Bat Kol: Communicating with God when prophets are no longer

Talmudic quote

The Rabbis teach that upon the death of the latter prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, "the Holy Spirit departed from Israel"; the prophets continued to be informed of God's will, choice or judgment to humankind by means of a heavenly or divine voice — a bat kol.[1] Bat kol literally means "daughter of a voice," the word "bat" (daughter) suggesting that this was not a direct voice from heaven, but a derivative sound issuing from that voice, a sort of echo. The rabbinic statement implies that the classic prophetic experience of ruach hakodesh (the holy spirit) or gilui shekhinah (manifestation of God's presence) could no longer be experienced in rabbinic times and that the experience of a bat kol was an entirely different phenomenon. As the sole means of communication between God and man after the cessation of prophecy, the bat kol was sometimes perceived as an external voice and at other times only in dreams.[2]

Bat Kol paintingScholar Max Kedushin reads another implication in the rabbi's pronouncement: While ruach hakodesh or gilui shekhinah gave authority and authenticity to the prophet's words, the bat kol apparently lacked that authority. This is evidenced by the fact that, on a number of occasions, it is rejected as a supporting factor in discussions of religious law (halakah).[3] This restricted authority is discussed in two well-known talmudic passages. In the first, after three years of controversy between the academic schools of first-century rabbinic leaders Hillel and Shammai, the sages accept a bat kol's pronouncement that "the words of both are the words of the living God, but the halakhah is in agreement with the rulings of Bet Hillel".[4] However, in another dispute, when a bat kol rules in favor of R. Eliezer in his dispute with the sages regarding the ritual purity of an oven, R. Joshua refuses to abide by its pronouncement, explaining that the Torah "is not in heaven" (Deut. 30:12).[5] It is the majority of the ages and not the "heavenly voice" who determine the halakhah.[6]

In his study of bat kol prophecies, Talmud scholar Saul Lieberman notes that almost all of them were unequivocally and explicitly expressed with no need of special interpretation or device for their interpretation. That several rabbinic passages stress this point was perhaps the rabbis' way of ridiculing the ambiguous heathen oracles such as those given to Croesus and Pyrrhus.

Lieberman has described the means used when the Bat Kol was relied upon as an authority. Despite its association with the cessation of prophecy, rabbinic tradition also maintains that the bat kol was already heard during the biblical period.

It proclaimed Tamar's innocence; declared that the prophet Samuel had not materially benefited from his public position; and validated Solomon's judgment in awarding the child to the true mother.[7]

Before the death of Moses, a heavenly voice proclaimed that God Himself would attend to his burial (Deut. R. 11:10), and after his death a bat kol heard over an area 12 miles square announced his demise. [8]

A bat kol informed David that Rehoboam and Jeroboam would divide his kingdom.[9]

When Solomon sought to emulate Moses a heavenly voice rebuked him.[10]

According to the Talmud a bat kol was often heard at the death of martyrs.

After the death of the mother and her seven sons (see Hannah and Her Seven Sons), a voice proclaimed: "A joyful mother of children".[11]

When Hanina b. Teradyon was cruelly executed, a bat kol called out: "R. Hanina b. Teradyon and the Roman who hastened his death have been assigned to the world to come".[12]

After R. Akiva's execution, a "heavenly voice" resounded: "Happy art thou, R. Akiva, that thou art destined for the life of the world to come".[13]

When a Roman officer sacrificed his life so that R. Gamaliel II would be spared, a bat kol declared: "This high officer is destined to enter into the world to come".[14]


[1] TB Yoma 9b. Back
[2] Hag. 14b, BB 58a, BB73b-74a. Back
[3] This lack of authority, according to Kedushin's understanding, is a sure indication that the hearing of a bat kol was not associated with any experience of God. Back
[4] TB Er. 13b. Back
[5] BM 59b. Back
[6] Later commentaries accept R. Joshua's viewpoint, explaining that the bat kol was only effective in determining the ruling in the Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel controversies since the sages were themselves in doubt whether to rule in accordance with the larger school of Bet Hillel or the more profound thinkers of Bet Shammai (Tosefta to BT Eruvin 6b). Back
[7] BT Makot 23b. Back
[8] BT Sotah 13b. Back
[9] BT Shab. 56b. Back
[10] BT Rosh Hashanah 21b. Back
[11] Ps. 113:9; BT Gittin 57b. Back
[12] Av. Zar. 18a. Back
[13] BT Berakhot 61b. Back
[14] BT Ta'anit 29a. Back


Barnes and Noble linkMax Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1972), pp. 261-2.

Encyclopedia Judaica, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972) Vol 2 .

Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1962), pp. 198-199.



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