The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Two Different Endings of Sefer ha-Middot

The final chapter of Sefer ha-Middot—a popular ethical work by an anonymous late medieval author, called Orḥot Tzaddikim in its printed versions—is Sha`ar Yir’at Shamayim. An early manuscript restores the original conclusion to that chapter, followed by an epitome called Simmanei Sefer ha-Middot. This material was lost for well over five centuries.

Sha`ar Yir’at Shamayim asserts a dualism in which the soul animates the body like God animates the cosmos. The soul takes clear precedence over the body. To appreciate this dualism leads to the fear of heaven, which is God’s greatest treasure. This chapter devoted to a theological doctrine is unique within Sefer ha-Middot.

The newly re-discovered Simmanei Sefer ha-Middot proves to be a natural continuation of Sha’ar Yir’at Shamayim. It also sharpens a global theme in the book, which places middot (ethics) alongside miẓvot (commandments) as the will of God in its fullness. This approach substitutes ethics for older doctrine of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, and is distinct in medieval Jewish thought. It does not depend upon the final chapter’s doctrine, and the book thus ends in two different ways.