Yanki Tauber

Are Religious Jews Narrow-Minded?
By Yrachmiel Tilles


By Jay Litvin

By Tuvia Bolton

The Czar's Rubles
By Tuvia Bolton

Freedom of Choice
By Zvi Yair

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Anonymous March 30, 2016

Limited free will There cannot be a completely free will for individual.

A cattle tied to a rope against a pole can graze at will in the circle formed by pole in centre and the rope as radius. The free will is so much as same.

There cannot be a free will unknown to god at any point due to omniscience and omnipresence. Just because people don't like the idea that they cannot have completely free will.. doesn't alter the truth..innumerable free and at times "contradictory" wills will be chaos..but it is not the way we see in this material world.

Completely free will should always manifest regardless of outcome, however a limited mind and soul distinct from that highest soul cannot have free will. That limitless "One" - its will is always manifested - that is the completely free will Reply

Mark Ingerman Newtown, PA/USA February 25, 2008

Freedom of Choice. When pondering the phrase of "Shall chose life...", It is not the prospect of Choice that G-d is prompting us to action. It is the Verb "Life".
The phrase describes in depth the act itself. Every waking minute we are confronted with a myriad of choices that lead to the same amount of outcomes. The very fact that this phrase dictates a process of choosing "Life or death..." is a choice in itself. The Torah tells us Life is given to us to choose the quality. To be ambitious. To strive for greater meaning in every waking moment and that these decisions will reflect ultimately the Glory of G-d.
Life and Torah are one and the same...
Live your choices. “You shall choose life..." Reply

Louie Cat Spring, TX February 16, 2008

Freedom of Choice One reader posted comment saying , "...freedom of choice means no outside forces upon you." To the contrary life demonstrates that freedom of choice is accompanied by forces that match the 'choice' made. For example, one has freedom of choice to go to the top of a building and jump off, but there are consequences of death.We can choose to run across a freeway and risk death or we can take the way of the underpass and choose life. Freedom means that a path, a walk of life, a way of living has been provided by G_d that is safe and it is free for the choosing; therefore choose life. Reply

Tzvi Freeman via September 11, 2007

Re: Naomi's question Is the translation "shall"? Or is it ""should"? Perhaps it is G_d pleading with us to make the right decision. Or perhaps it is just good advice, "Why not choose life?" Hebrew is a very ambiguous language in this way, leaving us to rely heavily on context--and on questions such as yours. Reply

Naomi London, London via September 7, 2007

Free Choice Do not the very words ''.... And you SHALL choose life." (Deuteronomy 30:15) negate the possibility of having free choice? Reply

mark montreal, quebec June 29, 2007

freedom of choice: See," proclaims the Torah in Deuteronomy 30:15, "I have set before you life and goodness, and death and evil... And you shall choose life."

I will make it simple to start with. If you have freedom of choice then why in the OT (especailly Deuteronomy) if you break the law then you are punished by death (e.g. the worship of foreign gods). By definition freedom of choice means no outside force upon you. A death threat precludes freedom of choice.

Even in modern times if you break the sabbath law, what is G-d's punishment? So how can there be free choice with a gun held to your head.

also: Did any orthodox Jewish person ask to be born as an orthodox jew? So what choice is there in who your parents are and how you are borought up?

Simple answer: G-d choses you, you don't chose Him. Reply

Anonymous March 9, 2006

Free Choice We have only one real 'free choice': We have to power to choose our environment.
Think of it like this : You go to a movie theatre, pay for a ticket, and take your seat as the film starts. It isn't any good, and so you decide to sneak into a different movie. This one is MUCH better. The movie is pre-made, you can't change the movie itself, but you can choose the movie that you are in. The movie is the world around you, each is an alternate reality, and a near infinite number of these exist. It is up to you to choose which one you are in, and the way that you do this cosmic 'sneaking into a better movie' is by sharing, by become a channel of the Light of the Creator.
In one movie, your wife/husband is grumpy, your friends talk behind your back, etc. You can actually change this 'reality' by improving yourself, primarily, as stated above, by sharing more. The more selfless the act of sharing, the better the new film. Reply

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