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Philosophy פילוספיה

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Philosophy פילוספיה

rambam_150x200Jewish philosophy (Hebrew: פילוסופיה יהודית‎) (Arabic: الفلسفة اليهودية‎) (Yiddish: ייִדיש פֿילאָסאָפֿיע) includes all philosophy carried out by Jews, or in relation to the religion of Judaism. Until modern Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) and Jewish Emancipation, Jewish philosophy was preoccupied with attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism.

Thus organizing emergent ideas that are not necessarily Jewish into a uniquely Jewish scholastic framework and world-view. With their acceptance into modern society, Jews with secular educations embraced or developed entirely new philosophies to meet the demands of a world in which they now found themselves.

Medieval re-discovery of Greek thought among Gaonim of 10th century Babylonian academies brought rationalist philosophy into Biblical-Talmudic Judaism. Philosophy was generally in competition with Kabbalah. Both schools would become part of classic Rabbinic literature, though the decline of scholastic rationalism coincided with historical events which drew Jews to the Kabbalistic approach. For European Jews, emancipation and encounter with secular thought from the 18th-century onwards altered how philosophy was viewed. Oriental and Eastern European communities had later and more ambivalent interaction with secular culture than in Western Europe. In the varied responses to modernity, Jewish philosophical ideas were developed across the range of emerging religious denominations. These developments could be seen as either continuations, or breaks, with the canon of Rabbinic philosophy of the Middle Ages, as well as the other historical dialectic aspects of Jewish thought, and resulted in diverse contemporary Jewish attitudes to philosophical methods.


Medieval Jewish Philosophers

Maimonides wrote The Guide for the Perplexed - his most influential philosophic work. He was a student of his father, Rabbi Maimon ben Yosef (a student of Joseph ibn Migash) in Cordoba, Spain. When his family fled Spain, for Fez, Maimonides enrolled in the Academy of Fez and studied under Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Kohen Ibn Soussan - a student of Isaac Alfasi. Maimonides strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science with the teachings of Torah. In some ways his position was parallel to that of Averroes; in reaction to the attacks on Avicennian Aristotelism, Maimonides embraced and defended a stricter Aristotelism without Neoplatonic additions. The principles which inspired all of Maimonides' philosophical activity was identical those of Abraham Ibn Daud: there can be no contradiction between the truths which haShem has revealed and the findings of the human intellect in science and philosophy. Maimonides departed from the teachings of Aristotle by suggesting that the world is not eternal, as Aristotle taught, but was created ex nihilo. In "Guide for the Perplexed" (1:17 & 2:11)" Maimonides explains that Israel lost its Mesorah in exile, and with it "we lost our science and philosophy - only to be rejuvenated in Al Andalus within the context of interaction and intellectual investigation of Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts.

Maimonides writings almost immediately came under attack from Karaites, Dominican Christians, Tosafists of Provence, Ashkenaz and Al Andalus. His genius was obvious, protests centered around his writings. Scholars suggest that Maimonides instigated the Maimonidean Controversy when he verbally attacked Samuel ben Ali Ha-Levi al-Dastur ("Gaon of Baghdad") as "one whom people accustom from his youth to believe that there is none like him in his generation," and he sharply attack the "monetary demands" of the academies. al-Dasturwas an anti-Maimonidean operating in Babylon to undermine the works of Maimonides and those of Maimonides' patrons (the Al-Constantini Family from North Africa). To illustrate the reach of the Maimonidean Controversy, al-Dastur, the chief opponent of Maimonides in the East, was excommunicated by Daud Ibn Hodaya al Daudi (Exilarch of Mosul). Maimonides' attacks on Ibn al-Dastur may not have been entirely altruistic given the position of Maimonides' in-laws in competing Yeshivas.

In Western Europe, the controversy was halted by the burning of Maimonides' works by Christian Dominicans, in 1232. Avraham son of Rambam, continued fighting for his father's beliefs in the East; desecration of Maimonides' tomb, at Tiberias by Jews, was a profound shock to Jews throughout the Diaspora and caused all to pause and reflect upon what was being done to the fabric of Jewish Culture. This compelled many Anti-Maimonideans to recant their assertions and realize what cooperation with Christians meant to them, their texts and their communities.

Maimonidean controversy flared up again at the beginning of the fourteenth century when Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, under influence from Asher ben Jehiel, issued a cherem on "any member of the community who, being under twenty-five years, shall study the works of the Greeks on natural science and metaphysics."

Contemporary Kabbalists, Tosafists and Rationalists continue to engage in lively, sometimes caustic, debate in support of their positions and influence in the Jewish world. At the center of many of these debates are 1) "Guide for the Perplexed", 2) "13 Principles of Faith", 3) "Mishnah Torah", and 4) his commentary on Anusim.

Seventeenth-century Jewish philosophy

With expulsion from Spain came the dissemination of Jewish Philosophical investigation throughout the Mediterranean Basin, Northern Europe and Western Hemisphere. The center-of-mass of Rationalism shifts to France, Italy, Germany, Crete, Sicily and Netherlands. Expulsion from Spain and the coordinated pogroms of Europe resulted in the cross-pollenation of variations on Rationalism incubated within diverse communities. This period is also marked by the intellectual exchange among leaders of the Christian Reformation and Jewish scholars. Of particular note is the line of Rationalists who migrate out of Germany, and present-day Italy into Crete, and other areas of the Ottoman Empire seeking safety and protection from the endless pogroms fomented by the House of Habsburg and the Roman Catholic Church against Jews.

Rationalism was incubating in geographies far from Spain. From stories told by Rabbi Elijah Ba'al Shem of Chelm, German-speaking Jews, descendants of Jews who migrated back to Jerusalem after Charlemagne's invitation was revoked in Germany many centuries earlier, who lived in Jerusalem during the 11th century were influenced by prevailing Mutazilite scholars of Jerusalem. A German-speaking Palestinian Jew saved the life of a young German man surnamed "Dolberger". When the knights of the First Crusade came to siege Jerusalem, one of Dolberger's family members rescued German-speaking Jews in Palestine and brought them back to the safety of Worms, Germany, to repay the favor. Further evidence of German communities in the holy city comes in the form of halakic questions sent from Germany to Jerusalem during the second half of the eleventh century.

Baruch Spinoza adopted Spinozism, broke with Rabbinic Judaism tradition and was placed in herem by the Beit Din of Amsterdam. The influence in his work from Maimonides and Leone Ebreo, is evident. Elia del Medigo claims to be a student of the works of Spinoza. Some contemporary critics (e.g. Wachter, Der Spinozismus im Judenthum) claimed to detect the influence of the Kabbalah, while others (e.g. Leibniz) regarded Spinozism as a revival of Averroism; a talmudist manner of referencing to Maimonidean Rationalism. In the centuries that have lapsed since the herem declaration, scholars have re-examined the works of Spinoza and find them to reflect a body of work and thinking that is not unlike some contemporary streams of Judaism. For instance, while Spinoza was accused of pantheism, scholars have come to view his work as advocating panentheism, a valid contemporary view easily accommodated by contemporary Judaism.

20th and 21st-century Jewish philosophy

Jewish existentialism

One of the major trends in modern Jewish philosophy was the attempt to develop a theory of Judaism through existentialism. Among the early Jewish existentialist philosophers was Lev Shestov (Jehuda Leib Schwarzmann), a Russian-Jewish philosopher. One of the most influential Jewish existentialists in the first half of the 20th century was Franz Rosenzweig. While researching his doctoral dissertation on the 19th-century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Rosenzweig reacted against Hegel's idealism and developed an existential approach. Rosenzweig, for a time, considered conversion to Christianity, but in 1913, he turned to Jewish philosophy. He became a philosopher and student of Hermann Cohen. Rozensweig's major work, Star of Redemption, is his new philosophy in which he portrays the relationships between haShem, humanity and world as they are connected by creation, revelation and redemption. Orthodox rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and Conservative rabbis Neil Gillman and Elliot N. Dorff have also been described as existentialists.

The French philosopher and Talmudic commentator Emmanuel Levinas, whose approach grew out of the phenomenological tradition in philosophy, has also been described as a Jewish existentialist.

Jewish rationalism

Rationalism has re-emerged as a popular perspective among Jews. Contemporary Jewish rationalism often draws on ideas associated with medieval philosophers such as Maimonides and modern Jewish rationalists such as Hermann Cohen.

Cohen was a German Jewish neo-Kantian philosopher who turned to Jewish subjects at the end of his career in the early 20th century, picking up on ideas of Maimonides. In America, Steven Schwarzschild continued Cohen's legacy. Another prominent contemporary Jewish rationalist is Lenn Goodman, who works out of the traditions of medieval Jewish rationalist philosophy. Conservative rabbis Alan Mittleman of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Elliot N. Dorff of American Jewish University also see themselves in the rationalist tradition, as does David Novak of the University of Toronto. Novak works in the natural law tradition, which is one version of rationalism.

Philosophers in modern-day Israel in the rationalist tradition include David Hartman and Moshe Halbertal.

Some Orthodox rationalists in Israel take a "restorationist" approach, reaching back in time for tools to simplify Rabbinic Judaism and bring all Jews, regardless of status or stream of Judaism, closer to observance of Halacha, Mitzvot, Kashrut and embrace of Maimonides' "13 Principles of Faith". Dor Daim, and Rambamists are two groups who reject mysticism as a "superstitious innovation" to an otherwise clear and succinct set of Laws and rules. According to these rationalists, there is shame and disgrace attached to failure to investigate matters of religious principle using the fullest powers of human reason and intellect. One cannot be considered wise, or perceptive, if one does not attempt to understand the origins, and establish the correctness, of one's beliefs.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 April 2013 18:34