JUDAH HALEVI & EXCEPTIONALISM

October 2, 2006 at 1:45 pm | Posted in History, Israel, Judaica, Middle East, Zionism | Leave a comment

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Kuzari

“Israel is among the
nations as the heart among the limbs”

There is a special function of the Jewish people in God’s plan:

to help to bring about the Messianic kingdom, and redemption of the whole world

The Kuzari is the most
famous work by the medieval Spanish Jewish
writer Yehuda Halevi. The work is divided into five
essays (“ma’amarim”), and takes the form of a dialogue between the pagan king of the Khazars and a Jew who had been invited to
instruct him in the tenets of the Jewish religion. Originally
written in Arabic, the book was translated by numerous scholars (including ibn Tibbon) into Hebrew and other languages. Though the book is not
considered a historical account of the Khazar conversion to Judaism, scholars such as D.M. Dunlop have postulated that Yehuda had access to Khazar documents upon which he loosely based his work. His contemporary, Avraham ibn Daud, reported meeting Khazar rabbinical students in Toledo, Spain
in the mid-12th century.

Introduction

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 Muslim concerning their respective beliefs, a 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 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”

Halevi writes that 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 cannot be denied. Halevi asserts that no comparison is possible between Jewish culture, which in his view is based upon religious truth, and Greek culture, which is based upon science only. He holds that the wisdom of Greek philosophers lacked that divine support with which the Israelite 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 his faith

Halevi now attempts to demonstrate the superiority of his religion, Judaism. 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 minutiæ, 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 Gaon and Bahya ibn Paquda. For him there is no difference between
essential and other attributes. Either the attribute affirms a quality in 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. See also: Divine simplicity;
Negative theology

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
Yerah,” 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 creation 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.

Influence of the Kuzari

Although the Kuzari 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 Kabbalistic writings of the Middle Ages, not excluding even the Zohar,
which borrowed from it several passages, among them the saying,
“Israel is among the nations as the heart among the limbs”
(Zohar, iii. 221b.)

Besides the Hebrew translation of Judah ibn Tibbon, which passed through eleven editions (1st ed.
Fano, 1506), another rendering into Hebrew was made by Judah ben Isaac Cardinal, at the
beginning of the thirteenth century. The study of the Kuzari 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. Many translations and commentaries on this work, both
religious and critical, have been written since then. It has had a
resurgence of popularity in the Orthodox Jewish community in the modern era.

The “Kuzari Principle”

The Kuzari has given its name to a “principle” of reasoning which is derived
from the book. This principle claims to logically prove the historicity of major events
recorded in the Bible from the nature of the belief in them. More specifically, it is
argued that one can prove that some three million Israelites personally were led out of
Egypt in an Exodus, and witnessed God’s revelation to them at Mount Sinai, thus
establishing the proof of the events discussed in the Torah, the five books of Moses.

A modern statement of the Kuzari Principle is as follows: Let E be a possible event
which, had it really occurred, would have left behind enormous, easily available evidence
of its occurrence. If the evidence does not exist, people will not believe that E
occurred.
(Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb, Living up to the Truth, Chapter 6.)

Gottlieb then goes on to argue that events such as the revelation at Sinai fit the
requirements of the Kuzari Principle and so their truth can be deduced merely from the
fact that the Jewish people believed they were true. He also argues that other mass
beliefs, such as those of other religions, do not fit the requirements.

The basic logic of the Kuzari argument is that a story such as that of the Sinai
revelation must have originated with a real event or have been introduced at some later
moment. In the latter case, the population will have been able to infer its falsehood
merely from their lack of prior knowledge of the claim. Therefore, according to this
logic, the story can only have been introduced at a time when the population knew it to be
true from their own observation.

Many circles have trouble accepting the Kuzari principle as logically or historically
valid. Amongst the arguments against the principle are:

  • This argument assumes that how the Torah is understood has always been the same. Perhaps over a period of many generations the story of ‘strange events at a mountain’ evolved very slowly to the current version. Or perhaps the original was a partial fiction which slowly began to be accepted as a factual.

-The proponents of the principle view this argument as irrelevant. The Kuzari principle
states that as long as a nation believes it had a national experience at any point in time
that national experience happened (e.g. natinal revelation). -The proponents of the
principle argue that this idea, while sounding plausible lacks any concrete details of how
it could have happened and therefore is impossible to assess. Also even if someday a
plausable sounding transformation is thought up, that doesn’t mean it is actually
possible. The very minimum indirect evidence would be for the critic to find some cases in
which we know that this type of transformation did in fact happen. see [1]

  • This argument assumes that when a text is first written, its precise text became widely
    known among nearly the entire community, and that most people would know if the text
    changed. However, this is often not the case. The assumption is that if they are given a
    new story, they will know that it is new. However, in many times and places people had
    little accurate knowledge of their history.

-The proponents of the principle argue that this argument suffers from the same flaws
as the previous one.

  • The argument assumes that widespread cultural acceptance of an event as miraculous as
    proof of the miracle in that the former is impossible to fake. The argument ignores the
    fact that using this line of reasoning, the arguer would be forced by symmetry to accept
    the public miracle claims of other conflicting religions. Thus by asymmetrical rejection
    of public miracle claims of other religions, the argument fails.

-The proponents of the principle argue that indeed we are forced to accept any public
miracle claim of other religions, provided they do fit the same criteria. But the criteria
of the kuzari principle is not simply that the miracle is public (happening to a group of
people). For example one could claim that 500 years ago 1000 people in a village in
Australia had a shared prophetic experience, in which the creator of the Universe came to
them and gave them a book of rules to live by. One could conceivably go to Australia today
and convince people of this story (if one was charimatic and convincing enough) even
though it is false. However if one tries to convince them that ALL the population of
Australia had this vision together then (according to Kuzari princple) people will reject
the claim. The reason they will reject it is they are able to check to see if it is true.
When they see that no one in their family, nor anyone they know has ever heard of this
event, an event which if it had occurred would have had massive and lasting reprecussions.
Since no one has heard of it, it must not have occurred. No religious group claims that a
miracle took that fulfills the Kuzari Principles criteria that Judaism does not believe
took place as well.

  • This argument assumes that the text has always existed in one set form. However,
    research has shown that early versions of the Bible and other ancient near-eastern
    literature differed in a number of ways. Texts often existed in multiple forms for many
    centuries, and later forms were the result of an evolutionary editing process. Most
    Orthodox Jewish writers dispute the validity of this counter-argument, insisting that the Torah‘s transmission process ensures that it is little changed from
    its original form. [2]

-Proponents of the Kuzari principle note that this argument is irrelevant (see previous
notes about the proponents’ view)

Bibliography

  • D. M. Dunlop. History of the Jewish Khazars. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press,
    1954.
  • Yehuda ha-Levi. Kuzari. Translated by N. D. Korobkin as The Kuzari: In Defense
    of the Despised Faith.
    Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1998.
  • Yechezkel Sarna. Rearrangement
    of the Kuzari.
    , Transl. Rabbi Avraham Davis. New York: Metsudah, 1986

External links

Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuzari

Yehuda Halevi

(c.10751141 CE)

Judah Ha-Levi, also Yehudah
Halevi,
or Judah ben Samuel
Halevi
(c.10751141
CE) was a Jewish Spanish philosopher and poet. He was born in
Tudela.

Youth

As a youth Ha-Levi lived a life of pleasure. He mixed pleasure with learning. It is
possible 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-?asan Jehuda ha-Levi,” ii., 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 quickly
displayed an aptitude and love for poetry. 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.

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 (Hebrew), in which
“he sang for all times and places, soon becoming the favorite of the people”.
His earliest writing followed the structures of Arabic poetry, and dealt with popular
Arabic themes: wine, women, and song. He became versed in Greco-Arabic philosophy also.
His personal style was characterized by wit, irony, humor and inventiveness with language.
It is astonishing to consider that Hebrew was not his native spoken language. The fluid
and lively style of his verse reads as if Hebrew was a living language (which was not the
case in the middle ages).

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 practice
that he complained in a letter to his friend David Narboni (Brody, l.c. i. 224, 225) of a
lack of tranquility 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 re-moved to the Muslim city
of
Córdoba. 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
co-religionists, his “people”.
He had long yearned for a
new, or rather for the old, home — for 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 the Land of Israel. For himself at least,
he wished “to do away with the contradiction of daily confessing a longing, and of
never attempting to realize it” (Kaufmann, “Jehuda Halevi”); and therefore,
on the death of his wife, he bade “fare-well” to daughter, grandson, pupils,
friends, rank, and affluence.

After a stormy passage, he arrived in Egyptian 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 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 Israelite
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, over-powered 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 (this, however, is only a legend whith no physical evidence to
support it) (Gedaliah ibn Yaya, “Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah,” ed. Venice, p. 40b).

His work

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 poems is the expression of a deeply-religious soul, which is 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.

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-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-asan, Meïr 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
. In Córdoba, Judah addressed a touching farewell poem to Joseph ibn ?addi?, the
philosopher and poet. 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,” xl. 417 et seq.), ?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, l.c. i., No. 45): “My
heart belongs to you, ye noble souls, who draw me to you with bonds of love”.

Especially tender and plaintive is Judah’s tone in his elegies (Brody, l.c. ii. 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), Meïr 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 (see David and Jonathan).

Love songs

Joyous, careless youth, and merry, happy delight in life find their expression in his
love-songs. Many of these are epithalamia; and are characterized by a brilliant
near-eastern coloring, as well as by a chaste reserve. In Egypt, where the muse of his
youth found a glorious “Indian summer” in the circle of his friends, he wrote
his “swan-song”:(Geiger, l.c. p. 168.)

“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.

Religious poetry

After living a life devoted to worldly pleasures, ha-Levi was to experience a kind of
“awakening”; a shock, that changed his outlook on the world. Like a type of
“conversion” experience, he turned from the frivolous life of pleasure, and his
poetry turned to religious themes.

It seems that his profound experience was the consequence of his sensitivity to the
events of history that were unfolding around him. He lived during the first crusade, and
other wars. There was a new kind of religio-political fanaticism emerging in the Christian
and Muslim worlds. Holy wars were brewing, and ha-Levi may have recognized that such
trends had never been good for the Jews. At the time, life was relatively “good”
in Spain for the Jewish community. He may have suspected things were about to change for the worse, however.

If one may speak of religious “geniuses”, then Judah ha-Levi must certainly
be regarded among the greatest produced by medieval Judaism. No other writer, 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, l.c. No.
57; Heller, l.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, l.c. p. 82; “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, l.c. No. 81; Heller,
l.c. p. 229).

Patriotism

Next to God, the Jewish people stands 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.

Often Judah’s poetic fancy finds joy in the thought of the “return” of his
people to the Promised Land. He believed that perfect Jewish life was possible only in the
Land of IsraelThe 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, l.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:(Luzzatto, l.c. No. 61; transl. by Nina Davis in “Songs of Exile,” p.
49.)

“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 nation — till these be o’er. If with His left hand He should thrust away, Lo! with His right hand He shall draw them nigh.”

Analysis of his poetry

The remarkable, and apparently in-dissoluble, union of religion, nationalism, and patriotism, which were so 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 fulfillment of the supreme politico-religious ideal of medieval Judaism — the “return to Jerusalem“. Though his impassioned call to his contemporaries to return to “Zion” might be received with indifference, or even with mockery
(Luzzatto, l.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, l.c. ii. 153) sound like one great symphony, wherein the
“Zionides” — the single motive ever varied — voice 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, l.c. ii. 155). The following is the English translation by Nina Davis (l.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 south — world-wide — All those from far
and near, without surcease, Salute thee: Peace and Peace from every side.”

Synagogal poetry

The poems of Judah ha-Levi, which have been adopted into the liturgy, number (in all)
more than 300. The longest, and most comprehensive poem is a “Kedushshah,” which
summons all the universe to praise God with rejoicing, and which terminates, curiously
enough, in Ps. ciii. 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 woe 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 stilled — For thou art come, Sabbath my love!

“Bring fruits and wine and sing a gladsome lay, Cry, ‘Come in peace, O restful
Seventh day!'”

Judah used 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,” v.
16), he would not except himself from the number of those he had blamed. His pupil Solomon Paron, 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.

As a philosopher

The position of Judah ha-Levi in the domain of Jewish philosophy is parallel to that
occupied in Islam by
Ghazali, by whom he was influenced. Like Ghazali, Judah endeavored toliberate 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 Bahya. In a work written in Arabic, and entitled “Kitab al-ujjah wal-Dalil fi Nur al-Din al-Dhalil”
(known in the Hebrew translation of Judah ibn Tibbon by the title “Sefer ha-Kuzari,” Judah ha-Levi
expounded his views upon the teachings of Judaism, which he defended against the attacks of non-Jewish philosophers, Karaites, and those he viewed as “heretics“.

For a discussion of ha-Levi’s philosophical work, see Kuzari, considered one of the finest works in Jewish literature.

Ha-Levi’s legacy

Three of the most influential thoughts have led to ha-Levi being widely read, particularly in Kabbalist circles:

  1. The Hebrew language contains mysterious divine attributes; the words themselves help
    connect to God
  2. The Torah has a supernatural character; it is a kind of “gift from God”,
    containing not just “words” or “laws” or “teachings”, but
    the very “presence of God.”
  3. There is a special function of the Jewish people in God’s plan: to help to bring
    about the Messianic kingdom, and redemption of the whole world

More than any other Jewish philosopher, he is the most widely accepted, and is considered representative of ‘true’ Jewish teachings.

External links

/wiki/Image:Wikisource-logo.svg/wiki/Image:Wikisource-logo.svgWikisource has original works written by or about: Judah Halevi

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