By: Kaufmann Kohler
The word "ḥayyim" (= "life") denotes first of all the animal existence which, according to Scripture, begins when "the breath [or spirit] of God" ("ruaḥ," "neshamah," or "nefesh") is first inhaled through the nostrils (Gen. i. 30, ii. 7, vii. 22; Job xxxiii. 4), and ceases when God withdraws His breath (Ps. civ. 29, cxlvi. 4; Job xxxiv. 14; Eccl. xii. 7). Life is the gracious gift of God (Job x. 12; Ps. xxx. 6 [A. V. 5]); with God is "the fountain of life" (Ps. xxxvi. 10 [A. V. 9]). Physical life is valued by the Hebrew as a precious good, given that he may "walk before God in the land [or "in the light"] of the living" (Ps. lvi. 14 [A. V. 13], cxvi. 9; comp. Isa. xxxviii. 11; Job xxxiii. 30). A long life, in ancient times, was regarded as the reward of virtue and piety (Ex. xx. 12; Deut. xxii. 7, xxxii. 47; Ps. xxxiv. 16; Prov. iii. 2, iv. 10, ix. 11, xii. 28, xxi. 21). The expressions "fountain of life" and "tree of life" (Prov. xi. 30, xiii. 12, xv. 4) point to the paradise legend (Gen. ii. 9-10) and possibly refer to a higher life. The brevity of life is a theme frequently dwelt upon by the poets (Ps. xxxix. 6 [A. V. 5], xc. 9-10, ciii. 15; Job ix. 5, xiv. 1-2).
But it is the ethical view of life which is chiefly characteristic of Judaism. Life is sacred, and it should accordingly be guarded and treated with due regard and tenderness in every being, man or beast (Gen. ix. 6; Lev. xix. 16; Deut. xxii. 7, xxv. 4; see Cruelty). The "righteous man regardeth the life of his beast" (Prov. xii. 10). The whole Law is summed up in the words: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life" (Deut. xxx. 19); and the law of conduct toward others is stated in the words: "Let thy brother live with thee" (Lev. xxv. 35-36, Hebr.). The entire object of the Law is the preservation of life: "Ye shall keep my statutes and my ordinances, which if a man do he shall live by [A. V. "in"] them" (Lev. xviii. 4, Hebr.).—In Rabbinical Literature:
The same appreciative view of physical, or earthly, life prevails also among the Rabbis. A long life is regarded as Heaven's reward for certain virtues (Meg. 27b, 28a; Ber. 54b, 55a; Men. 44a; Yoma 87a). "He who performs only one meritorious act will have his life prolonged" (Ḳid. i. 10, 39b). "The object of the Law is the preservation of life, and not its destruction"; hence, ordinarily, one should rather transgress acommandment than incur death; only in regard to the three capital sins—idolatry, murder, and incest—should man give up his life rather than desecrate God's law (Sifra, Aḥare Mot, xiii.). "Better to extinguish the light on Sabbath than to extinguish life, which is God's light" (Shab. 30b).Life Eternal.
"Ḥayye 'olam" (eternal life; Dan. xii. 2; Enoch, xxxvii. 4, xl. 9) occurs often in rabbinical terminology as "ḥayye 'olam ha-ba" (the life of the world to come; Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 3; Ber. 48b, 61b; M. Ḳ. 9a; Ket. 62a; Targ. I Sam. xxv. 29). At a later time, owing probably to the martyrdoms under Syrian and Roman persecution, earthly life was less esteemed (Wisdom iii. 17; iv. 7-8, 14; Philo, "De Abrahamo," § 46). Characteristic are these rabbinic sayings: "The pious live even in death; the wicked are dead even in life" (Ber. 18b). "Life" for "eternal life" (Psalms of Solomon, ix. 9, xiv. 6; II Macc. vii. 14; comp. vii. 9). "Ten are called living," that is, possess eternal life: (1) God (Jer. x. 10); (2) the Torah (Prov. iii. 18); (3) Israel (Deut. iv. 5); (4) the righteous (Prov. xi. 30); (5) paradise (Ps. cxvi. 9); (6) the tree of life (Gen. ii. 9); (7) the Holy Land (Ezek. xxvi. 20); (8) benevolent works (Ps. lxiii. 4 [A. V. 3]); (9) the wise (Prov. xiii. 15); (10) the fountain of waters in Jerusalem (Zech. xiv. 8; Ab. R. N. xxxiv. [ed. Schechter, p. 103]). "Dost thou wish life? Look to the fear of God, which increases the number of man's days; look for affliction; look to the study of the Torah and observe the commandments" (comp. Prov. iii. 18, iv. 4, vi. 23, x. 27). The Torah is called "medicine of life" (Sifre, Deut. 45; Yoma 72b; see also Book of Life).