Beauty in Judaism


Beauty is a characteristic that greatly pleases any of the senses, including the sense by which people recognize truths that come to them outside the physical senses. For Jews, beauty provides an occasion to love God, to love one’s neighbors, and to help heal the world— three principal tenets of Judaism. Moreover, Jews are encouraged to create and increase the beauty in the world through the good deeds they are called on to perform.

Judaism offers a blessing that exalts God for all the beauty in the world, such as seeing wonders of nature, smelling fragrant spices, tasting the first fruits of the season, and even hearing good tidings. The blessings remind Jews to love the world by appreciating the beauty of God’s creations. Moreover, consciously perceiving the beauty of the world can stimulate people to sense the existence of the beauty’s creator and thereby to love God, the Creator.

Judaism reminds us that since people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), human beauty provides the greatest beauty we can experience. The Song of Songs awakens the reader to beauty through love—it offers a world in which human love is portrayed and shows how this love influences the beauty of the setting. When people are in love, not only is their beloved beautiful, but so is the world. The text draws one to recognize that love, beauty, and God are inextricably intertwined. Indeed, Rabbi Akiba (50-135 CE) declared that all of the Hebrew Scriptures are holy, and the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5).

When Jews perform a mitzvah (good deed), they are encouraged to increase the beauty of the deed by, for example, using especially fine candlesticks for welcoming the Sabbath. During the ceremony ending the Sabbath, a prayer is beautifully sung; aromatic spices are sniffed; tasty wine is drunk; and a special, exquisitely interlaced candle is used to provide light and warmth. The Hebrew scriptures teach that God looked at creation and it was good (Genesis 1:31); therefore pleasing the five senses in combination brings the participant closer to the Beautifier. As another form of mitzvah, Jews are asked in their morning service to increase the beauty and love in the world by, among other things, practicing kindness, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, attending the dead, and making peace between people.

Beauty calls on people to open their lenses to new human possibilities. Rather than perceiving raw input of sounds and colors, people fashion the data striking their ears and retinas in terms of their hopes and fears. Judaism expands one’s way of being in and perceiving the world and beckons all to follow God’s example in looking at the world and seeing that it is good (Genesis 1:31). Judaism teaches people to use all their senses to seek beauty and experience the sacred here and now, to dwell in the world of the holy without necessarily making pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Judaism’s emphasis on the beauty of other people helps explain the prominence of Jews in the realm of human understanding. Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow, and Viktor Frankl—the founders of psychoanalysis, humanistic psychotherapy, and logotherapy, respectively—used their insights gained through looking ever more deeply into the thoughts and feelings of other people to seek what is most beautiful: the image of God.

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