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The Quest for Certainty in Saadia's Philosophy - Heschel

The Quest for Certainty in Saadia's Philosophy - Heschel

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BY
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THEQUESTFORCERTAINTYINSAADIA'SPHILOSOPHY
ABRAHAMHESCHEL
PHILIPFELDHEIM
NEWYORK,N.V.
 
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PHILIPFELDHEIM
THEQUESTFORCERTAINTYINSAADIA'SPHILOSOPHY1.THECHALLENGEOFSCEPTICISM
Reprintedfrom
TheJewishQuarterlyReview
Vol.XXXIII,Nos.2and3Vol.XXXIV,No.4
THEWISDOMofphilosophersisnotacommoditythatcanbeproducedondemand.Theirbooksarenotresponsa.Weshouldnotregardthemasmirrors,reflectingotherpeople'sproblems,butratheraswindows,allowingustoviewtheauthor'ssoul.Philosophersdonotexpendtheirpowerandpassionunlesstheythemselvesareaffected,originallyorvicariously.Thesoulonlycommuneswithitselfwhentheheartisstirred.Saadiaadmittedlywrotehisbook"forthepurposeofdispellingdoubts;butquan-dariesknockingathisownheartprovidedthemotive•thatimpelledhimtotoilfortruth.Hisvacillationaboutthedogmaoftheresurrectionofthedead'cannothavebeenhisonlydoubt;fortheworm
I
Kiuibal-Anuitui:wa'l-I'tiqdddt,
ed.S.Landauer,Leiden,1880(quotedasAr.).TheHebrewquotationsinthispaperareaccording(""'-to
ml/';,1mm)~;"
ed.Slucki,Leipzig,1864,withattentionpaidtothe.numerouscorrectionssuggestedbyM.Wolff,
ZDMG,
XXXII(1878);
1"lIN'I'ICliIN'rlllCIINI'I'IWl'I'A'I'leClI'AMILRICAI'lne(W'l'IlIII',WIIIII'IIIII,II'II'I'IONHOCIJl:l'Y
.'11.1.11111111'111",
I"',NNA.
MWJ,
VII(1880);
D.
Kaufmann,
ZDMG,
XXXVII(1883);
Gesam-melle
Schriften,
1,432-53;S.H.Margulies,MWJ,XV(1888);XVII(1890);Goldziher,
REJ,
XL,pp.32-33;
GedenkbuchKaufmann,
Breslau,
1900;W.
Bacher,
ibid.;and
B.
Klar
(Tarbiz,
XII(1940),51-69).Thelistofcorrectionsintheappendixto
M.
Ventura,
La
PhUosophie
deSaadiaGaon,
Paris,1934,isNotcomplete.
I'.108:
;'~I.)~nmcnnmpllDt;"l/I.)1"D':1''l/;,,~;,C',:1,;''1'1"1:1Y;;1II~;'1'1:1,
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III
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p,
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2
THEQUESTFORCERTAINTY
ofscepticismcanhardlybeconfined.
If
doubtsareaccord-lugtoSaadia,intellectualphenomenawhich
necessarily
occurtoanypersonsearchingforknowledge,hecouldHothavebeenimmunetothemhimself.!Perhapstheyhadtornasundermorethanonedelicatewebofhisnaivefaith.Saadia'sconstantreferencetothedoubtsthatover-astthementalhorizonofotherpeople,insteadoftothoseinhisownmind,waspossiblyaeuphemism.Nottheneed
to
defend,thedesiretoteachortheinclinationtodebatethedoctrineanddogmaofJudaism,buthisownthirstforcertaintywasthemainincentivethatpromptedthegreatmasterandleadertodelveintoaphilosophicaleX.i1minatioFl.fJudaism.HepenetratedbelowthedeeprmnesofBibleandTalmud,wherehehadunearthedawealthofwisdomandlearninginordertoascertainwhatbyinthe'substratum.Wheredoesallknowledgecomefrom?Isthehumanmindcapableofavoidingerrorsandofattainingthetruth?Whatmakesourbeliefs,judgmentsandperceptionsvalid?.Thesuspicionofscepticismmayredoundtothehonorofamansearelringfortruth.Wemay,indeed,regardSaadia'sphilosophyasapersonalquestofcertainty,asanefforttoreachevidenceaboutthemainissuesofthinking.InSaadia'stime,thespiritualsituationwasfullofconfu-sion.ThArabicworldwasthenanarenawheretherival
religions
andphilosophiesofEastandWestcrossedswords.AliinthecrisisthatfollowedthePersianWarsinancient
p,xn'nlllpJ'1J)lJ
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THECHALLENGEOFSCEPTICISM
3Greece,therewasanabundanceofopinionsandscarcityofcertaintyastowhichopinionwasright.ContactwiththecontagiousperplexitieswhichblossomedexuberantlyintheorientalclimatehadimpairedtheorganicsystemofJewishIaith.sOverandabovetheseperplexitiesfromwithout,theseedofdiscord'sownbythestrifebetweentheKaraitesandthetraditionalJewsborepoisonousfruit.Saadiacouldnotstandaloof."Myheartgrievedforman-kindandmysoulwasmovedonaccountofourownpeopleIsrael,asIsawinourtimemanyofthosewhoadheretotheir.faithentertainimpurebeliefsandunclearideas,whilethosewhodenythefaithboastoftheirunbeliefandtriumphantlyderidethemenoftruth,albeittheyarethem-selvesinerror.Isawmensunk,asitwere,inaseaofdoubtandoverwhelmedbythewavesofconfusion,andtherewasnodivertobringthemupfromthedepthsandnoswimmertocometotheirrescue.ButasGodhasgranteduntomesomeknowledgebywhichIcanbeusefultothem,andendowedmewithsomeabilitieswhichImayemployfortheirbenefit,Ifeltthattohelpthemwasmyduty,andguidingthemamoralobligationuponme."!TheperplexityofSaadia'sgenerationinvolvedagreatnumberofproblems,ase.g.,theoriginofthe
universe;"
theexistence,"unity,"
incorporeality"
andomniscienceofGod
;IO
themeaningoftheBiblical
precepts;"
thenecessity
4
Cf.Maimonides,
IggerethTeman,Kobes,
ed.Lichtenberg,II,p.5a:"WereitnotforSaadia,theTorahwouldalmosthavedisappearedfromthemidstofIsrael;foritwashewhomademanifestwhatwasobscuretherein,madestrongwhathadbeenweakened."
5
P.3(Ar.pp.4-5);Malter,
SaadiaGaon,
p.200.
6
Cf.the12doctrines,pp.22-36(Ar.pp.4t-7@),15
f.
7
P,40:
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@:
N~'IUN::iI
':t
1mn~N:Jll'I~N';
cf,
IbnHazm,
Kitebal-jasl
fi
al-Milal,
V,p.119,quoted
I,yS.II
orovitz,
OberdieBektmntschaji
etc.,
p.
241,
n.
2.
H
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'p.
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