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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Spanish philosopher and Hebrew poet; born at Toledo, southern Castile, in the last quarter of the eleventh century; died in the Orient after 1140. If his birth is correctly assigned to 1085 or 1086 (Rapoport, in "Kerem á¸¤emed," 7:265), it occurred about the time of the eventful conquest of Toledo (May 24, 1085) by the Christian king Alfonso VI. It is probable that Judah's father, Samuel "the Castilian," sent Judah, who was his only son, to Lucena to be educated in the various branches of Jewish learning at the school of Isaac Alfasi. On the death of his master, Judah composed an elegy (Brody, "Diwan des Abul-á¸¤asan Jehuda ha-Levi," , No. 14, p. 100). It was probably in Lucena, too, that Judah won the friendship of Alfasi's most prominent pupils, Joseph ibn Migas and Baruch Albalia. Judah chose medicine as his profession; but he early evinced a love for poetry and showed marked poetic talent. He was well acquainted with the productions of the Arabic and the Castilian poets; yet the muse spoke to him in the old and sacred language of the Bible, in which "he sang for all times and places, soon becoming the favorite of the people" (Zunz, "Literaturgesch." p. 203). He became deeply versed in Greco-Arabic philosophy also. The early ripening of his poetic talent aroused the admiration of his friend and senior, the poet Moses ibn Ezra, who accorded him enthusiastic praise (see Luzzatto in "Kerem á¸¤emed," 4:86; Dukes, "Moses ibn Ezra," p. 987; Geiger, "Diwan des Castilier's Abu'l-Hassan," pp. 15, 120).
After completing his studies, which he, being in easy circumstances, had been able to pursue deliberately, Judah returned to Toledo, where he soon acquired so large a practise that he complained in a letter to his friend David Narboni (Brody, c. 1:224,225) of a lack of tranquillity and leisure. He married in Toledo; and from allusions in some of his poems it is evident that his only child was a daughter, through whom he had a grandson, also named Judah.
Journey to the Holy Land.
Judah ha-Levi does not seem to have been contented in Toledo; for he removed to the Mohammedan city of Cordova. Even here he did not feel at ease. Though personally he occupied an honored position as a physician, he felt the intolerance of the Almoravid fanatics toward his coreligionists. He had long yearned for a new, or rather for the old, homeâfor the Holy Land. This yearning was deepened by his intense application to his religio-philosophical work and by his resulting clearer insight into Judaism; and at length he decided to set out on a journey to Palestine. For himself at least, he wished "to do away with the contradiction of daily confessing a longing and of never attemptingto realize it" (Kaufmann, "Jehuda Halevi"); and therefore, on the death of his wife, he bade farewell to daughter, grandson, pupils, friends, rank, and affluence. There was only one image in his heartâJerusalem:
"O city of the world, most chastely fair, In the far West, behold I sigh for thee.
* * * * * * * * *
Oh! had I eagle's wings, I'd fly to thee, And with my falling tears make moist thine earth."
After a stormy passage he arrived in Alexandria, where he was enthusiastically greeted by friends and admirers. At Damietta he had to struggle against the promptings of his own heart and the pleadings of his friend á¸¤alfon ha-Levi that he remain in Egypt, which also was Jewish soil and free from intolerant oppression. He, however, resisted the temptation to remain there, and started on the tedious land route trodden of old by the Israelitish wanderers in the desert. Again he is met with, worn out, with broken heart and whitened hair, in Tyre and Damascus. Here authentic records fail; but Jewish legend has taken up the broken threads of history and woven them further. It is related that as he came near Jerusalem, overpowered by the sight of the Holy City, he sang his most beautiful elegy, the celebrated "Zionide," "Zion ha-lo Tish'ali." At that instant he was ridden down and killed by an Arab, who dashed forth from a gate (Gedaliah ibn Yaá¸¥ya, "Shalshelet ha-á¸²abbalah," ed. Venice, p. 40b).
The life-work of Judah ha-Levi was devoted to poetry and philosophy. His poetry is usually classified under the heads of secular and religious, or, as in Brody's new edition of the "Diwan," under liturgical and non-liturgical. Such a division, however, can be only external; for the essential characteristic of Judah's poemsâwhich are the expression of a deeply religious soulâis the lofty key to which they are attuned. Even in his drinking- and love-songs an attentive reader may hear the vibrations of religion's overtones.
His Secular Poetry.
The first place in his secular or non-liturgical poetry is occupied by poems of friendship and eulogy. Judah must have possessed an attractive personality; for there gathered about him as friends, even in his earliest youth, a large number of illustrious men, like Levi al-á¹¬abban of Saragossa, the aged poet Judah ben Abun, Judah ibn Ghayyat of Granada, Moses ibn Ezra and his brothers Judah, Joseph, and Isaac, the vizier Abu al-á¸¤asan, MeÃ¯r ibn Kamnial, the physician and poet Solomon ben Mu'allam of Seville, and Samuel ha-Nagid of Malaga, besides his schoolmates Joseph ibn Migas and Baruch Albalia. He was associated also with the grammarian Abraham ibn Ezra; but the assertion that the latter was the son-in-law of Judah is one of the fictions of Gedaliah ibn Yaá¸¥ya ("Shalshelet ha-á¸²abbalah," ed. Amsterdam, p. 41a). Equally incorrect is the statement made by the author of "Yuá¸¥asin" (ed. Amsterdam, p 186) that the two were cousins. In Cordova Judah addressed a touching farewell poem to Joseph ibn áºaddiá¸³, the philosopher and poet (Geiger, "Nachgelassene Schriften," p. 159). In Egypt, where the most celebrated men vied with one another in entertaining him, his reception was a veritable triumph. Here his particular friends were Aaron ben Jeshua Alamani in Alexandria, the nagid Samuel ben Hananiah in Cairo ("Monatsschrift," 417 et seq.), á¸¤alfon ha-Levi in Damietta, and an unknown man in Tyre, probably his last friend. In their sorrow and joy, in the creative spirit and all that moved the souls of these men, Judah sympathetically shared; as he says in the beginning of a short poem (Brody, c. , No. 45): "My heart belongs to you, ye noble souls, who draw me to you with bonds of love" (comp. Geiger, c. 3:123).
Especially tender and plaintive is Judah's tone in his elegies (Brody, c. 2:67 et seq.). Many of them are dedicated to friends. Besides those composed on the deaths of the brothers Judah (ib. Nos. 19, 20), Isaac (ib. No. 21), and Moses ibn Ezra (ib. No. 16), R. Baruch (ib. Nos. 23, 28), MeÃ¯r ibn Migas (ib. No. 27), his teacher Isaac Aifasi (ib. No. 14), and others, one of the most affecting is that on Solomon ibn Farissol, who was murdered on May 3, 1108. The news of this friend's death suddenly changed Judah's poem of eulogy (Nos. 11, 22) into one of lamentation (ib. Nos. 12, 13, 93 et seq.), which for grandeur and loftiness of tone has been compared to David's lament over Jonathan.
Joyous, careless youth, and merry, happy delight in life find their expression in his love-songs (ib. 2:1 et seq.). Many of these are epithalamia, and are characterized by a brilliant Oriental coloring as well as by a chaste reserve (see "Betulat Bet Yehudah," ed. Luzzatto, passim). In Egypt, where the muse of his youth found a glorious Indian summer in the circle of his friends, he wrote his swan-song:
"Wondrous is this land to see, With perfume its meadows laden, But more fair than all to me Is yon slender, gentle maiden. Ah, Time's swift flight I fain would stay, Forgetting that my locks are gray."
Drinking-songs and enigmas in rime by Judah have also been preserved (Brody, c. 2:189 et seq.).
His Religious Poetry.
If one may speak of religious geniuses Judah ha-Levi must certainly be regarded among the greatest produced by medieval Judaism. No other man, it would seem, drew so near to God as Judah; none else knew how to cling to Him so closely, or felt so safe in His shadow. At times the body is too narrow for him: the soul yearns for its Father in heaven, and would break through the earthly shell (S. D. Luzzatto, "Diwan," No. 14; Heller, "Die Echten Melodien," p. 227). Without God his soul would wither away; nor is it well with him except he prays (Luzzatto, c. No. 57; Heller, c. p. 135). The thought of God allows him no rest; early and late He is his best beloved, and is his dearest concern (Heller, c. p. 82; "á¹¬al Orot," No. 12). He occupies the mind of the poet waking and sleeping; and the thought of Him, the impulse to praise Him, rouse Judah from his couch by night (Luzzatto, c. No. 81; Heller, c. p. 229). AlthoughJudah strives to be free from subjection unto many, he rejoices that he is subject to the One, whose servant he gladly designates himself; for he may win the grace of God throughout eternity. Characterized by "noble grandeur and quiet simplicity," the short poem in Luzzatto, c. (No. 28) and in Heller, c. (p. 152) is most effective, and might be entitled "The Higher Peace," after a similar poem by the German poet Heinrich von Kleist. When Judah is ill he hopes to be cured by God's grace rather than by the medicines he himself has prepared (Geiger, c. p. 117). Even during the voyage, amid storms and surrounded by rough sailors, over whom only the pilot has any authority (Brody, c. , No. 16; Geiger, c. p. 164), Judah finds peaceful trust in God; and his poems (Brody, c. 2:168 et seq.), composed on the sea, are among the most beautiful of his religious lyrics. In all situations in life God is the friend to whom his heart turns in the fulness of its longing. If God is with him, all is bright in his "narrow prison," and sorrow's gloom dissolves in gladness.
Next to God, the poet's people stand nearest to his heart: their sufferings and hopes are his. Like the authors of the Psalms, he gladly sinks his own identity in the wider one of the people of Israel; so that it is not always easy to distinguish the personality of the speaker. No other Jewish poet is so steeped in recollections of the ancient history of Israel when singing of the tokens of God's love to His chosen people. Whenever Judah reflects on his coreligionists, the reproachful question rises, despite his reverence: "Why hast Thou sold us to the oppressors?" (Luzzatto, c. No. 11). "Shall we be captives forever in a strange land?" (Heller, c. p. 101; "á¹¬al Orot," No. 2). "How long must our anxious hopes drag on?" (Heller, c. p. 126; Brody, c. No. 70). "When shall the morn of freedom dawn for Israel?" On earth none can or will answer him; yet while "Edom and Ishmael riot in the Holy City" (Heller, c. p. 44; "á¹¬al Orot," No. 6) and Israel everywhere is in bondage, his prayers shall wring from heaven the redemption of his people. How he prays for "new life," for "refreshment for the weary flower"âIsrael! Through temporary resignation and despair (Heller, c. p. 1; "á¹¬al Orot," No. 71) the poet fights his way to confidence and hope; for "the prophet hath foretold all" (ib.). He represents Israel calling upon God with tender persuasion to set him free:
"Come, BelovÃ¨d, come thou to me, In the bower of lilacs woo me; Slay the flends that would pursue me.
Harps and chimes and cups all golden To the joy of old embolden, 'Neath the radiant glory olden."
God answers, giving to His people new comfort together with new strength for endurance (Heller, c. p. 77; "á¹¬al Orot," No. 8):
"Bide thou thy timeâwithin thy soul be peace, Nor ask complaining when thy pain shall cease; Speak, rime, and sing, for victory is thine, Nigh thee my tent is pitched, and thou art mine."
Often Judah's poetic fancy finds joy in the radiant thought of the return of his people (Heller, c. p. 226; Brody, "Diwan," No. 6). Then his words seem to be the music of the harp (Geiger, c. p. 145); and he summons Israel, "the dove in a strange land," to jubilant rejoicing over her triumphant return (ib.). The period of political agitation about 1130, when Islam (so intensely hated by the poet) was gradually losing ground before the victorious arms of the Christians, gave Judah reason to hope for such a return in the near future. The vision of the night, in which this was revealed to him (Geiger, c. p. 154), remained indeed but a dream; yet Judah never lost faith in the eventual deliverance of Israel and in the eternity of his people. On this subject he has expressed himself in the poem:
"Lo! sun and moon, these minister for aye; The laws of day and night cease nevermore: Given for signs to Jacob's seed that they Shall ever be a nationâtill these be o'er. If with His left hand He should thrust away, Lo! with His right hand He shall draw them nigh."
Representative Character of His Poetry.
The remarkable and apparently indissoluble union of religion, nationalism, and patriotism characteristic of post-exilic Judaism reached its acme in Judah ha-Levi and his poetry. Yet this very union in one so consistent as Judah demanded the fulfilment of the supreme politico-religious ideal of medieval Judaismâthe return to Jerusalem. Though his impassioned call to his contemporaries to return to Zion might be received with indifference or even with mockery (Luzzatto, c. No. 86), his own decision to go to Jerusalem never wavered. "Can we hope for any other refuge either in the East or in the West where we may dwell in safety?" he exclaims to one of his opponents (ib.). The songs that accompany his pilgrimage (Brody, c. 2:153) sound like one great symphony wherein the "Zionides"âthe single motive ever variedâvoice the deepest soul-life alike of the Jewish people and of each individual Jew. The most celebrated of these "Zionides," with its remarkable monotony, is found in every Jewish liturgy, and is usually repeated in the synagogue on the Ninth of Ab (Brody, c. 2:155). It has been translated into German by Herder, Mendelssohn, and many other modern writers; into French by Munk; into Dutch by L. Wagenaar ("Isr. Letterbode," 5:18 et seq.); into Italian by Benedetti; into Russian by Harkavy; repeatedly into English; and into other European languages. The following is the English translation by Nina Davis (c. p. 37) of the opening lines:
"Zion, wilt thou not ask if peace's wing Shadows the captives that ensue thy peace, Left lonely from thine ancient shepherding?
"Lo! west and east and north and southâworld-wideâAll those from far and near, without surcease, Salute thee: Peace and Peace from every side."
The poems of Judah ha-Levi which have been adopted into the liturgy number in all more than 300. Every season, whether of sorrow or of joy, has been enriched by his songs. A summary of them has been given by Zunz (c. pp. 203 et seq.; Appendix, pp. 8-10, 33, 55, and by Landshuth ("'Ammude ha-'Abodah," pp. 70 et seq.). The longest and most comprehensive poem is a "á¸³edushshah," which summons all the universe to praise God with rejoicing, and which terminates, curiously enough, in Psalms 103 (Sachs, "Die ReligiÃ¶se Poesie der Juden in Spanien," pp. 304 et seq.). These poems were carried to all lands, even as far as India (Zunz, "Ritus," p. 57); and they influenced the rituals of the most distant countries. Even the Karaites incorporated some of them into their prayer-book; so that there is scarcely a synagogue in which Judah's songs are not sung in the course of the service (Zunz, "S. P." p. 231). The following criticism of Judah's synagogal poems is made by Zunz (ib.): "As the perfume and beauty of a rose are within it, and do not come from without, so with Judah word and Bible passage, meter and rime, are one with the soul of the poem; as in true works of art, and always in nature, one is never disturbed by anything external, arbitrary, or extraneous."
Judah by his verses has also beautified the religious life of the home. His Sabbath hymns should be mentioned here, one of the most beautiful of which ends with the words:
"On Friday doth my cup o'erflow, What blissful rest the night shall know, When, in thine arms, my toil and wo Are all forgot, Sabbath my love!
"'Tis dusk, with sudden light, distilled From one sweet face, the world is filled; The tumult of my heart is stilledâFor thou art come, Sabbath my love!
"Bring fruits and wine and sing a gladsome lay, Cry, 'Come in peace, O restful Seventh day!'"
"The use of foreign (e., Arabic) meters destroys the essence of the Hebrew language, which is based on homophony and results in harmony," is the observation put into the mouth of the rabbi in Judah ha-Levi's "Cuzari" (, Â§ 74), together with other original remarks on the Hebrew language (comp. FriedlÃ¤nder in Kohut Memorial Volume, pp. 139 et seq.). Nevertheless, Judah himself used the most complicated Arabic meters in his poems with much good taste (for further details see H. Brody, "Studien zu den Dichtungen Jehuda ha-Levi's," Berlin, 1895). A later critic, applying a Talmudic witticism to Judah, has said: "It is hard for the dough when the baker himself calls it bad." Although these forms came to him naturally and without effort, unlike the mechanical versifiers of his time (see "Cuzari," 5:16), he would not except himself from the number of those he had blamed. His pupil Solomon Pará¸¥on, who wrote at Salerno in 1160, relates that Judah repented having used the new metrical methods, and had declared he would not again employ them. That Judah felt them to be out of place, and that he opposed their use at the very time when they were in vogue, plainly shows his desire for a national Jewish art independent in form as well as in matter.
Judah was recognized by his contemporaries as the great Jewish national poet, and in succeeding generations by all the great scholars and writers in Israel (see, e.g., Al-á¸¤arizi, "Taá¸¥kemoni, "maá¸³amahs , ). His equal in poetic ability, Heinrich Heine, has paid him a tribute of honor in his "Romancero" (see E. A. Bowring, "The Poems of Heine," p. 476, London, 1859).
So far as is known, the first to collect the poems of Judah ha-Levi into a diwan was R. á¸¤iyya al-Ma'arabi, probably a younger friend of the poet. R. Jeshua bar Elijah ha-Levi used this diwan as the basis for a new and larger collection, a manuscript of which has been found in Tunis. In his interesting Arabic preface (translated into German in Geiger, c.), Jeshua states that, besides á¸¤iyya's collection, he had two others before him, made respectively by David ben Maimon and Abu Sa'id ibn Alkash (?), from which he took some material. Further, he says that he added songs and piyyuá¹im which R. á¸¤iyya had omitted because in the time of the latter they were generally known and were to be found in every Maá¸¥zor. Jeshua, however, does not imply that all the poems added by him were written by Judah ha-Levi. On the contrary, he lays special emphasis on the need of caution, particularly in cases where there is only an incomplete signature, as "Judah" or "Levi." He divides his diwan of 816 poems into three parts: (1) poems, for the most part secular in tone, having the same meter and rime throughout; (2) strophic poems, mostly religious in character, in which every strophe has a different rime, although the last line of each strophe has the same rime; (3) poems of varied metrical structure, mostly piyyuá¹im, and a few letters in rimed prose. Jeshua usually designates in a short superscription the contents and the occasion of the poem. The Bodleian Library contains two manuscript diwans of Judah ha-Levi (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 1970, 1, with the title "Maá¸¥aneh Yehudah"; a more recent collection, ib. No. 1971, corresponds to the Tunis manuscript, but is more complete).
The chief published collections of Judah's poems are: (1) "Betulat Bat Yehudah," ed. S. D. Luzzatto, Prague, 1840; (2) "Diwan," also edited by Luzzatto, Lyck (Meá¸³iáºe Nirdamim), 1864; (3) "á¹¬al Orot," by the same editor, published by Eisig GrÃ¤ber, Przemysl, 1881; (4) "Ginze Oxford," ed. Edelmann and Dukes, London, 1851; (5) "Rabbi Yehudah ha-Levi," by A. Harkavy, Warsaw ("Aá¸¥iasaf"), 1893-95; (6) "Bet ha-Beá¸¥irah," by Samuel Philipp, Lemberg, 1888 (mainly a reprint of Luzzatto's "Diwan"); (7) "Diwan des Abul-á¸¤asan Jehuda ha-Levi," a new and complete edition by H. Brody, Berlin (Meá¸³iáºe Nirdamim), 1894 et seq.
Some of Judah's poems have been translated into European languages. The most prominent translators are:
German: A. Geiger ("Diwan des Castilier's Abu'l-Hassan," etc., Breslau, 1851); Heller ("Die Echten HebrÃ¤ischen Melodien," ed. D. Kaufmann, Berlin, 1893); KÃ¤mpf ("Nichtandalusische Poesie Andalusischer Dichter," Prague, 1858); Sachs ("Die ReligiÃ¶se Poesie der Juden in Spanien," Berlin, 1845); Steinschneider ("Manna," ib. 1847); Sulzbach ("Dichtungen aus Spanien's Besseren Tagen," Frankfort-on-the-Main 1873); and Zunz ("S. P." Berlin, 1855).
English: M. H. Bresslau (in "Ginze Oxford," London, 1851); Nina Davis ("Songs of Exile," Philadelphia, 1901); Edward G. King (in "J. Q. R." 7:464); J. Jacobs ("Jewish Ideals," London, 1896); E. Lazarus ("Songs of a Semite," New York, 1882); Alice Lucas (in "The Jewish Year," London, 1898); Lady Magnus ("Jewish Portraits," ib. 1897).
French: J. Weill (in "R. E. J." , p.; Italian: S. de Benedetti ("Canzoniere Sacro di Giuda Levita," Pisa, 1871); Russian: S. Frug (in "Voskhod") and A. Harkavy (ib.). Other translations occur in the various Maá¸¥zorim renderings.
- Of the mass of literature on Judah ha-Levi only the more important summaries of his life and poetry can be given here:
- I. Abrahams, Jewish Literature, pp. 126 et seq.;
- J. Derenbourg, in Journal Asiatique, 1865, 2:264 et seq.;
- A. Geiger, Diwan des Castilier's Abu'l-Hassan Juda ha-Levi, Breslau, 1851 (partly reprinted in his Nachgelassene Schriften, 3:97 et seq.);
- GrÃ¤tz, Gesch. 6:117 et seq.;
- Harkavy, R. Yehuda ha-Levi, in Voskhod, 1881 (Hebrew transl. by A. S. Friedberg, in Rabbinowitz, Keneset Yisrael, 1:49 et seq.);
- J. Jacobs, Jewish Ideals, pp. 103 et seq.;
- D. Kaufmann, Jehuda Halevi, Breslau, 1877;
- Lady Magnus, Jewish Portraits, pp. 1 et seq.;
- Pinkusfeld, Juda ha-Levi Mint Grammatikuses Exegeta, Budapest, 1887;
- Sachs, Die ReligiÃ¶se Poesie der Juden, pp. 287 et seq.;
- Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, Index;
- Winter and WÃ¼nsche, Die JÃ¼dische Litteratur, 3:40 et seq., 120 et seq.;
- J. Weill, in R. E. J. , p.
The position of Judah ha-Levi in the domain of Jewish philosophy is parallel to that occupied in Islam by see Ghazali, by whom he was influenced (comp. Kaufmann, "Attributenlehre," pp. 119 et seq.). Like Ghazali, Judah endeavored to liberate religion from the bondage of the various philosophical systems in which it had been held by his predecessors, Saadia, David ben Marwan al-Mekamez, Gabirol, and Baá¸¥ya. In a work written in Arabic and entitled "Kitab al-á¸¤ujjah wal-Dalil fi Nuá¹£r al-Din al-Dhalil" (known in the Hebrew translation of Judah ibn Tibbon by the title "Sefer ha-Kuzari," and cited in this article as the "Cuzari"), Judah ha-Levi expounded his views upon the teachings of Judaism, which he defended against the attacks of philosophers, heretics, Karaites, etc.
Main Principle of the "Cuzari."
The work is divided into five essays ("ma'amarim"), and takes the form of a dialogue between the pagan king of the Chazars and a Jew who had been invited to instruct him in the tenets of the Jewish religion. After a short account of the incidents preceding the conversion of the king, and of the conversations of the latter with a philosopher, a Christian, and a Moslem concerning their respective beliefs, the Jew appears on the stage, and by his first statement startles the king; for, instead of giving him proofs of the existence of God, he asserts and explains the miracles performed by Him in favor of the Israelites. The king expresses his astonishment at this exordium, which seems to him incoherent; but the Jew replies that the existence of God, the creation of the world, etc., being taught by religion, do not need any speculative demonstrations. Further, he propounds the principle upon which his religious system is founded; namely, that revealed religion is far superior to natural religion. For the aim of ethical training, which is the object of religion, is not to create in man good intentions, but to cause him to perform good deeds. This aim can not be attained by philosophy, which is undecided as to the nature of good, but can be secured by religious training, which teaches what is good. As science is the sum of all the particles of truth found by successive generations, so religious training is based upon a set of traditions; in other words, history is an important factor in the development of human culture and science.
"Creatio ex Nihilo."
Now as the Jews are the only depositaries of a written history of the development of the human race from the beginning of the world, the superiority of their traditions can not be denied. No comparison is possible between Jewish culture, which is based upon religious truth, and Greek culture, which is based upon science only; for the wisdom of the Greek philosophers lacked that divine support with which the Prophets were endowed. Had a trustworthy tradition that the world was created out of nothing been known to Aristotle, he would have supported it by at least as strong arguments as those advanced by him to prove the eternity of matter. Belief in the eternity of matter, however, is not absolutely contrary to Jewish religious ideas; for the Biblical narrative of the Creation refers only to the beginning of the human race, and does not preclude the possibility of preexistent matter. Still, relying upon tradition, the Jews believe in "creatio ex nihilo," which theory can be sustained by as powerful arguments as those advanced in favor of the belief in the eternity of matter. The objection that the Absolutely Infinite and Perfect could not have produced imperfect and finite beings, made by the Neoplatonists to the theory of "creatio ex nihilo," is not removed by attributing the existence of all mundane things to the action of nature; for the latter is only a link in the chain of causes having its origin in the First Cause, which is God.
Superiority of Judaism.
Having established that revelation and not speculative philosophy is the only trusty guide to the knowledge of God, the Jew proceeds to demonstrate the superiority of his religion. The preservation of the Israelites in Egypt and in the wilderness, the delivery to them of the Law on Mount Sinai, and their later history are to him so many evident proofs of their superiority. He impresses upon the king the fact that the favor of God can be won only by accomplishing the precepts in all their minutiÃ¦, and that those precepts are binding only on the adherents of Judaism. The question why the Jews only were thus favored with God's instruction is as little worthy of consideration as would be the question why the animals had not been created men. The Jew then shows that the immortality of the soul, resurrection, reward, and punishment are all implied in Scripture and are referred to in Jewish writings.
Question of Attributes.
In the second essay Judah enters into a detailed discussion of some of the theological questions hinted at in the preceding one. To these belongs in the first place that of the divine attributes. Judah rejects entirely the doctrine of essential attributes which had been propounded by Saadia and Baá¸¥ya. For him there is no difference between essential and other attributes. Either the attribute affirms a qualityin God, in which case essential attributes can not be applied to Him more than can any other, because it is impossible to predicate anything of Him, or the attribute expresses only the negation of the contrary quality, and in that case there is no harm in using any kind of attributes. 'Accordingly Judah divides all the attributes found in the Bible into three classes: active, relative, and negative, which last class comprises all the essential attributes expressing mere negations.
The question of attributes being closely connected with that of anthropomorphism, Judah enters into a lengthy discussion on this point. Although opposed to the conception of the corporeality of God, as being contrary to Scripture, he would consider it wrong to reject all the sensuous concepts of anthropomorphism, as there is something in these ideas which fills the human soul with the awe of God.
The remainder of the essay comprises dissertations on the following subjects: the excellence of Palestine, the land of prophecy, which is to other countries what the Jews are to other nations; the sacrifices; the arrangement of the Tabernacle, which, according to Judah, symbolizes the human body; the prominent spiritual position occupied by Israel, whose relation to other nations is that of the heart to the limbs; the opposition evinced by Judaism toward asceticism, in virtue of the principle that the favor of God is to be won only by carrying out His precepts, and that these precepts do not command man to subdue the inclinations suggested by the faculties of the soul, but to use them in their due place and proportion; the excellence of the Hebrew language, which, although sharing now the fate of the Jews, is to other languages what the Jews are to other nations and what Palestine is to other lands.
The third essay is devoted to the refutation of the teachings of Karaism and to the history of the development of the oral tradition, the Talmud. Judah ha-Levi shows that there is no means of carrying out the precepts without having recourse to oral tradition; and that such tradition has always existed may be inferred from many passages of the Bible, the very reading of which is dependent upon it, since there were no vowels and accents in the original text.
Names of God.
The fourth essay opens with an analysis of the various names of God found in the Bible. According to Judah, all these names, with the exception of the Tetragrammaton, are attributes expressing the various states of God's activity in the world. The multiplicity of names no more implies a multiplicity in His essence than do the multifarious influences of the rays of the sun on various bodies imply a multiplicity of suns. To the intuitive vision of the prophet the actions proceeding from God appear under the images of the corresponding human actions. Angels are God's messengers; and either they exist for a length of time, or they are created only for special purposes.
From the names of God and the essence of angels Judah passes to his favorite theme and shows that the views of the Prophets are a purer source for a knowledge of God than the teachings of the philosophers. Although he professes great reverence for the "Sefer Yeáºrah," from which he quotes many passages, he hastens to add that the theories of Abraham elucidated therein had been held by the patriarch before God revealed Himself to him. The essay concludes with examples of the astronomical and medical knowledge of the ancient Hebrews.
Arguments Against Philosophy.
The fifth and last essay is devoted to a criticism of the various philosophical systems known at the time of the author. Judah attacks by turns the Aristotelian cosmology, psychology, and metaphysics. To the doctrine of EMANATION, based, according to him, upon the Aristotelian cosmological principle that no simple being can produce a compound being, he objects in the form of the following query: "Why did the emanation stop at the lunar sphere? Why should each intelligence think only of itself and of that from which it issued and thus give birth to one emanation, thinking not at all of the preceding intellgences, and thereby losing the power to give birth to many emanations?" He argues against the theory of Aristotle that the soul of man is his thought and that only the soul of the philosopher will be united, after the death of the body, with the active intellect. "Is there," he asks, "any curriculum of the knowledge one has to acquire to win immortality? How is it that the soul of one man differs from that of another? How can one forget a thing once thought of?" and many other questions of the kind. He shows himself especially severe against the Motekallamin, whose arguments on the creation of the world, on God and His unity, he terms dialectic exercises and mere phrases.
However, Judah ha-Levi is against philosophical speculation only in matters concerning Creation, God, etc.; and he follows the Greek philosophers in treating of the genesis of the material world. Thus he admits that every being is made up of matter and form. The movement of the spheres formed the sphere of the elements, from the fusion of which all beings were created. This fusion, which varied according to climate, gave to matter the potentiality to receive from God a variety of forms, from the mineral, which is the lowest in the scale of creation, to man, who is the highest because of his possessing, in addition to the qualities of the mineral, vegetable, and animal, a hylic intellect which is influenced by the active intellect. This hylic intellect, which forms the rational soul, is a spiritual substance and not an accident, and is therefore imperishable.
The discussion concerning the soul and its faculties leads naturally to the question of free will. Judah upholds the doctrine of free will against the Epicureans and the Fatalists, and endeavors to reconcile it with the belief in God's providence and omniscience (FREE WILL).
Influence of the "Cuzari."
Although the "Cuzari" failed to stem the philosophical flood which, at the time of the appearance of the work, was inundating Judaism, it exercised a great influence upon the theologians. It was much studied; and traces of it are to be found in all the theological and cabalistic writings of the Middle Ages, not excluding even the Zohar, which borrowed from it several passages, amongthem the saying, "Israel is among the nations as the heart among the limbs" (Zohar, 3:221b; comp. Jacob Emden, "Mitpaá¸¥at Sefarim," , Â§ 5; Jellinek, "BeitrÃ¤ge zur Gesch. der Kabbala," 1:76). Besides the Hebrew translation of Judah ibn Tibbon, which passed through eleven editions (1st ed. Fano, 1506; last ed. by David Cassel, Leipsic, 1869), another rendering into Hebrew was made by Judah ben Isaac Cardinal, at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The study of the "Cuzari" seems to have become very popular in the fifteenth century. No less than six commentaries on it appeared in the first half of that century; namely: three by Solomon ben Menahem Frat Maimon and his two pupils; one by Jacob ben á¸¤ayyim Vidal Farissol, under the title "Bet Ya'aá¸³ob"; one by Solomon ben Judah Vivas, entitled "á¸¤esheá¸³ Shelomoh"; and one by Nathanael Caspi. In addition to these commentaries, which are still extant in manuscript, there have been published in the various editions of the "Cuzari" the commentaries of Judah Mercato (1589-94), Isaac Satanow (1795), Israel Zamosc (1796), G. Brecher (Prague, 1838), and Israel Halevy (Presburg, 1860). The "Cuzari" was translated into Latin by Buxtorf (1660); into Spanish by Jacob Abendana (1663); and into German by Jolowicz and David Cassel. Another German version, translated from the Arabic original, was published at Breslau in 1885 by Hartwig Hirschfeld, who two years later critically edited the Arabic and Hebrew texts (Leipsic, 1887).
S. Landauer has shown that , Â§ 12 of the "Cuzari," in which á¸¤a-Levi gives the views of the "philosophers" on the soul (2d ed. Cassel, pp. 385-400; ed. Hirschfeld, pp. 310-325), is practically an excerpt from the "Psychology of Ibn Sina" (Avicenna) published in part by him ("Z. D. M. G." 29:335). Corrections of the Arabic text are given by Goldziher in "Z. D. M. G." 41:691, of the Hebrew text by Horovitz in "Monatsschrift," 41:264. In regard to the passage , Â§ 68 on the eternity of the universe, see the remarks of Kaufmann in "Monatsschrift," 33:208, and Hirschfeld, ib. p, 374. Portions of the Arabic text have been published by Neubauer in "Miscellany of Hebrew Literature," 1:62, and by B. Goldberg in "Ha-Maggid," 5:183.
- Munk, MÃ¨langes, pp. 483 et seq.;
- Eisler, Vorlesungen Ã¼ber die JÃ¼dische Philosophie des Mittelalters, 1:81 et seq.;
- Cuzari, ed. Cassel, Introduction;
- Kaufmann, Die Attributenlehre, pp. 119 et seq.;
- idem, in J. Q. R. 1:451 et seq.:
- A. Frankl-GrÃ¼n, Die Ethik des Juda Halevi;
- Steinschneider, Hebr. Uebers. p. 402;
- Bernfeld, Da'at Elohim, pp. 182 et seq.;
- Harkavy, in Keneset Yisrael, 1:77.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Judah ha-Levi'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/j/judah-ha-levi.html. 1901.
the First Week of Advent