A Dilemma for De Dicto Halakhic Motivation: Why <i>Mitzvot</i> Don’t Require Intention


  • Itamar Weinshtock Saadon Hebrew University of Jerusalem




According to a prominent view in Jewish-Halakhic literature, “mitzvot (commandments) require intention.” That is, to fulfill one’s obligation in performing a commandment, one must intend to perform the act because it’s a mitzvah; one must take the fact that one’s act is a mitzvah as her reason for doing the action. I argue that thus understood, this Halakhic view faces a revised version of Thomas Hurka’s recent dilemma for structurally similar views in ethics: either it makes it a necessary condition for the act’s being a mitzvah that one has a false belief about the act’s Halakhic status, or it commits proponents of the “mitzvot require intention” view to a sort of rational failure in performing the mitzvot. The dilemma arises, however, only if we interpret this Halakhic view as requiring one to have a belief about her act’s Halakhic status in order for it to have this status. I suggest that the dilemma can be avoided by interpreting the intention requirement as requiring a make-belief, instead of a belief. Under this understanding, Halakha (or God) doesn’t care about why one performs an act of a mitzvah, but rather about how she does it; how she sees and experiences her action. This suggests another form of worship central to Judaism—worship via make-believing.






Jewish Analytic Theology