Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond AppleLarry Brandt

Q. Does Judaism believe in angels?

A. What do you mean by "believe"? Judaism always believed that angels existed, though there were objections to praying to them or regarding them as middle-men between God and human beings.

The angel, as the Hebrew name malach implies, is merely a messenger or agent of the Almighty.

God sent three angels to visit Abrahams' tent. God sent an angel to find Hagar in distress in the desert (Gen. 16:7). He sent an angel to stop Abraham sacrificing his son (Gen. 22). God’s angels accompanied Jacob on his wanderings and the Children of Israel on their way to the Promised Land. Jacob wrestled with an angel.

Angels do not need to have quasi-human characteristics; the forces of nature (the wind, the fire, etc.) also act as God’s messengers (Psalm 104:4).

At no stage are the angels independent of God, nor, despite some folklore, can they rebel against Him. The well known story that God had to stop the angels from singing when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is not an indication that angels can disobey but that they sometimes act with an excess of enthusiasm.

In post-Biblical Judaism some groups elevated the angels and thought of them as higher than mortals. The classical philosophers promptly downgraded them. Maimonides argued that man was a higher being in that he had the capacity to perfect himself and to rise closer to God intellectually.

The Kabbalists, however, restored status to the angels and ascribed to them an important influence on earthly events. Some of the popular meditations in the siddur, introduced in kabbalistic circles, mention angels with great respect.

More rationalistic schools of thought regard these references as poetry and colourful imagery. They accept that God can and does utilise many methods of governing the world and there are many forces that influence human character and conduct; all of these are "angels" in a metaphorical sense.