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Are You Sure There's a Satan?

In response to my article in which I explain the Jewish concept of Satan (it is recommended that you read that article before reading this one), a reader asked me this question:

I have read other Hebrew-based websites that firmly assert that there is NO “SATAN” in Judaism (nor is there a Hell for that matter). So why is it that there are so many (or at least two main) differing opinions among Jews? If “Satan” the evil demon is a Christian creation, then why are some Jewish sites now using this definition?

Jerome

As I shall show, Satan and Hell do in fact exist in Judaism, and existed long before Christianity or Catholicism existed. The Satan is most definitely not a Catholic or Christian invention. They have drastically changed the meaning, but like many of their beliefs it’s simply a terrible distortion of what Judaism has always taught. (Again, to understand what we mean when Orthodox Jews say "Satan," please read my article The Jewish concept of Satan)

In the Jewish Bible

Satan is mentioned explicitly in Tanach (Jewish Scriptures) numerous times. At first count, so far, I have found 17 mentions of “haSatan” (“the Satan”) as a specific individual in Tanach, most of them in the Book of Job. Three are in the Book of Zechariah.

In all those 17 it is quite clear that Satan, exists, that he is an angel, and that he has a clear individuality. Just look at chapters 1 & 2 of Job, where G-d speaks to Satan, and Satan speaks to G-d.

For example:

Now the day came that the angels of G-d came to stand beside the L-rd, and the Satan, too, came among them. The L-rd said to the Satan, “Where are you coming from?” And the Satan answered the L-rd and said, “From going to and fro on the earth and from walking in it.” Now the L-rd said to the Satan, “Have you paid attention to My servant Job? For there is none like him on earth, a sincere and upright man, G-d-fearing and shunning evil.” And the Satan answered the L-rd and said, “Does Job fear G-d for nothing?” (Job 1:6-9)

And further on:

Now the L-rd said to the Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hands; only upon him do not stretch forth your hand.” Now the Satan left the presence of the L-rd... (verse 12).

And after the Satan tempts Job, there is, more or less, a repeat of this conversation in Chapter 2.

So we see that an actual angel called “the Satan” speaks with G-d, and G-d gives him instructions. The Satan goes away and fulfills those instructions. How could any of this mean something other than the existence of an actual angel called the Satan?

And in Zechariah:

”...and Satan was standing on his right, to accuse him. And the L-rd said to Satan: the L-rd shall rebuke you, O Satan...” (Zechariah 3:1-2).

The concept of Satan was clearly not invented by the Catholics or Christians, since it is in Tanach and therefore predates them by at least 500 years!

In the Talmud

The Talmud is very clear on the subject that there is a real Satan. So is every Book of Orthodox Judaism ever written since the Tanach.

The word “Satan” shows up at least 59 times in the Talmud, and in each case the Talmud is quite clear that Satan is neither imaginary nor a metaphor.

In one passage the Talmud says "Satan has three jobs: he seduces us to sin; he accuses us of our sins before the Heavenly court; and he is the Angel of Death" (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Basra 16a). This is something the Talmud considers real. There is no metaphor here.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) says that we blow the Shofar (ram’s horn) on the Jewish New Year to thwart the power of Satan so that he cannot accuse us of sinning. Since we are performing something that G-d has commanded us to do (see Numbers 29:1), that weakens Satan’s ability to make us look bad.

In Jewish Prayers

Satan is even mentioned several times in our daily prayers! How can anyone pray the Jewish prayers and not believe in Satan? We pray every morning:

“May it be Your will Hashem my G-d and G-d of my forefathers, that You deliver me today and every day ... from an evil occurrence and from the destructive Satan.... etc.”1

This prayer is taught and described in detail in the Talmud (Berachos 16b), and is recited by all Orthodox Jews every morning of the year, ever day of our lives.

Furthermore, when we eat at someone else’s home, we are obligated to say the following prayer, which is printed in almost every Orthodox Grace After Meals:

“May it be willed [by Hashem] that the owner of this home ... be very successful in all his business ... and may Satan never control either his actions nor our actions.... etc.”2

This prayer is also taught and described in detail in the Talmud (Berachos 46a) and in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim §201:1).

Another name for Satan is the Yetzer Hara, the Evil Inclination. From the time we are little, Jewish kids are taught to recognize the Yetzer Hara in our actions and temptations. In Orthodox Judaism, Satan is very real.

So whoever says that there is no Satan in Judaism does not know what he’s talking about.

Is there a Hell?

As to Hell (Gehinom in Hebrew and Aramaic), I must give much the same answer. The Christians and Catholics took a Jewish concept and horribly distorted it. There is no eternal Hell. But there is indeed a Purgatory.

Most Orthodox Jews, unaware (and rightfully uncaring) of how the Christians and Catholics have distorted what Hell is, still use the term "Hell," and not Purgatory. And that is how it is most often translated. Therefore I will also use that word.

Hell (or Purgatory, if you wish) is mentioned at least 133 times in the Talmud (at least by the one spelling in Hebrew I searched with — it might be more if spelled slightly differently).

For example: “Judgment of the wicked in Hell is 12 months” (Tractate Shabbos 33b).

Another:

“When Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakkai became sick [and was going to die], his disciples came to visit him. When he saw them he began to cry. His students said to him, ‘Light of Israel! Why do you cry?’” [He gave a long answer, part of which was] “There are two paths before me, one to Heaven and one to Hell, and I don’t know which one they will bring me to, should I not cry?”

–Berachos 28b

“Anyone who speaks evil of a dead Torah Scholar is punished in Gehinom” (Berachos 19a).

“Gehinom has seven names: Sheol, Avadon, Bi’er Shachas, Bor Shi’on, Tit Hayavan, Tzalmavess, and Eretz Hatachtis.” (I’m not going to bother to translate those names right now.)

(Eruvin 19a)

The Talmud also talks several times about the fires of Gehinom. In any case, 133 mentions cannot be ignored.

Satan and Hell are not Christian or Catholic inventions. The Catholics and Christians have changed and distorted the concepts, but they exist in Jewish Tradition as well, in far less cruel versions.

And yes, Satan is G-d’s servant, and not a rebel. The Talmud says that Satan did what he did to Job for the sake of Heaven (Baba Basra 16a). To fully understand what Satan is (and to understand the difference between the Christian/Catholic version and the truth (i.e., the Jewish explanation), see my article Does Judaism Believe in Satan?

So why do some Jewish websites use the Catholic or Christian versions? Why do some Jews think that Judaism does not believe in Satan?

My conclusion is that either

1) They are not Orthodox, and so do not follow our Traditions;

and/or

2) They are not learned in Judaism.

So, I stand by what I have written and published.

 

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Footnotes

1. The complete text of the prayer as presented in the Talmud reads: “May it be Your will Hashem my G-d and G-d of my forefathers, that You deliver me today and every day from impudent people and from insolence, from any evil man and from any evil mishap, from an evil inclination, from an evil neighbor and from the destructive Satan, a harsh judgment and a harsh opponent whether he is a member of the Covenant or not a member of the Covenant.”

2. The complete text of the prayer as presented in the Talmud reads: “May it be willed that the owner of this home never be embarrassed in this world and never be ashamed in the Next World, and may he be very successful in all his business, and may all his business and our business be successful and close to the city, and may Satan never control either his actions nor our actions, and may neither he nor we be assailed by any thoughts of sin, iniquity or transgression from now until forever.


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