Notes for Religious Studies 369:
Introduction to Judaism
Rationalism and Philosophy
Limited primarily to Sepharadic realm.
Tendency towards systematic thought affects additional activities; e.g., codification of religious law.
Rediscovery of Greek philsophical tradition by Muslim Arabs.
Though Philo had dealt with many of the same topics, his works were not known to medieval Jews.
Translation of Plato, Aristotle and others from Syriac to Arabic.
Usefulness for arguing truth of monotheism, morality and other features of traditional revealed religions.
Philosophers tend to be more universalistic in outlook, less emphasis on special status of Jewish people.
Saadiah Gaon: Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Amsterdam 1647
Sa'adiah Ga'on: Book of Doctrines and Opinions
- Composed in Arabic, in style of Muslim Kalam literature.
- Presumes that philosophy/science and revealed religion lead to same conclusions. Raises question: Why is there need for two sources of truth?
- Problem of divine attributes: If multiple qualities apply to God, can he truly be "one"?
Solution: Most attributes are mere metaphors directed to limitations of human mind. I God there is no real distinction.
Anthropomorphism: All language that suggests that God is physical or human-like should be understood as figures of speech, and never literally.
- Proposes scientific/logical proofs for the existence of God.
- Why did God create the universe? So that there will be free human beings who choose to love God, and whom he may therefore reward with goodness.
- Utilizes analytical methods to sort out confused concepts from Bible and Talmud; e.g., about afterlife, Resurrection, World to Come, Messianic era.
Statue of Solomon Ibn Gabirol
- Some important representatives: Solomon ibn Gabirol, Bahya ibn Pakuda
- Dualistic tendencies: Stressed the soul's need to transcend material existence, to return to its spiritual source: the One.
- Ongoing question of how the diverse material world could have been created by the a God who is absolutely One and purely spiritual. Neoplatonists often proposed complex processes of emanation, gradual progression from the spiritual to the material.
- Advocated aescetic discipline to neutralized the physical appetities. Influenced by Muslim Sufi mystics.
Rabbi Moses Maimonides
Moses Maimonides (Rambam)
- Major philsophical work: The Guide of the Perplexed.
- Regarded Aristotelian philosophy as the key to understanding Judaism.
- The ultimate goal of humanity is to be philosophers, to contemplate the most abstract of ideas, that of God. Only a small elite can reach this level.
It is only through the contemplation of eternal truth that the soul achieves immortality.
Problematic nature of the traditional belief in physical resurrection.
Some humans can actualize their "potential intellect" by communing with the lowest level of abstract "separate intelligences" (identified with angels): --> "actual intellect".
- Ultimately, God is totally beyond description by human language, and has no personality.
Biblical descriptions of God are limited to:
Problem of creation vs. eternity of the universe: Philosophers insisted that the world must have always existed, matter could not have come into existence out of nothing.
- Attributes of action: e.g., if a human had achieved such an effect, we would have ascribed it to such an emotion.
- Negative theology: The attribute has no understandable content, but merely denies its opposite; e.g., we cannot meaningfully speak of God's wisdom, but we can deny that he is subject to ignorance.
Maimonides: The case ascribed to Aristotle is not conclusive. Tentatively, it is preferable to accept the simple meaning of the Bible, that the universe was created out of nothing. This idea has religious advantages of stressing God's absolute control.
Maimonides concedes that, if an irreffutable proof should be found for the eternity of the universe, there would be no problem in reinterpreting Scripture accordingly.
Purpose of the commandments: All the biblical precepts are interpreted as promoting philosophical contemplation of God.
Ethical laws create secure social and material environment for philosophers.
Some rules encourage moral discipline, so that mind is not distracted by physical appetites.
Some laws symbolically teach metaphysical truths.
Maimonides' Tomb in Tiberias, IsraelMaimonides' Eschatology envisions an enlightened society ruled by a philosophical Messiah.
Hebrew edition of Judah Halevi's Kuzari, Berlin 1795
- Major philosophical work: Kuzari, a fictitious dialogue which describes how the king of the Khazars chose Judaism over other religions.
- Employs philosophical argumentation to demonstrate the inadequacy of philosophy as a means to spiritual fulfilment.
- Prefers historical arguments to metaphysical ones: The truth of Judaism is proven by the people's unbroken memory of the revelation at Mount Sinai.
- Argues for the unique metaphysical quality of the Jewish people and Land of Israel.