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    Free agents for sin? – No’ach

    No’ach found favour with God but his contemporaries didn’t.

    Their sinfulness placed the whole future of humanity in jeopardy. That’s why God wanted to wipe them out with a flood.

    What this implies is that the Flood generation chose to be sinful, exercising the free will implanted in them from the inception of history.

    According to Maimonides, free will is the pillar of the Torah and its mitzvot.

    Yet thinkers have always been uneasy about the doctrine. It clearly conflicts with the principle of God’s foreknowledge, which the same Maimonides inserts in his 13 Principles as a fundamental of Jewish belief.

    Both ideas, free will and Divine foreknowledge, are essential to Judaism – free will because otherwise there would be no point in the religious life, and foreknowledge because otherwise God would be too limited – but how can they both be true?

    The rabbis tried to solve the problem by saying there were limits to free will.

    Modern thinking pursues this line by positing a range of determinants of human behaviour which vary from person to person. In other words, the limits to one’s free will are not fixed and universal. The great determinant, in Jewish thinking, is of course God.

    A frequently found view is that of Rabbi Chanina, who said, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven”.

    In one view, it is God who is responsible for our physical characteristics such as height and facial appearance but we who choose whether to be evil or righteous. As others put it, the “external event” is controlled by God, but the “internal event” (how we respond to what happens to us) is up to us.

    This sounds fine but it still does not explain what is meant by God’s foreknowledge and determinism and indeed whether the two are identical.

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