- JOY, a term used to render into English a number of Hebrew words expressing a response of pleasure to persons, things, situations, and acts. Commenting on the phrase, "We will be glad and rejoice in thee," the Midrash (Song R. 1:4) notes that there are ten words used in the Bible to describe Israel's pleasurable response: "Israel is summoned by ten expressions of rejoicing, gilah, sisah, simḥah, rinnah, piẓḥah, ḥahalah, alḥah, alizah, ḥedvah, teru'ah." The primary root used is smḥ, occurring as a verb and as a noun. On the level of interpersonal relationships it covers a range from sexual enjoyment: "and have your pleasure (u-semaḥ) with the wife of your youth" (Prov. 5:18); to a satisfactory political arrangement: "rejoice in Abimelech and let him rejoice in you" (Judg. 9:19); and social status: "there is nothing better for a man than to be happy in what he is doing, since that is his lot" (Eccles. 3:22). This word also refers to a particular response on the part of man, as when letters and gifts were sent by the king of Babylon, "and Hezekiah was pleased (va-yismaḥ) with them" (Isa. 39:2). There is, too, a kind of joy which is judged negatively: "Rejoice not (i.e., have not malicious joy; aʾl tismeḥi) against me, O mine enemy" (Micah 7:8); "because you clapped your hand and stamped your foot and rejoiced (va-tismaḥ) with all your disdain against the land of Israel" (Ezek. 25:6). The Bible often warns that purely worldly pleasure brings sorrow, tears, and suffering: "Even in laughter the heart acheth; and the end of mirth is heaviness" (Prov. 14:13). Joy is, however, not an emotion experienced solely on this level. It is viewed in the Bible as a true response to divine action: "I rejoice in your saving action" (I Sam. 2:1); "Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things" (Joel 2:21). Man's presence in the Temple was considered reason for such a response: "And you shall rejoice before the Lord seven days" (Lev. 23:40); "I rejoiced when they said unto me; let us go into the house of the Lord" (Ps. 122:1). The divine commandments, too, are viewed as a source of human joy (Ps. 19:9). In addition, even nature is called upon to respond joyfully to the divine presence (I Chron. 16:31–33; Ps. 97:1). Joy is even thought of as a response which is proper to God: "Let the Lord rejoice in His works" (Ps. 104:31), and its absence is caused by human misbehavior: "Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men" (Isa. 9:17). The biblical themes were taken over by rabbinic Judaism and developed in terms of the changed and changing situations of the community. This is particularly noticeable in the period following the destruction of the Temple. The disasters of the period, reflected in extra-biblical literature as well, provided an impulse for a negative judgment on life in the world, and the rise of radical asceticism. Thus rabbinic Judaism warned against the rejection of the world, but at the same time against making the world the sole source of joy. R. Eliezer ha-Kappara viewed self-affliction, i.e., refraining from legitimate pleasure, as a sin similar to that for which the Nazirite was required to bring an atoning sacrifice (Sif. Num. 30; see asceticism ). Some rabbis went so far as to say that, "He who has seen something pleasant and not enjoyed it will be held responsible" (Yal. Ps. 688). However, the truest source of joy was understood to lie in the performance of the divine commandments (mitzvot). In connection with the apparent contradiction between Ecclesiastes 8:15: "then I commended joy," and 2:2: "and of joy I said what does it accomplish?" it was taught (Shab. 30b) that the first phrase refers to the joy present in the performance of a commandment (simḥah shel mitzvah), while the second refers to joy which is unconnected with such an act. It must be noted, therefore, that Judaism in this period, while rejecting radical asceticism, did not endorse sensualism. Perhaps the best statement of the disciplined joy prescribed by rabbinic Judaism is found in the comment on Deuteronomy 14:2: "'For you are a people consecrated to God.' Sanctify yourselves even in that permitted you: things allowed to you, but forbidden to others, do not regard as permissible in their presence" (Sif. Deut. 104; see C. Montefiore and H. Loewe , A Rabbinic Anthology (1963), 202–3, 523–9). Joy was stressed in many aspects of Jewish life, especially those concerned with the observance of practical commandments. In public observances it was particularly connected with the Sabbath and certain festivals including purim , sukkot , and Simḥat Torah – in Temple times – with the Water Drawing Festival (of which it was said that a person who had not witnessed this festival had never witnessed real joy; Suk. 5:1), and in the modern period, with Israel Independence Day. In private circles, there were many joyous occasions of which the outstanding were the circumcision, bar mitzvah, and wedding ceremonies and festivities. Matrimony was regarded as a precondition for happiness and "the man who lives without a wife lives without joy" (Yev. 62b). While the element of joy was never totally absent from the life of the Jewish community (see I. Abrahams , Jewish Lifein the Middle Ages (1932), passim), ascetic and restrictive attitudes and practices did hold sway during the Middle Ages. In the pietist revival of 18th century hasidism , the emotional quality of joy was once again renewed. Thus, while eating, drinking, sleeping, and the other ordinary functions of the body are regarded by the older Jewish moralists as mere means to an end, to the Ba'al Shem Tov, Ḥasidism's founder, they are a service of God in themselves: "All pleasures are manifestations of God's attribute of love" (S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, 1 (1911), 28). For the Ba'al Shem Tov "weeping is evil indeed, for man should serve God with joy. But if one weeps for joy, tears are commendable" (L.I. Newman and S. Spitz, The hasidic Anthology (1963), 204). More than a hundred years later, R. Ḥanokh of Aleksandrow underscored Hasidism's emphasis on joy with these words: "Do you wish to know how important it is to be full of joy at all times? Moses enumerated a long series of curses (Deut. 28) and then remarked in verse 47, 'because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart'" (Newman and Spitz, 202). Hermann Cohen (Religion der Vernunft (1929), 540) saw in the joy of the Sabbath "the symbol of the joy that will spread throughout humanity when all men will be free and ready to serve in the same way…" It is this joy, the joy of the messianic era, that will disclose the reality of peace as a dynamic quality of the human spirit. (Lou H. Silberman)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.