But there is no word in the Hebrew Bible corresponding to “spiritual” or “spirituality.” Neither is there one in the Talmud, in which, however, the word n’shamah takes on a meaning like that of our English “soul”—a divine substance or presence that inhabits and animates our body while becoming endowed by us with a character uniquely its own. This is an idea that the Judaism of the first centuries of the Common Era shared with Christianity and various Gnostic and Neoplatonic groups; whether we believe in a soul or not, our contemporary notion of spirituality goes back to it.Reminder: Mosaic now only allows you to read three of its articles online for free monthly. Choose wisely!
And yet whereas Christianity had a term for “spiritual” from its inception—Paul, in his New Testament epistles, uses the Greek word pneumatikos, which the Latin church fathers translated as spiritalis—rabbinic Judaism, precisely because it resisted stressing the inwardly “spiritual” life at the expense of the outward life of God-given commandments and their observance, did not develop its equivalent term of ruḥani until the Middle Ages.
Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.