Two Rabbinic Inclinations? Rethinking a Scholarly Dogma

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism

Abstract

The scholarly consensus on the Rabbinic concept of the yetzer (inclination) takes for granted the existence of two yetzarim, good and evil, in every person. Some have noticed the marginality of the good yetzer in rabbinic discourse, as well as the fact that most sources discuss only one yetzer, but ascribed it to the inherent imbalance of power between the two yetzarim. In this paper I wish to rethink this scholarly consensus, while taking the single-yetzer model, which appears in almost all rabbinic sources, seriously. A systematic analysis of all rabbinic references to the yetzer, which attempts to distinguish as much as possible between sources, both chronologically (early or late), and geographically (Palestinian or Babylonian), yields a picture markedly different from the common view, and helps locate the (rather marginal) place of the two yetzarim in context of the rabbinic corpus in its entirety.

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