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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Senses, the Five
According to the Aristotelian psychology, the human soul possesses, besides the rational and nutritive faculties, that of perceiving external objects, through the medium of bodily organs which are adapted to produce the sensations of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. This theory entered into Jewish literature with the introduction of Greco-Arabic philosophy. It was first propounded by Saadia, who endeavored to show that the five senses are mentioned in the Bible ("Emunot we-De'ot," ed. Slucki, p. 7). Baḥya ibn Paḳuda ("Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," 9:5) pointed out the Mosaic prohibitions that are connected with the five senses, to which Ibn Gabirol attributed the twenty qualities of the soul (S. Wise, "The Improvement of the Soul," p. 17).
With the exception of certain writers, who regarded speech, movement, etc., as so many additional senses, the absoluteness of the number five was universally admitted in the Middle Ages; and authors like Judah ben Solomon, Shem-Ṭob ibn Falaquera, and Ẓemaḥ Duran even endeavored to demonstrate the inadmissibility of more than five senses. Judæo-Arabic philosophy established a parallel between the five senses and the faculties of the soul; and for this reason the former were called "external senses" and the latter "internal senses." The former were divided into two groups: (1) the finer or intellectual senses, and (2) the coarser or material ones. To the first group belonged sight, hearing, and smell; to the second, taste and touch (Judah ha-Levi, "Cuzari," 3:5). The superiority of the first three is shown by the fact that their respective functions are exercised from a distance and need not come in contact with their object, while the last two must be in touch with it. Another mark of superiority of the first three is that they are found only in the higher animals, while the last two are met with even in the lowest animals. The external senses perceive objects; but it is the internal which observe their difference. It is, therefore, the fault of the latter if the former err (Saadia, c. 6:98; Baḥya, c. 1:10).
Development of the Senses.
The senses develop in the child gradually. At the moment of birth only the coarsest sense, that of touch, is present; after a while comes the sense of taste; then, at various intervals, appear the senses of smell, hearing, and sight (Baḥya, c. 2:3; Albo, "Sefer ha-'Iḳḳarim," 3:10). Death silences the senses in the inverse order. The dying lose the sense of sight first, and retain until the last moment that of touch. Sleep suspends first the sense of touch.
Gershon ben Solomon and many other writers of the Middle Ages drew a parallel between the five fingers on each hand and the five senses. Each finger,according to them, stands in a natural connection with one of the senses: the thumb is attracted to the mouth; the index, to the nose; the middle finger, to the skin, the organ of touch; the ring-finger, to the eye; the ear-finger, to the ear (Baḥya ben Asher, "Shulḥan Arba'," p. 8a, Lemberg, 1858). There is a divergence of opinion between Aristotle and Galen as to the seat of the central organ of perception, the former placing it in the heart, while the latter locates it in the brain. With rare exceptions, the Jewish writers of the Middle Ages sided with Galen.
The five senses were prominent in Biblical exegesis, in the interpretation of the Haggadah, and in the symbolism of certain Mosaic prescriptions. Thus, Isaac Arama sees in the narrative of Genesis 27:18-27 the striving of Isaac to replace by the remaining four senses that of sight, which had failed him ("'Aḳedat Yiẓaḳ," p. 62c, Venice, 1573). Each of the five priestly prohibitions (Leviticus 21:16 et seq.) corresponds, according to Solomon ha-Levi, to one of the five senses ("Dibre Shelomoh," p. 265c, Venice, 1596). Nathan ben Solomon finds in the "Shema'" ten elements, the first five of them corresponding to the five internal senses, by which man arrives at the knowledge of God, and the last five to the five external senses, which serve him to carry out God's commandments ("Mibḥar ha-Ma'amarim," Leghorn, 1840). The three bowls on each branch of the candlestick in the Temple represented, according to Levi ben Gershon, the three coarser senses; the knop, the sense of hearing; the flower, that of sight ("Perush 'al ha-Torah," p. 105b). Moses Isserles sees in the five gates of the Temple a symbol of the five senses: the western gate typifies the sense of hearing, which is the symbol of night; the eastern, the sense of sight, which is the symbol of day; the northern, the sense of touch, which is considered to be the author of mischief among the senses; while the two southern gates are symbols of the sun, which ripens the fruits and flowers whence smell and taste draw their nourishment ("Torat ha-'Olah," 1:7). The five food-offerings are another symbol of the five senses (Leviticus 2).
The quorum of ten (MINYAN), which is required for the holding of public worship, is, according to Abraham ben Shalom, a symbol of the five internal and the five external senses. The former five are symbolized also by the five compartments of the phylacteries (Solomon ibn Parḥon, "Maḥberet he-'Aruk," ed. S. G. Stern, p. 24).
- Kaufmann, Die Sinne, Budapest, 1899.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Senses, the Five'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/s/senses-the-five.html. 1901.