The Hebrew Scriptures have many words for "patience," corresponding to the varied meanings of this complex virtue; e.g., "erek af" (long-suffering), the patience exhibited in the restraining of justifiable anger (Prov. xiv. 29, xv. 18, xxv. 15); and "erek ruaḥ" ("patient in spirit"; Eccl. vii. 8). The high estimate placed by the Rabbis upon the repression of wrath is illustrated in Ab. iv. 2, where Ben Zoma makes it the indication of power on the basis of Prov. xvi. 32. Further, in Ab. v. 17, in the fourfold classifications, he who is "hard to provoke and easy to pacify" takes first rank. The Scriptures place the highest mark of their approval on this restraint of anger by including it among the attributes of God (Ex. xxxiv. 6; Num. xiv. 18; Ps. lxxxvi. 15).
But most emphasized in the Bible is the patience born of faith, hence exercised toward God, and inferentially toward man. It is the enduring of suffering and privation uncomplainingly and in silence with the assurance that God's salvation will be ultimately manifest to the faithful. This concept pervades the Psalms and many of the Prophets, the terms varying to convey the shades of differentiation of the thought. By waiting for the Lord (Ps. xxv. 5, 21; xxvii. 14; xxxvii. 9, 34; lii. 9; lxix. 6; cxxx. 5; Prov. xx. 22; Isa. xxxiii. 2, xl. 31, xlix. 23; Hos. xii. 7) or by patiently hoping (Mic. vii. 7; Ps. xxxvii. 7; Job xiv. 14, xxix. 21) is learned the patience of silence ("dam"). "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord" (Lam. iii. 26; comp. Ps. lxii. 1, 5).
As types of patience are presented in the Bible Aaron (Lev. x. 3), Job (Job ii. 10), and the servants of the Lord (Isa. li. 6, liii. 7). The patient man, says Ben Sira, will suffer for a time to see joy in the end (Ecclus. [Sirach] i. 23).
The Talmud (Ber. 20a) illustrates the lesson of patience with the following story: "R. Adda b. Ahabah saw a woman wearing a head-dress unbecoming a Jewess and, mistaking her for a Jewess, tore it from her in his zeal. He was fined 400 denarii; whereupon he quoted the popular adage: 'Matun matun arba' me'ah zuze shawe'" ("Patience is worth 400 denarii"; this is a play on the word "matun," which denotes "patience," while "matan," plural of "me'ah," means "two hundred"). Here patience is the same as considerateness. Another Talmudic term for "patience" in the sense of forbearance is "'ober 'al middotaw" (to yield when offended). "R. Akiba was forbearing; therefore his prayer was heard" (Ta'an. 25b).
Even more than in Israel's literature the quality of patience is exhibited in Israel's life. The Wisdom of Solomon (iii. 1, 7) urges the persistence of patience under tribulation and chastening even to the hour of death, with the assurance of blissful immortality beyond. In Ecclus. (Sirach) ii. 1, 15 the further thought is developed that patience is not an expression of faith only, but of fortitude also. In preaching the patience of submission in the Beatitudes, Jesus only reflects rabbinic ethics.
The patience shown by the Israelites in the brief era of their exile is as nothing to its manifestation in the long period of their dispersion. Akiba gives it beautiful expression in smiling at the ruins of Jerusalem, seeing in this fulfilment of the sad predictions assurance of the realization of the joyful.
The patient fidelity of Israel is expressed in the twelfth article of Maimonides' creed: "I believe with a perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though it be delayed, none the less will I patiently hope every day until he does come."
The modern Jew classes patience among the passive virtues that were the ideals of antiquity rather than those of to-day. Many consider that the moment in civilization has arrived when the continued patience of the Jew ceases to be a virtue, and they plead for the bold assertion of the rights of man.