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What is a prophet?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Philosophy » Prophecy | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. A prophet is an individual who receives a message from G-d. This message could be of a private nature, or it could be intended for certain people, or the entire nation.

B. A prophet by definition must receive a message from G-d, but not everyone who claims to receive a message from G-d is by definition a prophet. For example, one who claims s/he received a message from a god with a physical form, or a message to serve idols or otherwise change Torah law, is definitely not a prophet. (See What are the requirements of a true prophet? and What is a false prophet?)

C. Often, the purpose of a prophecy was to make course corrections in the direction of Jewish society, or in the direction of society at large. When G-d wanted to talk to the people, He’d tell the prophet and the prophet would tell the people. Isaiah took up the cause of keeping Shabbat. Jonah was dispatched to Nineveh to encourage its inhabitants to repent. Other prophets addressed other issues. But all did so at G-d’s behest, like a broomstick in a homeowner’s hands.

A prophet by definition must receive a message from G-d, but not everyone who claims to receive a message from G-d is by definition a prophet.
What did prophecy consist of?

1. The in-box Prophecy was the transmission of a high-megawatt signal from G-d, one that would often overload the mental equipment of the receiver, the prophet. Prophecy would manifest itself suddenly, without any warning signals.1 Prophecy frequently caused fainting, temporary loss of reasoning capabilities, involuntary muscular spasms and seizures2 . Some prophets were capable of receiving the signal in their sleep, having extremely enigmatic, riddle-like dreams which they would decode upon awakening.

And, despite what Hollywood would have you believe, no prophet ever had on-demand conversation with G-d, verbal, mental or otherwise. The one exception was Moses, who, as the Torah puts it, talked to G-d “like a man talking to his friend.”

2. The messenger Hollywood hoopla strikes again—while prophecy was a magical thing, magical things were part of daily life in the era of prophecy, so prophets were not like some bosses—thundering titans who terrified the multitudes with sheer charisma and spectacular weather. Prophecy was nothing out of the ordinary, and neither were prophets. They were ordinary citizens—students, craftsmen, seniors—who, by virtue of their innocence and heightened sensitivity to spirituality, were selected by G-d to receive a prophecy. Some, like Jonah, knew what it was, but tried to run from it (a Torah prohibition).


  • 1. While prophecy schools in ancient Israel would train you to be more conducive to receiving a prophecy, via extensive meditation and a rigorous spiritual lifestyle, the prophet could not automatically cause a prophecy to come to him through specific actions.
  • 2. Daniel 8:27 and Ezekiel 3:23.


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Posted by: Anonymous, Denton, TX on Feb 15, 2005

I wish that I would get scriptural references rather than "possible" interpretations.

Editor's Comment

See Deuteronomy 13:2-6 and 18:15-22.


Posted by: Jae on Feb 05, 2006

Why aren't there any prophets in existence today?

Wouldn't God still want to keep in touch with his people through prophesy?

Editor's Comment


Posted by: Michael, Aurora, COLORADO on May 24, 2006

What would be an instance where the populace would obey the prophet while temporarily violating the Torah?

Editor's Comment

Elijah offering a sacrifice on Mt. Carmel instead of in the Holy Temple (Kings I 18) -- a clear transgression of Leviticus 17.

What about a false prophet?

Posted by: Tyler Berenson, CT on May 28, 2006

I thought a fool-proof way to determine a prophet was false was that they contradicted Torah law...

If true prophets have really been able to suspend Torah laws... then how does one distinguish Nevia-Sheker (False Prophets) from true ones?!

What part of the picture am I missing?

Editor's Comment

A prophet is certainly false if 1) he claims that any of the 613 has commandments has been permanently abrogated, or 2) if he enjoins the people to worship an idol -- even temporarily.


History » Prophets

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
1. One of the greatest prophets, lived in the 7th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Isaiah. The book is filled with prophecies concerning the Messianic redemption.
1. A prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE. He is famous for being swallowed by a large fish after refusing to carry out a mission which G-d gave him. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which recounts the abovementioned story.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.