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Averroistic Trends in Jewish-Christian Polemics in the Late Middle Ages Daniel J. Lasker Speculum, Volume 55, Issue 2 (Apr., 1980), 294-3 04, Stable URL: htp//links jstor.org/sici?sici=0038-7134%28198004%2955%3A2%3C204%3A ATUPIG3E2.0.CO%3B2-K ‘Your use of the ISTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR’s Terms and Conditions of Use, available at hhup:/www.jstor org/about/terms.html. JSTOR’s Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the sereen or printed page of such transmission. Speculum is published by Medieval Academy of America, Please contact the publisher for further permissions regarding the use of this work, Publisher contact information may be obtained at hutp:/www jstor.org/journalsmedacad. html. Speculum (©1980 Medieval Academy of America ISTOR and the ISTOR logo are trademarks of ISTOR, and are Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office For more information on ISTOR contact jstor-info@umich.edv, ©2002 JSTOR hupswww jstor.org/ Wed Aug 21 12:53:04 2002 SPECULUM 55,2 (1980) Averroistic Trends in Jewish-Christian Polemics in the Late Middle Ages By Daniel J. Lasker ‘A umber of historians have asserted that the spread of Jewish Averroism in the late fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries was 2 major cause of widespread Jewish apostasy in Spain. It was felt that the propagation of a philosophy which maintained that reason is superior to any religion con- tributed to a weakening of the Jewish resolve to withstand intense conver- sionary pressure. If al faiths were of equal value, or indeed, of no value, what benefit would accrue to a Jew if he suffered for his Judaism? If he could expect no reward in the next world, as Averroism seemed to preach, would it not be better to enjoy what this world has to offer? Thus, Spanish Jews, who were deeply imbued with philosophical ideas, became Christians in large numbers." This is not the place to enter into the discussion as to whether the Averroists correctly understood Averroes or the historians correctly under- stood the Averroists. Suffice it to say that most late medieval Jewish philoso- phers basically agreed with Averroes’s distinction between demonstrative and dialectical truths and believed that the latter, ie. the doctrines of reli gion, could not be proven by the former, ie. philosophical reasoning.* This may have led a number of individuals to think that since reason could not demonstrate the truth of any religion, Judaism could not be said to have any “This article was originally presented at the Ninth Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, Boston, Massachusetts, Dec. 19, 1977, and an abstract of it appeared in the “Asaciaion for Jeich Studies Newseter, No. 23 (Sept. 1978), pp- 11, 24 "The most prominent proponents of this historical reconstruction are Yitrchak Baer, ‘Hiaory ofthe Jews in Chratian Sposn (Philadelphia, 1961), and Benzion Netanyalu, The Mervanos ‘of Spin (New York, 1966). Both authors rely heavily on contemporaneous accounts by anti ophical Jewish loyalists This distinction is made in Averroes's Kitab Fasl ab Magil, ed. George F. Hourani (Leiden, 1958), trans. Hourani, verroes on the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy (London, 1961) Jewish authors were familiar with a Hebrew translation edited by N. Gol,“ The Hebrew Translation of ‘Avervoes' Fas! al-Magal” Proceedings of the Americen Academy for Jevish Research 25 (1956), ‘99-113; 26 (1957), 41-64. The conclusions reached by the most radical Christian Averroists, those who were accused of maintaining a doubletruth theory, are absent in Averroes's works, ‘The only Jewish philosopher who adopted radical Averroism was Isiac Albalag; cf. Georges Vajda, aac Allalag (Pais, 1960). For an overview of Averroes's thought, see Alfved L. Ivy, “Towards a Unified View of Averroes' Philosophy.” Philesophcal Forum 4,1 (Fall, 1973), 87-113, 294 Averroistic Trends in Jewish-Christian Polemics 295 superiority over Christianity. This, in turn, could have led to the apostasy that marked the Jews’ last century in Spain. In order to investigate this question further, it would be instructive to examine the Jewish anti-Christian polemical literature of this crucial period and to analyze what effect Averroistic trends had upon it. When the anti Jewish riots of 1391 hit Spanish Jewry, there was already a two-hundred- year tradition of such polemics among European Jewry.* With the inerease of Christian conversionary pressure as a result of this widespread persecu- tion, Jewish writers produced quite a number of new polemical works, many of which relied upon philosophical argumentation. If we are to evaluate the claim that Averroism contributed to Jewish apostasy, this literature should provide us with further evidence upon which to make a judgment 1 One central issue often raised by the philosophical polemicists was how ‘one may establish criteria of verification of religious doctrines. If one wishes to claim that a particular religion is somehow superior to another, it is, necessary (0 set up some standards of determining such priority. Joseph Abo (d. ca. 1444) put the question this way: “As there are many laws called divine, and the devotees of every one of them have a continuous tradition, the problem arises how to distinguish between the genuine divine law and the spurious, which claims and pretends to be divine, but is not divine.”* Allbo then answers the question in the following manner. A religion may be proved either in terms of itself or in terms of the founder of the religion. If the religion corresponds to the three major principles and the derivative dogmas that Albo claims are the sine quibus non of any true faith, then it may 2 Te should be noted that Averroism has many facets. As itis used here, Averroism refers to the theory that religious and philosophical propositions belong in different universes of dis: course. AS interpreted by the Jewish Averroiss, this means that reason could not be used t0 dlemonstrate the truth of religious doctrines. This could lead to the conclusion stated above, fnamely from the point of view of reason, all religions are equally valid, or invalid, No religion could have rational (as contrasted with, e.g ethical) superiority over another. It will be obvious from the following that the thinkers discussed here are not true Averroints but were greatly influenced by Averroes “The frst specifically anti-Christian works were written around 1170 by Joseph Kimi and Jacob ben Reuben. On the general topic, se Salo W. Baron, Social and Religious History ofthe Jews, 9 (Philadelphia, 1965), 97-134; and Judah Rosenthal, “Sifrut Ha-Vikuab Ha-Anti- ‘Nozrit ‘Ad Sof Ha-Me'ah Ha'Shemonch-"Esreh,” Areshet 2 (1960), 130-79; "Miu." Aesht 3 (1961), 433-39, For the differences between Jewish polemics before and after 1391, see Netanyahu, Mar- ranos, pp. 80-04, It should be remembered that philosophical argumentation occupies only a ‘inall portion of the polemical literature. Most space is devoted to exegetical arguments, those which concern the correct interpretation of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament "Sefer Hav‘Togarm, ed. Isaac Husik (Philadelphia, 1946), 1. chap. 18, p. 158. Albo distin guished between natural, conventional, and divine laws (dat). Therefore, i s important for him to provide criteria for establishing which laws are actually divine, and not, eg. solely conventional, CE. Husik, “The Law of Nature, Hugo Grotus, and the Bible.” Hebrr Union Callge Annual 2 (1925), 381-417