The belief that the destiny of man is determined beforehand by God. "Predestination" in this sense is not to be confounded with the term "preordination," applied to the moral agents as predetermining either election to eternal life or reprobation. This latter view of predestination, held by Christian and Mohammedan theologians, is foreign to Judaism, which, professing the principle of Free Will, teaches that eternal life and reprobation are dependent solely upon man's goodor evil actions. It is in regard to the material life, as to whether man will experience good fortune or meet adversity, that Judaism recognizes a divine decision. According to Josephus, who desired to present the Jewish parties as so many philosophical schools, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes were divided on this question. The Pharisees held that not all things are divinely predestined, but that some are dependent on the will of man; the Sadducees denied any interference of God in human affairs; while the Essenes ascribed everything to divine predestination ("B. J." ii. 8, § 14; "Ant." xiii. 5, § 9).
In this controversy the real point at issue was the question of divine providence. As followers of Epicurus, the Sadducees, according to Josephus, held that all the phenomena of this world are due to chance and they denied the existence of a divine providence. The Essenes attributed everything to the will of God, and, exaggerating the conception of divine providence, denied to man any initiative. The Pharisees, fully aware that predestination precludes free-will, adopted a middle view, declaring that man is subject to predestination in his material life, but is completely free in his spiritual life. This view is expressed in the teaching of R. Akiba (Abot iii. 15): "All is foreseen, yet freedom is granted"; and in the similar saying of R. Ḥanina, "All is in the power of God, except the fear of God" (Ber. 33b; Niddah 16b). Another saying of Ḥanina's is, "A man does not hurt his finger in this world unless it has been decreed above" (Ḥul. 7b). Similarly it is said, "The plague may rage for seven years, and yet no man will die before the appointed hour" (Sanh. 29a; Yeb. 114b).
The most striking example of predestinarian belief found in the Talmud is the legend concerning Eleazar ben Pedat. This amora, being in straitened circumstances, asked God how long he would suffer from his poverty. The answer, received in a dream, was, "My son, wouldst thou have Me overthrow the world?" (Ta'an. 25a); the meaning being that Eleazar's poverty could not be helped, he having been predestined to be poor.Connection with Astrology.
Some later doctors of the Talmud admitted another kind of predestination, which widely differs from the old doctrine; this is the belief that every person has a particular star with which his destiny is indissolubly bound. Rabba said, "Progeny, duration of life, and subsistence are dependent upon the constellations" (M. Ḳ. 28a). This astrological predestination seems to have been admitted because it solved the ever-recurring question, "Why does a just God so often permit the wicked to lead happy lives, while many righteous are miserable?" However, whether man's destiny be regulated by a providential or by an astrological predestination, it can sometimes, according to the Rabbis, be changed through prayer and devotion.
The discussions that arose between the Ash'ariya, the Islamic partizans of predestination, and their opponents, the Motazilites, found an echo in Jewish literature. In an essay entitled "Iggeret ha-Gezerah," Abner of Burgos propounds the Ash'ariya doctrine of predestination, according to which every human act, both in the material and the spiritual life, is predestined. This doctrine, however, was combated by all Jewish thinkers, and especially by Maimonides, who pointed out all the absurdities to which the Ash'ariya were compelled to have recourse in order to sustain their views ("Moreh Nebukim," iii., ch. xvii.).