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If we are part of G-d’s plan, then why did He give us the choice to deviate from the plan? To what extent do our choices really affect our lives? This fifth in a six-part series on core Jewish beliefs examines the importance of free will and its effect on our lives.

What Jews Believe: Free Choice

What Jews Believe: Free Choice

Jewish Theology, Lesson 5


What Jews Believe: Free Choice: Jewish Theology, Lesson 5

If we are part of G-d’s plan, then why did He give us the choice to deviate from the plan? To what extent do our choices really affect our lives? This fifth in a six-part series on core Jewish beliefs examines the importance of free will and its effect on our lives.
What Jews Believe 5
Listen to Audio | Download this MP3
Freedom of Choice
Questions for Discussion
1. What is the purpose for free choice? How is it part of G‑d’s plan?
2 To what extent do our choices really determine outcomes? Is there a difference between moral decisions and other decisions?
3. What if someone intends to do evil, but their actions fail? Is this any more or less of a choice than if their plan succeeds? Explain.

Further Reading:

Texts Cited
Genesis 8:21
Deuteronomy 30:15–19
Genesis 45:4–8
Genesis 50:19–20
Deuteronomy 28:9
Maimonides, Positive Commandment 8
On the Essence of Choice
Freedom of Choice
A Choice of Choices
Rabbi Manis Friedman, a noted Chassidic philosopher, author and lecturer, is dean of Bais Chana Women's Institute of Jewish Studies.
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Melinda Kline Ohio February 14, 2017

Free Will Free will is not what I thought and I'm sure others can say this too . I wasn't thinking about moral choice being free will. I was thinking about what kind of filler to cover the hole in the wall but is that actually a choice. No , because all you have to do is look at the label and buy it. Now the choice is what your going to do. Get mad because you didn't buy enough or go get more. I think it is about action. How are we going to handle things. That is the free will G-d is talking about. The action of how it affects everyone else around you. Is it for the good or not good. This is an every day story of how we make simple small moral choice. Yes I filled the hole ! Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein January 16, 2014

Re: Teleology The Torah has no doubt that the world was created for a purpose. While G-d is unfathomable, He does not have unreasonable expectations of us. If He gave us intelligence, then we can assume that He acts in ways that we will find logical. In our experience, no intelligent being acts without purpose.
Free will does not mean that both choices are acceptable, only that we have the freedom to do the wrong thing as well. But it is true that we don't believe that a person is innately evil. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem December 29, 2013

what about Torah? An excellent discussion but I have a comment and and a question:

! - You mentioned two different times that G-d " needs" us. I would like to say that G-d has no needs. He WANTS us to make moral choices and bring morality into the world, but he doesn't need us to do this. He wants us to act properly for OUR good. He has no needs. Also, He WANTS us to be close to Him for our good. He has no need for this at all.

G-d is One. He is complete and lacks nothing and needs nothing. Everyday we say "Hear o Israel, the Lord our G-d, the L-ord is One".

2- You said that our free choice is only in the realm of morality. But a Jew has to keep
Torah and mitzvos. A Jew will be rewarded or punished according to whether or not he keeps Shabbos, kashrus, etc. So that is also where his free choice lies. A Jew could see the above video and come to the wrong and maybe fatal conclusion that as long as he is a nice guy and is moral, that is enough. But this is not true. Reply

Anonymous Santa Rosa, CA via December 29, 2013

How do you know we don't have choice of birth? Very good and insightful question about freedom of choice, such as the baby-sitter. But, Rabbi, when you say we don't have choice of where or when or to whom we are born, how do you know? Maybe we do choice to be here at this time and place before we have a human body. I have a memory of pre-birth; maybe others do too. It seemed to me that fate and free will hung in the balance at this time. Reply

cesar agusto lopez bogota, colombia via December 28, 2013

freedom of choice i have always respected the jewish heritage,there is ono god ,the god of israel,awsome lesson Reply

elias i garcia La salle December 25, 2013

Moses was a murderer, he could have made a better choice. The scriptures teach us that controlling emotions is very difficult but not impossible. King David had many opportunities, and even many good reasons to kill King Saul but chose not to. David made the hard choice and let God handle things, Moses could have done the same. Perhaps, Moses may not have had to be humbled by downgrading from prince to sheep herder if only he hadn't allowed himself to be controlled by emotions. Pro 14:29 ESV Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
Pro 16:32 ESV Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Reply

suzy hander woodland hills, ca December 25, 2013

We have free will but maybe G-d doesn't want us to understand everything all at once, but instead take our time and observe. Maybe then we will see the real purpose if only in a dream. Reply

Angela Hoffberg Richland, MS December 25, 2013

Free Will We're made to play our part, and when it comes down to it, there is no free will. Our overcoming happens over many thousands of years. We'll make wrong choices until we learn to stay on the narrow path. This is destined. Reply

Rick Abrams Beverly Hills December 25, 2013

Teleological ?? Original SIN??? Whether creation is teleological is an open question.

If G-d is the unfathomable everything and nothingness beyond time, we have no basis to assume that creation is teleological. Creation just "is."

If G-d did enter into a contract with us Jews, then either we Jews have free will or the contract was an illusion.

And whence cometh this absurd idea that men are born "evil"? Christianity.

Hillel said, 'If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" Thus, assuming it is true that an infant has enough awareness to be concerned about himself cannot be a sign of his being "evil." He is merely adhering to Hillel.

Hillel's 3rd question is, "If not now, when?" A powerless infant canot start doing good deeds from the crib. Just as a medical school student should not quit his education and rush out to help some poor people because he wants to act "now." Very often the moral act is "not now."

This creeping christianization is of Orthodoxy troublesome. Reply

James Hans Saturn December 25, 2013

Your explanation of choice makes Moses a murderer! If you remember, Moses murdered an Egyptian cause he could not bear the oppression of a fellow Hebrew. Now, from your explanation of choice, it makes Moses a murderer. From your explanation, he could have chose to rather make a better choice and leave everything to god. But in fact the bible tells me, that G-d chose Moses even after he had committed that act. So i think you are wrong. From the biblical perspective, as per G-d, what Moses did was right.... or if you look at it in a broader perspective, perhaps there is no choice, all of it was entirely g-d's purpose and plan. Especially when it comes to the decisions you make with regards to emotions. The only choices one can make however, especially from the biblical perspective, are, things about the commandments, especially, things you eat, Kosher, non-kosher. circumcision, or not etc... am i correct? Reply

Anonymous PA December 10, 2013

Wonderful This is a wonderful series - so interesting and so helpful.

One point of disagreement with this episode, though - from my own experience of my newborn children, I would not say that they come into the world utterly self-absorbed. Three in particular of my children came into the world already vested with an intense and benevolent outward focus. They hit the ground running, as it were, with their intention of cooperation and community. This is not a hypothesis - just a simple experience of their reality. Reply

Sharon Samtur via December 8, 2013

Thank you so much for sharing this. Listening to all of the series. Reply

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