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5. Jewish philosophy

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The term Jewish philosophy refers to various kinds of reflective thought engaged in by persons identified as being Jews, in one sense or another. At times, as in the Middle Ages, this meant any methodical and disciplined thought, whether on general philosophical subjects or on specifically Judaic themes, pursued by Jews. In other eras, as in modern times, concentration on the latter has been considered a decisive criterion, so that philosophers who are Jewish but unconcerned with Judaism or the Jewish heritage and destiny in their thought are not ordinarily classified as Jewish philosophers.


i) Bible and Apocrypha.

Philosophy arose in Judaism under Greek influence; however, a kind of philosophical approach may be discerned in early Jewish religious works apparently subject to little or no Greek influence. The books of Job and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) were favourite works of medieval philosophers, who took them as philosophical discussions untinged by theological preconceptions. The book of Proverbs introduces, in an apparently theological context, the concept of Wisdom (Hokhma), which was to have a primordial significance for Jewish philosophical and theological thought, and presents it as the first and favourite of God's creations. It is also praised in the book of the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) as instilled by God into all his works and granted in abundance to those he loves. It is sometimes equated with fearing God and keeping the Law; however, in other passages piety seems to be regarded as superior to Wisdom. The Wisdom of Solomon, probably originally written in Greek, praises Wisdom, which is held to be an image of God's goodness and a reflection of the eternal light. God is said to have given the author knowledge of the composition of the world, of the powers, the elements, the nature of animals, the divisions of time, and the positions of the stars. In its vocabulary and perhaps in some of its doctrines, the work shows the influence of Greek philosophical conceptions. It has had considerable influence on Christian theology.

ii) Philo Judaeus.

The first systematic attempt to apply Greek philosophical concepts to Jewish doctrines was made by Philo Judaeus (Philo of Alexandria) in the 1st century CE. Philo, a scholar who combined Greek and Jewish learning, was influenced by Platonic and Stoic writings, and probably also by certain postbiblical Jewish beliefs and speculations. He apparently had some knowledge of the Oral Law, which was being evolved in his time, and he also knew of the Essenes, a contemporary rigorous sect, whom he praised highly.

Philo's main contribution was interpretative. He provided Jewish conceptions with the hallmark of intellectual and cultural respectability by stating them in Greek philosophical terms; he also showed that many Greek notions were consonant with Jewish doctrine, as he conceived it, and with the allegorical sense of biblical texts, as he read them. He had two schemes of reference--Jewish religious tradition and Greek philosophy--and the fact that he took care to stress the primacy of the former may have been more than mere lip service. It may be argued with some plausibility that in central points of his thought, such as his conception of the Logos (the divine Reason or Word), Philo used philosophical notions as trappings for an originally religious belief. A main function of the Logos in his thought is to serve as an intermediary between the transcendent, unknowable God and the world, a view that probably has a close connection with the view of his Jewish contemporaries concerning the world of God, by means of which he accomplishes his designs. On basic philosophical or theological problems, such as the creation of the world or the freedom of will, Philo's writings provide either vague or contradictory answers. He placed mystic ecstasy, of which he may have had personal experience, above philosophical and theological speculations.

Philo's approach, his method of interpretation, and his way of thinking, as well as some of his conceptions--primarily that of the Logos--exerted a considerable influence on early Christian thought but not, to any comparable extent, upon Jewish thought in that period. Later, in the Middle Ages, knowledge of Philo among Jews was either very slight or nonexistent. Not until modern times was his role in Jewish religious thought recognized.

iii) Other ancient sources.

Some traces of a knowledge of popular, mainly Stoic philosophy may be found in the Mishna, a codification of the Oral Law composed in Palestine in the 2nd century CE, and in the subsequent Talmudic literature set down in writing in Palestine and Babylonia. On the whole these traces are rather slight. Some scholars believe that the influence of Greek philosophy on Palestinian Jewry was far-reaching, but the case, to say the least, is not proven. Jewish theological and cosmological speculations occur in the Midrashim (plural of Midrash,), which, under the guise of interpreting biblical verses, propound allegorical interpretations, legends, and myths, and in the Sefer Yetzira("Book of Creation"), a work that is a combination of a cosmogony and a grammar and that was fictitiously attributed to Abraham. There is no clear evidence of the period in which it was written; both the 3rd century and the 6th or 7th century have been suggested. The book became a key work in later Jewish mysticism.


In the 9th and 10th centuries, after a long hiatus, systematic philosophy and ideology reappeared among Jews, a phenomenon indicative of their accession to Islamic civilization. The evolution of Islam in the 9th and 10th centuries showed that Greek scientific and philosophic lore could be separated, at least to some extent, from its pagan associations and could be transformed into another language and another culture; it also tended to show that a culture in which the sciences and philosophy or the sciences and theology or both of these combinations were an indispensable part could be based upon a monotheistic prophetic religion that in all relevant essentials, including adherence to a basic religious law, was closely akin to Judaism. The question of whether philosophy is compatible with religious law (the answer being sometimes negative) constituted the main theme of the foremost medieval Jewish thinkers. From approximately the 9th to the 13th centuries Jewish philosophical and theological thought participated in the evolution of Islamic philosophy and theology and manifested only in a limited sense a specifically Jewish character. Jewish philosophers showed no particular preference for philosophic texts written by Jewish authors over those composed by Muslims, and in many cases the significant works of Jewish thinkers constitute a reply or a reaction to the ideas of Islamic philosophic and scientific writings.

i) Jewish kalam.

Although several Jewish intellectuals in 9th-10th-century Babylonia were steeped in Greek philosophy, the most productive and influential Jewish thinkers of this period represented a very different tendency, that of the Mu'tazilite kalam. Kalam (literally, "speech") is an Arabic term used both in Islamic and in Jewish vocabulary to designate several theological schools that were ostensibly opposed to Greek, particularly Aristotelian, philosophy. The Aristotelians, both Islamic and Jewish, regarded kalam theologians (called the mutakallimun) with a certain contempt, holding them to be mere apologists, watchdogs of religion, and indifferent to truth. Herein they did not do justice to their adversaries, for many representatives of the Mu'tazilite school of kalam, formed in the 8th century, displayed a genuine speculative impulse. Its theology, forged in disputes with Zoroastrians, Manichaeans, and Christians, claimed to be based on reason.

1. Sa'adia ben Joseph.

This belief in reason, as well as some of the tenets of Mu'tazilite theology, were taken over by Sa'adia ben Joseph, who was also influenced, either directly or through the intermediary of an Arabic philosopher, by the arguments of a Christian 6th-century philosopher, John Philoponus, against certain Aristotelian and Neoplatonic positions. Sa'adia's main theological work, Kitab al-amanat wa al-i'tiqadatis modelled on similar Mu'tazilite treatises and on a Mu'tazilite classification of theological subject matter known as the Five Principles. Like many Mu'tazilite authors, Sa'adia starts out by setting forth in his introduction a list and theory of the various sources of knowledge.

Sa'adia distinguished four sources: (1) the five senses, (2) the intellect, or reason, (3) necessary inferences, and (4) reliable information given by trustworthy persons. In Sa'adia's sense of the word, intellect, or reason (al-'aql), means first and foremost an immediate, a priori cognition, independent of sense experience. In Beliefs and Opinions the intellect is characterized as having immediate ethical cognitions--that is, as discerning what is good and what is evil--in opposition to the medieval Aristotelians, who did not regard even the most general ethical rules as a priori cognitions. The third source of knowledge comprises inferences of the type "if there is smoke, there is fire," which are based on data furnished by the first two sources of knowledge. The fourth source of knowledge is meant to validate the teachings of Scripture and of the religious tradition. Teachings of Scripture must be held true because of the trustworthiness of the men who propounded them. One of the main purposes of the work is to show that the knowledge deriving from the fourth source concords with that discovered by means of the other three, or, in other words, that religion and human reason agree.

Sa'adia opposed Aristotle's view that the natural order was eternal. He held, with other partisans of the Mu'tazilite kalam, that the demonstration of the temporal creation of the world must precede and pave the way for the proof of the existence of God the Creator. Given the demonstrated truth that the world has a beginning in time, it can be proved that it could have been produced only through the action of a creator. It can further be proved that there can have been only one Creator.

The theology of Sa'adia, like that of the Mu'tazilites, hinges on two principles: the unity of God and the principle of justice. The latter principle takes issue with the view (widespread in Islam and present also in Judaism) that the definition of what is just and what is good depends solely on God's will, to which none of the moral criteria found among men is applicable; according to this view, a revelation from God can convert an action now generally recognized as evil into a good action. Against this way of thinking, Sa'adia and the Mu'tazilites believed that being good and just or evil and unjust are intrinsic characteristics of human actions and cannot be changed by divine decree. The notions of justice and of good, as conceived by man, are binding on God himself. Since, according to Sa'adia, man has a priori knowledge of good and evil, just and unjust, the fact that human ethical judgments are valid for God means that man's ethical cognitions are also those of the Deity.

The function of religious law--of central importance in traditional Judaism and Islam--is to impose on man the accomplishment of good actions and to prohibit bad ones. Because Sa'adia believed that man has a priori knowledge of good and evil and that this knowledge coincides with the principles underlying the most important portions of the revealed law, he was forced to ask the question whether this law is not superfluous. He could, however, point out that, whereas the human intellect recognizes that certain actions--for instance, murder or theft--are evil, it cannot by itself discover the best possible definition of what constitutes a particular transgression, nor can it, on its own, determine the punishment appropriate for a transgression. On both points, Sa'adia asserted, the commandments of religious law give the best possible answers.

The commandments that accord with the behests of the human intellect were designated by Sa'adia as the intellectual, or rational, commandments. According to him, they include the duty of manifesting gratitude to the Creator for the benefits he has bestowed upon man. Sa'adia recognized that a considerable number of commandments--for instance, those dealing with the prohibition of work on the Sabbath--do not belong to this category. He held, however, that the obligation to obey them may be derived from the rational commandment that makes it incumbent upon man to be grateful to God, for such gratitude entails obedience to his orders.

2. The Karaites.

Sa'adia's adoption of the rational Mu'tazilite theology was a part of his overall activity, directed toward the consolidation of rabbinical Judaism (based on the Mishna and Talmud), which was being attacked by the Karaites. This Jewish sect, founded by Anan ben David in the 8th century, rejected the authority of the Oral Law--that is, of the Mishna and the Talmud. In the 10th century and afterward, the Karaites accepted as their guides the Bible (Old Testament) and human reason, in the Mu'tazilite sense of the word. Their professed freedom from any involvement with postbiblical Jewish religious tradition facilitated a rational approach to theological doctrine. This approach led the Karaite authors to criticize their opponents, the adherents of rabbinical Judaism, for holding anthropomorphic beliefs based, in part, on texts of the Talmudic period. Karaite authors propounded, in conceptual terms, a theology of Jewish history in exile (galut). Life in exile is a diminished existence; nevertheless, the good or bad actions of the Jewish people (rather than their material strength or weakness) affect the course of history. Redemption may come when all Jews are converted to Karaism.

The Karaites adopted, wholesale, Mu'tazilite kalam, including its atomism. The Mu'tazilite atomists held that everything that exists consists of minute, discrete parts. This applies not only to bodies but also to space, to time, to motion, and to the "accidents"--that is, qualities, such as colour--which the Islamic and Jewish atomists regarded as being joined to the corporeal atoms (but not determined by them, as had been believed by the Greek Atomists). An instant of time or a unit of motion does not continue the preceding instant or unit. All apparent processes are discontinuous, and there is causal connection between their successive units of change. The fact that cotton put into fire generally burns does not mean that fire is a cause of burning; rather, it may be explained as a "habit," signifying that this sequence of what is often wrongly held to be cause and effect has no character of necessity. God's free will is the only agent of everything that occurs, with the exception of one category--human actions. These are causes that produce effects; for instance, a man who throws a stone at another man, who is then killed, directly brings about the latter's death. This inconsistency on the part of the theologians was necessitated by the principle of justice, for it would be unjust to punish a man for a murder that was a result not of his action but of God's. This grudging admission that causality exists in certain strictly defined and circumscribed cases was occasioned by moral, not physical, considerations. (see also Index: determinism)

ii) Jewish Neoplatonism.

1. Isaac Israeli.

Outside Babylonia, philosophical studies were pursued by Jews in the 9th and 10th centuries in Egypt and in the Maghrib (northwest Africa). The outstanding figure was Isaac ben Solomon Israeli, an Egyptian-born North African who has been called "the first Jewish Neoplatonist." In his philosophical works, such as the "Book of Elements" and the "Book of Five Substances," he drew largely upon a 9th-century Muslim popularizer of Greek philosophy, Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al- Kindi, and also, in all probability, upon a lost pseudo-Aristotelian text. The peculiar form of Neoplatonic doctrine that seems to have been set forth in this text had, directly and indirectly, a considerable influence on medieval Jewish philosophy.

According to Israeli, God creates through his will and power. The two things that were created first were form, identified with wisdom, and matter, which is designated as the genus of genera (the classes of things) and which is the substratum of everything, not only of bodies, but also of incorporeal substances. This conception of matter seems to derive from the Greek Neoplatonists Plotinus and Proclus, particularly from the latter. In Proclus' opinion generality was one of the main criteria for determining the ontological priority of an entity (relative place in the levels of reality). Matter, because of its indeterminacy, obviously has a high degree of generality; consequently, it figures among the entities having ontological priority. According to the Neoplatonic view, which Israeli seems to have adopted, the conjunction of matter and form gives rise to the intellect. A light sent forth from the intellect produces the rational soul, and in its turn it gives rise to the vegetative soul.

Israeli's doctrine of prophecy seems to be the earliest Jewish philosophical theory attributing prophecy to the influence of the intellect on the imaginative faculty. According to Israeli, this faculty receives from the intellect spiritual forms that are intermediate between corporeality and spirituality. This explanation implies that these forms, "with which the prophets armed themselves," are inferior to purely intellectual cognitions.

2. Solomon ibn Gabirol.

In essentials the schema of creation and emanation propounded by Isaac Israeli and his Neoplatonic source or sources was taken over by Solomon ibn Gabirol, a celebrated 11th-century Hebrew liturgical poet, who seems to have been the earliest Jewish philosopher of Spain. His chief philosophical work, "Fountain of Life," written in Arabic, has been preserved in full only in a 12th-century Latin translation entitled Fons vitaeThis work, which makes no reference to Judaism or to specifically Jewish doctrines, is a didactic dialogue between a disciple and a master who teaches him true philosophical knowledge. Despite its prolixity and many contradictions, it is an impressive work. Few medieval texts so effectively communicate the Neoplatonic conception of the existence of a number of planes of being that differ according to their ontological priority, the derivative and inferior ones constituting a reflection in a grosser mode of existence of those that are prior and superior.

A central conception in Ibn Gabirol's philosophy is concerned with the divine will, which appears to be both part of and separate from the divine essence. Infinite according to its essence, the will is finite in its action. It is described as pervading everything that exists and as being the intermediary between the divine essence and matter and form. Will was one of a number of traditional appellations applied in various medieval theologies to the entity intermediate between the transcendent Deity and the world or to the aspect of the Deity involved in creation. According to a statement in Fons vitae, matter derives from the divine essence, whereas form derives from the divine will. This suggests that the difference between matter and form has some counterpart in the Godhead and also that universal matter is superior to universal form. Some of Ibn Gabirol's statements seem to bear out the impression of superiority of universal matter; other passages, however, appear to imply a superiority of universal form.

Form and matter, whether they be universal or particular, exist only in conjunction. All things, with the sole exception of God, are constituted through the union of the two, the intellect no less than the corporeal substance. In fact, the intellect is the first being in which universal matter and form are conjoined. The intellect contains and encompasses all things. It is through the grasp of the various planes of being, through ascending in knowledge to the world of the intellect and apprehending what is above it--the divine will and the world of the Deity--that man may "escape death" and reach "the source of life."

3. Judah ha-Levi.

Judah ben Samuel ha-Levi (c. 1075-c. 1141), also from Spain and a celebrated Hebrew poet, was the first medieval Jewish thinker who consciously and consistently based his thought upon arguments drawn from Jewish history. His views are set forth in an Arabic dialogue, al-Hazari (Hebrew Sefer ha-Kuzari), the full title of which is translated as "The Book of Proof and Argument in Defense of the Despised Faith." This work is usually called Kuzari; i.e., "the Khazar."

Basing his narrative on the historical fact that the Khazars (a Turkic-speaking people in Central Eurasia) were converted to Judaism (c. 740), ha-Levi relates that their King, a pious man who did not belong to any of the great monotheistic religions, dreamed of an angel, who said to him, "Your intentions are pleasing to the Creator, but your works are not." To find the correct way of pleasing God, the King seeks the guidance of a philosopher, a Christian, a Muslim, then, finally, after hesitating to have recourse to a representative of a people degraded by its historical misfortune, of a Jewish scholar who converts him to Judaism. The words of the angel heard in a dream may, in accordance with both religious and philosophical doctrine, be regarded as a kind of revelation. The use of this element of the story enabled ha-Levi to suggest that it is not the spontaneous activity of human reason that impels man to undertake the quest for the true religion; for this, one needs the gift of prophecy, or, at least, a touch of the prophetic faculty (or a knowledge of the revelations of the past).

The argument of the philosopher whose advice is sought by the King brings this point home. This disquisition is a brilliant piece of writing, for it lays bare the essential differences between the Aristotelian God, who is totally ignorant of and consequently wholly indifferent to human individuals, and the God of religion. Within the framework of philosophical doctrine, the angel's words are quite meaningless. Not only is the God of the philosophers, who is a pure intellect, not concerned with man's works, but the (cultural) activities, involving both mind and body, to which the angel clearly referred, cannot, from the philosophical point of view, either help or hinder man in the pursuance of the philosophers' supreme goal--the attainment of union with the active intellect, a "light" of the divine nature. This union was supposed to confer knowledge of all intelligible things. Thus, man's supreme goal was here held to be of a purely intellectual nature.

In opposition to the philosopher's faith, the religion of ha-Levi's Jewish scholar is based upon the fact that God may have a close, direct relationship with man, who is not conceived primarily as a being endowed with intellect. The postulate that God can have intercourse with a creature made of the disgusting materials that go into the composition of the human body is scandalous to the King and prevents his acceptance of the doctrine concerning prophecy, expounded by the Muslim sage (just as the extraordinary nature of the Christological dogmas deters him from adopting Christianity).

The Jewish scholar's position is that it is contemplation not of the cosmos but of Jewish history that procures knowledge of God. Ha-Levi was aware of the odium attaching to the doctrine of the superiority of one particular nation; he held, however, that only this doctrine explains God's dealing with mankind, which, like many other things, reason is unable to grasp. The controversies of the philosophers serve as proof of the failure of human intelligence to find valid solutions to the most important problems.

Ha-Levi's dialogue was also directed against the Karaites. He shows the necessity and celebrates the efficacy of a blind, unquestioning adhesion to tradition, which the Karaites rejected. Yet, he expounds a theology of Jewish exile that seems to have been influenced by Karaite doctrine. According to ha-Levi, even in exile the course of Jewish history is not determined like that of other nations by natural causes, such as material strength or weakness; the decisive factors are the religious observance or disobedience of the Jews. The advent of Christianity and of Islam prepares the other nations for conversion to Judaism, an event that will occur in the eschatological period (at the end of history).

4. Other Jewish thinkers c. 1050-c. 1150.

During the period comprising the second half of the 11th century and the first half of the 12th century, many other Jewish thinkers appeared in Spain. Bahya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda wrote one of the most popular books of Jewish spiritual literature, Kitab al-hidayah ila fara`id alqulub ("Guidance to the Duties of the Heart"), which combines a theology influenced by Sa'adia with a moderate mysticism inspired by the teachings of the Muslim Sufis (mystics). The commandments of the heart--that is, those relating to men's thoughts and sentiments--are contrasted with the commandments of the limbs--that is, the Mosaic commandments enjoining or prohibiting certain actions. Bahya maintained that both sets of commandments should be observed (thus rejecting the antinomian position), but made clear that first and foremost he was interested in the commandments of the heart.

Abraham bar Hiyya Savasorda, a mathematician, astrologer, and philosopher, outlined in Megillat ha-megalle ("Scroll of the Revealer") a view of Jewish history that is reminiscent of ha-Levi but does not emphasize to the same degree the uniqueness of that history; it is also set forth in much less impressive fashion. Living in Barcelona under Christian rule, Bar Hiyya wrote his scientific and philosophical treatises not in Arabic but in Hebrew. Hebrew was also used by Abraham ibn Ezra (died c. 1167), a native of Spain who travelled extensively in Christian Europe. His commentaries on the Bible contributed to the diffusion among the Jews of Greek philosophical thought, to which Ibn Ezra made many, although as a rule disjointed, references. His astrological doctrine had a strong influence on some philosophers.

The last outstanding Jewish philosopher of the Islamic East, Abu al-Barakat al-Baghdadi (who died as a very old man sometime after 1164), also belongs to this period. As a borderline case he illustrates a certain indeterminacy in the definition of a Jewish thinker. An inhabitant of Iraq, he was converted to Islam in his old age (for reasons of expediency, according to his biographers). His philosophy appears to have had a strong impact on Islamic thought, whereas its influence upon Jewish philosophy and theology is very hard to pin down and may be practically nonexistent. His chief philosophical work, Kitab al-mu'tabar ("The Book of That Which Has Been Established by Personal Reflection"), has very few references to Jewish texts or topics. Abu al-Barakat rejects Aristotelian physics completely; according to him, time is the measure of being, and not, as Aristotle taught, the measure of motion, and he replaces Aristotle's bidimensional concept of place with the tridimensional notion of space, the existence of which is independent of the existence of bodies.

iii) Jewish Aristotelianism.

With regard to the adoption of Aristotelianism, including systems that in many essentials stem from but also profoundly modify the pure Aristotelian doctrine, there is a considerable time lag between the Islamic East, on the one hand, and Muslim Spain and the Maghrib, on the other.

1. Abraham ibn Daud.

Abraham ibn Daud (12th century), who is regarded as the first Jewish Aristotelian of Spain, was primarily a disciple of Avicenna, the great 11th-century Islamic philosopher. According to a not unlikely hypothesis, he may have translated or helped to translate some of Avicenna's works into Latin, for Ibn Daud lived under Christian rule in Toledo, a town that in the 12th century was a centre for translators. His historical treatises, written in Hebrew, manifest his desire to familiarize his coreligionists with the historical tradition of the Latin world, which at that time was alien to most of them. But his philosophical work, Sefer ha-emuna ha-rama ("Book of Sublime Faith"), written in 1161 in Arabic, shows few, if any, signs of Christian influence.

The doctrine of emanation, set forth in the "Book of Sublime Religion," describes in the manner of Avicenna the procession of the ten incorporeal intellects, the first of which derives from God. This intellect produces the second intellect, and so on. Ibn Daud questioned in a fairly explicit manner Avicenna's views on the way the second intellect is produced; his discipleship did not by any means spell total adherence. Ibn Daud's psychology was also, and more distinctively, derived from Avicenna. The argumentation leading to a proof that the rational faculty is not corporeal attempts to derive the nature of the soul from the fact of immediate self-awareness. Like Avicenna, Ibn Daud tended to found psychology on a theory of consciousness.

Ibn Daud often referred to the accord that, in his view, existed between philosophy and religious tradition. As he remarked, the "Book of Sublime Faith" was not meant to be read either by readers who, in their simplicity, are satisfied with what they know of religious tradition or by those who have a thorough knowledge of philosophy. It was intended for readers of one type only, those who, being, on the one hand, acquainted with the religious tradition and having, on the other, some rudiments of philosophy, are "perplexed." It was for the same kind of people that Maimonides wrote his Guide of the Perplexed.

2. Maimonides.

Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204), a native of Spain, is incontestably the greatest name in Jewish medieval philosophy, but his reputation is not derived from any outstanding originality in philosophical thought. Rather, the distinction of Maimonides, who is also the most eminent codifier of Jewish religious law, is to be found in the vast scope of his attempt, in the Dalalat al-ha`irin(Guide of the Perplexed), to safeguard both religious law and philosophy (the public communication of which would be destructive of the law) without suppressing the issues between them and without trying to impose, on the theoretical plane, a final, universally binding solution of the conflict.

As Maimonides made clear in his introduction to the Guide, he regarded his self-imposed task as perilous, and he therefore had recourse to a whole system of precautions destined to conceal his true meaning from the people who, lacking the necessary qualifications, might misread the book and abandon observance of the law. According to Maimonides' explicit statement, these precautions include deliberately contradictory statements meant to mislead the undiscerning reader. The apparent or real contradictions that may be encountered in the Guide are perhaps most flagrant in Maimonides' doctrine concerning God. There seems to be no plausible hypothesis capable of explaining away the differences between the following three views:

1. God has an eternal will that is not bound by natural laws. Through an act of his will, he created the world in time and imposed on it the order of nature. This creation is the greatest of miracles; only if it is admitted can other miracles, which interfere with the causally determined concatenations of events, be regarded as possible. The philosophers' God, who is not free to cut the wings of a fly, is to be rejected. This conception is in keeping with the traditional religious view of God and is avowedly adopted by Maimonides because failure to do so would undermine religion.

2. Man is incapable of having any positive knowledge concerning God. No positive attributes--e.g., wisdom or life--can be ascribed to God. Contrary to the attributes predicated of created beings, the divine attributes are strictly negative; they state what God is not: for instance, he is not not-wise, and such a statement is not a positive assertion. Hence, only a negative theology is possible--saying what God is not. The way God acts can, however, be known. This knowledge is to be found in natural science.

3. God is an intellect. The formula current among medieval philosophers that maintains that in God the knowing subject, the object known, and the act of intellectual knowledge are identical derives from Aristotle's thesis that God knows only himself. Maimonides, however, in adopting the formula, interpreted it in the light of human psychology and epistemology (theory of knowledge), pointing out that, according to a theory of Aristotle, the act of human (not only of divine) cognition brings about an identity of the cognizing subject and cognized object. The parallel drawn by Maimonides between the human and the divine intellect quite evidently implies a certain similarity between the two; in other words, it is incompatible with the negative theology of other passages of the Guide. Nor can it be reconciled with his theological doctrine that the structure of the world--created in time--came into being through the action of God's will.

The enigma of the Guide would be nonexistent if Maimonides could be held to have believed that truth can be discovered in a suprarational way, through revelations vouchsafed to the prophets. This, however, is not the case. Maimonides held that the prophets (with the exception of Moses) combine great intellectual abilities, which qualify them to be philosophers, with a powerful imagination. The intellectual faculty of the philosophers and the prophets receives an overflow from the active intellect. In the case of the prophets, this overflow not only brings about intellectual activity but also passes over into the imaginative faculty, giving rise to visions and dreams. The fact that prophets have a strong imagination gives them no superiority in knowledge over philosophers, who do not have it. Moses, who belonged to a higher category than did the other prophets, did not have recourse to imagination.

The laws and religion as instituted by Moses are intended not only to ensure the bodily welfare and safety of the members of the community but also to facilitate the attainment of intellectual truths by individuals gifted enough to uncover the various hints embodied in religious laws and practices. This does not mean that all the beliefs inculcated by Judaism are true. Some indeed express philosophical truths, although in an inaccurate way, in a language suited to the intellectual capacity of the common people, who in general cannot grasp the import of the dogmas they are required to profess. Other beliefs, however, are false but necessary for the preservation of a public order upholding justice--e.g., the belief that God is angry with wrongdoers.

As far as the Law--that is, the religious commandments--is concerned, two aspects of Maimonides' position may be distinguished. First, he maintained that it is unique in its excellence and valid for all time. This profession of faith, at least with regard to its assumptions about the future, lacked philosophical justification; however, it could be regarded as necessary for the survival of Judaism. Second, he asserted that certain precepts of the Mosaic Law were related to specific historical situations and the need to avoid too sharp a break with popular customs and practices, for instance, the commandments concerning sacrifice.

For at least four or five centuries the Guide of the Perplexed exercised a very strong influence in the European centres of Jewish thought; in the 13th century, when the Guide was twice translated into Hebrew, these centres were Spain, the south of France, and Italy. Rather paradoxically, in view of the unsystematic character of Maimonides' exposition, it was used as a standard textbook of philosophy and condemned as such when the teaching of philosophy came under attack. The performance of this function by the Guide was rendered possible, or at least facilitated by, the fact that from the 13th century onward the history of Jewish philosophy in European countries acquired a continuity it had never had before. This development seems to have resulted from the substitution of Hebrew for Arabic as the language of philosophical exposition. Because of the existence of a common and relatively homogeneous philosophical background--the Hebrew texts were much less numerous and less diverse than Arabic philosophical works--and the fact that Jewish philosophers reading and writing in Hebrew read the works of their contemporaries and immediate predecessors, something like a dialogue can be discerned. In striking contrast to the immediately preceding period, European Jewish philosophers in the 13th century and after frequently devoted a very considerable part of their treatises to discussions of the opinions of other Jewish philosophers. That many of the Jewish philosophers in question wrote commentaries on the Guide undoubtedly furthered this tendency.

3. Averroists.

The influence of Maimonides' great Islamic contemporary Averroës, many of whose commentaries and treatises were translated into Hebrew, was second only to that of Maimonides on Jewish intellectual development. Indeed, it may be argued that for philosophers, as distinct from the general reading public, it often came first. In certain cases commentators on the Guide tend, in spite of the frequent divergences between the two philosophers, to quote Averroës' opinions in order to clarify those of Maimonides.

The apparently significant influence of Christian Scholastic thought on Jewish philosophy was often not openly acknowledged by Jewish thinkers in the period beginning with the 13th century. Samuel ibn Tibbon, one of the translators of the Guide into Hebrew and a philosopher in his own right, remarked on the fact that the philosophical sciences were more widely known among Christians than among Muslims. Somewhat later, at the end of the 13th century and after, Jewish scholars in Italy translated into Hebrew varied texts of Thomas Aquinas and other Christian Scholastics; not infrequently, some of them acknowledged the debt they owed their Christian masters. In Spain and in the south of France, a different convention seems to have prevailed up to the second half of the 15th century. Whereas Jewish philosophers of these countries felt no reluctance about referring to Greek, Arabic, and other Jewish philosophers, as a rule they refrained from citing Christian thinkers whose views had, in all probability, influenced them. In the case of certain Jewish thinkers, this absence of reference to the Christian Scholastics served to disguise the fact that in many essentials they were representative of the philosophical trends, such as Latin Averroism, that were current among the Christian Scholastics of their time.

Quite evident is the resemblance between certain views professed by the Latin Averroists and the parallel opinions of Isaac Albalag, a Jewish philosopher who lived in the second half of the 13th century, probably in Catalonia, Spain, and who wrote a commentary in Hebrew on the Tahafut al-falasifah("The Inconsistencies of the Philosophers"), an exposition of Avicenna's doctrine written by the Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali. Albalag's assertion that both the teachings of the Bible and the truths demonstrated by reason must be believed even if they are contradictory clearly poses the question whether some historical connections exist between this view and the Latin Averroist doctrine that there are two sets of truths--the religious and the philosophical--and that these are not necessarily in accord. In most other points Albalag was a follower of the system of Averroës himself. This philosophical position may be exemplified by his rejection of the view that the world was created in time. He professed, it is true, to believe in what he called "absolute creation in time." This expression, however, merely signifies that at any given moment the continued existence of the world depends on God's existence, an opinion that is essentially in harmony with Averroës.

Joseph Caspi, a prolific 14th-century philosopher and exegetical commentator, maintained a somewhat unsystematic philosophical position that seems to have been influenced by Averroës. He expressed the opinion that knowledge of the future, including that possessed by God himself, is of a probabilistic nature. The prescience of the prophets is of the same nature. It is more than likely that Caspi's interest in this problem had some connection with the debate about future contingencies in which Christian Scholastics were engaged at that time.

Moses of Narbonne, or Moses Narboni, who lived in the south of France in the 14th century, was, like many other Jewish writers of this period, mainly a writer of commentaries. He wrote commentaries on biblical books, on treatises of Averroës, and on Maimonides' Guide. In his commentary on the Guide, Narboni often interprets the earlier Jewish philosopher's opinions by recourse to Averroës' views. Narboni also expounded and gave radical interpretations to certain conceptions that he understood as implied in the Guide. According to Narboni, God participates in all things, because he is the measure of all substances. God's existence appears to be bound up with that of the world, to which he has a relation analogous to that existing between a soul and its body (a comparison already made in the Guide).

4. Gersonides.

Gersonides (Levi ben Gershom), another 14th-century Jewish philosopher born in the south of France, wrote the systematic philosophical work Sefer milhamot Adonai ("The Book of the Wars of the Lord") as well as many philosophical commentaries. Gersonides apparently never explicitly mentioned Christian Scholastic philosophers; he cited Greek, Arabic, and Jewish thinkers only, and in many ways his system appears to have stemmed from the doctrines of Maimonides or Averroës, regardless of whether he agreed with them or not. For example, he explicitly rejected Maimonides' doctrine of negative theology. A comparison of his opinions and of the particular problems that engaged his attention, with the views and debates found in Scholastic writings of his period, however, suggests that he was also influenced by the Latins on certain points.

Gersonides disagreed both with the Aristotelian philosophers who maintained the eternity of the world and with the religious partisans who believed in the creation of the world in time out of nothing. He maintained that God created the world in time out of a preexistent body lacking all form. As conceived by Gersonides, this body seems to be similar to primal matter.

The problem of human freedom of action and a particular version of the problem of God's knowledge of future contingencies form an important part of Gersonides' doctrine. Gersonides, who, unlike the great Jewish and Muslim Aristotelians, believed in astrology, held that all happenings in the world except human actions are governed by a strict determinism. God's knowledge does not extend to individual human acts but embraces the general order of things; it grasps the laws of universal determinism but is incapable of apprehending events resulting from man's freedom. Thus, the object of God's knowledge is an ideal world order, which differs from the real world insofar as the latter is in some measure formed according to man's free will.

In political and social doctrine there is a fundamental difference between Maimonides and Gersonides. Gersonides does not appear to have assigned to the prophets any political function; according to him, their role consists in the prediction of future events. The providence exercised by the heavenly bodies ensures the existence in a given political society of men having an aptitude for and exercising the handicrafts and professions necessary for the survival of the community. He remarked that in this way the various human activities are distributed in a manner superior to that outlined in Plato's Republic. Thus, he rejected explicitly Plato's political philosophy, which, having been adapted to a society ruled through the laws promulgated by a prophet (Muhammad), had been an important element of Jewish philosophy in the Arabic period.

5. Hasdai Crescas.

Hasdai ben Abraham Crescas (1340-1410), a Spanish-Jewish thinker, like Gersonides had thorough knowledge of Jewish philosophy and partial knowledge of Islamic philosophy, and both seem to have been influenced by Christian Scholastic thought; moreover, in certain important respects Crescas was influenced by Gersonides himself. In Crescas' main work, Or Adonai("The Light of the Lord"), however, one of his objectives, quite contrary to Gersonides, was to expose the weakness and insufficiency of Aristotelian philosophy. This attitude may be placed in the wider context of the return to religion itself, as opposed to the Aristotelian rationalization of religion, and the vogue of Kabbala (Jewish theosophical mysticism), both of which were characteristic features of Spanish Jewry in Crescas' time. This change in attitude has been regarded as a reaction to the increasing precariousness of the position of the Jewish community in Spain.

The low estimation of the certainties and the rationalistic arrogance of the medieval Aristotelians coincided chronologically with a certain disintegration of and disaffection toward classical Aristotelian Scholasticism. Relevant to this decline were the so-called voluntarism of Duns Scotus, the Nominalism of William of Ockham and other 13th-14th-century Christian Scholastics, and the development, in the 14th century and after, of anti-Aristotelian physics at the University of Paris and elsewhere. Significantly there is a pronounced resemblance between Crescas' views and two of these trends, Scotism and the "new" physics.

Crescas accepted Gersonides' view that divine attributes cannot be negative, but unlike his predecessor he centred his explanation of the difference between the attributes of God and those of created existents on the antithesis between an infinite being and finite beings. It is through infinitude that God's essential attributes--wisdom, for instance--differ from the corresponding and otherwise similar attributes found in created beings. In Crescas', as in Spinoza's, doctrine (see below), God's attributes are also infinite in number. The central place assigned to the thesis of God's infinity in Crescas' system suggests the influence of Duns Scotus' theology, which is similarly founded upon the concept of divine infinity.

The problem of the infinite approached from an altogether different angle was one of the main themes of Crescas' critique of Maimonides' 25 propositions; these propositions, concerned mainly with Aristotelian physical doctrines, had been set forth in the Guide as the basis of Maimonides' proof for the existence of God. Crescas' declared purpose in criticizing and rejecting several of these propositions was to show that the traditional Aristotelian proofs (founded in the first place on physical doctrines) were not valid. In the course of his critique, Crescas attempted to disprove the Aristotelian thesis that the existence of an actual infinite is impossible. He held that space is not a limit but a tridimensional extension, that it is infinite, and that, contrary to Aristotle, the existence of a vacuum and of more worlds than one is possible. He also criticized as being impossible the thesis of the Aristotelian philosophers that there exists an infinite number of causes and effects, which have order and gradation. This thesis refers not to a temporal succession of causes and effects that have a similar ontological status but to a vertical series, descending from God to the lowest rung in creation. His attacks were likewise directed against the Aristotelians' conceptions of time and of matter.

Crescas' fundamental opposition to Aristotelianism is perhaps most evident in his rejection of the conception of intellectual activity as the supreme state of being for man and for God. Crescas' God is not first and foremost an intellect, and the supreme goal to which man can aspire is to love God with a love corresponding as far as possible to the infinite greatness of its object and to rejoice in the observance of his commandments. God, too, loves man, and his love, in spite of the lowliness of its object, is proportionate to his infinity.

Crescas attacked the separation of the intellect from the soul as conceived by the Aristotelians and attempted, perhaps in part under the influence of Judah ha-Levi, to refute the Aristotelian doctrine that the actualized intellect, in contradistinction to the soul, survives the death of the body. According to Crescas, the soul is a substance in its own right and can be separated from the body; it continues to subsist after the body's death.

6. Joseph Albo.

Whereas Crescas unmistakably regarded the Aristotelian philosophers as adversaries to be criticized or combatted, the attitude of Joseph Albo (c. 1380-c. 1444), who regarded Crescas as his teacher, is much less clearly defined. Albo did not eschew self-contradiction, apparently considering it a legitimate precaution on the part of a philosophical or theological author; indeed, he indulged in it in a much more obvious way than did Maimonides. But, whereas the latter's fundamental philosophical position is fairly clear, the problem being how far he was prepared to deviate from Aristotelian doctrine in the interests of religion, there may be valid doubt whether Crescas and the Jewish religious tradition or Maimonides and Averroës were Albo's true masters. Mainly because of this perhaps deliberate failure to explain to the reader where he really stood, Albo has often been dismissed as an eclectic. He was strongly influenced not only by the authors just mentioned but also by Sa'adia. He seems to have had a considerable knowledge of Christian theology, even adopting for his own purposes certain Scholastic doctrines. He differs from Crescas and to some extent resembles Maimonides in having a marked interest in political theory.

The proclaimed theme of Albo's magnum opus, Sefer ha-'iqqarim("Book of Principles"), is the investigation of the theory of Jewish religious dogmas, the number of which Maimonides, in a nonphilosophical work, had set at 13, whereas Albo, following a doctrine that in the last analysis seems to go back to Averroës, would limit the number to three: the existence of God, divine providence in reward and punishment, and the Torah as divine revelation. One section, usually including the philosophical and the traditional religious interpretations side by side, is devoted to each of these dogmas. Albo's principal and relatively novel contribution to Jewish doctrinal evolution is the classification, in his introduction, of natural, conventional, and divine law.

Natural law (the universal moral law inherent in human nature) is necessary, because man, being political by nature, must belong to a community, which may be restricted in size to one town or may extend over the whole earth. Natural law preserves society by promoting right and repressing injustice; thus, it restrains men from stealing, robbing, and murdering. The positive laws instituted by wise men take into account the particular nature of the people for whose benefit they are instituted, as well as other circumstances. This means that they differ from the natural law in not being universally applicable. Neither natural law nor the more elaborate conventional laws, however, lead men toward true spiritual happiness; this is the function of divine laws instituted by a prophet, which teach men true theoretical opinions. Whereas Maimonides maintained that Judaism was the only divine law promulgated by a true prophet, Albo considered that the commandments given to Noah for all mankind also constitute divine law, which ensures, although to a lesser degree than does Judaism, the happiness of its adherents. This position justifies a certain universalism; in accordance with a Talmudic saying, Albo believed that the pious among the non-Jews--that is, those who observe Noah's laws--have a share in the world to come. But he rejected the pretensions of Christianity and Islam to be divine laws. (see also Index: Noahide Laws)


i) The Iberian-Dutch philosophers.

The expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal produced a new centre of Jewish thought, Holland, where many of the exiled Jews found a new and safer domicile; the tolerance of the regime seemed to provide guarantees against external persecution. This did not prevent, and indeed may have furthered, the establishment of an oppressive internal orthodoxy that was prepared to chastise rebellious members of the community. This was evident in the cases of Uriel Acosta, or da Costa, and Benedict de Spinoza, two 17th-century philosophers who rebelled against Jewish orthodoxy and who were excommunicated for their views (Acosta twice).

1. Uriel Acosta.

Acosta came to Amsterdam from Portugal, where, belonging to a family of Marranos (Jews who had converted to escape religious persecution), he had been brought up in the Catholic faith; his philosophical position was to a great extent determined by his antagonism to the orthodox Judaism that he encountered in Amsterdam. His growing estrangement from generally accepted Jewish doctrine is attested by his Portuguese treatise Sobre a Mortalidade da Alma ("On the Mortality of the Soul"). He considered that the belief in the immortality of the soul has had many evil effects, for it impels men to choose an ascetic way of life and even to seek death. According to him, nothing has tormented men more than the belief in an inner, spiritual good and evil. At this stage Acosta affirmed the authority of the Bible from which, according to him, the mortality of the soul can be proved.

In his autobiography, written in Latin and entitled Exemplar Humanae Vitae("Example of a Human Life"), he takes a more radical position. He proclaims the supreme excellency of the natural moral law (which, when arguing before Jews, he seems to identify with the divine commandments to Noah, thus suggesting a correspondence with the view of Albo). Accordingly, he denies the validity of the argument that natural law is inferior to Judaism and Christianity, because he believes that both these religions teach the love of one's enemies, a precept that is not a part of natural law and is a manifest impossibility.

2. Benedict de Spinoza.

Although modern philosophers of Jewish origin are not considered as belonging to the history of Jewish philosophy unless they deal with Judaic themes, this restriction may not apply to Spinoza for the following reasons. (1) It was through the study of Jewish philosophical texts that Spinoza was first initiated into philosophy. (2) Spinoza's system is in part a radicalization of, or perhaps a logical corollary to, medieval Jewish doctrines; and the impact of Maimonides and of Crescas is evident. (3) A considerable portion of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicusdeals with problems related to Judaism.

The first chapters of the Tractatus show that the doctrine of prophecy is of central importance to Spinoza's explanation of Judaism and that, in dealing with this subject, he used Maimonides' categories, although he applied them to different people or groups of people. Maimonides held that the prophets combined intellectual perfection, which made them philosophers, with perfection of the imaginative faculty. He also referred to a category of persons endowed with a strong imagination but possessing no extraordinary intellectual gifts; this category includes, for example, lawgivers and statesmen. Spinoza took over this last category but applied it to the prophets, whom he described as possessing vivid imaginations but as not necessarily having outstanding intellectual capacities. He denied that the biblical prophets were philosophers and used a philosophical and historical approach to the Scriptures to show that the contrary assertion is not borne out by the texts.

Spinoza also denied Maimonides' assertion that the prophecy of Moses was essentially different from that of the other prophets and that this was largely because Moses, in prophesying, had no recourse to the imaginative faculty. According to Spinoza, the distinctive fact about Moses' prophecy was that he heard the voice of God in a prophetic vision--that is, in a state in which his imagination was active. In this assertion Spinoza employed one of Maimonides' categories of prophecy, differentiated in the Guide according to certain characteristics of prophetic dreams and visions; however, Maimonides thought it improbable that the voice of God was ever heard in prophetic vision, and he held that this category is purely hypothetical. It seems evident that in his classification of Moses, Spinoza was concerned not with what really happened in history but with pigeonholing the biblical evidence into Maimonides' theoretical framework so that it fit in with his own theologico-political purpose: to show that there could be a religion superior to Judaism.

This purpose made it imperative to propound in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus a theory concerning Jesus, whom Spinoza designates as Christus. The category and the status assigned to Jesus are by and large similar to those that Maimonides attributed to Moses. Thus, Jesus is referred to in the Tractatus as a religious teacher who makes recourse not to the imaginative faculty but solely to the intellect. His authority may be used to institute and strengthen the religion Spinoza called religio catholica ("universal religion"), which has little or nothing in common with any of the major manifestations of historic Christianity.

The difference between Judaism and Spinoza's religio catholica corresponds to the difference between Moses and Jesus. After leaving Egypt the Jews found themselves, in Spinoza's view, in the position of people who had no allegiance to any positive law; they had, as it were, reverted to a state of nature and were faced with the need to enter into a social pact. They were also an ignorant people and very prone to superstition. Moses, a man of outstanding ability, made use of the situation and the characteristics of the people in order to make them accept a social pact and a state founded upon it that, contrary to Spinoza's scheme for his ideal communities, were not based first and foremost upon utilitarian--that is, reasonable--consideration of the advantages of life in society over the state of nature.

The social pact concluded by the children of Israel in the desert was based upon a superstitious view of God as "King" and "Judge," to whom the children of Israel owed whatever political and military successes they obtained. It was to God rather than to the representatives of the popular will that the children of Israel transferred political sovereignty. In due course political sovereignty was vested in Moses, God's representative, and in his successors. It should be added that, in spite of Spinoza's insistence on the superstitious foundations of the ancient Israelite state, his account of its regime was not wholly unsympathetic. He believed, however, that it contained the seeds of its own destruction and that, with the extinction of this state, the social pact devised by Moses had lapsed and all the political and religious obligations incumbent upon the Jews had become null and void.

It could be argued that, because the state conceived by Spinoza is based not on superstitious faith but on a social contract originating in rational, utilitarian considerations, it does not necessarily need to have its authority safeguarded and stabilized by means of religion. Nevertheless, Spinoza appears to have held the view--perhaps derived from a purely empirical knowledge of the behaviour of the common run of men--that there is a need for religion. In order to fulfill the need for some religion and to obviate the danger of harmful religions, he devised his religio catholica, the universal religion, which has the following distinctive traits: (1) Its main purpose, a practical one (which is furthered by recourse to the authority of Jesus), is to impel men to act in accordance with justice and charity. Such conduct is tantamount to obedience to the laws of the state and to the orders of the magistrates, in whom sovereignty is vested; for disobedience--even if it springs from compassionate motives--weakens the social pact, which safeguards the welfare of all the members of the community; in consequence, its evil effects outweigh whatever good it may produce. (2) Although religion, according to Spinoza, is not concerned with theoretical truth, in order to be effective the religio catholica requires dogmas, which he set forth in the Tractatus. These dogmas are formulated there in terms that can be interpreted in accordance both with the philosophical conception of God that Spinoza regarded as true and also with the superstitious ideas of ordinary people. It follows that if they are accepted as constituting by themselves the only creed that everybody is obliged to profess, people cannot be persecuted on account of their beliefs; Spinoza held that such a persecution may lead to civil war and may thus destroy the state. Philosophers are free to engage in the pursuit of truth and to attain, if they can, the supreme goal of man, freedom grounded in knowledge. There can be little doubt that the furtherance of the cause of tolerance for philosophical opinions was one of Spinoza's main objects in writing the Tractatus.

The relation between Spinoza's Ethics, his major philosophical work, and Jewish medieval philosophy is much more ambiguous than in the case of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Philosophicus. In a way, Spinoza's metaphysical system, contained in the Ethics, can be regarded as being, in part, a spelling out of some extreme consequences, which could perhaps be legitimately drawn from medieval Aristotelianism; but the facts of the case are no doubt much more complicated than this.

ii) German philosophers.

1. Moses Mendelssohn.

Moses Mendelssohn opened what may be called the German period of Jewish philosophy (c. 1750-c. 1830). This period, in which a considerable number of works on Jewish philosophy were written in German and often under the influence of German philosophy, is also marked by the emancipation of the Jews--that is, by the abrogation of discriminatory laws directed against them--and by their partial or complete assimilation. In this period in particular, the term Jewish philosophy applies especially to works the main purpose of which, or one of the main purposes of which, consists in proposing a definition of Judaism and a justification of its existence. The second task is often conceived as necessitating a confrontation of Judaism with Christianity rather than with philosophy, which served as a critical point of comparison for many medieval philosophers. This change seems to have been a result of the demarcation of the sphere of religion in such a way that, at least in the opinion of the philosophers, possible points of collision no longer existed between it and philosophy. This demarcation was largely furthered by the doctrine of Spinoza, from whom Mendelssohn and others took over and adopted for their own purposes certain fundamental ideas concerning Judaism. Like Spinoza, Mendelssohn held that it is not the task of Judaism to teach rational truths, although they may be referred to in the Bible. Contrary to what he called Athanasian Christianity--that is, the doctrine set forth in the Athanasian Creed--Judaism has no binding dogmas; it is centred on inculcating belief in certain historical events and on action--that is, observance of religious law (including the ceremonial commandments). Such observance is supposed to lead to happiness in this world and in the afterlife. Mendelssohn did not reject this view offhand, as Spinoza would have done; indeed, he seems to have been prepared to accept it, God's mysteries being inscrutable, and the radicalism and what may be called the consistency of Spinoza being the complete antithesis of Mendelssohn's apologetics. Non-Jews were supposed by Mendelssohn to owe allegiance to the natural moral law.

2. Solomon Formstecher.

Whereas Mendelssohn continued the medieval tradition, at least to some extent, or adopted Spinoza's doctrine for his purposes, the Jewish philosophers of the first half of the 19th century may generally be regarded as disciples of the philosophers of their own time. In Die Religion des Geistes("The Religion of the Spirit"), Solomon Formstecher (1808-89) may have been influenced by F.W.J. Schelling, an eminent German philosopher, in his conception of nature and spirit as manifestations of the divine. There are, in Formstecher's view, two types of religions that correspond to these manifestations: (1) the religion of nature, in which God is conceived as the principle of nature or as the world soul, and (2) the religion of the spirit, which conceives of God as an ethical being. According to the religion of the spirit, God has produced the world as his manifestation in full freedom and not, as the religion of nature tends to profess, because the world was necessary for his own existence.

The religion of the spirit, which corresponds to absolute religious truth, was first manifested in the Jewish people. The religious history of the world may be understood as a process of universalization of the Jewish religion. Thus, Christianity propagated Jewish conceptions among the nations; however, it combined them with pagan ideas. The pagan element is gradually being eliminated--Protestantism, for instance, in this respect, marks considerable progress. When at long last the Jewish element in Christianity is victorious, the Jews will be right to give up their isolation. The progress that will bring about this final religious union is already under way. (see also Index: paganism)

3. Samuel Hirsch.

The main philosophical work of Samuel Hirsch, entitled Die Religionsphilosophie der Juden("The Philosophy of Religion of the Jews"), was decisively influenced by G.W.F. Hegel. This influence is most evident in Hirsch's method and in the task that he assigned to the philosophy of religion--the transformation of religious consciousness into conceptual truth. Contrary to Hegel, however, he did not consider religious truth to be inadequate as compared to philosophical truth.

God revealed himself in the first stages of Jewish history by means of miracles and of prophecy. At present, he manifests himself in the miracle that is constituted by the existence of the Jewish people. At its beginning in the time of Jesus, Christianity was identical with Judaism. The decisive break between the two religions was caused by Paul. When the Pauline elements are eliminated from Christianity, it will be in all essentials in agreement with Judaism, which, however, will preserve its separate existence.

4. Nachman Krochmal.

Nachman Krochmal, a native of Galicia (at that time, part of Austria), was the author of More nevukhe ha-zman("Guide for the Perplexed for Our Time"), a treatise in Hebrew on the philosophy of history and on Jewish history that had a considerable influence. Krochmal's philosophical thought was centred on the notion of "spirit," Krochmal being mainly concerned with the "national spirit," the particular spirit that is proper to each people and that accounts for the peculiar characteristics differentiating one people from another in every domain of human activity. The national spirits of all peoples except the Jewish are, according to Krochmal, essentially particular. Hence, the national spirit either becomes extinct with the extinction of the nation or, if it is a powerful spirit, is assimilated by some other nation. The Jewish people have a special relation to the Universal Spirit, who is the God of Israel. This relation accounts for the perpetuity of the Jewish people.

5. Solomon Steinheim.

Solomon Ludwig Steinheim, the author of Die Offenbarung nach dem Lehrbegriff der Synagoge ("The Revelation According to the Doctrine of the Synagogue"), was apparently influenced by the antirationalism of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, a German philosopher. His criticism of science is based on Jacobi's criticism, but he did not agree with Jacobi in opposing discursive reason to the intuitive knowledge of God--Steinheim contrasted human reason to divine revelation. The main point on which the revelation, vouchsafed to the prophets of Israel, is opposed to reason is to be found in the fact that the God posited by reason is subject to necessity, that he can act only in accordance with laws. Moreover, reason affirms that nothing can come from nothing. Accordingly, God is free to create not a good world, but only the best possible world. Revealed religion, on the other hand, affirms the freedom of God and the creation of the world out of nothing.

6. Hermann Cohen.

There seems to be little connection between the Jewish philosophers of the first half or two-thirds of the 19th century and Hermann Cohen (1842-1918), the head of the Neo-Kantian school centred at the University of Marburg. In a certain sense Cohen may be regarded as a rather unusual case among the philosophers of Judaism of his and the preceding generations because of the two aspects of his philosophical thought--the general and the Jewish--and the uneasy equilibrium between them. Judaism was by no means the only important theme of his philosophical system; it was one of several and not even his point of departure. There is no doubt that, for most of his life, Cohen was wholly committed to his brand of Kantianism, in the elaboration of which he displayed considerable originality--it has been maintained with some justification that his doctrine manifests a certain (unintentional) kinship with Hegel's. Cohen's idea of God, however, derives from an analysis and a development of certain conceptions of Immanuel Kant. In Cohen's view reason requires that nature be conceived of as conforming to one rational plan and that harmony exist between the domains of natural and of moral teleology (ultimate purposes or ends). These two requirements, in turn, necessitate the adoption of the idea of God--the word idea being used in the Kantian sense, which means that no assertion is made about the metaphysical reality of God. (see also Index: Neo-Kantianism)

Cohen seems to have changed his attitude in the last years of his life; although he did not explicitly renounce his previous positions, a considerable shift of emphasis can be discerned in his doctrines. The notion of the human individual--an individual who is weak and full of sin--comes to the fore, as well as the conception of a correlation, a relationship, between God and the individual. This relationship is one of love, the love of God for man and the love of man for God. It is difficult to reconcile the conception of God expounded in Cohen's work of his last period with his Kantian or Neo-Kantian attitude toward metaphysics.

7. Franz Rosenzweig.

Franz Rosenzweig published his main philosophical work, Der Stern der Erlösung (The Star of Redemption, 1971), in 1921. This work begins with a rejection of the traditional philosophical attitude that denies the fear of death, maintaining, instead, that this fear is the beginning of the cognition of the All. Man should continue to fear death, despite the indifference of philosophy and its predilection for accepting death. Traditional philosophy is interested exclusively in the universal, and it is monistic--its aim is to discover one principle from which everything can be derived. This tendency of philosophy, however, denatures human experience, which knows not one but three separate domains (which Kant had referred to in a different context), namely, God, the world, and man.

According to Rosenzweig, God (like the world and like man) is known through experience (the experience of revelation). In Greek paganism, the most perfect manifestation of paganism, every one of these domains subsists by itself: the gods, the cosmos, and man as the tragic, solitary, silent hero. Biblical religion is concerned with the relation between the three: the relation between God and the world, which is creation; the relation between God and man, which is revelation; and the relation between man and the world, which leads to salvation. The philosophy that renounces the ambition to find one principle for everything that exists and that follows biblical religion in centring on the connections between the three domains and between the words and acts that bring about and develop these connections, Rosenzweig termed the narrative philosophy; the term and the concept were taken over from Schelling, whose influence Rosenzweig repeatedly emphasized.

The biblical faith brought forth two valid religions--Christianity and Judaism. The first is described by Rosenzweig as the eternal way; the Christian peoples seek in the vicissitudes of time and history the way to salvation. In contradistinction to them, the existence of the stateless Jewish people is not concerned with time and history; it is--notwithstanding the hope for final salvation--already an eternal life, renewed again and again according to the rhythm of the liturgical Jewish year.

8. Martin Buber.

Since the early years of the 20th century, Martin Buber has exercised a powerful influence on both Jews and non-Jews. In his early period Buber was led, partly through empathy with Jewish and non-Jewish mysticism, to stress unitive experience and knowledge, in which the difference between one man and another and between man and God tend to disappear. But in his final period he taught, following, as he claimed, a suggestion of Ludwig Feuerbach, a 19th-century German philosopher, that man can only realize himself as a human being in a relation with another, who may be another man or God. This conception of the "I and Thou" relationship leads to the formulation of Buber's view of the dialogical life--the mutual, responsive relation between man and others--and accounts for the importance that he attaches to the category of "encounter." (S.Pi.)


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