Sepharad in Ashkenaz Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse

Proceedings of the Colloquium, Amsterdam, February 2002

Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen Verhandelingen, Afd. Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks, deel 189

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse

Edited by Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz and Irene Zwiep

Amsterdam, 2007

© 2007 Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photo-copying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. P.O. Box 19121, 1000 GC Amsterdam, the Netherlands T +3120 551 07 00 F +31 20 620 49 41 E ISBN 978-90-6984-482-4 The paper in this publication meets the requirements of « permanence.

9706 (1994) for

Table of Contents




Shmuel Feiner From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History 1 David B. Ruderman The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century: A Challenge to the Notion of the Sephardi Mystique 11 Tangible and intangible transmissions Gad Freudenthal Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamosc, ca. 1730: The Early Years of Rabbi Israel ben Moses Halevi of Zamosc 25 Adam Shear Judah Halevi’s Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah: A Case Study in the Transmission of Cultural Knowledge 69 Steven Harvey The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers as Harbingers of the Renewed Interest in the Medieval Jewish Philosophers 85 ‘What’s new?’ Raphael Jospe Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist 107 Albert van der Heide The Beˆur in Progress: Salt and Spices at a Medieval Banquet 141


Thomas Kollatz Under the Cover of Tradition: Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz 147 Resianne Fontaine Natural Science in Sefer ha-Berit: Pinchas Hurwitz on Animals and Meteorological Phenomena 157 Transformations Warren Zev Harvey Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge 185 Carlos Fraenkel Maimonides, Spinoza, Solomon Maimon, and the Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy 193 Accommodation Shlomo Berger From Philosophy to Popular Ethics: Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol’s Keter Malkhut 223 Wout van Bekkum Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization’ of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in PreModern and Modern Times 235 Emile G. L. Schrijver Saul of Berlin’s Besamim Rosh: The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge 249 Bridges Andrea Schatz Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora 263 Irene Zwiep Jewish Enlightenment Reconsidered: The Dutch Eighteenth Century 279 Summaries 311 List of Contributors 319 Index of Authors 323 Index of Book Titles 331



The present volume is the result of a colloquium sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and held in the Trippenhuis in Amsterdam from 18 through 21 February 2002. The sixteen contributions collected in this volume represent expanded versions of the papers that were delivered during these four days of intense scholarly exchange and discussion. The colloquium’s organizers, who now act as this volume’s editors, are most grateful to Lenn Schramm (Jerusalem) for his meticulous editing of this widely varied range of articles, and to Lies Meiboom for taking care of the indices. The editors would further like to express their deepest thanks to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences for selecting, financing and supporting their project, which enabled them to bring together an international and interdisciplinary group of experts. Steven Harvey (Bar-Ilan University) and Emile Schrijver (Universiteit van Amsterdam) acted as advisers in the early stages of the project’s genesis. It is a pleasure to acknowledge here their insightful comments and suggestions. Further thanks are due to the Salomon Ludwig Steinheim-Institut für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte (Duisburg) and the Menasseh ben Israel Instituut voor joodse sociaalwetenschappelijke en cultuur-historische studies (Amsterdam) for their additional financial support of this highly stimulating enterprise. Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz and Irene Zwiep

The Editors



I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. … I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with wood dust, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood – certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation … Walter Benjamin (1931)*

A library is not supposed to move. It defines the place where a book can be found, so it should not itself change places. And if it does – what will become of the books? For some time they will be inaccessible. They will be tucked away in boxes that are securely closed. The order that once was imposed on them is disrupted. Even though it will be restored in a new place, it will never be quite the same. The shelves are arranged in a different manner. The boxes will be opened and several books will be missing – an entire box may have disappeared, while books that were long considered lost suddenly reappear among the piles of displaced volumes. A number of books will be set aside for repair. The books will be rearranged. The new place creates new proximities and new distances. Books that previously were consigned to an obscure corner are now sitting proudly in the middle of the shelf, right in front of the curious reader’s eyes. Books that may have looked obsolete return to the shelves solidly bound and in new covers, attracting the attention of the wandering mind. The library has moved. The catalogue remains valid. Yet many changes have taken place. What has a library to do with tradition? This question has occupied a prominent place in recent research on the transformations of Jewish culture in the early modern period. In Ashkenaz, tradition as a canon and as a method of defining and transmitting the canon was radically refashioned with the advent of the printing press and the dissemination of a Sephardi canon of learning and scholarship, including philosophical and exegetical writings and the ShulÌan ¨arukh. Elchanan Reiner has characterized the changes that took place in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as the result not of a struggle with a New Science, but with a ‘New Library’.1 We may
* ‘Unpacking My Library', trans. Harry Zohn, in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol. 2.2, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA, 1999), p. 486. 1 Elchanan Reiner, ‘The Attitude of Ashkenazi Society to the New Science in the Sixteenth Century’, Science in Context 10 (1997): 589–603. The tensions or convergence between the conceptual library of

IX The Editors

add, however, that this ‘New Library’ was not a universal library: it was not conceived as a comprehensive collection providing insight into the history and present state of human knowledge (from a Jewish point of view or from other perspectives).2 Rather, it constituted an alternative canon with new and contested criteria for defining the fields of knowledge that it would make accessible.3 What we can observe then at the beginning of the eighteenth century may be characterized as a further shift: tradition moved from the ‘New Library’ of the Jewish early modern world to the universal library of the Jewish enlightenment. The year 1742 is mentioned several times in the present volume, because it has assumed an almost emblematic character, encapsulating the new intellectual possibilities that presented themselves as the result of the complex and fruitful encounter between medieval knowledge4 and early Jewish enlightened discourse. Maimonides’ halakhic code, the Mishneh torah, had been reprinted in Jessnitz between 1739 and 1742 at the initiative of David Fraenkel, who served as rabbi of the Jewish community in nearby Dessau and was revered by his young student Moses Mendelssohn. When the new edition of the Mishneh torah was complete, another work was added to this already impressive achievement: in 1742, Maimonides’ contested philosophical treatise Guide of the Perplexed was reprinted for the first time in almost two hundred years. At about the same time, Mendelssohn set out to study the Guide; it has often been assumed that it was the Jessnitz edition that allowed him to become acquainted with Maimonides’ philosophical thought. However, annotations in his hand can be found in a copy of the Sabbioneta edition of 1553 – a fact that, far from detracting from the importance of this particular moment in Ashkenazi cultural history, adds to its complex texture5 and allows us to study a number of features that seem to be characteristic of the encounter between medieval knowledge and enlightened discourse in the eighteenth century.

the ‘canon’ and actual – private or semi-public – book collections deserve further attention. See, for example, Zeev Gries’ discussion of the large and varied book collections of individual scholars as well as battei midrash, which provide interesting insights in the limitations as well as the flexibility of ‘canon’, in Ha-sefer ke-sokhen tarbut ba-shanim t”s–t”rs (1700–1900) (Tel Aviv, 2002), pp. 65–77. 2 On the emergence of the idea of the ‘universal library’ that transcended confessional boundaries, see Roger Chartier, The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Stanford, 1992), pp. 61–88; Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford, 2001), pp. 119–21. On the humanist library and its ‘centrifugal elements’ see Anthony Grafton, Commerce with the Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers (Ann Arbor, 1997), pp. 19–35. 3 On early modern debates regarding the place of metaphysics and the sciences in Jewish learning, see David Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe (New Haven, 1995), ch. 2, pp. 54–99. 4  For the purposes of this volume, we suggest a rather broad definition of ‘knowledge’ as ‘any and every set of ideas and acts accepted by one or another social group or society of people – ideas and acts pertaining to what they accept as real for them and for others’, see E. Doyle McCarthy, Knowledge as Culture: The New Sociology of Knowledge (London and New York, 1996), p. 23. This definition emphasizes the social embeddedness and historical fluidity of knowledge and allows us to refer to various ‘sets of ideas and acts’ without imposing hierarchical claims as to their validity. 5  This copy can be examined today in the British Library (C. 49. e. 13.). See Moses Mendelssohn, Gesammelte Schriften: Jubiläumsausgabe, ed. Alexander Altmann et al., 14: 271 (Hebrew text) and 20.1: LXXXIV–LXXXV.



While Ashkenazi scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were concerned with the selection of books that would constitute a new canon, an authoritative source of religious knowledge, the intellectuals of the eighteenth century had something different on their minds. They did not select books; rather, they wished to bring books together in a different place. They no longer defined tradition as a canon, but as the Jewish section of a universal library.6 Thus they were reluctant to discuss matters of exclusion and instead focused on strategies of inclusion, juxtaposition, and critical discernment. They printed Maimonides’ Mishneh torah along with his Guide of the Perplexed and advocated the study of the Bible as well as the study of philosophy and history. They cited Judah Halevi alongside Christian Wolf and the Talmud alongside Kant. As a glimpse at Mendelssohn’s copy of the Guide reveals, the fact that the early Jewish Enlightenment made a number of medieval works available in new editions does not imply that all of these works had previously been inaccessible. However, they were certainly deemed to be less accessible than was desirable. The rabbis, scholars, and printers of the early Jewish Enlightenment attempted to define the outlines of a new cultural space in which more books would become available to a larger number of readers, in which new proximities and new possibilities for study and comparison would emerge, in which readings would be unpredictable, and in which tradition and critique would meet, producing innovative ‘uses of tradition’. For the authors of the early Jewish Enlightenment, the transition to modernity was inextricably linked to this effort to establish tradition in a new place, to move a library, to unpack its volumes in a different environment, to open them in changed contexts, to cope with dust, loss, and disorder and to restore the books to visibility in a ‘mood’ of ‘anticipation’. The promise associated with this moment found perfect expression in the words of the printer of the Jessnitz edition of the Guide, Israel bar Abraham, in his preface: ‘u-vkhen eÒ ha-da¨at ha-zot eÒ Ìayyim hi la-maÌaziqim bah’.7 This volume begins by juxtaposing two contributions that reflect two widely diverging interpretations of this transition to modernity. Together, the essays by Shmuel Feiner and David Ruderman invite us to a midrashic reading of the present volume, forcing us to make sense of the tensions that arise from the presence of tradition in modernity and encouraging us to read the remaining essays with a new and less static understanding of the role of both tradition and critique in shaping the intellectual worlds of modern Judaism. Elaborating upon Isaiah Berlin’s characterization of the eighteenth century as a highly complex and confused – rather than rational and harmonious – epoch, Shmuel Feiner draws our attention to the particular dynamic and turbulence of the ‘Jewish eighteenth century’. In this troubled era, when science was counterbalanced by mysticism and Haskalah by Hasidism, the rise of a Jewish enlightened discourse repre6

 The term ‘alternative library’ that Shmuel Feiner suggested in his description of the ‘bookshelf of the early maskilim’ points to significant changes in the evaluation of languages, genres and books in the eighteenth century, but detracts from the underlying decisive shift in the understanding of the concept of the ‘library’ itself, which we would like to emphasize here. Cf. Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment, trans. Chaya Naor (Philadelphia, 2004), p. 44. 7 Moses Maimonides, Moreh nevukhim, Jessnitz 1742, Printer's preface.

XI The Editors

sented only one revolution among many. Feiner documents this rise in terms of a linear development, from a growing interest in medieval Sephardi philosophy among Ashkenazi scholars, via new and revolutionary approaches to intellectual and social issues, to the maskilic rejection of rabbinic genres and authority. Medieval Sephardi books formed part of a library where individuals developed readings of Jewish religion, culture, and society that transcended the interpretative frameworks provided by the rabbinic élite. Feiner’s narrative gives prominence to struggle, rupture, and concomitant pain; the maskilim are revealed to be the instigators of a Jewish Kulturkampf that has lasted down to the present time Whereas Shmuel Feiner draws our attention to the Jews’ potential for revolution, David Ruderman emphasizes the revolutionary potential of the Jewish tradition. He argues that earlier Jewish scholars, notably in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy, forged a modernity in which tradition and innovation (epitomized in Kabbalah and science) were essentially compatible. If on the surface Ruderman’s picture appears to be more positive and tranquil than Feiner’s, it certainly is no less dynamic. Here, however, the dynamic is not presented as a result of the clash between traditional and revolutionary forces, but as an intrinsic part of tradition per se. When reshaping itself, Ruderman seems to imply, tradition has no need for crisis and critique. It can rely on its own originality, especially when seasoned by occasional stimuli from the outside, non-Jewish world. The tension between these two conceptions of tradition vis-à-vis modernity is illuminating, because it helps us perceive a diversity that usually remains hidden behind a too-rigid terminology. Thus we learn that innovation and the shaping of a new intellectual sphere may depend as much on the embracing of tradition as on its rejection; that, in fact, tradition is not a single uniform structure, but a constellation of traditions from which Jewish authors could choose, if only to challenge and subvert what they had found. Moreover, it seems to have made a difference in which section of the new library old books were unpacked: the selection of books that received particular attention and the ways in which these were introduced, cited, and contextualized vary according to the area of knowledge that was at stake. Feiner is concerned mainly with religious and philosophical thought, while Ruderman addresses primarily the sciences and natural philosophy. Finally, in both accounts Sepharad appears in two different guises. Whereas Feiner identifies the contemporary Sephardi ‘portculture’ as the chief model of the Ashkenazi cultural critique and medieval Sephardi science and philosophy as its principal source, Ruderman reduces the medieval Sephardi scholars to distant cultural icons who had once succeeded in performing an intellectual balancing act but whose work was now found wanting in the face of contemporary scientific endeavour. Throughout this volume, we shall witness Sepharad assuming these alternative and indeed conflicting roles. Unpacking the works of medieval Sepharad could mean a proud presentation of a splendid history of Jewish involvement with philosophy and the sciences, documenting a development that led from Sepharad to the eighteenth century and implying that contemporary achievements had their roots in Jewish tradition. It could also mean reflecting, with no less pride, on innovation as a step beyond the limitations of even the greatest authors of the past.



The three case studies that follow take us to the entrance doors of the library. What were the tangible and intangible processes of transmission that made it possible for medieval Sephardi books to enter the library of the Jewish Enlightenment? Israel of Zamosc, the protagonist of the first of these three studies, is a special case in the history of the encounter between Sepharad and Ashkenaz; and, given the fact that he was among the early mentors of Mendelssohn and other maskilim in Berlin, a highly significant case as well. As argued by Gad Freudenthal, for Israel of Zamosc Sephardi culture was not at all remote, given the physical presence, in Zamosc’s earlier history, of a Sephardi community and its legacy – an unusually rich Sephardi library. Freudenthal places Israel within the intellectual context of neo-Maimonidean scholarship and a ‘largely invisible scientific sub-culture’ in Jewish Poland. However, Israel’s approach to the halakhic text and his subversive interpretations transcend the innovative, scientific readings of the Talmud that he could find elsewhere. He presents scientific knowledge as a source of authority that is superior to the halakhic text. Adam Shear traces the transmission and representation of one particularly prominent Sephardi text, Judah Halevi’s Kuzari, in Ashkenaz of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Shear’s narrative shows that until well into the eighteenth century Ashkenazi scholars used the book mainly as a repository of useful information on various subjects, whereas early maskilim like Wetzlar were interested in its overall thesis about the relationship between revelation and philosophy. The maskilic commentaries of Zamosc and Satanow, which combine the two earlier approaches, represent a true transformation of Halevi’s Kuzari into a work to be taught to others. Shear argues that it was the combination of many heterogeneous factors that led to the eventual transformation of this Sephardi text into a maskilic vehicle for discussing new scientific theories. Its ‘availability’ rested on the image of the work and on the categories in which it was interpreted as well as on the physical transmission of the book. Steven Harvey explores the presence of medieval Sephardi texts from a slightly different angle, emphasizing the role of the Hebrew printing press and the importance of new editions, given the paucity of printed editions of philosophical works in the period following Spinoza’s challenge. Examining the introductions to the writings of Israel of Zamosc, Naphtali Hirsch Goslar, Judah Loeb Margolioth, and Pinchas Elias Hurwitz, Harvey suggests that these introductions be viewed as harbingers of a renewed interest in the writings of medieval Jewish philosophy that was to be followed by a wider interest in these works themselves. The introductions are the more instructive in that they display very different, even conflicting reports about the familiarity with the sciences among eighteenth-century Jews as well as widely divergent attitudes toward the medieval rationalists. The reception of the Sephardi heritage was anything but uniform, with enthusiasm, criticism, and scepticism all manifested in various degrees. These detailed studies of the transmission of medieval Sephardi texts allow us to trace moments of innovation in the often neglected liminal spaces where new approaches and concepts are about to emerge but are still articulated in an ambiguous or contradictory manner, because they still rely, in part, on previous models of thought and speech. It is not always an easy task to identify ‘what is new’ even in the work of

XIII The Editors

those scholars who are most frequently cited as symbols of innovation and renewal. Raphael Jospe portrays Mendelssohn, often perceived as the very embodiment of German Haskalah, as a ‘medieval modernist’. This appellation reflects Mendelssohn’s indebtedness to medieval Jewish philosophers along with his attempt to reinterpret and transform their theories and apply them within contemporary political contexts. While Mendelssohn’s approach to political thought and to the separation of church and state reveals the elasticity of tradition and may serve as an example of innovative exegesis, the philosopher takes a conservative stance on core questions of biblical criticism, to the extent of ignoring the more audacious views of one of his medieval sources, Abraham Ibn Ezra. Albert van der Heide confirms the portrait of Mendelssohn as a medievalist in his case study of Mendelssohn’s commentary on Exodus 19, comparing this chapter of the Beˆur with Dubno’s commentary on Genesis 22. Rabbinic exegesis and medieval commentators, whether mentioned by name or not, take pride of place in both chapters. The medieval flavour of the Beˆur is further accentuated by the fact that Mendelssohn follows the medieval model of the topically arranged commentary instead of embracing the more discursive approach widely adopted by contemporary Christian scholars. The combination of fairly conservative readings of Sephardi texts with interpretations that led to radical innovation clearly illustrates that the new library allowed for a variety of interpretative practices: some could actually be considered a part of the medieval Sephardi heritage; others, like Mendelssohn’s reading strategies in Jerusalem, clearly transcended it. Thomas Kollatz further elaborates on the often very circumspect ways in which readers moved about in the new library. Aron Gumpertz, scholar, physician, and friend of Moses Mendelssohn’s, published a revised edition of Loeseke’s compendium on pharmaceutics and a supercommentary on Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the Five Megillot. In both works Gumpertz adopts a historicizing strategy, emphasizing the inherent progress of science since the days of medieval authorities like Galen and Ibn Ezra. Thus, instead of openly confronting and repudiating the views of the older scholars, he takes these as a point of departure for his explanations of contemporary achievements in the sciences, based on experiment, exploration, and new discoveries. Gumpertz decides to use revision and commentary as a writing space in which tradition and critique are not contradictory forces. The older works become accessible to the extent that they can be integrated into a dynamic history of the sciences and inspire the writing of supplements that reflect the best of contemporary knowledge. In Resianne Fontaine’s contribution on Pinchas Hurwitz’s encyclopaedia Sefer haBerit we encounter a quite different evaluation of the Sephardi heritage. Unlike Gumpertz, Hurwitz challenges the very idea of progress. He does not hesitate to declare that medieval science has become obsolete in the light of modern scientific discoveries. However, the new concepts, too, are likely to be replaced by other notions sooner or later. Therefore, true knowledge is provided solely by rabbinic and kabbalistic sources. Incidentally, these sources happen to contain many views that are in accordance with modern theories. Thus Hurwitz presents a rather original approach to the new library. He takes books from many different crates and looks for a place for them on the shelves, while at the same time establishing criteria to contain and



control the many facets of change. In this effort, he relies on works that the authors of the Jewish Enlightenment rarely touched – medieval and early modern kabbalistic texts. Hurwitz’s work, written towards the end of the eighteenth century, clearly reflects the turbulence of a new age and the impact of the revolution wreaked on contemporary Jewry by new discoveries and experiments. Being dynamic as well as conservative, Sefer ha-Berit can be viewed as supporting both Feiner’s and Ruderman’s perceptions of the eighteenth century. While this may sound contradictory, the picture that arises from Sefer ha-Berit is that of a self-confident author who is able to formulate a meaningful answer to the challenge of his day. We have already noted that Maimonides’ Guide occupied a particularly prominent place in the early Jewish Enlightenment. Reading his work in the context of the new library could lead to surprising and highly consequential revisions of Maimonidean as well as contemporary philosophical contentions. Warren Zev Harvey examines Moses Mendelssohn’s rejection and Salomon Maimon’s subversion of Maimonides’ classification of moral rules as ‘generally accepted opinions’. Whereas Mendelssohn builds his argument against Maimonides on Halevi, Maimon turns to Kant. Harvey captures the intensity and fluidity of readings in the new library when he outlines the dense texture within which Mendelssohn formulated his thoughts on the epistemological foundations of moral rules: ‘with the help of Judah Halevi, [Mendelssohn] platonized NaÌmanides’ Augustinian version of Maimonides’ Aristotelian interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’. A particularly creative reader, Maimon inscribes in Maimonides’ text notions that contradict Maimonides but are in line with Kant. Carlos Fraenkel, stressing the intellectual union between Sepharad and Ashkenaz, demonstrates that Maimon’s interest in Kantian philosophy culminates in his attempt to reformulate Maimonides’ concept of the divine intellect in terms of Spinoza’s doctrine of Deus sive Natura in order to complete the Copernican revolution in Kant’s theory of knowledge. For Mendelssohn and Maimon, the philosophical works of Sepharad – including the writings of Maimonides, Halevi, and Spinoza – remain cornerstones of contemporary philosophical reflection. Their relevance does not depend on modern supplements and appendices, as is the case in the sciences. Quite the contrary: the elucidation of key issues in modern thought depends, according to Mendelssohn and Maimon, on a creative re-reading of the medieval and early modern Sephardi masters. While philosophy and the sciences constituted fields of study that were considered to be essential for the enlightened mind, other fields that were not prominent in the Christian world but had always attracted great attention in the Jewish world remained relevant as well. Many of the most important exponents of the Jewish Enlightenment were interested in the liturgy – they edited, translated, and wrote commentaries on the prayer book. But while they admired some liturgical poetry, such as Judah Halevi’s ∑iyyon ha-lo tishˆali, which had become part of the liturgy for Tish¨ah beav, they were reluctant to restore another genre – rhymed Ashkenazi piyyu† – to the shelves of the new library. Before the ‘literary rediscovery’ of liturgical poetry by the maskilim in Berlin, other strategies of accommodation prevailed. Shlomo Berger presents two early modern Yiddish translations of Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s Keter malkhut, a poem that had become part of the Sephardi liturgy for Yom Kippur, and

XV The Editors

traces the ways in which this philosophically inspired poem was transformed into an expression of popular ethics. Thus, a Hebrew poem from Sepharad could be accommodated in an Ashkenazi library via translation into Yiddish and transposition into a different genre. But when Zeev Wolf Buchner, an author of the Jewish Enlightenment, became interested in the medieval poem, he chose to rewrite it in Hebrew, restoring its philosophical character and adding a distinctively Jewish national perspective. In contrast, the Ashkenazi piyyu†im tended to resist accommodation. Wout van Bekkum turns to the early proponents of the Science of Judaism and demonstrates that whereas the Sephardi poems could be described in the aesthetic terms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Ashkenazi piyyu†im could be analysed only in historical terms. Both the aesthetic and the historical re-evaluation of liturgical poetry point to the intricate relationship between religious reform and secularizing scholarship. As emerges from Emile Schrijver’s contribution, an opposite strategy of accommodation was followed by Saul of Berlin, who sought to promulgate new ideas through an ‘original’ medieval genre. Invoking the authority of the fourteenth-century Talmudic scholar Asher ben YeÌiel, his pseudo-epigraphic responsacollection Besamim rosh (Berlin 1793) exploited the accommodative potential of the traditional she’elot u-teshuvot genre, thus introducing Ashkenaz on the Sephardi bookshelf. In this volume ‘Sepharad’ denotes not only medieval texts that were rearranged into a modern library, but also a contemporary context that shaped the interest in the medieval books: Wetzlar points to the Sephardi community of Amsterdam as a model for Ashkenaz; Wessely wishes to be buried in the Sephardi cemetery of Altona; and Gumpertz, in his medical writings, mentions Mendez d’Acosta and Jacob de Castro Sarmento, both fellows of the Royal Society in London. Andrea Schatz and Irene Zwiep explore the relation between medieval and contemporary Sepharad, the impact of the latter on Jewish enlightened discourse, and the ways in which the image of Sepharad in the eighteenth century facilitated and informed the construction of ‘bridges’ between medieval and contemporary practices of Jewish reading and writing. Schatz addresses the various manifestations of ‘Sepharad’ in maskilic writings on the Hebrew language: medieval Sepharad, Christian Spain and the contemporary Sephardi communities in Europe and the Ottoman Empire were evoked not as isolated historical models, but as distinct configurations in a series of historical recurrences that reflected and supported each other and formed the multilayered basis for the maskilic project of creating a bilingual, diasporic Jewish modernity. Zwiep presents the intellectual strategies and attitudes that played a role in the formation of a series of new Hebrew canons in the eighteenth-century Dutch Republic. She points to the parallels and, in a number of instances, even productive dynamic between the contemporary spheres of Sepharad and Ashkenaz and examines their different roles as catalyst, instigator, and appreciative audience. The creative interaction between Sepharad and Ashkenaz in Amsterdam stands out as yet another example of the local specificity of the processes of transition that we can observe in European Jewish communities between 1700 and 1800.8 The Jewish Enlightenment

 See, for example, the contributions to the volume Ha-haskalah li-gevanehah: ¨iyyunim Ìadashim betoldot ha-haskalah u-ve-sifrutah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and Israel Bartal (Jerusalem, 2005).



in Berlin and Königsberg has to be analyzed within a diasporic network in which many paths could lead to modernity; and although most of them intersected at one point or another, not all of them may have formed part of the Jewish Enlightenment. One of the most ambitious projects of the Jewish Enlightenment in Berlin was the establishment of a Hebrew printing press under the auspices of the Jüdische Freischule. A significant fraction of the books that bear its imprint are new editions of medieval and early modern works, among them Saadia’s Emunot ve-de¨ot (1789), Alguadez’ translation of the Nicomachean Ethics as Sefer ha-Middot (1790), Maimonides’ Moreh nevukhim (1791–1795), and Judah Halevi’s Kuzari (1795). Works that had already become available include BaÌya’s Îovot ha-levavot (Jessnitz 1744), Maimonides’ Millot ha-higgayon (Berlin 1765), Benjamin Mussaphia’s Zekher rav (Berlin 1765/66), Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Sefer ∑aÌot (Berlin 1769), and Isaac Israeli’s Yesod ¨olam (Berlin 1777). In addition we also find a significant number of newly edited works from Italy, such as Elijah Levita’s Sefer ha-BaÌur (1767), Moshe Îayyim Luzzato’s La-yesharim tehillah (1780), and Azariah de’ Rossi’s Meˆor ¨enayim (1793/94). These and many other volumes indicate that the maskilim – in collaboration with wealthy owners of rare manuscripts, rabbinic scholars who provided approbations, and a community of subscribers – wished to establish a new library in a quite literal sense. The contributions to the present volume, however, make it clear that these efforts were merely the culmination of many different and contradictory trends and that they assume meaning within a much broader historical context. They can be traced back to Israel’s Zamosc, Goslar’s Halberstadt, Gumpertz’ Berlin, and David Franco Mendes’ Amsterdam. They emerge from a complex history of re-reading medieval and early modern scientific and philosophical concepts. They articulate the desire to ground tradition in modernity and modernity in tradition. The effects of the changes that took place in the age of transition between 1700 and 1800 far surpassed this particular moment when the library that had moved was taking tangible shape. The proponents of the Science of Judaism articulated the fascination with both medieval Sepharad and the world of libraries in new political and cultural contexts. Like the proponents of Jewish enlightened discourse in the eighteenth century, they heeded the advice of Judah Ibn Tibbon, who admonished his son, the translator of Maimonides’ Moreh nevukhim: ‘Make thy books thy companions, let thy cases and shelves be their pleasure-grounds and gardens. Bask in their paradise, gather their fruit, pluck their roses, take their spices and their myrrh.’9 Andrea Schatz, Irene E. Zwiep and Resianne Fontaine

9 Translation

from Israel Abrahams, ed., Hebrew Ethical Wills, part I (Philadelphia, 1926), p. 63.

XVII The Editors



Shmuel Feiner

From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History

In the old Sephardi cemetery in Altona, tombstone No. 1308, decorated with a drawing of a deer and inscribed with Hebrew verse, marks the grave of an Ashkenazi Jew of Ukrainian descent who was buried there in 1805. This is neither a coincidence nor a mistake. Naphtali Herz Wessely, the Hebrew poet and philologist, one of the fathers of the cultural renaissance of eighteenth-century Ashkenazi Jewry, spent his last years in Hamburg. There he made a surprising, unconventional request of the community: he asked to be laid to rest in the Sephardi section of the cemetery, deliberately forgoing burial in the Ashkenazi section where he would have been interred near two of the most prominent rabbis of the previous generation – Jonathan Eybeschuetz and Jacob Emden.1 This was far more than a symbolic act. It was a twofold statement, through which Wessely disassociated himself from the contemporary Ashkenazi culture and identified with what he considered to be the source of inspiration best fitted to a new direction in intellectual life. Wessely had already chosen the Sephardim as his cultural reference group in the formative stage of his life when, in the 1740s, he joined the circle of Amsterdam Jewish scholars who cultivated the Hebrew language, the Bible, poetry, and philosophy. According to one of his biographers, his identification with the Sephardim was so strong that, in his old age, the Portuguese community in London invited him to serve as its Ìakham (rabbi).2 About half a century earlier, in 1749, Isaac Wetzlar, a wealthy merchant from Celle, completed his Libes briv, a surprising and radical critique, in Yiddish, of the flaws of Ashkenazi Jewish society, in particular of the religious elite.3 His impressive knowledge of religious literature, especially medieval ethical and philosophical writings, along with his experience as a broad-minded businessmen who traveled widely throughout Europe, enabled him to observe the rabbis from outside their circle and to criticize, often with sharp cynicism, their low intellectual level and moral corruption. Since this work remained in manuscript and was never published, it did not provoke any outrage at the time. It is, however, a fascinating and subversive document by one of the lesser-known figures in the early modernist awakening. For example, Wetzlar attacked the tendency to study only the Talmud and halakhah. He saw it as a deplorable evil and linked it to dishonesty in commerce, which, he believed, was being given religious justification and was economically disastrous for the Jews: ‘Today,
1 YoÌanan

Witkover, Aguddat peraÌim (Altona, 1880), pp. 303–4.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Shmuel Feiner Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


however, because of our many sins, our holy Torah is unfortunately turned into a fraud by many evil scholars. The truth is hard to find. Similarly, God have mercy, our income and livelihood are difficult and business is fraud and wealth is very unstable’. In confrontations with scholars, Wetzlar writes, he leveled grave accusations at them; for example, he decried their disgraceful inability to represent the Jewish religion properly: ‘In their relations with nobles and gentile scholars, could they defend their faith and sanctify the name of God?’ His recommended remedy is the study of philosophy and ethics, in particular the writings of Saadia Gaon and Maimonides, as well as BaÌya Ibn Paquda’s Îovot ha-levavot (his favourite book, which had been reprinted only a short time earlier, after a long absence from the Jewish library). He also praised the curriculum of the Sephardi communities: ‘In contrast, among the Sephardim the curriculum is as God desires. … I believe that because of this, the abundance of wealth and business have permanence among the Sephardim. … I do not want to write the truth about who is responsible for this. Let everyone decide and arrive at the truth for himself’.4 Several years after Wetzlar’s death in 1749, a most astonishing text, an anomaly in the world of Hebrew books, was published in Berlin. It was, in effect, a kind of sophisticated secular sermon addressed to young Jewish men – students in batei midrash who were fulfilling the precept of Torah study or embarking on a rabbinical career. This secular sermon, one of the most interesting texts of the early Jewish Enlightenment, promoted two values that had been intrinsic to the European humanistic ethos since the Renaissance and to the contemporary Enlightenment culture: pleasure and the centrality of man. In the sermon, written by the young Moses Mendelssohn and published pseudonymously as the first article in the unprecedented periodical, Qohelet musar, Jews were called on to fill their lungs with the air of natural life, to notice the beauty of nature, to smell the fragrance of the blossoms, to nurture their aesthetic sense and to delight in the perfect harmony prevailing in the world, which, as Leibniz taught, is the best of all possible worlds. Autonomous man, ‘God’s finest creature’, is at the center of nature, and it is unthinkable that the Jews, of all people, should repress their human traits. This secular sermon pushes its readers out the doors of the beit midrash and lowers their gaze from the heavens earthward, to the sensual world, which, although the marvellous creation of God, is also the arena of man’s earthly activity, an inviting, exciting, seductive, thrilling world. Mendelssohn, then in his twenties, rebukes his readers, all of whom certainly belonged to the religious elite: ‘In all my days on this earth, I have never seen a man pass through a pleasant field in which the buds have appeared whose eyes did not roam from its beginning to its end. God gave man an eye with which to see, to feast on the rich pleasure of the glory of all creatures’.5
2  On Wessely, see: Moshe Pelli, The Age of Haskalah: Studies in the Hebrew Literature of the Enlightenment in Germany (Leiden, 1979), pp. 113–30; Edward Breuer, ‘Naphtali Herz Wessely and the Cultural Dislocations of an Eighteenth-Century Maskil’, in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London and Portland, Oregon, 2001), pp. 27–47. 3  The Libes briv of Isaac Wetzlar, ed. and trans. Morris M. Faierstein (Atlanta, Ga., 1996). 4 Ibid., Chapter 13. 5  Meir Gilon, Mendelssohn’s Qohelet musar in its Historical Context (Heb.) (Jerusalem, 1979), p. 158.


From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History

What is the textual basis for this view? Where does he find legitimation for the experience of pleasure, observation, and hedonism, which seem to be so alien to the ethos of talmudic and halakhic study? He has two sources: the Sages who composed the blessing on trees when they bud in the spring, and, of course, Maimonides, the solid twelfth-century foundation for the workers of the eighteenth-century renaissance: ‘Maimonides explained that everything the Almighty created, He created in the best, most perfect, and most attractive manner. … He said further that this too is a great principle. A man who contemplates all of these will know and recognize God’s benevolence to him’.6 The quotation from The Guide of the Perplexed is not entirely accurate, but the message is clear: the harmonious world view and the duty to look at nature are values clearly implied in legitimate Jewish texts; hence there is nothing to prevent their adoption – especially since the pleasure Mendelssohn recommended was not merely sensual, but culminated in a philosophical experience, a coherent, analytical observation, a sense of excitement at the perfection of creation as a whole. Before returning to that secular sermon in Qohelet musar, I want to emphasize that Wessely’s burial in the Sephardi cemetery, Wetzlar’s criticism of the scholars and the Ashkenazi curriculum and preference for the Sephardi model, and Maimonides’ role in Mendelssohn’s text are only three of the many milestones on the road to the revolution that reshaped the cultural and social world of Ashkenazi Jewry in the modern era. It began with a Jewish renaissance, the project of recovering neglected texts and scientific, linguistic and philosophical knowledge – a task that had not been considered relevant in what David Sorkin defined as ‘the Baroque culture’ of pre-modern European Jewry – and the return to the Jewish library of works such as Maimonides’ Moreh nevukhim and Millot ha-higgayon, BaÌya’s Îovot ha-levavot, and Halevi’s Kuzari. In the 1740s, Wessely, Wetzlar, and Mendelssohn could read the Moreh nevukhim because it had been reprinted, for the first time in two hundred years, in Jesnitz near Dessau in 1742. Starting in the 1780s, there were signs of a revolution that gave rise to the first modern Jewish ideology, the Haskalah, created the Jewish public sphere, and also set off a Jewish Kulturkampf. All of this took place in the fascinating, contradiction-filled eighteenth century. What didn’t happen in that century? Throughout the century, among the million to a million and a half Jews of Europe, there existed an underground Sabbatean movement that legitimized religious-radical permissiveness and caused frequent scandals. Study circles of scholars and kabbalists were opened under the auspices of philanthropists. Messianic expectations and calculations of the ‘end of days’ excited mystics and rationalists alike. At an accelerating pace, the members of the wealthy elite were becoming acculturated, first to the lifestyle of the aristocratic Baroque culture and later to the European bourgeois ethos. And unbeknownst to the historians, Jewish deists and atheists appeared and became the target of an early Orthodox offensive. In my recent studies on the formation of the early Haskalah in the eighteenth century, which, among other things, rejected kabbalistic enthusiasm, I concluded that one cannot achieve a full understanding of a phenomenon such as the Haskalah without look6 Ibid.,

p. 159.

Shmuel Feiner


ing at the overall historical picture, and in particular without an understanding of the power of kabbalistic groups or the strength of the Sabbatean libertine threat to the religious and social order. Everyone – Frankists, Hasidim of the Ba¨al Shem ™ov, early maskilim, community rabbis, mitnaggedim, later maskilim like Mendelssohn, the economic elite composed of successful merchants, including Italian and western Sephardi ‘Port Jews’ – played a role on the historical stage of the eighteenth century. Their interactions are often the key to understanding the special role of each group. Indeed, this was a century of great political and spiritual expectations of a religious revival, of transformation and rationalization, of divine and earthly redemption, of religious tolerance and cosmopolitanism. But it was also a century of great anxieties and an awareness of crisis. Those who view the eighteenth century as a relatively stable century, the end of the Middle Ages (as Jacob Katz put it), in which processes of change began to emerge only during its last third, must, in my view, adopt a much more complex and dynamic picture, full of conflicts and schisms. For a long time, I have been suggesting that various historical phenomena in Jewish history should be examined through the organizing term ‘the eighteenth century’. I believe that many conundrums of the Jews’ enormously significant transition from the old world to the modern world can be understood in a new way if scholars can take in a broad, synchronic, and polyphonal view of the entire sweep of processes experienced by the Jews in the eighteenth century. The historical research on the century is primarily thematic. Historians have divided the story of European Jews geographically – Western, Central, and Eastern European Jewry – or according to key processes – the history of Ìasidim and mitnaggedim, of Sabbateanism, of the Haskalah, of the emancipation, and the roots of antisemitism. Only a few scholars have dared to suggest an overall, integrated picture. The most prominent among them is, of course, Jacob Katz, who, beginning with his Tradition and Crisis, tried to present the face of Jewish society as a whole. His less well-known article, ‘The Eighteenth Century as a Turning Point of Modern Jewish History’, is one of the few in which he tried to propose an overall thesis about the course of Jewish history in the eighteenth century. In that essay, Katz refined his ‘tradition and crisis’ model and argued that maskilic rationalism and hasidic mysticism (with their subversive social expressions in the form of maskilic groups and hasidic courts with their charismatic leaders) devastated the patterns of traditional life. The eighteenth century, in his view, was a turning point in Jewish history. The age of the traditional society passed; from then on, the Jews would voluntarily live in totally different circumstances.7 But the historian who listens to the voices of the eighteenth century, who reads the various texts and attempts to distinguish processes of renewal from desperate attempts to hold on to the old world can no longer be completely satisfied with the concepts provided by Katz’s model of modernization. The main critics of this model are Todd Endelman, Yosef Kaplan, and David Sorkin, who argue that the tradition and crisis model is not appropriate for cases such as the Jews of England or western
7 See Jacob Katz, ‘The Eighteenth Century as a Turning Point of Modern Jewish History’, in Vision Confronts Reality: Historical Perspectives on the Contemporary Jewish Agenda, ed. David Sidorsky, Ruth Kozodoy, and Kalman Sultanik (Madison, NJ, 1989), pp. 40–55.


From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History

Sephardi Jewry, who did not need an enlightenment movement to become modern; Katz, they allege, failed to take account of their non-ideological process of acculturation or of the ‘Port Jew’ type.8 Indeed, Katz asserted that until the 1770s no Jew felt he was witnessing a meaningful shift.9 This problematic claim overlooks a series of turbulent political, cultural, and social events and presents too shallow a picture of the period. In particular, it fails to see the renaissance of the early Haskalah and is insensitive to the dissatisfaction and the sense of flux typical of many Jews who put their thoughts in writing. Katz’s narrative is fundamentally tragic and draws a picture of collapse, notably the collapse of the community structure and the decline of a society that, in his view, was firmly grounded on the authoritative organizational and political order and on traditional values but now crumbled under a series of blows. He failed to notice the intellectual renaissance; he tried to fit the dream of modernization, with its hopes and traumas, into Weberian paradigms; and he only partially identified the power of the Haskalah revolution, a subject he dealt with rather superficially. Even in the more sophisticated narrative of Jonathan Israel, the eighteenth century is presented only partially, backed up by minimal documentation and tightly linked to Katz’s framework of ‘tradition and crisis’. In his European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, Israel asserts that the golden age of European Jewry was when western Spanish Jewry flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the eighteenth century was marked by decline – both demographic and economic – and intellectual stagnation.10 Although he did point to several phenomena of revival (such as Hasidism) in the second edition of his book (1989), the concession was made grudgingly and with many reservations. He argued that the drift away from traditional Judaism was a mass movement even before Mendelssohn. The Haskalah, whose value he greatly understates, is viewed as a movement that repudiates tradition and moves towards assimilation. This image is at variance with that proposed by newer research and is more in keeping with the stereotype nurtured by the assimilated, on the one hand, and by the Ultraorthodox, on the other. In general, Israel makes some very sharp observations about the intellectual decadence of Jewish life that he viewed as a more or less universal phenomenon during the first half of the eighteenth century. His conclusions also contradict the view of themselves held by many persons in the eighteenth century. For example, Wessely’s optimistic take on the last quarter of the century was that many changes were taking place in the lives of the Jews in exile, right before his eyes. They were no longer persecuted as in the past. And although still a nation of merchants, many new economic opportunities were opening up for them. With regard to culture, language, and educational patterns, Wessely drew a line
8  See: Todd Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830: Tradition and Change in a Liberal Society (Ann Arbor, 1999); Yosef Kaplan, An Alternative Path to Modernity: The Sephardi Diaspora in Western Europe (Leiden, 2000); David Sorkin, ‘The Port Jew: Notes Toward a Social Type’, Journal of Jewish Studies 1 (1999): 87–97. 9  See Jacob Katz, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages, trans. Bernard D. Cooperman (New York, 1993), Ch. 24. 10  See Jonathan I. Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism 1550–1750 (Oxford, 1989), Ch. 10 and 11.

Shmuel Feiner


to separate the Jewish communities in the Muslim East and Sephardi communities of Western Europe from Ashkenazi Jewry. Whereas the latter, especially in Poland, was backward, living in the past in isolation and according to the old norms, Sephardi and Eastern Jewry were living in the present and ready for the future. The members of these communities spoke the vernacular naturally; their commercial ties with gentiles were very strong and their manners appropriate to the norms of the surrounding society. What was needed now was a joint effort by enlightened rulers and Jews to transform the Ashkenazim (especially those in Poland, whose cultural situation was the worst). Thanks to education, they too would be fit to be counted as people of the present, people of the eighteenth century.11 It is true that Wessely observed the contemporary scene through rose-colored glasses. Nonetheless, his is historical testimony that cannot be overlooked. Instead of the ‘Tradition and Crisis’ model, perhaps we should interpret the Jewish eighteenth century through the lens of complex and multifaceted Jewish modernization. Straight lines of development cannot always be identified. Elements of the old and the new world intermingled and sometimes engaged in a conflict that was not resolved, even for individuals. It was a far more complex age than the label ‘century of enlightenment’ can depict. In fact, it was an unstable century, which can perhaps be called the ‘melting pot’ of the modern Jewish world. Everything began in it but nothing really ended. It was a fascinating century of innovations, struggles, contradictions, disputes, uncertainties, and hesitations. It included Joseph II in Vienna and the emancipation in Paris, blood libels in Poland and the Uman massacre in the Ukraine, a deist philosopher like Solomon Maimon and an eccentric fideistic kabbalist like Rabbi NaÌman of Bratzlav. The status of Jewish women did not change fundamentally and they did not play an active role in the public sphere. Gender differences remained as rigid as ever and women were absent from the ranks of Haskalah. But they did play a key economic role; some of them were businesswomen like Glueckel of Hameln and Esther Liebman. The library of books intended to enhance women’s knowledge of Judaism expanded – particularly in Yiddish. Thanks to private tutoring, women of the upper and middle classes in Central and Western Europe learned European languages and became more acculturated. Towards the end of the century a group of salon women emerged; some of them, such as Rahel Levin Varnhagen and Dorothea Schlegel, were also intellectuals and key figures in the cultural shift from enlightenment to romanticism. Ada Rapoport-Albert has recently shown how the gender boundaries between men and women were broken down in the Sabbatean movement and how egalitarian trends, supported by kabbalist ideas, emerged, notably in Jacob Frank’s anarchist sect.12 As David Ruderman demonstrated about England, not all intellectuals were affiliated with the Haskalah and the Anglo-Jewish intelligentsia was not identical to the Haskalah movement.13 But nothing that began in this century reached
11 Naphtali 12 See

Herz Wessely, Divrei shalom ve-emet (Berlin, 1782). Ada Rapoport-Albert, ‘On the Position of Women in Sabbateanism’ (Heb.), pp. 143–327 in The Sabbatean Movement and its Aftermath: Messianism, Sabbateanism and Frankism, ed. Rachel Elior, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 2001). 13 See David Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry’s Construction of Modern Jewish Thought (Princeton, 2000).


From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History

maturity by its end: Hasidism, the Emancipation, the question of the rabbinical leadership, the replacement of rabbinical hegemony by secular intellectuals, even the lessons to be learned from Sabbateanism – none of these fully crystallized. When we focus the historian’s spotlight on the intellectual elite, we can discern, amidst all the complex events that affected European Jewry during this century, first a renaissance, manifested by the early Haskalah, and later a revolution worked by the maskilim in its last two decades. I have already written extensively about the early Haskalah; here I will merely point to several of its major trends: – a quasi-erotic attraction to science and philosophy felt by young men of the talmudic elite; – an attempt to grapple with the legitimacy of this science vis-à-vis the exclusive role of religious knowledge, as principle and as precept, in the pre-modern Ashkenazi culture; – the production of a new library, alongside the talmudic literature, containing books on science, philosophy, ethics, and the Hebrew language; – a struggle against superstition, folly, and ignorance, and the ecstatic pietism of the Sabbateans and the enthusiastic Ìasidim, on the one hand, and against trends of skepticism and heresy on the other; – a consciousness of intellectual inferiority to the European cultural world, accompanied by an endeavor to redeem the neglected knowledge of science and philosophy at a time of crisis in Jewish culture.14 It is important to realize that the early Haskalah was far from being a united and cohesive movement. It was characterized by many internal contradictions, by uncertainty, and by unusual personalities. Rabbi Jacob Emden, for example, who – considering his curiosity about and immense attraction to secular knowledge, his obsessive fight against Sabbatean apostasy, and his individualism – could be taken for a Jewish renaissance figure, was one of the fiercest enemies of the philosophers. In his polemic against philosophy, in his MitpaÌat sefarim, he stated, for example, that he simply could not believe that Maimonides had written the Guide of the Perplexed.15 Although I regard the early Haskalah as a renaissance phenomenon that wanted to restore a vanished world, it also pointed toward revolution. If we return for a moment to Qohelet musar, we should note two important features of this special text. First, it marks a dramatic shift in the description of the world and life from that of the thenpopular musar literature. Whereas best-selling, widely distributed books like Qav hayashar by Zevi Hirsch Koidonover of Vilna and Shevet musar by Elijah ha-Kohen of Izmir depicted a demonic and threatening world and called upon the Jew to suppress his earthly passions, struggle ceaselessly against his evil instincts, and ponder the horrible punishments of Hell that await all sinners, Qohelet musar’s secular message is optimistic, inviting the Jews to experience a world of earthly pleasures and depicting God as desiring the good of His creatures. Second, the secular sermon did not
14 Shmuel

Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment (Philadelphia, 2003), Ch. 1–3; idem, ‘Seductive Science and the Emergence of the Secular Jewish Intellectual’, Science in Context, 15(1) (2002): 121–36. 15 Jacob Emden, Mi†paÌat sefarim (1768) (Lvov, 1871).

Shmuel Feiner


have the backing of the talmudic elite, but rather of the new secular elite of writers. This fact, which marks the incipient breakdown of the former’s monopoly on knowledge and the public sphere, has revolutionary implications. This revolution reached its peak in the last quarter of the century in Berlin and Königsberg in Prussia. Its well-known heroes included Isaac Euchel, Isaac Satanow, Aaron Wolfsohn, David Friedländer, Moses Mendelssohn, and Naphtali Herz Wessely. The new secular maskilic elite penetrated the public sphere, undermined the talmudic elite’s dominance of culture, knowledge, and public indoctrination, invented the ‘new era’ as a powerful modernist ethos, demanded the application of religious tolerance to the Jews both from without (the state, with regard to civil rights) and from within (the rabbis, with regard to their coercive powers), established modern educational institutions, and fought the initial battles of a Jewish Kulturkampf. I have written about the course and significance of this revolution at length in my book The Jewish Enlightenment. Here I shall cite one example of a motif that is rarely mentioned – the anticlericalism of the Haskalah. In Aaron Wolfsohn’s radical play, SiÌah be-ereÒ ha-Ìayyim (‘A conversation in the land of the living’), published in Ha-meˆassef in the 1790s, the culture war is brought for a decision by no less an authority than the Heavenly Court, but first before the medieval philosopher, Maimonides. The litigation pits Rabbi Raphael Kohen of Hamburg against Moses Mendelssohn, with Maimonides as the arbiter. The rabbi appeals for Maimonides’ approval. But as he describes the world view of the rabbinical elite that claims a monopoly on the Torah and its interpretation, on the Jewish bookshelf, and on knowledge itself, Maimonides becomes more and more repelled by him: ‘Woe to the generation whose leader you are! God’s people, how grievously you have stumbled and declined!’16 Wolfsohn scathingly criticizes the narrow-mindedness, fanaticism, and ignorance of the rabbinical elite with the aim of challenging its pretension to continued hegemony. Even in this fictional posthumous confrontation, the rabbi continues to cling to rigidly Orthodox anti-maskilic positions, while Mendelssohn gains Maimonides’ full support and recognition as a kindred soul. The two join the great Greek philosophers in the universal world of souls. God Himself decides the Kulturkampf in favor of the maskilim, declaring: ‘My dear son, Moses [Mendelssohn] has brought to naught the counsel of the evil men of the land who do not understand the actions of the Almighty and the work of His hands’.17 At the end of the play, the rabbi is left standing alone on the stage. The message is unmistakable: the rabbinical elite will soon admit its failure and, mortified, disappear from history, in the Haskalah’s ultimate triumph. While these trends, which ultimately led to the secularization of Jewish culture and the emergence of a secular intellectual elite, were proceeding, the hasidic revolution was taking place in Poland. It developed an alluring new model of religious life and proposed an alternative leadership that captivated many hearts. The old-style rab16 Aaron Wolfsohn-Halle, ‘SiÌah be-ereÒ ha-Ìayyim’, in Studies in Hebrew Satire, I: Hebrew Satire in Germany (Heb.), ed. Y. Friedlander, (Tel Aviv, 1979), p. 151. 17 Ibid., p. 176.


From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History

bis were rejected in favor of religious leaders who placed the religious experience at the center of life. A counter-revolution began in the early 1770s, a stormy battle waged by those we usually call ‘Mitnaggedim’. They rightly identified among the Ìasidim trends of openness to earthly life and a rejection of the intellectual religiosity of the talmudic scholars. Ultimately, though, when the early nineteenth century revealed that the confrontation with modernity was the crucial story of the new era in Jewish history, Hasidism proved to be the best bulwark to safeguard Orthodoxy. In the struggle against the enticements of Europe, the new knowledge and the culture of the Haskalah, mystical Hasidism evidently wielded the best weapons for waging the Orthodox battle. Its rejection of modernity was more absolute, underpinned by a religious view that dismissed corporeal existence and rationalist thought. The Hasidim were among the first to adopt unyielding anti-maskilic positions. Hasidism added magic to the world at the very time when secularization was at its height in Europe and the magic of religion rapidly vanishing from it. The eighteenth century, then, also holds the key to understanding why and how Orthodoxy took the position it did. The roots of Orthodoxy, according to the usual definition of the traditionalists’ defensive, negative counter-reaction when confronted by the threats of modernity and alternative Jewish ideologies, lie in the antiSabbatean and anti-maskilic struggles of the eighteenth century. That is in fact how things look retrospectively from the end of that century. During that century, several opposing revolutions took place. The revolution of religious revival, influenced by the Kabbalah, split into two: Sabbateanism and Hasidism. Both offered a promise of freedom – namely, the possibility of a direct or dialectic contribution to the ethos of modernity, to the destruction of traditional rabbinical and community authority, to autonomy and secularization. Sabbateanism, denounced as soon as its destructive potential became apparent, went underground and finally disappeared. Hasidism was persecuted at first but ultimately triumphed in Eastern Europe, where it won over the hearts of the masses and gained religious legitimacy. At the same time, the Haskalah’s revolution was proceeding, fed by the principle of religious tolerance, faith in absolutist rulers, a new reading of universal history, and above all a belief in the Enlightenment. This revolution, too, was perceived as a threat to the rabbinical elite and met by an Orthodox reaction. The hasidic revolution did not fulfill its subversive potential and merged into Orthodoxy, with which it turned out to have much in common: the religious leader wielded great authority and his followers were dependent on him; it isolated itself from everything modern and external; and it introduced even stricter norms of religious behavior. The early Haskalah fought a two-front battle, against the extreme rationalists and ecstatic kabbalistic religiosity. Similarly, the Haskalah at the end of the century fought against religious hypocrisy and clericalism, but also denounced hedonists, libertines, and assimilationists. The germ of the Kulturkampf and schisms that mark the Jewish world at the beginning of the twentieth-first century was already present beneath the surface at the end of the eighteenth century. In his lectures in the 1960s on the roots of Romanticism, Isaiah Berlin pointed to the complexity of the eighteenth century:

Shmuel Feiner


[P]erhaps somewhat to the surprise of people who believe the eighteenth century to have been a harmonious, symmetrical, infinitely rational, elegant, glassy sort of century, a kind of peaceful mirror of human reason and human beauty not disturbed by anything deeper and darker, we find that never in the history of Europe had so many irrational persons wandered over its surface claiming adherence.18

Those who lived at the time knew that even better than we do. Voltaire, for example, perhaps the most fascinating figure of the eighteenth century, exposed the religious fanaticism of Catholicism as manifested in France in the 1760s in the trials and barbarous executions of Jean Calas and of the Chevalier de La Barre.19 Mendelssohn was skeptical about the possibility of combating prejudice and imbuing the masses with the principle of religious tolerance. In 1784, in his ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’ Immanuel Kant concluded that his was not an ‘enlightened age’. At best, he maintained, it is an age in which there is ‘Aufklärung’.20 Even though he was more knowledgeable and cultured than many of his Jewish brethren, Naphtali Herz Wessely, with whom I began, was not acquainted with all the contradictory trends at work during his generation. He was, however, certainly aware of his own role in the cultural renaissance of the early Haskalah and believed that he himself was responsible for the breakthrough that produced the cultural shift in Ashkenazi Jewry. Nonetheless, to judge by his reactions during the 1782 Kulturkampf he instigated with the publication of Divrei shalom ve-emet, it is doubtful that he understood the revolutionary meaning of his challenge to the rabbinical elite and of his demand for a rethinking of all aspects of the social, economic, educational, and cultural life of the Jews. In any event, his request to be buried in the Sephardi section of the Altona cemetery is a historical episode that signifies the emergence of independent, individualistic thinking, critical audacity, and openness to innovative options of living. In this sense, his link to the Sephardi cultural model is emblematic of one of the most fascinating trends of the Jewish eighteenth century.

Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, ed. Henry Hardy (Princeton, 1999), p. 47. Treatise on Tolerance and Other Writings, ed. Simon Harvey, trans. Simon Harvey and Brian Masters (Cambridge and New York, 2000). 20 Immanuel Kant, ‘Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?’ Berlinische Monatsschrift 4 (1784): 481–94.
19 Voltaire,

18 Isaiah


From Renaissance to Revolution: The Eighteenth Century in Jewish History

David B. Ruderman

The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century: A Challenge to the Notion of the Sephardi Mystique

In one of the most dramatic introductions to an elementary manual on the natural sciences, Judah Loeb Margolioth (1747–1811) opens his Or ¨olam ¨al Ìokhmat ha-†eva¨ (1782) with the provocative words of a woman in black personifying the science of nature. She proclaims:
Who will listen and pay attention to me? Wait. I am the science of nature who in the past was the cornerstone but now I have become like a lost vessel and like a rejected definition, abandoned and forgotten and forsaken. Canals run dry [Isa. 19:6] and there is no one on the earth who cures [or heals] from my light and my precious lights. … Why is philosophy open and uncovered, peering through the window [Judg. 5:28], saturating its plump furrows [after Ps. 65:11]… while I am estranged. … I am astonished most of all by the officer of the Torah, the author of the Guide [Maimonides], notwithstanding the wonders he accomplished for the Torah and the law and the hidden lights his hand uncovered and the philosophy he seized with violent trembling [Gen. 27:33]. For from the time he wondrously made a praiseworthy name for it [philosophy], the task became onerous [echoing Exod. 5:9]. What perverseness did he find in the science of nature such that he left it bereaved and abandoned, proven displeasing by the fact that he did not designate her [see Exod. 21:8] because he went after philosophy whose buds are blown away like dust [Isa. 5:24].1

Margolioth’s open contempt for Maimonides’ privileging metaphysics over physics might be meaningfully compared with another remarkable declaration composed some fifty years earlier by the Italian Jewish Kabbalist Solomon Aviad Sar-Shalom Basilea in his Emunat Ìakhamim (1730). In this passage, Basilea describes an old sage in Mantua who had apparently accumulated much ‘old-fashioned’ learning which rendered him incapable of having any new insight other than what he had previously learned. Basilea cleverly offered to perform an experiment on him using the eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose. He said to him: ‘Master, the spectacles on your nose can make people appear so that their heads are below and their feet are above; that they can extend their heads to the ground and their lower extremities toward heaven, so that when a person walks to the east, it will appear to him that he goes to
1 Judah

Loeb Margolioth, Sefer Or ¨olam ¨al Ìokhmat ha-†eva¨ (Warsaw, 1842), pp. 3a–3b. On Margolioth, see Shmuel Feiner, ‘The Dragon Attached to the Beehive: Y. L. Margolioth and the Paradox of the Early Haskalah’, (Hebrew) Zion 63 (1997/98): 39–74.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz David B. Ruderman Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


the west. So all things might appear to be opposite of what they actually are’. The old philosopher dismissed Basilea’s offer as nonsensical and attempted to offer philosophical proofs demonstrating the impossibility of what he was claiming to accomplish. Basilea continues:
I then asked him to hand me his glasses and I placed them far from his eyes at the point where the image breaks up [the focal point] and beyond it. He then observed … what was impossible for him to believe. This was because he had not studied the science of optics even though he was a great scholar, and he did not understand how the lens works and how the rays [entering] the eyes or any rays are bent. … On the contrary, he always imagined the opposite to be the case, for with the spectacles on his nose he read a book and perceived everything to be in order. Maimonides’ case is similar, since he learned only the doctrines of Aristotle in these matters and could not understand that our voice from below works above; thus he denied the power of using God’s names.2

Reflecting on this fascinating passage, I once wrote:
Like the Mantuan scholar, Maimonides had understood the world through the lens of a scholastic conceptual scheme. Despite his intellectual accomplishments, Maimonides could not be expected to understand the cultural and scientific world of the eighteenth century, a world where the potency of forces not understood by the intellect was deemed possible and even regularly observed. It wasn’t that ‘the great eagle’ was dead wrong; he was simply wearing the wrong lens.3

From Basilea’s perspective, the empirical study of nature could now become a tool to subvert the rational orthodoxies of the medievals while reconfirming the previously discounted sapience of ancient rabbinic and kabbalistic traditions. I began this essay by citing two eighteenth-century Hebrew writers, Margolioth and Basilea, to reflect on the Jewish intellectual world of their era from an apparently different vantage point than most of the essays in this volume. In focusing primarily on texts written on scientific and medical subjects, several of which reflect a kabbalistic bent as well, I am struck by how an expected appreciation and even veneration for the Jewish tradition of medieval philosophy, especially the vaunted Maimonides, had worn thin. Maimonides and his philosophical colleagues – Ibn Tibbon, Ibn Ezra, even Saadia – might be revered as cultural heroes; their Sephardi mystique might appear alluring to an intellectual community trying to balance the religious with the secular, the external with the internal. But as a source of real knowledge about the material, natural world, the medieval philosophers had become more liable to error and more vulnerable than ever before. Maimonides might still be embraced for his metaphysical insight and his legal brilliance, but he was painfully out of date in the light of new scientific information, and he was woefully myopic because he was wearing the wrong epistemological lens, to borrow Basilea’s metaphor once more.

Aviad Sar-Shalom Basilea, Sefer Emunat Ìakhamim (Mantua, 1730), p. 17a. The full passage is translated and discussed in David Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe (New Haven, 1995; Detroit, 2001), p. 221. 3 Ibid., p. 222.
2 Solomon


The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century

To a community of maskilim enamoured of the natural world, cautiously and timidly exploring the new emerging scientific literature of their day, the need to present science in a manner uncorrosive to Jewish faith was paramount. As Shmuel Feiner has pointed out, their enlightened positions would not be advanced by sacrificing Judaism. They sought a balance between the Torah of God and the knowledge of man, so their secularism was always limited, moderate, and controlled.4 To justify and legitimate the novelty of their new probings into the natural world and to argue that the latter were essential to the education of a new generation of Jewish students, they turned not to the Maimonidean corpus but to one more recent, more up-to-date, more in line with their own emerging epistemological positions: that of a group of thinkers and writers in early modern Europe, especially those trained in medicine and the new sciences in Italian universities. In their discovery of a group of authors who had already abandoned for the most part the presuppositions of medieval thought in favour of a new experimental philosophy of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries,5 they found a means of embracing the new without abandoning the old. Rather than invent a new tradition ex nihilo to pursue scientific knowledge, they found ready-made a literature of their most recent intellectual ancestors, composed in Hebrew, written from a respectable traditional pedigree, and insightful in addressing some of the same religious and intellectual issues the maskilim were now facing. Instead of Maimonides and Ibn Ezra, many of them would draw profit and inspiration instead from Joseph Delmedigo (Yashar mi-Candia), Tobias Cohen, David Gans, or Jacob Zahalon in the area of natural sciences. And in the not-unrelated area of history and historical scholarship, Solomon Ibn Verga, David Gans, Azariah de’ Rossi, and Menasseh ben Israel would be consulted and cited, since, in many ways, their intellectual achievements were relevant to an age where science and history had been elevated to the highest level of human consciousness. To draw unambiguous conclusions from the vast literary output of European Jewish writers who wrote in the eighteenth century is most hazardous. Because I have utilized only some dozen authors who focused primarily on theological and scientific issues, including several German Jews as well as Jews on the margins of Ashkenazi Jewish culture such as those in Italy and England, my very tentative impressions are subject to careful scrutiny and evaluation. I do not mean to suggest the medieval writers did not occupy a significant role in eighteenth-century Jewish thought. I only wish to indicate by my limited probings that both medieval and early modern authorities were consulted seriously in this century; that both Italy as well as Sepharad caught the serious attention of the maskilim; and that the impact of pre-modern Jewish thought was not limited to rational and philosophical writing. Kabbalistic sources and ideas are not lacking even among the most rational and secularized writers well into the nineteenth century. On the basis of my small sampling of authors and their writing, let me suggest four possible relations that emerge between the medieval/early modern authorities and their eighteenth-century interlocutors and illustrate them with several examples.
4  Shmuel Feiner, ‘Towards a Historical Definition of the Haskalah’, in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London, 2001), pp. 206–19.

David B. Ruderman


In the first case, I would suggest that several eighteenth-century Jewish writers openly cite medieval authors, even writing commentaries on their work, but ultimately challenge their assumptions, significantly update their knowledge, and subvert the actual meaning of the texts they are using for their own purposes. Israel of Zamosc’s commentary on Judah Ibn Tibbon’s RuaÌ Ìen, published in 1744, is a case in point. One of its overriding themes is to demonstrate how modern knowledge has outstripped that of the ancients, through its reliance on the most advanced philosophies of nature challenging longstanding Aristotelian notions, and through its use of modern instruments such as the microscope and air-pump.6 Even more devastating is Mordecai Schnaber Levisohn’s commentary on Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith. Only the bare skeleton of thirteen subsections remains to remind the reader that Levisohn is indeed commenting on Maimonides’ conceptions. Beyond this, the reader enters the world of Locke and Linnaeus and their epistemological categories, underscoring Levisohn’s commitment to the fashionable physico-theology of the eighteenth century. When Levisohn does mention Maimonides, he almost always challenges or dismisses his antiquated notions. More useful to him is an array of kabbalistic sources that can be more easily conjoined to his modernist conclusions.7 More common than subverting the medieval authorities is citing them – not as the last word, but rather together with more updated and informative early modern sources. Aaron Gumpertz’ highly moving introduction to Megalleh sod, his supercommentary on Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the five scrolls, acknowledges from the beginning the author’s indebtedness to Maimonides and Joseph Delmedigo.8 His genealogy of ‘geonim’ who have pursued medicine and science before him begin with the medievals – Saadia, Maimonides, Ibn Ezra, Gersonides – but concludes with those closer to his own generation – Arama, Abravanel, Isserles, Mordecai Jaffe, and again closing with Delmedigo.9 Levisohn’s aforementioned treatise on the thirteen principles is not adverse to citing such medieval luminaries as BaÌya Ibn Paquda, Joseph Albo, and Judah Halevi, but the number of early modern authorities – Moses Isserles, Isaiah Horowitz, Eliezer Ashkenazi, Abraham Bibago, Joseph Delmedigo, Jacob Emden, and more – far outweighs the earlier thinkers. And most revealing in a thinker who reads Locke seriously is the ample citation of kabbalistic sages, from the Zohar and Gikatilla to Mattathias Delacrut and Immanuel Îai Ricchi.10 Similarly, the
thinkers are treated in Ruderman, Jewish Thought; see also David Ruderman, Kabbalah, Magic, and Science: The Cultural Universe of a Sixteenth-Century Jewish Physician (Cambridge, Mass., 1988). 6  Israel ben Moses ha-Levi of Zamosc, Sefer RuaÌ Ìen (Warsaw, 1826; repr. Jerusalem, 1970, originally published in Jessnitz, 1744). For a discussion of this text and early bibliography, see Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 332–4, 341–3. 7 Mordecai Gumpel Schnaber Levisohn, Shelosh ¨esreh yesodei ha-torah (Altona[?], 1792). The work is discussed in Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 345–68. For examples of his dismissive attitude towards Maimonides, see pp. 8a, 14a, 21a, 44b. 8  Aaron Salomon Gumpertz, Sefer Megalleh sod (Lemberg, 1910; originally published in Hamburg, 1765), p. 3a. On Gumpertz, see Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 334–5, 343–4. 9  Gumpertz, Sefer Megalleh sod, p. 3b. 10 See Levisohn, Shelosh ¨esreh yesodei ha-torah, for example, pp. 2a (Albo); 3a (BaÌya); 33b (Pseudo-Ravad and Ma¨arekhet ha-elohut); 39a (Gikatilla, Isserles, Isaiah Horowitz, Eliezer Ashke5 These


The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century

aforementioned Judah Loeb Margolioth quotes Saadia and Maimonides but amply cites their successors, from Bibago and Jaffe to Delmedigo and Israel of Zamosc.11 Moses Mendelssohn’s use of the medievals has been amply discussed by David Sorkin and others.12 But Mendelssohn’s wide familiarity with early modern Jewish thought also suggests that for him, medieval sources needed to be supplemented by more recent ones such as Abravanel, Ibn Verga, Sforno, de’ Rossi, Menasseh ben Israel, and others.13 Sorkin’s emphasis on the medieval foundations of Mendelssohn’s thinking clearly understates the significant impact of these later thinkers of the Jewish tradition on his Hebrew commentaries. In a few cases, a medieval thinker might serve as a bridge in asserting a thoroughly modern position. Take the interesting example of Israel of Zamosc’s use of Judah Halevi in RuaÌ Ìen. Halevi’s brief remarks questioning the validity of Aristotle’s four elements offer him a pretext to adopt the new scheme of five elements advocated by the chemical philosophers.14 In an even larger sense, David Nieto’s Kuzari sheni is simply a convenient way of offering a new philosophy for his age, utilizing the structure of Halevi’s classic work to rethink the meaning of the Jewish faith in the context of an intellectual climate radically transformed by the new philosophies of Descartes, Newton, Boyle, and Gassendi.15 Most common of all, at least among the eighteenth-century writers on nature and science, is a clear recognition, as in the case of Margolioth and Basilea, that the Jewish tradition of early modern writers is more usable and relevant than that of their medieval predecessors. The former not only supersedes the latter in the accuracy and expansiveness of its formulations; it is closer to the scientific assumptions shared by most eighteenth-century Jewish writers. One might even argue that the excessive reliance on these authors of the preceding generation or two hampered their quest to investigate more modern and up-to-date sources. In comparison with the early modern authors themselves, eighteenth-century writers on scientific matters are less informed and less up-to-date. They know more about the scientific discoveries of the seventeenth century than their own century, in revealing contrast to several early modern thinkers like Tobias Cohen and Joseph Delmedigo, who were remarkably up-to-date. Like Basilea, his early eighteenth-century Jewish contemporaries Tobias Cohen and David Nieto are enamoured of contemporary philosophy and science. In a real sense, they have distanced themselves almost completely from medieval philosophinazi); 43b (Abravanel, Eliezer Ashkenazi); 44b (Bibago); 45b (Kabbalists cited); 74a and 76a (Joseph Delmedigo); 87b (Immanuel Îai Ricchi); 97a (Delacrut); and 101a (Jacob Emden). 11 See Margolioth, Or ¨olam, e.g., 4a (Jaffe); 4b (Arama); 6a (Delmedigo, Jaffe); 6b (Delmedigo); 7b (Saadia); 8a (Bibago); 9a (Jaffe); 11a (Isserles); 14a (Delmedigo); 18b (Delmedigo); 19b (Jaffe, Israel of Zamosc): 22a and 23a–23b (Saadia); 22b (Israel of Zamosc). 12  David Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment (Berkeley, 1996), especially pp. xxii–xxiii; Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (University of Alabama, 1973). 13 See Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 76–7 (on de’ Rossi, Sforno, and Abravanel); Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 463–74 (on Menasseh ben Israel); 575–7 (on Ibn Verga). See also Rivka Horwitz, ‘Kabbalah in the Writings of Mendelssohn and the Berlin Circle of Maskilim’, Leo Baeck Year Book 45 (2000): 3–24. 14 Israel of Zamosc, Sefer RuaÌ Ìen, p. 3a, citing Kuzari 5:14. 15  On Nieto, see Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 310–31.

David B. Ruderman


cal authorities whom they consider unreliable and incomplete.16 The late eighteenthcentury authors on science who follow them, Judah Loeb Margolioth and Baruch Lindau, continue the process of liberating themselves from the hegemony of Maimonides and medieval philosophy in favour of early modern authorities. Lindau’s Reshit limmudim (1789) is a more comprehensive and informed view of the sciences than Margolioth’s more amateurish Or ¨olam, published only seven years earlier. It relies almost exclusively on contemporary authorities, both Jews such as Marcus Herz and Marcus Bloch and non-Jews like Buffon, Newton, and Andreas Bünger. It is a clear statement that when it comes to science, Jews have much to learn from contemporary authorities, not medieval or even early modern ones.17 Pinchas Hurwitz’s unusual compendium of Kabbalah and science, Sefer ha-Berit (1797), strongly privileges early modern authorities over medieval ones. Hurwitz transparently felt the need to justify his forays into science by using Jewish authorities who wrote in Hebrew. An index of his citations through the large encyclopaedia testifies to his wide and extensive knowledge of early modern and contemporary Jewish literature and his heavy reliance on more recent authorities in creating his massive tome. He cites, for example the following authors: Azariah de’ Rossi, Baruch Lindau, Nathan Spira, Isaac Satanow, Moses Mendelssohn, Moses Îayyim Luzzatto, Yair Bacharach, Solomon Maimon, Joseph Ergas, David Gans, Joseph Delmedigo, Moses Isserles, Tobias Cohen, Eliakim Hart, Sar-Shalom Basilea, Jacob Emden, Moses Cordovero, Mordecai Schnaber Levisohn, Israel of Zamosc, Moses Îefetz Gentili, Abraham Herrera, Eliezer Ashkenazi, and others.18 Hurwitz’s work underscores, more than any other, both the interesting dialectic between early modern thinking and that of the later eighteenth century and the fascinating juxtaposition of kabbalistic and Enlightenment thought.19 One final example of this last category of privileging early modern over medieval thought is the emergence of commentaries or editions of early modern works published by eighteenth-century Jewish authors. Mendelssohn’s edition of Menasseh ben Israel’s Vindiciae Judaeorum is the most prominent example of this new genre.20 We might also mention two other more obscure but nevertheless unusual cases of the eighteenth century’s fascination with its most immediate past. My first example is the publication of YoÌanan Alemanno’s Sha¨ar ha-Ìesheq by Jacob Baruch in Livorno in 1790. Allemanno’s important role as the teacher of Pico della Mirandola and his critical place in the history of Christian Kabbalah and Renaissance thinking
Tobias Cohen and his sources, see ibid., pp. 229–55.  I have used the 1821 Cracow edition of Baruch Lindau, Reshit limmudim. The contemporary authorities are cited in his introduction, and see the approbations of Herz, Bloch, and Wessely. 18  Pinchas Hurwitz, Sefer ha-Berit ha-shalem (Jerusalem, 1989/90), pp. 157 (de’ Rossi); 199, 222, 223 (Lindau); 205 (Spira); 358 (Satanow); 471 (Mendelssohn); 435 (Luzzatto); 6, 15 (Bacharach); 41, 189, 362, 392 (Maimon); 45, 340, 498, 504 (Ergas); 47, 157, 159, 504–5 (Gans); 47, 299, 314 (Delmedigo); 47 (Isserles); 54, 89, 91, 92, 183, 290, 484 (Cohen); 56, 156, 193, 252 (Hart); 70, 71 (Basilea); 71, 95, 232, 377, 499, 502, 541 (Emden); 75 (Cordovero); 88 (Levisohn); 104, 109, 119, 204 (Israel of Zamosc); 131, 154, 239 (Gentili); 141, 143 (Herrera); 143 (Ashkenazi). 19  On Hurwitz, see David Ruderman, ‘Some Jewish Responses to Smallpox Prevention in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: A New Perspective on the Modernization of European Jewry’, Aleph 2 (2002): 111–44, where previous works are cited. 20 On this, see Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 463–74.
17 16 On


The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century

has been grasped only by recent scholarship.21 Baruch not only rescued him from oblivion in 1790, he also argued for the relevance of his syncretistic philosophy for his own day. Similarly unique is the brief compendium of Eliakim ben Abraham Hart, ∑uf novelot, a brief anthology of the writing of Joseph Delmedigo. Hart, an English Jew and close associate of Pinchas Hurwitz, initiated an ambitious publishing program of brief and accessible anthologies on a wide array of subjects from messianic prophecies, to Gikatilla, to Hebrew grammar. The project was apparently aborted but his edition of Delmedigo was published.22 Given the many examples we have already seen of citations from Delmedigo’s writing, this ‘portable’ Yashar might not seem so remarkable for a late eighteenth-century Jew. It underscored yet again the esteem acquired by this complex, restless, and hardly understood seventeenth-century thinker a century after his death. Another way of capturing the significant impact of early modern Jewish writers on their counterparts of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is to consider the career of several seminal and repercussive early modern texts during these two centuries. In considering the impact of my modest list of eight ‘best-sellers’, it is important to consider an enlarged readership of Christians as well as Jews. While no one, to my knowledge, has studied the issue carefully, it stands to reason that the popularity of a Hebrew text with Christian readers might enhance its popularity among Jews. Indeed, one of the goals of our collective probings in this volume should be a consideration of how the eighteenth-century Christian reading public was aware of and appreciative of medieval and early modern Hebrew works and how this correlates with the Jewish reading public. Certainly by the eighteenth century, if not earlier, enlightened Christians’ significant interest in Hebraica had created a market quite independent of though not unrelated to that available to Jewish readers. If my modest exploration of Anglo-Jewish thinkers at the end of the eighteenth century is any indication, Jews were also consulting works by Christian Hebraists as authorities on their own Jewish history and culture.23 If one can then make a case that Christian reading tastes could influence those of Jews in the eighteenth century, then the ‘best-sellers’ I am mentioning were most likely prominent not only because Jews were reading them, but Christians as well. I have not done exhaustive bibliographical research on any of these books. Nevertheless, it would be safe to say, on the basis of what I have already mentioned, that Joseph Delmedigo was well read and cited by the late eighteenth century, at least his scientific work Sefer Elim. Even the cursory list I have compiled of authors who cite him – Aaron Gumpertz, Mordecai Schnaber Levisohn, Judah Margolioth, Pinchas Hurwitz, Baruch Lindau, and Eliakim Hart – suggests his prominent place among the maskilim as a trusted authority on the natural world.24 I find fewer references to
21 See Fabrizzio Lelli, ‘Alemanno, Yohanan ben Isaac’, Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (New York, 1999), 1: 40–2, and the bibliography cited there. 22 On Hart and his publications, see David Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: AngloJewry’s Construction of Modern Jewish Thought (Princeton, 2000), pp. 188–200. 23 Ibid. See, for example, Emanuel Mendes da Costa’s citations of Christian authorities (p. 207) or David Levi’s citations of Humphrey Prideaux (pp. 245, 248) as well as many other Christian authors. 24 I have already cited these references in earlier notes under the relevant authors.

David B. Ruderman


Tobias Cohen’s Ma¨aseh ™uviyyah in these same authors; but its five separate editions in the eighteenth century testify to its usefulness and circulation as a handbook of medical information.25 The creativity of early modern Jewish authors in medicine and science represented only one avenue of influence on their eighteenth-century readers. History, antiquarianism, and apologetics, pioneered by early modern Jews in Italy and Holland, also resonated deeply among a later generation of enlightened readers. Hardly a bestseller, given its vast erudition and complexity, Azariah de’ Rossi’s Meˆor ¨enayim, was well known, quoted, and deeply admired by Jewish and Christian writers well into the nineteenth century. Cited by Christian authors from as early as the sixteenth century, here is a good example of how a Hebrew text crossed over into the Christian world and then eventually stimulated a Jewish scholarly readership as well. Jewish readers of de’ Rossi begin with Menasseh ben Israel and Joseph Delmedigo of the seventeenth century and then include, Raphael Levi Hannover, Zalman Hanau, Isaiah Bassani, Isaac Lampronti, Asher Anshel Worms, Malachi ha-Kohen, Menachem Novara, Naphtali Herz Wessely, Moses Mendelssohn, Saul Berlin, Pinchas Hurwitz, Judah Margolioth, Eliezer Fleckeles, and more.26 Solomon Ibn Verga’s Shevet Yehudah, first printed in the middle of the sixteenth century, was republished often in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in its original Hebrew as well as in Yiddish, Spanish, and Latin. While in the eighteenth century the book was especially well known in Yiddish, by the next century the book regained its popularity among Hebrew readers, with fifteen separate editions.27 Michael Stanislawski has recently delineated the significant differences between the Hebrew and Yiddish editions and their different audiences.28 From the perspective of the Haskalah, however, Ibn Verga’s meditations on Jewish-Christian relations and on the causes of Jew-hatred, and even his implicit criticisms of his co-religionists were apparently noticed and appreciated. A more careful study of the uses of Ibn Verga’s powerful narrative, especially the seventh chapter, would be useful in understanding more clearly how the critical mindset of a sixteenth-century Jewish author was received several hundred years later in Western and Eastern Europe. Shmuel Feiner has already pointed out the remarkable publishing history of other sixteenth-century historical works in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Gedaliah Ibn YaÌya’s Shalshelet ha-qabbalah, David Gans’ ∑emaÌ David, and YeÌiel Heilprin’s later Seder ha-dorot. Editions of all these works multiply as the nineteenth century unfolds. As was the case in the sixteenth century, Sefer Yosippon retained its primary place as the most widely read account of the ancient Jewish
25 He is amply cited by Pinchas Hurwitz, who also cites Gans’ astronomical work NeÌmad ve-na¨im. See n. 19 above. His book was published in Venice in 1707, 1715, 1728, 1769, and 1850 and in Jessnitz in 1721. 26 This information is gleaned from Joanna Weinberg’s edition of Azariah de’ Rossi, The Light of the Eyes (New Haven, 2001), introduction, pp. xx–xxii. 27 See Shmuel Feiner, Haskalah ve-historiyah (Jerusalem, 1995), p. 277. 28 Michael Stanislawski, ‘The Yiddish Shevet Yehudah: A Study in the “Ashkenization” of a SpanishJewish Classic’, in Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, ed. Elisheva Carlebach, John Efron, and David Myers (Hanover, N.H., 1998), pp. 134–49.


The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century

past.29 Nevertheless, it was read together with the rest of the library of early modern works, not instead of them. If the Haskalah discovered the uses of the study of the past as a dimension of modern Jewish consciousness, it was facilitated in this discovery by these writings of its early modern ancestors. History as a resource for modern Jewish self-definition cannot be fully comprehended without a recognition of the place of de’ Rossi, Gans, Ibn Verga, and Ibn YaÌya in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The beginnings of Jewish apologetic works, manuals of instruction, and even catechisms, both in Hebrew and in Western languages, can be located in the seventeenth century in Italy and Amsterdam. I refer especially to the writings of Leone Modena and Menasseh ben Israel, but the list of such books could be amplified. The wellknown dissemination of Modena’s Historia dei riti ebraici includes several English editions and its inclusion in the first volume of Bernard Picart’s Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses (1733). The history of this book alone is a study of the selfpresentation of Judaism to a learned Christian audience, first in Italy and then throughout Western Europe. By the late eighteenth century, the work becomes a model for the production of similar manuals summarizing the Jewish faith in England, written for both Jewish and Christian consumption. In a similar manner, Menasseh ben Israel’s apologetic writings left their mark on subsequent readers in both the Jewish and Christian communities. The proliferation of compendia, religious guides, and catechisms in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for Jewish and Christian usage, should be seen as the culmination of a process initiated in Venice and Amsterdam 150 years earlier.30 One final subject that requires attention here is the impact of kabbalistic texts on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Conventional wisdom views the Haskalah as a repudiation of kabbalistic and hasidic sapience. The hasidic rebbe epitomizes the dark, irrational, and contemptible aspects of Jewish spirituality and cultural backwardness, to be overcome by the new rationality and its accompanying pedagogic reform. Yet recent scholarship has not sustained this impression. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries mark the age of a remarkable creativity in kabbalistic thinking, culminating in the great thinkers of the first generations of Hasidic writers. And the impact of the Kabbalah on the Gaon Elijah of Vilna and his disciples has long been documented.31 More recently, we have become aware of the impact of kabbalistic ideas and praxis on the enlightened rabbi of Prague, Ezekiel Landau.32
 Feiner, Haskalah ve-historiyah, pp. 277–8. Mark R. Cohen, ‘Leone da Modena’s Riti: A Seventeenth Century Plea for Social Toleration of Jews’, Jewish Social Studies 34 (1972): 287–321; repr. in David Ruderman, ed., Essential Papers on Jewish Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy (New York, 1992), pp. 429–73. See also: Richard Cohen, Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (Berkeley, 1998), pp. 10–67; Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment, pp. 240–60; Jacob Petuchowski, ‘Manuals and Catechisms of the Jewish Religion in the Early Period of Emancipation’, in Studies in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Intellectual History, ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 47–64. 31  See Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, ‘The Personality of the Gra and his Historical Influence’, (Heb.) Zion 31 (1965/66): 39–86, 197–216; Emanuel Etkes, YaÌid be-doro: Ha-gaˆon mi-Vilna, demut ve-dimmui (Jerusalem, 1998). 32 See Sharon Flatto’s recent Yale dissertation on Landau’s attitude to the Kabbalah.
30 See 29

David B. Ruderman


More difficult to reconcile with our own preconceptions of Jewish enlightenment figures is their continued interest in and citation of kabbalistic authorities. Rivka Horwitz and Moshe Idel, among others, have noticed the Kabbalah’s place in the thinking of several enlightened figures, including Moses Mendelssohn. Horwitz rightly contends that attacks on the Frankists – or in Mendelssohn’s case, on Spinoza – should not be mistaken for attacks on kabbalistic lore as a whole. In his multiple citations of kabbalistic writers, Mendelssohn shared an appreciation in common with Jacob Emden, but also with Salomon Maimon, NaÌman Krochmal, Isaac Satanow, and Mordecai Schnaber Levisohn. He was especially attracted to the writing of Moses Îayyim Luzzatto. In the case of Maimon, his interest in Kabbalah was no doubt stimulated by kabbalist elements in the thought of Leibniz, which in turn drew on the still powerful currents of Christian kabbalistic writers from Pico and Reuchlin though Knorr von Rosenroth. Maimon composed an entire book on Kabbalah, associating it with science.33 Rivka Horwitz also discusses the impact of Menasseh ben Israel’s Nishmat Ìayyim, a work infused with kabbalistic doctrines on the immortality of the soul, transposed into a neoplatonic key, on Mendelssohn.34 This should remind us again of the indebtedness of the eighteenth century to Jewish thinkers, this time kabbalistic ones, of the early modern period. I refer not only to the references to Luria and Cordovero but also to the particular merger of kabbalah and philosophy, especially natural philosophy, in such Jewish thinkers as YoÌanan Alemanno, Abraham Jagel, Joseph Delmedigo, Abraham Herrera, and Menasseh ben Israel from the late fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries.35 Surely the repercussions of this integration of Kabbalah and science left their mark on subsequent Jewish and Christian thought. The belated influence of this approach to knowledge can be traced not only to Mendelssohn, but certainly to Basilea, to Maimon, and even to Pinchas Hurwitz’s strange amalgamation of the Kabbalah and natural science. Despite the decline of Hermeticism and the occult by the late eighteenth century, kabbalistic modes of thinking were never absent from modern Jewish thought in the period we are considering. Moreover, the particular systems of kabbalistic thought of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were themselves directly shaped by the creative thinking of early modern Kabbalists, particularly those filtered through the unique ambience of Italian Jewish culture in the preceding centuries. In the light of the above, we might summarize our conclusions as follows: 1. While the eighteenth century paid homage to Jewish medieval thinkers like Maimonides and Ibn Ezra, in many respects they were proving inadequate as sources of knowledge and insight. In the area of natural philosophy they were obsolete. In search of a traditional pedigree for their strong scientific proclivities, eighteenth-century writers on nature turned to the early modern writers
33  Horwitz, ‘Kabbalah in the Writings of Mendelssohn’; Moshe Idel, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic (New York, 1995), pp. 37–43, cites Maimon’s kabbalistic work in manuscript, Îesheq Shelomo. 34  Horwitz, ‘Kabbalah in the Writings of Mendelssohn’, pp. 18–24. 35 See Moshe Idel, ‘Major Currents in Italian Kabbalah between 1560 and 1660’, in Ruderman, Essential Papers, pp. 346–67.


The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century





whose physics had already been divorced from an outdated and repudiated Aristotelian metaphysics. Similarly, in the areas of history and apologetics, eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury Jewish thinkers read with great interest the literary creations of their early modern ancestors. As in the case of science, their own interests coincided more directly with the latter, whose social and cultural concerns were indeed closer. For some eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers, kabbalistic thinking was compatible with modernity, certainly more so than medieval philosophy. Although anchored in a remote past, its epistemological pliability and its correlations with other philosophies, ancient and modern, allowed for a creative dialogue between the Jewish tradition and modernist thinking. In this respect, the creative merger of Kabbalah and science in Maimon, Hurwitz, Schick,36 and others was a direct continuation of similar efforts by Jewish (and Christian) writers in the preceding centuries. Medieval Sephardi thinkers become more important as cultural icons for modern Jewish thinkers than as actual sources of knowledge and insight. At least with respect to science, history, apologetics, and Kabbalah, early modern Jewish thought, especially in Italy, leaves a more significant mark on their thinking. The dialogue I am describing between early modern and modern Jewish thought was also shaped in the context of a new factor relevant to both periods: Christian Hebraism. With an increasing awareness of the ‘other’, Jewish ideas circulated widely between the two communities. It is not uncommon to witness the impact of an early Jewish idea on a later Jewish thinker through the mediation of a Christian author. This is dramatically illustrated in the case of the highly assimilated and intellectually open Jewish community of England in the late eighteenth century.

I would like to add one final thought, which perhaps transcends the particular agenda of this volume but seems somehow to follow from the observations made here. If I am correct in calling for a re-evaluation of the impact of early modern Jewish thought on the eighteenth century and beyond, perhaps such a re-evaluation also calls into question the originality and the overall intellectual creativity usually associated with the Haskalah in Jewish historiography. Here I am asking, rather insolently, a question only an early modern intellectual historian could ask: So what’s new here?! Why is the ideational world of the Haskalah traditionally perceived as a radical break from the past, iconoclastically shaping a new secular consciousness, a new intellectual elite, and a new construction of Jewish identity? How novel, how revolutionary was its intellectual production? From the perspective of the dynamic intellectual universe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the eighteenth century in Jewish thought seems rather unspectacular in the novelty of its formulations regarding the modern age. Its significance lies rather in its radical impact within the politi36 On

him, see David Fishman, Russia’s First Modern Jews (New York, 1995).

David B. Ruderman


cal, social, and cultural spheres, and not necessarily the intellectual, even when one considers such exceptional thinkers as Mendelssohn or Maimon. In the fields I have discussed in this essay – natural philosophy, Kabbalah, history, and apologetics – the seeds of much of what emerges in Jewish writing in this era can be located centuries earlier. If one compares how thoroughly up-to-date and how genuinely aware such writers as Delmedigo, Cohen, and de’ Rossi were of their immediate intellectual surroundings with the limited cognisance of their counterparts some 150 years later, the contrast is truly striking. With the weight of several centuries of relative intellectual isolation from the centres of European culture on their shoulders, Ashkenazi maskilim were struggling to keep up, to regain what their ancestors had achieved, especially in Italy, centuries before. One of the best means at their disposal was to read and absorb some of the earlier insights of their remarkably precocious early modern ancestors.


The Impact of Early Modern Jewish Thought on the Eighteenth Century

Gad Freudenthal1

Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730: The Early Years of Rabbi Israel ben Moses Halevi of Zamos´c´

‘Wo immer so ein Funke entglimmt, oft mitten im tiefsten Dunkel, und zur Leuchte wird, ist auch etwas Rätselhaftes dabei – den letzten Grund kennen wir nicht.’ Karl Emil Franzos2 ‘Every scholar is permitted to think according to his own understanding, without relying on someone else’s understanding. This has been done by the modern astronomers who came after Ptolemy.’ Israel b. Moses Halevi of Zamosc3

Introduction Israel b. Moses Halevi (or Segal) of Zamosc has been immortalized in a way that not even Maimonides can boast: he is the subject of two separate entries in the Encyclopedia Judaica – one, written by the Editors, under ‘Segal, Israel ben Moses of Zamosc’, the other, under ‘Zamosc, Israel ben Moses Halevi’, written by G[etzel] K[ressel].4 To judge by medieval theories of the immortality of the soul, Israel’s intellectual accomplishments were exceptional; thus they warrant a closer look. R. Israel b. Moses5 gained his renown from his two-fold role in the early history of the Haskalah. While still in Zamosc, he wrote his first book, which applies science to
1  Acknowledgements: For helpful discussions of points treated here and/or for having read and commented on an earlier version of this paper I am grateful to Abraham David, Gideon Freudenthal, Ruth Glasner, Bernard R. Goldstein, and David B. Ruderman. Special thanks go to Mr. Lenn Schramm who embellished my English style and whose close and learned reading saved me from more blunders than I like to recall. It is a pleasure to thank the Jewish and University Library in Jerusalem for its hospitality, and the Sidney M. Edelstein Center for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for the facilities it generously puts at my disposal during my stays in Jerusalem. Bibliographical references to articles and books in Hebrew: when the article or the book were given an English title by the author, this title is used, followed by the indication ‘(Hebrew)’; otherwise, the Hebrew title itself is given in transliteration. 2  Der Pojaz. Eine Geschichte aus dem Osten (1905) (Hamburg, 1994), p. 214. I am very grateful to Prof. Delphine Bechtel (Paris) for drawing my attention to this little known but very interesting and moving novel by Karl Emil Franzos (1848–1904). 3 Arubbot ha-shamayim, New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, MS 2612 (= Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jerusalem, No. 28865), fol. 76b (Hebrew numerals) (all subsequent references to this work are to this manuscript). See the description of this manuscript in Yosef Avivi, Rabbinic Manuscripts. Mendel Gottesman Library Yeshiva University (New York, 1998), pp. 166–7 (No. 312). 4 Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1972; hereafter: EJ), 14: 1106–7 and 16: 929. I am grateful to Prof. Daniel Lasker for calling this to my attention. 5 Since in this paper I often refer to the town of Zamosc, I cannot refer to Israel b. Moses by the name of his town as ‘Zamosc’; to use his first name seemed simplest.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Gad Freudenthal Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Royal Netherlands


the interpretation of the Talmud, both halakhah and aggadah: NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel (= The Eternity of Israel; hereafter NY; all folio numbers given in brackets in the body of this paper refer to this work).6 After its publication in 1741, Israel settled in Berlin. It is generally believed that he left Zamosc to avoid persecution on account of his predilection for science, a view that has turned him into an early martyr of the Haskalah. In Berlin, Israel was for a while Moses Mendelssohn’s teacher of philosophy. There he also wrote his second book, a commentary on the medieval classic RuaÌ Ìen (1744); in this work Israel presented, for the first time in Hebrew, some facets of early modern (qualitative) science. Even more than the Zamosc chapter in his life, his activity in Berlin secured Israel a place in all histories of the early Haskalah. Israel became one of the first thinkers of Polish origin to enter the history of Haskalah thanks to his interest in and commitment to science, especially astronomy and mathematics. Given the general state of scientific education among Jews in Poland in the early eighteenth century, Israel’s engagement with mathematical science comes as a surprise. In this paper, I will focus on the formation of Israel’s scientifically moulded frame of mind. I will argue that, to account for it, Israel should be set in his local context, the town of Zamosc, which, I will suggest, was a centre of learning where the Sephardi tradition of science study may have been perpetuated on Polish soil. Consequently, I will consider only the early part of Israel’s life, passed in Zamosc.7 R. Israel b. Moses Halevi in Zamosc8 Israel b. Moses was born around 5460/17009 in the small Galician town of Bóbrka,10 some 30 kilometres southeast of Lvov (Lemberg), now in Ukraine. Nothing is known
on the Oder, 1741. Israel’s later scientific activity in Berlin, see: David B. Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe (New Haven and London, 1995), pp. 332 ff.; David Sorkin, ‘The Early Haskalah’, in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London, 2001), pp. 9–26, on pp. 17–9. Discussions of Israel often draw on statements collected from all his works. This is misguided, for during his life Israel’s thought evolved, while yet maintaining a certain continuity. His two posthumous works, the commentaries on the Kuzari and on Îovot ha-levavot (the dates of composition are uncertain), in particular, seem to reflect a relatively traditionalist attitude. See Gad Freudenthal, ‘Jisrael ben Moshe Halewi Zamosc’, in Lexikon jüdischer Philosophen und Theologen, ed. Andreas Kilcher and Otfried Fraisse (Stuttgart, 2003), pp. 174–6; idem, ‘Zamosc, Israel ben Moses Halevi’, YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (forthcoming), as well as n. 137 below. Israel’s later works thus have only indirect bearing for the understanding of the scientific tradition among Jews in Poland. 8 Useful accounts of Israel’s life and works are the following: Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Te¨udah be-Yisraˆel (Warsaw, 1878), p. 146; Samuel Joseph Fuenn, Knesseth Yisra}el (Warsaw, 1886), pp. 690–2; C. Stanislavsky, ‘Israel Zamosc’ (in Russian), Voskod 6 (1886): 131–7; Salomon Wininger, Grosse jüdische National-Biographie, 7 vols. (Cernau†i, 1925–1936), 3: 210; Israel Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature, vol. 6: The German-Polish Cultural Center, trans. and ed. Bernard Martin (Cincinnati and New York, 1975), pp. 244–5; Ben-Zion Katz, Rabbanut, Ìasidut, haskalah (Tel Aviv, 1956), 1: 142–4, 185–7, 209–10; Raphael Mahler, Divrei yemei Yisraˆel ha-aÌaronim (MerÌavia, 1956), 1: IV-26–30; Jacob Dov Mandelboim, ‘Îakhmei Zamoshtsh’ (Hebrew), in Pinqas Zamosc (Buenos Aires, 1957), pp. 221–316, on p. 270; G[edaliahu] A[lkoshi] in Encyclopedia Hebraica (Hebrew), vol. 16 (Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, 1963), col. 867; Getzel Kressel, Cyclopedia of Modern Hebrew Literature (Hebrew), vol. 1 (MerÌavia, 1965), p. 755; see also the two entries by the present writer referred to at the end of n. 7. 9 All the works in the previous note indicate ‘c. 1700’, except Mahler and one of the two articles in EJ, which have ‘1710’ (without argument). 10 Also known as Bibrka (Ukrainian), Boiberke (Yiddish), and Prachnik (German); by contrast, ‘Boiberik’ is a misnomer deriving from the name of a fictional town in Shalom Aleichem’s stories.
7 For 6 Frankfurt


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

about his family, but it seems to have been without distinction or scholarly antecedents.11 Jews first settled in Bóbrka around 1625, when the town began to prosper; a century later (in 1765), the community numbered only 713.12 Educational opportunities in Bóbrka were obviously quite limited, and so it is not surprising that early in his life Israel moved to Zamosc, the town with which his name was to be associated.13 He moved to Zamosc, halfway between Lvov and Lublin, because the town was a rising economic and intellectual centre, as we shall see. The only source of information about Israel’s life in Zamosc is his book NY, especially its introduction, written in rhymed prose.14 We do not know where and under whom Israel studied,15 but in midlife he had already acquired the reputation of a great scholar. In his haskamah (letter of approbation) to NY (1737), Joel Ba{al Shem (on whom more below) refers to Israel as ‘one of the worthies [yaqqirei] of our community’ and says that he agreed to write the approbation because ‘it is unfitting to turn down a great sage [gadol]’ (fol. 3a). Other rabbis, too, describe him in their approbations to NY as ‘great in knowledge’, ‘erudite’ (Ìarif),16 and ‘an astronomer’ (tokhen). While living in Zamosc (until 1741), Israel completed his major work, NY, as well as three other books: Arubbot ha-shamayim (The Windows of Heaven) – an astronomical treatise (extant in two incomplete manuscripts);17 a commentary on Sefer

 Israel puts into the mouth of a contemporary the following words, suggesting he came from a humble origin: ‘Whose son is this youngster who talks to us so highly?… I searched in the books of all the lords of the land and found not a single word on his past’ (fol. 2ba). 12 Le-zekher qehilat Bobrka u-venoteha (Boiberke memorial book), ed. Shraga F. Kallay (Jerusalem, 1964); English translation (excerpts) at; Pinkas Hakehilot, partial English translation at Other sources give slightly different figures. 13 He apparently did not move to Zamosc with all his family, for in NY he thanks his ‘eminent’ brother PinÌas Lafa†nir of Brody for his financial help (fol. 3a); see also below, n. 121. The record of Israel’s funeral in the Brody cemetary notes that Israel was ‘the brother of R. PinÌas Lefiner (or: Lapiner, Lapinar)’; see: Nathan M. Gelber, ‘Aus dem “Pinax des alten Judenfriedhofes in Brody” (1699–1831)’, Jahrbuch der jüdisch-literarischen Gesellschaft 13 (1920): 130 (No. 115). 14  On the tradition of this genre in Ashkenaz, see Nurith Govrin, ‘Signon ha-maqqamah ba-sifrut ha¨ivrit ba-dorot ha-aÌaronim’, Meˆassef le-divrei sifrut, biqqoret ve-hagut 7–8 (1968): 394–417 (NY is briefly mentioned on p. 397). Govrin also refers to Israel’s much discussed Nezed ha-dema¨. She is exceptional in noting that there is a similarity between the latter and the introduction to NY, but does not systematically bring the latter to bear on the former. Curiously, the recent and most detailed study of Nezed ha-dema¨ does not draw on the introduction to NY, but instead on that of Solomon b. Moses of Chelm’s Mirkevet ha-mishneh (below, p. 44), published ten years later; see Yehuda Friedlander, Bemisterei ha-sa†irah. Hebrew Satire in Europe in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Hebrew), vol. 2 (Ramat Gan, 1989), pp. 9–110. Future research on Nezed ha-dema¨ should take the introduction to NY into consideration. 15  In NY, Israel often alludes to his ‘friends’ and names them (see below), but mentions none of his teachers. 16  Îarif is often understood as ‘sharp-witted’; but when R. Jacob Isaac Îarif took a German name he chose ‘Hochgelernter’ (below, p. 41), signalling that the term’s primary signification was ‘erudite’. 17  See n. 3; the second manuscript is London, Jews’ College, Montefiore Collection, MS 427 (= Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jerusalem, No. 8752). The two manuscripts cover the same text, but have numerous variants due to scribal errors. Both are incomplete, for in NY (fol. 2ba) Israel explicitly refers to the introduction to Arubbot, which neither manuscript has; he also refers to a geometrical section of Arubbot (see below) and to ‘tables’ (presumably astronomical tables) that it included (fol. 52bb); but these are not in either of the two extant manuscripts. Isaac Baer Levinsohn (Zerubbavel [Warsaw, 1901], 1: 68, n. 3) refers to an ‘autograph manuscript’ of Arubbot that he has seen, ‘written in

Gad Freudenthal


Yesod ¨olam by Isaac Israeli of Toledo (a work from the 1320s that Israel read in manuscript); and a commentary on Sefer Elim by Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (published in Amsterdam in 1629).18 The last two works seem to be lost.19 They were written before 1737, for on Tuesday, 7 Elul [5]497 (= Sept. 3, 1737), Joel Ba¨al Shem mentions both of them by name and describes them as ‘clear and transparent’ (3a).20 In NY, Israel himself mentions only Arubbot ha-shamayim. In the (undated) preface he refers to it as ‘a composition I wrote in mathematical science [Ìokhmat halimmudim], including all the branches of mathematics, such as geometry, optics and trigonometry [reˆiyah u-Òelalim],21 as well as astronomy, all by clear proofs from top to bottom, none is absent, and it will be revealed when I can afford the printing costs’ (3aa).22 In the body of NY, too, Israel refers to Arubbot explicitly.23 From this we
the author’s own hand’, in the possession of Nachman Krochmal, to whom, he says, it was given to prepare for publication; he adds that the handwriting has become blurred by time and that the last two leaves are missing. Can this manuscript be one of the two extant ones? Israel spent his last years in Brody; and Krochmal, too, had ties with this town (his father lived there). Nachman Krochmal was in close contact with Leopold Zunz, who prepared Moreh nevukhei ha-zeman for posthumous publication (1851). Seeing that the London manuscript of Arubbot was at one time owned by Zunz (the notation ‘Zunz cod 25’ is on the recto of the page after the cover; noted in Hartwig Hirschfeld, Descriptive Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Montefiore Collection [London, 1903], 127, No. 427), the suspicion arises that this is the autograph manuscript that Levinsohn believed he saw. It can be stated with confidence, however, that neither this nor the New York manuscript is an autograph: comparison establishes that neither derives from the other, so that both are (quite faulty) copies, direct or indirect, of an archetype. Similarly, although neither manuscript contains the introduction that Israel says he wrote, the numbering of the folios, which seems original, begins with 1. Although it is not excluded that the manuscript that Levinsohn saw in the hands of Krochmal is the one now in London (Levinsohn may have simply mistaken it for an autograph), this seems unlikely, for the manuscript is not particularly blurred. Since both the London and New York manuscripts end at the same spot, quite abruptly, and may lack the end, they could both derive from the manuscript seen by Levinsohn (which he noted was missing the last two leaves). It would thus seem that at least the London manuscript was copied from the one in the possession of Krochmal, a surmise that explains how it reached Zunz. 18 It should be noted that writing a commentary on the traditional Sefer Yesod ¨olam by Isaac Israeli, the venerated student of R. Asher ben YeÌiel (the Rosh), was a relatively standard exercise, for similar commentaries had been written earlier; see e.g. Jacob Elbaum, Openness and Insularity: Late SixteenthCentury Jewish Literature in Poland and Ashkenaz (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 1990), p. 77 (see also p. 91, n. 24). By contrast, devoting a commentary to the more recent Sefer Elim was an innovative and daring enterprise. 19 In 1782, the Berlin maskil Naphtali Herz Wessely (1725–1805) wrote of ‘great Torah scholars’ who came to Berlin after having studied the sciences in Poland out of ‘the few books which were written by scholars of our nation, such as Yesod ¨olam by Isaac Israeli and Elim by Joseph of Kandiah’ (Divrei shalom we-emet [Berlin, 3rd ed., 1898], Second Letter, 20a, translation quoted from David E. Fishman, Russia’s First Modern Jews: The Jews of Shklov [New York, 1995], p. 35). The precise coincidence of these two titles with the two commentaries written by Israel (as well as some further indications) make it quite certain that Wessely had Israel in mind (rather than Barukh of Shklov, as Fishman [p. 36] surmises). See also below, n. 65. 20 The approbation by Moses b. Aaron of Lvov, given in Frankfort on the Oder in June 1741, refers in general terms to ‘various ample [muflagim] writings [by Israel] that I have seen’, but gives no details. The other approbations do not mention any other compositions. 21 See Ben Yehuda’s Dictionary, vol. 11, p. 5482. 22 Israel may have borrowed the title Arubbot ha-shamayim from Joseph Solomon Delmedigo who, in his Ma¨ayan ganim, says he had composed a work by that name bearing on geometry (‘the solution of triangles’). See Sefer Elim (Odessa, 1865), p. 136. 23 E.g. fol. 54ba; at fol. 52ba the reference to ‘Sefer ha-yesodot [Book of Elements] that I composed’ is perhaps an allusion to the first, mathematical part of Arubbot, now lost, for Israel elsewhere refers to ‘my book Arubbot ha-shamayim, Part One, which is a composition that I wrote on the science of math-


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

may infer that when NY was completed Arubbot existed already, at least in part, and that both works were quickly followed by the two lost commentaries.24 This reconstruction is consistent with the fact that Arubbot does not mention any of the other three works and that Israel refers to NY as his ‘first fruit’ (reˆshit peri ra¨yonotay) (fol. 2bb). The end of 1737 is the date ante quem for the completion of all four books.25 NY, whose title plays on the double meaning of ‘Israel’ as both the Jewish people and (following a long tradition) the author’s name (‘it is appropriate to call the effect by the name of its cause’ [fol. 3ab]), is the work of a scholar deeply versed in Talmud and halakhah and at the same time also very knowledgeable in philosophy and mathematics and animated by a critical scientific spirit. Israel’s frame of mind is distinctively Maimonidean: ably playing with metaphors, Israel likens the effect of the Guide of the Perplexed on readers like himself to a resurrection – it brought to life many who ‘slumbered in the dust of ignorance’.26 Israel stresses that he combines Talmud study with science, that he ‘is filled with the love of the sciences, after having been replete with the bread of the Talmud’ (fol. 1aa). Israel thus reads the Talmud and the halakhic literature of his day from the perspective of a scholar who has mastered the sciences available in Hebrew. Formally, NY remains a decidedly conservative book, for its ostensible ambition is limited to contributing to the classic literary genre of resolving talmudic sugyot, specifically (but not exclusively) those on which light derived from science can be shed. But NY is subversive, indeed explosive, on another plane; namely, that of the texts it accepts as authoritative. Whereas halakhic scholars traditionally appeal only to earlier halakhic authorities, Israel regards science as another, indeed superior, source of knowledge and authority. Consequently, many of his Ìiddushim (novellae) result not from inner textual analyses of the traditional corpus, but from adducing knowledge derived from external sources to illuminate it. We will come back to this below. Israel’s vehement rejection of contemporary methods of Talmud study, which he describes as being largely senseless pilpul (fol. 2ab–2ba), goes hand in hand with this scientifically motivated criticism.27 The debate about pilpul has been around for a long time,28 but Israel gives his criticism a social twist. As a result of the exile and the troubles that came in its wake, he charges, many scholars found it difficult to make a living. They resorted to using the Torah as a means to support themselves and
ematics and astronomy’ (fol. 54ba). See also below, n. 150. The reference to ‘the book that I wrote’ on fol. 52bb may also refer to Arubbot. 24 NY contains a clear, although implicit, allusion to the commentary on Elim as a forthcoming book: ‘This matter has been explained by R. Joseph of Candia in the book Ma¨ayan Ìatum [a part of Elim], and you will see its proof in a book I intend to write’ (fol. 40ab). 25 In his haskamah, Joel Ba¨al Shem does not mention Arubbot ha-shamayim by name. But he refers to Israel as ‘the great astronomer’ who ‘rose to the heaven’, probably an allusion to that astronomical work. 26 Ve-rabbim mi-yeshenei admat ¨afar ha-ivvelet heqiÒu we-¨amedu ¨al maˆamarav ha-nikhbadim (NY, fol. 42bb); cf. Dan. 12:2. 27 See on this Jay M. Harris, How Do We Know This? Midrash and the Fragmentation of Modern Judaism (Albany, 1995), pp. 137–41 and n. 118 below. 28 For an overview, see Mordecai Breuer, Oholei Torah (The Tents of Torah): The Yeshiva, Its Structure and History (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 2003), pp. 186–227.

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made simple things appear complicated in order to give their own work added economic value. These dishonest scholars gathered haphazard premises, Israel accuses, and wove them together into a spider’s web (2ab). ‘Lakhen hitÌilu ofanei ha-limmud lihyot ¨aqalqalot we-darkhei ha-Ìokhmah avelot’ (thus the modes of inquiry turned crooked, and the ways of knowledge became sorrowful [cf. Lam. 1:4]). He goes to great lengths to castigate those who have no respect for truth and whose Torah is grounded in false premises and suppositions. He mentions, however, some halakhists whom he believed to have held positions akin to his own, notably the fourteenth-century Tosaphist Samson b. Isaac of Chinon, author of the methodological work Sefer ha-keritut (Cremona, 1558) and, more importantly, Solomon Ephraim b. Aaron of Luntshits (Leczyca, 1550–1619) and his books Keli yaqar and ¨Ammudei Shesh (fol. 2ba).29 His criticisms notwithstanding, Israel’s image of himself is that of a traditional Halakhic scholar. This image is in tune with and underscored by the fact that NY was printed in Frankfurt on the Oder in 1741.30 That town was a rising centre of Jewish printing: from only ten titles before 1650, to 139 in the second half of the seventeenth century, 264 in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, 309 in the second quarter (including NY), and 373 in the third quarter. But quality, too, is important here. All the books printed in Frankfurt on the Oder were strictly traditionalist: their titles typically include the terms tosafot, pilpulim, Ìiddushim, perushim, etc. – all of them bearing on halakhah and on Talmud study.31 That Israel had his book printed in Frankfurt on the Oder thus reflects the fact that, despite his criticism of contemporary scholarship, his reference group remained that of the halakhists and he wanted it to be viewed as a contribution to the traditional genre of halakhah and Talmud study. Still, Israel’s critical attitude and the seditious potential of his talmudic hermeneutics did not go unheeded. Long before the publication of NY, he was in bitter conflict with parts of his environment. In the preface to NY he expresses in strong and moving words his exasperation, indeed his despair, over how his ideas are received: ‘I can no longer bear the tongues of the human-looking oxen,… who are seasoned with the mustard of foolishness,32… whose tongues are like pointed arrows, like whips and scorpions,… which are stuck in the hearts of those who study the Torah for its own sake’ (fol. 1aa). Israel’s emotional reaction to the situation as he perceives
29  It is not surprising that Israel found a kindred spirit in R. Solomon Ephraim: like Israel, the latter, who apparently belonged to a low social stratum, was favourably inclined to the study of philosophy and gave approbations to several rationalist books, including David Gans’ Magen David (1612; a prospectus for NeÌmad ve-na¨im, Gans’ full-scale astronomical work printed only much later). See Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, notably pp. 97–105, 175, 314, 322 (views), 175, 250 (n. 7) (approbations; on the approbation for Magen David see also André Néher, David Gans u-zemano, trans. from the French by Avital Inbar [Jerusalem, 1982], pp. 107–8). On Keli yaqar see Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, notably pp. 82–4 (n. 4), 97–9. R. Ephraim had a student who became interested in astronomy; ibid. 255 (n. 22). See also: EJ 6: 814–15; Simcha Assaf, Meqorot le-toledot ha-Ìinnukh be-Yisra}el, ed. Shmuel Glick, vol. 1 (New York and Jerusalem, 2002), pp. 27–30. 30  Printing began on 4 Sivan [5]501 (= Friday, May 19, 1741) and ended on Tuesday, 20 Tammuz of the same year (= July 4, 1741); NY, fol. 59a. 31  Yeshayahu Vinograd, Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book, Pt. II (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 568–79. 32 The expression ‘mustard of foolishness’ apparently means that their ignorance is mordant to the others.


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it is characterized by two words he uses: qineˆah and qinah, zealousness and lamentation: ‘On account of this I will wrap myself in zealousness like a cloak // and raise lamentation on the heights’ (fol. 2ba).33 On the one hand, he is zealous to defend the ‘true learning’: he is in an offensive mood, and his book is his first move in the battle he wages. But at the same time there is also discouragement – qinah. Israel describes how an onlooker must perceive him and refers in one breath to his courage and to his deep despondency: ‘Have you seen that one, the man and his ranting // his valorous heart and stubborn spirit?’34 There are many other expressions of depression: he refers to his fountains of sorrow and the floodgates of his griefs35 and beseeches God to take his soul and deliver him from his tribulations.36 ‘Better to render it [the soul] to You, rather than to tribulations’ (fol. 1aa). Why should I live, he asks rhetorically, if this intellect, which I called ‘my son’, is the source of my troubles (fol. 1ab)? These are not rhetorical flourishes and still less conventional elements in an author’s introduction to a work of talmudic exegesis. Rather, they give us a window onto Israel’s personality: prepared to struggle for his ideas and ideals, he is also beset by a gloom that threatens to gain the upper hand at any moment and push him into deep melancholy. To paraphrase Goethe’s Faust, qineˆah and qinah are the two souls dwelling in his breast.37 Unfortunately, of all his introductions, only that to NY survives, leaving it almost the only window onto Israel’s mood in that period.38 Although we have no contemporary documents from Zamosc that refer to Israel, there can be no doubt that his complaints are not imaginary and that he was indeed hounded in Zamosc. The writer Isaac Leib Peretz (1852–1915), one of the bestknown sons of Zamosc, reports in his memoirs that in his childhood it was not regarded as bon ton to mention Israel’s name.39 The fact that in his whole life Israel gave only two approbations to books by other scholars (both after he left Zamosc40)
zeh ani e¨e†eh ka-me¨il qineˆah // we-esaˆ ¨al shefayim qinah (cf. Isa. 59:17 and Jer. 7:29).  Ha-reˆitem peloni ha-ish we-siÌo // omeÒ libo u-qeshi ruÌo? On the source of this phrase see below, p. 65. 35  Ma¨ayanot yegonotav, arubbot shemei tugotav niftaÌu – the latter is an echo of Gen. 7:11 and at the same time alludes to the title of Israel’s astronomical book. 36  Ve-atta ha-Shem qaÌ-naˆ nafshi ve-hoÒiˆah mi-telaˆot. 37 Evidence from a number of Israel’s writings suggests that he had alternate periods of melancholy and great elation. 38 As already mentioned (above, n. 17), Israel alludes to the introduction he wrote to Arubbot hashamayim, of which he says that it also criticized contemporaries (tokhaÌah megullah; fol. 2ba). This introduction is not found in either of the surviving manuscripts of the work. Nor do any of Israel’s printed works (except NY) have an introduction. 39 I. L. Peretz, Ale verk fun Y. L. Peretz, vol. 11: Zikhroynes, briv un redn (New York, 1948), p. 71; I also used the (very accurate) Hebrew translation: Kol kitvei Y. L. Peretz, vol. 9: Zikhronotay, trans. S. Melzer (Tel Aviv, 1957), p. 87. The English translation, by Fred Goldberg, is rarely faithful to the original; see My Memories (New York, 1964), p. 124. Peretz writes: ‘About Israel Zamosc … people talk very little. He was the teacher of the one from Dessau [= Moses Mendelssohn]; better remain silent. [Say] no good things, no bad things’. The fact that Peretz alludes to Mendelssohn in this context suggests the possibility that it was also his association with the latter in Berlin that induced the people in Zamosc to avoid talking about Israel, and not only events related to his life in Zamosc. 40 The two works are: Mordecai b. Meir Kalmanns, Sefer Tavnit ha-bayit (Frankfurt on the Oder, 1747); and SimÌah b. Joshua Haas, Lev SimÌah (Zó¥kiew, 1754). The former was given on Friday, 19 Sheva† [5]505 (= January 22, 1745), the latter in Brody on Thursday, 2 Kislev [5]517 (= November 25, 1756).
34 33 ¨Al

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confirms his marginal status. These conflicts, the reasons for which are less clear than is usually thought (see below, pp. 49 ff.), are probably what induced Israel to leave Zamosc. In mid-1741 he was in Frankfurt on the Oder, overseeing the printing of NY. The next year we already find him in Berlin. Presumably he never returned to Zamosc after the publication of what conservative circles were quick to disparage as ReÒaÌ Yisrael (The Assassination of Israel).41 His arrival in Berlin opens a radically new chapter in Israel’s life; but that is beyond the scope of the present article. Illuminating the Talmud with the Light of Science: The Hermeneutic Method of NY In sixteenth-century Poland, a (thin) Hebrew scientific tradition, which largely continued the medieval one, was alive; a number of distinguished halakhic scholars, notably R. Moses Isserles (1525–1572) and R. Mordecai Jaffe (ca. 1535–1612), regarded scientific knowledge as legitimate.42 This tradition faded away during the seventeenth century – or, if it was alive, it was not so much in the open. Hence some words of justification were required to draw on science to clarify the text of the Talmud in Zamosc of the 1730s. Israel offers us a hermeneutic theory that explains his method of interpreting talmudic texts in the light of science and legitimizes the appeal to the ‘foreign’ sciences. I shall consider separately his scientifically informed halakhic discussions and his interpretation of aggadah. Shedding the Light of Mathematics on Halakhah After declaring (fol. 1ab) that he has things of great importance to add to the earlier literature discussing talmudic sugyot, Israel defines the specific locus of his contribution through a series of recursive divisions (themselves a clear indication of his thorough philosophic training). The Torah as a whole is divided into a practical part and a theoretical (¨iyyuni) part. The former is the practice of observing the precepts and is not at issue. The remaining, theoretical, part is again divided into two. One part is purely theoretical, with no bearing on practice; this is what Maimonides called ma¨aseh merkavah and ma¨aseh bereshit, and Israel will not consider it. We are thus left with theory that has implications for practice; this will be at the centre of his interest. This is in turn divided into two. One part is concerned with the interpretation of the precepts: this interpretative effort, Israel claims, has become necessary merely because matters that the talmudic Sages considered to be simple and readily comprehensible are obscure for the later, less perceptive generations. The entire enterprise of Talmud study and exegesis is thus a result of the low spiritual level of the recent generations and has no intrinsic value in itself; a great sage (moreh Òedeq), were he to appear, would be
H., [Review of: Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Te¨udah be-Yisraˆel], in Sulamith 8 (1833): 94–8, on p. 96n. this tradition and its influence see David Fishman, ‘Rabbi Moshe Isserles and the Study of Science Among Polish Rabbis’, Science in Context 10 (1997): 571–88; Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery, chap. 2, and the literature indicated there. On Isserles’ astronomy, see Y. Tzvi Langermann, ‘The Astronomy of Rabbi Moses Isserles’, in Physics, Cosmology and Astronomy, 1300– 1700: Tension and Accommodation, Sabetai Unguru (= Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 126) (Dordrecht, 1991), pp. 83–98.
42 On 41 D.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

able to explicate all the precepts, making pilpul and its cognates redundant. The other part of theory that has a bearing on practice is distinguished by having its own intrinsic value. This part includes, for example, the precepts concerning the calculation of ‘equinoxes and solstices and new moons’: inherent (if implicit) in these precepts is an injunction to study astronomy. Here the theoretical effort (¨iyyun) is not devoted to the explication of a text that has become obscure, but rather to the application of a general precept to empirical reality. This task does not require hermeneutics, but rather ‘a deep inquiry into the science of astronomy’, as was stated by no lesser than Maimonides (fol. 1ab). Thus this part of Torah is intrinsically bound up with scientific inquiry; adherence to the Torah ipso facto implies an involvement with science. A telling instance of such an inquiry is introduced by Israel apropos of a cosmological passage in tractate PesaÌim. Israel remarks that Rashi’s cosmology is entirely wrong, whereas that of the Sages is correct. One of Israel’s guiding principles is the general assumption that the Sages were ‘accomplished astronomers’ and held true cosmological beliefs (fol. 56bb; see also 2bb, 49aa). He is outraged by interpretations that ascribe long-refuted views to them – for example, that the earth is flat: ‘Heaven forbid that we say the Sages were ignorant of astronomy and knew nothing of it!’ (fol. 24ba). They ‘had ten shares in natural science’ as well (fol. 52bb). Later scholars, because of their ignorance of scientific matters, have attributed false views to the Sages, and, occasionally, to the Tosafists as well (fols. 37ab, 38bb). Israel harshly castigates those who propound such calumnious interpretations. Israel thereupon makes the following methodological declaration of intentions:
I set myself the aim of explaining all the statements in the Talmud bearing on astronomy according to my own understanding, which conflicts with Rashi, but which follows the deep fundamentals of the astronomy accepted (nehugah) at present in the world. [I do so] in order that they [the astronomical statements] conform to [lit. are one with] the statements of the Sages. Indeed, the statements of the astronomy that is well-known [or: generally accepted; ha-mefursam] among us now are almost all grounded in strong mathematical proofs that no created being can possibly reject. (Fol. 55ab)

Israel proceeds to enunciate the fundamental principles of astronomy, which turn out to be four premises of standard Ptolemaic astronomy. Clearly, his endorsement of the Sages at once legitimizes his own work and discredits the traditional authorities whom he criticizes for their erroneous scientific views. Breaking at last with his successive bifurcations, Israel identifies (fol. 1ba) two further kinds of theoretical study with a bearing on practice. The first again involves science: whenever we identify a crux (qushiyyah) in the words of the Sages or of later great scholars, we are obliged, Israel says, to resolve it (fol. 1bb). This obligation holds in particular ‘when we see that the words of the Talmud must be explicated according to one of the foreign sciences, i.e., one of the seven sciences’43 (fol.
43 In the Middle Ages, the seven sciences were identified as the trivium and the quadrivium. There were different views, however, on precisely which sciences belonged to these two groups. See, e.g., Harry Austryn Wolfson, ‘The Classification of Sciences in Medieval Jewish Philosophy’, Hebrew Union College Jubilee Volume (Cincinnati, 1925), pp. 263–315; Dov Rappel, Sheva¨ ha-Ìokhmot: Ha-vikkuaÌ ¨al limmudei Ìol ba-yahadut (Jerusalem, 1990).

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1ba). The sciences in question are those ‘whose statements cannot possibly be denied and whose foundations cannot be uprooted, namely, mathematical science, which includes [in addition to astronomy] geometry and optics. For all the statements of mathematical science are grounded in strong and evident proofs … that cannot be rejected by any means’ (fol. 1ba). By contrast, Israel adds, the proofs of the other profane disciplines, like logic and natural science, are not so certain; hence, if they contradict the Talmud, their statements are to be rejected in favour of the Talmud (fol. 1ba). Lastly, the second kind of theoretical inquiry with a bearing on reality is purely halakhic and will not detain us here. Israel has thus defined a twofold role for science in the study of the Talmud. For one thing, the study of astronomy, notably, is ‘programmed’ into the precepts concerning the calendar. For another, when Talmudic statements seem to contradict truths established by the exact sciences, one must accept the latter because they have been apodictically established, and the Talmudic text must be interpreted accordingly. The Maimonidean inspiration is visible at every turn. Understanding ‘Strange Aggadot’ in the Light of Science. We now come to Israel’s understanding of very different texts, namely ‘strange aggadot’ – specifically those that, taken literally, conflict with science.44 The hermeneutic theory here differs from the one just considered. The point of departure is talmudic statements (B Sukkah 29a) that eclipses are the consequence of various immoral actions (e.g., the rape of a betrothed girl, homosexual acts, false testimony, and the cutting down of useful trees).This passage ‘has raised in us numerous and huge doubts’, Israel says (fol. 40ba), inasmuch as it makes eclipses depend on men’s actions and thus on their choices and free will. It is well known, however, that ‘in truth the cause of the eclipse … follows with necessity from the heavenly bodies, [i.e.,] it is made necessary by their motions’ (fol. 40ba). Israel briefly describes the astronomical conditions for an eclipse and adds: ‘[the astronomers’] affirmations are tested [yibbaÌanu] publicly, for they foretell when the eclipse will take place – in what month, on what day, at what time, and at which position the Sun will be eclipsed and what parts of it will be eclipsed’ (fol. 40ba). Taken literally, the aggadah is thus patently absurd. This is all the more embarrassing as the gentiles ‘mock us’, saying ‘where is your wisdom?’ and allege that the Sages were ignorant (fol. 40ba). Fortunately, Israel writes, ‘God has granted me a true interpretation’ for this aggadah (fol. 40ba). To convey it to his readers, he introduces two distinctions. The first is between the two parts of the Torah: Wisdom, which is ‘the concealed part, I mean the Wisdom of the Kabbalah’; and ‘Torah’ (in a narrower sense) ‘which is vis44 The

interpretation of ‘strange’ aggadot had been much discussed in earlier Polish rabbinic literature (see, e.g., Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, pp. 95–142, 162, 252–3). Israel’s discussions belong to this established genre. It will not be possible to discuss here how he relates to his predecessors, although it appears likely that he went beyond them in assessing the aggadot from the viewpoint offered by science. David Nieto, too, felt a need to interpret some aggadot rationally; see Kuzari ha-sheni [or] Ma††eh Dan IV, §§291–318 ([Jerusalem, 1958], pp. 159–72).


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

ible, namely the accomplishment of the precepts’. People differ in their attitudes toward these two parts of the Torah, and in fact are divided into several classes (named for three of the four sons in the PesaÌ Haggadah): (1) The wicked, those who deny the reality of Wisdom, believing it to be the very opposite of Tradition (dat). ‘Because they do not believe what is concealed they deny the fundamental tenet’.45 (2) The simple-minded, who believe that ‘God has nothing in His world but the practical part’ (cf. B Berakhot 8a): in their eyes Wisdom is redundant. Of them, Israel suggests, Scripture says that they walk in darkness (Ps. 82:5). (3) The Wise, namely those who understand that ‘Wisdom and Tradition are the two great luminaries (cf. Gen. 1:16): the Great Luminary is Wisdom, the Small Luminary is Tradition’. Let us consider the worldview of ‘the Wise’, Israel’s own group. To characterize the relationship between the traditional texts and what he calls ‘Wisdom’ (Ìokhmah, a term whose precise denotation we shall consider later), Israel offers an audacious metaphor (fol. 40bb). ‘Wisdom’, he says, bears the same relation to ‘Tradition’ (dat46) as the sun to the moon: the latter, the small luminary, has no light of its own and illuminates by virtue of the light it receives from the great luminary: ‘as the moon receives light from the sun, which actualizes its potential light, so too the Tradition receives its light from Wisdom’ (fol. 40bb).47 Israel’s thesis is thus that Tradition shines only when illuminated by Wisdom. Indeed, human beings, being constituted of matter, cannot apprehend Wisdom directly, just as they cannot look directly at the sun. The purpose of the God-given ‘Torah of Truth’ is to allow us to receive the light of Wisdom and to benefit from it, just as we can look at the moon (fol. 40bb). ‘You, the inquirer’, Israel tells his reader, ‘please understand how deep this analogy is, and how the relationship of Wisdom to Tradition is wonderfully like that between the sun and the moon’ (ibid.). Israel confirms the analogy by adducing the midrashic statement that the light created on the first day allowed Adam to see from one end of the world to the other (B Îagigah 12a): this cannot refer to light in the ordinary sense, Israel observes, because we know from optics that stronger light does not allow one to see farther. Necessarily, then, ‘light is here a designation for Wisdom’ and the ‘seeing’ in question is intellectual, not sensual (ibid.). The same applies to the talmudic statement that the face of Moses was like that of the sun, that of Joshua like that of the moon (B Baba Batra 75a): Moses having been ‘the choicest of the human species’ he apprehended Wisdom itself, whereas Joshua received the Torah from him, just as the moon receives the light from the sun. Similarly, Israel adds, in the verse that identifies God with ‘the sun and a shield’ (after Ps. 84:12–13), the
the very existence of God.  The word dat often means ‘law’, but in the present context its meaning is much wider and denotes the totality of Jewish beliefs and practices, as we shall see. 47  Israel alleges that this view was taken by Shem ™ov b. Joseph in the introduction to his commentary on the Guide of the Perplexed. He is not being fair, however, for in fact R. Shem ™ov used the metaphor of the two luminaries simply to characterize one of three possible positions on the relationship between Wisdom and Tradition, but without endorsing it himself.
46 45 I.e.,

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sun again stands for Wisdom: the verse states that the deity ‘is the utmost Wisdom’; ‘He and His Wisdom are one and the same thing, as is known to those who delve into what is hidden [ha-ma¨amiqim ba-nistar]’.48 The upshot of the discussion is that in the passage about the causes of eclipses, ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ do not denote the heavenly bodies, but rather Wisdom and Tradition. In this reading, the aggadah is no longer ‘strange’. Israel’s point of departure is thus a particular aggadah that is absurd if understood literally as relating to the natural world. Uncovering its ‘hidden’ meaning requires the light of ‘Wisdom’. But what does Israel mean by ‘Wisdom’? For an answer we turn to another methodological discussion. Israel reflects at considerable length on the very notion of ‘strange aggadot’, which he characterizes as ‘those that are at variance with what has been established by philosophical [rational] inquiry (heqqesh) and which are found in the Talmud’ (fol. 42bb). He reminds the reader that Maimonides himself – ‘the Glory of the Sages’ – stated that such aggadot must not be taken literally; rather they conceal a secret or inner meaning.49 Why did the Sages choose to conceal their knowledge? The answer is that they wished to make it accessible only to the truly learned of every generation – a prudence all the more necessary because their statements were divinely inspired (ibid.). Israel argues that not only the Sages of Israel, but also those of the nations, notably Plato, wrote in ‘parables and riddles’.50 Why, then, does Israel feel free to disclose the Sages’ secrets? Because, he writes (fol. 43aa), in the time of the talmudic Sages people were either extremely learned or totally ignorant; the former understood the secrets of the strange aggadot on their own, whereas the latter were not even troubled by them and did not realize that they cannot be understood literally. At present, however, there is a large intermediate class of people who are clever enough to be troubled by strange aggadot but not clever enough to understand them without help. The existence of this new class led great sages, beginning with Rabbenu Nissim, Saadia Gaon, and Samuel b. Îofni Gaon, to elucidate some of them. Israel ends his apology for interpreting aggadot with the following significant statement:
In their footsteps [of the aforementioned scholars] followed all the ancients, offering interpretations of some of the aggadot, above all the Great Eagle, Maimonides of blessed memory. The divine kabbalist, the A.R.I. [= Isaac Luria] of blessed memory, too, performed wonders in his writings in the interpretation of some of the strange aggadot. Both these and those [Maimonides’ and Luria’s] are statements of the Living God. They made the splendour of the aggadot [ziv nogah ha-aggadot] shine from one end of the world to the other, and until this very day wise men walk in their powerful light. (fol. 43aa)
 See below, n. 51. uses two terms: sod and tokhiyyut. The former is common, the latter not. Israel presumably has in mind Guide III, 43. See also Harris, How Do We Know This?, pp. 138–9. 50 Israel comments that esoteric writing is also used in astronomy and adduces an interesting example: ‘Hipparchus, the first astronomer, wrote as follows: “pay heed to the vessel [sefinah] suspended in the air and moving forward and backward in four hundred years” ’ (42bb). The allusion, it turns out, is to the motion of precession. Israel repeats the example in Arubbot ha-shamayim, fol. 12a, where he indicates that it is borrowed (almost literally) from Yesod ¨olam (II 6; ed. Baer Goldberg and Leo Rosenkranz, vol. 1 [Berlin, 1848], p. 21).
49 Israel 48


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

The theoretical basis for interpreting strange aggadot is thus twofold: science and philosophy on the one hand, Kabbalah on the other. Both are equally valid. In Israel’s usage, ‘Kabbalah’ and ‘Wisdom’ (Ìokhmah) both refer to the doctrines of any discipline that searches for ‘what is hidden’; he refers to metaphysics, too, as a science of ‘the hidden’.51 This was in all likelihood an intentional amalgamation, aimed at legitimizing the ‘foreign’ and profane philosophy by associating it with the venerated, authentically Jewish Kabbalah. That Israel considered Kabbalah to be a source of knowledge on equal footing with philosophy is noteworthy, for it is belies the usual view of him as a staunch rationalist forerunner of the Haskalah. 52 More than once he alludes with respect and accords authority to kabbalistic works: in addition to Luria, he mentions ‘the holy Zohar’ (fol. 2ba) and ‘our Master Abraham of Grenada’ (Rabbenu Avraham me-Rimmon) (fol. 3ab), i.e. Abraham b. Isaac, the author of Berit menuÌah.53 He refers deferentially to the doctrines of ‘those who are knowledgeable in the science of the hidden, i.e., the Kabbalists [yode¨ei Ì“n hamequbbalim]’ (fol. 43ab; similarly, fols. 24bb, 25aa and passim).54 As far as I can see, however, Israel himself offers very few kabbalistic interpretations (see however fol. 43ab). Although Kabbalah’s precise impact on him will have to be assessed through further research, it is clear that as a rule he interprets aggadot from the viewpoint of science alone: this is where his interests lay, as well as his originality and strength. The discussions of astronomical and mathematical matters thus typically draw on four types of texts: one or more passages from the Mishnah or Gemara, a medieval authority such as Maimonides, a recent commentator on the Talmud or on Maimonides, and scientific works. Israel did not claim absolute truth for his views: ‘I do not state that my interpretation of the Sages is compulsory. It is possible that they intended deep things that have remained concealed from me. Rather, my intention is to show that their [prima facie strange] statements can be interpreted without any difficulty’ (fol. 43aa). Having noted the grounds Israel offers for thinking that science can ‘illuminate’ the Talmud, let us now look at how he does so in practice. NY is composed of two
51  We already came across Israel’s remark (above, p. 36) that ‘God, blessed be He, is the utmost Wisdom, and He and His Wisdom are one and the same thing, as is known to those who delve into what is hidden [le-ha-ma¨amiqim ba-nistar]’ (fol. 40bb): the attribution of the famous philosophic dictum (e.g. Guide I, 68) to those ‘who delve into what is hidden’ puts philosophers and kabbalists in one bag. 52  It is consonant with a not uncommon tendency in the sixteenth century to ‘harmonize’ philosophy and Kabbalah; see Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, pp. 180–1, 184 n. 3, 286–92. R. Mordecai Jaffe, for one, studied and wrote commentaries on both Sha¨arei orah and the Guide (ibid., pp. 41, 146, 169). 53 See Gershom Scholem in EJ 2: 145–6. This identification is borne out by Haqdamat sha¨ar hahaqdamot, by Îayyim Vital. (I am grateful to Prof. Ronit Meroz for this information.) Mahler, Divrei yemei Yisraˆel, p. 27n., wrongly identifies ‘Abraham of Rimmon’ as Abraham b. Shem ™ov Bibago, the author of Derekh emunah. Israel here quotes R. Abraham as affirming that the verse Isaiah 33:6 enumerates the seven sciences. This sentence is quoted verbatim in Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Te¨udah beYisraˆel (Warsaw, 1878), p. 92 (who apparently quotes from NY and did not see Berit menuÌah). 54 Israel was also acquainted with ¨Asarah maˆamarot (Venice, 1597) by MenaÌem Azaria of Fano (1548–1620) (fol. 37ab, 56aa, 56ab), but the ideas to which he alludes are not distinctly kabbalistic. While Israel respected Kabbalah, he was critical of contemporaries who pretended to be kabbalists. Arubbot ha-shamayim (fol. 12a) makes sarcastic remarks about those whose intellect does not suffice for Talmud study and who therefore ‘take refuge’ in the Kabbalah and look down on talmudists. This passage may shed light on the enigmas of Israel’s much discussed Nezed ha-dema¨ (see above, n. 14).

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unequal parts. The bulk (fols. 3b–51b) is followed by a few supplementary folios (51a–57b), labelled the ‘last quire’ (qun†res aÌaron). According to Israel, the latter is specifically devoted to the discussion of ‘profound parables (aggadot Ìamurot) in the Talmud, namely those with a bearing on astronomy and the other mathematical sciences’, which not all scholars have understood (fol. 52aa). In fact, however, aggadot are discussed in the first part of NY no less than in the ‘last quire’, which in turn contains discussions of both aggadot and Halakhah. Closer scrutiny discloses that the two parts are distinguished not by the type of Talmudic passages discussed (halakhah vs. aggadah), but rather by the role played in each by scientific discourse. The main part of NY is devoted to discussing sugyot, most of which have nothing to do with science; in those discussions that do, Israel only briefly draws on, but does not develop, the relevant science. In the ‘last quire’, by contrast, the discussions all involve science, and the relevant scientific material is presented in detail (notably by means of geometric proofs).55 The ‘last quire’, Israel explains, was separated from the bulk of NY because the discussions of sacred matters should be separate from profane ones; in addition, many of ‘our contemporaries’ are ignorant of scientific matters and shun them, and for them scientific discussions would have been ‘burdensome and tiring’ (fol. 3aa). (We find a similar separation of the sacred from the profane in Mirkevet ha-mishneh by R. Solomon b. Moses of Chelm; see below, p. 44.) Israel, we see, was intent on addressing all quarters. Consequently, the two parts of the book are arranged in parallel, each taking up selected sugyot from the talmudic tractates taken in order. In their literary form, we again note, Israel’s discussions conform to the traditional genre of the talmudic novella. R. Israel b. Moses Halevi’s Scientific Learning In the appendix to this article I give examples of the issues that Israel identified as requiring elucidation in the light of science (below, pp. 59–62). These discussions clearly evince his interest and competence in science, especially mathematics and astronomy, as well as in philosophy (essentially medieval). We should now realize that the very presence in Zamosc of a scholar competent in the sciences and in philosophy is surprising and calls for an explanation. Indeed, Israel’s scientific bookshelf (in which we are primarily interested), all of it in Hebrew, turns out to be surprisingly rich (below, pp. 62–67): Euclid, Ptolemy, Abraham bar Îiyya, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Averroes, Meir Aldabi, Gersonides, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, etc. (in addition, of course, to a large body of halakhic literature). To be sure, this rich bookshelf was accessible to Israel thanks to the spread of Hebrew printing, which was one of the factors that helped disseminate Hebrew science and rationalist thought in Ashkenaz from the sixteenth century onward.56 Still, the benefits of the printing of profane works were unevenly distributed
55 Note 56

that in the bulk of NY, Israel at times refers the reader forward to the ‘last quire’, and vice versa.  See Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, pp. 25, 42–5, 180; Elchanan Reiner, ‘The Attitude of Ashkenazi Society to the New Science in the Sixteenth Century’, Science in Context 10 (1997): 589–603.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

and Israel’s bookshelf was certainly not that of the ordinary scholar in Poland. A list of books, drawn up in 1747 by R. PinÌas Katzenellenbogen, who was a rabbi in Moravia, includes more than 500 titles, of which only five are elementary philosophical or scientific works. 57 Similarly, Salomon Maimon, five decades after Israel, had to walk ‘thirty miles’ in order to have a look at ‘a Hebrew Peripatetic philosophical book of the tenth century’ and had great difficulty acquiring a modicum of philosophical and scientific knowledge in his native shtetl of Nieszwicz.58 Israel’s easy access to philosophical works was thus no trifling matter. That there is something here calling for explanation becomes even clearer when we note that Israel also had at his disposal works that were available in manuscript only: most importantly, the medieval Hebrew translations of Euclid’s Elements and Ptolemy’s Almagest (both of them unpublished to this very day), as well as Abraham Ibn Ezra’s Keli ha-neÌoshet and Isaac Israeli’s Yesod ¨olam. Although no systematic study has been conducted of the availability of these manuscript works in Poland in that era,59 we may note that David Gans (1541–1613), writing ca. 1601, after a whole life devoted to science in a major city like Prague, informs us that he had not been able to read Ibn Ezra’s astronomical works and the astronomical part of Gersonides’ MilÌamot ha-Shem (none of them printed at the time) and that, in general, copies of Hebrew books on astronomical matters were ‘scarce’ then.60 Gans also considered the fact that he had access to a copy of the Elements as worth of special mention: ‘I saw a copy of Euclid’s book … and I studied it in the state of Saxony, in the town of Northeim [in the duchy of Brunswick], in the home of my father-in-law, R. Mann of blessed memory’.61 Moreover, the availability of texts is one thing, but understanding them is still another. There is some evidence that these scientific works were largely impenetrable without proper preparation, meaning study with a competent teacher. Thus ZeraÌ b. Nathan of Troki (near Vilna), the learned Karaite scholar whose correspondence with Joseph Solomon Delmedigo gave rise to Sefer Elim, reports of the largely fruitless efforts by himself and three other scholars to study Ptolemy’s Almagest.62 ‘These
57  See his Sefer Yesh manÌilin, ed. Isaac Dov Feld (Jerusalem, [5]746 [= 1986]), pp. 41–51. Some observations on Katzenellenbogen’s list can now be found in Zeev Gries, The Book as an Agent of Culture. 1700–1900 (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv, 2002), pp. 65–70, where, however, the few scientific books go unmentioned. 58  Salomon Maimon, Lebensgeschichte, I, 14, ed. Zwi Batscha (Frankfurt a.M., 1995), p. 86. The reference is presumably to Saadia Gaon’s Emunot ve-de¨ot (latest printing: Amsterdam, 1608). 59  It would indeed be interesting to make a systematic survey of extant scientific manuscripts that were copied or owned in Eastern Europe during this period. 60  David Gans, NeÌmad ve-na¨im (Jessnitz, 1743), 8aa, 9ab. 61 David Gans, ∑emaÌ David, ed. Mordecai Breuer (Jerusalem, 1983), p. 127 (§30); quoted in Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, p. 255. Other authors noted by Elbaum as having been acquainted with Euclid’s work are the extremely well-read R. Shemarya b. ManoaÌ Hendel, R. Yom ™ov Lipmann Heller, and R. MenaÌem b. Isaac Îayut (pp. 77, 256–7, n. 31). R. Shemarya b. ManoaÌ Hendel had at his disposal a particularly large library; see ibid., pp. 76–8, as well as Yizchak Levine, ‘Rabbi ManoaÌ Hendel ben Shemaryahu: Author of the ManoaÌ Halevavot’ (Hebrew), in: Jubilee Volume in Honor of… Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, ed. Shaul Israeli, Norman Lamm, and Yitzchak Raphael (Jerusalem and New York, 1984), pp. 961–5, esp. 962–3 on the books read and 969–70 (n. 17) on the chronology of his studies. This neglected figure certainly calls for research. 62  Sefer Elim, p. 19. On ZeraÌ, see EJ 16: 996.

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things cannot be learned from books and from mute teachers’ (i.e. books), he comments, ‘but only from live scholars, through oral transmission. And whoever, owing to lack of luck or to poverty, has not had a teacher, will fail throughout his life and waste his time’.63 Similarly, in ¨Eder ha-yaqar, a commentary on Maimonides’ Hilkhot qiddush ha-Ìodesh (see appendix), R. Mordecai b. Abraham Jaffe considers the fact that he studied astronomy on his own, ‘without any master’, as an exceptional accomplishment, thereby suggesting that this was uncommon although not totally impossible.64 (Israel would probably have commented that Jaffe’s auto-didacticism indeed did not take him very far.) Assuming, then, that it was difficult to become a scientific autodidact, the question of how Israel acquired his considerable scientific competence arises.65 It thus seems that the very presence in Zamosc of a scholar competent in (medieval Hebrew) science no less than in Halakhah calls for an explanation. The mystery is enhanced when we note that Israel was not a solitary figure. In the next section I will provide some information about Israel’s social network and the interest in science in contemporary Zamosc. Then I will try to account for the observed facts. R. Israel b. Moses Halevi and His Allies: Amateurs of Science in Zamosc, ca. 1735 Contrary to what Israel’s bitter complaints in the Introduction to NY might lead one to think, and contrary also to what has been widely held, Israel was not altogether isolated in Zamosc. He himself says that he writes in order to satisfy ‘the desire of the friends who listen to me’ (ha-Ìaverim ha-maqshivim le-qoli; e.g. 3ab, 52aa), ‘scholars’ (maskilim; fol. 54ab), among whom are ‘many great and excellent ones’ (gedolim ve-†ovim; fol. 52aa; also fol. 2bb, 3ab). He gives an inkling of their intellecElim, p. 19. be-Yisraˆel, p. 34aa. According to other accounts, Jaffe studied mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy during a ten-year stay in Italy; see Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, 41. Furthermore, according to Elbaum, Jaffe was not only a student of Isserles, himself a competent astronomer, but also of R. Matityahu Delacrut, an astronomer as well; see ibid., pp. 149, 215 (with n. 118). Delacrut translated into Hebrew the Image du monde by Gauthier de Metz, under the title ∑el ha-¨olam, a work that enjoyed great popularity after its first printing in 1733; see Rappel, Sheva¨ ha-Ìokhmot, pp. 95–7, 212– 3; Jacob Elbaum, ‘The Editions of Sefer ∑el ha-¨olam’ (Hebrew) Kiryat Sefer 47 (1972): 162–8. On Delacrut, see Fishman, ‘Rabbi Moshe Isserles and the Study of Science Among Polish Rabbis’, p. 575–6. The significance of Jaffe’s affirmation concerning his autodidactic mastery of astronomy thus needs investigation. In any event, Jaffe had a positive attitude to the study of philosophy and to astronomy (Elbaum, ibid., pp. 146, 169, 215, 263). 65 Israel himself never names any of his teachers, in either traditional or secular sciences. Wessely (above, n. 19), referring to Jewish scholars who came to Berlin after having mastered Hebrew works of science in Poland, writes that they were autodidacts. I suggest that he is referring exclusively to Israel. Should we conclude that Wessely had reliable information that Israel was an autodidact? I do not think so. Wessely apparently did not know Israel personally and seems to have derived his information from literary sources only: NY (the references to Yesod ¨olam and Elim) and Friedrich Nicolai’s well-known remarks about Israel, which he slightly misstated, however (see ‘Friedrich Nicolai’s Anmerkungen zu Moses Mendelsohn’s Briefwechsel mit Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’, in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Sämtliche Schriften, vol. 29 [Berlin and Stettin, 1828], p. 373). Wessely mentions ‘the sages of the Nations [who] have marvelled’ at the accomplishment of the Polish scholars, a remark that fits Nicolai’s observation on Israel.
64 Yeshu¨ah 63 Sefer


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

tual profile when he warns that his analyses in NY are not addressed to those who ‘have not mastered mathematics, still less to those who have no knowledge at all of this science’; rather, he says, ‘I address myself only to those who have studied the mathematical sciences in depth’ (52ab). Clearly, then, contemporary Zamosc counted some amateurs of science. Although the information at our disposal is scant, we can identify five or six persons with whom Israel had scientific and friendly exchanges. 1. One person whom Israel explicitly describes (fols. 15bb, 31bb, 41aa) as one ‘who listens to me’ is R. Eleazar Katz, originally from Stry but resident in Zamosc, ‘the son-in-law of the late rabbi of Zamosc’, meaning Aryeh Judah Leib b. YeÌiel of Lublin (see below).66 Israel describes Eleazar as extremely learned and possessed of ‘true erudition’, and he names him frequently (although only in halakhic, not scientific, contexts); in fact, NY includes some of the Eleazar’s novellae, which Israel learned by word of mouth (e.g. fols. 15bb, 41aa), as well as answers to queries raised by him (e.g. fols. 31bb, 45ab). Despite his erudition, Eleazar apparently never published anything.67 2. The only other person whom Israel explicitly describes as a friend ‘who listens to me’ is Dov Baer, the ‘son of the late rabbi of Zamosc’ (fols. 15bb, 31bb, 41aa, 45ba) – the same Aryeh Judah Leib b. YeÌiel of Lublin. Dov Baer, too, never seems to have written a book, but he gave approbations in 1747 (when he served as av bet din [head of the rabbinical court] in Kaznitz [Lublin district]), in 1775, and in 1777 (by which time he was av bet din in Lvov).68 3. Another scholar who was close to Israel is Aryeh Judah Leib b. YeÌiel of Lublin himself, the father-in-law and father of the two just mentioned, who headed the Zamosc rabbinical court for some four decades and held politically influential positions.69 He wrote one of the six approbations to NY, in which he refers not only to Israel’s erudition and commitment to learning, but also to conversations with him. He died a short time after writing that approbation (which is dated Monday, 9 Sivan [5]499 = June 15, 1739). In his Memories,70 Isaac Leib Peretz reports rumours he heard in his youth, according to which Israel used to spend time with two scholars, one of whom was ‘the rabbi of Zamosc’, who was versed ‘in all seven sciences’ (see below, p. 43): this probably refers to Aryeh Judah Leib rather than to his successor, R. Jacob Îarif, who arrived in Zamosc only shortly before Israel left it (see next paragraph). 4. NY also received an approbation from R. Jacob Isaac Îarif (Hochgelernter; ca. 1710–1770),71 who succeeded Aryeh Judah Leib b. YeÌiel as av bet din in Zamosc in

too the heading of Aryeh Judah Leib’s approbation to NY refers to him as ‘ha-rav ha-manoaÌ’ (NY, back of title page). does not appear in Mandelboim, ‘Îakhmei Zamoshtsh’ (n. 8). Mandelboim’s very detailed bibliography, with its rich annotation, is an extremely useful resource for the study of the intellectual history of Zamosc. 68  Mandelboim, ‘Îakhmei Zamoshtsh’, pp. 287 (No. 69), 246 (No. 20), 257 (No. 36). 69 Israel Lewin, ‘Le-toledot ha-yehudim be-Zamoshtsh’, in Zamoshtsh bi-geˆonah u-ve-shivrah, Moshe Tamari, ed. (Tel Aviv, 1953), pp. 33–73, on p. 45. 70 Peretz, Zikhroynes, p. 70; Zikhronotay, p. 86–7; My Memories, pp. 124 (truncated). 71  See Mandelboim, ‘Îakhmei Zamoshtsh’, 270; EJ, 7: 1338.
67 He

66 So

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1740 (the approbation is dated Tuesday, 25 Nissan [5]501 = April 11, 1741) and founded the dynasty of rabbis who would hold that position for almost a century.72 5. The friend about whom we know the most is R. Joel b. Uri Ba¨al Shem (the younger), who gave a warm haskamah to NY and who is described in its heading as ‘the author’s ally’ (ba¨al berit ha-meÌabber; fol. 3a). Joel Ba¨al Shem appreciated Israel’s scientific competence, for he describes his unpublished writings – with which he was obviously familiar – as ‘wondrous and precious’: Israel, he writes, ‘went up to the heaven and descended to the waters;… he reached from the ocean of the Talmud to the ocean of the lofty and occult [secular] sciences’ (fol. 3aa).73 This association between a ba¨al shem and the follower of Maimonides is less an alliance contre nature than one might think. It is true that Joel was not a staunch rationalist, but a healer and practitioner of folk-medicine, who used practical Kabbalah, amulets, and segullot.74 Still, he did not entirely shun rationalist philosophy and obviously had some sympathy for scientific study. The Sefer Toledot adam, to which he gave two approbations and which reports many of his own remedies, contains indications of his familiarity with and positive attitude toward rational knowledge. In his second approbation, Joel points out that the book describes not only remedies founded on tradition (such as amulets and segullot), but also ‘natural remedies, [i.e.,] remedies grounded in natural science [heqqesh ha-†eva¨, i.e., logically deduced from medical theory], which are true too, insofar as I could gather from the books composed by scholars of natural science’; he adds that it is needless to dwell on ‘the potency of the philosophizing’ of the latter.75 The (anonymous) compiler of Toledot adam also mentions biblical exegesis by Joel, drawing on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, and discussions based on information gleaned from Delmedigo’s Sefer Elim, indicating his familiarity with that book as well.76 Joel gave an approbation to the ethical treatise Tavnit ha-bayit (Frankfurt on the Oder, 1747) by the Zamosc resident Mordecai b. Meir Kalmanns; that book also received approbations from two other scholars with rationalist inclinations: Israel himself and R. David Fraenkel77 (1707–1762;
Halevi Horowitz, Sefer Kitvei ha-geˆonim (Piarkov, 1828), p. 140 (No. 6). Horowitz, a grandson of Jacob Hochgelernter, refers to Israel in approving terms, thus confirming that his image in the family was positive. See also Mandelboim, ‘Îakhmei Zamoshtsh’, pp. 266–7 (No. 45), 246–7 (No. 21); these entries make clear that Jacob Isaac Hochgelernter did not compose any works. 73 R. Joel’s approbation is dated Tuesday, 7 Elul [5]497 (= Sept. 3, 1737), misread in Shatzky, ‘Haskalah in Zamoshtsh’ (Yidd.), YIVO Bleter 36 (1952): 24–63, on p. 25 n. 2. 74 The ba¨alei shem, and in particular Joel Ba¨al Shem II (his grandfather’s name was also Joel), have been the subject of some scholarly interest recently. See: Immanuel Etkes, Ba¨al Hashem. The Besht: Magic Mysticism Leadership (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 2000), pp. 15–53 (41–50 on Joel); Michal Oron, Samuel Falk: The Baal Shem of London (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 2002); Karl Grözinger, ‘Jüdische Wundermänner in Deutschland’, in Judentum im deutschen Sprachraum, ed. Karl Grözinger (Frankfurt, 1991), pp. 190–221. Valuable material on Joel has been collected in Ba¨alei Shem, ed. Moshe Hillel (Jerusalem, [5]753 [= 1993]), pp. 155–79. 75  Sefer Toledot adam , ed. Moshe Hillel (Jerusalem, [5]754 [= 1994]), p. 157. Joel was not the author of Sefer Toledot adam, but it describes many of his own remedies and he was involved in its printing. 76  Ibid., pp. 49, 50. 77 Mandelboim, ‘Îakhmei Zamoshtsh’, pp. 287–8. Note that Joel gave an approbation also to the commentary on Avot by the Zamosc scholar Eliezer Lippman (Zó¥kiew, 1723), which had another approbation also from Aryeh Judah Leib of Lublin, one of Israel’s ‘friends’ (ibid., p. 275 [No. 52]). The social networks reflected in approbations are an important source for historical research, but which has hardly been used so far.
72 Zevi


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Fraenkel was Moses Mendelssohn’s teacher in Dessau and the instigator of the 1742 Jessnitz printing of the Guide of the Perplexed). An early historian of Zamosc, Zevi Halevi Horowitz, lists Israel and Joel among the four Zamosc scholars who were the first to combine Torah study with science.78 All this, together with Joel’s approbation for NY, praising its author’s scientific competence, suggests that Joel was at home in rationalist literature and did not consider it incompatible with his activities as a ba¨al shem.79 Israel, for his part, took some steps in the direction of his ‘ally’: as we have seen, he was not hostile to Kabbalah, and, like most persons of the time, accepted the existence of demons (shedim) as factual and endorsed astrology.80 Rationalist philosophy and popular mysticism and shamanism were not as opposed as their essentialist definitions sometimes (mis-)lead us to think: Israel and Joel were fellow travellers who shared some interests and commitments. Yet another of Israel’s associates was a synagogue sexton said to be competent in mathematics and astronomy but who unfortunately remains unidentifiable. This man is mentioned by I. L. Peretz in the course of a lively description of nightly scientific gatherings of Israel and his scientifically-minded friends. Although not an eyewitness account, it probably reflects the reality to some extent. After a story illustrating the absentmindedness of the rabbi of Zamosc – to whom he refers as ‘the Gaon’ and ‘Iron Head’ (aizerner kop) – Peretz writes:
And that very same Gaon was knowledgeable in seven sciences. He engaged, they tell, in disputations with the priest, in which the latter was always defeated…. And then there was also a synagogue sexton, a very poor fellow, with many children. And nobody knew what a figure this man in fact cut. For this Jew had devised ‘a new method of calculation’, allowing one to predict, ‘centuries in advance’, all the eclipses of the sun and all those of the moon. After his death, a correspondence on this subject which he conducted with the Paris Academy was discovered. 81 How much of all this is true, and what became of these writings, nobody knows. It is told that at midnight, this sexton and Rabbi Israel Zamosc, the author of the book On Nature (if I am not mistaken), would meet at the house of the ‘Iron Head’ and, after midnight, before dawn, discuss science.82
78  Horowitz, Sefer Kitvei ha-geˆonim, p. 138 n. b. The other two scholars are R. Solomon Chelm and R. Abraham ha-Kohen, on whom more below. Hayyim Dembitzer follows Horowitz in associating these four scholars; see his Sefer Kelilat yofi (Cracow, 1888), p. 180b. R. David Fraenkel was among those who gave approbations both to Chelm’s Mirkevet ha-mishneh and to Abraham ha-Kohen’s Bet Avraham: this, too, links together all these scholars in a social web with shared intellectual preferences. 79 Joel’s grandson, R. Wolff Baer Schiff, wrote a commentary on the tractate ¨Eruvin (Sefer MinÌat zikkaron ¨al Masekhet ¨Eruvin [Cracow, 1894]), in which he treats inter alia mathematical topics, as the title page explicitly states. In rabbinic families, traditions are usually long-lived, so Schiff’s interest in mathematics is not insignificant. Schiff, who was born in Zamosc in 1768 and is said in one approbation to have been great both in Torah scholarship and in ‘the science of arithmetic and geometry’ (p. Ib, [unnumbered]), began work on this book in 1792 (see p. IVb [unnumbered]), i.e. only half a century after the period here considered. 80  Demons: fol. 15ba; astrology: fol. 43ab. 81 Taken literally, this phrase refers to the Académie royale des sciences in Paris; but in the absence of any further information, this must remain very uncertain. Although we know nothing more about this figure, and although Peretz himself expresses doubts concerning the veracity of the reports he had heard, thei probably contain a grain of truth. 82 Peretz, Zikhroynes, pp. 70–1; Zikhronotay, pp. 87; truncated in Memories, p. 124. Peretz of course was mistaken with respect to the title of Israel’s work.

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Israel, then, was certainly not altogether isolated in Zamosc. Far from it. He counted among his friends a number of persons who belonged to the local elite: the old av bet din, Aryeh Judah Leib b. YeÌiel, as well as his son and his son-in-law; the new av bet din, Jacob Hochgelernter; the famous Joel Ba¨al Shem; and perhaps also the elusive, humble, but gifted synagogue sexton.83 Israel regularly discussed the problems that interested him with at least some of them: we noted that NY bears the stamp of his discussions with Eleazar Katz; more generally, Israel explicitly says that the ideas expounded in NY ‘have been winnowed through my own humble intellect and the intellect of the friends who listen to me’ (fol. 3ab). NY, we see clearly, was subjected to the critical scrutiny of Israel’s friends and is not the work of an isolated individual entirely cut off from his surrounding. The existence of a scientific ‘sub-culture’ in contemporary Zamosc is confirmed by R. Solomon b. Moses of Chelm (1717–1781), an outstanding scholar who was born and educated in Zamosc less than two decades after Israel. 84 In a well-known passage in the introduction to his magnum opus, Mirkevet ha-mishneh (a commentary on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah), Chelm writes that in his youth he studied arithmetic (‘integers and fractions’), algebra (‘pretty and handsome’),85 geometry (‘a touchstone and a foundation’), astronomy (‘a gate of hope in calculations and measurements prescribed by the Law’), natural science, philosophy, grammar, and logic.86 Chelm was also versed in medicine and knew a number of European languages, including Latin. 87 His mathematical competence is confirmed by the Qun†res berekhot be-Ìeshbon, which is appended at the end of Mirkevet ha-mishneh (i.e., after the commentary on Hilkhot melakhim) and which discusses various talmudic passages of mathematical significance. 88 More generother approbations to NY come from scholars who were not residents of Zamosc: One (dated Wednesday 7 Tammuz [5]501 = June 21, 1741) is by R. Moses b. Aaron of Lvov, who was living at the time in Frankfurt on the Oder; obviously it was acquired just prior Israel went to print there. A second haskamah (dated Friday, Rosh Ìodesh Îeshvan [5]501 = Oct. 21, 1740) is by Joseph b. Avigdor, av bet din in Treninrad, who clearly discerned that NY was ‘grounded on the foundations of truth and reason’. A third is by R. Aryeh Leib, who at the time of the approbation (dated Rosh Ìodesh MarÌeshvan [5]500 = Monday, Nov. 2, 1739) was chief rabbi of Amsterdam and only ‘passed through Zamosc’ on his way to Lublin; he takes care to emphasize, however, that he had subjected Israel to a close scrutiny (tahiti ¨al qanqano). See NY, unnumbered folio, on the back of the title page. 84  The most detailed account of R. Solomon Chelm is Abraham Brik, Rabbi Shelomo Îalma Ba¨al ‘Mirkevet ha-mishneh’ (Jerusalem, 5745 [= 1985]). Although rich in information, it is not entirely reliable. Very valuable is Joel Qa†an, ‘Introduction’, to Chelm’s Sefer ShulÌan tamid, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 5760 [=2000]), 18–34. See also Mahler, Divrei yemei Yisraˆel, 1: IV-25–6; Zinberg, History of Jewish Literature, 6: 241–3. 85 Chelm is certainly referring to MafteaÌ ha-algebra by Anschel Worms (Offenbach, 1722). 86  Mirkevet ha-mishneh (Frankfurt on the Oder, 1751), Introduction. 87 Solomon Chelm, Lev Shelomo 3:6 (Jerusalem, 5732 [= 1972]), p. 33b: ‘va-ani yada¨ti me¨a† birfuˆot’, followed by a discussion of Latin medical terminology; Qa†an, in Sefer ShulÌan tamid, p. 19. In the introduction to his famous map of the Land of Israel, Chelm explicitly states that it is his own translation ‘from a foreign language’ (leshon lo¨ez); see Îug ha-areÒ ha-shalem, ed. Shabbetai Rosenthal (Jerusalem, 5748 [= 1988]), p. 47. The sources of this map call for research. 88  The objective and method of this Qun†res obviously recall those of the ‘last quire’ of NY, which however is not mentioned. (Solomon Chelm seems to mention NY, albeit in a purely halakhic context, in Lev Shelomo 21:3, 121b–122a.). Brik (Rabbi Shelomo Îalma, p. 62, n. 76) states that the Qun†res berekhot be-Ìeshbon had been printed separately, before Mirkevet ha-mishneh, and was appended to the latter after it was printed. Qa†an rejects this claim as unfounded (Sefer ShulÌan tamid, p. 23 n. 27). In any event, just like Israel, R. Solomon Chelm believed that mathematical discussions were out of place in a work of halakhah.
83 The


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

ally, numerous passages drawing on almost all the sciences are interspersed throughout Chelm’s writings.89 Unlike Israel, and despite his dabbling in science, Chelm never found himself in conflict with his surroundings and continued to pursue a distinguished scholarly and political career in the very heart of the establishment (he was the rabbi of the district of Chelm, the town after he which he came to be called). Despite the (misguided) attempts of later maskilim and historians to enlist him in their cause and see him as a forerunner of the Haskalah, 90 he remains venerated in Orthodox circles to this day. From our perspective, the salient point is that Chelm acquired a thorough scientific education in the town of Zamosc less than two decades after Israel. We have information on one further Zamosc scholar of that era who is reported to have had a profound knowledge of philosophy and astronomy: Abraham ha-Kohen, the author of a volume of responsa entitled Beit Avraham.91 A brother-in-law of R. Solomon Chelm,92 he is clearly related to the circle of Zamosc amateurs of science. We should now consider another facet of Zamosc as a cultural centre, namely the existence of particularly large book collections in that town, and specifically the existence of a well-stocked public library.93 We have an explicit report from the midnineteenth century that the library of the local bet midrash possessed not only religious books but also ‘books of philosophy, Hebrew compositions on astronomy and mathematics – of course the ancient ones’.94 Somewhat later, in 1878, David Shiffman wrote that the library of the bet midrash contained 4,000 books: in addition to the traditional literature, also ‘philosophy and everything of learning and mathematics [Ìeshbon]’.95 This library was public property and administered by a voluntary society, which acquired new books and saw to the conservation of old ones.96 We do not know when this society was established, but it may well go back to the eighteenth century. There were also private book collections; that of R. Solomon Chelm is known to have been particularly large. Zamosc, then, was far from being a monolithic conservative stronghold in which Israel unaccountably blazed like a lone meteor in a dark sky. Rather, Israel had a number of allies with knowledge of secular sciences and we know of at least one other scholar who became well-versed in mathematics only a few years later. It has indeed long been noted that not long after the period studied here, Zamosc was one of the first Polish towns in which the Haskalah (or what was to become the Haskalah) appeared. In 1828, R. Zevi Halevi Horowitz, a grandson of Jacob Hochgelernter, wrote that Zamosc was ‘the first town in Poland in which philosophy and science found a home. Many of its greatest scholars studied religious philosophy, as well as
Rabbi Shelomo Îalma, pp. 61–7, 109–10, collected many passages. a survey see ibid., pp. 112–19. 91 Horowitz, Sefer Kitvei ha-geˆonim, p. 138 n. b. On Beit Avraham (Berlin, 1753) (non vidi), see Mandelboim, ‘Îakhmei Zamoshtsh’, p. 239. 92 Dembitzer, Sefer Kelilat yofi, p. 184b. 93 Shatzky, ‘Sfardim in Zamoshtsh’ (Yidd.), in Pinqas Zamoshtsh (Buenos Aires, 1957), p. 56. 94 Quoted in Judah Aryeh Klausner, ‘Zamoshtsh – the Birthplace of Peretz’ (Hebrew), He-¨avar 13 (Iyyar 5726 [= 1966]): 98–117, on p. 107 (a statement from 1869). 95 Quoted in ibid., p. 107. 96 Lewin, ‘Le-toledot ha-yehudim be-Zamoshtsh’, p. 57. See also Jacob Shatzky, ‘Haskalah in Zamoshtsh’, p. 26.
89 Brik, 90 For

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arithmetic, geometry, medicine, in addition to their Torah scholarship’.97 This was long before the German, Mendelssohnian, Haskalah spread to Poland.98 The question is: why Zamosc? What gave Jewish Zamosc this singularity? Specifically, how did Israel and his associates acquire their scientific instruction? I suggest that the answer to these questions is to be found in some distinctive characteristics of its history. Zamosc: The Sephardi Heritage Zamosc was founded by Jan Zamoyski (1541–1605), the future royal chancellor and grand hetman (commander in chief) of Poland.99 The son of a Calvinist senator, Zamoyski (who converted to Catholicism) was educated in France and Italy, especially Padua, where he served as rector of the university. Imbued with humanist culture, Zamoyski decided to found Zamosc as a town modelled on the ideas of the theorists of the Italian Quattrocento. He himself, together with the Paduan architect Bernardo Morando (1540 or 1541–1600), drew up the plan for the town in 1578. The new town, consisting of a fortress, a palace, a collegiate church, a court, and the centres of intellectual life (an academy and a printing-house), satisfied both ideological intentions (its plan reflects the harmonious structure of Zamoyski’s domain, ruled in accordance with the law by a wise and learned prince) and aesthetic values (its proportions are simple and harmonious, expressed in mathematical ratios).100 An integral part of this model town was the famous academy founded by Zamoyski, the third university in Poland: its statutes were approved in 1594 by Pope Clement VIII, one year before it opened (it closed in 1784).101 In an attempt to make Zamosc a centre of learning, Zamoyski brought scholars from Italy and elsewhere to teach the new science and humanism. To attract dynamic elements to the town, foreigners who settled in Zamosc were granted special privileges. In 1588 Zamoyski (who had encountered Jewish students in Padua) granted Jews of Iberian origin the right to settle in Zamosc and enjoy the same privileges as the other citizens.102 These privileges were extended only to
 Horowitz, Sefer Kitvei ha-geˆonim, p. 138 n. b. generation later, the town of Zamosc became a centre of early Haskalah; the first Jewish poet who wrote in German, Issachar Falkensohn Behr (1746–1817), the author of Gedichte von einem polnischen Juden (1772; see the recent edition by Andreas Wittbrodt [Göttingen, 2002], is held to have been born in Zamosc and to have been a relative of Israel’s. Raphael Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia, 1985), pp. 233–8, notes that Haskalah came early to Zamosc. But although he mentions Israel and R. Solomon Chelm, he deals with a later period than that treated here. 99  Zamoyski played an important role in bringing about the election of Stephen Báthory as king of Poland (Dec. 14, 1575) and subsequently in making Poland into a ‘democracy of the nobility’ grounded in the equality of all noblemen, the powers of the Sejm, the latter’s control over royal power, and religious tolerance. The following quotation is often attributed to him: ‘The king reigns, but does not govern’. 100  See Zamosc (about 90 km southeast of Lublin) is today on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. 101  On the Zamoyska Academy, see W kregu Akademickiego Zamoscia, ed. Henryk Gmiterek (Lublin: Wydawn. Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Sklodowskiej, 1996). For this reference I am indebted to Michael G. Müller (Halle). 102 For this and for what follows see Jacob Shatzki, ‘Sephardi Jews in Poland’ (Hebrew), in Tamari, Zamoshtsh bi-geˆonah u-ve-shivrah, pp. 11–28; Nathan M. Gelber, ‘On the History of the Sephardim in
98 A 97


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Sephardi Jews because, unlike the local Ashkenazim, they were merchants with international connections and a general culture already informed by the Renaissance. A specific provision allowed Jewish physicians who passed an examination before the Zamosc Academy and were awarded the title of ‘doctor’ to practice medicine and operate pharmacies.103 Thus, beginning in the late sixteenth century, Sephardi Jews from Turkey, Italy, and the Netherlands settled in Zamosc, creating an organized, though not very large, Sephardi community. Wealthy Jewish merchants from Constantinople, who had been living in Lvov, moved to Zamosc and ‘elevated it to the highest development’.104 This Sephardi community maintained a separate existence until sometime in the middle of the seventeenth century (the exact date is a matter of dispute), after which it merged into the Ashkenazi community through intermarriage. The intellectual legacy, however, seems to have survived its disappearance as a distinct organized body: R. Solomon Chelm, for one, is known to have had great interest in, and first-hand knowledge of, Sephardi rulings and customs and to have been in contact with Sephardi scholars.105 A number of Zamosc families, notably that of the writer I. L. Peretz (originally Pérez), kept the memory of their Sephardi origins alive.106 This all-too-brief account of the history of Zamosc, in particular of Jewish Zamosc, is sufficient to suggest several aspects of an answer to our question. The first is the presence in Zamosc of a Sephardi community, whose members arrived from three important Jewish centres of learning – Turkey in the Muslim East and Italy and the Netherlands in the Christian West. These immigrants may be assumed to have brought with them the legacy of the medieval Jewish culture that flourished in Spain: They were open to the study of the ‘foreign sciences’ and they helped diffuse medieval and post-medieval Hebrew texts printed in the three Jewish centres of learning. Presumably they also brought with them manuscripts of still-unprinted works.107 Last but not least, they may have perpetuated oral traditions of the study of the various sciences. The last two points bear special emphasis: as noted, Israel used manuscripts of scientific works, the fruits of the medieval Sephardi heritage, which were rather rare in Eastern Europe at the time (above, p. 39). These manuscripts may very well have been brought to Zamosc by the Sephardim. Assuming, furthermore, that it is very difficult or impossible to study mathematics and astronomy without a teacher,
Poland’ (Hebrew), in: OÒar yehudei Sefarad, vol. 6 (Jerusalem, 1963), pp. 88–98, on pp. 94–8; Alexander Gutterman, ‘Sephardi Jews on the Polish Soil’ (Hebrew), Pe¨amim 18 (1984): 53–79; Klausner, ‘Zamoshtsh’. 103 Shatzki, ‘Sephardi Jews in Poland’, p. 24; Gelber, ‘On the History’, p. 95; Gutterman, ‘Sephardi Jews’, p. 64. 104 Horowitz, Sefer Kitvei ha-geˆonim, p. 139. 105  Brik, Rabbi Shelomo Îalma, pp. 32ff. This of course refers to Chelm’s knowledge prior to his leaving Poland on his way east. The fact that Chelm chose to have the second edition of Mirkevet hamishneh printed in the east also points to his ties with Sephardi Judaism. 106 Gutterman, ‘Sephardi Jews’, p. 70. No attempt has been made to study systematically the Sephardi intellectual legacy in Zamosc. This subject calls for further research. 107 In his well-known ethical will, R. Judah Ibn Tibbon makes clear the supreme value he ascribes to the transmission of books from father to son. See Israel Abrahams, Hebrew Ethical Wills (Philadelphia, 1926; repr. 1976), pp. 51–99, on 57–8, 80–2. This document was composed in the middle of the twelfth century, but presumably reflects an enduring social norm.

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we may conjecture that the population of Zamosc included families of Sephardi extraction that owned scientific manuscripts and passed down the tradition of studying them from father to son. This hypothesis – and at this stage it is no more than that – allows us to understand how Israel was introduced to the study of science and how he had access to a comprehensive collection of Hebrew scientific works of science, including some that existed in manuscript only. Another aspect is the possible influence of the non-Jewish environment on Jewish learning. Zamosc of the early eighteenth century was still a relatively important centre with a cosmopolitan atmosphere, in which some Jews had far-flung international commercial connections. This may have had consequences for Jewish intellectual life. For one thing, although most Polish Jews could read only Hebrew and Yiddish,108 things were different in Zamosc. We have already mentioned that Solomon Chelm knew a number of languages; so, evidently, did others educated in the town.109 Peretz gives us an idea of the social mechanism that may have been at work and may have allowed the progressive cultural climate in Zamosc to affect the Jews, too. His maternal great-grandfather, he recounts, who owned a warehouse for goods imported from overseas and from Leipzig, dealt with ‘Prince Zamoyski’ (apparently a descendant of the founder of the town) as an equal (‘face to face’) and spoke German ‘like a stream of water flowing downhill’.110 We also have some information about Jewish physicians in Zamosc who had studied in Padua and in Frankfurt on the Oder111: no details are available, but we can surmise that those of them who passed the examination set by the Zamosc Academy (p. 47) had studied at a university. Peretz’s report of the alleged exchange of letters between the synagogue sexton and the ‘Academy in Paris’ (above, p. 43) and of discussions between the local rabbi and a priest (in which the latter was regularly bested, of course),112 whatever their historical kernel, also reflect a relatively open atmosphere. All this suggests that some members of the Jewish community may have interacted with their non-Jewish surrounding. Nevertheless, the Zamosc Academy never enrolled any Jewish students (except for five converted ones)113 and the path to serious intellectual exchanges was fraught with difficulties.114 It is indeed important to emphasize that the body of scientific knowledge itself reflected in NY was clearly limited to that transmitted by the
108 The paper by Daniel Stone, ‘Knowledge of Foreign Languages among Eighteenth-Century Polish Jews’, in Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, vol. 10: Jews in Early Modern Poland, ed. Gershon David Hundert (London, 1997), pp. 200–18, is not very helpful here. 109 R. Abraham Cohen, the author of the responsa Bet Avraham (above, n. 91) knew Latin; see Horowitz, Sefer kitvei ha-geˆonim, p. 138 n. b. 110 Peretz, Zikhroynes, p. 50; Zikhronotay, pp. 61–2; My Memories, pp. 91–2. 111 Shatzky, ‘Haskalah in Zamosc’, pp. 26–7. One of the physicians who studied in Frankfurt informs us that he had studied ‘medicine’ in the yeshiva in Zamosc (ibid., p. 27), which may refer to popular medicine practised by ba¨alei shem, one of whom, as we saw, was Israel’s ‘ally’. 112 Peretz, Zikhroynes, p. 70; Zikhronotay, p. 87; My Memories, p. 124. See above, p. 43. 113 Henryk Gmiterek, ‘Ze studiów nad struktura wyznaniowa mlodziezy Akademii Zamoyskiej (1595– 1784)’, Res Historica (Lublin) 10 (2000): 221–31, on p. 231. I am indebted to Sebastian Sobecki (Cambridge) for his helpful advice on this subject. 114 See, e.g., Salomon Maimon’s remarks in his Lebensgeschichte, I, 13, ed. Batscha, p. 73. Franzos, Der Pojaz (n. 2), impressively describes the obstacles in the path of a Jewish youth who wanted to learn a foreign language.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Hebrew textual corpus: no traces of knowledge appropriated from the non-Jewish culture are discernible in NY and Israel knew only Hebrew and Yiddish. Israel occasionally alludes to Gentiles who ‘mock us’, saying, ‘where is your wisdom?’ (fols. 24bb, 40ba), but this sounds more like the repetition of an entrenched literary topos than a product of his personal experience.115 It thus seems that the non-Jewish environment at most kindled or encouraged the Zamosc Jews’ interest in science, but did not contribute to it substantively. The issue obviously calls for further study. The Polish town of Zamosc, then, especially Jewish Zamosc, was sui generis. Established by a prince imbued with the enlightened spirit of the Italian Renaissance, the prevailing social and intellectual conditions were unique. Its Sephardi community presumably brought with it a tradition of studying the profane sciences, which was sustained by its enduring international connections. As a result, a sub-culture characterized by an attitude of (relative) openness toward science and philosophy apparently existed within the more traditionalist, ‘mainstream’, Jewish culture of Zamosc. It is within this sub-culture that Israel could emerge and find his ‘allies’ and friends who ‘listened’ to him. In a word, the Sephardi heritage created the conditions necessary for acquiring knowledge of philosophy and science in eighteenth-century Zamosc. Why was R. Israel b. Moses Halevi Hounded out of Zamosc? Despite the Sephardi heritage, not everyone in Zamosc shared Israel’s passion for science. Far from it. As we saw, the strong opposition to Israel in Zamosc, of which he complains bitterly in the Introduction to NY, ultimately induced him to leave the town for good. Unfortunately, what we know about this conflict derives exclusively from Israel himself, and no independent sources are known. The fact that Israel does not name any of his detractors makes it impossible to identify the conservative individuals or circles that harassed him. Still, we should ask what caused the antagonism he experienced? The answer is less obvious than has been assumed. It stands to reason that the antagonism toward Israel had something to do with his commitment to science. Note that none of the haskamot, except that of Joel Ba¨al Shem, specifically lauded his scientific erudition and efforts to bring the Talmud and science together. Certainly many of his contemporaries were suspicious of the very study of ‘foreign sciences’: in these circles, drawing on mathematics in a halakhic work was perceived as ipso facto subversive, whether or not it was so intended.116 But his scientifically inspired talmudic exegesis cannot be the sole cause of the antipathy shown Israel. This traditional notion of the causes for his feud with his native town is refuted by the fact that, as we saw, he had a number of influential ‘friends’
Harris, How Do We Know This? p. 140: ‘Zamosc’s response shows little awareness of, or concern for, the judgment of the outside world…. I can see no concern for that world’s view of Jews and Judaism’. 116 Salomon Maimon, writing half a century after the events, seems to have sensed this: ‘Natürlicherweise war unserem Rabbi Israel mehr an Verbreitung nützlicher Kenntnisse unter seiner Nation als an der Erklärung oder Bestimmung eines Gesetzes gelegen, dessen er sich bloss als eines Vehikels bediente’ (Maimon, Lebensgeschichte, p. 158).
115 Cf.

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who ‘listened’ to him. It is also contradicted by the case of R. Solomon Chelm, only 17 years younger than Israel, who, like Israel, studied the sciences and even appended a mathematical disquisition to his major halakhic work – which did not prevent him from having had a distinguished career in which he became the rabbi of the whole district of Chelm, and for several years even of Zamosc itself. We must conclude that Israel’s exclusion was not a consequence of his interest in science as such. In an approbation he gave in 1745, Israel provides an insightful analysis of social reactions to innovation. There can be little doubt that here he expressed his personal experience. Someone who wants to publish a halakhic novella (devar halakhah), he notes, is met with an outcry: ‘How does today differ from yesterday, that you want your name to be applied to a [new] truth? You are young; how dare you speak up in front of the elders? Do you know something we do not know?’ Should this scholar ‘persist in his innocent wish to teach what God has put in his heart and ignore the gossipmongers’, he is slandered and vilified. ‘In sum: the newcomer is beaten and battered from all sides’.117 Innovation per se was badly received in some quarters, those of which Israel complains so bitterly in the Introduction to NY. ‘Ìadash asur min ha-Torah’ – ‘the Torah forbids innovation’ – the Îatam Sofer (1762–1839) would say half a century later, epitomizing a certain dominant mentality. But this is not the whole story and the usual resistance to innovation is not the only reason for the opposition Israel encountered. Israel’s innovations, we must appreciate, were not on a par with those of other talmudic scholars. At issue were above all the sources of legitimate knowledge. We saw that Israel considered science to be the Great Luminary that allows the light of Tradition, the Small Luminary, to pass from potentiality to actuality. The view that in order to be apprehended Tradition requires the light of science introduced a difference of principle between Israel’s innovations and those of the other scholars. The latter all debated sugyot within a closed universe of discourse – that of the Talmud and its interpreters and codifiers. Arguments could be constructed only out of premises derived from and sanctioned by the traditional authoritative texts of Judaism. Israel, by contrast, drew on external premises, not part of the talmudic discourse itself, but rather derived from science. Furthermore, as a faithful student of Maimonides and the rationalist Hebrew philosophical tradition, he regarded the mathematical sciences as affording certain, incontrovertible truths that were not open to doubt or discussion. The basis for Israel’s interpretations of talmudic passages (both halakhah and aggadah) is thus a sort of Archimedean point located outside the Talmud itself. For him, not only the traditional Jewish texts are authoritative; so too are scientific works – and their authority is, indeed, superior. It is precisely the validity and legitimacy of this interpretive horizon that were rejected by the traditionalists, few of whom could hope to benefit from the light afforded by science. They interpreted the same texts as Israel did, but from an utterly incompatible stance. Israel was thus, literally, an outsider to the community of most students of the Talmud in Zamosc, his few allies excluded. Little wonder that he regarded his critics as ‘imbeciles’ and ‘idiots’, who, the less they were learned, the more they hated him (fol. 1aa). ‘This is the way of our fellowmen: with the whip of their treacherous

 Tavnit ha-bayit, fol. 56a.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

tongues they put to death each and every [scholar] who has penetrated into the inner court of investigation [an allusion to the Guide 3:51]’ (fol. 1aa).118 These scholars ‘disparage all science and all knowledge that is hidden from them’ and call the sciences ‘foolishness’. Israel comments with sarcasm that they hope to merit the World to Come by virtue of ‘not having ever tasted the taste of any science, nor ever seen the light of reason. They think that by virtue of this [ignorance] they deserve a great reward. So far did the stupidity and the jealousy of these people reach’ (fol. 3aa). A small detail noted by Israel is telling in this context. The famous allegedly talmudic dictum asserting that, in the dispute about the correct cosmology, ‘the sages of the nations of the world vanquished [those of Israel]’ – a classic proof-text adduced by Maimonides and many later writers to legitimate the ‘foreign’ sciences – ‘is not found in our books here’, Israel writes, adding that he knows it only through the citation in Maimonides’ Guide (2:8) (fol. 33bb).119 Thus, even the talmudic text itself was in dispute. The trust in the infallibility of science – recall that he referred to the intellect as ‘my son’ (above, p. 31) – gave Israel an immoderate measure of self-assurance when dealing with interpretations based on it. We noted that Israel believed the Sages to have held true cosmological views, which had been misinterpreted by certain later authorities. Particularly outrageous for Israel were comments by Rashi and R. Samuel Ashkenazi suggesting that the Sages held the earth to be flat,120 a cosmological stance Israel describes in no uncertain terms as ‘an extremely specious and wicked view’ (fol. 56ab). Israel realized, of course, that these scholars ascribed to the Sages the cosmology they themselves thought correct (fol. 49aa–ab) and was thus aware that he was criticizing both their cosmology and their talmudic scholarship. ‘How can a marvellous scholar like [the Yefeh toˆar, i.e., R. Samuel Ashkenazi]… be led to ascribe to the Sages such a bizarre and outrageous view, which is as far from the truth as the apex of the daily sphere is from the centre of the earth?’ (fol. 24bb), he asks rhetorically. ‘Would that the Yefeh toˆar could rise from the dead so that I could face him and confront him’ (fol. 56bb). He says that he sets out ‘to fight God’s wars in the camp of truth and the camp of the Sages’ and thus ‘break the bows of [Ashkenazi’s] proofs’; his own view is ‘the opposite of that of the Yefeh toˆar’ (fol. 24bb). Of Rashi’s cosmology he similarly says that it is ‘extremely difficult to understand and refuted by strong arguments’ (fol. 24ba). ‘I cannot fathom
118 The principled singularity of Israel’s scientifically grounded novellae goes unnoticed in Harris, How Do We Know This?, p. 140: ‘Despite his bold introduction, his talmudic novellas read like those of his contemporaries, his frequent recourse to science notwithstanding’. This view does not allow one to understand the bitter opposition Israel encountered (why should a book of standard novellae be dubbed ReÒaÌ Yisraˆel?), which Harris indeed leaves unmentioned. 119 R. Pinchas Eliyahu Hurwitz, in 1797, alludes to this same fact, but from the opposite stance: he thinks Maimonides fell victim to a scribal error. See Sefer ha-Berit 2:10 (Jerusalem, [5]750 [= 1990]), pp. 47–8. This statement is indeed not in the current editions of the Talmud (PesaÌim 94b), as Munk noted long ago (Le Guide des égarés [Paris, 1856–1866), 2: 79, n. 1). See also the editor’s erudite note in Abraham Maimonides, ‘Maˆamar ¨al odot derashot Îazal’, in MilÌamot ha-Shem, ed. Reuben Margaliyot (Jerusalem, 1953), p. 88. A list of medieval and post-medieval discussions of this passage is given in Isadore Twersky, ‘Joseph ibn Kaspi. Portrait of a Medieval Jewish Intellectual’, in idem, ed., Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), pp. 231–57, on p. 256 n. 52. 120 See notably fols. 24ba–bb, 32bb–33bb, 34ab–34bb, 49aa–49ab, 56aa.

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that anyone who has a brain in his head would think this midrash should be taken literally’, he writes elsewhere (fol. 56ba). Such vehement criticism of authoritative scholars would presumably have been unthinkable if based on intra-talmudic premises only. It was made possible by the fact that Israel considered that mathematics afforded demonstrations of its statements.121 His outspokenness, grounded in the certainty he derived from science, must have been perceived as impudence by those around him. The very source of Israel’s self-assurance was thus the reason for his rejection: the introduction into the closed talmudic discourse of ‘external’ premises, borrowed, moreover, from the science of the Gentiles, necessarily irritated his contemporaries in Zamosc. This, and not science per se, is what brought down the wrath on his head. Another element that presumably played a role is Israel’s social position. The title page of NY alludes to the financial difficulties that beset Israel throughout most of his life: as usual in those days, he had to bear the printing costs, and thanks his brother, PinÌas Lafa†nir of Brody, for his financial assistance,122 promising to have his other books printed as soon as his material situation allows (it never did).123 Whereas Solomon Chelm was wealthy and a member of the upper crust of Zamosc Jewish society, Israel, with his humble origins (above, p. 27), was at the bottom of the social ladder. This in all likelihood played a role when it came to tolerating his innovations and criticism. Nor was Israel’s vehement censure of those who use the study of Torah to enrich themselves (fol. 2a) likely to endear him to his fellow Talmud scholars in Zamosc.124 Finally, the fact that Israel seems to have been unmarried125 and childless126 – a rare condition for that time – confirms the impression that he was a social loner. Indeed, as an outsider, Israel was never ‘appointed a rabbi’ (fol. 2ba); on the title page of NY he describes himself as being only ‘one of the teachers [melammedim] at the yeshiva [or: a yeshiva] in Zamosc’.
 Israel carefully distinguishes between scientific disciplines that provide demonstrations (mofetim Ìazaqim u-verurim) and the others that afford ‘evidence’ only (reˆayot bilevad); see NY 1ba. 122  PinÌas Lafa†nir seems to have been a wealthy man. Israel calls him ‘our teacher’ (m.h.v.r.r.) and describes him as ha-rosh we-ha-qaÒin ha-torani and as a nagid: this seems to mean that he was learned and powerful, and one of the leaders of the Brody community. In the last two decades or so of his life, Israel lived in Brody off and on over periods of time; it seems that it was his wealthy brother who supported him then. 123 Israel’s failure to publish Arubbot ha-shamayim is probably not due to economic factors only. In the commentary on RuaÌ Ìen, written in Berlin between 1741 and 1744, Israel writes that he will add new, updated, chapters to his astronomical work written when he still was in Zamosc: he clearly sensed that Arubbot was outdated and needed updating. Later, notably after the publication of David Gans’ NeÌmad ve-na¨im in 1743, he must have realized that the work was obsolete beyond repair, whereupon, I suppose, he (wisely) gave up this project altogether. It is another question why the commentaries on the Kuzari and Îovot ha-levavot were not published by Israel during his lifetime. 124  This criticism goes some way toward explaining Israel’s depressing material situation: we have it from Aryeh Judah Leib of Lublin, the rabbi of Zamosc, that Israel devoted himself entirely to scholarship: ‘His Torah is his craft all days, and he never left the Tent of the Torah’ (unnumbered folio, back of title page). 125  Jewish scholars who came to Berlin in the 1740s to find a place as a ‘Hauslehrer’ in a wealthy family had to be unmarried. 126  NY, fol. 2bb, alludes to this in the phrase ‘lo †ov heyot ha-adam holekh ¨ariri le-vet ¨olamo // ki gever yamut ve-yeÌelash ve-avad shemo’. The fact that Israel called intellect ‘my son’ (above, p. 31) can perhaps be interpreted as confirming that he had no biological children.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Yet what seems to have elicited the strong opposition to Israel, more than anything else, is that he was not only enlightened, but was fuelled by the desire to enlighten others as well. His confidence that he had access to truth itself moved him with a zeal to get his contemporaries to follow him, to awaken them from the ‘slumber of ignorance’ (fol. 42bb). Israel himself attests that this is how his contemporaries perceived him (fol. 2ba–bb): they viewed him, he says, as a man waging war on his surroundings, as ‘a prophet’ (ke-naviˆ ve-Ìozeh) imbued with God’s spirit, who has the ambition ‘to cleanse the filth of the sons of our time’, and who publicly censured men ‘who are greater and better than himself’. They were scandalized by the fact that, although his family was of no distinction, Israel saw himself ‘elevated above the entire public’, confident that God had ‘anointed him’ and endowed him with ‘superior understanding’ (fol. 2bb). Far from contenting himself with the social role of a scholar producing novellas by applying science to the Talmud, Israel saw himself as a reformer, a critic of the spiritual cum social state of contemporary Jews. This characteristic trait is very marked in Israel’s life in Zamosc, as reflected in the introduction to NY; it also comes to the fore in the enigmatic Nezed ha-dema¨ (date of composition unknown).127 In his endeavours to enlighten others, Israel already belonged to what would become the Haskalah movement: a gulf separates those who can be deemed ‘early maskilim’ merely because they acquired an education in the ‘foreign’ sciences and those who also sought to teach them to others, with a view to reforming Judaism.128 It was this aspect of his conduct, above all, that aroused the antagonism of his contemporaries in Zamosc. Jacob Shatzky’s spirited comment that Israel’s maskilism was far from militantishkeit (activism)129 must be inverted: it was precisely his militantishkeit, clearly perceived by conservative circles, that earned Israel the cognomen ReÒaÌ Yisrael. Conclusion: Israel’s Place in the History of Early Modern Jewish Science Israel was a product of his time and place, but he was also a bold innovator. On the one hand, he acquired his knowledge of Hebrew science and philosophy in Zamosc, where he had a small group of like-minded friends. They all benefited from a small
Friedlander, Be-misterei ha-sa†irah, p. 24. distinction is not always made. Take only one example: by virtue of their shared interest in science, Israel and Solomon Chelm are often lumped together as ‘early maskilim.’ But, as the introduction to Mirkevet ha-mishneh makes clear, the idea of imparting his scientific knowledge to others never crossed Chelm’s mind; quite the contrary, he gave up the study of the sciences himself. Israel and Chelm are thus ‘maskilim’ in very different senses. For a similar viewpoint see Immanuel Etkes, ‘Immanent Factors and External Influences in the Development of the Haskalah Movement in Russia’, in Toward Modernity: The European Jewish Model, ed. Jacob Katz (New Brunswick and Oxford, 1987), pp. 13–32, on 20–1. Etkes perceptively observes that Israel, like R. Barukh of Shklov some forty years later, ‘shared a common resolve to propagate scientific knowledge among the Jews’. In terms of his ideal-type model of the Haskalah, he consequently classifies both as belonging to an ‘intermediate phase’ in that thei ‘did not [yet] link the dissemination of scientific knowledge with a program or vision of a radical change in Jewish society and its relation to the surrounding’. In this precise sense, Israel, but not Chelm, can be viewed as a ‘forerunner’ of the Haskalah, rather than as a mere ‘early maskil’. On the distinction between the two notions see, e.g., Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 2002), pp. 46–56. 129 Shatzky, ‘Haskalah in Zamoshtsh’, p. 25.
128 This 127 See

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local sub-culture that had a favourable view of secular knowledge and allowed individuals to acquire some proficiency in it. This sub-culture, as we have seen, may have been the fruit of a Sephardi heritage. Yet, although ‘progressive’ in the context of eighteenth-century Polish Judaism, Israel’s science was hopelessly outdated: half a century after the publication of Newton’s Principia, his scientific sources, all in Hebrew, were still almost exclusively medieval. The only exception is Joseph Delmedigo’s Sefer Elim, but Israel never alludes to any of its post-medieval ideas, notably heliocentric cosmology. In fact, the most ‘modern’ statement to be found in NY is an allusion to the gun (or cannon).130 The literary form of NY, too, the discussion of sugyot, is traditional. Indeed, it can be said that the content of NY, its matter, was medieval Sephardi, whereas the method, or the form, was that of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Polish halakhic inquiry, giving NY the appearance of a conservative work. Yet this conservative work harboured a radical message. Israel innovated in methodically applying science to all talmudic passages he deemed problematic. The primacy he ascribed to science inevitably led him to criticize important authorities, notably Rashi and Samuel Ashkenazi. This gave NY a considerable subversive potential, which derived from its author’s faith in the power of reason, and especially in mathematics. The singularity of NY is the boldness of the scientifically based criticism of revered authorities. Medieval Hebrew science, associated as it was with the names of great and venerated sages, enjoyed legitimacy even within conservative circles. Its classic texts could thus serve as instruments of progress.131 Israel himself owed them his scientific-rationalist frame of mind and his commitment to science, and they also provided him with rhetorical tools, legitimized by tradition, to be used in addressing the community of Talmud scholars. This is the paradox: in Western Europe, the medieval heritage was shaken off in the first half of the seventeenth century; but in Zamosc (and in Jewish culture in Poland generally), more than a century later, medieval Hebrew science was used to promote progress. Later maskilim, too, employed this traditional rhetoric, presenting modern ideas in commentaries on classics of the Jewish rationalist tradition: e.g., Israel’s own commentary on RuaÌ Ìen (1744), Mendelssohn’s commentary on Maimonides’ Millot ha-higgayon (Logical Terminology) (1762, 1766), Satanow’s edition of and commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (1790), and Solomon Maimon’s commentary on the Guide of the Perplexed (1791). What, then, is Israel’s place in the history of early modern Jewish scientific thought? Does not the fact that almost two centuries after Copernicus’ death, and a century after Galileo and Joseph Delmedigo, Israel was still drawing on medieval science in an effort to improve Talmud interpretation ipso facto exclude him from the
130 Thunder is compared to the noise produced by the explosion of ‘the powder’ in ‘a confined place’ as found in guns (or cannons) (fol. 53aa). 131 This point was forcefully made by the late Amos Funkenstein, in his ‘Das Verhältnis der jüdischen Aufklärung zur mittelalterlichen jüdischen Philosophie’, in Aufklärung und Haskala in jüdischer und nichtjüdischer Sicht, ed. Karlfried Gründer and Nathan Rotenstreich (Heidelberg, 1990), pp. 13–21; incorporated into his Perceptions of Jewish History (Berkeley, 1993), 234–47.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

history of science? Can the history of the use of long-obsolete theories be considered as a part of the history of science? One obvious reason that Israel deserves a place in the annals of Hebrew scientific thought is his role in linking the German Haskalah to the tradition of medieval Hebrew science. It is well known that the young Mendelssohn studied Hebrew and Jewish philosophy with Israel shortly after both of them arrived in Berlin. Of their common study we possess palpable, poignant testimony in the form of parts of Israel’s commentary on the Kuzari, copied in Mendelssohn’s hand.132 The late Alexander Altmann, Mendelssohn’s biographer, commented that Mendelssohn’s commentary on Maimonides’ Millot ha-higgayon ‘could hardly have been written had he not been the disciple of [Israel] Zamosc’.133 Less well known, but no less important, is the similar formative influence that Israel exerted on another early maskil, Aaron Salomon Gumpertz (Emmerich; 1723–1769). Gumpertz was the first Jew in Germany to be involved in modern science on an equal footing: between 1751 and 1754 he was the personal secretary of Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698–1759), the great Newtonian scientist who was then president of the Berlin Academy of Science, and also of Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens (1704–1771). He was competent enough in mathematical optics to be involved in the achromatism controversy between John Dollond and Leonhard Euler, and he revised and updated a new edition of a contemporary medical treatise.134 His only published Hebrew book, Megalleh sod (Hamburg, 1765), which appeared only toward the end of his life but was written much earlier, reveals the author’s familiarity not only with the medieval philosophical corpus (Saadia, Maimonides, Albo), but also with more recent Polish Torah authorities, precisely those we have encountered in NY – Isserles, Jaffe, etc. – whom Gumpertz probably studied with Israel.135 This work, which a perceptive historian has characterized as a Kampfschrift136 and that exerted some influence on the
132 Mendelssohn at first copied the commentary on the margins of the Basel 1660 edition of the Kuzari published by Johannes Buxtorf ‘the younger' (1599–1664) and later on sheets inserted in the book. The manuscript was separated into several parts of which two are known to survive: New York, JTS Mic. 2520 and Warsaw, Jewish Historical Institute 1215 (= Jerusalem, Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Nos. 28773 and 10113 [also 31022], respectively). Israel’s commentary on the Kuzari, entitled OÒar neÌmad, was published after his death by his nephew YeruÌam Baer (Vienna, 1796). It has become one of the standard commentaries. 133 Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn. A Biographical Study (London, 1998), p. 22. 134 As I recently discovered, Gumpertz is also the author of the anonymous Schreiben eines Juden an einen Philosophen nebst der Antwort, the first call in Germany for a complete equality of civil status for the Jews in Germany (1753); see: Gad Freudenthal, ‘Aaron Salomon Gumpertz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and the First Call for an Improvement of the Civil Rights of Jews in Germany (1753)’, AJS Review 29 (2005): 299–353; idem, ‘New Light on the Physician Aaron Salomon Gumpertz: Medicine, Science and Early Haskalah in Berlin’, Zutot 3 (2003): 59–70; Hans Lausch, ‘A. S. Gumpertz und die Académie royale des sciences et des belles-lettres in Berlin. Zum Ausbruch der Euler-Dollondschen Achromasie-Kontroverse’, Bulletin of the Leo Baeck Institute 88 (1991): 11–26; idem, ‘ “The Ignorant Hold Back Their Judgment and Await the Conclusions of the Knowing”: Moses Mendelssohn and Other Mathematicians’, Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism 2 (2002): 93–109. See also the contribution by Thomas Kollatz in this volume. 135 J[oseph] Eschelbacher, ‘Die Anfänge allgemeiner Bildung unter den deutschen Juden vor Mendelssohn’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Juden. Festschrift zum siebzigsten Geburtstage Martin Philippsons (Leipzig, 1916), pp. 168–77, on 174–6. 136 Ibid., p. 176.

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Berlin Haskalah (Mendelssohn lauded it in the introduction to chapter 14 of his commentary on Millot ha-higgayon), is also indebted to Israel’s input. Israel was thus a conduit through which medieval Hebrew science and the rationalist tradition, as studied in Poland, helped mould the Berlin Haskalah. This contribution certainly earns Israel a place in the annals of Jewish scientific thought. Israel also deserves a place in the history of science as the author of the forwardlooking commentary on RuaÌ Ìen, the medieval companion volume to Maimonides’ Guide. In this commentary, which Israel published in Jessnitz in 1744, he presented, for the first time ever in Hebrew, some aspects of qualitative modern science that he had acquired from German sources.137 But Israel merits a secure place in the history of Hebrew science for a more important reason as well, namely, as the outstanding figure of a largely invisible scientific tradition. Our inquiry has revealed that he was heir to a long tradition of scientific study in Poland – a tradition that flourished particularly in Zamosc but was found elsewhere, too. It can be traced back to R. Moses Isserles and to R. Judah Loew b. BeÒalel, the Maharal, and was alive and well in the work of various great authorities who were their direct or indirect disciples.138 These authorities, who in their different ways were favourably inclined toward science, are Israel’s interlocutors: they legitimate the study of the ‘alien’ sciences and their application to talmudic exegesis. These halakhists embody the Hebrew scientific tradition in that period: although they wrote almost no works on mathematics or astronomy and touched on scientific topics only in halakhic contexts and en passant (so that their science is mostly applied science), they had some knowledge in these disciplines and transmitted it to their students. Their halakhic works are the venue of sixteenth-century Hebrew science. To be sure, this is not innovative science and it lags far behind contemporary non-Jewish science; still, it constitutes a scientific tradition that should be studied as a historical phenomenon in its own right. Insofar as science is concerned, Israel is doubtless the most brilliant product of this tradition. As such he occupies a central place in the annals of Hebrew science in Poland. The study of Israel’s scientific work in Zamosc in turn casts important light on that tradition. Last but not least, our study of NY and of the milieu in which it was produced suggests that the tradition of Polish halakhists who were (mildly) favourable to Maimonides’ philosophy and to the study of science 139 helped create the conditions
137  See above, n. 7. It must be noted that the science Israel assimilated in Berlin is limited to (notably Wolffian) qualitative-empirical science, i.e., to what the late Thomas S. Kuhn called ‘Baconian science’, to be distinguished from science in the mathematical tradition. See his ‘Mathematical versus Experimental Traditions in the Development of Physical Science’, in The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (Chicago, 1979), pp. 31–65. A close reading of Israel’s commentary on RuaÌ Ìen reveals that the mathematics of Galilean (not to mention Newtonian) physics were much beyond his reach and that even on a qualitative level he totally misunderstood Newton’s Law of Gravity. See my “R. Israel Zamosc's Encounter with Early Modern Science (Berlin, 1744): The Subversive Commentary on RuaÌ Îen and the Birth of a New Conservative", in: Thinking Impossibilities: The Legacy of Amos Funkenstein, ed. S. Westman and David Biale (Toronto, forthcoming). 138  For a comprehensive overview of this tradition and the various historiographic problems connected with its assessment see Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery, chapter 2. 139  On this tradition see Herbert A. Davidson, ‘Medieval Jewish Philosophy in the Sixteenth Century’, in Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Bernard Dov Cooperman (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), pp. 106–45.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

for the reception of early modern science in the early Haskalah in Poland. In other words, these sixteenth-century traditionalist, but neo-Maimonidean halakhists (as we might call them) created the terrain on which the innovating ‘heroes’ who familiarized themselves with early modern science and subsequently introduced it into Judaism could appear, more than a century later. Israel may be emblematic here: however outdated the contents of the scientific education he received in Zamosc, it was the commitment to science qua science that fuelled his interest in science – medieval science while still in Zamosc, early modern science after he arrived in Berlin. The new science could attract the interest of prepared minds only, like Israel’s. If his case is representative of at least a number of his contemporaries, it was the neo-Maimonidean segment within Polish halakhic culture that prepared the ground for the reception of science within that culture in the eighteenth century.140 It is true that we know of almost no scientifically minded scholars in Poland in the seventeenth century. Historians consider the period to be one of ‘cultural closure’, during which Jewish intellectuals devoted themselves exclusively to halakhic studies. If this view is true, there was no continuity between the sixteenth-century neoMaimonidean talmudic sub-culture and the early eighteenth century. But there are reasons to doubt that this was the case. A relatively thin scientific sub-culture can exist without producing visible works. None of Israel’s Zamosc friends wrote a single line on science; yet we know that they were competent in mathematics and astronomy, favoured their study, and encouraged Israel in his investigations. Several other examples can be mentioned at random. In his work Yeshu¨ah be-Yisraˆel, published in 1720, Jonathan b. Joseph of Ruzhany, repeatedly refers to Jacob b. Samuel Koppelman (1555–1594), the author of the mathematical ¨Omeq halakhah, who also wrote on astronomy, as his ‘ancestor’ (lit. grandfather): presumably the interest in mathematics was alive in this family throughout the seventeenth century, without leaving any traces in the form of published writings. In 1743, R. Joel b. Jequtiel Sachs, born in Glogau and rabbi of Austerlitz in Moravia, published David Gans’ NeÌmad ve-na¨im in Jessnitz.141 Sachs was presumably able to appreciate the book’s importance, but we know this only because of his involvement in its publication, given that he himself wrote nothing on astronomy. Indeed there was interest in NeÌmad ve-na¨im during the century and a half between its composition and its first printing: in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the work was copied freshould be emphasized that the case of the early Polish maskilim is totally different from that of their German counterparts. The cultural background of, say, Anschel Worms, Meir Neumark, or Aaron Salomon Gumpertz, who grew up in well-to-do Jewish families in Germany and received a ‘general’ as well as a Jewish education (see Eschelbacher, ‘Die Anfänge allgemeiner Bildung unter den deutschen Juden’), has little in common with that of Israel or of Solomon Chelm, who were educated in traditionalist Polish yeshivot. It is misleading to treat them in one breath merely because they were Jews interested in science at roughly the same time. The rise of interest in science among eighteenth-century Jews is a complex European phenomenon, consisting of a number of interacting, but largely independent, more or less simultaneous movements. This topic calls for further investigation. 141 Gans, NeÌmad ve-na¨im, title page. The very same year he published Gans’ book, Sachs went to serve as a dayyan in Berlin, where he was called by David Fraenkel, the rabbi of Berlin; see Néher, David Gans u-zemano, p. 96.
140 It

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quently, as shown by the number of extant manuscripts.142 Again, were it not for the novellae on Euclid’s Elements printed at the end of his posthumously published responsa, we would not know that the erudite scribe R. Jonah Landsofer (1678–1712) of Prague was knowledgeable in mathematics.143 Lastly, it is only through his introduction to a halakhic work published in 1684 that we know that R. Isaac Meir Fraenkel-Teomim intended to write books on astronomy, arithmetic, and geometry.144 This random sample suggests that at least to some extent and in some places the neo-Maimonidean and pro-scientific segment of the halakhic culture, which originated with Isserles and the Maharal, survived under the surface during the seventeenth century. Max Freudenthal made a similar point a century ago, suggesting that R. David Fraenkel’s (moderately) positive attitude toward philosophy and science can be traced to his being a descendent of Moses Isserles’.145 Israel’s significance for the history of Hebrew science thus lies in his being the product of a largely invisible scientific sub-culture, that of the ‘normal’ science of Jewish Poland. Yet he was the most outstanding product of this sub-culture and emerged in an atypical town. Zamosc, I suggested, was exceptional, perhaps because of the influential Sephardi legacy, which favoured scientific inquiry. It is quite possible that other towns also had halakhic sub-cultures not hostile to science, with their fountainhead in the sixteenth-century authorities. If this hypothesis, which calls for further research, is confirmed, it would mean that the first students of early modern Hebrew science in Eastern Europe146 were the visible tips of a largely invisible tradition of Polish neo-Maimonideanism – an indigenous phenomenon of Polish Judaism, rather than one triggered by external influence. Israel b. Moses Halevi of Zamosc, in any event, was certainly the most prominent scientific figure to emerge from Jewish Poland.

George Alter, Two Renaissance Astronomers: David Gans, Joseph Delmedigo (Prague, 1956), pp. 16–19, 33–4; Néher, David Gans u-zemano, pp. 98–104, 117–123. Meqorot le-toledot ha-Ìinnukh (n. 28), 1: 67; EJ 10: 1415–16. 144  Katz, Rabbanut, Ìasidut, haskalah, 1: 124. The work is ¨En Ya¨aqov. Fraenkel-Teomim studied in Metz, knew languages other than Hebrew, and served as a rabbi in Zó¥kiev, before moving to Lithuania. 145  Max Freudenthal, Aus der Heimat Mendelssohns. Moses Benjamin Wulff und seine Familie, die Nachkommen des Moses Isserles (Berlin, 1900); see also idem, ‘R. David Fränckel’, Gedenkbuch zur Erinnerung an David Kaufmann, ed. Markus Brann and Ferdinand Rosenthal (Breslau, 1900), pp. 569– 98. Freudenthal’s inquiry was triggered by Mendelssohn’s remark that his own family descended from Isserles. Fraenkel, as already mentioned, was responsible for the first printing in two centuries of the Guide of the Perplexed (Jessnitz, 1742). He was the indirect owner of the Jessnitz printing press, which was also to print Israel’s commentary on RuaÌ Ìen. 146 On these early maskilim, see, inter alia: Shmuel Feiner, ‘Ben ¨anenei ha-sikhlut le-or ha-muskalot: Yehudah Horowitz, maskil muqdam ba-meˆah ha-18’, in Be-ma¨agalei Ìasidim, ed. Immanuel Etkes et al. (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 111–60; Immanuel Etkes, ‘Li-sheˆelat mevasserei ha-haskalah be-mizraÌ eropa’, in The East European Jewish Enlightenment (Hebrew), ed. Immanuel Etkes (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 25–44; Shmuel Feiner, ‘The Dragon around the Bee-Hive: Juda Leib Margolioth and the Paradox of the Early Haskalah’ (Hebrew), Zion 63 (1998): 39–74; Fishman, Russia’s First Modern Jews, ch. 2.
143 Assaf,

142 See


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Appendix: Rabbi Israel Ben Moses Halevi’s Scientific Interests and Bookshelf

I. NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel: Applying Science to the Talmud In what follows I offer some examples of problems to which Israel applies science. A. Science in the Main Part of NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel 1. Astronomy a. Israel discusses (fols. 34ab–bb) at length the statements in B PesaÌim 94a concerning the ‘width’ of the heavens and the dependent issue of the length of twilight. He refers to both halakhic and scientific literature. Examples of the first kind include Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Yefeh marˆeh by Samuel Jaffe Ashkenazi (sixteenth century), and Samuel Eliezer b. Judah Halevi Edels (the Maharsha, 1555–1631) (fol. 34bb). For scientific matters Israel refers to unnamed ‘astronomers’ – the reference is in fact to Sefer Elim by Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (1597–1655),147 which he elsewhere mentions explicitly – and to unnamed works on geography (fol. 34bb), which I could not identify. b. Israel rejects without much argument an interpretation offered by Edels which assumes that the earth is flat: ‘This is empty and false’, he writes bluntly, ‘and we do not find this opinion among real astronomers’ (fol. 43ba).148 Rather, earth and water form a globe, which is suspended at the centre of ‘the sphere’. Elsewhere, Israel takes Rashi and the Yefeh toˆar (Samuel Ashkenazi) to task for comments ascribing to the Sages the view that the earth is flat (fols. 32bb–33bbb, 34ab–bb, 49aa–ab, 56ab; and see below). c. Israel also takes up aggadot. One of them (explicitly described as an aggadah) concerns a famous problem reportedly put by Alexander the Great to the Elders of the South: which distance is greater – that from the heavens to the earth or that from east to west (B Tamid 32a)? Israel seizes on this opportunity to confirm his unfavourable opinion of the Yefeh toˆar. This passage, he says, ‘affords a rebuke to those who allege that our Sages, the authors of the Talmud, supposed that the earth is flat and that its edges touch the sphere’ (fol. 49aa). He notes that it seems odd that Alexander, ‘the student of the great astronomer Naqtanibor, as mentioned in Yosafin [= Sefer Yosippon], and of Aristotle too’,149 should put this question to the Elders of the South. His explanation is that Alexander was really asking
147 Israel’s allusion to the views of Ìakhmei ha-tekhunah (fol. 34ba, bottom) refers to Sefer Elim, Ma¨ayan Ìatum, p. 436. 148 Edels was not averse to astronomy however; see Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, pp. 171–2. 149  Israel explicitly refers to Sefer Yosipon. In David Flusser’s edition (Jerusalem, 1980), ‘Naqtanibor’, i.e., Alexander’s alleged father Nektanebos, is not mentioned, but he is alluded to in the tradition of the romance The Gests of Alexander, albeit as a great magician, not as an astronomer (ibid., 2: 217, 221). That Alexander was Aristotle’s student is recorded in ibid., 1: 462.

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whether or not the Sages thought there were epicycles. Israel thereupon explains the notion of epicycles in some detail, concluding that the Jewish elders ‘reached the same conclusion as the astronomers and maintained the existence of epicycles’ (fol. 49aa–49ba). 2. Geometry Occasionally, Israel takes up problems whose solution requires mathematical knowledge. He more than once notes that a talmudic elucidation depends on the assumption that the ratio of the circumference to the radius is 3:1, adding that ‘the geometers’ (Ìakhmei ha-middot) know that this is only an approximation (fols. 1ba, 42ba–b). Similarly, throughout the discussion of the exchange between Alexander and the Elders of the South he assumes that his reader has some knowledge of mathematics: the fact that all the points on the circumference of a circle are equidistant from its centre is said to be known to ‘a one-day old geometer’ (fol. 49ab). He writes of one mathematical statement that ‘the demonstration thereof is easily clarified by drawing on Euclid, as [I will show] elsewhere’ (fol. 49ba).150 3. Optics Apropos of certain problems related to the construction of a sukkah, Israel draws on ‘the science of optics’ (Ìokhmat ha-reˆiyyah), whose statements are confirmed by ‘everyday experience’ (fol. 40ab). Here Israel says that Sefer Elim as well as to ‘the book I intend to write’ (possibly the commentary on the latter) contain proofs of his statements (ibid.). Similarly, a statement in tractate Megillah and the attempt to understand Maimonides’ rephrasing of it lead him to ask what is the maximum angular extent of the human field of vision. To solve the difficulties raised, Israel, again referring to Sefer Elim, states (fols. 41ab–ba) that ‘recent’ students of optical science have discovered that the angle of vision cannot exceed two-thirds of a right angle, whereas the ancients had believed it could be equal to an entire right angle. In an aside, he notes that Maimonides himself stated in the Guide that the mathematical sciences were ‘not complete’ in the days of the Sages:151 the idea that the sciences advance allows Israel to suggest that Maimonides was better informed than the talmudic Sages were. ‘This is evident to those who are knowledgeable in the science of optics’, Israel concludes the discussion (fol. 41ba). Elsewhere, he relies on ‘optical science’ for the statement that the sun appears larger when it is low in the horizon than when it is high in the sky, because of the exhalations rising from the earth (fol. 49ab; similarly fol. 38bb). B. Science in the ‘Last Quire’ (Qun†res aÌaron) We now turn to the ‘last quire’. Here Israel considers 13 passages, from six talmudic tractates, that bear on matters of astronomy, mathematics, or natural science, with the
150  Israel refers to the mathematical part of Arubbot ha-shamayim, which he intended to precede the astronomical one. This part is not extant (see above, n. 23). 151  Guide II, 19, 24; Maimonides of course refers to mathematics at the time of Aristotle, but Israel assumes that the Sages lived in the same period; see also Guide III, 14. Israel again uses the idea that the sciences were not perfected in the Sages’ days on fol. 49ba.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

aim of proving that they are in accord with what has been demonstrated in science. Here are several examples. 1. Astronomy a. How should the Holy Ark be oriented in a synagogue? Israel (fol. 52a–b), drawing on general astronomical knowledge, takes the Levush tekhelet (a commentary on the ShulÌan ¨arukh by Mordecai b. Abraham Jaffe) and two other rabbinical authorities to task. From Delmedigo’s Sefer Elim he borrows values for the longitude and latitude of several cities (Jerusalem, Tunis, Toledo, Bayonne) and values for the sine function, and even remarks on a computational error he identified in the book. b. Similarly, apropos of a passage in tractate Rosh Hashanah, Israel cites a passage from Maimonides’ Hilkhot qiddush ha-Ìodesh, which, he notes, ‘has perplexed many astronomers and talmudists’. He affirms that the matter was misunderstood by Mordecai Jaffe (the reference is to Jaffe’s ¨Eder ha-yaqar, a commentary on Hilkhot qiddush ha-Ìodesh) and by two other authorities: Jacob b. Samuel Koppelman in ¨Omeq halakhah and Jonathan b. Joseph of Ruzhany in Yeshu¨ah beYisra}el. He then offers his own account (fol. 56bb–57ab). That these three authorities are mentioned together is no accident: ¨Eder ha-yaqar was reprinted in Yeshu¨ah be-Yisra}el (Frankfurt am Main, 1720);152 Mordecai Jaffe was Koppelman’s teacher,153 and the latter was an ancestor of Jonathan of Ruzhany (as he himself more than once states in his book). These three authors thus form a chain of transmission and belong to the same intellectual current. 2. Geometry a. Rules stated in tractate Kilˆayim raise geometrical problems concerning the distances that must be left between the plants of different species. Israel (fol. 53aa– 54ab) examines how they are understood in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah and points out several difficulties, which he then resolves. In so doing he draws on general and basic geometric knowledge. b. Similarly, with regard to a mathematical statement in tractate ¨Eruvin, Israel remarks that he had seen the problem treated only in the aforementioned Yeshu¨ah be-Yisrael. But this author, Israel comments, ‘did not adduce a proof for his statements and consequently the matter remained as doubtful as ever’. However, the statement ‘has a proof deriving from the science of geometry [Ìokhmat hamedidah], following the way taken by the Ancients, as mentioned in Euclid. This, however, is a long proof, which is difficult to learn. But there is a shorter and easier way, one that I devised myself and advanced in my book Arubb[o]t hashamayim, Part I, which is a work on mathematics and astronomy that I have written’ (fol. 54ab–54ba). Israel presents two mathematical premises, followed by the proof itself.
152 ¨Eder

ha-yaqar appears on the title page of Yeshu¨ah be-Yisraˆel; in the body of the book the text appears under the heading Levush. 153 Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, p. 146.

Gad Freudenthal


3. Optics a. Many are eager to understand Maimonides’ statement, in his commentary on the Mishnah, that dawn begins about an hour prior to sunrise, Israel writes (fol. 52aa). He explains this statement by drawing on basic optics and on Delmedigo’s Sefer Elim. b. With regard to a statement in tractate Sukkah, Israel explains the length of shadows, based very generally on geometry and on what ‘has been explained’ in natural science about the nature of shadows (57ab). 4. Natural science With respect to a statement by the Sages concerning thunder (B. Berakhot 59a), Israel mentions (fol. 52bb) that some people say the Sages were ignorant of the natural sciences. But ‘may the lips that say lies about the righteous become dumb’, he exclaims. Then he expounds some premises of natural science in order, he says, to show everyone that ‘our Sages, too, possessed ten shares in the natural sciences’. He outlines one version of the Aristotelian theory of thunder, which, he says, makes it possible to comprehend the Sages’ true intention. Israel mentions no specific source. II. R. Israel b. Moses Halevi’s Bookshelf Below is a list of the main works that Israel mentions in a scientific context in NY and in Arubbot ha-shamayim. These fall into several categories: strictly scientific works – ancient, medieval, and post-medieval; halakhic works that include discussions of scientific issues – medieval and post-medieval; and biblical commentaries. I make no pretense of being exhaustive: my only goal is to provide a rough picture of Israel’s scientific horizons. For the scientific literature, I indicate whether the work was printed or available only in manuscript. A. NeÒaÌ Yisrael Ancient science (in Hebrew translation) Euclid, The Elements. The book is mentioned explicitly only a few times (e.g., fols. 49ba, 54ba), but mastery of it is perceptible throughout. Israel could have studied this work only in manuscript.154 Medieval science and philosophy Rabbenu Nissim, Saadia Gaon, Samuel b. Îofni Gaon (fol. 43aa). Mentioned without reference to specific works of theirs. Abraham bar Îiyya, Sefer ∑urat ha-areÒ (twelfth century). Referred to, e.g., on fols. 26ab, 28aa, and 55ab (numbered 58). The book was available in the 1720 Offenbach edition, published by R. Jonathan b. Joseph of Ruzhany.
154 Katz,

Rabbanut, Ìasidut, haskalah, 1: 209–10, unaware that Euclid’s Elements was translated into Hebrew in the late thirteenth century, endowed Israel with fluency in German in order to account for his familiarity with this book. This has no basis in reality, however.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Abraham Ibn Ezra(?), Sefer Mishpe†ei ha-kokhavim, an astrological work. Mentioned on fol. 38b. The authorship of this work is not certain, but Abraham Ibn Ezra is a reasonable guess. All works that went under this title were astrological and available only in manuscript.155 Maimonides, Hilkhot qiddush ha-Ìodesh. Referred to many times, e.g., fols. 1ab, 56bb–57ab. This work was available in a number of editions, but in all likelihood Israel used the one, accompanied by five commentaries, contained in Jonathan b. Joseph of Ruzhany’s Yeshu¨ah be-Yisrael (Frankfurt a.M., 1720), a work that he mentions often (see below). Israel occasionally refers to specific commentaries (e.g., R. Levi ben Îabib, fol. 33ab; ¨Eder ha-yaqar, fol. 56bb; Obadiah the Commentator, fol. 57aa). Israel notes that ‘many astronomers and talmudists have been greatly perplexed by the Hilkhot qiddush ha-Ìodesh,… namely the Levush, the author of ¨Omeq halakhah, the Tosefot Yom-Tov, and along with them also R. Jonathan the author of Teshu¨ah [sic] be-Yisra}el’ (fol. 56bb; according to Israel, R. Jonathan changed his mind about the correct interpretation several times [fol. 65bb–57aa]). This remark is significant, inasmuch as it bespeaks Israel’s awareness of a continuous scholarly tradition relating to Maimonides’ scientific text, a tradition that has recently garnered attention.156 Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed. Its presence is ubiquitous; it is referred to explicitly on numerous occasions; e.g., fols. 2aa, 41ba, 42bb, 55ab (numbered 58), 56ab. Israel explicitly refers to the 1551 Venice edition (fol. 57aa), which contains Shem ™ov’s Commentary, to which Israel also explicitly refers (fol. 40bb). Maimonides, Introduction to Pereq Ìeleq. Mentioned on fol. 42bb. The text was included in Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah, available in various printings. Meir Aldabi, Shevilei emunah (mid-14th century). Referred to on fol. 42ba. Available in a number of printings. Isaac Israeli, Sefer Yesod ¨olam (early fourteenth century). Mentioned frequently. Israel greatly respected Isaac Israeli, to whom he referred as ‘an eminent scholar’ (fol. 38ab); he even wrote a commentary on his work.157 Israel could have studied this work only in manuscript. John Sacrobosco, Sefer Asfera ha-gadol, alias Marˆeh ha-ofanim, in the translation of Solomon b. Abraham Avigdor (early 15th century).158 Mentioned on fol. 26ab, together with Sefer ∑urat ha-areÒ, with which it was printed (Offenbach 1720).

155 A collection of astrological treatises by Abraham Ibn Ezra at times bore this title (see I. Ben-Yakov, OÒar ha-sefarim [Vilna, 1880], p. 199, No. 794); there were, however, other astrological works with this title; see ibid. p. 387, Nos. 2581, 2582, 2583. The information Israel cites from this book is too general to allow a precise identification. 156 In addition to the works cited in n. 42 above, see Joseph Davis, ‘Ashkenazi Rationalism and Midrashic Natural History: Responses to the New Science in the Works of Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller (1578–1654)’, Science in Context 10 (1997): 605–26, on pp. 606–7. 157  See the approbation by Joel Ba¨al Shem in NY, fol. 3aa; see also above, pp. 27–28. 158 On this translation see Moritz Steinschneider, Die hebraeischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher (Berlin, 1893; reprinted Graz, 1956), §407.

Gad Freudenthal


Post-medieval science and philosophy Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, Sefer Elim. Israel greatly esteemed Delmedigo, whose work, printed in Amsterdam in 1629, influenced him strongly. It is referred to frequently (often by the names of its various parts): e.g., fol. 33bb, 34ba,159 40ab, 41ba, 43ba, 52aa, 52b, 55ab (numbered 58), 55ba, 56ab. At the time of publication of NY, Israel had completed a commentary on this work.160 It is notable that Israel is silent about heliocentrism and other recent astronomical theories that Delmedigo expounded in his book. Although he remained hostile to Copernicanism throughout his life,161 in NY Israel simply ignored the topic. Israel thus drew on Sefer Elim for its technical information alone, which is independent of cosmology. Noteworthy is the fact that where Israel takes numerical material from Sefer Elim (fol. 52bb) he uses Arabic numerals, whereas in material borrowed from medieval Jewish sources the numbers are written in Hebrew letters. Jonathan b. Joseph of Ruzhany, Yeshu¨ah be-Yisra}el (Frankfurt a.M., 1720). Referred to (at times as Teshu¨ah be-Yisrael) on fols. 54ab–54ba, 56bb–57ab. The work consists of Maimonides’ Hilkhot qiddush ha-Ìodesh with commentaries (see above). Anonymous books on science – Unnamed books on geography (fols. 34bb, 52ab). – Books by ‘the masters of the science of optics’; Israel at times distinguishes between the views of ancient and modern masters of that science (fols. 40bb, 41ab, 41ba, 49ab, 52aa). – Astrologers (fol. 43ab). Medieval Bible commentaries [Pseudo.-]Saadia Gaon, commentary on Daniel.162 E.g., fols. 50ab–50ba. Abraham Ibn Ezra, commentary on Genesis. E.g., fols. 26bb–27aa, 55ab, 55ba. NaÌmanides, commentary on Genesis. E.g., fol. 3ab. Isaac Abravanel, commentary on Genesis. E.g., fol. 55ab (numbered 58). Medieval and later works, notably halakhic, containing discussions bearing on scientific matters Maimonides, Mishneh Torah. Very frequently referred to. Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah. Very frequently referred to.

159 Israel alludes to the views of Ìakhmei ha-tekhunah (fol. 34ba, bottom); the reference is to Sefer Elim, Ma¨ayan Ìatum, p. 436. 160 See above, p. 28. 161  Sefer RuaÌ Ìen, with a commentary by Israel b. Moses Halevi (Warsaw, 1826), 2b. In his (posthumously published) OÒar neÌmad (a commentary on the Kuzari; see above, n. 132), Israel alludes to Copernicus’ computations, but does not comment on his cosmology; see commentary on Kuzari 4:29 (current editions, 4:133). I am grateful to Adam Shear for this reference. 162  The commentary on Daniel printed under Saadia’s name in the various editions of Miqraˆot gedolot (presumably Israel’s source) is by a later author; see Henry Malter, Saadia Gaon. His Life and Works (Philadelphia, 1942), p. 326.


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Samuel Jaffe Ashkenazi, Yefeh marˆeh and Yefeh toˆar. Very frequently mentioned, e.g., fol. 2bb, 34bb, 49aa–ab, 56ab. This work is one of the main targets of Israel’s criticism. Moses Isserles, Torat ha-¨olah. E.g., fol. 3aa. Mordecai b. Abraham Jaffe, Levush tekhelet and, more generally, the various Levushim, a series of commentaries on the ShulÌan ¨arukh.163 E.g., fols. 52a–b, 56bb–57ab. Jaffe was a student of Isserles. Jacob b. Samuel Koppelman, ¨Omeq halakhah (Cracow, 1598). E.g., fols. 56bb– 57ab. This work, by a student of Mordecai Jaffe and an ancestor of Jonathan b. Joseph of Ruzhany, has much the same goals as NY – to examine Talmudic passages in the light of mathematics.164 Israel approves of its intentions, but faults it for the author’s alleged mathematical incompetence. David b. Samuel Halevi (Segal), ™urei zahav (on the ™ur and ShulÌan ¨arukh). E.g., fol. 52a–b. Samuel Eliezer b. Judah Halevi Edels (the Maharsha), Îiddushei halakhot. Frequently mentioned, e.g., fols. 4bb, 42aa, 43ba, 57bb. Judah Loew b. BeÒalel of Prague (the Maharal). Beˆer ha-golah. E.g., fol. 56aa. Judah Loew b. BeÒalel of Prague (the Maharal). Sefer Ìayyim. E.g., fol. 2ba. Ephraim Solomon b. Aaron of Luntshits, Keli yaqar.165 E.g., fol. 2ba. Joseph Trani, ∑ofenat pa¨neaÌ (on the Torah). E.g., fol. 34ab. Jacob b. Joseph Reischer, Îoq le-Ya¨aqov (on the laws of Passover in the ShulÌan ¨arukh).166 E.g., fols. 33aa, 34ba. Yair Bacharach, Îavvot Yaˆir. E.g., fols. 37ab, 54bb, 55aa (numbered 58) (‘this is a great error’). We have already noted that Israel drew on kabbalistic literature as well. We may add that he was also acquainted with Hebrew historical writings, such as Sefer YuÌasin, printed in 1561 and, with additions by R. Moses Isserles, in 1580/1 (fol. 37ba), ∑emaÌ David, printed in 1592/3 (fol. 37ba), Shalshelet ha-qabbalah, printed in 1596 (fol. 45ba), and Sefer Yosippon, printed in 1589 (fol. 49ba; see above, p. 59).167 Lastly and quite interestingly, he was also familiar with Ben ha-melekh ve-ha-nazir: a phrase quoted earlier in which Israel describes his suffering and courage (Hareˆitem peloni ha-ish we-siÌo // omeÒ libo u-qeshi ruÌo? ‘Have you seen that one, the man and his ranting // his valorous heart and stubborn spirit?’; fol. 2ba) is a verbatim quotation from that work.168

on this work Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, p. 403. the author and the work see ibid., p. 146, and n. 203. 165 See references above, n. 29. 166 See EJ 15: 61–2. 167 On the printings and subsequent study of these works see Elbaum, Openness and Insularity, pp. 257–60. 168 Ben ha-melekh we-ha-nazir, Gate 17 (ed. Nissan Neyezov [Rishon Le-Zion, 2002], p. 95).
164 On

163 See

Gad Freudenthal


B. Arubbot ha-shamayim Only scientific works are mentioned in this book: Euclid’s Elements. Already noted above. Ptolemy, Almagest. Omnipresent. This basic text of medieval astronomy (‘Ptolemy has brought astronomy to completion, as is made clear in Sefer Yesod ¨olam’ [fol. 24bb]) was translated into Hebrew in the thirteenth century. Israel read this still-unpublished work in manuscript. Israel specifically refers to Ptolemy’s tables.169 Abraham Ibn Ezra, Sefer Keli ha-neÌoset. Fol. 5a. This book on the making of the astrolabe was not published until 1845, and Israel read it in manuscript. Averroes, Epitome of the Almagest. Israel mentions it explicitly, e.g., on fol. 39a; elsewhere (fol. 98a) he uses the concept mofet taÌbuli, which derives from that work.170 This work, extant in Hebrew translation only, has not yet been published; Israel read it in manuscript.171 Isaac Israeli, Sefer Yesod ¨olam. Very often referred to. Already mentioned above. Gersonides, MilÌamot ha-Shem (= Wars of the Lord) or Perush ha-Torah (Commentary on the Pentateuch). Quite surprisingly, Arubbot ha-shamayim mentions (fol. 39b) the distinctive Gersonidian concept of ‘a body that does not preserve its shape’ (geshem bilti shomer temunato), on which Gersonides draws in both his cosmology and his cosmogony. Israel drew either on the published philosophical part of MilÌamot ha-Shem (Riva di Trento, 1560), or on the Perush ha-Torah (Venice, 1547).172 Israel does not mention Gersonides’ name, of course, for the latter was decried as the author of the ‘Wars Against the Lord’.173 Joseph b. Solomon Delmedigo, Sefer Elim. As already noted, Israel greatly admired Delmedigo (‘the wondrous scholar’ [fol. 76b]), on whose work he draws repeatedly in Arubbot ha-shamayim, too. Often Israel uses it tacitly; e.g., when referring

ha-shamayim, fol. 11a (which may be a later interpolation, however). Bernard R. Goldstein, ‘Levi ben Gerson’s Theory of Planetary Distances’, Centaurus 29 (1986): 272–313, on p. 279. I am grateful to Prof. Goldstein for calling this to my attention. 171 On this relatively little known work, see Julianne Lay, ‘L’Abrégé de l’Almageste: un inédit d’Averroès en version hébraïque’, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 6 (1996): 23–61. 172 MilÌamot ha-Shem 5.2.2; Perush ha-Torah, fol. 10a–b. The context is a discussion of the question of eccentric orbs. Israel recalls that Maimonides declared their existence impossible, because it would imply the existence of the void (Guide 2:24). Should one postulate that some matter fills the space between the orbs, the question arises, why the orbs do not transmit their motions to one another. Thereupon Israel writes: ‘This difficulty has clearly been noticed [by some; u-khvar hirgishu be-zeh hasafeq]. But it has led them to “believe that between every two orbs there are substances, distinct from those of the orb”, which fill up the place of the void: one is inside the circle [¨iggul] of the Sun, and one outside it. Each one of these has been called by them a body that does not preserve its shape’ (fol. 39a: 16–19). The embedded citation is from the Guide 2:24 (Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. S. Pines [Chicago, 1963], p. 324), to which Israel added the reference to Gersonides’ ‘body that does not preserve its shape’. Israel subsequently briefly explains the idea with the help of an illustration and quickly refutes it. At one point (fol. 24bb) he says of himself that he set out to fight ‘the Lord’s wars, to fight in the camp of truth…’, perhaps echoing Gersonides. 173 See, e.g., Menachem M. Kellner, ‘Gersonides and his Cultured Despisers: Arama and Abravanel’, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 6 (1976): 269–96.
170 See

169 Arubbot


Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

to ‘all the new worlds’ (fol. 5b).174 The references in Arubbot ha-shamayim to ‘recent’ (scil. non-Jewish) astronomers, like Francesco Maurolico (fol. 5b), Pedro Nuñes, and Tycho Brahe (fol. 31a), are all taken from Elim.175 The same holds for the frequent allusions to Copernicus (ignoring his heliocentrism, however). In this work, too, as in NY, but more frequently, Israel uses Arabic numerals when the information derives from Sefer Elim. (It is not certain, however, that all the numbers presented in Arabic numerals come from Sefer Elim.) Conspicuous by its absence is Tobias Kohen’s Sefer Ma¨aseh ™uviah (1707). Nor is Azariah de’ Rossi’s Sefer Meˆor ¨einayim (1571–1574) mentioned (although banned, it was sometimes read in Poland). Nor was Israel aware of the existence of David Nieto’s Second Kuzari, published in London in 1714.

174 Borrowed 175 Ibid.,

from Sefer Elim, pp. 269–70. pp. 333 and 275, respectively.

Gad Freudenthal



Hebrew Medieval Science in Zamos´c´, ca. 1730

Adam Shear

Judah Halevi’s Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah: A Case Study in the Transmission of Cultural Knowledge

In contrast to some European Enlightenment movements that tended to see intellectuals of recent centuries as beginning to grope their way out of the darkness, maskilim tended to see their immediate intellectual predecessors, rabbinic scholars in early modern Ashkenaz, as those who created the darkness. David Sorkin has recently stressed the importance of viewing the Haskalah as a movement concerned with reforming early modern Ashkenazi culture – the ‘Jewish Baroque’ in his terms.1 According to the maskilic view, this culture had over-emphasized study of the Talmud and neglected study of the Bible, the Hebrew language, science, philosophy, and secular languages. The fact that critics of the curriculum had indeed been around for many years within Ashkenazi culture raises questions about the novelty of much of the Haskalah’s cultural agenda. Historians have long focused on such critics as protomaskilim or ‘forerunners of the Haskalah’.2 More recently, Shmuel Feiner, along with Sorkin, has offered us a new way of describing this phenomenon – ‘Early Haskalah’ – and argued that it should be seen as distinct from the Haskalah itself. Eighteenth-century proponents of this ‘Early Haskalah’ attempted to revive cultural elements already present in medieval sources; in contrast, the Haskalah proper was concerned with social as well as cultural transformation and with finding a new role for Jews in a new, enlightened Europe. In the present essay, I address the emergence of one of those medieval sources, Judah Halevi’s twelfth-century Sefer ha-Kuzari, as an important text for the Jewish Enlightenment. The Kuzari was arguably one of the most important of the medieval texts read and used by maskilim to construct their cultural agenda. Halevi’s work laid a strong particularistic emphasis on the superiority of Jewish culture while nonetheless providing a basis for the study of knowledge from outside the Jewish tradition. Halevi’s work, written in Arabic in the third decade of the twelfth century, was translated into Hebrew in the second half of that century, making it available to
David Sorkin, ‘The Early Haskalah’, in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London, 2001), pp. 9–26, esp. pp. 9–10. 2 See: Immanuel Etkes, ‘The Question of the Forerunners of the Haskalah in Eastern Europe’ (Hebrew), Tarbiz 57 (1987): 95–114; idem, ‘Immanent Factors and External Influences in the Development of the Haskalah Movement in Russia’, in Toward Modernity, ed. Jacob Katz (New Brunswick, NJ, 1987), pp. 13–32; Sorkin, ‘The Early Haskalah’; Shmuel Feiner, ‘The Early Haskalah in EighteenthCentury Judaism’ (Hebrew), Tarbiz 67 (1998): 189–240.
1 See

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Adam Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Royal Shear


Jewish scholars in the non-Arabophone communities of Christian Europe. Although it was not widely read in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a revival of interest occurred in Spain, Provence, and Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This led to a number of commentaries, three printed editions in sixteenth-century Italy, and Latin and Spanish translations in the seventeenth century.3 During the crystallization and institutionalization of the Berlin Haskalah, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the Kuzari also emerged as a key text for the maskilim.4 Two commentaries on it were written in the 1760s and 1770s. Their printings in the 1790s, alongside the text of the Kuzari, were the first editions of the work under Ashkenazi auspices. The first of these commentaries, entitled OÒar neÌmad, was by Israel of Zamosc, Mendelssohn’s teacher and a familiar figure on the Jewish scene of mid-century Berlin.5 Zamosc may have written a first version of his commentary while instructing Mendelssohn and Aron Gumpertz in medieval Jewish philosophy shortly after his arrival in Berlin in the 1740s. It appears that he then revised it and completed a final version of his commentary in the 1760s, under the patronage of Daniel Itzig, a leader of the Berlin Jewish community. The second major commentary was by Isaac Satanow.6 He too wrote his commentary under Itzig’s patronage in the early 1770s, shortly after his own arrival in Berlin from the east. Zamosc’s commentary was printed posthumously in 1796. Satanow supervised the publication of his own commentary in 1795, in his capacity as manager of a project to publish maskilic texts under the auspices of the Jüdische Freischule (Îinnukh ne¨arim) society. The approaches of Zamosc and Satanow are similar enough to offer us a relatively coherent picture of the ‘maskilic Kuzari’. Both use their commentaries as vehicles to discuss new scientific discoveries and theories while attempting subtle forms of accommodation that ‘save’ Halevi’s overall philosophical and religious authority. Both exploit Halevi’s criticisms of Aristotelian philosophy to introduce philosophical concepts to their readers and often provide the German equivalent for key terms.7
3 A survey of the medieval and early modern reception of the work can be found in Adam Shear, ‘The Later History of a Medieval Hebrew Book: Studies in the Reception of Judah Halevi’s Sefer ha-Kuzari’, doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2003. 4 I use ‘institutionalization’ here in a relative sense. As Feiner and others have pointed out, the Haskalah was hardly a unified, coherently organized, or hierarchically defined entity. Rather, as Feiner puts it, the Haskalah is best seen as ‘a kind of literary republic’ (‘Towards a Historical Definition of the Haskalah’, in Feiner and Sorkin, New Perspectives on the Haskalah, p. 218). Many of the defining institutions of such a commonwealth of letters (most notably schools, literary societies, journals, and publishing houses) emerged for the first time in the last third of the eighteenth century. 5 On Zamosc, see: David Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe (New Haven, 1993), pp. 332–4; Eliezer Schweid, Toledot he-hagut ha-yehudit ba-¨et ha-Ìadashah (Jerusalem, 1977), pp. 111–3, and Gad Freudenthal’s essay in this volume. I have treated Zamosc’s and Satanow’s commentaries at greater length in ‘Judah Halevi’s Kuzari in the Haskalah: The Reinterpretation and Re-imagining of a Medieval Work’, in Renewing the Past, Reconfiguring Jewish Culture from al-Andalus to the Haskalah, ed. Ross Brann and Adam Sutcliffe (Philadelphia, 2004), pp. 71–92. Full references can be found in that essay and in my dissertation. 6 For Satanow’s biography, see Nehama Rezler Bersohn, ‘Isaac Satanow, the Man and his Work: A Study in the Berlin Haskalah’, doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, 1975. 7 By translating into German, Zamosc and Satanow were providing Yiddish readers with new vocabulary as well. Despite the complicated linguistic history of ‘German’, ‘Judeo-German’, and ‘Yiddish’, it


Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

Zamosc and Satanow also take up Halevi’s central concern – the status of revealed religion vis-à-vis the rational quest for truth. Here Zamosc and Satanow differ. For Zamosc, the king’s negative response to the philosopher is a rejection of ‘investigation seeking the truth according to the dictates of reason alone’.8 Satanow’s major project in his commentary, on the other hand, is to present the Kuzari as an argument on behalf of the rational investigation of religion.9 But rationality plays an important role for Zamosc as well. In Kuzari 2:68, Halevi endorses a role for rational laws in the administration of society. Although Halevi appears to make a fundamental distinction between rational laws, natural to all societies, and religious law, given to the Jews by revelation, Zamosc reinterprets this passage in a way that makes rational laws appear to be the building blocks of divine law.10 For Satanow, too, revealed or divine law is not the same as rational law but is understood as being never contrary to reason.11 Satanow recommends the study of the Kuzari and other works of the medieval Sephardi philosophical tradition precisely to further understanding of the relationship between reason and revelation.12 Moreover, the Kuzari’s distinction between rational and revealed law may well have influenced Moses Mendelssohn in his conception of Judaism as representing divine legislation certified by ‘Historical Truth’.13 This brief discussion of Zamosc’s and Satanow’s basic understandings of Halevi’s work can serve as a summary of the maskilic reception of the Kuzari in the late eighteenth century. The ‘maskilic Kuzari’ was a vehicle for education – an opportunity to introduce basic philosophical concepts to new audiences. It was also a less anti-rationalist and less particularistic work than the Kuzari of authorial intention but still a work that offered Jews a justification and explanation of the superiority of Judaism. In the nineteenth century, the cultural authority of the work and its author would be mobilized to produce a third facet: the Kuzari as precedent or justification for particular (and even conflicting) maskilic activities. For example, some cited the work’s praise of the Hebrew language to justify a Hebraist agenda; others, writing in Russian or German, noted that Halevi and Maimonides had written their prose works in the scholarly language of their age (Arabic). In many ways, the reception of the Kuzari within the Ashkenazi cultural area fits well with the Sorkin/Feiner model. Until the eighteenth century, the Kuzari was a
seems reasonable to conclude that technical and scientific terms passed easily between these distinct linguistic constructs. 8  OÒar neÌmad on Kuzari 1:2, in Sefer ha-Kuzari (Vienna, 1796), p. 6r [hereafter Kuzari (Vienna)]. 9 Sefer ha-Kuzari (Berlin, 1795), introduction, page following title page. See also pp. 11v, 16r, 17v [hereafter Kuzari (Berlin)]. 10 OÒar neÌmad on Kuzari 2:48, Kuzari (Vienna), p. 47r. 11  ‘… There is nothing in the Torah that is against reason. As the Ìaver says, in the absence of something in the Torah, one solves it by reason…. And here is this book, whose holy path is to make clear and elucidate and to arrive at all that is hidden in beliefs and opinions, in reason and knowledge, and for investigation and tradition to ride side by side together….’ (Kuzari [Berlin], introduction; see also p. 39v). Here, Satanow accords with a long line of Jewish philosophers beginning with Saadia Gaon in the tenth century. For Satanow, however, it is not only laws governing action but also beliefs (‘intellectual commandments’) that can be divided into two categories – rational (such as the belief in God’s unity and incorporeality) and revealed (such as creation ex nihilo or reward and punishment). 12  Ibid., p.59r. 13 On this, see my ‘Judah Halevi’s Kuzari in the Haskalah’ and chapter 4 of my dissertation.

Adam Shear


relatively ignored example of a relatively ignored genre. In the middle of the century, it attracted new interest on the part of a representative of the Early Haskalah (Israel Zamosc) and, a few years later, of an early member of the institutionalized Haskalah (Isaac Satanow). Through one of the central institutions of the Haskalah – the printing presses of Berlin and Vienna – their maskilic versions of the work were disseminated to a wider audience in Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the eighteenth and start of the nineteenth centuries. Here, though, I want to examine this model in a bit more depth, using the reception of the Kuzari as a case study in how the cultural knowledge of early modern Ashkenaz was transmitted to and by the early maskilim. It is unlikely that Zamosc and Satanow first happened on the Kuzari when they arrived in Berlin in the 1740s and 1770s, respectively. Zamosc almost certainly read the work as a young man in Poland and Satanow, too, probably encountered it before his arrival in Berlin. Nevertheless, Berlin of the middle and late eighteenth century was the locus where these first two Ashkenazi commentaries on this 600-year-old work emerged. In order to understand the emergence of these commentaries and the deep engagement with the Kuzari by early maskilim such as Zamosc, Satanow, and Zamosc’s student Moses Mendelssohn, we must ask some questions about the availability of the work within this culture. Certainly the work was physically available, in the form of manuscripts and/or printed editions accessible to Zamosc, Satanow, Mendelssohn, and others. But what about – with a nod to the technological terminology of our own time – its ‘virtual’ availability? What place did it occupy in the Ashkenazi cultural imagination? What was the image of the book and its author among Ashkenazi scholars and students? What associations did it trigger for a ‘typical’ educated Ashkenazi? To what genre was the work assigned? The traditional historiographical view (one promulgated, in fact, by the maskilim themselves) that there was little or no philosophical activity by rabbis of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries in Germany and Eastern Europe has been challenged in recent years from a number of perspectives. It is now clear that there was an interest in philosophy and science among some Jewish intellectuals in early modern Central and Eastern Europe. However, the origins of this interest and the extent of its influence on the broad outlines of Ashkenazi culture remain subjects of debate among historians.14 Ephraim Kupfer argued for a native, medieval Ashkenazi tradition of rationalist philosophy.15 He has been followed to a certain extent by Lawrence Kaplan and Joseph Davis in their studies of individual early modern rabbis.16 Others, notably H. H. Ben-Sasson, have argued for influence from out14 For brief summaries of these historiographical issues, see: Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery, pp. 55–9; Joseph Davis, ‘The Cultural and Intellectual History of Ashkenazic Jews 1500– 1750: A Selective Bibliography and Essay’, Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 38 (1993): 343–86. 15 E. Kupfer, ‘Li-demuto ha-tarbutit shel yahadut ashkenaz ve-Ìakhameha ba-meˆot ha-14–ha-15’, Tarbiz 42 (1972–73): 113–47. 16 Joseph Davis, ‘R. Yom Tov Lippman Heller, Joseph b. Isaac Ha-Levi, and Rationalism in Ashkenazic Jewish Culture, 1550–1650’, doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 1990; Lawrence Kaplan, ‘Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe and the Evolution of Jewish Culture in Poland in the Sixteenth Century’, in B. Cooperman, ed., Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), pp. 266–82.


Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

side Ashkenazi culture. Ben-Sasson alleged a direct influence of Sephardi and Italian philosophical traditions on certain Ashkenazi intellectuals.17 Jacob Elbaum has followed this view and maintained especially that, in the sixteenth century, printed books from Italy were responsible for a brief period of ‘openness’ to science and philosophy in Ashkenazi culture.18 But Elbaum views the seventeenth century as a period of renewed insularity, as Lurianic kabbalah spread in Ashkenaz and displaced the ‘openness’ of the sixteenth century. In any case, two key points stand out from these differing accounts. First, despite some cases of individual interest in philosophy and science, these subjects were not part of the cultural mainstream as they had been in medieval Spain or early modern Italy. Philosophy and science never became part of the Ashkenazi curriculum. Second, as David Ruderman has pointed out, it is important to clarify just what is meant by an interest in science and philosophy.19 Interest in astronomy for the purpose of calculating the Jewish calendar or commenting on the laws of the sanctification of the new moon in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah does not necessarily entail adoption of a rationalist outlook on religion. In other words, ‘knowledge’ can be extracted from a book without necessarily adhering to the central message (or messages) of the book or author. Indeed, sometimes books are not viewed as bearers of an all-encompassing thesis but are simply understood to be repositories of information, useful or otherwise interesting. This may seem to us like ignoring the moral of one of Aesop’s fables and paying attention only to the nut-gathering methods of squirrels; but some readers may, for their own reasons, be more interested in collecting nuts. Where the Kuzari was part of the library of a Jewish culture (in both the physical and ‘virtual’ senses), readers and potential readers could entertain both the ‘thesis’ approach and the ‘contents’ approach to the work. As we might expect, there does not seem to have been much of a presence of the Kuzari in the physical library of early modern Ashkenazim. In addition to the lack of printed editions from Ashkenazi presses, there appear to be no extant manuscript copies of the work or commentaries in an Ashkenazi hand from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, and only two from the fifteenth century.20 Nor is it included in most extant booklists of that era.21 One must be wary, however, about making an ar17  H. H. Ben-Sasson, ‘Jewish-Christian Disputation in the Setting of Humanism and Reformation in the German Empire’, Harvard Theological Review 59 (1966): 369–90. 18  PetiÌut ve-histagrut: ha-yeÒirah ha-ruÌanit ha-sifrutit be-polin u-ve-arÒot ashkenaz be-shilhe hameˆah ha-shesh-¨esreh (Jerusalem, 1990). A concise summary of his views is available in English translation in ‘The Influence of Spanish-Jewish Culture on the Jews of Ashkenaz and Poland in the FifteenthSeventeenth Centuries’, Binah. Volume 3: Jewish Intellectual History in the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph Dan (Westport, CT, 1994), pp. 179–97. 19 Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery, p. 55. 20  Based on an examination of microfilms contained in the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) in Jerusalem. The catalogue dates two manuscripts in an Ashkenazi hand to the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. One of these (MS Sasson 1252/4) is incomplete. I am not able to date the other (MS St. Petersburg – Institute of the Oriental Studies B 269) more precisely. The two from the fifteenth century are MS Turin-National A. III 13/5 and MS Cambridge-Addison 666/2; both were most likely written in northern Italy. 21  See Isaiah Sonne, ‘Book Lists Through Three Centuries’, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 1 (1953): 55-77. The following booklists from Ashkenaz do not list copies of the Kuzari: M. Freudenthal,

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gument from silence and concluding that nobody in this area and age read the Kuzari. There may well have been manuscripts that have not survived. Furthermore, the large volume of trade between Jews in Italy and Poland, especially in books, suggests that Italian printed editions may well have found their way to Eastern and Central Europe. Certain Italian scholars, including Judah Moscato, the author of the first printed commentary on the Kuzari, were also read in Eastern Europe in this period.22 Even though it is difficult to ascertain the extent of the physical transmission of the text in this place and period, we may still ask questions about the image of the book. There is no doubt that many were aware of its author and of its frame story. In part, this is due to the mention of the Kuzari in works that did circulate in the Ashkenazi world. RuaÌ Ìen, for example, which cites the Kuzari, was printed twice in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century and again in Prague in 1593 and Lublin in 1620. At least one popular Ashkenazi writer – David Gans – cited the Kuzari and its framestory. It is not certain that he read it, however, since his citations appear to be based on Azariah de Rossi’s discussions of the work in Meˆor ¨enayim and on mentions of Halevi in Sefer YuÌasin and Shalshelet ha-qabbalah.23 Nonetheless, Gans begins his discussion of Halevi by praising the work as ‘a pleasant and precious book, in which many sciences are included’ (sefer neÌmad veyaqar ve-Ìokhmot rabbot nikhlalan).24 Most of Gans’ praises are quoted from Meˆor ¨enayim, but here Gans amplifies it by stressing the inclusive nature of Halevi’s work. The fact that it incorporates many different kinds of knowledge makes the work particularly useful. Gans, for instance, cites the Kuzari as one of the authorities for the date of the redaction of the Mishnah.25 Gans’ contemporary, the noted halakhist Moses Isserles (c. 1525–1572), also appears to have been familiar with the contents of the Kuzari. Isserles was a vigorous defender of the study of philosophy. Responding to an attack by Solomon Luria (the Maharshal), Isserles defended the study of ‘Greek wisdom’ on a number of grounds.26 According to him, Solomon Ibn Adret (the Rashba) and his followers never sought to ban philosophy outright but only to set a minimum age and ensure the maturity of its students. As for the ‘foreign’ nature of these subjects, the sages bid Jews learn the truth from any source. Isserles argues that Aristotle’s physics (though not his metaphysics) is entirely compatible with Jewish authorities. He also argues
‘Dokumente zur Schriftenverfolgung durch Pfefferkorn’, Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland n.s. 3 (1931): 227–32 (on p.232); Wilhelm Volkert, ‘Der Regensburger Judenregister von 1470’, Münchener Historische Studien 10 (1982): 115–41; Christine Ineichen-Eder, Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge Deutschlands und den der Schweiz, (Munich, 1977), vol. 4, part 1, pp. 459–62; MS Oxford-Bodl. 2075 Opp. 699; MS Sasson 1282; MS Zurich 80,1; MS Israel Museum 180/52. An ambiguous case is the list of books confiscated from Jews in Frankfurt by Pfefferkorn in 1510. The term ‘Cotzar’ appears often on the lists, indicating kiÒÒur, i.e., abridgement. On two of the lists, we find ‘Coczar’ and ‘Koser’, perhaps referring to the Kuzari. See I. Kincaur, ‘Verzeichnis der von Pfefferkorn 1510 in Frankfurt am Main confiscierten jüdische Bücher’, Monatsschrift für die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums 44 (1900): 320–32, 423–30, and 455–60, esp. 424 and 429. 22 See Elbaum, PetiÌut ve-histagrut, p.18. 23 See Sefer ∑emaÌ David, ed. Mordecai Breuer (Jerusalem, 1983), pp. 95, 117, 120–1. 24 Ibid., p.120. 25 ∑emaÌ David, p.95. 26 Shut ha-Rema, ed. Asher Ziv (Jerusalem,1970), no.7, pp. 29 ff.


Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

that Maimonidean philosophy has become mainstream within Judaism: ‘although a few [Jewish] sages have disputed this and burned [Maimonides’] books, in any case his books have spread to all the recent authorities, and all have taken this crown for their heads, to bring proof from his words as if it were a halakhah from Moses on Sinai’.27 Isserles, however, does not mention the Kuzari in his defence of philosophy. Rather, he invokes the work in a halakhic discussion of the validity of a divorce decree (ge†) written in Aramaic. There he maintains that Aramaic should not be thought of as a language distinct from Hebrew but rather as a ‘corrupted holy language’ and cites the Kuzari in support of this opinion.28 In a later responsum, he writes: ‘Aramaic is thought to be a sacred language even if it is a corrupted language. And I remember that these words are the words of the Kuzari, even though it was said with a different intention’.29 Isserles is right: Halevi does not discuss Aramaic primarily to praise that language. In fact, he maintains that Hebrew is more holy than Aramaic and notes that Aramaic was an everyday and not a sacred language.30 He does, however, note the similarity between Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. Judah Moscato, in his commentary on the Kuzari, cites Abraham Ibn Ezra’s statement that the three languages belong to the same family.31 Isserles could not have read Moscato’s commentary, but he and Moscato may represent a common sixteenth-century understanding of the relationship of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, which both ‘find’ in Halevi’s text. Isserles had read the Kuzari – or at least this section of it – and considered Halevi’s work to be an authority (even in a halakhic matter) on the question of Jewish languages. Apparently, the discussion of the Hebrew language in the second part of the Kuzari was already a locus classicus for some Ashkenazim. Yom ™ov Lipmann Heller (1578–1654) also used the Kuzari as a source of information. As Joseph Davis has shown, Heller had absorbed some aspects of the new science (mostly from Hebrew works), but his major sources of scientific knowledge were medieval Hebrew philosophical works.32 The Kuzari was one such source; Heller quotes Halevi about the activities of alchemists.33 The Kuzari, along with Moscato’s commentary, was also one of Heller’s sources for Jewish theology.34 Davis has pointed out that the Kuzari was also one of many medieval sources used by Heller’s teacher, Joseph Halevi, in his Giv¨at ha-moreh (1611).35 For Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550–1619), Heller’s senior colleague in the Prague rabbinate, the Kuzari was also a source of theological opinions. Ephraim, who was well-known as a preacher, cited the work twice in his comments on the verse, ‘And I
 Ibid., p.32. no.126, p. 495. 29  Ibid., no.127, p. 497. He also cites the Kuzari on this in no.128, p. 501, and no.130, p. 507. 30 Kuzari 2:68. 31  S.v. leshon meyuÌedet leshon ha-qodesh (see Qol Yehudah in Sefer ha-Kuzari [Warsaw, 1880], vol. 2, p. 156). 32  Davis, ‘R. Yom Tov Lippman Heller’, passim; idem, ‘Ashkenazic Rationalism and Midrashic Natural History: Responses to the New Science in the Works of Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller (1578– 1654)’, Science in Context 10.4 (1997): 605–26, esp. 609–10. 33 Ibid., p. 611. 34  Davis, ‘R. Yom Tov Lippman Heller’, p. 406, n.156. 35 Ibid., p. 207.
28 Ibid., 27

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will walk among you’ (Lev. 26:12).36 On this potentially problematic passage, which appears to offer promises regarding only this world and not the world to come, Luntschitz offers seven different opinions he found in various rishonim, including Saadia, Halevi, Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, BaÌya, NaÌmanides, Nissim Gerondi, and Joseph Albo. Indeed, the Kuzari is cited twice as the origin of two different (although not contradictory) opinions, one about strengthening belief in divine providence, the other about the presence of the Shekhinah among the Jews. We see, then, that the Kuzari was not totally unknown or unstudied in Ashkenaz up to the middle of the seventeenth century. But the overwhelming sense given by these sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century examples is of the Kuzari as one of Judaism’s authoritative repositories of useful information on a wide variety of subjects – the ‘contents’ approach. In the case of Luntschitz, the subject is theology and biblical exegesis. In the case of Isserles, the Kuzari is viewed as the teaching of a rishon that offers an authoritative precedent on a particular halakhic matter.37 Isserles does not engage with the work’s ‘thesis’ about the proper interrelationship of faith, reason, revelation, and philosophy, even though he was involved in such a debate himself. The scattered references from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries do not appear to regard the Kuzari as belonging – for good or for ill – to the genre of ‘philosophical’ books entering the Ashkenazi world.38 At the end of the seventeenth century, Yair Îayyim Bacharach (1638–1702) painted a somewhat different picture of the Kuzari’s role in this earlier period:
In earlier times, according to what I have heard, they used to study in their youth, Sefer ha-¨Aqedah [Isaac Arama’s ¨Aqedat YiÒÌaq], and the ¨Iqqarim [by Joseph Albo], and the Kuzari, and the like, because their tendencies were to perfect their souls. … Therefore they studied the books of the theologians and scholars.39

As Elbaum has pointed out, however, Bacharach was not necessarily lamenting the lack of such study in his own time, for he continues:
But in this [matter] the present generations have done well to distance themselves from these studies. For it is good for us and our children to believe in the beliefs that are imposed upon us without investigation, and I have elaborated on this elsewhere.40
 Sefer Keli yaqar ha-shalem (Bene Beraq, 1985), part 2, p. 445. This homily by Luntschitz is available in English translation by Louis Jacobs, in his Jewish Biblical Exegesis (New York, 1973), pp. 158–61. See also the discussion by Israel Bettan in ‘Ephraim Luntschitz: Champion of Change’, in his Studies in Jewish Preaching (Cincinnati, 1939), p. 276 n. 14. 37  I am grateful to Elchanan Reiner for pointing out to me the typicality of this approach by Ashkenazic poseqim of the sixteenth century, who tended to see all previous Jewish literature as material to be mined for halakhic insights. 38 Note the absence of the Kuzari from the text of a debate that raged in the yeshivot of Poznan and Prague in the sixteenth century, published by Philipp Bloch, ‘Der Streit um den Moreh des Maimonides in der Gemeinde Posen um die Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts’, Monatsschrift für die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums 47 (1903): 153–69, 263–79, 346–56. For a discussion, see Elchanan Reiner, ‘The Ashkenazi Elite at the Beginning of the Modern Era: Manuscript versus Printed Book’, Jews in Early Modern Poland, Polin 10 (1997), p. 95. 39 Sefer Sheˆelot u-teshuvot Îavvot Yaˆir, ed. Shim¨on Kutas (Ramat Gan, 1997), vol. 1, p. 342, no. 124 [in some editions of Îavvot Yaˆir, this responsum is numbered 123]. 40 Îavvot Yaˆir, p. 342. Elbaum’s discussion of this passage can be found in PetiÌut ve-histagrut, p. 155


Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

Nevertheless, Bacharach goes on to offer a qualified endorsement of limited study of Jewish philosophy:
Also there were some who studied in this regard Sefer Îovot ha-levavot [Duties of the Heart, by BaÌya Ibn Paquda], which also speaks about [theological/philosophical] inquiry in Part 1; and the other parts are full of knowledge and fear of God. And see what is written in the introduction regarding the man who learns the laws of marriage and divorce but knows nothing of the duties of the heart that are required of every Jew. See there. Also see in ¨Iqqarim, article 1, at the end of chapter 3, which is relevant to our inquiry here, for even the section OraÌ Ìayyim [of the ShulÌan ¨arukh] requires every Jew to know at least its general principles and most of its details, and indeed this is the favoured study taught by the Sages [M Avot 4:5], to learn in order to do and to be granted the opportunity [to learn and to teach, to observe, and to do].41

When Bacharach discusses the ideal curriculum for the elite student, the works of Halevi and others are not in the forefront. He does, however, suggest that some minimal acquaintance with such material should be attained. It is important, however, to note the subtle valences here. In former generations, even in Ashkenaz, the elite were concerned with philosophical inquiry – ‘metahalakhic’ studies, as the late Isadore Twersky put it.42 For Bacharach, the elite should be most concerned with talmudic studies, while basic theological study is the province of every Jew (or at least every Jewish male – kol ish yisraˆel is his phrase). In medieval Sephardi culture the prevailing view, as expressed by Maimonides, was that, for the elite, talmudic study should precede advanced philosophical study; here the sequence is partially reversed. For Bacharach, the initial stages of education should include basic practical knowledge of the OraÌ Ìayyim and Yoreh de¨ah, the two sections of the ShulÌan ¨arukh dealing with everyday matters in the life of the Jew. Then, the basic ‘duties of the heart’ should be learned as a supplement to this. It is quite clear, however, that despite the priority he gave here to halakhic over metahalakhic studies, Bacharach himself had extensive knowledge of philosophical and kabbalistic works, including the Kuzari.43 Although he does not seem to be advoand in his article ‘The Influence’, p. 197 n. 16. Cf. the somewhat different translation of the passage offered there. 41  Îavvot Yaˆir, pp. 342–43. 42 See Isadore Twersky, ‘Talmudists, Philosophers, Kabbalists: The Quest for Spirituality in the Sixteenth Century’, in Cooperman, Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, p. 450 n. 1: ‘I use metaHalakhah in its dual sense to connote both that area of study which comes after Halakhah as well as that which is the appropriate, indispensable culmination of the learning process by virtue of its revealing the infrastructure and superstructure, the foundations and goals, of religious law and life…. This conceptualization does not eclipse or curtail the autonomous significance of each discipline per se but does help us focus on their interrelationship. Inasmuch as kabbalists and philosophers recognize that their areas of study have a special relationship to Halakhah, it is neither restrictive nor imperialistic to speak of Halakhah and meta-Halakhah. Indeed, the latter, whatever it be (philosophy, Kabbalah, Hasidism) remains sovereign in all respects and scholars continue to investigate these fields in their totality.’ 43  For a full discussion of Bacharach’s attitudes on these issues, see Isadore Twersky, ‘Law and Spirituality in the Seventeenth Century: A Case Study in R. Yair Hayyim Bacharach’, in Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Isadore Twersky and Bernard Septimus (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), pp. 447– 68.

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cating a return to (a probably legendary) situation in which texts like the Kuzari were widely studied, he certainly thought that elite scholars could supplement their halakhic studies with such works.44 But note the apparent shift: whereas the few examples of interest in the Kuzari from the formative period of early modern Ashkenazi culture appear to be very much ‘content’-based, what Bacharach ‘remembers’ of this earlier period is systematic study of the work as religious philosophy. This shift continues in the generation after Bacharach, in the Libes briv, a wide-ranging critique of Ashkenazi education by Isaac Wetzlar (c. 1680–1751).45 Wetzlar, whose work may be seen as indicative of early Haskalah trends, cites Bacharach as an authority permitting the study of medieval works, especially Îovot ha-levavot. As for Bacharach’s statement that works such as the Kuzari should not be studied, Wetzlar concludes:
Indeed the great sage, the author of the Îavvot Yaˆir … writes about those who study the books ¨Aqedah, ¨Iqqarim, and the Kuzari, ‘the present generations have done well to distance themselves from these studies’. He writes this only about young people. ‘I have heard that they study this in their youth’. It is indeed good that they first study to ‘fill their bellies’ with Talmud and Codes in the way that the sage, the above-mentioned author, writes in this responsum. However, a householder who, with the help of God, has already completed these studies [that is, basic halakhic study] cannot study anything better [than these works], for the sake of heaven.46

With this recommendation to the average Jewish householder, Wetzlar significantly modifies Bacharach’s curriculum and advises the majority of young Jewish men (who will not continues their early halakhic studies) to continue their study with works of philosophy. In the ‘Early Haskalah’ of Wetzlar, the message or thesis of the Kuzari seems to be mobilized, for the first time, for a specific cultural agenda. In the lists offered by Bacharach and Wetzlar, in the first half of the eighteenth century, the Kuzari was seen as part of a distinct genre – medieval Sephardi Jewish thought – ‘philosophy’ in Ashkenazi parlance. Commentaries such as Zamosc’s and Satanow’s combined the ‘thesis’ and ‘contents’ approaches to create a pedagogical vehicle that not only makes it possible to teach elements of knowledge but also offers an overall argument. Although individual members of the intellectual elite of early modern Ashkenaz either read or were aware of the Kuzari as a learned treatise by one of their medieval Sephardi predecessors, the work did not penetrate the standard curriculum of the masses or secondary elite. In this, of course, the fate of the Kuzari was no different from that of other theological-philosophical works, like the Guide of the Perplexed or Sefer ha-¨Iqqarim. We should not conclude from this, however, that Ashkenazi men (and perhaps women) were not aware of the work in another way. Halevi was a popular character in Ashkenazi folktales and his frame story for the Kuzari, the conversion of the Khazars, was a well-known ‘historical event’ in Ashkenaz.
ibid., pp. 455–6. Wetzlar, see: The Libes Briv of Isaac Wetzlar, ed. and trans. Morris M. Faierstein (Atlanta, 1996), pp. 1–37; Sorkin, ‘The Early Haskalah’, pp. 16–7. 46 Libes Briv, p. 104.
45 On 44 See


Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

Isaac Akrish’s collection containing the Khazar correspondence, originally published in Constantinople in the sixteenth century, was reprinted in Cracow in 1595 and in Offenbach in 1720.47 Works like Ibn YaÌya’s Shalshelet ha-qabbalah, containing information about the conversion of the Khazars and Halevi’s authorship of the Kuzari, circulated in Ashkenaz alongside Gans’ ∑emaÌ David.48 At the end of the seventeenth century, Halevi came to be associated directly with the Khazar conversion. In Simeon Akiva Baer’s popular book of Yiddish folktales, Ma¨aseh ha-Shem, Halevi visits the Khazar king and converts him. This story, in which Halevi is conflated with the Ìaver, is paired with the well-known tale of Halevi’s daughter’s marriage to Abraham Ibn Ezra.49 The popularity of Baer’s work (in part because it consists mainly of Yiddish versions of stories from the Zohar) suggests that the Halevi-Khazar connection was implanted in the Ashkenazi popular consciousness even if most people were not aware of a separate work known as Sefer ha-Kuzari or had read it if they were aware of it. The author’s prestige as a rishon and interest in the background story – along with the maskilic appropriation of and use of the work – may well have prepared the ground for the wider popularity of the work in the nineteenth century. The fact that a handful of elite scholars mentioned the Kuzari, plus culturally diffused notions about the work’s author and frame story, is not enough to place the physical book in the hands of potential readers and commentators such as Zamosc and Satanow. As I have noted, the Kuzari tends not to be found in booklists of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ashkenaz. Even if we assume that the Italian editions of the sixteenth century were distributed in Poland in that period, we may safely assume that those copies had become relatively scarce by the beginning of the eighteenth century. At the same time, catalogues of the libraries of non-Jews in England, France, Germany, and the Low Countries reveal that many copies of Johann Buxtorf’s 1660 Latin translation of the Kuzari were in circulation throughout the eighteenth century. This would be of little interest for the story of Jewish transmission and reception, were it not for an important feature of Buxtorf’s edition: the Hebrew text is printed alongside the Latin text, making this the only Hebrew edition printed between 1594 and 1795. We need not merely speculate, however, that Jewish readers might have found this edition of interest. The best-known evidence for Jewish use of the 1660 edition is the existence of a copy in which Moses Mendelssohn copied Zamosc’s comments into the margins.50 In addition to the Zamosc/Mendelssohn copy of
 On Akrish, see Abraham Ya¨ari, ‘The Adventures and Books of R. Isaac Akrish’ (Hebrew), in his MeÌqere sefer (Jerusalem, 1958), pp. 235–244. Qol mevasser was republished in Cracow, in 1595 in Ma¨aseh bet David bime malkhut Paras; and in Offenbach, 1720, in an edition of Abraham Farissol’s Iggeret orÌot ¨olam. 48  There were two Ashkenazi editions of Shalshelet ha-qabbalah: Cracow, 1595/6; Amsterdam, 1697. 49 Ma¨aseh ha-Shem (Frankfurt, 1700), pp. 51v–52r; repr. Amsterdam (1723), p. 44v; Hamburg (1725), pp. 72r–72v; [n.p.] (1740), section 48. According to Steinschneider, there is an earlier edition of the work from 1691 (Cat. Bod, vol. 2, pp. 2612–13). I was not able to consult this edition, but D. M. Dunlop, History of the Jewish Khazars (Princeton, 1954), p. 120n, reports that this book contains the story (or stories) of Halevi, Ibn Ezra, and the Khazars. (Dunlop gives the call number as Oppenheim octavo 1103 [1] and refers to pages 29v–30v.) 50 The question of when Mendelssohn copied Zamosc’s commentary requires further investigation. A

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Buxtorf’s Kuzari, another extant copy, which is missing its title page, bears a note on the first page, in an eighteenth-century Ashkenazi hand, identifying the work as that of ‘of the Christian sage Buxtorf, Basilea 1660’.51 A further survey of copies of the Buxtorf edition will likely turn up other indications of Jewish readership in the eighteenth century. In addition, since Mendelssohn and Zamosc also cite Moscato’s commentary, we may conclude that at least one copy of the 1594 Venice edition circulated in Berlin in the middle of the eighteenth century. Neither Zamosc, nor Satanow, nor the young Mendelssohn would have had the financial resources to regularly purchase sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions of the Kuzari or similar works. The relatively humble economic status of many early maskilim can be cited to support the importance of the 1740 reprinting of Maimonides’ Guide, which offered eighteenth-century Ashkenazi scholars new access to this text. Indeed, it is clear that the printing presses that permitted the dissemination of new works and newly conceived traditional works were among the central institutions of the Haskalah, both early and late. Satanow’s work with the Îinnukh Ne¨arim press in the 1790s serves as a good example of such a project.52 But an emphasis on reprintings, many of them relatively late in the history of the movement, obscures another crucial element in the Haskalah’s use of medieval Jewish materials – large private libraries and the patronage of the Jewish elite. Especially important were the activities of the wealthy Itzig family, including its pater familias, Daniel Itzig or Jaffe (1723–1799), a banker and Jewish communal leader.53 One might argue that the 1765 move of the Itzig family from their house in Geckhol Street (which later became the first home of the Îinnukh Ne¨arim school) to a sprawling complex of mansions on Burgstrasse was a crucial moment in the institutionalization of the Berlin Haskalah.54 In one of these buildings, Itzig set up a bet midrash, a study hall for Jewish intellectuals, whether visiting from the east or more permanently established in Berlin as teachers or tutors. This eighteenth-century version of an ‘Institute for Advanced Study’ provides us with an example of a social context for the study, teaching, and commenting on the Kuzari at the very beginning of the Haskalah in Berlin in the 1760s and 1770s. It was there, over much of the period from 1765 to 1770, that Zamosc revised and completed his commentary on the
preliminary examination of microfilms of this manuscript shows differences between its text and that of the 1796 printed edition. To my mind, the most reasonable hypothesis is that Zamosc prepared an early version of his commentary or taught the work orally in the 1740s and then revised and completed the commentary in the 1760s in the Daniel Itzig bet midrash (see below). In this scenario, Mendelssohn’s copy was made in the 1740s or 1750s and represents this earlier stage of work. My thoughts on this matter have been greatly stimulated by discussions with Gad Freudenthal, Warren Zev Harvey, Steven Harvey, and Andrea Schatz during our colloquium in Amsterdam. 51  JTS Rare B759 J8 K8 1660 52 On the activities of the press, see Shmuel Feiner, ‘Programmot Ìinnukhiyot ve-ideˆalim Ìevratiyyim: bet ha-sefer ‘Îinnukh ne¨arim’ be-Berlin, 1778–1825’, in Îinnukh ve-historiyah: heqsherim tarbutiyyim u-folitiyyim, ed. Rivka Feldhay and Imanuel Etkes (Jerusalem, 1999), p. 248. 53  On Itzig and other early patrons of the Haskalah, see: Steven M. Lowenstein, ‘Jewish Upper Crust and Berlin Jewish Enlightenment’, in From East and West: Jews in a Changing Europe, ed. Frances Malino and David Sorkin (Oxford, 1991), pp. 182–201; idem, The Berlin Jewish Community: Enlightenment, Family, and Crisis, 1770–1830 (New York, 1994); Deborah Hertz, Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin (New Haven, 1988). 54 See Lowenstein, Berlin Jewish Community, pp. 27–8, for a description of the Itzig property.


Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

Kuzari under Itzig’s patronage.55 While working on his commentary, he may have been joined by a relative, Issachar Falkensohn Behr (1746–1817), who spent some four years there as well and wrote the first volume of German poetry by a Jew (published in 1771).56 A fuller description of this bet midrash, circa 1772, is provided by an account written by Joseph Teomim later in the century. Teomim, a recently-arrived Polish rabbi, spent some two years under Itzig’s patronage while working on his Peri megadim, a commentary on the ShulÌan ¨arukh.57 Years later, he described Itzig’s bet midrash as a ‘a room full of books’ and praised his patron for providing an individual room for each talmid Ìakham to use in ‘studying whatever his heart desired’.58 After two years in Berlin, Teomim moved to Lvov and later to Frankfurt an der Oder, where he served as rabbi until his death in 1792. Three years after Teomim’s death, his approbation appeared in the edition of the Kuzari published in Berlin with a commentary by Isaac Satanow. This approbation, dated 1786, also returns us to Itzig’s house in Berlin and describes how he studied the Guide and the Kuzari there with Isaac Satanow:
Here is the rabbinic sage, our teacher Isaac Halevi [Satanow], whom I knew from the time we were together days, or years, in the house of the great captain of the Jews, the leader, Daniel Jaffe, parnas and leader of the holy community of Berlin; I knew this man and [from] his conversation that he is a God-fearer…. In that time, we would study together these books [the Kuzari and Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed] and I heard from him fine interpretations of all the material, in holiness.59

Given Satanow’s penchant for self-promotion and plagiarism, it is possible that this approbation was forged in the 1790s. But in the period before battle lines had fully hardened between ‘Orthodoxy’ and ‘Haskalah,’ it is not implausible that Teomim and Satanow had indeed studied the Kuzari and Guide together in the 1770s.60 In any case, we have reports of at least four books that were written by Jewish intellectuals in the late 1760s and early 1770s under the auspices of the Itzig

YeruÌam ben Yissakhar Baer, publisher’s introduction, in Kuzari (Vienna). Behr, see Meyer Kayserling, ‘Isachar Falkensen Behr’, in his Der Dichter Ephraim Kuh (Berlin, 1864), pp. 43–7. 57 On Teomim (c. 1727–1792), see: EJ 15: 1011–2; Moritz Frankel, Kur ha-zahav shel mishpaÌat Frankel (New York, 1928), Hebrew section, p. 84; and Solomon Buber, Anshe shem (Cracow, 1895), pp. 95–7. 58 Sefer No†ariqon (Bilgoraj, 1909/10), colophon. 59 Kuzari (Berlin), page following title page. 60 There are three possibilities to consider: (1) that Teomim and Satanow did study together and that Teomim did write the approbation; (2) that Teomim and Satanow did study together, but that Satanow forged the approbation; and (3) that Teomim and Satanow did not study together and Satanow forged the approbation. (It would be absurd to entertain the possibility that Teomim and Satanow did not study together and that nonetheless Teomim wrote an approbation saying they had done so.) Given that Teomim and Satanow frequented the bet midrash in the same period and that the early 1770s were not an era of sharp traditionalist-maskilic polarization, it seems quite plausible that they did study these works together. The period to examine, then, is the 1780s (when Teomim supposedly wrote the approbation) and the 1790s (when Satanow published the work with this approbation). Here either (1) or (2) remain plausible options requiring more research.
56 On

55 See

Adam Shear


‘think tank’: a book of German poetry, a commentary on Jewish law, and two commentaries on the Kuzari.61 The recent sale of manuscripts from the library of the London Beth Din, many of them once owned by Daniel Itzig, offers a new look at this ‘room full of books’. A glance at the catalogue indicates a collection that was rich not only in halakhah but also in kabbalah and to a lesser extent in philosophy.62 It is quite likely that Itzig and other wealthy Jews in mid-century Berlin owned copies of the Basel and the two Venice editions of the Kuzari and that it was in their libraries that early maskilim like Zamosc gained access to the material needed to write his commentary. Indeed, the theme of discovering books in these libraries is a trope of early maskilic writings.63 Two aspects to this phenomenon of the use of private libraries should be mentioned. First, the contents of the libraries were purposefully collected by their elite and well-educated owners, who were themselves Ashkenazim. When dealing with the reception of the Kuzari in traditional Ashkenazi culture, we should be wary of what David Hackett Fischer calls the fallacy of the ‘pseudo-fact’. One version of this fallacy occurs ‘whenever a historian quotes an allegation by a member of group A, to the effect that A is not sufficiently interested in B’.64 These private libraries were not the monasteries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which contained material that had indeed been lost to the cultural imagination. The Kuzari and similar works were never entirely absent from the ‘virtual’ Ashkenazi library. Second, what was in the physical libraries was not an unmediated medieval Sephardi corpus but rather a mixture of medieval and early modern manuscripts and early modern Italian, Ashkenazi, Ottoman, and Christian printings, commentaries, and even translations. Sepharad gets to Ashkenaz – in the case of the Kuzari – via Venice, Mantua, and Basel. Certainly, what Zamosc and Satanow did with the Kuzari appears to have been unprecedented in Ashkenazi culture: that is, writing line-by-line commentaries, making use of the work’s ‘content’ while also focusing on its ‘thesis’; teaching the work to students like Mendelssohn; and studying the work in Ìevruta with Teomim. Until the works were printed, however, it is important to note that we are still in Bacharach’s world – a book for the elite. Thus, the dissemination of Satanow’s and Zamosc’s works via the printing press marks a crucial moment in this late eighteenthcentury transition from ‘Baroque’ to ‘Haskalah’ reception of the Kuzari in Ashkenaz. After the 1790s, the Wetzlar program had a chance.
61 I hope in a future project to trace other works produced under Itzig’s patronage, in order to more fully explore this institutional context of the early Haskalah. 62 See: Christie’s New York, Important Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books from the Library of the London Beth Din (New York, 1999); Kestenbaum and Company, Catalogue of Important Hebrew Printed Books and Manuscripts from the Library of the London Beth Din, the Third Portion (New York, 2001). I am grateful to Emile Schrijver for providing me with a copy of the Christie’s catalog. 63 See, for example, Barukh of Shklov’s introduction to his edition of Isaac Israeli’s Yesod ¨olam (Berlin, 1777). 64 David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies (New York, 1970), p. 45. Fischer’s example here is the historian of early America who quotes Thomas Jefferson’s complaint ‘that eighteenth–century Virginians were not much interested in music’ as evidence for a lack of interest in music among Jefferson’s contemporaries. Jefferson’s complaint, according to Fischer, demonstrates that at least one Virginian was interested and begs the question of how many other Virginians shared Jefferson’s interest.


Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

The reception of the Kuzari and Halevi in modern Jewish culture required the maskilic efforts of the late eighteenth century. But these maskilic efforts depended on what I have called the work’s ‘availability’ in the Ashkenazi culture of mid-eighteenth-century Berlin: the pre-existing image of the work, the pre-existing categories for considering the work, and the pre-existing physical copies of the work. This narrative certainly does not suggest continuity or deny the innovations of the Haskalah as a modernizing movement. Tracing the transmission of one particular text does, however, enable us to gain a better understanding of the discontinuity and the innovation.

Adam Shear



Judah Halevi's Sefer ha-Kuzari in Early Modern Ashkenaz and the Early Haskalah

Steven Harvey

The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers as Harbingers of the Renewed Interest in the Medieval Jewish Philosophers

Prologue From the moment I heard of the colloquium, ‘Sepharad in Ashkenaz’, I was attracted by certain of its underlying themes: To what extent were the authors of the early Jewish Enlightenment familiar with the medieval Jewish philosophers? To what extent did they cite them? How did they understand them? In the present paper I will address these questions with regard to several thinkers, including Israel Zamosc, Naphtali Hirsch Goslar, Judah Loeb Margolioth, and Pinchas Elias Hurwitz,1 on the basis of their introductions to their own works. My title is not intended to express an opinion as to whether these early maskilim should be considered harbingers of a new era. It is intended to suggest that their introductions may be viewed as heralds of a renewed interest in the medieval Jewish philosophers. My focus on the introductions is premised on the belief that these thinkers attached as much importance to their introductions as the medieval Jewish philosophers did to theirs. As will soon be seen, this belief is not unfounded. My title, of course, also implies that there was a period in which the works of the medieval Jewish philosophers were not so popular. This is by no means self-evident and requires a bit of explanation. I should point out that, following Wolfson, my tendency is to end medieval Jewish philosophy in the mid-seventeenth century with a certain Dutch philosopher and lens grinder, particularly well known in Amsterdam. By this reckoning, the period between the end of medieval Jewish philosophy and that of the thinkers considered here is only 100 to 150 years. For Wolfson, this philosopher Benedictus was ‘the first of the moderns’, while his alter ego Baruch was ‘the last of the mediaevals. … [W]e cannot get the full meaning of what Benedictus says unless we know what has passed through the mind of Baruch’.2 Thanks in great
1 The spelling ‘Pinchas Elias’ is Hurwitz’s own. See his signature in the revised edition of Sefer haBerit (Brünn, 1807), p. 7a. The author’s signature does not appear in every copy of this printing. It is, e.g., found in the copy at Bar-Ilan University, but not in that in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Amsterdam. On the reason for the author’s signature here, see ibid., p. 6a. 2 Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass, 1934), vol. 1, preface, p. vii.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Steven Harvey Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


measure to Wolfson’s grand study, The Philosophy of Spinoza, we have a pretty good idea of how steeped Spinoza was in the medieval Jewish philosophers, how well he understood them, and how much they influenced him. For Wolfson, Spinoza was the last of the medievals because ‘it was [Spinoza] who for the first time launched a grand assault upon [medieval religious philosophy]… It was [Spinoza] who pulled it down’.3 Wolfson was not ignorant of history when he ended medieval philosophy in the early seventeenth century, but gave priority to other criteria. Not all scholars agree with his periodization. Husik and Sirat conclude their histories of medieval Jewish philosophy in the fifteenth century, although both mention Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (1591–1655), the well-known scholar and scientist of the generation prior to Spinoza.4 Tirosh-Rothschild in the Routledge History of Jewish Philosophy considers the period from 1400 to 1600 – that is, the period just before Delmedigo (who is conspicuously absent from the History) – to be ‘the transition from the medieval to the modern epoch in the history of Jewish philosophy’.5 She explains that ‘with the renewed affirmation of the myth of Judaism, as elaborated by Kabbalah, medieval philosophy reached its inevitable demise. The synthesis of religion and philosophy – the hallmark of the medieval outlook – was dissolved by the end of the sixteenth century’.6 According to this understanding, medieval philosophy lasted till the end of the sixteenth century. Thus Husik, Sirat, and Tirosh-Rothschild, while formally delineating periodizations of medieval Jewish philosophy that differ from that of Wolfson and accord more with general periodizations of history, in actuality all agree that medieval Jewish philosophy continued until the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is indisputable that something happened to the enterprise of Jewish philosophy with Spinoza. For Wolfson, he is the inaugurator of the philosophy that tries to free itself from Scripture. Tirosh-Rothschild explains that instead of harmonizing religion and philosophy, ‘Jewish thinkers who cultivated philosophy’ in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can be divided into two groups: those like Spinoza who affirmed the primacy of reason and challenged the validity of the Jewish myth, viewing it as a construct of the human imagination and not as a divinely revealed truth; and those who were faithful to the myth and consequently sought to separate philosophy and religion.7 If this evaluation is correct, thinkers after Spinoza would have had no use for the medieval philosophers and their attempts to harmonize faith and reason. In fact, interest in the medieval Jewish philosophers declined rapidly in the decades following Spinoza. The clearest evidence of this is the dearth of printings in
Austryn Wolfson, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass, 1947), vol. 2, pp. 457–60. 4 Isaac Husik, A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy (Philadelphia, 1941; reprint, Mineola, New York, 2002), p. 431; Colette Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1985), p. 411. Georges Vajda mentions some later thinkers in his history of medieval Jewish thought ‘in order to complete this panorama of the Jewish philosophical-theological speculation of the Middle Ages’ (Introduction à la pensée juive du moyen âge [Paris, 1947], p. 191). Vajda also mentions Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (p. 193, n. 1), but adds that he does not present a ‘coherent philosophic system’. 5 Îava Tirosh-Rothschild, ‘Jewish Philosophy on the Eve of Modernity’, in History of Jewish Philosophy, ed. Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman (London, 1997), p. 499. 6 Ibid., p. 549. 7 Ibid.
3 Harry


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

Hebrew of the classics of medieval Jewish thought during this period. Consider the following examples: Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed was published for the first time in Italy in 1473/4, followed by editions in 1551 and 1553.8 After that, however, the masterpiece of Jewish philosophy was not printed again until 1742 in Jessnitz, an occasion that Altmann has called ‘a literary event of the first order, heralding as it did a thaw in the intellectual climate of German Jewry’.9 Interest in the work increased, and it was next printed some fifty years later by Isaac Satanow in Berlin and another five times over the next fifty years. Judah Halevi’s Kuzari was published three times between 1506 and 1594, and again in 1660 by Buxtorf, along with his Latin translation, but would not be published again for 135 years until Satanow’s 1795 Berlin edition and the 1796 Vienna edition with the commentary of Israel ben Moses of Zamosc. The Kuzari also returned to favour and was published at least six times over the next half century. Similarly, the popular thirteenth-century RuaÌ Ìen was published five times between 1544 and 1620, but not again until the 1744 Jessnitz edition with a commentary by Zamosc. Over the next century and a quarter, it was reprinted at least five times. My final illustration of the conspicuous scarcity during these years of editions of the classics of medieval Jewish philosophy is Joseph Albo’s Sefer ha¨Iqqarim, perhaps the most often printed work of the genre in the first centuries of Hebrew printing. Between 1485 and 1618, Albo’s book was printed no less than eight times. It was not printed again until 1772, and again in Frankfurt in 1788.10 These many examples do not mean that medieval philosophic works were not accessible and were not read from roughly the mid-seventeenth century to the mideighteenth century. They do, however, suggest that there was not much interest in them. This was in part to be expected, given the changing attitude toward the relationship between faith and reason, as outlined by Tirosh-Rothschild. To a great extent, it was due to the new-found popularity of Kabbalah. Altmann explains that a ‘hostile attitude toward philosophy and secular learning had set in toward the end of the sixteenth century and continued into the eighteenth, due chiefly to the influence of Kabbala’.11 Another cause was surely the pronouncements against the study of philosophy by prominent seventeenth-century rabbis, including the influential talmudist, Rabbi Yair Îayyim Bacharach (1638–1702). Bacharach himself was quite familiar with the classics of medieval Jewish philosophy. His attitude toward phi8 The editio princeps of the Guide is generally thought to have been printed in Rome around 1480. Adri K. Offenberg now shows that, as a matter of bibliographical methodology, Rome cannot be established as the place of printing. According to Offenberg, the edition comes from an unidentified Italian town and can be dated to 1473–4. See his Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century now in the British Museum [British Library], part 13 (’t Goy-Houten, 2004), pp. xlv and 10–11. I have not included a 1497 Lisbon edition, mentioned in Friedberg (below, n. 10) and other listings. There is little evidence for this edition, and no evidence for Hebrew printing in Lisbon in 1497. It is not included in Jacob I. Dienstag, ‘Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed: A Bibliography of Editions and Translations', in Occident and Orient: A Tribute to the Memory of Alexander Scheiber, ed. Robert Dán (Budapest, 1988), esp. pp. 96–8. 9 Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (Philadelphia, 1973), p. 10. 10 Information on the printing history of these books has been garnered primarily from Îayyim Friedberg, Bet eked sepharim: Bibliographical Lexicon, 2nd ed. (4 vols.; Tel-Aviv, 1951–56), and the website of the ‘Israel Union List’ of books. See also Yeshayahu Vinograd, OÒar ha-sefer ha-¨ivri (2 vols.; Jerusalem, 1993–95). 11 Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 21.

Steven Harvey


losophy has been discussed recently by Isadore Twersky, who portrays him as ‘a skillful and persuasive protagonist of pure Talmudism, [whose] ostensible aim is to curtail extra-Talmudic study and foster de facto concentration on Talmud’.12 The best-known statement of Bacharach’s attitude reads as follows:
Behold in the former generations, according to what I have heard tell, people used to study in their youth [Arama’s] ¨Aqedat [YiÒÌaq], [Albo’s Sefer] ha-¨Iqqarim, Halevi’s Kuzari, and the like, for their entire purpose was to attain perfection of their soul, which is the belief in the principles of religion. Accordingly, they studied the books that speak about and discuss this. But what the present generations, who shun these studies, do is preferable, for it is far better for us and our children to believe what we ought to believe without investigation.13

Twersky explains that, for Bacharach, although past generations may have studied philosophic works to attain perfection of the soul, this goal could be achieved through the study of halakhah, without the difficulties and dangers of philosophic speculation. ‘Theological principles … may be appropriated on faith’. Twersky sums up, ‘with one stroke of the pen, he disposed of philosophy’.14 The study of Jewish philosophic literature, even the most moderate variety of Halevi and Arama, was discouraged by Bacharach as quite unnecessary. Blunter and more characteristic of the negative attitude toward philosophy is the reply by the leading Polish talmudist, Rabbi Joel Sirkes (1561–1640), to a query concerning a doctor in Amsterdam who belittled Aggadah and Kabbalah and claimed that philosophy was the only discipline worth studying. In his responsum Sirkes wrote that Kabbalah is ‘the source of the Torah and its principle’, whereas philosophy is ‘the essence of heresy and the foreign woman about whom Solomon cautioned’.15 These charges against philosophic speculation were not new, but now no one seemed interested in coming to its defence. For whatever reason, the classics of medieval Jewish philosophy would, for a while, be largely ignored. Introductions My claim that the introductions of the eighteenth-century thinkers under discussion may be viewed as harbingers of a renewed interest in the medieval Jewish philosophers is, as I have stated, premised on the belief that these thinkers attached as much impor12 Isadore Twersky, ‘Law and Spirituality in the Seventeenth Century: A Case Study in R. Yair Îayyim Bacharach’, in Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Isadore Twersky and Bernard Septimus (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), p. 456. 13  Yair Îayyim Bacharach, Îavvot Yaˆir (Lemberg, 1896), n. 124, p. 63d. There is no doubt that this statement dissuaded many from reading these books ‘and the like’. Yet as early as 1749 we see a way to circumvent it from a somewhat unexpected source. See Morris M. Faierstein, The Libes Briv of Isaac Wetzlar (Atlanta, 1996), p. 104. On Wetzlar’s positive attitude toward medieval Jewish philosophy, see, e.g., pp. 43–4 and 105–8, and Faierstein’s remarks on pp. 5 and 27–8. 14 Twersky, ‘Law and Spirituality’, p. 461. See also idem, ‘Talmudists, Philosophers, Kabbalists: The Quest for Spirituality in the Sixteenth Century’, in Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Bernard Dov Cooperman (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), p. 434. 15  Joel Sirkes, Bayit Ìadash (Ostrog, 1834), n. 5, p. 2a. Cf. Louis Jacobs, Theology in the Responsa (London, 1975), pp. 151–2.


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

tance to their introductions as the medieval Jewish philosophers did to theirs. This belief is not completely true. One of the first of the eighteenth-century thinkers to take an interest in the Jewish philosophers was Israel ben Moses of Zamosc (ca. 1700–1772), whom I have already had occasion to mention. Zamosc wrote commentaries on BaÌya Ibn Paquda’s Duties of the Heart, the Kuzari, and the RuaÌ Ìen, and each begins in most unmedieval fashion, without so much as a word of introduction. In this respect, however, Zamosc’s commentaries – and other writings, such as Arubbot ha-shamayim and Nezed ha-dema¨ – were not typical of the works of the thinkers under discussion. In fact, Zamosc himself prefaced his controversial book, NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel, first published in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1741, with a lengthy introduction that shows his awareness of an introduction tradition. He writes at the outset that
it is proper for anyone who writes a book on whatever inquiry or subject to call attention in the introduction of the book to the methods of that inquiry or subject, and to the modes of its principles, the customary manner of instruction and its arguments, and the scope of its themes.16

Zamosc goes on to explain that since his book is an inquiry into ‘our holy Torah’ and these matters are well known with regard to this subject, he need not explain them in his introduction. Nonetheless, there are other matters, not addressed by his predecessors, that he states may be discussed with great benefit in an introduction. I will briefly touch on some of these matters in the next section. A different perspective on the purposes of the introduction is provided by Rabbi Judah Loeb Margolioth (1747–1811), who was born six years after the publication of NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel. Margolioth begins his little-known Iggeret ha-meliÒah u-mishpa† (Nowy Dwor, 1796) with a short introduction in which he explains the main purposes of the introduction.
The custom of authors of books is to write introductions at the beginning of their compositions. The utility of the introduction falls within three headings: notification [hoda¨ah], rhetorical defence [meliÒah], and attraction [Ìibbuv]. Notification makes known to the reader the matter and subject that will be discussed. Rhetorical defence is written against the deriders to defend the work – so that they will not open their mouth to say [cf. Ezek. 16:63, Exod. Rabbah 41:3, et al.] what profit can a man [cf. Job 22:2] have in new books? Are not the old ones sufficient? – and to make known the methods of the book, that it has utility, and that the likes of it were not composed in former days, and … to raise in advance and answer questions that others might ask of us. … Attraction is that the book will be liked by the reader. It explains in detail the boughs and branches that extend from the book that arouse his heart to read it.17

For Margolioth, each of these three headings makes known something about the book that readers ought to know at the outset, whether it is the book’s subject, its utility, or its attraction. Yet while these things ought to be made known, Margolioth denies that introductions are always necessary. For example, he says that the present book begins by presenting these matters, so there is no need to bother with an introduction.
16 Israel 17

ben Moses of Zamosc, NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1741), p. 1ab.  Iggeret ha-meliÒah u-mishpa† (Nowy Dwor, 1796), 1b.

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Some may say that even so the introduction is still useful, for sometimes it is also used for the author humbly to deny his worthiness to write the book and to explain that he did so only because certain circumstances required him to do so. For Margolioth, this is just a waste of words; if the author really is unworthy, his apologies will not help. Moreover, as the sage has said – and here the reference likely derives from Maimonides, but in a different context – ‘Accept the truth from whoever says it’.18 On the basis of this introduction one might think that Margolioth, like Zamosc, did not write many introductions. In fact, as we shall see in the next section, he wrote several, lengthy and revealing introductions. While these introductions by Zamosc and Margolioth suggest that they had given thought to the importance and purpose of introductions, it is hard to imagine anyone of the period who valued the introduction more than Pinchas Elias Hurwitz (1765– 1821), author of Sefer ha-Berit – a fascinating work, published in 1797, endowed with a foreword, a long preface, and an introduction, and reprinted ten years later in a second edition with a second long preface. Hurwitz’s one-page foreword consists primarily of a long list of topics covered, to which he adds that there is not a treatise, let alone chapter, of his book ‘that does not contain new and wonderful information, all in easy language so that even one who is not an initiate and knows only Scripture and Mishnah will understand it’. A purchaser of his book, we are told, is like someone who buys many books by secular scientists and Jewish scholars. ‘He acquires a teacher who will instruct and teach him all the sciences and all knowledge’. Hurwitz concludes his foreword with a pithy comment on the importance of introductions: ‘Just as it is not proper to enter one’s friend’s house suddenly without first knocking on the door’, he writes, alluding to a talmudic dictum, ‘so it is not proper to read any book, and in particular this book, without first reading the introduction’.19 Although none of the eighteenth-century introductions discussed below formally adopt the accessus ad auctores or Alexandrian prooemium tradition of the medieval falâsifah and the late medieval Jewish philosophers who followed them, such as Samuel Ibn Tibbon and Gersonides, Hurwitz’s first preface to Sefer ha-Berit in fact includes most of the eight elements of that tradition. He treats the aim of his book, its utility, its divisions, its rank, its method of instruction, the meaning of its title, and its author – although he does not disclose his name. Hurwitz also announces the intended readership of his book and emphasizes its nature and order. The first preface, in short, provides instructions for reading the book. The second preface, written ten years later, is less helpful in this connection. In it the author expresses his gratitude to God for the success of his book, whose two thousand copies have been received warmly throughout Europe and even in North Africa and the Middle East. The book has been out of print for some years and the author has taken the occasion of the new
18 Ibid.

See Maimonides, Eight Chapters, introduction. The exact quote, referring no doubt to Maimonides, is found in Simeon Duran, Magen avot (Livorno, 1762), on M Avot 4 (‘Elisha ben Abuyah said’), p. 66a. See also Profiat Duran’s grammar book, Ma¨aseh efod (Vienna, 1865), p. 25. 19 Sefer ha-Berit (Jerusalem, 1990), p. i. All references to Sefer ha-Berit are to this edition, rather than the 1807 printing referred to in n. 1, above. The teaching that one should not enter a friend’s house suddenly is part of Rabbi Aqiba’s advice to his son (B PesaÌim 112a).


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

edition to make some 350 corrections and additions. He also expresses his anger at an illegal printing of the first part of his book and gives explicit directions for future reprintings after the copyright expires in 1819. For Hurwitz, an introduction (haqdamah) to something is exceedingly important: it provides information necessary for understanding that something. His book, Sefer ha-Berit, is intended as an introduction to Îayyim Vital’s Sha¨arei qedushah; the first part of Sefer ha-Berit is an introduction to the second part; the last chapter of each of its treatises is as an introduction to the following treatise; and the last lines of each chapter are as an introduction to the following chapter. Hurwitz thus warns us that his introduction (petiÌah) to Sefer ha-Berit must be read at the outset, for it contains ‘information, suggestions, and premises that are required for understanding the book’.20 Although the first preface of Sefer ha-Berit functions more as a medieval introduction than his introduction does, we will shortly see how the two point to a renewed interest in the medieval Jewish philosophers. The Introductions as Harbingers I have suggested that the eighteenth-century authors we are considering appreciated the importance of the introduction to their books. I have also stated that the classic texts of medieval Jewish philosophy were relatively ignored from the second half of the seventeenth century through most of the first half of the eighteenth century. Now I shall examine some of these introductions to see in what sense they were harbingers of a renewed interest in medieval Jewish philosophy. I will proceed chronologically, from Zamosc to Hurwitz, although I will limit my remarks about both these thinkers as they are discussed at length in other papers in the present volume. Israel Zamosc Israel Zamosc’s purpose in his introduction to NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel was to persuade readers of the importance of scientific knowledge for understanding the Talmud and the teachings of the rabbis.21 Zamosc divides the Torah into two parts, one practical and one theoretical. The practical part concerns the performance of the commandments. The theoretical part is itself divided into two parts: that which exists in its own right and that whose existence is only for the sake of action. That which exists in its own right, apart from any deeds, is the study of ma¨aseh bereshit and ma¨aseh merkavah (the Account of the Beginning and the Account of the Chariot), which Maimonides, Zamosc notes, identified with natural science and divine science, respectively. He adds that, according to Maimonides, there is ‘great utility in their study’. He refers the reader to Maimonides’ discussions of these topics in the Commentary on the Mishnah and in the Mishneh Torah, adding that his task in the present book is not to explain these topics.22 Interestingly, he does not refer to Maimonides’ discussions of

 Sefer ha-Berit, pp. 14–5; see also pp. 5–6 and 31. this was not his only purpose in NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel. See Jay M. Harris, How Do We Know This? (Albany, 1995), pp. 138–41. 22 Zamosc, NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel, p. 1ab–ba.
21 But

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ma¨aseh bereshit and ma¨aseh merkavah in the Guide. In fact, although Maimonides is the author mentioned most often in the introduction, with citations from the Commentary on the Mishnah (including the Eight Chapters and the commentary on Avot), the Book of the Commandments, and the Mishneh Torah, there is only one quotation from the Guide.23 This contrasts with the other introductions we will be examining, all of which cite the Guide repeatedly. Indeed, throughout Zamosc’s lengthy introduction, there is no mention by name of any other work of medieval Jewish philosophy. While such omissions may to a great extent be explained by Zamosc’s intentions in this work, they also likely reflect the status of Jewish rationalism in general and of Maimonides’ Guide in particular at that time, a year before the 1742 republication of the Guide in Jessnitz. As for the theoretical part of the Torah whose purpose is only for the sake of action, it also has two aspects: making known or deriving the commandments and the manner of their performance through logical and pseudo-logical reasoning, and determining and explaining aspects of the commandments through scientific knowledge, such as the use of astronomy for the calculation and sanctification of the new moon. The first aspect is very important for performing the commandments, but of no intrinsic value: were a learned teacher to explain how we should perform all the commandments, there would be no need for such reasoning. The second aspect, the scientific learning needed for determining certain commandments, is in a way more important, for it is always needed; for example, each month it is needed once again for calculating the new moon.24 From this brief outline of what may be called Torah study, Zamosc’s attempt to restore the value of science for traditional Jews is immediately evident. The study of natural science and divine science is of great importance; together these two disciplines constitute the theoretical part of Torah that has intrinsic value, apart from any connection to the commandments. Sciences such as astronomy and mathematics serve a vital and constant role in determining certain commandments. Zamosc writes further that if one sees a difficulty in the words of the Talmud, one is obligated to try to resolve it, even if it does not affect the performance of a commandment. This is also true if the words of the Talmud appear to conflict with one of the seven secular sciences. Here too we are obligated to understand the sciences in order to resolve their conflict with the teachings of the Sages. This is particularly true with regard to those ‘sciences whose teachings cannot be denied and whose foundations can in no way be uprooted, and these are the mathematical sciences, … which are built upon strong and clear demonstrations’. We are under no obligation to resolve such conflicts for those sciences whose proofs are not demonstrative; but if we can do so, ‘it is praiseworthy’.25 In his introduction, Zamosc discusses a number of other themes, such as disagreements about whether certain commandments are biblical or rabbinic, whether midrashim should be taken literally – this is where he presents a long quotation from
23  Ibid., p. 2aa. The reference is to Guide III, 43 (trans. Shlomo Pines [Chicago, 1963], p. 573), and follows the Hebrew translation of Samuel Ibn Tibbon. 24  NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel, p. 1ab–ba. 25 Ibid., p. 1ba.


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the Guide – and the appropriateness of studying Torah for worldly reasons. But this is not his main point. ‘I have explained clearly’, he writes, ‘how, on the contrary, the Sages, of blessed memory, studied astronomy most deeply. … Those who do not study astronomy deeply will weary trying to understand the teachings of the Sages’.26 He continues: ‘The truth is that the principle that brings us life in the world-to-come is occupation with Gemara; nonetheless, we cannot take the sciences lightly’. Zamosc offers three ‘trustworthy witnesses’ for this view from among the great early scholars: Maimonides, Rabbenu Tam, and the kabbalist R. Abraham ben Isaac of Granada, who is mentioned along with Isaac Luria’s high praise of him.27 The supporting passages from Maimonides are from the Commentary on the Mishnah and the Mishneh Torah, but noticeably not from the Guide. The case for the value of the sciences could best be made to the reader of NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel on the basis of religious sources, not philosophical ones. Zamosc’s ideas, as expressed in NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel, aroused great controversy and forced him to flee Poland; but the case for the sciences had been made.28 While it did not inspire readers to turn to the books of medieval Jewish philosophy, NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel did help create an atmosphere in which those books would flourish. The following year the Guide appeared, and two years later the RuaÌ Ìen with Zamosc’s commentary was published, also in Jessnitz. Unlike his NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel, the opening pages of the commentary featured several citations from the Guide and other classics of medieval Jewish philosophy.29 Naphtali Hirsch Goslar R. Naphtali Hirsch Goslar is the least known of the eighteenth-century authors I have mentioned. An older relative of Moses Mendelssohn, Goslar served as a dayyan in Halberstadt. Altmann, in his biography of Mendelssohn, finds it interesting that Goslar discovered Maimonides’ Guide about the same time that Mendelssohn did, although Goslar was some thirty years older.30 Goslar’s book that concerns us is his Maˆamar efsharit ha-†iv¨it, which was published in a handsome edition in Amsterdam in 1762. In this book, Goslar sees himself as siding with Maimonides and other Jewish scholars against teachings of Aristotle and his followers, such as that the world is eternal. In his short three-page introduction, Goslar reveals that he himself had never seen Maimonides’ Guide or any other work of Jewish philosophy until he was fifty years old, when he chanced upon them and was stirred to look into them
pp. 2bb–3aa. p. 3aa. 28 See Raphael Mahler, Divrei yemei Yisraˆel: Dorot aÌaronim, vol. 1, book 4 (MerÌavia, 1962), p. 28; abridged trans., A History of Modern Jewry 1780–1815 (London, 1971), p. 554. Mahler writes that Zamosc was ‘violently persecuted after the publication of The Eternity of Israel [NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel] and forced to leave Poland’. See also Israel Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature, trans. Bernard Martin, vol. 6 (New York, 1975), p. 244. On the persecution of Zamosc, see the paper by Gad Freudenthal in the present volume. Freudenthal explains that Zamosc’s views were well known in Poland before the publication of NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel and that he may well have fled Poland before the publication of his book. 29 See RuaÌ Ìen with the commentary of Israel Zamosc (Warsaw, 1826), pp. 1b–3a. 30 Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 22. Altmann’s source for his information on Goslar was Adolf Jellinek, ‘Biographische Skizzen’, Literaturblatt des Orients 7 (1846): 260.
27 Ibid., 26 Ibid.,

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and their subjects. Philosophy is seductive. Goslar cites in this connection ‘the true sage’, the author of Proverbs, who wrote that ‘none who go unto her [the foreign woman (ishah zarah)] return [Prov. 2:19] to their former state’. The problem is that most philosophers oppose the beliefs of Judaism and do not believe in the Torah. Goslar applies the complimentary talmudic epithet, ‘first of the speakers’ (rosh hamedabberim)31 to the prime target of his attack, Aristotle:
Aristotle is the first of the speakers, captain of their hosts (cf. Josh. 5:14 et passim), bearer of their shield [cf. 1 Sam 17:7], their knops and their branches [Ex. 25:36, 37:22]; their sheaves gathered round [Gen. 37:7] his words, and he is a pricking brier and a piercing thorn to the house of Israel [Ezek. 28:24] and their Torah. [He and his followers] do not believe in the creation of the world, but rather their foundations are built upon eternity. … They reduce the power of God, may His name be exalted, and deny the miracles of Israel, the signs and the wonders.32

Goslar states that Maimonides tried through his great Guide to show the Aristotelians (‘the workers of iniquity’) the errors of their ways, but he did not benefit them and they turned not as they went [Ezek. 10:11]. Goslar offers to continue the battle, inasmuch as he has received divine help. The words ‘divine help’ (¨ezer elohi) refer to Maimonides’ first or lowest of the degrees of prophecy, which, according to the Guide, is when ‘an individual receives a divine help that moves and activates him to a great, righteous, and important action’.33 Yet Goslar acknowledges that his task will be difficult, because the stubborn Aristotelians go to great lengths to repair the breaches of their house (2 Kings 12:13). He will not be able to persuade most of his readers. Some know only what they hear from others. They will reject his words without reason and deride him for attempting what Maimonides and other great thinkers could not accomplish. Others, men of stature and learning, may not accept his objections. But those who have attained the high rank, and they are the clever ones – here Goslar uses two talmudic expressions (benei ¨aliyyah, Ìakhmei Ìarashim) that are employed by Maimonides in Guide I, 34 to refer to the few to whom one may reveal the secrets of the Torah34 – they will appreciate his arguments and see that he has refuted the false claims of the Aristotelians.35 Like Maimonides in his introduction, Goslar is concerned only with those who are able to understand, however few they may be. Goslar concludes his introduction with the following advice: Whoever wishes to understand the essence of Maimonides’ dispute with the Aristotelians need only read his little book.36 Goslar’s introduction was written in rhymed prose, with virtually every sentence built upon or playing upon phrases from Scripture. His intended readership was certainly learned observant Jews. But why was there a need, in 1762, to convince those
this epithet, see B Berakhot 63b, B Shabbat 33b, and B MenaÌot 103b. Hirsch Goslar, Maˆamar efsharit ha-†iv¨it (Amsterdam, 1762), introduction, p. 2a. 33 Guide II, 45, p. 396. The Arabic words translated as ¨ezer elohi are ma¨ûnah ilâhiyyah. Maimonides states that he himself received ‘divine help’(Guide III, introduction, p. 416). 34 Guide I, 34, pp. 73 and 78. For the expressions, see B Sukkah 45b and B Sanhedrin 97b; B Îagigah 13a and 14a (citing Isa. 3:3). 35 Maˆamar efsharit ha-†iv¨it, introduction, p. 2a–b. 36 Ibid., 2b.
32 Naphtali 31 On


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Jews of the falsehood of certain Aristotelian teachings? The author himself, a learned dayyan, was no doubt typical of his readership, yet he himself had not read the medieval Jewish philosophers until his fiftieth year, some ten years before writing his book. It seems likely that the reprinting of the Guide in Jessnitz some two decades earlier, as well as well as the writings and activities of Zamosc and others, had sparked a renewed interest in the Guide and, inevitably with it, the adoption or at least consideration of heterodox opinions by some Jewish readers. Goslar, who had taken a strong interest in the Guide and the medieval commentaries on it, as well as other classic works of Jewish philosophy, saw the dangers and thus the need to propound and defend a traditional Jewish theology. The very need for such a book, as spelled out in the introduction, heralds the renewed interest in the medieval Jewish philosophers. It may be noted that when Goslar was writing his book, another acquaintance of Mendelssohn’s, the physician Aaron Salomon Gumpertz (1723–1769), who like Mendelssohn studied with Zamosc and who discovered Maimonides’ Guide and other works of Jewish philosophy at the same time as Mendelssohn and Goslar, was writing his own book, Megalleh sod, a supercommentary on Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the Five Scrolls.37 Gumpertz attached to this work a short essay, perhaps as an introduction of sorts, entitled Maˆamar ha-madda¨, on the nature and content of the sciences. Yet whereas Goslar was concerned about contemporary Jews whose study of philosophy and science had led them to consider heterodox views, Gumpertz’s goal was to induce his readers to study the sciences. After all, he writes, if scholars such as Saadia Gaon, BaÌya, Maimonides, Ibn Ezra, Gersonides, Levi ben Îabib, and Albo, as well as those ‘closer to our generation’ such as Arama, Abravanel, Moses Isserles, Mordecai Jaffe, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, and many others, ‘engaged diligently and with much effort in the study of the sciences, wrote endless books on them, and found nothing wrong with them’, why should we object to them?38 Unlike Goslar, who speaks of the many who deride his efforts to counter radical Aristotelian teachings, Gumpertz speaks of the ‘multitude of people who deride and mock science, among whom are those who detest it as if it had no utility, and among whom are those who despise it as if it opposed, God forbid, the fundaments and intentions of Torah’. The cause of these views is the ignorance of those who hold them, who know virtually nothing about the sciences. ‘In our generation’, he adds, ‘even most of those who consider themselves among the scientists and scholars study only arithmetic, geometry and other subjects of mathematics’.39 Gumpertz’s little essay on the sciences is intended to provide the knowledge that could change the way many Jews view the sciences. In weighing the seemingly conflicting reports of Goslar and Gumpertz and attempting to evaluate the extent to which Jews of the early 1760s were familiar with the medieval Jewish philosophers,
37 On this work, see Thomas Kollatz’s paper in the present volume. On Gumpertz, see also David Sorkin, ‘The Early Haskalah’, in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London, 2001), pp. 19–25; Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 23–5. 38 Aaron Salomon Gumpertz, Maˆamar ha-madda¨, printed with Megalleh sod (Lemberg, 1910), p. 46. The first edition appeared in Hamburg, 1765. 39 Ibid., p. 31.

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it should be kept in mind that Gumpertz was probably referring mainly to contemporary science when speaking of the ignorance of most of his fellow Jews.40 Judah Loeb Margolioth R. Judah Loeb Margolioth was one of the best-known, most productive, and most widely published authors of the early Haskalah in Eastern Europe.41 He was an opponent of Hasidism but also, to some extent, of philosophy. While he was one of the Orthodox rabbis of the time who encouraged the study of mathematics and the sciences, he became increasingly concerned with their subversive effect at the hands of the maskilim. Apart from books of biblical exegesis, sermons, responsa, and linguistic studies, Margolioth was also the author of an enumeration of the sciences, Or ¨olam: ¨al Ìokhmat ha-†eva¨ (Light of the world: on natural science), which appeared in 1777, and an ethical work, Bet middot (House of virtues), also published in 1777 and in a revised edition in 1786, which was further revised and expanded and printed under the title ™al orot (Dew of lights) in 1811, the last year of his life.42 These three works are of particular importance for judging the extent of his knowledge and understanding of the medieval Jewish philosophers. The view that the Jews were, in general, not familiar with natural science is the basic premise of Or ¨olam. In the introduction to this book, published over a decade after the works of Goslar and Gumpertz, natural science is personified and complains about being neglected and forsaken by the Jews. Margolioth’s book is intended to come to its aid. Yet, as Shmuel Feiner has recently shown, the science presented in the book is basically an eclectic version of the old Aristotelian science of the medievals, dotted with touches of contemporary popular science.43 Significantly, the book is not a call to medieval philosophy, and the author expresses his surprise and disapproval with the Master of Torah, Maimonides, whose focus on philosophy led him to neglect natural science. ‘What iniquity’, he asks, ‘did he find in natural sci40  Mendelssohn thus advises the readers of the second edition of his commentary on Maimonides’ Treatise on Logic: If you ‘long to know the nature and object of every science in the way it has been enriched by modern scholars and has been augmented by valuable discoveries since the time of Maimonides, turn your attention to the Maˆamar ha-madda¨ … and knowing it will prove beneficial to your soul’ (trans. in Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 25). 41 On Margolioth, see now Shmuel Feiner’s insightful intellectual portrait, ‘The Dragon around the Beehive: Judah Leib Margolioth and the Paradox of the Early Haskalah’ (Hebrew), Zion 63 (1998): 39– 74. Cf. David E. Fishman, Russia’s First Modern Jews: The Jews of Shklov (New York, 1995), pp. 112– 5; Zinberg, History of Jewish Literature, vol. 6, pp. 257–60; and Mahler, Divrei yemei Yisraˆel, vol. 1, book 4, pp. 40–4; abridged trans., pp. 562–4. 42  Or ¨olam: ¨al-Ìokhmat ha-†eva¨ (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1777; Nowy Dwor, 1782); all references are to the 1842 Warsaw edition. Bet middot (Dyhernfurth, 1777; Shklov, 1786; Prague, 1786); all references are to the 1862 Lyck edition (repr. Jerusalem, 1970). ™al orot (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1811); all references are to the 1843 Pressburg edition. On the differences between the 1777 and 1786 editions of Bet middot, and between Bet middot and ™al orot, see Feiner, ‘Dragon around the Beehive’, pp. 58–60 and 70–1. The title Or ¨olam comes from Isa. 60:19–20; Bet middot is a play on the ‘wide house’ of Jer. 22:14; ™al orot comes from Isa. 26:19. 43 Feiner (‘Dragon around the Beehive’, pp. 55–6) calls Or ¨olam ‘a thin and disappointing little book’, whose science is ‘for the most part Aristotelian, outdated and eclectic’. He describes the scientific approach of the book as a combination of ‘medieval beliefs and views with allusions to the breakthroughs in physics and with emphasis on the experimental aspect of science’.


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

ence that he left her bereaved of children and solitary [Isa. 49:21]?’44 While Margolioth’s criticism of Maimonides may not have been fair, it underscored his own desire in 1777 to interest the ignorant reader in science, while discouraging philosophic study.45 How widespread was familiarity with the classics of medieval philosophy, according to Margolioth? In the preface to Bet middot and also to ™al orot, he refers to them as difficult to find, little read, and even less understood.46 This statement is supported by the testimony of his Shklov printers, who speak of the rarity and difficulty of the works of medieval Jewish philosophy and describe Bet middot as ‘a key to understanding these books’.47 Let us take a closer look at the beginnings of Bet middot and ™al orot. ™al orot consists of a two-page preface (haqdamah), a 28-page introduction (petiÌah), and ten chapters (she¨arim). The preface basically combines the prefaces to the two editions of Bet middot, while the introduction revises and expands that of Bet middot. The preface, written in flowery ornate prose, constructed from and playing on biblical phrases, could easily pass for a medieval preface. In it the author promises to clarify the precious wisdom of the earlier thinkers, whose teachings are hidden by their difficult language.
And he said: I cannot [understand] for the language is hidden and sealed [Isa. 29:11; cf. Dan. 12:4]. And I, when it was in my heart [1 Kings 8:18] – and my soul lusted exceedingly [cf. Ps. 106:14; Deut. 12:20 et passim] – to fill my belly with the delicacies [Jer. 51:34] of the masters of old and to know and understand the abundance of the dew of lights [Isa. 26:19], the rods of their pure hands [cf. Cant. 5:14]; I went down into the garden of logic at first to look at the buds [Cant. 6:11] of the flowers of this language. Afterwards I wandered in the place of the king’s scribes [Est. 3:12; 8:9; BM: the king’s merchants (1 Kings 10:28)], and these are the compositions of the former ones (from R. Saadia Gaon, Abraham Ibn Ezra, the Kuzari [Judah Halevi], the one from Candia [Joseph Solomon Delmedigo], R. Joseph Albo, R. Isaac Arama, and R. Abraham Bibago, to the terebinth of the Guide [Gen. 12:6] of the Perplexed) and to all who are near unto him [Deut. 1:6], his armour-bearers [1 Sam. 14:1 et passim], who polish the gold of what is intellected and drop the honey [cf. Cant. 4:11] of the proverb, and also the book (of the Physics and the Ethics) of those who speak plainly [Isa. 32:4] and talk honestly. So I set my face [Lev. 20:5], my leisure, and connected them with loops of wisdom and planted for them a noble vine [Jer. 2:21], a deep-ploughed vineyard. And in accordance with the minuteness of my intellect, I have expanded matters, for the former ones spoke briefly and not [as] in the present [cf. M Yevamot 15:2], for in their times a few notes were sufficient, but as for us, of small power [2 Kings 19:26, Isa. 37:27], smitten with lust, struck with passion, would that many notes from the well of wisdom, dug by great princes, the searchers of the heart [Num. 21:18, Judg. 5:16], would benefit us.48
¨olam, p. 3b. problem was not so much that Jewish philosophic books would lead directly to heresy, but that they would lead the reader to study the potentially harmful books of non-Jewish philosophers. See Fishman, Russia’s Modern Jews, p. 163, n. 36; Feiner, ‘Dragon around the Beehive’, esp. pp. 61 and 71. 46 ™al orot, preface, p. v; cf. Bet middot, p. 6 47 ™al orot, printers’ preface, p. iii; cf. Bet middot, p. 5. 48 ™al orot, preface, p. v; cf. Bet middot, p. 6. The differences between the two versions of this passage are minor.
45 The 44 Or

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The author thus tells us that he will expand upon the words of the earlier thinkers to make their teachings comprehensible. These thinkers, whom he calls ‘the mighty ones’ (ha-gibborim)49 in the parallel passage in Bet middot, are Saadia Gaon, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, Joseph Albo, Isaac Arama, Abraham Bibago, and Maimonides. This listing, suggestive of the Jewish philosophers who were known and read at the beginning of the Haskalah, is in roughly chronological order. Maimonides is listed last because he is in a class by himself, but the interposition of the seventeenth-century Delmedigo between Halevi and Albo is not only out of chronological sequence, but to modern eyes, a bit out of place among the medievalists. In any case, it will soon be clear that Margolioth’s philosophic library included far more than the compositions of these authors.50 Although Margolioth may indeed be seen as a popularizer of philosophic teachings, in his preface he makes it clear that he is not writing for everyone: ‘My voice is to the sons of men who understand science’ [Prov. 8:4]. His inspiration for this caution is Maimonides, and he directs the reader to Maimonides’ introduction to the Guide for an explanation. The passage he has in mind is Maimonides’ statement, ‘How could the [intelligent man] put it down in writing without becoming the butt for every ignoramus who … would let fly at him the shafts of his ignorance’,51 which he paraphrases in Bet middot.52 The author then speaks of the importance of employing rhetorical devices (meliÒot). For example, through the use of such devices, one can say with brevity what one would otherwise need to discuss at length. Again the reader is directed to Maimonides’ Guide; but this time Margolioth has misunderstood the text, in part due to an ambiguous translation by Samuel Ibn Tibbon. Maimonides wrote that the ‘exposition of one who wishes to teach without recourse to parables and riddles is so obscure and brief as to make obscurity and brevity serve in place of parables and riddles’.53 Margolioth
perhaps this is just a typographical error: ha-gibborim instead of ha-Ìibburim (the compositions).  See below. One is tempted to assume that the only texts of medieval Jewish philosophy available to the early maskilim were those works that had been published and were readily accessible at the time. Given the conspicuous paucity of printings and reprintings of the texts (see the discussion above) and the difficulty of obtaining even those books that had been published (see above, n. 47), the best gauge for judging which works were read would seem to be the frequency with which they were cited by contemporary authors. In this respect, Margolioth’s list is representative of the best-known or most-cited thinkers. But the initial assumption that the maskilim did not read manuscripts is not quite right; manuscripts of works by the medieval philosophers did circulate and found their way into the collections of bibliophiles who sought them out and had the means to acquire them. Margolioth was apparently such a collector. We thus read at the beginning of Margolioth’s edition of a Hebrew translation of the Twelve Homilies on Song of Songs attributed to Saadia (Königsberg, 1903), p. 1: ‘Rabbi Judah Loeb Margolioth compiled [this commentary on Song of Songs] from a manuscript which was in his library [bet genazav] of the hitherto unpublished Twelve Homilies of Saadia’. Margolioth’s edition was first published in Nowy Dwor in 1777, the same year as the first editions of Or ¨olam and Bet middot. That same year in Berlin, R. Barukh Schick of Shklov published his edition of Isaac ben Joseph Israeli’s astronomical treatise, Yesod ¨olam. Schick was assisted in this project by R. Hirschl Levin of Berlin, who lent him two(!) manuscripts of the book from his own private library (see Fishman, Russia’s Modern Jews, pp. 32–9, esp. 32). 51  Guide of the Perplexed, introduction, p. 6. 52 That this is the passage he has in mind is not clear in ™al orot, where it is not cited; see ™al orot, preface, pp. v–vi; cf. Bet middot, p. 8. 53 Guide of the Perplexed, introduction, p. 8.
50 49 Or


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

writes: ‘In a similar vein, Maimonides wrote that the nature of the obscurity of the matter is to be caught in the thicket [Gen. 22:13] of lengthiness so as to make [obscurity and lengthiness] serve in place of speaking in riddles’.54 For Maimonides, riddles and similar devices make for a longer exposition that is preferable to compact concision; for Margolioth’s Maimonides, they allow for a shorter exposition that removes the burden of prolixity. Another advantage of these devices is that they make it difficult for the teaching to be understood at first thought. This is important for Margolioth, because learning should not come easily. He quotes, in the name of the Peripatetics (meÌaqqerim), Aristotle’s saying that wonder is the cause of understanding.55 Wonder leads to investigation and study, and they in turn lead to learning and understanding. This notion that the acquisition of knowledge does not come easily is also found, Margolioth tells us, in Saadia’s introduction to his Book of Beliefs and Opinions: ‘Things that are difficult for the intellect to conceive at first are afterwards, through the conclusions of philosophic speculation, grasped by the intellect and embraced by it and absorbed into it for a long time’. The introductory phrase is Margolioth’s, but the rest, beginning with ‘through the conclusions of philosophic speculation’ (lit., ‘when the butter of philosophic speculation emerges’) – as it appears in Bet middot – is taken almost verbatim from Judah Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew translation of Saadia. In ™al orot, in the process of rewriting, Margolioth rephrased the quotation and made it more difficult to recognize.56 Margolioth adds that the idea that learning requires effort is already found in the rabbinic literature, where the verse, Also my wisdom stood unto me (Eccl. 2:9), is explained as ‘the wisdom that I learned in wrath, this has remained with me’. This explanation, cited in the name of the Sages, is based on a midrashic exegesis found in Ecclesiastes zu†a and later in Yalqu† Shim¨oni; but the precise formulation is that of Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Talmud Torah, who unobtrusively changed the torah of the midrashic text to Ìokhmah.57 Margolioth concludes both versions of his preface with a hint that the book will contain rhetorical devices and is not intended for everyone. The preface to ™al orot concludes: ‘The intercessor will build his house for those whose eyes are in their head and whose feet are straight feet [Ezek. 1:7]. They will come into it and delight in its goodness, but the blind and the lame cannot come into the house [2 Sam 5:8]’. ‘Intercessor’ (ha-meliÒ) replaces the explicit ‘I’ of Bet middot; but more interestingly, the revised version omits the verbatim quote from the Guide found at this point in Bet middot: ‘As for what is fitting for one single virtuous person and not fitting for
orot, preface, p. vi; cf. Bet middot, p. 9. The confusion stems from Ibn Tibbon’s rendering of Maimonides’ al-}îjâz (brevity) by the ambiguous ha-ha¨avarah. On Shem ™ov Falaquera’s critique of this translation, see Yair Shiffman, ‘Falaquera and Ibn Tibbon as Translators of the Guide’ (Hebrew), Da¨at 32–33 (1994): 105. 55 ™al orot, preface, p. vi (not in Bet middot). See Metaphysics I, 982b12–27. 56 ™al orot, preface, p. vi; cf. Bet middot, p. 9. Cf. Saadia, Emunot ve-de¨ot (Josefow, 1885), introduction, 4, p. 42; English trans., Samuel Rosenblatt, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions (New Haven, 1948), p. 14. 57 Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Talmud Torah, 3,12 (also commentary on Avot 5:23, without the word hiˆ): ‫ .חכמה שלמדתי באף היא עמדה לי‬Cf. Ecclesiastes zu†a 2,9, and Yalqu† Shim¨oni 247, 968: ‫תורה שלמדתי‬ ‫.באף נתקיימה לי‬
54 ™al

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ten thousand ignoramuses, I am he who chooses to address that single man by himself, and I do not heed the blame of that large group of people’.58 One wonders if this deletion signals a change in Margolioth’s perception of his intended audience.59 The introduction to ™al orot begins with a summary of Maimonides’ teaching on the four perfections of man, which is noteworthy for the author’s slight change to Maimonides’ text that makes the fourth perfection more acceptable to traditional readers. Maimonides had written that this perfection is ‘the true human perfection; it consists in the acquisition of the rational virtues – I refer to the conception of intelligibles, which teach true opinions concerning the divine things’.60 Margolioth writes that Maimonides explained that this perfection is ‘the true human perfection; it is the conception of the true intelligibles concerning divine matters and matters of the Torah and wisdom’.61 Yet more telling of Margolioth’s understanding of this account of the perfections and of Maimonides’ philosophic teachings in general is his reluctance to treat the fourth perfection. ‘It is not my task to compose a work on opinions. Great scholars have been unable to find words of delight and speak of it [Isa. 58:13, Eccl. 12:10] truly. … Thus I will establish the cornerstone of my composition on matters of ethics alone, in order to guide men to their perfection’.62 Margolioth supports his case for not treating the fourth perfection with two accurate quotations from Maimonides. One is from Guide I, 58 (mistakenly cited as I, 31), to the effect that God’s essence cannot be apprehended by human intellect. The second, a particularly apt warning from Guide II, 24, is that ‘to fatigue the minds with notions that cannot be grasped by them and for the grasp of which they have no instrument, is a defect in one’s inborn disposition and madness’.63 Margolioth then quotes from Kevod Elohim, by Joseph Ibn Shem ™ov (c. 1400–c. 1460), that the Peripatetics’ weakest discussions are those that treat of metaphysics.64 Margolioth, citing Maimonides and Averroes, acknowledges that ‘moral perfection is not sufficient for man without the perfection of opinions’; but, as we have seen, he does not feel he should treat of this perfection. Yet, he tells us that his ‘soul yearns, yea, even pines [Ps. 84:3] to lead the many to righteousness [M Avot 5:22] and to guide them to their perfection and their good’. The importance of not simply being virtuous, but also guiding others to the right path, is illustrated through citations from BaÌya Ibn
58 Bet middot, p. 9. See Guide, introduction, p. 16. Margolioth also quotes this passage from the Guide in the preface to his Qorban reshit. 59 Such an interpretation would fit in well with Feiner’s view of Margolioth’s changing attitude toward the study of philosophy and science (see his ‘Dragon around the Beehive’). 60 Guide, III, 54, p. 635. Maimonides writes (pp. 634–5) that, according to the philosophers, there are four species of perfections: perfection of possessions, perfection of the bodily constitution and shape, perfection of the moral virtues, and perfection of the rational virtues. He emphasizes that this last perfection is the only true human perfection. 61 ™al orot, p. 1a; Bet middot, p. 10. Bet middot does not attribute the passage to Maimonides, but to the ancient philosophers (Maimonides attributes it to ‘the ancient and modern philosophers’). 62 ™al orot, pp. 1d–2a. 63  Guide I, 58, p. 137, and II, 24, p. 327. The second reference is introduced, ‘and he further wrote’, and the locus in the Guide is not provided. 64  Kevod elohim (Ferrara, 1556), p. 23a; Bet middot, p. 11. This passage is actually a quote from Averroes’ Middle Commentary on the Metaphysics, book L, and is attributed to Averroes by Joseph Ibn Shem ™ov.


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

Paquda’s Duties of the Heart as well as from the rabbinic literature.65 On the other hand, Margolioth has no interest in guiding others to the first two perfections, for he does not see how they can help one attain the true perfection. As Maimonides writes, ‘the endeavour and efforts directed by man to this kind of perfection are nothing but an effort with a view to something purely imaginary’.66 His book will guide readers to moral perfection. ‘I have chosen that my task in this composition will concern matters that lead souls to their perfection, and it is an exceedingly precious task, above all others from the point of view of subject and end’.67 Margolioth thus begins his inquiry with an examination into the meaning of ethics. The repeated references in Margolioth’s prefaces and introductions to the Guide and other works of medieval Jewish philosophy, even as their author was struggling with the advisability of reading or encouraging the reading of these works and the philosophical subjects they treat, may be viewed as a clear sign of a renewed interest in these texts. Further evidence for this is that he often brings these works as proof texts for points he wishes to make. Pinchas Elias Hurwitz Pinchas Hurwitz’s Sefer ha-Berit was first published 1797, over half a century after Zamosc’s NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel, at a time when many of the classics of medieval Jewish philosophy were available in recent editions and the Jewish Enlightenment was already in full swing. Hence its introduction can hardly be seen as presaging a renewed interest in the medieval Jewish philosophers. It may, however, portend a broad interest in these thinkers among Jews – far from the centre of the German Haskalah – who decades earlier would have had little to do with them. I say ‘portend’ and not ‘have encouraged’, but perhaps even ‘portend’ is misleading. Hurwitz did not explicitly encourage the reading of Maimonides’ Guide or of any works of medieval Jewish philosophy. In fact, in the second treatise of his book he inveighs against those who believe that everything Maimonides wrote is correct, when in fact, with regard to much of what he said, the opposite is true. ‘The reason’, he writes, ‘that it has taken so long for truth to come to our nation is that many think that to disagree with the words of Maimonides, of blessed memory, is to disagree with that whose truth is without doubt’.68 Part of the problem is that Maimonides followed the old science of Aristotle; for Hurwitz, though, the problem with Maimonides and other medieval rationalists is not only their science, but also their theology. He rejects their view that God can be known through the study of philosophy.69 But even apart from these conorot, pp. 1a–b. See BaÌya, Duties of the Heart, X, 6; Hebrew ed. and English trans., Moses Hyamson, 2 vols. (repr. Jerusalem, 1970), vol. 2, pp. 365–366; Rashi on Gen. 18:4; Genesis Rabbah 48, 10; and B Baba meÒi¨a 86b. This passage is not in Bet middot. 66 ™al orot, p. 1c-d. See Guide III, 54, p. 634. Maimonides is writing about the first perfection. 67 ™al orot, p. 1c. Here he brings support for the loftiness of the subject of ethics from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, book I. 68 Sefer ha-Berit, I, ii, 6, pp. 41–42. 69 On this point, see Ira Robinson, ‘Kabbalah and Science in Sefer ha-Berit: A Modernization Strategy for Orthodox Jews’, Modern Judaism 9 (1989): 275–88, esp. pp. 279–81, and the notes thereto. See also Zinberg, History of Jewish Literature, vol. 6, p. 264.
65 ™al

Steven Harvey


siderations, which minimize the value of the medieval rationalists, the introduction makes clear that the book’s encyclopaedic character obviates the need to waste time on other books of science and philosophy. Hurwitz explains that an ‘exceedingly great’ benefit of his book is that ‘a Jew will not need to spend his time reading endless books’, and will have ample time for the study of Torah, for ‘nearly everything one could desire to know’ may be found in his book.70 If, then, the works of the medieval rationalists are outdated and in any case, after Sefer ha-Berit, superfluous, wouldn’t this book have served to curtail interest in medieval Jewish philosophy rather than arouse it? I think not. Hurwitz’s own debt to the medievals should not be underestimated.71 For now, I will simply point out that unlike some of the previous thinkers I have considered, Hurwitz’s interest was not chiefly in the medieval Jewish philosophers, but in the well-known philosophers and scientists of the nations, ancients and moderns. Most of the early maskilim acquired their scientific knowledge primarily from medieval Jewish writers and the Greek and Arabic scientific sources they translated, cited, and explicated; Hurwitz’s main sources were recent and non-Jewish. It is the latter he has in mind when he speaks of philosophers and natural scientists, and it is their writings his readers will not have to read, because they have learned the science they need to learn from his book. But this does not mean that Hurwitz ignored the medieval thinkers. His prefaces and introduction betray the influence of the medieval Jewish philosophers. Thus, his specific use in them of Saadia’s Book of the Beliefs and Opinions, RuaÌ Ìen, and Maimonides’ Guide shows that, in his view, one can still learn from these books. Indeed, his introduction, which introduces the reader to such basic topics as Aristotle’s ten categories, substance and accident, matter and form, and the four elements, is rooted in the discussions and Hebrew terminology of medieval philosophical texts such as BaÌya’s Duties of the Heart, the anonymous RuaÌ Ìen, and Maimonides’ Guide, which is cited both word-for-word and in embellished loose paraphrase. While one cannot conclude from this that the prefaces and introduction to Sefer haBerit inspired others to read the medievals, these texts do reveal something about the growing interest in these thinkers. Hurwitz, as we have seen, felt compelled to write his book in part to provide the science and philosophy necessary for understanding the third part of Vital’s Sha¨arei qedushah, which, he claims, few had the requisite scientific and philosophic knowledge to understand. Of course, Vital wrote his work 200 years before Sefer ha-Berit, so one could conclude that for Hurwitz, few knew much even about the science and philosophy of that time. There were, however, enough such people for Hurwitz to complain about the blind followers of Maimonides. Yet what is perhaps most telling about the extent of interest in science on the part of Hebrew readers of the time is the book’s immediate and great success throughout the Jewish world, as reported by Hurwitz in the second preface. Clearly, the book ei70 Sefer 71 On

ha-Berit, pp. 9–10, 18. the various influences on Sefer ha-Berit, see the paper by Resianne Fontaine in the present volume. On the impact of the medieval philosophers on Sefer ha-Berit, see also Robinson, ‘Kabbalah and Science in Sefer ha-Berit’, p. 286, n. 8.


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

ther created or filled a need. The world was changing. By the end of the eighteenth century – that ‘fascinating, contradiction-filled eighteenth century’72 – there were many Hebrew readers eager to learn science and understand its relation to their religion. This fact in itself portends the broadening interest in medieval Jewish philosophy that would be manifested in the following century. Conclusion David Sorkin has recently defined the early Haskalah as ‘an effort to revise baroque Judaism or the Ashkenazi culture of early modern Europe’. For him, one of the ‘four defining characteristics’ of this Judaism is that ‘medieval Jewish philosophy was ostracized’. The early Haskalah sought to revive knowledge of this neglected field.73 Amos Funkenstein put it slightly differently: ‘One can, without exaggeration, tie the beginning of the Haskalah to the renewed interest in medieval religious philosophy. … The early Haskalah manifested itself through a renewed dedication to medieval philosophical writings’.74 The fact is that for well over a century the medieval Jewish philosophers were mostly ignored, their works rarely cited and conspicuously not printed. The early maskilim gradually rediscovered them. This is not to say that the early maskilim all approached the medieval philosophers in the same way. For some of them, their ‘intellectual world was anchored in the medieval rationalistic tradition’; for others it was not.75 Some saw the medieval philosophers as sufficient guides for the study of science and philosophy, while others saw the need to update their science with more recent science. Some saw them as a means of escaping the darkness of previous generations and recovering the enlightened wisdom that characterized Jewish scholars of the past, while others – though not disagreeing – feared that the medieval Jewish philosophers could lead readers astray, whether indirectly (by inspiring the study of contemporary non-Jewish philosophy)76 or directly, and undermine their religious belief. Authors’ introductions provided them with the opportunity to explain their own approaches. They allow us to gauge – both through their own explanations and the use they make of the medieval Jewish thinkers – the extent of their familiarity with them and interest in their teachings. I have tried to

 For this formulation, see Shmuel Feiner’s paper in the present volume. ‘The Early Haskalah’, pp. 9–10. 74  Amos Funkenstein, Perceptions of Jewish History (Berkeley, 1993), pp. 235 and 238. Sorkin and Funkenstein do not use the words ‘early Haskalah’ in the same way. For Sorkin’s understanding and dating of the early Haskalah, see his ‘Early Haskalah’, esp. pp. 9–10 and 25–26. Cf. Funkenstein, Perceptions, pp. 238–9. 75  Emmanuel Etkes, ‘Immanent Factors and External Influences in the Development of the Haskalah Movement in Russia’, in Toward Modernity: The European Jewish Model, ed. Jacob Katz (New Brunswick and Oxford, 1987), p. 22. Cf. Mahler, Divrei yemei Yisraˆel, vol. 1, book 4, p. 36; abridged trans., p. 559: [They] ‘relied on the ethical and philosophical works of medieval Jewish authors … for their principal intellectual inspiration’. Etkes’ quotation comes from a description of Israel Zamosc, who is contrasted in this respect with Barukh Schick of Shklov, for whom, despite his Western education, ‘the justification of the need to study science was based on assumptions and claims derived from that [medieval rationalistic] tradition’. On Schick, see Fishman, Russia’s Modern Jews, pp. 26–30. 76  See above, n. 45. See also Etkes, ‘Immanent Factors’, p. 26.
73 Sorkin,


Steven Harvey


show, through a few representative introductions of early Enlightenment thinkers, that these introductions may be viewed as harbingers of the wider interest in the medieval Jewish philosophers that was soon to come.77

77 For

a full discussion of the early maskilim (including many not mentioned in this study) and their differing attitudes toward science and philosophy, see Shmuel Feiner, ‘The Early Haskalah in the Eighteenth Century’ (Hebrew), Tarbiz 67 (1998): 189–240. The interest of the German maskilim in the medieval Jewish philosophers is, to some extent, another matter. For various reasons why they turned to the medievals, see Funkenstein, Perceptions of Jewish History, pp. 239–40. Cf. James H. Lehmann, ‘Maimonides, Mendelssohn and the Me’asfim’, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 20 (1975): 87–108. See further Solomon Maimon’s introduction to his Giv¨at ha-moreh, ed. Samuel Hugo Bergman and Nathan Rotenstreich (Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 1–5.


The Introductions of Early Enlightenment Thinkers

Raphael Jospe

Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Preface In many respects, Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) personally embodied the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century Germany. A central figure in enlightened German intellectual circles, he was widely perceived by non-Jews and Jews alike as representing Jews and Judaism in a society undergoing major transformation, both political (Jewish emancipation) and cultural (Jewish enlightenment). Yet many aspects of Mendelssohn’s religious thought are deeply and thoroughly traditional on core theological issues, often reflecting the thought, with which he was quite familiar, of the medieval Jewish philosophers and Bible commentators. The modern Berlin philosopher is in many respects the student of medieval Sepharad. On some questions, notably criticism of the biblical text, Mendelssohn reaffirmed a conservative and traditionalist view, not only in opposition to the overtly critical interpretations of Spinoza, but also in sharp contrast to the radical questions posed, or implied, by Abraham Ibn Ezra. Mendelssohn frequently cites the latter’s commentary but passes over his radicalism in deafening silence, even in passages where Mendelssohn cites some other point raised by Ibn Ezra. Nevertheless, although Mendelssohn clearly affirmed and identified with basic traditional Jewish beliefs and remained a fully observant Jew throughout his life, he was modern in his application, extension, and transformation of medieval theory and traditional themes. New historical circumstances and a modern political context required applying and extending traditional Jewish beliefs and practices in new ways. Necessity begets virtue, as Mendelssohn came to understand the state’s neutrality in religious matters as the only legitimate relationship of these two forces and as political toleration of diverse religions was no longer merely a matter of pragmatic accommodation but rather an ideal situation reflecting a divinely ordained pluralism and inclusive conception of truth. In affirming the essential rationality of Judaism (the doctrines of which, he believed, are none other than the principles of natural religion), Mendelssohn echoed such medieval predecessors as Saadia Gaon and Maimonides. Mendelssohn struck out in new directions with his barely concealed implication that Judaism’s rationality and lack of dogmatic claims to exclusive truth render it not only superior to Christianity, but also the most tolerant and liberal, and thus the most modern, religion.1
1 This

paper is based, in part, on several earlier studies of diverse aspects of Mendelssohn’s thought:

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Raphael Jospe Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


Mendelssohn’s Thought in Light of Saadia Gaon, Abraham Ibn Ezra, and Judah Halevi: Selected Themes Jewish Particularity Mendelssohn is deeply indebted to Judah Halevi on the basic question of what constitutes Jewish identity. Rationalist Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages had tended to maintain an essentialist definition of Jewish identity: the Torah, or some other Jewish ‘essence’, defines the Jewish people. In the words of Saadia Gaon, ‘our nation of the children of Israel is a nation only by virtue of its laws’.2 Similarly, for Abraham Ibn Ezra, the ability of the Jews to transcend astral determinism is not inherent or national but a function of their knowledge and observance of the Torah.3 For Maimonides, as Menachem Kellner has argued persuasively, ‘the difference between Jew and Gentile is theological and not essential … in terms first and foremost of intellectual commitment as opposed to national or racial affiliation’.4 Judah Halevi, of course, represents the epitome of the national, indeed racial approach. The Torah does not, as the rationalists claim, define the Jews, but the contrary. ‘Without the children of Israel there would be no Torah; moreover, they did not derive their uniqueness from Moses, but Moses derived his uniqueness from them’.5 For Halevi, the Jewish people, biologically descended from Abraham, possess a unique ‘divine faculty’ for prophetic revelation, the amr ilahi (Hebrew: ¨inyan elohi).6
‘Jewish Particularity from Ha-Levi to Kaplan: Implications for Defining Jewish Philosophy’, in Go and Study: Essays and Studies in Honor of Alfred Jospe, ed. Raphael Jospe and Samuel Fishman (New York, 1980), pp. 307–25 [revised and republished in Forum (World Zionist Organization, Nos. 46/47, Fall/Winter, 1982): 77–90]; ‘Faith and Reason: The Controversy Over Philosophy’, in Great Schisms in Jewish History, ed. Raphael Jospe and Stanley Wagner (New York 1980), pp. 73–117 [revised and republished as ‘Faith and Reason: The Controversy Over Philosophy in Jewish History’, in La Storia della Filosofia Ebraica, ed. Irene Kajon (Milan, 1993), pp. 99–135]; ‘The Superiority of Oral over Written Communication in Judah Ha-Levi’s Kuzari and Modern Jewish Thought’, in From Ancient Israel to Modern Judaism: Essays in Honor of Marvin Fox, ed. Jacob Neusner, Ernest Frerichs and Nahum Sarna (Atlanta, 1989), vol. 3, pp. 127–56; ‘Biblical Exegesis as a Philosophic Literary Genre: Abraham Ibn Ezra and Moses Mendelssohn’, in Jewish Philosophy and the Academy, ed. Emil Fackenheim and Raphael Jospe (Madison, 1996), pp. 48–92; ‘Sa’adiah Gaon and Moses Mendelssohn: Pioneers of Jewish Philosophy’, in Paradigms in Jewish Philosophy, ed. Raphael Jospe (Madison, 1997), pp. 37–59; ‘Chosenness in Judaism: Exclusivity vs. Inclusivity’, in Covenant and Chosenness in Judaism and Mormonism, ed. Raphael Jospe, Truman Madsen, and Seth Ward (Madison, 2001), pp. 173–94. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from the Hebrew or Arabic are mine. 2  Saadiah Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions III:7, trans. Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven, 1948), p. 158. 3  See Raphael Jospe, ‘Abraham Ibn Ezra’, in Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (London, 1998), 4: 611–613; idem, ‘The Torah and Astrology According to Abraham Ibn Ezra’, Proceedings of the Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies, Division C, 2, (Jerusalem, 1994), pp. 17–24; idem, ‘Hatorah ve-ha-astrologya eÒel Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra’, Da¨at 32–33 (1994): 31–52; Y. Tzvi Langermann, ‘Some Astrological Themes in the Thought of Abraham Ibn Ezra’, in Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: Studies in the Writings of a Twelfth-Century Jewish Polymath, ed. Isadore Twersky and Jay M. Harris (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), pp. 28–85. 4 See Menachem Kellner, Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People (Albany, 1991), pp. 5–6; idem, ‘Overcoming Chosenness’, in Jospe, Madsen, and Ward, Covenant and Chosenness in Judaism and Mormonism, p. 161. 5  Judah Halevi, The Kuzari 2:56. 6 Ibid., 1:31–35.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

In Halevi’s view, if the historically undeniable phenomenon of prophecy were a function of the rational faculty, all peoples could have experienced divine revelation, whereas in fact prophetic revelation is universally acknowledged (i.e., by Christians and Muslims as well as by Jews) as manifested only among the people of Israel and in the Land of Israel.7 Halevi also denied that Jewish distinctiveness could be defined in terms of ethics or rationality, which must be universal, and without which even a band of robbers could not exist. These universal rational and ethical principles are the foundation of any just society and are necessarily prior in nature and time to the specifically Jewish laws.8 Although I am unaware of any indication in Mendelssohn’s thought of the kind of racial doctrine that lies at the core of Halevi’s theory of Jewish particularity, Mendelssohn’s structure of Jewish particularity was based on Halevi’s. Like Halevi, Mendelssohn rejected defining Jewish identity in terms of rational truth and morality. Truth and morality, essential for human happiness, must be universally accessible to all people through reason. According to Mendelssohn, this is the universal and rational ‘natural religion’ or ‘religion of nature’ on which all positive religion must be based. Unlike Christianity, Judaism claims no truths necessary for salvation beyond those of natural religion, which were not, and could not have been, revealed.9 For Mendelssohn, then, to speak of ‘revealed religion’ or ‘revealed truth’ is a contradiction in terms.10 Someone capable of understanding the truth does not need revelation (which is accordingly superfluous); someone unconvinced of the truth ‘demands rational proofs, not miracles’ (so that revelation is meaningless).11 According to Mendelssohn, therefore, Judaism is not revealed religion but revealed law. The revealed ‘ceremonial laws’ (as Mendelssohn calls them) ‘refer to, or are based on, eternal verities, or remind us of them, or induce us to ponder them’.12 ‘The ceremonial law was to be the link between thought and action, between theory and practice’.13 So Jewish particularity is not defined by doctrine. A proposition is in itself neither Jewish nor non-Jewish, but true or false. For Mendelssohn, as for Halevi, the specifically Jewish factor lies not in the rational content of what is taught, but in the manner in which it is taught, through the observance of the ceremonial law. For both Halevi and Mendelssohn, the underlying rationality and morality must be universal and must be prior in time and nature to the posterior and particular revealed Jewish law. For Halevi, the ritual Jewish laws, in the time of the ancient Temple cult, served to acti7 Ibid., 1:4, 95, 103; 2:12–24, 32–45, 48. On Halevi’s influence on Mendelssohn regarding the uniqueness of the land of Israel, see Zev Harvey, ‘Moshe Mendelssohn ¨al EreÒ Yisraˆel’, in EreÒ Yisraˆel bahagut ha-yehudit ba-¨et ha-Ìadashah, ed. Aviezer Ravitzky (Jerusalem, 1998), pp. 301–12. 8  Halevi, Kuzari 2:48. Cf. 3:7. Nevertheless, although revelation is a function of the divine faculty and not the rational faculty, nothing in the Torah can contradict reason, just as nothing known rationally can contradict what is known empirically (ibid., 1:67, 89). 9 Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, ed. and trans. Alfred Jospe (New York: Schocken, 1969), p. 69. For an analysis of Mendelssohn’s natural theology, see Allan Arkush, Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment (Albany, 1994), pp. 37–68. 10  Ibid., p. 61. 11 Ibid., p. 69. 12  Ibid., p. 71. 13 Ibid., pp. 98–9.

Raphael Jospe


vate the latent ‘divine faculty’ of the Jews, making the phenomenon of prophecy possible. For Mendelssohn, today as in ancient times, the ceremonial law is the ‘link between thought and action’. Jewish identity, for both Halevi and Mendelssohn, is thus a formal rather than essentialist category. As we shall see later, for Mendelssohn this is not merely a theoretical notion but has important practical implications for the compatibility of traditional Judaism with the modern liberal state and religious pluralism. Publicly Verifiable Historical Truth A second area in which Mendelssohn manifests a deep indebtedness to the medieval philosophers is the question of publicly verifiable historical truth as the basis for affirming the Torah as a divinely revealed system of law. Here, too, the issue for Mendelssohn is not merely theoretical but has fundamental practical implications. In the introduction to his Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Saadia Gaon outlines three types of universal knowledge: empirical knowledge directly derived from sensory observation; rational knowledge; and deductive ‘knowledge which is inferred by logical necessity’.14 To these three types of knowledge he adds a fourth, possessed by ‘the community of the monotheists’ (jama¨ah al-muwaÌadin, qehal ha-meyaÌadim), namely ‘authentic tradition’ (al-khabar al-Òadiq; ha-haggadah ha-neˆemenet), which ‘corroborates for us the validity of the first three sources of knowledge’.15 Saadia then asks how this kind of knowledge can be ‘established as convictions according to the laws of geometry and become firmly fixed in the mind’.16 The answer is that the public and enduring nature of authentic tradition (as Saadia called it), or historical truth (as Mendelssohn called it), like the stories of the exodus from Egypt, renders them indubitable.17 For Halevi, publicly verifiable historical events like the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai are far more trustworthy and reliable sources of knowledge than rationalist metaphysical speculation is. All the people of Israel had certain knowledge of these events, either through direct personal experience (¨iyan, bi-reˆut ¨enehem; witnessing with one’s own eyes) or through ‘uninterrupted tradition’ (altawatur [succession, repetition, continuation], qabbalah nimshekhet), ‘which is like direct experience’.18
14  Saadiah Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Introduction, §5 (trans. Rosenblatt, p. 16). Cf. the discussion in Arkush, Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, pp. 170 ff. 15  Ibid., p. 18. Shlomo Pines argues that this is a particularly Jewish type of knowledge, intended only for Jews. I have argued, on terminological and contextual grounds, that Saadiah’s reference to ‘the community of the monotheists’ cannot be limited to Jews alone. Cf. Jospe, ‘Sa’adiah Gaon and Moses Mendelssohn’, esp. p. 46; idem, ‘Ha-haggadah ha-neˆemenet shel Rabbi Sa¨adyah Gaon: Mi hem qehal ha-meyaÌadim?’ Da¨at 41 (1998): 5–17. 16 Saadiah Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Introduction, §6 (trans. Rosenblatt, p. 26). There is a remarkable parallel between this question and that posed by the Royal Academy in Berlin in the announcement, in 1761, of the topic for its 1763 essay competition, which Mendelssohn won: ‘Whether metaphysical truths in general, and the first principles of natural theology and morality in particular, are susceptible of the same evidence as mathematical truths, and in case they are not, what is the nature of their certitude; which degree can it attain; and whether this degree is sufficient to impart conviction’. See Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (Alabama, 1973), p. 113. 17  Saadiah Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Introduction, §6 (trans. Rosenblatt, pp. 29–30). 18 Halevi, Kuzari 1:25. See the discussion in Arkush, Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, pp. 174–7.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Mendelssohn adopts these arguments, but then applies them within the context of his political philosophy in Jerusalem. As we have seen, the eternal and necessary rational truths (defined by Leibniz as vérités de raison) are inherently universal and are identified with the religion of nature. But there are also temporal and contingent historical truths (defined by Leibniz as vérités de fait), ‘events which took place long ago and of which we were told by others but which we ourselves can no longer observe’.19 These historical truths
can have been perceived only by the senses of those who were present at the time and place they occurred in nature. Everyone else must accept them on the authority and testimony of others. Moreover, people who live at a subsequent time must rely unconditionally on the credibility of this testimony, for it testifies to something which no longer exists.20

The public historic revelation of the Torah at Sinai continues to provide the basis of the particular Jewish way of life. Mendelssohn extends this medieval argument in his modern context. Spinoza had argued in his Theologico-Political Treatise that the Jewish law was valid only within the ancient Jewish polity. In Julius Guttmann’s words, Spinoza’s
identification of Jewish law with Jewish political order was intended to limit the scope of its applicability to the time when a Jewish state existed, and to remove from it any possible value for the present.21

Mendelssohn accepted Spinoza’s idea that the Jewish law had an enforceable, political function only within the context of the ancient Jewish polity. But he rejected Spinoza’s conclusion regarding the continued general validity of the law. The fact that Jewish law is no longer politically enforceable in no way means that it is no longer religiously valid and obligatory for all Jews today (with the exception of those laws specifically relating to the Jewish polity in the Land of Israel and the Temple cult in Jerusalem, which no longer exist), precisely because there has been no equally public, divine revocation of the original public, divine revelation:
I cannot see how those who were born into the household of Jacob can in good conscience exempt themselves from the observance of the law. … The law can perhaps also be changed according to the requirements of a particular time, place and set of circumstances, but only if and when it pleases the supreme Lawgiver to let us recognize His will – to make it known to us just as openly, publicly, and beyond any possibility of doubt and uncertainty, as He did when He gave us the law itself. As long as this has not happened, as long as we can show no such authentic dispensation from the law, no sophistry of ours an free us from the strict obedience we owe to it. … To be sure, we are exempted today from those laws which were once, of necessity, connected with land ownership and certain civil institutions [in ancient Palestine]. Outside of Judea, without the Temple and

 Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, p. 62. p. 64. 21  Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism, trans. David Silverman (New York: 1964), p. 299. Cf. Guttmann, ‘Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem and Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise’, in Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship, ed. Alfred Jospe (Detroit, 1981), pp. 361–86.
20 Ibid.,

Raphael Jospe


priesthood, there can be neither sacrifices nor laws of purification nor levies to support the priests, inasmuch as all these depend on our possession of that land. But personal commandments, duties imposed upon every son of Israel, which are unrelated to Temple service and land ownership in Palestine, must, as far as I can see, be strictly observed according to the words of the law until it will please the Most High to set our conscience at rest and to proclaim their abrogation clearly and publicly.22

This argument obviously precludes both the secularization and assimilation of the Jews into European society, represented by Spinoza in the century before Mendelssohn, and the radical religious reforms of Judaism in the century after Mendelssohn. But it also has a more immediate political application. Towards the end of Jerusalem Mendelssohn explicitly and boldly states that if the price of Jewish emancipation is the abandonment of traditional Jewish way of life based on the laws of the Torah, the Jews must remain faithful to the Torah and renounce emancipation:
If we can be united with you as citizens only on the condition that we deviate from the law which we still consider binding, then we sincerely regret the necessity of declaring that we shall renounce our claim to civil [equality and] union with you. … We cannot forsake the law in good conscience – and without a conscience of what use would fellow citizens be to you?23

Mendelssohn’s modern political application of the medieval argument that the public nature of the Sinaitic revelation is proof of its facticity and validity also underlies his exegesis of the opening line of the Decalogue, ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ (Ex. 20:2 and Deut. 5:6). Here, as on the question of Jewish particularity discussed above, Mendelssohn sides firmly with Judah Halevi against Abraham Ibn Ezra and Maimonides.24 For all of these thinkers, the question raised by this verse is the cognitive status and philosophic implications of the phrase, ‘I am the Lord your God’. For Judah Halevi, as we have seen, historical truth is superior to and more certain than metaphysical speculation. God, therefore, identifies himself to the Israelites in terms of the Exodus, a certain and undeniable fact of their national historical experience, and not in terms of the creation of the world, a speculative metaphysical doctrine questioned by many.25
Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, pp. 104–5. Altmann and Arkush also maintain that Mendelssohn’s claims regarding public revelation reflect a medieval Jewish type of historical argumentation rather than Wolff or other non-Jewish thinkers. See Arkush, Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, p. 168. In this chapter, Arkush subjects Mendelssohn’s theory of revelation to sharp criticism. 23 Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Writings, pp. 106–7. 24 Zev Harvey has discussed Ibn Ezra’s and Halevi’s different approaches to this passage in ‘Ha-dibber ha-rishon ve-elohei ha-historiyah: Rabbi Yehudah Halevi ve-Rabbi Îasdai Crescas mul Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra ve-Rambam’, Tarbiz 57(2) (1988): 203–16. In his postscript, Harvey briefly cites Mendelssohn and comments that ‘Mendelssohn’s relationship to Halevi does not always receive appropriate attention’ (p. 216, n. 31). Cf. the discussion in David Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment (Berkeley, 1996), p. 129. 25 In the same way, at the start of the dialogue between the Jewish Ìaver and the king of the Khazars (Kuzari 1:25), Halevi has the king question why the Ìaver had defined his belief in historical terms of God as the redeemer of the people, rather than in natural terms as the creator and ruler of the world. Halevi has him reply that a religion that understands God in such natural terms is based on dubi22 Mendelssohn,


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, regarded the historical reference in our verse as essentially a concession to the primitive level of understanding of the Israelites who had only recently been brought out of Egyptian bondage. These common people had no way to know God scientifically, through the study of nature. The Torah therefore had to refer to their immediate historic experience, since it was addressed to the entire nation. For Ibn Ezra, then, as for Maimonides after him, ‘I am the Lord your God’ is a positive commandment, indeed the most basic of the commandments, namely, to affirm the fundamental rational truth of the existence of God. For Mendelssohn, however, consistent with his general philosophic Weltanschauung, this verse does not command belief, because belief cannot be commanded, and because what is revealed can only be laws, not truths. That being the case, ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ cannot be construed as a commandment at all, but rather as the historical preamble or preface to the subsequent commandments. It reiterates the public historical truth upon which the legal injunctions are founded: since I am the God who brought you out of Egypt (a historical fact of the people’s experience), you should have no other gods in my presence, you should make no images, and so forth. In short, ‘I am the Lord your God’ is the foundation of the other commandments, but not one of them. Therefore, God’s identifying himself in terms of the exodus from Egypt rather than the creation of the world is not a concession (as in Ibn Ezra) to the primitive state of the people, but establishes a more certain basis (as in Halevi) for the people’s acceptance and observance of the Torah. Mendelssohn, of course, agreed with Ibn Ezra and Maimonides that the existence of God is a universal rational truth, accessible to all people and fundamental to all other religious affirmation and behaviour. Unlike them, however, he could not construe it as a commandment. To do so would have been to confuse rational truth, which must be universal and accessible to all humans, with the content of a particular revelation, at a specific time and place, to one particular nation, which can govern only behaviour and not convictions. According to Mendelssohn’s interpretation, in purely syntactical terms, this verse, unlike all the subsequent verses of the Decalogue, contains no imperative verb; it is merely a descriptive historical statement. As he later developed his political philosophy in Jerusalem, however, belief per se never admits of command or coercion, whether human or divine. Only external behaviour can be coerced. The inner convictions of the heart are subject and responsive only to persuasion, not to coercion. To command belief in God, even in divine revelation, is therefore, once again, a contradiction in terms.
Among the precepts and ordinances of the Mosaic law, there is none saying ‘you shall believe’ or ‘You shall not believe’. All say, ‘You shall do’ or ‘You shall not do’. You are not commanded to believe, for faith accepts no commands; it accepts only what comes to it by reasoned conviction.26
ous rational speculation, whereas when God is identified in historical terms (such as in the opening verse of the Decalogue) the claim is undeniable and certain, because (as we saw above) it is based on direct personal experience or on uninterrupted tradition, which is equally reliable and certain. 26 Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, pp. 70–2.

Raphael Jospe


Mendelssohn’s philosophic exegesis of this verse, therefore, reflects not merely syntactic and theological concerns, like those of his medieval predecessors. Even more important, it reflects his modern political aim of providing a theoretical philosophic framework separating religious law from coercive political power. To suggest that human convictions are subject to command, even if only divine command, is to misconstrue the very nature of both rational truth and revelation. Furthermore, it opens a dangerous breach in the absolute barrier between religious conviction and practice, which must be free, and the legitimate but inherently coercive political power of the state. It thus involves not only theoretical error, but an immediate and practical danger to modern, enlightened society. Theory of Language: The Superiority of the Hebrew Language, Biblical Poetry, and Oral Communication Another area in which Mendelssohn is deeply indebted to Judah Halevi is his theory of language. While many of the questions raised are purely theoretical, there are, once again, at least implicit modern practical applications. Here, however, Mendelssohn refrains, quite possibly deliberately, from making or even mentioning those applications. In the Kuzari 1:53–56 Halevi posits the theory that human languages are not natural and eternal, but generated and conventional. Unlike other languages, which arise at a given time by common agreement, the Hebrew language is neither conventional nor temporal. It is, rather, the divine language of creation and was the original human language, the language of Adam and Eve.27 Halevi then develops a theory of the superiority of oral over written communication, first in general terms and then, again, in terms of biblical Hebrew. The unpunctuated biblical text was endowed with an oral dimension by means of the masoretic cantillation signs (ta¨amei ha-miqraˆ). These notes convert the unpunctuated written scripture, which cannot be understood alone, into a living text that is read – into a living word heard by the reader and the congregation. It is precisely this oral dimension of biblical Hebrew that renders it superior to other languages. Biblical Hebrew poetry is similarly superior to the poetry of other languages. Foreign poetry requires a metric structure; but Hebrew poetry is not constrained by such artificial devices, because it aimed at a ‘superior and more beneficial quality’ than mere beauty.28 The formal aesthetic advantage of meter comes at the expense of effective communication of the poetic content, the meaning, which is what is truly important. Meter constitutes an artificial and divisive formal structure that often fails to conform to the true meaning (or possibly diverse levels of meaning) of the words. The biblical cantillation signs, on the other hand, conform to the meaning of the words, punctuate them, and thereby facilitate understanding their meaning. Secular poetry need be merely pleasing aesthetically. Biblical poetry (from Halevi’s perspective) was not merely meant to please, however aesthetically pleasing it may actually be. Its purpose was to instruct.
also Kuzari 2:67–68, 4:25.  Ibid., 2:70. Altmann (Moses Mendelssohn, p. 410) comments that it is ‘a bit strange’ that Halevi, himself a great and prolific author of metrical poetry, should have regarded meter so negatively.
28 27 Cf.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Although the vibrancy and immediacy of oral communication render it superior to written communication, what one sees and experiences personally makes a greater impression than what one is told by others. Moreover, seeing the sensible object facilitates understanding abstract ideas.29 The need for visible symbols to facilitate comprehension does not contradict Halevi’s preference for oral over written communication. Oral communication is not superior because it is audible, rather than visible, but because it is immediate, alive, and facilitated by aids (gestures, tone of voice, etc.) – what we today call ‘body language’ – in a face-to-face encounter. Sensible symbols (whether visible or audible) similarly assist in our comprehension of otherwise abstract ideas by endowing them with an immediate and living quality. All of these ideas recur and resound in Mendelssohn’s thought. Mendelssohn’s Hebrew introduction to the Torah, Or la-netivah (Light for the path), as well as his Beˆur (the Hebrew commentary on the Torah, which he published together with the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch and his German translation thereof under the title Netivot ha-shalom [Paths of peace])30, as well as his German-language Jerusalem, clearly reflect Halevi’s Kuzari on all these points: Hebrew as the original language of creation and of Adam and Eve;31 the superiority of the Hebrew language; the superiority of biblical poetry; the role of the biblical cantillation signs; the superiority of oral communication; the need for concrete symbols. It is only in Jerusalem, intended for a non-Jewish audience, that Mendelssohn went farther than Halevi on the question of the superiority of oral communication and the need for visible symbols (although he refrained from taking the next logical step or, perhaps, failed to realize the potentially radical implications of his theory). For Mendelssohn, as for Halevi, the biblical cantillation signs were one of the unique features of the Hebrew language that make it superior to other languages. But Mendelssohn adds a point that, so far as I know, is not made by Halevi in the Kuzari: Moses actually heard the words precisely as indicated by the masoretic vocalization and the cantillation signs, which were then transmitted orally from generation to generation.32 As Halevi had said, the cantillation signs do not merely punctuate the text by connecting and separating the words. Rather, they add a living and oral dimension to the ‘dry bones’ of the written text.33 Mendelssohn also discusses the question of the original Hebrew script in which the Torah was written (citing Kuzari 3:30) and (like Halevi) concludes his discussion of biblical Hebrew with a survey of Hebrew grammar.
 Kuzari 4:5. Psalm 119:105, ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path’. The phrase ‘the paths of peace’ is taken from Proverbs 3:17, ‘Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.’ On Mendelssohn’s associates in the Beˆur project, see the discussion in the next section of this paper. 31  Mendelssohn, Or la-netivah (1783), in Sefer Netivot ha-shalom (Prague, 1836), vol. 1 (Genesis), p. 2. In addition to Altmann’s discussion of this work in Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study, see Edward R. Levenson, ‘Moses Mendelssohn’s Understanding of Logico-Grammatical and Literary Construction in the Pentateuch: A Study of His German Translation and Hebrew Commentary (The Beˆur)’ (Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1972). Levenson’s valuable study deals extensively with Mendelssohn’s attitude toward and interpretative use of the masoretic system of biblical cantillations. See also: Perez Sandler, Ha-beˆur la-torah shel Moshe Mendelssohn ve-si¨ato (Jerusalem, 1940); Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 53–90. 32  Or la-netivah, pp. 3a–b. Cf. the discussion in Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 66–7. 33 Or la-netivah, p. 3b.
30 Cf. 29

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In the introduction to the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) in the Beˆur, Mendelssohn follows and amplifies Halevi’s theory of biblical poetry and again explicitly cites the Kuzari. Like Halevi, Mendelssohn appreciated biblical poetry’s freedom from the artificial constraints of meter, such as typified Greek and Latin poetry, as well as its freedom from the constraints of rhyme.34 Sacred poetry thus does not merely please; it instructs and corrects individuals and aims at ‘controlling the faculties of the soul and ruling its qualities, and changing its characteristics as it wishes’.35 Biblical poetry thus serves a moral, and not merely aesthetic, purpose. In short, in his two Hebrew works on the Bible (Or la-netivah and the Beˆur), written in the traditional manner and aimed at Jewish readers, Mendelssohn cites the Kuzari and further develops Judah Halevi’s theories of the superiority of the Hebrew language, biblical poetry, and the system of biblical cantillation – all positions scarcely appropriate for a Gentile audience. Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem, written in German and aimed at non-Jewish readers, also manifests Judah Halevi’s influence in these matters, but transforms Halevi’s arguments and applies them in a new direction. Halevi’s linguistic and pedagogic arguments regarding the superiority of the Hebrew language, biblical poetry, and oral communication concern the most effective way of communicating meaning and facilitating comprehension. Mendelssohn begins with such linguistic and pedagogic arguments, but proceeds from the level of communicating meaning to the level of apprehending metaphysical and religious truth. The Jewish religion conveys abstract metaphysical truth while avoiding dilution of that truth by plastic symbols or obscuring the truth by limiting it to the fixed and immutable written word. Halevi (in Kuzari 4:5 and 5:20) acknowledged that visible symbols may be needed to represent abstract truths. Mendelssohn extends this insight, enriching the discussion with two new elements that prove for him the superiority of Jewish religion in general terms and specifically over Christianity. First, since plastic symbols inevitably lead to idolatry,36 Judaism employs the commandments, rather than images, as a concrete means of inculcating abstract truths.37 Second, Mendelssohn says that today, because of the spread of the written word, we are witnessing a breakdown in immediate oral communication. The ceremonial laws, which in Judaism replace images as the link between thought and action, were originally largely transmitted orally and were not committed to writing for centuries, until changed historic circumstances required that radical change.
It was only much later that the heads of the Synagogue decided, albeit with considerable reluctance, to grant permission – which by then had become necessary – to record some legal traditions in writing.38

34 Beˆur, 35 Beˆur,

introduction to the Song of the Sea, Exodus 15:1, p. 82a. Cf. Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn,

pp. 76–7.

introduction to the Song of the Sea, Exodus 15:1, p. 82a. Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, p. 82. 37 Ibid., p. 90. 38 Ibid., p. 74.
36 Mendelssohn,


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Oral instruction is superior to the written word for both the individual and the nation, because it encourages the student to explore and emulate the living example of his teacher.39 Moreover, unlike the immutable and fixed written word, oral instruction remains flexible and can respond creatively and innovatively to changing conditions and circumstances.40 Without its oral interpretation, the written Torah would have become incomprehensible, ‘since no words or letters can retain their meaning unchanged from one generation to the next’.41 For Mendelssohn, then, the oral Torah is a crucial argument for the superiority of Judaism over Christianity. The obvious applicability to Christianity (certainly classical Christianity) of his arguments against plastic images required no explicit mention; discretion precluded mentioning the obvious. But what about internal Jewish problems? Since, as he explicitly acknowledged, it became necessary to commit the oral Torah to writing, the obvious question concerns the effect of that radical change on subsequent developments in Judaism. After all, the change was not recent, but had taken place at about the same time that Christianity was splitting away from Judaism. Mendelssohn, however, refrains from addressing this question. Despite his promise ‘to show the influence of these factors upon religion and morals more clearly’, he never in fact discusses the impact on Judaism of the increasing shift from oral to written communication.42 He discusses at length and in general terms the problems inherent in representing abstract truth by plastic symbols. But except for his brief discussion of the Golden Calf (based on Halevi’s interpretation of the story, in Kuzari 1:97), he does not examine the ‘influence of these factors upon religion and morals’ in specifically Jewish terms. In summary, Mendelssohn argues that Judaism is superior to Christianity, inter alia, because, unlike Christianity, it adds no dogmas essential for salvation to the basic rational truths of the religion of nature, and because, in order to inculcate abstract truth, Judaism posits the ceremonial laws as the ‘link between thought and action’ rather than employing potentially idolatrous plastic symbols. The oral quality of its teaching and the concomitant flexibility inherent in the oral Torah also contribute to its superiority in conveying the truth. But if all this is true, as Mendelssohn affirmed, then surely one needs to investigate how the alleged flexibility of the oral Torah was affected once it came to be written down. For a millennium and a half the ‘oral’ Torah of Judaism had, in fact, been transmitted in written form. Mendelssohn’s promise to assess ‘the influence of these factors [i.e., writing] on religion and morals’ remains unfulfilled. He does not answer the question. What is more, he does not even ask the question in Jewish terms.43
39 Ibid., pp. 90–1. Cf. also Or la-netivah (p. 3b) regarding the oral instruction of the child by the parent or teacher. The biblical text was thus transmitted orally together with the cantillation notes. 40 Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, pp. 73–4. 41 Ibid., p. 99. 42 Ibid., p. 76. 43 This question became one of the fundamental issues debated in the generation after Mendelssohn, first with regard to Jewish educational reform and later with regard to radical religious reform in the mid- and late-nineteenth century. More than a century after Mendelssohn, the question was discussed by Ahad Ha’am in several essays, including: ¨Al shtei ha-se¨ippim’ (1910), translated by Leon Simon as ‘Judaism and the Gospels’, in Ten Essays on Zionism and Judaism (London, 1922); ‘Torah she-ba-lev’

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Biblical Criticism: The Modern Ibn Ezra and the Medieval Mendelssohn Mendelssohn’s silence on Bible criticism is equally deafening. His thorough religious traditionalism, already evident in some of the positions discussed above – such as his literalist affirmation of the public revelation at Sinai, Hebrew as the original language of creation and of Adam and Eve, and Moses’ having heard the biblical text together with the masoretic punctuation and cantillations, and his silence about the potentially radical implications of the oral Torah’s transmission for centuries in written form – is further evident in his refusal even to mention (if only to attack) textcritical questions in his Or la-netivah and Beˆur. Mendelssohn assumed overall responsibility for the entire Beˆur project, although several associates collaborated and wrote various sections. As Mendelssohn himself states (Or la-netivah 13b–14), Solomon Dubno (1739–1813) wrote the commentary on most of Genesis, although Mendelssohn himself wrote the commentary to the first ‘parashah’ (Genesis 1:1–6:8) and added his own comments in square brackets throughout the commentary. The commentary on Exodus was written by Mendelssohn himself, with bracketed comments by Dubno. The commentary on Leviticus was written by Naphtali Herz (Hartwig) Wessely (1725–1805), with bracketed comments by Mendelssohn. Regarding the commentaries on Numbers and Deuteronomy, Mendelssohn writes ‘I was assisted in commenting on them … but because of their humility [my associates] did not permit me to reveal their names’. In fact, Aaron Jaroslav helped with the Numbers commentary and Herz Homberg (1749–1841) with the Deuteronomy commentary. Since Mendelssohn supervised and edited the entire Torah commentary, adding his own comments to those of his associates (or adding Dubno’s comments to his own), I treat the whole Beˆur as Mendelssohn’s work and certainly as reflecting his ideas. Mendelssohn saw his biblical commentaries as completely traditional. But Alexander Altmann has suggested that they were seen by others as innovative, despite Mendelssohn’s conservative intentions: ‘The rank and file of the Jewish community … were much more likely to be struck by the novelty of the work than by its loyalty to accepted standards’.44 Altmann’s statement that ‘Mendelssohn was well aware of the problems raised by critical scholarship’ is undoubtedly true. The influence of Spinoza on Mendelssohn’s thought, both positive and negative, has been well documented. Mendelssohn must have given serious consideration to Spinoza’s attack on the biblical text. Mendelssohn’s silence in the Beˆur on problematical biblical passages, as well as his outspoken defence of the unitary Mosaic authorship of the Torah in Or lanetivah, are therefore equally eloquent and clearly manifest both a rejection of bibli(1894), partially translated by Leon Simon as ‘The People of the Book’, in Essays, Letters, Memoirs [by] Ahad Ha-am (Oxford, 1946); ‘Shinnui ha-¨arakhin’ (1898), translated by Leon Simon as ‘A Transvaluation of Values’ (in Selected Essays by Ahad Ha-Am, Philadelphia, 1948) and (in a different and abridged form) as ‘Judaism and Nietzsche’ in Ahad Ha-Am: Essays, Letters, Memoirs (Oxford, 1946). 44 Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 374–6. Altmann also comments: ‘It is remarkable how tenaciously Mendelssohn sometimes adhered to theories evolved at an early period of his life. By its very nature his work in the Beˆur tended to reinforce ideas of a conservative character’ (p. 411).


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

cal criticism in principle and a pragmatic avoidance of discussion of problematic passages, even when they are discussed directly or obliquely in the classical exegetical literature, most notably in the commentaries of Abraham Ibn Ezra, which are otherwise cited frequently and approvingly. What was Ibn Ezra’s attitude towards the unitary Mosaic authorship of the Torah? According to Spinoza (in the Theologico-Political Treatise, Ch. 8):
Aben Ezra, a man of enlightened intelligence, and no small learning… [who] was the first, so far as I know, to treat of this opinion, dared not express his meaning openly, but confined himself to dark hints which I shall not scruple to elucidate, thus throwing full light on the subject… In these few words he hints, and also shows, that it was not Moses who wrote the Pentateuch, but someone who lived long after him, and further, that the book which Moses wrote was something different from any now extant.45

Note that these are precisely the two points Mendelssohn defends – Moses as the author of the entire Torah (against ‘higher criticism’) and the integrity and authenticity of the biblical text that we have (against ‘lower criticism’). Spinoza then identifies six passages in which he understands Ibn Ezra to allude to the impossibility of Mosaic authorship. Of course, Ibn Ezra could not, by Spinoza’s own admission, have explicitly made such a case, and Spinoza’s view is essentially a precursor of Leo Strauss’ thesis of ‘Persecution and the Art of Writing’.46 Mendelssohn himself, as has been noted, observes a discreet silence here. Since Ibn Ezra wrote elliptically in these passages, no unequivocal answer is possible about his attitude toward the biblical text and there is a difference of scholarly opinion on the subject. Some scholars, like Nahum Sarna and Uriel Simon, accept Spinoza’s reading of Ibn Ezra; Hava Lazarus-Yafeh has suggested that Ibn Ezra’s exposure to Islamic criticism of the Torah text and arguments for its later redaction may have ‘given impetus’ to his own critical approach.47 Their view is challenged by other scholars, such as Michael Friedländer and Amos Funkenstein,48 who argue against construing Ibn Ezra as a Bible critic. In the nineteenth century we find vigorous affirmations of Ibn Ezra as a traditionalist, in, for instance, the supercommentaries by Solomon Zalman Netter and Judah Leib Krinsky and the commentary on the Pentateuch by Samuel David Luzzatto (1800–1865).49 When reading Ibn Ezra we must be careful not to infer too little or too much. He seems to have had no objections to the radical theological implications of a critical attitude per se – for example, with regard to anachronisms – and contented himself with counselling discretion: ‘the intelligent should keep silent’. Rather, his arguChief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, trans. R. H. M. Elwes (New York, 1951), Vol. 1, pp. 12021.  Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe/Ill., 1952). 47 Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism (Princeton, 1992), pp. 73–4; cf. Nahum Sarna, ‘Hebrew Bible Studies in Medieval Spain’, in The Sephardi Heritage (London, n.d.) pp. 349–50, and ‘Abraham Ibn Ezra as an Exegete’, in Twersky and Harris, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: Studies in the Writings of a Twelfth-Century Jewish Polymath, pp. 1–27; Uriel Simon, ‘Tanakh: Parshanut’, in Encyclopedia Biblica (Jerusalem, 1982), 8:677–80; cf. also Tovia Preschel on Ibn Ezra in Encyclopedia Judaica (1972) 8:1167. 48 Michael Friedländer, Essays on the Writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra (London, 1877), pp. 60–7; Amos Funkenstein, Signonot be-farshanut ha-miqraˆ bimei ha-benayim (Tel Aviv, 1990), p. 33. 49 See the discussion in Jospe, ‘Biblical Exegesis as a Philosophic Literary Genre’, pp. 55–8.
46 45 The

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ments are often posed in narrow, methodological terms. But just as Ibn Ezra seems not to have had any fundamental ideological problems with at least a moderate amount of Bible criticism (keeping in mind that these problematical passages are anachronistic only if, in general, the Torah is maintained to have been written in the time of Moses, as Luzzatto pointed out), he cannot have rejected all prophecies of the future as later interpolations, for that would have been tantamount to denying the phenomenon of prophecy itself. For Ibn Ezra, therefore, the question was not whether a prophet could in principle predict the future, but the intelligibility of the prophecy to the prophet himself and to his audience. What Ibn Ezra rejects as impossible and as incompatible with the rationality of revelation is any revelation that is inherently unintelligible. For if revelation is to be meaningful, it must be comprehensible to its recipients. As Uriel Simon has written:
Ibn Ezra’s objection to anachronisms does not arise, therefore, from the absurdity inherent in premature information about the future. Rather, only the fact that it is presented as already known and familiar undermines the reasonableness of its style and the clarity of its content.50

If Ibn Ezra’s critical or proto-critical approach is, therefore, ambiguous and perhaps consciously ambivalent, there is no ambiguity or ambivalence in the case of Mendelssohn, who explicitly reaffirms (both in Or la-netivah and in the Beˆur) the traditional unitary Mosaic authorship of the entire Torah, including the last twelve verses of Deuteronomy (34:1–12, describing the death and burial of Moses) – despite the fact that the authorship of these verses is discussed in the Talmud itself (Bava Batra 15a) in a totally non-controversial and non-ideological manner, without the slightest implication that the view attributing these verses to Joshua involves any problem. Mendelssohn’s desire to avoid even the slightest hint of critical controversy may be the reason why the Beˆur ends with Deuteronomy 33 and there is no commentary on Deuteronomy 34. Let us review how some of these passages, which, according to Spinoza and many modern readers, Ibn Ezra understood critically, are handled in the Beˆur. The glosses on Deuteronomy 1:1–2, 3:11, 27:2, and 31:9 include references to Ibn Ezra but totally ignore the critical questions raised by Ibn Ezra that formed the basis of Spinoza’s argument. The Beˆur is also silent about Genesis 22:14, where Ibn Ezra cryptically comments that ‘the meaning of “on the mountain of the Lord will be seen” [may be found] in [the commentary to] Deuteronomy [1:2]’. Mendelssohn follows Rashi in saying that ‘on the mountain of the Lord will be seen’ means that this is the mountain on which, in later generations, God would be seen by his people as they worship in the Temple erected on that spot. In other words, ha-yom = ‘that day’ or ‘today’ refers not to a later author writing the text but to later generations reading the text. Mendelssohn adds: ‘These are the words of Moses which Moses wrote in the Torah. He meant to signify that place and to inform the people of his generation about it’.
50  Uriel Simon, ‘Ibn Ezra Between Medievalism and Modernism: The Case of Isaiah XL–LXVI’, Vetus Testamentum 36 (1985): 266.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

The most blatant case of the Beˆur’s silence on Ibn Ezra’s critical implications is its treatment of Genesis 12:6, ‘the Canaanite was then in the land’. Here it cites only the non-controversial first half of Ibn Ezra’s comment. Ibn Ezra had said that if ‘then’ refers to an earlier time, it simply means that in Abraham’s time the Canaanites controlled the land but had not done so previously; whereas if ‘then’ refers to a later time, namely then but not now, when this passage of the Torah was written, ‘it has a secret meaning, and the intelligent should keep silent’. In other words, if ‘then’ is contrasted to a later time when there were no longer Canaanites in the land, it could not have been written in the time of Moses, when the Canaanites did inhabit the land. The Beˆur ignores Ibn Ezra’s controversial conclusion. According to the Beˆur:
The term ‘then’ indicates a particular time, sometimes to negate an earlier time, i.e., then and not before. Sometimes it negates a later time, i.e., then and not now. Here, according to Rashi’s commentary, it negates the earlier time, and that is also the interpretation of Ibn Ezra at the beginning of his words, and this is also how it is translated in the German [‘Das Volk Canaan war damals noch im Lande’].

Only on Genesis 36:31 (‘These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the children of Israel’) does the Beˆur touch, however lightly, on a critical reference in Ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra comments here:
Some say that this portion was written prophetically. YiÒÌaqi says in his book that this portion was written in the time of Jehoshafat (2 Kings 8)…. God forbid that it be as he said, in the time of Jehoshafat; his book should be burned… The true interpretation of ‘before any king ruled over the children of Israel’ is [that it refers] to Moses the king of Israel, as it is written, ‘He was king in Jeshurun’ (Deut. 33:5).

The Beˆur cites Ibn Ezra here, but again, only partially, and adds its own explanatory comment:
Ibn Ezra wrote: Some say that this portion was written prophetically, because they thought that ‘before any king ruled over the children of Israel’ [refers to] Saul, which Moses could only have known prophetically. [Ibn Ezra] cited the opinion of YiÒÌaqi, who was Isaac ben Yashush the Spaniard51 and argued against it. The end of [Ibn Ezra’s] words is ‘the true interpretation of “before any king ruled” is [that it refers] to Moses the king of Israel, as it is written, “He was king in Jeshurun”’.

The Beˆur comments further on the passage, beginning with Rashbam’s similar view that the king in question is Moses.52 What is significant is that the Beˆur men51

 Cf. ‘Ibn Yashush, Isaac Ibrahim’ in Encyclopaedia Judaica (1972) 8:1211. Uriel Simon rejects the identification of Ibn Ezra’s YiÒÌaqi, whose lost commentary seems to have been written in Hebrew, with the linguist Isaac ibn Yashush, in whose time commentaries and grammar were often written in Arabic. See Uriel Simon, ‘Parshanut ha-miqraˆ ¨al derekh ha-pesha†: Ha-askolah ha-sefaradit’, in Moreshet Sefarad, ed. Haim Beinart (Jerusalem, 1992), p. 97. 52 Note, however, that according to the Beˆur on Deuteronomy 33:5, ‘He was king in Jeshurun’ refers to God: ‘Then the Lord was king over Israel, who accepted the yoke of his kingship in the assembly of the heads of the nation’.

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tions Ibn Ezra’s reference to YiÒÌaqi but omits the actual argument. Mentioning Ibn Ezra’s argument is safe for Mendelssohn, because Ibn Ezra himself condemned (at least ostensibly) the radical interpretation proposed by YiÒÌaqi. But Mendelssohn refrains from quoting Ibn Ezra, thereby avoiding the controversial text. As mentioned before, the Beˆur’s silence in all these passages is deafening. It clearly cannot be accidental, but must be a form of self-censorship. As Altmann has suggested, the controversy in Orthodox circles that Mendelssohn’s German translation of the Torah and the Hebrew Beˆur aroused was of paramount concern to Mendelssohn, who clearly wished for himself and his work to be accepted by traditionalist circles. Mendelssohn’s traditionalism on core theological issues, both as a philosopher and certainly as a Bible exegete, is obvious. Engaging in biblical criticism would have violated his own deeply held religious convictions and traditionalist belief in the divine authority and Mosaic authorship of the Torah. Discussing or even mentioning the critical issues raised explicitly by Spinoza and at least implicitly by Abraham Ibn Ezra would have undermined the traditionalist religious and pedagogic purposes on whose behalf Mendelssohn engaged in what was already a sufficiently controversial undertaking. Hence Mendelssohn followed Ibn Ezra’s admonition that ‘the intelligent should remain silent’ by deliberately ignoring and remaining silent on the problematical implications of Ibn Ezra’s own work. Mendelssohn’s Modern Applications and Extensions of Medieval Theory and Traditional Themes Mendelssohn, as we have portrayed him thus far, is clearly a student of the medieval Jewish philosophers and Bible exegetes. In some cases his modern, post-Spinoza reaffirmation of traditional doctrines is far more conservative than the more radical (or potentially radical) positions of Abraham Ibn Ezra, who had greater freedom to explore critical or proto-critical questions not only because of his discreet and elliptical style, which permitted him to avoid a frontal attack on tradition, but also because these questions were not yet widely known (as they were in Mendelssohn’s time) and therefore did not pose an obvious and immediate danger in the eyes of his public. In other cases, the challenges Mendelssohn faced were different from those of his medieval predecessors and required him to transform whatever theories or themes he adopted from them. At the very beginnings of medieval Jewish philosophy, in the ninth and tenth centuries, Saadia Gaon attempted to meet the challenges faced by the Jewish intellectual that came from three different sources: philosophy; other religions (specifically Islam and Christianity); and, within Judaism, Karaism. Two of these challenges were overtly religious. But there was a religious dimension to the philosophical challenge as well. Although philosophy is inherently rational and universal in its methodology and in that sense is ‘secular’, much of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophy in the Middle Ages was fundamentally religious in its content, as scholars like Julius Guttmann and Alexander Altmann have maintained. As Guttmann wrote:


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Even during the Middle Ages – which knew something like a total, all-embracing culture based on religion – philosophy rarely transcended its religious centre. This religious orientation constitutes the distinctive character of Jewish philosophy…. In this respect the philosophy of Judaism, whatever the differences in content deriving from the specific doctrines and the concepts of authority of the religions concerned, is formally similar to that of Christianity and Islam.53

This ‘all-embracing culture based on religion’, which provided the Sitz im Leben for Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages, no longer existed in the Age of Reason. Mendelssohn, it will be recalled, often faced traditional Christian evangelical challenges, such as that posed by Johann Caspar Lavater in 1769. Mendelssohn’s response to Lavater invoked the tolerant ideals of the Enlightenment. Since Judaism and Christianity share a common morality, those theoretical issues on which they differ are of no legitimate concern to society and need not be defended publicly. In other words, when challenged (rather rudely) by evangelical Christian polemics, Mendelssohn sought refuge in the cherished ideals of the Enlightenment. But in 1782, when he was challenged by the anonymous ‘Searcher for Light and Right’,54 Mendelssohn recognized that this time the challenge was greater and would have to be addressed directly, because it came from the Enlightenment itself. The greater challenge to modern Judaism, in short, came not from Christian religion but from secular culture. Furthermore, the intensity of the new challenge was enhanced not only by its secular cultural content (the Enlightenment) but also by its secular political context (emancipation). Therefore, even when his religious or philosophical positions were adopted from his medieval predecessors, Mendelssohn had to adapt them so they could be applied in different circumstances. We can discern two stages of this process of adopting and adapting. The first stage is theological: the reaffirmation of the superiority of Judaism in the face of competing claims, with the resulting conclusion that Judaism is more ‘modern’ than Christianity in its rationality and toleration. The second stage is philosophical: Mendelssohn’s Jewish critique of modern political philosophy (specifically Locke and Lessing). The Theological Stage: Mendelssohn’s Reaffirmation of the Superiority of Judaism as More ‘Modern’ than Christianity in Its Rationality and Toleration First, we have already seen that Mendelssohn argues that Judaism adds no dogmas, no eternal truths necessary for salvation, to the basic rational truths of natural reli53 Julius

Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism, pp. 9–10. Similar views are expressed, for example, about Christian philosophy by Etienne Gilson and about Islamic philosophy by Henri Corbin. For a discussion of these issues, see Raphael Jospe, What Is Jewish Philosophy? 2nd ed. (Ramat Aviv, 1990), pp. 30–43. 54 The pamphlet Das Forschen nach Licht und Recht (‘The search for light and right’) appeared in June 1782. Mendelssohn initially thought that the author was the apostate Josef von Sonnenfels, a figure in Vienna Enlightenment circles. By April 1783 Mendelssohn knew that the author was actually August Friedrich Cranz. See the discussion in Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 502 ff. Regarding the challenge Mendelssohn faced with the publication of the pamphlet, Arkush (Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, p. xiii) states that ‘it was not his metaphysics but his liberalism that Mendelssohn had to reconcile with traditional Judaism’.

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gion, namely the existence of God, providential reward and punishment, and the immortality of the human soul, on the grounds that these truths must be rationally accessible to all humans in all times and all places and cannot be revealed. His structure of Jewish particularity is formally similar to that of Judah Halevi. Mendelssohn’s theory differs from Halevi’s not only because it is not racially based, but also because Halevi argued for the universality of reason and morality, not for the existence of a universal, rational religion of nature. Mendelssohn’s theory establishes the basis for two modern corollaries that are basic pillars of the Enlightenment ideology of religious toleration. First, since all positive religions, with their diverse theoretical doctrines and ritual practices, share a common, universal rational basis and morality, the state can and must tolerate diversity and be neutral in religious areas. Second, since the truths essential for human happiness are rationally accessible to all, there is no basis for claiming exclusivity of salvation. A different and more positive relationship among religions is therefore not only practically possible, in terms of political toleration, but also theoretically desirable, in terms of pluralism. For Judah Halevi, the rational basis of universal truth and morality proves that what is distinctively Jewish is a supra-rational, biological faculty of prophecy. This, in turn, in no way means the relativization of diverse ritual practices in different religions. At the beginning of the Kuzari, it will be recalled, the Khazar king has a recurring dream, in which he is addressed by an angel who tells him that his intentions are pleasing to God, but not his actions. For Halevi, ritual or, to use Mendelssohn’s term, ‘ceremonial’ actions are of the highest religious importance, in terms of serving God and activating the latent ‘divine faculty’ in every native-born Jew. Halevi’s theory cannot, therefore, be confused with the modern political theory of a state separate from and neutral in religious affairs, which did not exist in his time. Nor can Halevi’s theory be construed as advancing the cause of religious pluralism. In both these respects – political toleration and religious pluralism – Judah Halevi provides a formal basis for Mendelssohn’s thought, but Mendelssohn applies and extends the medieval theory in new modern directions, giving it new (and even opposite) content. Second, in his open letter to Johann Caspar Lavater,55 Mendelssohn cites the rabbinic statement that ‘the righteous of the nations of the world have a portion in the world to come’ (Ìasidei ummot ha-¨olam yesh la-hem Ìeleq la-¨olam ha-baˆ) – whom he, like Maimonides, equates with those who observe ‘the seven commandments of the children of Noah’ (sheva¨ miÒvot benei NoaÌ).56
55 English translation by Alfred Jospe, in Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, p. 113–22; see pp. 168–9, n. 44. 56 This is the phrasing in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Book of Knowledge, Laws of Repentance 3:5, and Book of Judges, Laws of Kings 8:11. Cf. T Sanhedrin 13:2, ed. M. S. Zuckermandel and Saul Lieberman (Jerusalem, 1970), p. 434, and the different text in B Sanhedrin 105a. On the different views in the Tosefta passage, see Raphael Jospe, ‘The Concept of the Chosen People: An Interpretation’, Judaism. 43(2) (1994): pp. 130–1. Jacob Katz (Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times [New York, 1962], pp. 174–7) discusses Mendelssohn’s interpretation of Maimonides’ view and his consultation on the subject with Rabbi Jacob Emden. The text of Maimonides available to Mendelssohn was defective and presented a more restrictive view, (namely, that a person who affirms the seven Noachide commandments on the basis of reason alone is ‘not a


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Our rabbis hold unanimously that the written as well as the oral laws that constitute our revealed religion are binding only for our own people…. All other nations were enjoined by God to observe the law of nature and the religion of the patriarchs. All who live in accordance with this religion of nature and of reason are called ‘the righteous among the nations’; they too are entitled to eternal bliss. Far from obsessed by any desire to proselytize, our rabbis require us to discourage as forcefully as we can anyone who asks to be converted…. In his present state, he is obligated to fulfil only the Noachide laws in order to be saved.57

Once again, Mendelssohn extends the traditional notion and applies it in new ways. In the Tosefta, the discussion revolves around the issue of who qualifies for a ‘portion in the world to come’ and who does not. The text includes an argument between Rabbi Eliezer, who believed that wicked Jews and all Gentiles have no portion in the world to come, and Rabbi Joshua, who argued that Rabbi Eliezer erred, because only those nations (i.e., the Gentiles) ‘forgetful of God’ are excluded, like wicked Jews, from the world to come, and not all Gentiles categorically. The criteria for inclusion and exclusion are thus moral and not national. Mendelssohn certainly agreed with Rabbi Joshua’s position, as he did with Maimonides’ definition of a righteous gentile as one who observes ‘the seven commandments of the children of Noah’. But he uses these two ideas – the inclusion of righteous gentiles in the world to come and the definition of such righteous gentiles as people who observe the seven Noachide commandments – to make two modern points. The first is to build an argument against exclusivity of salvation and against proselytizing and in favour of greater respect for dissenting religious opinion. One may consider other opinions to be theoretically wrong, but in practical terms they remain the foundation of the common morality and should not be undermined:
It is my good fortune to count among my friends many an excellent man who is not of my faith…. I enjoy the pleasure of his company and feel enriched by it. But at no time has my heart whispered to me, ‘What a pity that this beautiful soul should be lost’…. Only that man will be troubled by such regrets who believes that there is no salvation outside his church…. Some of my countrymen hold views and convictions which, although I consider them wrong, do belong to a higher order of theoretical principles. They are not harmful, because they have little or no relationship to the practical concerns of daily life. Yet they frequently constitute the foundation on which people have erected their systems of morality and social order and are therefore of great importance to them. To question such notions publicly merely because we consider them biased or erroneous would be like removing the foundation stones of a building in order to examine the soundness of its structure.58
righteous Gentile nor [ve-lo] one of their sages’) that created difficulties for Mendelssohn. Most current scholarly opinion understands Maimonides in light of a broader textual reading (namely, that a person who affirms the seven Noachide commandments on the basis of reason alone is ‘not a righteous Gentile but rather [ela] one of their sages’), a reading with which Mendelssohn would have been happier. 57 Letter to Lavater, 12 December 1769, in Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, pp. 116–7. Arkush (Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, p. 201) correctly notes that the identification of the righteous gentile with a person who observes the seven Noachide commandments is Maimonidean, not talmudic, and that Mendelssohn’s statement here is accordingly somewhat inaccurate. 58 Ibid., pp. 118–9. Mendelssohn’s example here of undermining a building is paralleled later in Jerusa-

Raphael Jospe


The second point is Mendelssohn’s equation of ‘the seven commandments of the children of Noah,’ which are observed by ‘the righteous among other nations’ with ‘the law of nature and the religion of the patriarchs’ and with ‘this religion of nature and of reason’ – the universal religion of nature. Here, again, a traditional Jewish idea is extended and applied in a modern context. For Mendelssohn, Judaism, unlike Christianity (or at least Lavater’s evangelical type of Christianity), does not claim exclusivity of salvation and therefore has no reason to seek proselytes. On the contrary, Judaism recognizes the common, universal rational and moral basis of diverse religions (namely, the religion of nature, which is equated here with the seven Noachide commandments) and the legitimacy of the existence of diverse religions. The implication, discreetly left unstated, is that Judaism is therefore more conducive than evangelical Christianity to social harmony and peace, because it does not attempt to undermine other groups’ dissenting theoretical foundations of the common, universal morality. Third, Mendelssohn’s theory that, in Judaism, the revealed ceremonial laws replace plastic images as reminders of abstract truth and that most of the Jewish laws were transmitted orally in order to preserve flexibility and encourage immediate, face-to-face interpersonal communication, is also extended and applied in a modern context. Modernity, he argued, is characterized by increasing reliance on the written word in place of direct communication. ‘Everything is reduced to the dead letter; the spirit of living dialogue no longer exists anywhere’.59 The result is human alienation and a gradual social breakdown of religion and morals. Judah Halevi’s theory of the superiority of oral communication is thus extended and applied to a broad critique of what Mendelssohn regarded as a dangerous and deleterious development in modern society, a development for which Judaism provides a remedy. The Philosophical Stage: Mendelssohn’s Jewish Critique of Modern Political Philosophy (Locke and Lessing) In the second stage of Mendelssohn’s modern application and extension of medieval and traditional themes, we can see how his philosophical critiques of Locke (in Part I of Jerusalem) and of his friend Lessing (in Part II of Jerusalem) reflect Jewish as well as purely philosophic considerations. Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem is deeply influenced by his reading of political philosophy, especially Spinoza and Hobbes, but most of all by John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (written in Amsterdam, 1683–1689). His indebtedness to Locke is so pervasive that the source is often unmentioned. According to Alexander Altmann, ‘Mendelssohn refers only to those aspects of Locke’s doctrine that provoke his criticism’.60 Locke’s influence, which is both ideological and stylistic, is particularly pervasive in Part I of Jerusalem, on the proper relationship between state and religion.

lem, in the passage cited below, to the effect that Christianity is based on Judaism and anyone who undermines the foundations will also cause the collapse of the upper stories. 59 Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, p. 75. 60 Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 160.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

The arguments in both books are often expressed in remarkably similar style and phraseology. Mendelssohn’s earlier (1782) preface to the German translation of Menasseh BenIsrael’s Vindiciae Judaeorum – the publication of which led the ‘Searcher’ to challenge Mendelssohn, which in turn led him to write Jerusalem – also broadly manifests Locke’s influence. In one particular instance, Mendelssohn simply reverses Locke’s argument, the shoe being on the other foot. Locke had argued that if the state cannot religiously coerce the Jew, it certainly cannot coerce dissenting Christians:
Now if we acknowledge that such an injury may not be done unto a Jew, as to compel him against his own opinion, to practice in his religion a thing that is in its nature indifferent; how can we maintain that any thing of this kind may be done to a Christian?61

Mendelssohn turns the argument around when he opposes the rabbinic ban of excommunication (Ìerem): if the Jews now enjoy external toleration by the Christians among whom they live, how can they not practice internal toleration of dissenting opinion within their own community?
I have that confidence in the more enlightened amongst the Rabbins, the elders of my nation, that they will be glad to relinquish so pernicious a prerogative, that they will cheerfully do away with all church and synagogue discipline, and let their flock enjoy, at their hands, even that kindness and forbearance, which they themselves have been so long panting for. Ah, my brethren, you have hitherto felt too hard the yoke of intolerance, and perhaps thought it a sort of satisfaction, if the power of bending those under you to such another yoke were allowed to you…. You, perhaps, let yourselves be seduced to adopt the very same system; and the power of persecuting was to you the most important prerogative which your own persecutors could bestow upon you. Thank the God of your forefathers, thank the God who is all love and mercy, that that error appears to be gradually vanishing. The nations are now tolerating and bearing with one another, while to you also they are shewing kindness and forbearance…. If you would be protected, tolerated and indulged, protect, tolerate and indulge one another. Love, and ye will be loved.62

Returning to Jerusalem, we should note, however, that even in Part II of the book, which deals with Mendelssohn’s application to Judaism of the general political theory of Part I and thereby presents his response to the ‘Searcher’, a major element in the structure of his argument is borrowed directly from Locke. Again, the similarities are of both form and content. Mendelssohn maintains that the ancient Jewish state was unique in all history because in that state, and only in that state, God was
61 John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, in Locke on Politics, Religion, and Education, ed. Maurice Cranston (New York, 1965), p. 126. It is interesting to note that a similar argument was made by Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (later New York), who opposed Jewish settlement in the colony. In a letter to the Dutch West India Company, he wrote: ‘Giving them liberty, we cannot refuse the Lutherans and the Papists’ (cited in Henry Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present [New York, 1974], p. 23). 62 Mendelssohn, preface to the German translation of Vindiciae Judaeorum. English translation by M. Samuels in Jerusalem: A Treatise on Ecclesiastical Authority and Judaism (London, 1838), vol. 1, pp. 115–6. Selections from the preface may also be found in Moses Mendelssohn: Selections from his Writings, ed. and trans. Eva Jospe (New York, 1975), pp. 89–92.

Raphael Jospe


the sovereign lawgiver, so that religion and state were not two distinct entities, the artificial union of which leads to tyranny, but completely identical.
State and religion in this original constitution were not united but identical, not joined together but one and the same. Man’s relation to society and his relation to God converged in one point and could never come into tension. God, the Creator and Keeper of the world, was at the same time the King and Administrator of this nation,… the nation’s Lawgiver and Magistrate. Every civil act, therefore, was invested with sacredness and religious significance, and every act of civic service became, at the same time, a true act of divine worship…. This constitution existed only once; call it, if you will, by the name of its founder, the Mosaic constitution. It has disappeared, and only the Almighty knows among what people and in which century something similar may appear once again.63

A century before Mendelssohn, Locke had written in similar language:
For the commonwealth of the Jews, different in that from all others, was an absolute theocracy: nor was there, or could there be, any difference between that commonwealth and the church. The laws established there concerning the worship of one invisible Deity, were the civil laws of that people, and a part of their political government, in which God himself was the legislator.64

Locke refers here to the ancient Jewish state as an ‘absolute theocracy’. Mendelssohn was obviously uncomfortable with the negative contemporary implications of such a term. Consequently, despite his agreement in principle with Locke and his generally similar language, Mendelssohn rejects calling ‘the Jewish polity… a hierocracy, an ecclesiastical government, a priestly state, a theocracy, if you will’. Instead, he suggests, it should be called the ‘Mosaic constitution’ (Mosaische Verfassung) in order to emphasize its unique, one-time, and sui generis status. He then comments:
All these technical terms throw a false light upon the matter, and this I had to avoid. It seems that all we ever want to do is to classify and compartmentalize…. Why do you keep looking for the gender of a thing which has no gender, which defies every classification, which cannot be put under the same rubric together with anything else?65

Terminology aside, this argument provides the basis for Mendelssohn’s claim, against the ‘Searcher’, that the Torah laws were politically enforceable only within
63 Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, pp. 99–102. Zev Harvey has shown that Mendelssohn, in the Beˆur, regarded ‘set a king over yourselves’ (Deut. 17:15) not as a commandment to the people, whose desire for a mortal king was a rebellion against God’s kingship, but as a commandment to the people’s leaders to respect the people’s wish – what he called mishpat he-hamon, ‘the way of the multitude’. ‘In truth, Deuteronomy 17:15, as interpreted by Mendelssohn, is not a commandment of monarchy, but rather a commandment of democracy: the people must be free to accept or reject their government, even if they choose to reject the government of God!’ (Zev Harvey, ‘Mendelssohn’s Heavenly Politics’, in Perspectives on Jewish Thought and Mysticism, ed. Alfred Ivry, Elliot Wolfson, and Allan Arkush (Amsterdam, 1998), p. 405. Harvey notes that Mendelssohn’s phrase ‘heavenly politics’ (himmlische Politik) reflects the Hebrew malkhut shamayim, ‘the kingdom of heaven’. Although the state, unlike religion, may need to resort to coercion, ‘a government is good to the extent that it rules by education, not by coercion’ (ibid., p. 409). 64 Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, p. 131. 65  Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, p. 102.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

that unique ancient Jewish polity and that there is no contradiction or inconsistency, therefore, in his religious affirmation of the validity of the Torah and Jewish law, on the one hand, and his political philosophy opposing religious coercion, on the other hand. In Part I of Jerusalem, though, Mendelssohn takes issue with one important area of Locke’s theory. Locke had argued ‘that all the power of civil government relates only to men’s civil interests, is confined to the care of things of this world, and [has] nothing to do with the world to come’.66 Similarly,
Things ever so indifferent in their own nature, when they are brought into the church and worship of God, are removed out of the reach of the magistrate’s jurisdiction, because in that use they have no connection at all with civil affairs. The only business of the church is the salvation of souls: and it no ways concerns the commonwealth, or any member of it, that this or the other ceremony be there made use of.67

State and religion thus have completely separate spheres of interest, according to Locke. According to Mendelssohn, though, this total separation, although a clever definition, is unsustainable both theoretically and practically and therefore cannot provide a basis for resolving the problem of the relationship between the two.
Locke… attempted to protect freedom of conscience in a different way [from Hobbes]…. He defined a state as a society of men who unite and act collectively to promote their temporal welfare. Consequently, the state is not to concern itself with a citizen’s convictions regarding his eternal salvation. It must tolerate all whose civil conduct does not interfere with their fellow citizens’ pursuit of temporal happiness. The state as state has no right to take notice of the differences between religions, for religion inherently has no bearing or influence on temporal affairs. Any connection between the two realms is the result of an arbitrary act of men. Well, then, if the dispute could be settled by a verbal definition, I would know of none that is more convenient; and if words could have talked the restless minds of his age out of their intolerance, Locke himself would not have found it necessary to go into exile quite so frequently…. Now, if the state limits its concerns merely to temporal matters, a question arises: To whom are we to entrust the care for the eternal? To the church? Then we would be back at the point from which we had started [i.e., the tension between] state and church…. Actually, it is neither correct nor in man’s best interest to distinguish so sharply between the temporal and the eternal. Eternity, in principle, can never be man’s portion; his ‘eternity’ is merely an infinitely prolonged temporality. His temporality never ceases; it is an integral and essential part of his continuity. To counterpoise man’s temporal welfare and his eternal bliss leads to a confusion of concepts which has important practical consequences…. As our rabbis say, this life is merely a vestibule in which we are to prepare ourselves if we wish to enter the innermost chamber.68 Nevertheless, we must be careful not to establish an antithesis between this life and the one to come, or to persuade people that their true welfare in this life and their eternal bliss in the life to come are unrelated.69
p. 110. p. 125. reference is to M Avot 4:21, ‘This world resembles a corridor leading to the world to come; correct yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the salon’. See the discussion in Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 520–1. 69 Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, pp. 15–7.
67 Ibid., 68 The 66 Ibid.,

Raphael Jospe


Locke’s differentiation between the respective realms of state and religion, namely temporal and eternal matters, simply does not hold up either theoretically or practically. The differentiation fails theoretically because the temporal is part of the eternal and the eternal is an extension of the temporal. It fails practically because people’s behaviour in this world is predicated, at least to some extent, on their beliefs regarding the world to come. A better way of differentiating the two realms, both theoretically and practically, is to distinguish between those actions and convictions that relate to other people, and those actions and convictions that relate to God.
Man’s rational actions and convictions are determined partly by his relations to his fellowmen and partly by his relations to his Creator and Keeper. The former are the province of the state, the latter that of religion. Insofar as man’s actions and convictions, which serve the common good, spring from the relations between man and man, they are the domain of civil law; where the source of man’s actions and convictions is his relationship to God, they are the domain of church, synagogue, and mosque.70

A corollary difference between the two realms is that the state is satisfied with mere compliance with the law, regardless of correct intention, whereas, for religion, only actions undertaken freely, sincerely, and without coercion are spiritually valid. Mendelssohn then expounds on the social contract, including the theory of perfect and imperfect rights. The only legitimate use of force is by the state – and even then, only in the case of actions, not convictions, which in any event cannot be coerced – in order to protect people from being harmed by others and prevent violation of their rights. The contractual basis by which society governs the exchange of rights does not exist between a person and God; hence religion never has the right to enforce its rules by coercive power. Nevertheless, the realms of religion and state overlap to some extent and there is a need for a co-operative relationship between them. Since many religious precepts involve our relationship with other people and are believed to be divine commandments – not to murder, steal, commit adultery, for example – by fulfilling these social commandments we are also serving God. Conversely, since the state can govern more effectively by education and persuasion than by coercive power, religion can be a major force for social good.
One of the state’s main efforts must therefore be to govern men by influencing their morals and attitudes. Now, there is no better way of improving the attitudes and thereby the morals of men than a strongly held conviction. Laws do not change attitudes; arbitrary punishments and rewards neither produce a concept of truth nor improve morality. Fear and hope are no criteria for truth, either…. And it is here that religion can come to the assistance of the state and the church can become the support of civic welfare. The task of the church is to convince people, with all the emphasis at its command, of the truth of the principles and views it proclaims. The church must show them that duties toward men are also duties toward God, and that to reject them is to live in deepest misery. It must show them that by serving the state we truly serve God.
70 Ibid.,

pp. 18–9.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

… If, however, the character of a nation… makes it impossible to govern the people on the basis of their attitudes alone, the state will have to resort to public measures such as the enforcement of the law by coercion, the punishment of crime, and the rewarding of merit…. Here we have a first essential difference between state and religion. The state commands and coerces, religion issues commandments. The state possesses physical power and uses it when necessary; the power of religion is love and charity…. In one word: civil society, viewed as a moral person, has the right of coercion; in fact, it has secured this right through the social contract. Religious society neither demands the right of coercion nor can it possibly obtain it by any contract.71

Mendelssohn thus rejects Locke’s total separation of religion and state. They are truly separate only in the area of coercive power, not in their overlapping areas of interest. Alexander Altmann has shown that Mendelssohn’s own theory is closer to collegianism, the idea that a church is not a divinely founded body but, like the state, a free association of like-minded individuals, a contractually based collegium.
He tacitly accepted the fundamental tenet of collegianism, namely, the view that the churches were freely established religious associations. What he strenuously denied was the contractual origin of religious societies. Only the state had come into being as a result of a social contract.72

71 Ibid., pp. 20–3. Regarding the relationship of the church to the coercive political power of the state, Arkush (Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, p. 124) argues that Mendelssohn never addressed the question ‘in Jerusalem or in any of his other published writings’ of what the churches should do when their country is clearly wrong or a law is clearly immoral. Arkush overlooks Mendelssohn’s clear statement in his preface to Vindiciae Judaeorum – long before Henry David Thoreau’s ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience’ (1849) – that immoral laws must be deliberately disobeyed: ‘That barbarous laws are of the most terrible consequences the more legally the proceedings are conducted, and the more rigidly the judge pronounces after the letter, is an important truth which cannot be too often inculcated. The only way of amending unwise laws, is by deviating from them; as one would correct mistakes in calculation by other willful mistakes’ (preface to Vindiciae Judaeorum [trans. Samuels, vol. 1, p. 89]). 72 Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 519. Locke had also argued that a church is ‘a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord. It is a voluntary society. Nobody is born a member of any church…. No man by nature is bound into any particular church or sect, but everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God’ (Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, pp. 110–1). Locke then denies that ‘Christ imposed that law upon his church’, i.e., the rules of its organization and governance (p. 112). Altmann succinctly summarizes Mendelssohn in relationship to Locke, Hobbes, and Spinoza: The state has no interest in religion insofar as theological tenets are concerned, but it is vitally interested insofar as religion teaches morality and social conduct. If the nation is to be, ideally, governed by the inculcation of moral principles, the church will prove an invaluable asset to the state…. By emphasizing moral teachings presumed to be common to the various religions, Mendelssohn found a way of integrating the church into the state’s sphere of interest, without permitting any interference by the state in the affairs of the church. Religion retains its autonomy and at the same time becomes a pillar of the state. This theory avoids the pitfalls of both Locke’s radical separation of the two societies and the complete subordination of the church by the state advocated by Hobbes and Spinoza. What Mendelssohn took over from Locke was the postulate of a completely free and uncontrolled worship, and what he shared with Hobbes and Spinoza was the inclusion of religion in the state’s sphere of interest. He also agreed with the commonly accepted notion that the social contract entitled the state to the use of coercive power to produce right action. He saw in this right of law enforcement ‘the dividing line’… between church and state. (Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 522–6) Cf. the discussion in Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 125.

Raphael Jospe


The differences between Mendelssohn and Locke are thus more theoretical than practical. It is interesting to note that the American constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state, which of course is a consequence of Locke’s influence on American Revolutionary thinkers, and in which Mendelssohn took an active interest,73 is in many respects closer to Mendelssohn’s theory of mutual co-operation and overlapping interests than to Locke’s total separation. Despite the theoretical constitutional wall separating church and state, religion, whether a general form of Protestant Christianity or some form of civil religion, has always been an essential part of the fabric of American life: in the opening and closing words of the Declaration of Independence (‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…. With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence…’), American currency (‘In God We Trust’), military and congressional chaplains, the invocations at inaugurations and sessions of the Congress and state legislatures, Thanksgiving celebrations, and even the Supreme Court’s upholding of the constitutionality of publicly funded Christmas symbols and pageants in government and public facilities. Finally, Mendelssohn’s critique of Locke obviously reflects his theoretical and practical difficulties with the proposed separation of church and state in general philosophical terms. His objections, however, also reflect Jewish categories and conadded a note to the last page of Jerusalem, presumably reflecting recent news he received after the book was already in proofs: ‘Alas, we can hear even the American Congress intone the old song once again when it speaks of a “dominant religion” ’. See Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, p. 168 n. 43. See also Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, or, On religious power and Judaism, trans. Allan Arkush, introduction and commentary by Alexander Altmann (Hanover, N.H., 1983), p. 139. Altmann suggests (Moses Mendelssohn, p. 240) that ‘this is possibly a reference to the “General Assessment Bill for Support of Christian Denominations” which was debated by the American Congress in 1783–84…. Thanks to the efforts made by James Madison, this bill was not passed’. In 1782, the year that Mendelssohn wrote the Jerusalem, Thomas Jefferson wrote in his ‘Notes on Virginia’, Query 17: ‘The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others…. Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error…. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself…. Is uniformity of opinion desirable?… Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion.’ The year that Mendelssohn died (1786), Jefferson authored the ‘Act Establishing Religious Freedom Passed in the Assembly of Virginia’, which he regarded as one of his greatest accomplishments: Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free… that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself…. Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship… nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion…. That the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind. Cf. Thomas Jefferson on Democracy, ed. Saul K. Padover (New York, 1954), pp. 109–14. George Washington expressed similar sentiments regarding religious freedom and diversity, in his reply to a letter (dated 17 August 1790) from the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island: All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. For the complete letter, see The Jews of the United States 1790-1840: A Documentary History, ed. Joseph Blau and Salo Baron (New York, 1963), p. 9.
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Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

siderations. Although Mendelssohn does not mention it explicitly, his differentiation between actions and convictions that ‘spring from the relations between man and man’ and actions and convictions that have to do with ‘his relationship to God’ is simply borrowed from the classical rabbinic categories of actions ben adam leÌavero (‘between an individual and his fellow’) and actions that are ben adam lamaqom (‘between an individual and God’). For example, in their discussion of the atonement rituals of Yom Kippur, the rabbis ruled that
[r]egarding transgressions between an individual and God, Yom Kippur can atone. Regarding transgressions between an individual and his fellow, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he satisfies his fellow.74

Mendelssohn thus finds a better theoretical basis for the differentiation between the realms of state and religion in an ancient rabbinic category than in the modern Locke. If Mendelssohn did not see fit to mention explicitly this Jewish category in a general discussion of political philosophy, why did state explicitly, a page or two earlier, that ‘as our rabbis say, this life is merely a vestibule in which we are to prepare ourselves if we wish to enter the innermost chamber’? On a purely textual basis, it is possible that Mendelssohn felt comfortable quoting from Pirqei avot, the collection of rabbinic ethical aphorisms included in the Mishnah, which would have been known in Hebrew or in translation to at least some of his non-Jewish readers, but avoided citing a more technical text that would have required explication. On a broader level, however, it seems to me that here we have a subtle reminder by Mendelssohn that Judaism provides a basis for correcting Locke’s error and establishing the proper relationship between religion and state. Thus Mendelssohn already implies in Part I of Jerusalem what he discusses explicitly and at length in Part II, namely, that traditional Judaism is capable of modern application and is compatible with modern political theory. Jewish considerations also underlie what is, on the surface, a general philosophical argument between Mendelssohn and his old friend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in Part II of Jerusalem. Lessing affirmed historical linear progress in the education of humanity, a view that Mendelssohn regarded as philosophically unwarranted and inconsistent with the historical facts:
I, for my part, cannot share the view of mankind’s education into which my late friend Lessing was misled by I don’t know what scholar of history. He conceives of mankind not as a collectivity but as an individual whom Providence, as it were, has sent to school here on earth in order to raise him from childhood to manhood…. ‘Progress’ is a term that applies only to the individual, destined by Providence to spend part of his eternity here on earth…. That it could, however, also have been the intention of Providence to let mankind as a whole advance steadily and toward perfection in the course of time and here on earth is something I cannot believe…. If you take mankind as a whole, you will not find that there is constant progress in its development that brings it ever nearer to perfection. On the contrary, we see constant fluctuations; mankind as a whole has never yet taken any step forward without soon and with redoubled speed sliding back to its pre74 M

Yoma 8:9.

Raphael Jospe


vious position…. Individual man makes progress; but mankind oscillates continually within fixed limits. Seen as a whole, however, mankind has clearly maintained virtually the same degree of morality through all fluctuations and periods – the same mixture of religion and irreligion, of virtue and vice, of happiness and misery.75

Here Mendelssohn is reacting to Lessing’s theory, in The Education of the Human Race, that the education of humanity progresses from childhood to youth and then to maturity, three stages represented respectively by Judaism, Christianity, and the ‘new eternal gospel’, i.e., an autonomous rational religion.76 In Mendelssohn’s view, the notion of general progress of humanity simply does not face the historical facts and is totally inconsistent with them. (In his denial of Lessing’s naive and optimistic belief in the inevitability of human progress, perhaps we can call Mendelssohn neither medieval nor modern but ‘proto-postmodern’). Underlying Mendelssohn’s critique of Lessing on general grounds of the philosophy of history is surely a Jewish concern that Lessing’s argument is an Enlightenment resurrection of classical Christian supersessionism. Classical or conservative evangelical Christian supersessionism – the doctrine that Christianity has replaced and supplanted Judaism as Verus Israel – was obviously totally unacceptable from a Jewish religious perspective as well as from the perspective of a general philosophical pluralism. The double supersessionism of the modern Enlightenment – that the religion of reason has supplanted both Judaism and Christianity – was ultimately no better in its intolerant ‘liberal’ and ‘rationalist’ denial of the validity, legitimacy, and desirability of continued Jewish identity in the modern world. Conclusions: ‘Old Wine in a New Flask’77 Mendelssohn’s Jewish writings thus represent a fascinating mixture of old and new, of traditional and radical elements, as he remained loyal to classical and medieval Jewish beliefs while extending and applying them in a modern philosophical and political context. His core theology remained thoroughly traditional, as he consistently
Jerusalem and other Jewish Writings, pp. 67–8. Mendelssohn advances similar arguments in a letter (25 June 1782) to August von Hennings, councillor of the Danish Legation in Berlin, who defended Mendelssohn’s Bible translation. For excerpts, see Jospe, Moses Mendelssohn: Selections, pp. 168–9. 76 Cf. Alexander Altmann’s discussion of Lessing’s theory and its sources in Jerusalem, or, On religious power and Judaism, pp. 211–2. 77 M Avot 4:27: ‘Rabbi Meir says: Do not look at the flask, but at what is in it. There is a new flask filled with old [wine], and an old [flask] which does not even contain any new wine.’ Arkush (Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, p. 178) also notes the antiquated nature of Mendelssohn’s belief in revelation: ‘The most striking thing, in fact, about Mendelssohn’s discussions of the historicity of revelation is that in none of them does he show any unmistakable signs of having taken heed of the objections raised by Spinoza…. Defending the historicity of the Sinaitic revelation at the end of the eighteenth century, when skepticism regarding the biblical narrative had already made serious headway, Mendelssohn behaves as if he were still living in the fourteenth century, when no one dared to express such doubts’. In light of Abraham Ibn Ezra’s critical approach in the twelfth century, with which fourteenth-century exegetes like Samuel ben Saadia Ibn Motot and Samuel Ibn Seneh ∑arÒa struggled in order to interpret him traditionally, Arkush fails to give sufficient credit here to the fourteenth century. See Jospe, ‘Biblical Exegesis as a Philosophic Literary Genre’, pp. 57 ff.
75 Mendelssohn,


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

affirmed what were for him basic Jewish tenets, while his philosophy, especially his political philosophy, eagerly explored new and modern themes and concerns. Avoiding the Deism so prevalent in contemporary intellectual circles (the modern equivalent of what Judah Halevi called ‘the God of Aristotle’), Mendelssohn, who faithfully and punctiliously observed traditional Jewish ritual, including daily prayer, until his dying day, insisted on reaffirming the traditional beliefs in what Judah Halevi called ‘the God of Abraham’, the God who loves and is loved, the God who providentially intervenes in history and whose Torah was publicly revealed at Sinai. Modern political and historical developments, the evolution of new conceptions of the state, and Jewish emancipation made it necessary for Mendelssohn to reinterpret traditional Judaism in a new context. Modern political philosophy made it possible for Mendelssohn to reinterpret traditional sources in such a way as to give them new content and provided him with the tools to do so. Thus, as we have seen, the rabbinic statements about righteous gentiles who have a portion in the world to come are transformed into an argument for religious toleration by the state and for religious pluralism, and the rabbinic notion of ‘seven commandments of the children of Noah’ is equated with the universal and rational religion of nature. In political philosophy, Mendelssohn represents a shift from the classical and medieval notion (such as found in Maimonides) of the ideal state as embodying absolute religious truth and fostering spiritual salvation to the modern liberal and instrumental view of the state as concerned only with practical temporal matters, a state that tolerates and even encourages a pluralistic diversity of religions. Here, too, it seems to me that Mendelssohn’s vision goes beyond Locke’s. Locke had argued pragmatically that the state is incapable of determining which religion is true and must therefore tolerate dissent and variety:
There is only one of these which is the true way to eternal happiness. But in this great variety of ways that men follow, it is still doubted which is this right one. Now neither the care of the commonwealth, nor the right of enacting laws, does discover this way that leads to heaven more certainly to the magistrate, than every private man’s search and study discovers it unto himself…. Neither the right, nor the art of ruling, does necessarily carry along with it the certain knowledge of other things; and least of all of the true religion.78

Mendelssohn goes beyond such a pragmatic view of toleration and affirms the inherent value and desirability of religious pluralism. Diversity is part of the divine plan for humanity. Addressing Christian rulers, he concludes Jerusalem as follows:
Dear brothers, you are well-meaning. But do not let yourselves be deceived! To belong to this omnipresent shepherd, it is not necessary for the entire flock to graze on one pasture or to enter and leave the master’s house through just one door. It would be neither in accord with the shepherd’s wishes nor conducive to the growth of his flock.79 … A union of faiths, if it were ever to come about, could have only the most disastrous conse Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, p. 121. Jesus’ claim to be Israel’s shepherd can be seen as referring back to Ezekiel 37:24, it seems to me that here Mendelssohn deliberately employs the image of multiple doors for the sheep to counter the exclusivism of Jesus’ ‘I am the door of the sheep…. I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved’ (John 10:7–9).
79 Although 78

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quences for reason and freedom of conscience…. If the goal of this universal delusion were to be realized, I am afraid man’s barely liberated mind would once again be confined behind bars…. Brothers, if you care for true godliness, let us not pretend that conformity exists where diversity is obviously the plan and goal of Providence. Not one among us thinks and feels exactly like his fellowman. Why, then, should we deceive each other with lies? It is sad enough that we are doing this in our daily relations, in conversations that are of no particular importance. But why also in matters which concern our temporal and eternal welfare, our very destiny? Why should we use masks to make ourselves unrecognizable to each other in the most important concerns of life, when God has given each of us his own distinctive face for some good reason?… A union of faiths is not tolerance. It is the very opposite. For the sake of your happiness and ours, do not use your powerful prestige to give the force of law to some eternal truth that is immaterial to civic well-being; do not transform some religious doctrine to which the state should be indifferent into a statute of the land! Concentrate on what men should or should not do; judge them wisely by their actions; and let us retain the freedom of thought and speech with which the Father of all mankind has endowed us as our inalienable heritage and immutable right…. Let every man who does not disturb the public welfare, who obeys the law, acts righteously toward you and his fellowmen be allowed to speak as he thinks, to pray to God after his own fashion or after the fashion of his fathers, and to seek eternal salvation where he thinks he may find it. Permit no one in your country to search someone else’s heart or to judge someone else’s thoughts. Let no one usurp a right which the Omniscient has reserved to Himself. If we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, then let us also render unto God what is God’s. Love truth! Love peace!80

Mendelssohn had long and consistently held such pluralistic views, rejecting the exclusivistic claims made by any religion. In his response (precise date unknown) to
80  Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, pp. 107–10. Shmuel Feiner (Mahpekhat ha-neˆorut [Jerusalem, 2002], pp. 149–50 and 191–3) suggests that Mendelssohn’s preface to Vindiciae Judaeorum reflects his enthusiasm, in early 1782, for the recent Patent of Tolerance. By the time he wrote Jerusalem, later that year, he had grown pessimistic about the rabbinic commitment to toleration and suspicious of the real intentions of the state’s alleged toleration, which aimed at ‘a union of faiths’ rather than true toleration of religious pluralism. Feiner calls Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem ‘his most pessimistic work’ and attributes the sharp change in Mendelssohn’s attitude to the challenge posed by the ‘Searcher for Light and Right’. Interestingly, Mendelssohn concludes Jerusalem with a play on Matthew 22:21, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ As Zev Harvey has noted: The people’s request for a king is presented in Jerusalem as the beginning of a long, gradual process of the deterioration of the Mosaic constitution, a process which came to an end with the destruction of the Second Temple…. By the end of the Second Temple period, with the state under foreign dominion, the collision of duties had become an everyday reality. It was during this sad period that the founder of Christianity said: ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s’ (Mat. 22:21). This dictum, affirming the separation of religion and state, attested to the unfortunate end of the Mosaic constitution and its heavenly politics. The difference in emphasis between Mendelssohn’s comments in the Beˆur and in Jerusalem are sufficiently explained by the different contexts. In the Beˆur, he sought to clarify the status of the monarchy in ancient Israel, and concluded it was a rebellion against God. In Jerusalem, he sought to contrast Judaism and Christianity on the question of religion and state, and deemed it important to indicate that Christianity has no connection with the heavenly politics of the Mosaic constitution.’ (Harvey, ‘Mendelssohn’s Heavenly Politics’, p. 408) The final words of the Jerusalem are based on Zechariah 8:19, ‘Love truth and peace’. Compare the similarity of Mendelssohn’s call for religious diversity with that of Thomas Jefferson, cited above, note 73.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

a letter from Prince Karl-Wilhelm of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (dated 2 January 1770), Mendelssohn wrote of liberal Christian reformers that
[t]hey must not base their system… on the hypothesis that Judaism and, even more so, natural religion are inadequate means to ensure man’s salvation. Since all men must have been destined by the Creator to attain eternal bliss, no particular religion can have an exclusive claim to truth. This thesis, I dare to submit, might serve as a criterion of truth in all religious matters. A revelation claiming to show man the only way to salvation cannot be true, for it is not in harmony with the intent of the all-merciful Creator.81

Mendelssohn’s consistency in this regard is evident in his explicit application of his pluralistic principles to Judaism and not only to Christianity and other religions. That same year, during the Lavater controversy, in a letter to an unknown correspondent (dated 20 August 1770), he wrote:
Worship, however, as everyone knows, can be private as well as public, internal as well as external, and one does well to differentiate between the two. The internal worship of the Jew is not based on any principles except those of natural religion. To spread these is, indeed, incumbent upon us…. Our external worship, however, is in no way meant to address itself to others, since it consists of rules and prescriptions that are related to specific persons, times, and circumstances. I grant we believe that our religion is the best, because we consider it to be divinely inspired. Nevertheless, it does not follow from this premise that it is absolutely the best. It is the best religion for ourselves and our descendants, the best for certain times, circumstances, and conditions.82

At the same time that Mendelssohn denies that Judaism ‘is absolutely the best’ religion, in a different sense he does assert its intellectual and moral superiority. The superiority of Judaism, however, lies not in its specific laws and practices, but in its rationality (since its core is nothing more than natural religion, to which, unlike Christianity, it adds no doctrines necessary for salvation) and in its pluralistic and tolerant spirit (since it makes no claims of exclusive salvation, nor claims that its particular way of life applies to anyone else). In a letter to the Swiss physician and mystic Jacob Hermann Obereit (dated 13 March 1770), Mendelssohn wrote that the best religion is the most tolerant religion:
You ask me which of all the world’s religions I consider the most likely to inculcate the most perfect possible conduct toward God and man, hence make such conduct really possible. I should think it would be that religion which is the most tolerant, permitting us to embrace all mankind with equal love. Nothing makes us as narrow-minded as a religion that excludes certain men on principle. Though it may not incite us to bloody

 In Moses Mendelssohn: Selections, trans. E. Jospe, pp. 116–7. Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, p. 134. Altmann discusses this passage in light of Lessing’s play Nathan der Weise: ‘He [Lessing] had then emphasized the idea that all men had the duty and right to fulfil their own particular destiny, a concept that must have seemed to him the natural corollary of the ring parable, and that, in the play, Saladin formulated in the words: “I have never desired / That one bark grow on all trees of the woods”. Similarly, Mendelssohn said in his Jerusalem that in order to belong to the omnipresent Shepherd, it was not necessary for the entire flock to graze in one pasture’ (Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, p. 578).
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persecutions, it is apt to produce in us a certain lack of lovingness and a pride in what we regard as our singular worth in the eyes of God, thus putting a wrong slant on even our best inclinations.83

Mendelssohn’s belief in the superiority of Judaism as the most rational and tolerant religion, in contrast with Christianity, implicit in this letter to a non-Jew, became explicit in a letter written a year later (22 July 1771) to a Jewish friend, Elkan Herz, to whom Mendelssohn perhaps thought he could express himself more frankly:
Christians in general and theologians in particular easily accuse others of deism, because their own revealed religion superimposes on natural religion a very great deal that goes beyond and against reason. We, however, can praise God for having given us the teaching of truth. We have no dogmas that go beyond or against reason, nor do we add anything but commandments, statutes, and straightforward rules to natural religion. Our religious principles and tenets are grounded in reason, and therefore [are] not in any conflict with it. Rather than contradict the findings of rational investigation, they are fully congruent with them. This actually constitutes the pre-eminence of our religion, our true and divine religion, over all other confessions of faith.84

The paradox for Mendelssohn was, accordingly, that he was challenged by the ‘Searcher for Light and Right’ whether Judaism is compatible with modernity, whereas the real question should be whether Christianity, the dominant religion shaping European culture, with its dogmas and exclusivistic claims of salvation, is compatible with modernity. Discretion prevented Mendelssohn from phrasing the paradox so bluntly. But he did not refrain from quoting the Searcher’s challenge – that by denying the legitimacy of political enforcement of religion Mendelssohn had essentially denied the Torah, which ‘prescribes coercion as well as definite punishment for the non-observance of ritual duties’.85 Nor did Mendelssohn mince his words, despite his discretion, in responding to the Searcher’s attack:
This objection goes right to my heart and troubles me deeply. I must confess that this view of Judaism… is shared by many of my co-religionists. If I were convinced that it is true, I would retract my statements, despite the inevitable embarrassment I would have to face, and I would subordinate reason to the yoke of faith…. In any event, it is not only distressing but an offensive accusation by the anonymous ‘Searcher for Light and Right’… that it is my odious intention to abolish the religion I profess and to renounce it covertly, if not overtly…. Nevertheless, my dear sir, shall I take this step without first pondering whether it will really extricate me from the state of confusion in which you think I find myself? If it were true that the cornerstones of my house are so out of alignment that the entire building threatens to collapse, would I act wisely if I attempted to save my belongings simply by moving them from the lower to the upper floor? Would I
Moses Mendelssohn: Selections, p. 146. Mendelssohn’s reply to Obereit is discussed by Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn, pp. 539–40. 84 Letter to Elkan Herz, in Moses Mendelssohn: Selections, p. 121. Cf. Altmann’s discussion of this letter (Moses Mendelssohn, p. 249). Jacob Katz (Exclusiveness and Tolerance, p. 172) also suggests that Mendelssohn maintained Judaism’s superiority in intellectual terms (its essential rationality) and moral terms (its inherent toleration). 85 Cited by Mendelssohn in Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, Part II, p. 56.
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Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

be safer there? Christianity, as you know, is built upon Judaism and would therefore collapse along with it.86

The ideal religion is thus one that is rational (or at least in no way inconsistent with reason) and tolerant. For Mendelssohn, Judaism meets these intellectual and moral tests. Judaism, therefore, in Mendelssohn’s barely concealed view, is not only the truest positive religion, closest to natural religion, but also the most tolerant or pluralistic, and thus modern, religion.


Excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Or la-netivah Moses our teacher, peace be on him, wrote the whole Torah in its entirety from ‘In the beginning’ until ‘in the sight of all Israel’, even the last eight verses from ‘Moses died’ until the end of the Torah…. It is possible to raise a difficulty, whether the Holy One blessed be He spoke and Moses wrote down the whole Torah… for wherever it said ‘The Lord spoke to Moses’ [in the third person], it should have said ‘I the Lord spoke to Moses’ or ‘The Lord spoke to me’ [in the first person]…. As is known, there are people who had this difficulty, and this difficulty almost caused them to doubt who wrote the Torah. Proof can be brought from [the case of] Baruch, who testified about himself that he wrote the scroll [of Jeremiah] from the mouth of Jeremiah, and nevertheless always mentions Jeremiah and Baruch speaking in the third person…. Ramban (Nahmanides) wrote at the beginning of the Torah the reason why Moses did not write the Torah as if he were speaking for himself, and did not mention himself in the Torah until he was born, as if someone else were telling about him, because the Torah precedes the creation of the world, and thus all the more so [it precedes] the birth of Moses our teacher…. So Moses was like a scribe copying from an ancient book…. It is true and clear that Moses wrote the whole Torah prophetically, from the beginning of the book of Genesis until ‘in the sight of all Israel’…. We the whole community of the congregation of Israel believe that just as Moses our teacher wrote his Torah, so do we now possess it today. Nothing in it has changed since then until now. Nor did what happens to secular books happen to it, namely that scribes and copyists over the years change them by adding or deleting or changing, sometimes by mistake on account of laziness, and sometimes deliberately and willfully in order to correct the author’s words. Thus over time the correct reading became completely forgotten and the text of the book became set…. Therefore [God] provided us scribes and Masoretes, who counted all the letters of the Torah in order to preserve them from addition or subtraction, and who watched over the books
86 Ibid.,

pp. 57–8.

Raphael Jospe


as they were copied in order to remove any mistake in writing, according to rules which were transmitted from the days of Ezra…. They also paid attention to the vowels and cantillation notes… It is the same regarding the qeri [the way a word is read] and the ketiv [the way a word is written]. Moses our teacher, of blessed memory, only wrote down in his Torah the ketiv, but when he transmitted it to Joshua, he would read it to him according to the qeri and informed him the secret of the difference between them, and thus it was transmitted from person to person.


Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist

Albert van der Heide

The Be'ur in Progress: Salt and Spices at a Medieval Banquet

Moses Mendelssohn’s endeavour to publish a new edition of the Torah, entitled Netivot ha-shalom, and containing, in addition to the Hebrew, a German translation, a Hebrew commentary (beˆur), and a detailed account of the correctness of the masoretic text (Tiqqun soferim), was very much tied up with the needs and ideals of his time and environment and mirrors a complex set of ideologies.1 The work began in about 1773 or 1774; the fifth volume of the Torah was published ten years later, in the spring of 1783. Mendelssohn was the translator; the scholar and poet Solomon Dubno (1738–1813) handled the masoretic details of Tiqqun soferim. The two worked together to produce the commentary, with Dubno assembling the material and Mendelssohn assuming responsibility for supervision and redaction. While the work on Exodus was in progress, Mendelssohn and Dubno clashed over the publication of Dubno’s share in the long introduction to the project (first published separately as Or la-netivah in 17822), and Dubno dropped out of the project. As a result, Mendelssohn had to write the commentary on Exodus himself before he found other collaborators: Naphtali Herz (Hartwig) Wessely (1725–1805) for Leviticus, Aaron Jaroslav3 for Numbers, and Naphtali Herz Homberg (1749–1841) for Deuteronomy. For this reason, the Beˆur on Exodus may come closest to what Mendelssohn himself had in mind for this work, all the more so because the occasional inclusion of passages by Dubno offer interesting sidelights. Given Solomon Dubno’s background, training, and interest as a traditional scholar (with moderately ‘modern’ ideals), the overwhelmingly traditional and almost medithe following observations I relied mainly on Edward Breuer, The Limits of Enlightenment: Jews, Germans and the Eighteenth-Century Study of Scripture (Cambridge, Mass., 1996), as well as Perez Sandler, Ha-beˆur la-torah shel Mosheh Mendelssohn ve-si¨ato (Jerusalem, 1940/41); Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (London, 1973), esp. ch. 5; Werner Weinberg, ‘Einleitung’, in: Moses Mendelssohn, Gesammelte Schriften: Jubiläumsausgabe, vol. 15,1: Hebräische Schriften II, 1: der Pentateuch, ed. Werner Weinberg (Stuttgart–Bad Cannstadt, 1990), pp. IX–CLIV. 2 Now reprinted in photo-offset in Gesammelte Schriften: Jubiläumsausgabe, vol. 15,1, pp. 19–55, and translated in vol. 9,1: Schriften zum Judentum III,1: Pentateuchübersetzung in deutscher Umschrift, ed. Werner Weinberg (Stuttgart–Bad Cannstadt, 1993), pp. 1–96. Weinberg (pp. XLIII–IV) is the first to argue plausibly for la-netivah instead of the usual li-netivah (cf. Ps. 119:105: ve-or li-netivati). 3 Jaroslav is the least known of those mentioned here; even his dates seem to be unknown. According to Sandler (Ha-be’ur, p. 145 n. 1), he referred to himself by his hometown, but his family name was Friedenthal (Freudenthal? Altmann [Moses Mendelssohn, p. 359] has ‘Aaron Zechariah Friendenthal’ [sic]). Getzel Kressel, Leqsiqon ha-sifrut ha-¨ivrit ba-dorot ha-aÌaronim (MerÌavia, 1965–67), vol. 2, cols. 105–6, depends on Sandler and provides no additional information.
1 For

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Albert Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Royal van der Heide


eval character of the Beˆur on Genesis is no great surprise. But it is indeed remarkable that Mendelssohn seems to have gone along fully with Dubno’s method of processing and reworking the mass of rabbinic and medieval exegesis. A closer look at Genesis 22 will confirm this. Later on we will have a look at Exodus 19.4 Genesis 22:1–19 tells the story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, the journey to Mount Moriah, Isaac’s binding on the altar, and the sacrifice of the ram instead of him, God’s reaction to Abraham’s behaviour and His renewed blessing, and finally the return home. In the Beˆur all this is covered in about thirty exegetical entries, most of them rather short, because the Beˆur was conceived to be an old-fashioned gloss rather than a theological or philosophical commentary. Five topics are discussed more extensively than the others. Considerable attention is given to the meaning of the verb nissah – here meaning ‘to test’. The name Moriah (v. 2) is also treated at length. The correct understanding of the problematic phrase, ‘Now I know that you are God-fearing’ (v. 12), is discussed, as is the question of the new name for the mountain where the sacrifice took place: ‘The Lord will see’ (v. 14). A long discussion of the problematic chronology of Abraham’s stay in Beersheba, mentioned in v. 19, which does not really belong to the story itself, is appended. In two of these cases Mendelssohn himself explicitly took the lead: on the meaning of nissah and on ‘Now I know’. These, in fact, are the core theological issues of the whole chapter, because both touch on the belief in God’s omniscience. In another topic (‘Moriah’), Mendelssohn’s guiding hand can be suspected. In true medieval fashion the commentary is replete with quotations from and references to earlier authorities, all of them Jewish. There is no mention of any non-Jewish exegetical literature. We begin with a classification and inventory. The classical rabbinic sources are explicitly mentioned only three times, but they are implied in the wording of at least three other instances. The Targums (Onkelos and Pseudo-Jonathan) are mentioned seven times. Rashi gets eight mentions, but since he usually transmits an earlier rabbinic view these can also be accounted as additional references to the rabbinic literature. Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), Rashi’s grandson, was not a very well-known exegete at the time, but he was highly esteemed by the Beˆur-ists for his dedication to the pesha† or plain meaning; he is mentioned here four times (once, however, to be soundly rejected).5 Abraham Ibn Ezra is mentioned five times, and Saadia, David KimÌi, Obadiah Sforno, Elijah Levita, and Isaac Abravanel once each. Maimonides appears twice but NaÌmanides no fewer than eight times, the same as Rashi. The Masorah is mentioned once. We will now take a closer look at Dubno’s treatment of the name Moriah and then at Mendelssohn’s solution of the problem of God’s trial of Abraham. Dubno begins by pointing out that there is a strong tradition that Mount Moriah is identical with the Temple Mount and that it was an ancient place of worship, going
4 Genesis first appeared in 1780; Exodus in 1781. The texts are now available in photo-offset in Gesammelte Schriften: Jubiläumsausgabe, vols. 15,2 and 16: Hebräische Schriften II: der Pentateuch, ed. Werner Weinberg (Stuttgart–Bad Cannstatt, 1990). 5 His well-argued but semantically untenable view that here nissah means ‘to punish’; see below.


The Be'ur in Progress: Salt and Spices at a Medieval Banquet

back to the time of Adam.6 As for the name Moriah, there are many midrashim. For the plain meaning (pesha†), however, the name should be connected with mor, the myrrh of sacrificial worship, as NaÌmanides said, following Onkelos and Rashi. Then Dubno suddenly embarks on a pilpulistic treatment of whether myrrh could be found in the Land of Israel and whether it should be identified with musk. Evidently he does so because NaÌmanides invokes conflicting traditions on these points.7 Dubno clearly wants to sort this out but is unable to give a clear answer. Then the gloss ends abruptly with the general observation that, actually, there is little point in trying to find the meanings of the many proper names that appear in the Torah, for in those cases where the Torah does offer a meaning, the solution is often quite unexpected. ‘Who could have guessed the meaning of the name Jacob, had the Torah not told us that “his hand was grasping Esau’s heel (¨aqev)”?’ (cf. Gen. 25:26). These sensible remarks stand in such a contrast to the frantic search for the meaning of the name Moriah a few lines before that the hand of the Master may be suspected here. For the meaning of nissah Dubno again begins by offering several views from earlier sources. He quotes but dismisses Rashbam’s unique suggestion that nissah be rendered by the French contraria (‘to punish’, ‘to thwart’; perhaps a past tense here). He does the same with the traditional derivation of nissah from nes, ‘banner, mast’. He prefers those traditions that understand ‘to test’ as the literal meaning of nissah. Here ha-metargem ha-ashkenazi – who is of course Mendelssohn himself – steps in with the assertion that, although the verbs nissah and baÌan are largely synonymous – both meaning ‘prüfen = to test’ – nissah has an additional sense; namely, ‘to become used to, to be trained’. In our case, Mendelssohn says, nissah can be paraphrased as ‘to realize a thought or an intention by a deed’. Therefore his translation is not ‘Gott prüfte Abraham’ but ‘Gott versuchte Abraham’, meaning ‘that He gave him the opportunity to strengthen his heart (le-ammeÒ et levavo) in the ways of the fear of God and His service’. Much more could be said about this.8 To the discerning eye, however, it is clear that Mendelssohn was well aware of the discussions on the verb nissah in medieval exegetical literature and made good use of them – especially, as we shall see, of the writings of NaÌmanides, who maintained that the essence of Abraham’s trial was the opportunity given him by God to prove his good intentions. Later, in v. 12, when the Angel of the Lord sums up the results of Abraham’s trial, Mendelssohn translates: ‘… denn nun weiss ich, dass du gottesfürchtig9 bisst’. The commentary again starts by reviewing the positions of earlier exegetes (Saadia, Maimonides, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and NaÌmanides), but only NaÌmanides’ opinion is quoted in full: ‘For now I know’ means, ‘from the beginning I knew the potentiality
on 2 Chron. 3:1 and Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli¨ezer 31 (fol. 70b in the 1852 Warsaw edition).  NaÌmanides refers to J Peˆah 7c in his commentary on Gen. 22:2 but follows an altogether different tradition in his commentary on Ex. 30:23 (‘flowing myrrh’). 8  Cf. Albert van der Heide, ‘Banner, Miracle, Trial? Medieval Hebrew Lexicography between Facts and Faith’, in Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World, ed. Nicholas de Lange (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 92–106. 9 Weinberg (vol. 9,1, p. 140 and XXV–XXVI) opts for the spelling ‘gottesfürchtig’.
7 6 Based

Albert van der Heide


of your fear of God, which was not yet actualized by the deed; but now, since it has become known by a deed, its merit has become complete’.10 This opinion, Dubno says, is also adopted by ha-metargem ha-ashkenazi, ‘and he added salt and spices (hosif melaÌ u-tevalin)’ by making the following observation. A relatively long passage follows, in which Mendelssohn points out the philosophical impossibility that an omniscient God acquire knowledge. Designations of temporality in relation to God should be understood as designations of causality. Abraham’s deed of obedience was the cause of God’s acknowledgement of his piety, which was, of course, already known to Him from eternity. In German: ‘… hierdurch habe ich erkannt dass du [gottesfürchtig bisst]’. It is interesting to see that here in the commentary Mendelssohn offers a version that varies from his more literal and ‘official’ translation: ‘Denn nun weiss ich …’. But for the rest the terminology is entirely medieval and so is the reasoning, as far as I can see.11 When we proceed to look at the Beˆur on Exodus 19, the story of the Revelation at Sinai, we must realize that it was produced in a different situation. Dubno had left the enterprise12 and Mendelssohn wrote the commentary himself. From that perspective, it is remarkable that the Beˆur on Exodus is hardly different from that on Genesis, although a slightly different atmosphere may be detected. First some numbers. The twenty-five verses of Chapter 19 stimulate some fifty entries, almost all of them rather short. Nearly everything in these entries is derived from standard Jewish exegetical literature, either as explicit quotation, paraphrase, or implicit quotation without reference to a name or a source. There are seven instances of a more elaborate treatment. In v. 5, the universalistic meaning of ¨am segullah is highlighted in a rather succinct fashion. In v. 9, the authority of Moses as a prophet is discussed. There is considerable attention to the peculiar form of the verb yiyyareh ‘will be shot’ in v. 13, where an intricate note by Dubno is included. Also in v. 13 is the question about who was allowed to climb the mountain together with Moses.13 In v. 18, the morphology of the noun ¨ashan ‘smoke’ is discussed extensively, according to the view of Abraham Ibn Ezra, with reference to a somewhat problematic reading in Rashbam.14 In v. 20, the problem10 NaÌmanides on Gen. 22:12 (Perush ha-Ramban ¨al ha-torah, ed. Îayyim. D. Chavel [Jerusalem, 1959], p. 127 offers a slightly different manuscript reading; cf. the translation in Îayyim B. Chavel, Ramban (Nachmanides): Commentary on the Torah, Genesis [New York, 1971], p. 279). For a fuller version of NaÌmanides’ views see Torat ha-adam, sha¨ar ha-gemul (in Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe ben NaÌman, ed. Îayyim Chavel [Jerusalem, 1964], 1:272; Îayyim Chavel, Ramban (Nachmanides): Writings and Discourses [New York, 1978], 1: 445–6). Note that Mendelssohn omits the notion of reward (sakhar) so much stressed by NaÌmanides. 11 Although one rarely sees the matter put as clearly and succinctly as Mendelssohn does here. It is remarkable that Maimonides’ articulate view of the ¨aqedah as an example for humanity (Guide of the Perplexed II, 24) is completely ignored here. 12 But he clearly left a lot of material behind. Thus the Tiqqun soferim is conspicuously present at the beginning of Exodus 20, the Decalogue, with its double set of accents. Passages already written by Dubno were incorporated in the commentary, too, marked by a circellus. 13 Including an addition between brackets within the translation: ‘Nämlich: Aaron, seine Söhne und die siebzig Ältesten.’ 14 Ibn Ezra, long commentary on Exodus, ad loc. (Perushei ha-torah le-rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra, Shemot, ed. Asher Weiser [Jerusalem, 1976], pp. 123–4); Rashbam ad loc. (David Rosin, Der Pentateuch-Commentar des R. Samuel ben Meïr [Breslau, 1881], p. 109).


The Be'ur in Progress: Salt and Spices at a Medieval Banquet

atic anthropomorphism implied by the Lord’s coming down on the top of the mountain is solved by a long quotation from Abraham Ibn Ezra. The events recounted at the end of the chapter and the number of times that Moses ascended and descended the mountain are outlined with great care. Characteristically, this seems to be the only instance where Mendelssohn voices an opinion of his own15 and does not implicitly agree with the authorities he quotes, such as Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra. Mendelssohn’s view of this dialogue between God and Moses is interesting. Why, he asks, did Moses argue with God in v. 23 about not allowing the people to ascend the mountain? Wasn’t that clear from the beginning? His answer is that Moses was unwilling to abandon his privileged position close to God and was afraid that he would have to stand among the people when God gave them the Ten Commandments. As noted, the commentary on this chapter is full of references to the traditional exegetical literature, though often only implicitly. The Mekhilta is mentioned six times and implied once; these are opinions usually taken over by Rashi as well. The same applies to the two references to rabbinical literature in general. Onkelos and/or Pseudo-Jonathan are mentioned six times. Rashi, too, is mentioned explicitly six times and implicitly an additional seven times; in one instance Mendelssohn gives his own explanation of Rashi’s view (v. 13: hemmah ya¨alu). Rashbam is quoted seven times directly and once implicitly. Abraham Ibn Ezra is quoted no less than nine times, twice quite extensively; his views are implied in three additional cases. NaÌmanides, who was rather conspicuous in Genesis, plays a special role here too by serving as Mendelssohn’s invisible spokesman in seven instances. The only time that he is explicitly mentioned, the reference is not wholly clear (v. 20: mi-divrei haRamban). Finally, Obadiah Sforno is mentioned twice. It remains to be remarked that Dubno, in his inserted note on yiyyareh (v. 13), discusses the conflicting views of Joseph and David KimÌi. Exodus 19 is not an easy chapter. It is difficult to determine the sequence of events and divine utterances. From the time of Rashi, Jewish exegetes have tried to establish a coherent view of the chain of events. The Beˆur clearly follows in their path. Apart from a slightly unbalanced and haphazard attention to details of morphology (yiyyareh in v. 13, ¨ashan in v. 18), the explicit preference for pesha† over midrashic solutions, the awareness of the nature of biblical style (in vv. 2 and 4), and the special attention to the purpose of the dialogue between God and Moses in the latter part of the chapter are clear evidence of a marked exegetical sensitivity. As in Genesis 22, Mendelssohn was able to realize his hermeneutical ideas almost exclusively through his selections from rabbinical and medieval authorities. There is no doubt that a more discursive and less topically arranged commentary on a chapter like Exodus 19 would have been more appropriate for his purpose. Examples of such commentaries were abundantly available to Mendelssohn in contemporary Old Testament scholarship. Their absence from the Beˆur is significant. Nor did Mendelssohn follow the example of later Jewish exegetes like Isaac Abravanel, whose attention to context

 The remarks on biblical literary style in vv. 2 and 4 (‘Auf Adlersflügeln getragen’), set off against different, rabbinical views, may also be Mendelssohn’s own.

Albert van der Heide


and cohesion came at the price of extreme wordiness. Mendelssohn chose to follow the example of the great medieval classics. The result is – to borrow the phrase that Dubno so graciously applied to his employer – a medieval banquet, where even the salt and spices have a medieval flavour.


The Be'ur in Progress: Salt and Spices at a Medieval Banquet

Thomas Kollatz

Under the Cover of Tradition: Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz

Born in Berlin in 1723, the scion of a wealthy, learned, and respected family,1 Aron Emmerich Salomon Gumpertz, designated for a rabbinical career, soon preferred the study of science to the study of halakhah. Many contemporary sources testify to his successful pursuit of knowledge. His scholarly and scientific skills were widely known and highly appreciated both inside and outside the Jewish community. He was a man of science closely associated with the centres of scientific endeavour and scholarly exchange of ideas. He was one of the few Jews in eighteenth-century Berlin who had dealings with non-Jewish scholars. Together with Moses Mendelssohn he attended the lectures (in Latin) on modern philosophy given by Johann Philip Heinius, headmaster of the Joachimsthal Gymnasium,2 and participated in the monthly meetings of the Kaffeehaus-Gesellschaft, a learned society devoted to science and philosophy.3 For years he was closely associated with members of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin – the Marquis d’Argens, Pierre Moreau de Maupertuis, Leonhard Euler, Louis Isaac de Beausobre, Johann Christoph Gottsched,

 For biographical details on Aron Gumpertz, see: David Kaufmann and Max Freudenthal, Die Familie Gomperz (Frankfurt a.M., 1907), pp. 164–200; Eliezer Landshuth, ‘Dr. Aron Gumpertz gen. Aron Emmerich’, Die Gegenwart: Berliner Wochenschrift für jüdische Angelegenheiten 1 (1867/1868): 318– 9, 324–6, 330–1, 340–1, 347–8, 357–8, 365–7; Meyer Kayserling, ‘Moses Mendelssohn und seine Verwandten, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums 63 (1899): 463; Joseph Eschelbacher, ‘Die Anfänge allgemeiner Bildung unter den deutschen Juden vor Mendelssohn’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Juden [Festschrift M. Philippson] (Leipzig, 1916), pp. 172–7; David Sorkin, ‘Aaron Solomon Gumpertz’, in The Berlin Haskalah and German Religious Thought: Orphans of Knowledge (London and Portland, 2000), pp. 56–62; Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 2002), pp. 64–5. 2  Cf. Friedrich Nicolai, ‘Nekrolog auf Moses Mendelssohn’, in idem, Sämtliche Werke, Briefe, Dokumente, ed. P.M. Mitchell, Hans-Gert Roloff, and Erhard Weidl, vol. 6, p. 38: ‘Er [=Gumperz] verschaffte ihm [=Mendelssohn] auch die Bekanntschafft einiger jungen Leute auf dem joachimsthalischen Gymnasium, welche die Philosophie liebten.’ 3  ‘Eine Art von gelehrtem Kaffeehause für eine geschlossene Gesellschaft von hundert Personen, meist Gelehrten oder doch Freunden der Gelehrsamkeit, angelegt. J.A. Euler, Aepinius, Jacobi, Gumperz, Wilke,…, Martini,…, Bamberger, Resewitz, Lüdke und viele a. m. waren nebst mir und Moses Mendelssohn Mitglieder dieser Gesellschaft. Alle vier Wochen ward da eine Abhandlung vorgelesen, mathematischen, physikalischen, philosophischen Inhalts’ (idem, ‘Ueber meine gelehrte Bildung, über meine Kenntniß der kritischen Philosophie und meine Schriften dieselbe betreffend, und über die Herren Kant, J. B. Erhard, und Fichte. Eine Beylage zu den neun Gesprächen zwischen Christian Wolf und einem Kantianer’, ibid., p. 464).


Sepharad in Ashkenaz Thomas Kollatz Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


and others.4 Between 1745 and 1752 Gumpertz was also responsible for the astronomic and mathematical calculations for the Jewish calendar published in Berlin on behalf of the Royal Academy.5 In 1751 he completed his medical degree at the University of Frankfurt on the Oder.6 Then he travelled in France, England, and the Netherlands, keenly observing the scientific scene abroad.7 In a remarkable letter to Gottsched, written in 1745, Gumpertz reflected on the educational and professional decisions he had made in his youth:
For twenty years I have been a member of human society. Most of it I have devoted to the customary studies of my fellow believers. Above all I have spent uncounted hours on exercises in French, arithmetic, and writing. Although I pursued these studies on my own, driven only by eagerness, … I spared no pains, did not rest in day or night, in summer or winter, all the time reflecting on mathematics and physics, for as much as the circumstances as well as the time reserved for Hebrew studies made it possible to satisfy my thirst for knowledge.8

4  ‘Wie ich denn seit dem die Ehre gehabt mit verschiedenen berühmten Mitgliedern der hiesigen [=Berliner] Academie in Bekanntschaft zu gerathen’, as Gumpertz had remarked in a letter to Gottsched (15 December 1747), with special mention of the Marquis d’Argens (Theodor Wilhelm Danzel, Gottsched und seine Zeit: Auszüge aus seinem Briefwechsel [Leipzig, 1844], p. 335). 5  According to Moritz Steinschneider, ‘Der Berliner Kalender’, Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland 3 (1888/89): 262–74, the title pages of the Berlin Judencalender referred to Gumpertz as a ‘(great) astronomer’ (1745, 1749) as well as ‘experienced in medical science’ (1752); idem, ‘Mathematik bei den Juden (1551–1840)’, Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums 49 (1905): 728–9. On the approval of the calendar by the Academy, see Holger Lausch, ‘A. S. Gumpertz und die Academie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres in Berlin. Zum Auftakt zur EulerDollondschen Achromasie Kontroverse’, Bulletin des Leo Baeck Instituts 88 (1991): 13–4. 6 Gumpertz probably earned his living as physician, as suggested by the remarks reflecting practical experience in his revision of Loeseke’s Abhandlung. According to Eduard Duckesz, Chachme Ahw. Biographien und Grabsteininschriften der Dajanim, Autoren und der sonstigen hervorragenden Männer der drei Gemeinden Altona, Hamburg, Wandsbeck (Hamburg, 1908), p. 48, Gumpertz served as the physician for the poor in Hamburg. 7  Gumpertz repeatedly alludes to a journey to England; e.g., in the preface to Megalleh sod (Hamburg, 1765). In 1752 he wrote from London to Euler, the famous mathematician and director of the mathematics class of the Berlin Academy, informing him about J. Dollond’s remarks on lenses, which contradicted Euler’s own theory on the subject; see Lausch, ‘A. S. Gumpertz’, pp. 15–6. In the same letter, Gumpertz mentions his plans to travel to France. From Paris he corresponded with Mendez d’Acosta in London; see David Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry’s Construction of Modern Jewish Thought (Princeton, 2000), p. 211. Mendelssohn criticised Gumpertz’s habit of spending the summer in warm countries and the winter in cold ones and considered his frequent travels – especially to Paris – to be harmful to his health; see Mendelssohn’s letter to Joseph Mayer (12 November 1768), in Moses Mendelssohn, Gesammelte Schriften: Jubiläumsausgabe (Stuttgart–Bad Cannstatt, 1971 ff.) 20/2: 170 [letter 101] (hereafter JubA). 8 The passage is entitled ‘kleine Erklärung meines Standes’: ‘Ich bin seit 20 Jahren ein Mitglied der menschlichen Gesellschaft. Den allergrößten Theil dieser Zeit habe auf die Studien gewandt, die bey meinen Glaubensgenoßen in Gebrauch eingeführt sind. Die Nebenstunden ungerechnet, die zuweilen zu der französischen Sprache, der Rechen Kunst und einer Uebung im Schreiben; wiewohl ohne jemandes Anführung, sondern wie es mir der natürliche Eifer eingab, herhalten mußten. … Man kann leicht ermessen, dass ich weder fleiß noch Mühe gesparet, weder Tag noch Nacht geschont, so wenig die anmuthige Sommer als die tiefsinnige Winterzeit verfließen lassen, ohne im Nachsinnen in der Mathematic und Naturlehre, insofern es meine Umstände und die den hebräischen Studien gewidmete Zeit erlaubte, meinen Durst zu löschen, und mich zu ergezen’ (Letter to Gottsched [8 March 1745], in Danzel, Gottsched und seine Zeit, p. 333).


Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz

About twenty years later, Gumpertz repeated this account in a Hebrew autobiographical note, claiming again that his studies went beyond ‘Hebrew subjects’ to include modern languages as well as philosophy, natural science, and mathematics.9 When Gumpertz died – he was only 4610 – on April 3, 1769, Moses Mendelssohn made efforts to safeguard his friend’s scientific legacy:
Please notify me … if he has left many manuscripts. Perhaps Madame11 could send them to me in order to get them published. … It would be a pity if all his scholarship died with him.12

Mendelssohn’s search for material worth publishing was sparked by Gumpertz himself, who repeatedly referred to work in progress in diverse fields – Hebrew prosody, belles lettres, mathematics, geography, natural science, and materia medica. But Mendelssohn’s endeavours to acquire unpublished work seems to have failed, and Gumpertz’ manuscripts indeed died with him. Today, only three scientific works published by Gumpertz13 in lifetime are known: a doctoral thesis (1751),14 a revision (1758),15 and a commentary (1765).16
sod, preface [n.p.]. of his days’, in the words of the inscription on Gumpertz’s tombstone in the Altona cemetery. For the tombstone inscriptions of both Gumpertz and his first wife Hitzel, see: Max Grunwald, Hamburgs deutsche Juden bis zur Auflösung der Dreigemeinden 1811 (Hamburg, 1904), p. 340; and Duckesz, Chachme, p. 48. 11 ‘Madame’ is a reference to Gumpertz’ second wife, Friebche Getting, who – to Mendelssohn and Fromet Gugenheim’s utter indignation – remarried soon after his death. 12 ‘Melden Sie mir doch,… ob er vil Manuscript hinterlasen. Villeicht schikt Madam mir selbige zu, und ich lase etwas davon druken…. es wäre doch wirklich schade wen so alle seine Wissenschaften mit ihm weg gestorben sein solte’ (Mendelssohn to Joseph Mayer, 25 April 1769, JubA 20/2: 175 [letter 105]). Mendelssohn was also interested in the famous Gumpertz library: ‘Wird von seinen Büchern Auktion gemacht?’ (ibid.). Gumpertz mentions his father’s extensive book collection in the preface to Megalleh sod. Mendelssohn had previously expressed his esteem for Gumpertz in a letter to his fiancée, Fromet Gugenheim (16 June 1761): ‘Ihm allein habe alles zu danken, was ich in Wissenschaften profitirt habe’ (JubA 11: 220 [letter 114]). 13 Besides his responsibility for the calendar, Gumpertz also seems to have been involved in Jewish communal affairs and to have contributed to occasional publications on behalf of the Jewish community. In 1745 he translated a Hebrew poem of thanks and a sermon by David Fränkel, written on the occasion of Prussia’s victory over Saxony (in the Second Silesian War). See: Eliezer Landshuth, Toledot anshei ha-shem u-fe¨ulatam ba-¨adat Berlin: me-ˆet hivvasedah bi-shnat 5431 (1671) ¨ad shenat 631 (1871) (Berlin, 1884 [repr. New York, 1994]), pp. 40–8; Herman Pick, ‘Aron Salomon Gumpertz als Uebersetzer patriotischer Gelegenheitsschriften’, Zeitschrift für hebräische Bibliographie 14 (1874): 183–5; Moritz Steinschneider, ‘Hebräische Drucke in Deutschland (Berlin, 1733–62)’, Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland 3 (1888/89): 266–7. 14 De temperamentis (Frankfurt ad Viadrum 1751), §91. 15 Johann Ludwig Leberecht Loesecke, Abhandlung der auserlesensten Arzeney-Mittel nach derselben Ursprung, Güte, Bestandtheilen, Maase und Art zu würken; ingleichen wie dieselben aus der Apothecke zu verschreiben sind; Zum Nutzen seiner Zuhörer abgefaßt mit Anmerkungen versehen und mit einer Tabelle vermehret von A. S. Gumpertz der Arzeney gel. Doctor, second edition (Berlin: Gottfried Wilhelm Nicolai, 1758). The third edition (1763) was a reprint of the second edition. Subsequent editions, too, included updates by famous contemporary physicians: Johann Friedrich Zückert, the fourth edition (1773); Johann Friedrich Gmelin, the fifth (1785) and sixth (1790) editions. 16 Megalleh sod, Gumpertz’s only extant Hebrew work, has been reprinted several times: Vilna 1836, Lvov/Lemberg 1910, and Brooklyn 1992. In 1840 a review signed ‘S. Mg.’ lauded Gumpertz’s supercommentary: ‘Aharon Emrich’s Commentar zu Ibn-Esras Commentar über die fünf Megillot’, Literaturblatt des Orients 1 (1840): 438–9.
10 ‘Half 9 Megalleh

Thomas Kollatz


In 1751, Gumpertz submitted his dissertation for his medical degree, ‘De temperamentis’, which offered a scientific perspective on the ancient medical and philosophical doctrine of the four humours. Gumpertz’ argument is directed chiefly against theories based on tradition and opinion rather than on experiments and physics.17 When Gumpertz revised Johann Ludwig Leberecht Loeseke’s compendium on pharmaceutics published in 1758, he added an introduction on methodology and expanded the work by 150 annotations to Loeseke’s entries.18 Both showed Gumpertz’ acquaintance with contemporary pharmaceutical theories and his solid knowledge of the literature on the subject, through frequent citations from the most recent discussion in European academies.19As in his dissertation, Gumpertz attacked scholastic ‘Weltweisheit’, represented, for example, by contemporary followers of Galen – or worse of Paracelsus – who still adhered to theories based on hypotheses rather than experiments. In a short but comprehensive survey of recent discoveries in medical science,20 Gumpertz writes that the reform of sciences, which began in the seventeenth century, also had far-reaching implications for medicine and pharmaceutics, as hypotheses were replaced by experiments.21 Occasionally Gumpertz inserted first-hand information gained during his stay abroad.22 He repeatedly referred to the opinions of leading European scholars, including his teacher in Frankfurt, Johann Friedrich Cartheuser.23 Gumpertz also mentioned the two most prominent Jewish scholars in England, his ‘friend’ Mendez d’Acosta,24 and Jacob de Castro
17 ‘Illi nempe ad praecepta sua, physica ceteroquin posthabita ratione, cuncta redigere annixi sunt: Hi rursum suis nimis indulgentes hypothesibus, tot occultis utuntur facultatibus, ut occulta maneat et haec res. Sic, quod Galenus inter veteres, quodque asseclae uberrime protulerunt, scholam redolet, nec istud, nisi qui praeoccupati opinione, auctoritati, non rationibus, obsequentes, credunt, et intelligere fatentur’ (de Temperamentis, preface, [n.p.]). 18  The first edition of Loeseke’s popular compendium on pharmaceutics – Abhandlung der auserlesensten Arzeney-Mittel… (1755) sold out quickly. Loeseke was aware of the need for a thorough revision, but died in 1757. See Gumpertz's preface: ‘Die erste Ausgabe dieses nützlichen und brauchbaren Werkes fing an aufzugehen, und der Verleger beschloß, eine zwote zu besorgen. Der Verfasser, der noch am Leben war, und der ohnedem sein Werk vollständiger und nutzbarer zu machen wünschte, versprach, die zwote Auflage mit Vermehrungen und Verbesserungen zu versehen. Er würde vermuthlich Wort gehalten haben, wenn ihn nicht der Tod,… überrascht… hätte. Der Herr Verleger… trug mir auf, die etwa nöthigen Vermehrungen und Verbesserungen von dem Meinigen hinzuzuthun’. 19  Gumpertz’s study on the humours reflected a strong interest in pharmaceutics. See de Temperamentis, pp. 36–7 (§§89–90), and especially §91, indicating that he had much more to contribute on the subject: ‘De dosi medicamentorum, cuique idonea, adhuc nonnulla dicenda essent, imo plura alia, eaque satis utilia, quae de hac faecundissima re afferri potuissent, restant, sed ulteriorem ventilationem instituti ratio, ac metus, ne dissertatio in molem nimiam excrescat, prohibent, et invitus igitur rivulos claudo’ (ibid., p. 37). He also underscored the importance of a close understanding of the antidromic effects of drugs in the preface to Megalleh sod. 20 Loeseke, Abhandlung, preface, [n.p.]. 21  ‘Die Hypotheses wurden nach und nach verbannt, wenigstens setzte man sie so lange, als zweifelhaft, zum voraus, bis sie durch vielfältige Versuche, welche der neuern Naturlehre eigen sind, bestätigt wurden’ (ibid.). 22 E.g., Gumpertz mentioned the collegia medica in London and Edinburgh in his preface to the Abhandlung, and frequently cited English medical practices (ibid., pp. 69, 235, 287, 395, 480). 23 Ibid., pp. 53, 55, 226, 235. 24  Ibid., p. 215: ‘Ich habe ihn [= lapis bezoar orientalis] von der Grösse eines Hüner-Eyes besessen, und nachher meinem Freunde dem Herrn Mendez d’Acosta zu London geschenckt, welcher ihn seiner berühmten Mineralien-Sammlung einverleibt.’ Later Gumpertz wrote to d’Acosta from Paris in 1759 and from Hamburg in 1767; see Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment, pp. 211–3.


Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz

Sarmento.25 Both were fellows of the Royal Society and renowned scientists – d’Acosta for his studies of fossils and as librarian of the Royal Society, de Castro as a physician. His own practical know-how as physician found its way into the addenda, too; e.g., where Gumpertz remarked that he once produced a positive effect in obstetrics by the application of a musk enema.26 Fully aware of the advantages and disadvantage of revising a best-selling scientific work written by an established scholar, Gumpertz’s attitude to the task was ambivalent. On the one hand it enabled him to communicate some of his own theories and experiences – ‘in the form of a foreigner’s work’27 – to a broader public; on the other hand, he was forced to stick closely to Loeseke’s arrangement and line of argumentation.28 Despite his input the book is still perceived as Loeseke’s Abhandlung, not as Gumpertz’s materia medica. His best-known publication is a small book of seventy pages, published in 1765, entitled Megalleh sod. A six-page autobiographical preface in rhymed prose, recounting his educational background, is followed by Megalleh sod, a supercommentary on Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentaries on Ecclesiastes, Esther, the Song of Songs, Ruth, and Lamentations, attesting to Gumpertz’s interest in grammar and the sciences (49 pages). The last fifteen pages are a systematic presentation and classification of the sciences, entitled Maˆamar ha-madda¨, in which Gumpertz asserts that the methods of modern science, based on investigation, experiment, observation, and the evidence of the senses, are compatible with Jewish tradition and halakhah – provided that physics is distinguished from metaphysics.29 This precondition clearly separated science from philosophy, religion, and tradition, with the result that the latter lost their hermeneutic primacy. Gumpertz, who wrote the first printed supercommentary on Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the Five Megillot, classified Megalleh sod as a supplement to a recent edition of Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the Pentateuch,30 Margaliyyot †ovah, published in 1722 in Amsterdam by Jequtiel Lazi b. NaÌum Ashkenazi, with financial support from
Abhandlung, pp. 225, 477.  Ibid., p. 554: ‘Ich habe einst bey einer schwangern Frau, die gantzer 6. Monat rasend und mit Krämpfen ausserordentlich geplagt war, als sie ihrer Entbindung nahe zu sein schien, daran aber dem Anscheine nach, wegen der häufigen Krämpfe im Unterleibe verhindert wurde,… den Versuch gemacht, und ihr ein Clystir, worinn etwa ein halber Scrupel Bisam war, beybringen lassen, wornach nicht nur die Krämpfe abnahmen, sondern auch in weniger als 12 Stunden die Entbindung glücklich erfolgte’. 27 Ibid., dedication to C. A. Cothenius [n.p.]: ‘unter dem Schutze einer fremden Schrift’. 28  Ibid., p. 56: ‘Ich war… genöthiget seiner Einrichtung zu folgen, sofern ich nicht dem gantzen Werke, wider die Absichten des Verlegers eine andere Gestalt geben wollte; wäre dieses nicht, so würde ich einige Capitel gäntzlich aussen gelassen, andere hingegen zusammen gezogen oder sonst verändert haben.’ 29  Cf. Megalleh sod, pp. 13b, 15, et passim. Mendelssohn praised Maˆamar ha-madda¨ for its excellent presentation of old and new sciences (Millot ha-higgayon [Berlin, 1765], §14). According to Ruderman, ‘the importance of Gumpertz’s comparatively modest work lies in articulating the boundaries separating physics from metaphysics, allowing the faithful to feel secure in investigating nature in its own right’ (David Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe [New Haven, 1995], p. 343). 30  Whereas Ibn Ezra’s philosophical and grammatical works were not published until the 1760s or later – Sefer ha-neÌmad Ìai ben meqiÒ (Berlin, [5]527 [1767]); Sefer ∑aÌot (Berlin,1769); Jesod mora (Hamburg, 1771) – his biblical commentaries, which appear in most editions of the Rabbinic Bible (miqraˆot gedolot) were readily available.
26 25 Loeseke,

Thomas Kollatz


Naphtali Herz Susskind. Margaliyyot †ovah includes Ibn Ezra’s commentary on the Pentateuch along with a selection of the supercommentaries by Ibn Motot, Joseph ben Eliezer, and Ibn ∑arÒa, thoroughly revised and abridged. Ibn Ezra’s commentary was printed in the centre, surrounded by the three supercommentaries – treating Ibn Ezra’s commentary like the biblical text in Miqraˆot gedolot, a practice justified on the title page of Margaliyyot †ovah as follows:
This scholar – Abraham Ibn Ezra – performed wonders in his commentaries on the Torah. It is itself Torah and studying it requires a commentary on his commentary.

Indeed, Ibn Ezra’s unsystematic laconic style and enigmatic language create an objective need for supercommentaries; dozens were written in the fourteenth century. Their authors, mainly of Mediterranean origin, obviously preferred writing commentaries to independent research and apparently viewed Ibn Ezra’s as an ultimate interpretation of Scripture that merely required appropriate elucidation. These medieval supercommentaries can be roughly classified as either philosophical or exegetical. Gumpertz seems to adhere more to the exegetical than the philosophical interpretation of Ibn Ezra and criticized his predecessors for being more enigmatic than Ibn Ezra:
I have moved far away from the paths of the great commentators [of Ibn Ezra], who hang their words on a tall tree, in their honour sometimes concealing the explanations and interpreting arcane matters in an even more arcane fashion [than Ibn Ezra did]. That is not right for me. I have undertaken the task for men of my age and level, and have explained as they require, speaking as one does to his fellows.31

Gumpertz maintained a relatively sober attitude towards the well-known phenomena of sod and evinced less interest in Ibn Ezra’s Neoplatonic-tinted explanations than his predecessors had. Generally speaking, Gumpertz tends to highlight Ibn Ezra’s grammatical points; in any case he was attracted by the pesha† and more concerned with the exegetical, linguistic, and scientific than the philosophical aspects of Ibn Ezra’s commentary. Wherever Ibn Ezra refers to astronomy, mathematics, medicine, etc., Gumpertz does not hesitate to add the findings of contemporary science and the achievements of scholarship since Ibn Ezra’s day. An example of bringing science to bear is found in Gumpertz’s remarks on Ecclesiastes 1:8, ‘the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.’ Here Ibn Ezra wrote:
We can know universals, but not the particulars to which they give rise and which do not last for one moment [by themselves]. Therefore no man can count them and the eye is not satisfied with seeing them. The eye’s ability to see is caused by the images that appear in the pure air and do not last one moment. Nor is the ear filled with hearing particulars, for hearing is caused by the entrance of air, which contains images of sound, into the ear, and they too do not last. For this reason, the eye has no dominion over their particulars, nor does the ear hear their number. They have no finitude or number for human beings; only the Creator knows the universals as well as the particulars, because they are all work of His hands.
31 Megalleh

sod, preface, [n.p.].


Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz

Here Ibn Ezra has in mind the philosophical notions of Creator and creature and their respective ability and inability to know universals and particulars. In his supercommentary Gumpertz strikes out on a new path:
The optical sciences, reflections, and shadows are a subject calling for long and broad examples; but so that you can understand the words of the Rabbi, I will explain them to you, reader, in short. Sense perception is caused by the specific forms of each object, which are reflected from the outside to the sense via the eye, for the eye is the organ and faculty of seeing. Images are, as it were, painted in the pure air. For the rays of light are like lines and emerge from the illuminating object, whether the sun or a bright light, and spread through the pure air as far as the objects, where they are reflected and return to the eye that sees [them], and there they paint a small picture that is like the object itself in every detail. This sense and the mind apprehend the form and the movement made in the eye. Hence seeing is caused by the pure air, for if there is no air it is impossible to see. The case is analogous with the sense of hearing, for the sound pushes and moves the air and this motion spreads until it reaches the ear that hears [it], where it touches a thin drum-like skin, and through this drum and the truly wondrous organs inside the ear the sound is felt by the nerves of the brain, by means of which the mind apprehends them. The sound is heard as strong or weak according to the strength or weakness of the motion of the air, and the sound is heard as high or low according to its rapidity or moderation. On this foundation and principle is built the entire science of music, which teaches which are the movements of the air and which are the sounds that are sweet and acceptable and pleasant to the ear and which sounds are repugnant to the sense of hearing. According to this sense the sounds are combined and mixed and become a melody. There is no benefit in adding more here. It follows that hearing requires air, for without air there is no hearing.32

Unlike Ibn Ezra, Gumpertz shows no interest in explaining the differences between Creator and creature and their relations with universals and particulars. Instead, he uses Ibn Ezra’s philosophical note as the starting point for a scientific explanation of the physiological processes involved in sight and hearing. Whereas Ibn Ezra’s interpretation could be read as part of the traditional philosophical discourse about universals and particulars, Gumpertz’s note belongs to the contemporary scientific discourse, specifying the physical and biological aspects of seeing and hearing and including, en passant, a theory of music. A similar shift of interest between commentator and supercommentator can be observed in their respective treatments of Ecclesiastes 1:12: ‘I, Kohelet, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.’ Ibn Ezra wrote as follows:
He said ‘in Jerusalem’ because it is the appropriate place to receive wisdom, for it is known that the inhabited part of the world is divided into seven parts. Men of good sense can receive wisdom only in the three middle parts, for the excess of heat or cold in the first and last parts interferes with human reason. It is also known that Jerusalem is at the 33rd degree of latitude, which is the centre of the inhabited world, because human settlement depends on the degree of inclination of the sun in the north or in the south.

32 Ibid.,

fol. 3a–b.

Thomas Kollatz


Referring to the classical geographic topos that the world is divided into inhabited and uninhabited parts, Ibn Ezra concluded that Jerusalem is located in the best part of all and is therefore most suited for the reception of wisdom. Ibn Ezra’s brief exposition enables Gumpertz to expound the shape of the globe and its influence on day and night:
We have already explained that the path of the sun is a circle that cuts the middle circle, called equator. The equator divides the earth into two parts, namely, the north and the south. The distance in each direction between the equator and the tips of the earthly globe, called the pole, is ninety degrees of the great circle of the globe. The length of the days and nights changes according to this distance, so that the measure of the longest day for those who live on the equator is exactly twelve hours and is equal to the night. The farther a country from the equator and [the closer] to the pole, the longer is the measure of the longest day. Scholars have divided the full expanse [of longitude] into seven parts, which they call ‘climates’. In the climates that are closer to the equator, the longest day is shorter than it is in the climates that are farther from it. The farther a climate is from the equator, the greater the cold, and the opposite as it is closer to the equator. All of the scholars of antiquity whose words have reached us, however, were Greeks and lived in the countries near Greece. They understood that in climates near the equator the heat of the sun keeps increasing … while the opposite [is true] in climates near the pole, where the cold increases, to the point that the sea there truly freezes and actually becomes ice. Accordingly they concluded that those countries and climates near the equator or near the pole are not part of the inhabited world, because of the great heat or great cold.33

Thus far he is recapitulating a short history of science, in order to determine Ibn Ezra’s point of view historically.34 Next, Gumpertz turned to contemporary theories of climatic zones:
In these times however, when the navigation of ships at sea is more sophisticated than it was formerly, in their time, and sailors in their ships have reached the equator itself and many degrees further on its southern side, they have found that the heat there really is very great, to the point that the people of the country are all black: they are the kushim – ‘Mohren’ in German. Nevertheless those districts are part of the inhabited world. Every year people from Holland and England and others go there in order to trade. Others have gone to the far north, very close to the pole itself, where they discovered inhabited countries. And as science continues to advance in this age, every year they discover other countries not mentioned by the ancients or known to them. In this way they discovered, about 250 years ago – around the Spanish exile – a long and broad country, on both sides of the equator, [so large] that they called it the fourth part of the world. Others called it the New World and the New Land – namely, America. It too is inhabited. But in former times, due to their lack of knowledge in navigation and shipbuilding, people were not able to reach there and were ignorant of those countries.35

 Ibid., fol. 3b. similar historification can be found in Gumpertz’s rejection of Ibn Ezra’s count of the stars. Gumpertz apologizes for Ibn Ezra by noting that in his time it was common to use Hipparchus’ star map, whereas since then astronomy had improved and discovered previously unknown stars. 35  Ibid., fol. 3b–4a.
34 A



Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz

Step by step, Gumpertz introduces his audience to the recent history of exploration, enabled by the substantial progress in astronomy and navigation – pointing out the significance of scientific progress for development of trade and commerce. The Greek idea that only the northern hemisphere is inhabited has been disproved by modern explorers and tangible evidence. Gumpertz takes the hint provided by Ibn Ezra and uses it to introduce contemporary scientific discoveries into his supercommentary. By underscoring the ‘natural’ progress and dynamic development of science, however, he avoids declaring older theories obsolete or portraying modern insights as refuting traditional theories. Gumpertz’s strategy is to historicize the scientific misinterpretations of the past before providing the modern point of view. Determining the length of the meridian degree and thus the shape of the earth was of great interest for eighteenth-century science. In the first half of the century, two French expeditions were send out to measure the meridian degree – the first to Peru, in 1735, and the second, led by Pierre de Maupertuis, to northern Sweden, in 1738. From the difference between the two measurements, Maupertuis determined that the globe is an oblate spheroid.36 As mentioned above, in his Berlin years Gumpertz was in close contact with Maupertuis,37 who could have provided him with first-hand information about the polar region, its inhabitants, and its climate, which ultimately found its way into his supercommentary.38 Ibn Ezra’s commentary frequently enabled Gumpertz to introduce his readers to the methods and systems of modern science, such as the Linnaeus’ new taxonomy of plants and animals, the distribution of living things, and the motion of the winds. Ibn Ezra, of course, was strongly inclined to astrology, but Gumpertz denied any substantial stellar influence on humans. Apropos the phrase ‘under the sun’ (Eccles. 1:3 et passim), Ibn Ezra invokes the stars and their affect on human life. Gumpertz, however, talks about the force of gravity:
The effect of the sun is better known and greater than any actions of the others stars, even though they too have an effect on the earth; for example, the moon causes the running out and return of the water – ‘Ebbe und Flut’ in German.39

Both Ibn Ezra and Gumpertz wrote about celestial influences. But whereas Ibn Ezra did so in terms of medieval Neoplatonism, Gumpertz, the faithful follower of Isaac Newton,40 conceived of nature as independent of any spiritual order. In Megalleh sod, his only Hebrew work, the recourse to a medieval source and the use of a ‘medieval’ genre – the supercommentary – enabled Gumpertz to employ a scholarly approach to both the text (via grammar) and nature (via science). By writing about a commentary rather than about the Bible, Gumpertz exploited the advan36 On Maupertuis’ expedition and the attempts to determine the length of a degree of longitude, see Charles Singer, A Short History of Scientific Ideas to 1900 (Oxford, 1959), pp. 316–8. 37 Gumpertz dedicated de Temperamentis to ‘patrono ac fautori meo’ – Maupertuis. 38  Gumpertz had already devoted himself to the influence of climatic zones on human beings; see de temperamentis, p. 30–1 (§79). 39  Megalleh sod, fol. 1b. 40 The only non-Jewish scholar mentioned in Maˆamar ha-madda¨ is Newton (fol. 13a [error in pagination, should be 17a]). Gumpertz also recommended him to students of medicine in the preface to Loeseke’s Abhandlung, [n.p.].

Thomas Kollatz


tage of the supercommentary genre: he is not offering an authoritative interpretation of the sacrosanct Scripture, but merely of Abraham Ibn Ezra, the renowned exegete. Textual emendations, impossible as regards the Bible, were permitted in a supercommentary. Thus, covered by tradition, Gumpertz could raise Ibn Ezra’s medieval standard of knowledge to the level of contemporary science, following the method he had outlined in the introduction to Megalleh sod and in Maˆamar ha-madda¨ and which he had already successfully applied in his dissertation and in the revision of Loeseke’s Abhandlung. In all three scientific works, Gumpertz strove to supplement, to augment, and – if necessary – to modify traditional scientific concepts. Whenever Gumpertz disagreed with Galen and his school, with Ibn Ezra, and to a certain degree even with his contemporary Loeseke, his perspective was always defined and motivated by the state and standards of the scientific research of his day.


Old and New Science in the Works of Aron Salomon Gumpertz

Resianne Fontaine

Natural Science in Sefer ha-Berit: Pinchas Hurwitz on Animals and Meteorological Phenomena

Introduction One of the salient characteristics of the eighteenth century is its sustained production of encyclopaedic works. The timeless endeavour to collect and record everything that can be known reached its peak during the eighteenth century, resulting in an impressive series of encyclopaedic writings in various European languages, of which Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie is the most famous.1 In 1797, this series was supplemented by the publication of a Hebrew encyclopaedic work, Sefer ha-Berit (Book of the Covenant), written by the Galician Jew Pinchas Elias Hurwitz (d. 1821).2 The author had worked on it for many years while residing in different countries in Eastern and Western Europe.3 The book, which, curiously enough, has received relatively little scholarly attention, immediately became a best-seller throughout the Jewish world. In his preface to the second, enlarged edition (1807), Hurwitz declares the appellation ‘encyclopaedia’, used by some Berlin scholars to describe the book, to be a fitting qualification. According to the author, Sefer ha-Berit is indeed ‘a qesher (“bond” – in German: Bund) that connects all the sciences and everything that can be known’. To emphasize the adequacy of the designation he adds that
 For the history of encyclopaedias in general, see: Robert Collison, Encyclopaedias: Their History throughout the Ages (New York, 1964); Tous les savoirs du monde: Encyclopédies et bibliothèques, de Sumer au XXIe siècle, ed. Roland Schaer (Paris, 1996). 2 Pinchas Hurwitz, Sefer ha-Berit (Brünn, 1797). References are to the following edition: Pinchas Hurwitz, Sefer ha-Berit ha-shalem (Jerusalem, 1990). 3 For some general information on the book and its author, see: Israel Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature, trans. Bernard Martin, vol. 6 (New York, 1975), pp. 260–70; Raphael Mahler, A History of Modern Jewry 1780–1815 (London, 1971), pp. 559–69. The following articles deal with various aspects of the work: Ira Robinson, ‘Kabbalah and Science in Sefer ha-Berit: A Modernization Strategy for Orthodox Jews’, Modern Judaism 9 (1989): 275–88; Noah Rosenblum, ‘Ha-enÒiqlopedyah ha-¨ivrit harishonah, meÌabberah we-hishtalshelutah’, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 55 (1988): 15–65; S. A. Horodezky, Yahadut ha-sekhel we-yahadut ha-regesh (Tel Aviv, 1947), 2: 387–404; Monford Harris, ‘The Book of the Covenant: An Eighteenth Century Quest for the Holy Spirit’, in The Solomon Goldman Lectures. Perspectives in Jewish Learning, ed. Nathaniel Stampfer, vol. 3 (Chicago, 1982), pp. 39–53; David Ruderman, ‘Some Jewish Responses to Smallpox Prevention in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: A New Perspective on the Modernization of European Jewry’, Aleph 2 (2002): 111–44, esp. 126–31. I would like to thank Professor Ruderman for his bibliographical help. See also the articles by Steven Harvey and David Ruderman in this volume. 4  SB, first preface, p. 18.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Resianne Fontaine Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Royal Netherlands


‘almost everything can be found in this book, in contradistinction to other books that deal with one subject exclusively’.4 The book is divided into two parts. The first (pp. 1–395) deals with various branches of natural science; the second (pp. 396–610) is devoted to ethics and Jewish religious topics.5 In the preface to the first edition, Hurwitz claimed that Sefer haBerit (henceforth: SB) was the first Hebrew book in which all the sciences were assembled and that its like had not been written since the days of exile (p. 9). As Hurwitz himself was well aware, these claims were not entirely valid. Several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jewish scholars had covered more than one subject in their scientific writings. Still, Hurwitz’s claims to originality are valid to some extent, for none of those earlier works can compare to SB in its scope. In this respect it can indeed be regarded as the first Hebrew encyclopaedia of the early modern period. The production of encyclopaedias in the eighteenth century has a parallel in the thirteenth century, a century during which Latin and Hebrew authors were involved in the collection of contemporary knowledge into cyclopaedic works.6 In the Jewish world, the encyclopaedic undertaking was largely the result of the impact of Maimonides’ Guide; the Hebrew encyclopaedias were one of the channels through which contemporary secular knowledge was transmitted to wider circles of Jewish scholars.7 In light of the theme of the present volume, the question arises of what impact the medieval encyclopaedias and, more generally, the Sephardi scientific tradition of which they form a part, had on Hurwitz’s undertaking. Judging by what the author himself tells his readers about his sources, though, it is apparent that he did not think highly of mediaeval knowledge. In his first preface Hurwitz announces that for each item (¨al kol davar) discussed in SB he will present three views: (1) that of the early philosophers (ha-filosofim ha-rishonim) – a category that includes ancient and mediaeval theories; (2) that of the later (i.e., modern) philosophers (ha-filosofim haaÌaronim), which invalidate the earlier ones because there is ‘another spirit’ (cf. Numbers 14:24) in their words; and (3) that of the talmudic sages, the Zohar, and the trustworthy kabbalists. With respect to the philosophers (groups 1 and 2), Hurwitz specifies that where their views do not contradict those of the Sages (group 3) he will
5 In his first preface, Hurwitz says that he has assembled ‘the words of the philosophers’ and the natural scientists’ in Part I, whereas in Part II one finds ‘the words of the true sages’ (Ìakhmei emet, p. 6). Towards the end of his introduction (petiÌah) we read that Part I deals with man in so far as he belongs to the realm of what is corporeal and compound, while Part II is concerned with the four souls of Jews and the four worlds from which these derive – in short, with the realm of the spiritual and simple (p. 31). In the same passage Hurwitz emphasizes that Part I serves as an introduction to Part II, an assertion he repeats at the end of Part I (p. 395). A bit later, at the beginning of his encyclopaedic survey, he writes that Part I discusses ‘the lower world’ (ha-¨olam ha-taÌton), which is divided into heaven and earth; i.e., the world of the four elements, or ¨olam ha-¨asiyah (SB I.1.1, p. 33). In the next section he says that Part I deals with matters pertaining to human wisdom (divrei Ìokhmat adam), whereas Part II deals with divine wisdom (Ìokhmat elohim) (SB I.2.7, p. 43). Part I is entitled Ketav yosher; Part II, Divrei emet. Both derive from Eccl. 12:10; what is more, the final letters of the four words (bet-resh-yod-tav) together make up the name of the book: (Sefer ha-)Berit. 6  For the medieval Hebrew encyclopaedias, see The Hebrew Encyclopaedias of Science and Philosophy, ed. Steven Harvey (Dordrecht, 2000). 7  See Gad Freudenthal, ‘Les sciences dans les communautés juives médiévales de Provence: Leur appropriation, leur rôle’, Revue des études juives 152 (1993): 29–136.


Natural Science in Sefer ha-Berit

examine which are true and inveigh against false views. If he finds no view that he deems valid, he will offer his own. Where, however, the philosophers contradict the views of the Sages and tradition, Hurwitz will uncompromisingly refute them: ‘I will not make a covenant with them, but I will thrust out their right eyes (cf. 1 Sam. 11:2); I will not tolerate any heretic and I will bring their views to judgement until their ideas are invalidated and their thoughts perish’ (cf. Ps. 146:4).8 In other words, this classification reflects a hierarchical ordering. From the outset it is clear that the mediaeval sources occupy the lowest rank in the hierarchy. Hence we might expect this corpus of knowledge to play only a marginal role in SB. In the present article I propose to examine the place and role of the mediaeval scientific heritage in Hurwitz’s encyclopaedia by focusing on Hurwitz’s attitude towards it visà-vis his other two types of sources. To this end I will explore the implementation of Hurwitz’s aforementioned method in his survey of two disciplines from the domain of natural philosophy, namely zoology and meteorology. It should immediately be noted, however, that Hurwitz would have strongly objected to such a procedure, given that he explicitly urges his reader to read the book in its entirety, from beginning to end. In his preface, he informs readers that limiting themselves to selected portions will cause them to miss the inner harmony of SB, for the book is in fact a single subject, in which everything is coherent and interconnected (¨inyan eÌad davuq u-meÌubbar).9 Nonetheless I hope to show that it is instructive to analyze his use of sources even when the analysis is based on only a small part of the book. Zoology Let it be said at the outset that Hurwitz, in his account of the animals, does not apply the procedure outlined in his preface as rigorously and systematically as one might expect from his emphatic statement in his preface. It is far from true that he presents three different views for each and every piece of information on animals. Instead, the bulk of this chapter appears to be based on the views of contemporary natural scientists. Hurwitz’s discussion of animals is found in chapter 14 of the first part of his encyclopaedia. Before examining its contents, however, it is useful to consider briefly the general structure of this part. After the prefaces and introduction, Hurwitz first discusses the supralunar realm, dealing with cosmology and astronomy (chs 1–4). He then turns to the sublunar natural world, first providing a general account of the four elements (ch. 5) and then devoting a separate chapter to each of them – fire, air, water, and earth (chs 6–9) – before concluding this part with a chapter on meteorology (ch. 10). This is followed by a general description (ch. 11) of the natural beings to be discussed in the rest of this part. The next three chapters are devoted to minerals, plants, and animals respectively. The human soul constitutes the central subject of the last seven chapters (chs 15–21, pp. 227–395).


9 Ibid.,

 SB, first preface, p. 8. first preface, p. 14.

Resianne Fontaine


The chapter on zoology consists of eight sections. In line with his procedure in the chapters on minerals, plants, and human beings, Hurwitz devotes the first section to a discussion of the place of the animal kingdom in the scale of being and notes the particular day on which this group of living beings was created, according to the biblical creation story. The second section provides a general classification of the animal kingdom into six main groups: mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, and worms.10 Each of the remaining six sections treats one of these classes. In each section Hurwitz describes a number of animals, providing information on their size, habitat, life expectancy, number of young, and the behaviour that is characteristic or unique to the animal in question. In addition, we occasionally learn such details about which animal is the largest, the most beautiful, the laziest, the greatest sleeper, etc. He does not provide all these details for every animal he discusses, however. As a result, the length of the descriptions of the various animals varies from a single sentence, as in the case of the so-called ‘Knurrfisch’,11 to two pages, as in the case of beavers, an animal extremely popular with eighteenth-century authors.12 Hurwitz’s six-fold division of the animal kingdom suggests a contemporary source, reflecting as it does Linnaeus’ influential classification of animals, which was based on the presence or absence of certain body parts.13 But Hurwitz did not take over the Swedish scholar’s further subdivision into orders, genera, and species.14 In his zoology, Hurwitz mentions neither Linnaeus (1707–1778) nor any other contemporary non-Jewish source. In his preface he notes that all the information in the natural sciences comes from non-Jewish sources. Unfortunately, he adds no more detailed information other than that these books have not yet been translated into Hebrew, except for a very few, and that they are expensive and hard to come by.15 He explains that an otherwise unspecified person ‘who is knowledgeable in every book and every language’ read them to him in their original language, with Hurwitz writing down his words in Yiddish and then translating them into Hebrew, something he found difficult.16
10 These are defined as follows: mammals, warm-blooded and viviparous; birds, warm-blooded and oviparous; amphibians, cold-blooded and breathing through lungs; fish, cold-blooded and breathing through gills; insects, bloodless, six-legged, and possessing antennas; and worms, no antennas and with small or no legs. Hurwitz also mentions the number of species in each of these classes. 11 On this fish, Hurwitz notes the following: ‘And there is a fish called Knurrfisch, because when it is chased it makes the sound “knurr, knurr”. It is found a lot in the North Sea and it is also found in the Elbe River’ (p. 219). 12  Ibid., pp. 211–3. 13 Carolus Linnaeus, Systema Naturae, per regna tria naturae secundum classes, ordines, species (Leiden, 1735–1758). 14 Incidentally, it is noteworthy that there is no difference between the classification in the first edition of his work and that in the second, in which Hurwitz claims to have inserted over 350 corrections and supplements. By the time the second edition appeared (1807), George Cuvier (1769–1832) had refined Linnaeus’ classification, but this new classification has not found its way into the enlarged Sefer haBerit. See George Cuvier, Tableau élémentaire de l’histoire naturelle des animaux (Paris, 1798). 15  SB first preface, pp. 9–10. 16 Ibid., p. 12; cf. I.8.3, p. 126, end of section: ‘I have translated from the foreign people (bene-nekhar) who investigate to make known to the people God’s innumerable mighty and wondrous deeds’. In his article on SB, Rosenblum casts doubts on Hurwitz’s proclaimed ignorance of foreign languages on the grounds that his prolonged stay in Germany must have given him a substantial reading knowledge of German (Rosenblum, ‘Ha-enÒiqlopedyah ha-rishonah’, pp. 19–20).


Natural Science in Sefer ha-Berit

Later, though, just before embarking on the description of inanimate and animate beings, Hurwitz names several of the non-Jewish scholars on whose works he drew. These include Georg Christian Raff (1748–1788) and George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–1788), two authors whose zoological writings were most popular in the eighteenth century. He notes that Raff’s book had been rendered into Hebrew in Reshit limmudim (henceforth: RL).17 This compendium of the sciences by Baruch ben Judah Loeb of Lindau (1759–1849) preceded Hurwitz’s encyclopaedia by nine years. While thus acknowledging in this passage that he also drew on Jewish scholars, he emphasizes that he was eager to collect material ‘from many nations’ that had not yet been translated into Hebrew. It is therefore somewhat surprising to find that his zoology is based first and foremost on RL. This is immediately apparent from Hurwitz’s classification of animals, which reproduces, though with some abridgement, that provided by Baruch Lindau, and from the German terminology (terms for animal names and body parts) found in both authors.18 Moreover, significant portions of Hurwitz’s zoological expositions match RL word for word. Rosenblum has already pointed out a few such parallels.19 These correspondences, however, are not limited to isolated cases. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Hurwitz’s account is largely an abstract of the sixth chapter of Lindau’s work. In some places times Hurwitz changed the order; for example, by placing beavers among the amphibians and whales among the fish, even though he observes that whales are in fact mammals. Another change of order concerns RL’s section on apes, which Hurwitz places not in the chapter on animals, but instead in chapter I.15, which deals with the faculties of the animal soul (pp. 194–5). Nonetheless, it can be shown that Hurwitz also consulted non-Jewish sources. His account reveals the influence of a non-Jewish book that was most popular in his day, namely Raff’s Naturgeschichte für Kinder, the same source from which Lindau derived his information. The passages in SB that correspond with RL word-for-word display in turn a close similarity to Raff’s book. A comparison of the three books reveals that Hurwitz used Raff’s Naturgeschichte alongside RL, for at times he provides information from the former that is not found in RL. For example, his detailed description of whaling has no parallel in RL, but reflects Raff’s account of the subject, including the German words ‘Matrosen’, ‘Harpun’, and ‘Fischtran’.20 Another example can be found in Hurwitz’s section on beavers, which contains a long and vivid report on the structures built by this animal, for which we may look in vain in RL. Moreover, Raff’s influence is noticeable not only in these sections that supplement RL, but also in passages that Hurwitz copied from RL. When dealing with the whale, he notes that this animal has a protrusion (beli†ah) on its head, called a

17 SB

I, 11.10, p. 199, end of section. Two more names are mentioned here: ‘Oyber†’ and ‘ZelÒer’. Rosenblum suggests that the former may be a corruption of d’Alembert and the second of Zedler (‘HaenÒiqlopedyah ha-rishonah’, p. 50 nn. 19 and 21). 18 For the classification, see SB, p. 208, cf. Reshit limmudim (Berlin, 1788), 25v–26r. 19 Rosenblum, ‘Ha-enÒiqlopedyah ha-rishonah’, p. 20 n. 2. 20 SB, pp. 216–17; cf. Georg Christian Raff, Naturgeschichte für Kinder (Göttingen, 1781), pp. 447–50.

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‘Puckel’ (corresponding to Raff’s ‘Bukkel’) – an observation absent from RL.21 With respect to the beaver, he notes that this animal produces a greasy secretion that it applies to its fur before entering the water to keep itself from getting cold. Although the passage was probably copied from RL, the detail about getting cold seems to derive from the Naturgeschichte rather than RL.22 Since, however, Hurwitz’s account also contains snippets of information that are not found in either RL or the Naturgeschichte, Hurwitz must have made use of additional sources. A case in point is his observation, in his discussion of the ostrich, that these birds hatch their eggs merely by looking at them. He also notes that they produce a wailing sound.23 These two details are mentioned by neither Raff nor Lindau, but they do have a parallel in Buffon’s Histoire naturelle. As we saw above, Hurwitz cited Buffon as one of his sources, but it is difficult to determine whether he actually used Buffon’s magnum opus. Given the scale of that work, it is more likely that he derived his material from another source that was based on it; but this question requires more investigation.24 In any event, it is clear that the chapter on the animals in SB reveals a use of contemporary Jewish and non-Jewish sources and that the Jewish sources played a greater role than the author’s own words suggest. What is more important for our theme, however, is that Hurwitz’s chapter on zoology is almost totally devoid of ancient and mediaeval sources. There are a number of references to biblical or talmudic passages that refer to the animal under discussion,25 and the author also refers briefly to mediaeval commentators such as Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and KimÌi.26 By contrast, there is no mention of any mediaeval scientific work that deals with animals. The three major thirteenth-century Hebrew encyclopaedias, all of which contain extensive surveys on zoology, play no role whatsoever in Hurwitz’s chapter on animals. For the first two of them, Judah ben Solomon’s Midrash haÌokhmah and Shem ™ov Ibn Falaquera’s De¨ot ha-filosofim, this is hardly surprising, given that these texts were available only in manuscript.27 However, he also does not
 SB, p. 216p; Raff, Naturgeschichte, p. 444. p. 437.  As for the wailing sound, Buffon gives an etymological explanation: ‘Les Ecrivains sacrés comparent son cri a un gémissement, & on prétend même que son nom hébreu jacnah est formé ‘ianah, qui signifie hurler’ (George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, Histoire naturelle des oiseaux [Paris, 1770], 1: 451). 24  It should be noted that at times Hurwitz is not entirely in accordance with either Raff or Buffon. When dealing with beavers he notes that these animals repair their dams if they are damaged, but not if they are completely destroyed, in which case the group breaks up (p. 213). Raff notes instead that they do build new dams (Naturgeschichte, p. 436); Buffon states that they rebuild them until, as a result of having been chased, they become too weak and few and will change their habitat and retire ‘au loin dans les solitudes les plus profondes’ (Buffon, Histoire Naturelle [Paris, 1760], 8: 297). It should also be borne in mind that there may be differences among the various editions of Buffon’s and Raff’s works. The earlier editions of Buffon, for example, do not include an account of the whale. 25  For example Esther 8:10, ‘swift horses’ (SB, p. 209) and M Kelim 17:14, the ‘vulture’ (SB, p. 214). 26 In the section on the ostrich, Hurwitz quotes David KimÌi as saying that ostriches live in the desert and produce a ‘wailing sound’, and Abraham Ibn Ezra as noting that the flesh of ostriches is dry as wood and not fit for consumption, except for the flesh of females that are only a few days old. (p. 215). Interestingly, Buffon ascribes the view that young females are preferable for food to David KimÌi (Histoire naturelle des oiseaux, 1: 442). Rashi is mentioned as an adherent of the theory of spontaneous generation (p. 222). 27 It should be noted, though, that Hurwitz occasionally used manuscripts; he refers to differences be22 Ibid., 23 21


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seem to be familiar with the most popular of them, Gershom bar Solomon’s Sha¨ar ha-shamayim, which was available in print by the time Hurwitz issued his second edition.28 Mediaeval scientific views on the subject are absent because the sources on which the thirteenth-century Hebrew encyclopaedists based their zoological surveys, namely Aristotle’s zoological treatises, had become irrelevant for Hurwitz. Although the ‘father of biology’ was still important to eighteenth-century biologists, they had forged new directions; this new knowledge is what we find reflected in SB. There is indeed ‘another spirit’ in Hurwitz’s presentation of animals. Another aspect that displays an eighteenth-century rather than a mediaeval approach involves the moral and religious dimensions that permeate Hurwitz’s account of animals. With respect to a certain animal, for example, he reports that when it feels death approaching it goes to a place where it is bound to be found by human beings, so that they can use its skin. From this Hurwitz infers that during our lives and in the hour of our death we should be concerned about our fellow men (p. 211). When discussing birds, he refers to the zemirah, which before it dies sings happily until its belly bursts. This teaches us, says Hurwitz, that even in his hour of death a man should keep studying the Torah (p. 215). He adds that, according to Socrates, the survival of the soul can be inferred from this phenomenon, as it shows that one should not be sad about the separation of the soul from the body (ibid.). Likewise, when Hurwitz relates how the ostrich uses its eyes to hatch its eggs, he warns against looking at women, because of the intense power of the sense of sight, and refers to Job 31:1 – ‘I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look upon a virgin?’ (ibid.). Another example: near the end of his zoological survey he describes how God in his providence supplies food for all animals. Hurwitz deduces the moral lesson that we should beware of over-exerting ourselves for our maintenance on the one hand and of idleness on the other (p. 225). The piety is not limited to his description of animal behaviour. The chapter on zoology as a whole is embedded in a distinctly religious framework. At both its beginning and end the author emphasizes that the workings of God’s wisdom, his providence, and mercy can be learned from the behaviour and bodies of animals. In fact, in his preface Hurwitz notes that his book shows how God’s mighty works can be learned from the secrets of nature, such as meteorological phenomena, plants, animals, and the faculties of the soul (p. 9). The notion that the study of nature leads to knowledge of God is certainly a mediaeval notion, too, but the aforementioned mediaeval encyclopaedias provide primarily scientific information. In this respect also SB clearly reflects the contemporary religious and ideological attitude to the study of nature. Recall that Linnaeus’ concern with taxonomy was theologically inspired, for he believed that it revealed the complexity of God’s creation. Hurwitz’s emphasis in the section under consideration on how God’s wondrous works can be learned from the secrets of nature has a parallel in Linnaeus, who chose Psalm 104:24 – ‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works’ –
tween a manuscript and a printed edition of Vital’s ¨EÒ Ìayyim (pp. 33 and 118). It should be borne in mind, however, that ¨EÒ Ìayyim was of primary importance to Hurwitz (see below). 28 Roedelheim, 1801.

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as the motto for his Systema Naturae.29 Raff, too, in his Naturgeschichte, regularly introduces ‘der liebe Gott’ in his descriptions of animals. Hurwitz’s eagerness to draw lessons for human conduct from the animal kingdom is also related to his intention to place his work within the tradition of musar literature. That he assigned his work to this genre is evident from his observation that, in contrast to other ethical writings, his book will not teach musar by inspiring fear or rebuking the reader.30 We should not conclude from the above, however, that Hurwitz wholeheartedly adopts modern views and discards earlier ones. The last section of his chapter on zoology (I.14.8) reveals that his attitude to his sources is in fact more complex. In this section, which deals with insects, we finally find Hurwitz evaluating and contrasting modern, mediaeval, and rabbinic views, as his preface had said he would do for each issue. Unlike the preceding sections, it does not follow Reshit limmudim closely. Starting from that source, the section on worms primarily contains a discussion of spontaneous generation, a subject that also engaged mediaeval authors. Here we find a passage in which Hurwitz explicitly rejects a view held by Lindau – the latter’s endorsement of the omnia ex ovo theory held by many contemporary non-Jewish authors (Ìakhmei ummot ha-¨olam), according to which all animals, even the tiniest worms and insects, develop from eggs, that is, sexual reproduction, and not from putrefaction or spontaneous generation. Hurwitz quotes a passage from RL in which Lindau rejects spontaneous generation, since it would entail the creation of a new species. In Lindau’s view, this is against the laws of nature that posit the fixity of species, every species having been created during the creation.31 According to Hurwitz, this objection is invalid. Taking M Tohorot 1:4, where the Sages refer to ‘a mouse that is half flesh, half earth’, as his basis, he argues that God has ‘built in’ to creation the possibility that this species, as well as others, such as the salamander, can be produced in certain circumstances, with the number of species remaining the same. Moreover, he expresses his amazement at Lindau’s rejection of spontaneous generation, given that Maimonides adopts the theory in his Mishnah commentary. He further asserts that the Sages’ view is preferable to that of non-Jewish scientists and offers additional evidence to support the theory of generation from putrefaction, without sexual reproduction. He even goes so far as to maintain that lice are generated from sweat, not from eggs, again taking issue with Lindau, who classified lice, fleas, and bugs (i.e., heteroptera) as viviparous animals.32

29 For Linnaeus’ ideas on God’s providence, and more generally, his physico-theological system and their impact on Hurwitz’s younger contemporary George Levison (Mordecai Schnaber), see David Ruderman, Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery (New Haven and London, 1995), pp. 357–65. 30 SB, first preface, p. 10. 31 Ibid., p. 222; cf. RL, p. 59b. 32 SB, pp. 222–3, cf. RL, p. 63a. For the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century debate on spontaneous generation, see John Farley, The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin (Baltimore and London, 1977), pp. 8–30. For Jewish responses, see Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 260–7. Hurwitz does not discuss, at least not in this context, the halakhic question of whether or not it is permitted to kill lice on Shabbat.


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After establishing this to his satisfaction, he goes on to explain that there are innumerable species of tiny animals, some of them invisible to the naked eye, and that God in his wisdom has created all of them for a specific purpose. God’s providence extends to all of them and to every detail of their lives, even though his essence is separate from all creatures. In this context Hurwitz criticizes Maimonides, who, in Hurwitz’s interpretation, believed that God’s providence extends only to the species (p. 224). What does this long exposition reveal about Hurwitz’s attitude to contemporary and older sources? Of the two references to Maimonides, the second concerns the rejection of a mediaeval rationalistic philosophical view, whereas the former, on spontaneous generation, is an issue on which Hurwitz sides with Maimonides. From Hurwitz’s discussion, though, it is clear that his acceptance of spontaneous generation was inspired not by the authority of Maimonides, but by that of the talmudic sages. In other words, here we find Hurwitz preferring a view taken from the third category in his survey, at the expense of the view of the ‘later philosophers’, Jewish or non-Jewish. There is one more passage where Hurwitz adopts a similar procedure; again this concerns a rejection of Lindau’s position – the nature of the ¨a†allef (p. 216). Basing himself on a rabbinic statement, Hurwitz concludes that Lindau’s identification of this bird (RL 49a) with the ‘Schwalbe’ (sparrow) cannot be correct (p. 217). Moreover, Lindau is inconsistent for elsewhere he identifies it as the ‘Wiedehopf’ (hoopoe) (RL 44a). From this Hurwitz deduced that Lindau in fact did not know what bird was meant and that he would have done better to admit this and refrain from translating it altogether. He adds that, according to David KimÌi, the ¨a†allef is the ‘winged bird that is called Fledermaus (bat)’, a view he deems plausible, for this animal seems to be halfway between birds and insects; furthermore, it accords with the Sages’ view. Again, rabbinical opinion seems to be Hurwitz’s criterion for determining which view is correct. In sum, Hurwitz’s account of animals is largely based on contemporary Jewish and non-Jewish sources. Mediaeval authors are cited infrequently; only in a few cases do these quotations contain scientific views. Their views are accepted only if they happen to be in agreement with the Sages’ teachings. Meteorology New versus Ancient Views As we shall soon see, Hurwitz’s preference for new views over old ones is also clear in his exposition of meteorology. In this chapter, though, the relations among the three categories of sources underlying his presentation are more complex. Meteorology is the subject of SB Part One, chapter 10, which consists of 15 sections (pp. 167–90). Throughout this chapter Hurwitz refers to the four previous chapters, on the elements (see above), which include meteorological material that was presented in mediaeval treatises within the framework of meteorology proper, such as the sea’s salinity (in the chapter on the sea, SB I.8.4) and the inhabited world (in

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the chapter on earth, SB I.9.5). Hurwitz’s chapter on meteorology deals with earthquakes, wind, ice, exhalations, dew, frost, mist, clouds, rain, snow, hail, the rainbow, lightning and thunder, thunderstones and ‘fire-rods’33 – in other words, phenomena that have their origin in the atmosphere. By contrast, Hurwitz deals with phenomena such as the Milky Way and comets, which mediaeval authors, following Aristotle, treated within the context of meteorology, in the context of cosmology, in his survey on the heavens (SB I.3.5). As was the case in the chapter on animals, not all of the aforementioned meteorological issues receive equal treatment. Each section starts with a description of the nature and origin of the phenomenon under consideration. At times the author adds personal observations. When describing fog, for example, he relates that in Amsterdam the mist sometimes makes it so dark that people must carry lanterns during the daytime (p. 175) Hurwitz does not mention any sources in chapter 10. If we are to believe him, he has derived his information on the elements primarily from books of ‘experimental physics … as I translated them from the nations of the world and some things that are scattered in Jewish books’.34 Despite these claims, Hurwitz appears to be heavily indebted to two Jewish books: Lindau’s RL, and the commentary on RuaÌ Ìen by Israel of Zamosc (c. 1700–1772).35 Although Hurwitz refers to these two authors, he does not acknowledge his major debt to them. This is especially true with regard to RL, in which chapters 3–5 treat of meteorological phenomena. Hurwitz can be shown to have borrowed from this source in his accounts of winds, fog, clouds, rain, dew, snow, hail, lightning, fireballs, and the rainbow. The length of his borrowings may vary from a few words or lines to several paragraphs.36 Other passages are more loosely based on RL. Moreover, the German words that Hurwitz uses can also be traced back to this source.37 There are also some notable differences, however. To begin with, throughout the chapter Hurwitz is much more extensive than his source. He begins the discussion of each phenomenon with a description of how it comes about, which is not always the case in RL. Moreover, in most cases he ends his account by pointing out the usefulness or the good and bad effects of the phenomenon under discussion, effects that he ascribes to God’s providence. Lindau also devoted attention to this aspect (for example, when dealing with winds and snow), but Hurwitz does so more consistently. Moreover, Lindau’s division of the various meteorological phenomena into wasser The phenomenon discussed by Aristotle in Meteor. 377a29–b15. I.5.4, p. 85. Cf. also the end of I.8.3, p. 126. See above, n. 16. 35  On Israel of Zamosc, see Gad Freudenthal’s contribution to this volume. 36 The first part of the section on rain (I.10.9, p.176), for example, corresponds almost literally to the corresponding section in RL (§34, pp. 16b–17a), though Hurwitz omits some items of information. In his last section, too, the passages on fire-balls, so-called ‘flying dragons’ (fliegende Drachen), and willo’-the-wisps derive entirely from Lindau’s book, again with some abridgements (SB I.10.15, p. 187r1– 19; cf. RL §40, p. 19a ult–19b 22). To mention other examples, in his discussion of winds (I.10.2), the description of differences in wind force and the various directions of winds have been incorporated from RL (§31, p. 15b); in that of clouds (I.10.8), the description of variations in the height of clouds from the earth (RL §33, p. 17b). Hurwitz also used RL in other parts of his work, for example, in the section on tides, in the discussion of elemental water (SB I.8.5, p. 130, cf. RL §47, p. 23b). In this chapter (SB I.8.4, p. 127) Hurwitz refers directly to RL in (§47, p. 23b).
34 SB, 33


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ige Lufterscheinungen (rain, clouds, etc.), feuerige Lufterscheinungen (lightning, fireballs, etc.). and glänzende Lufterscheinungen (the rainbow), a division that provides the structure for the discussion in RL – is absent from SB. Furthermore, Hurwitz does not always follow his source’s order or include all the topics discussed in it. Finally, for reasons that are unclear, he chose to omit several topics, such as the northern lights and the halo. As for Hurwitz’s use of the second Hebrew source, Israel of Zamosc’s commentary on the mediaeval treatise RuaÌ Ìen, sometimes he adopts its views and sometimes criticizes them.38 His criticism of Zamosc, to whom he often refers as ba¨al NeÒaÌ Yisraˆel, concerns primarily measurements. While he adopts the latter’s estimate of the height of the air/clouds above the earth (83,088 feet),39 he rejects Zamosc’s estimates of the weight of the air and the maximum extent of expansion of air thanks to its pores.40 For our subject it is important to note that the underlying reason for Hurwitz’s agreement with Zamosc on the height of the air is that this figure conforms with the Sages’ view on the subject. By contrast, he rejects Zamosc’s estimate of the porosity of air because it does not conform to what ‘the latest scholars’ have found. In another passage in the chapter on air, Hurwitz expresses his amazement at Zamosc’s long-windedness in his demonstration of the existence of the void, since, according to Hurwitz, the void can be shown to exist by an experiment using a simple sponge in an air pump.41 The passages where Hurwitz agrees with Zamosc involve the latter’s preference of modern views over ancient ones. For example, Hurwitz uses Zamosc’s statement that the air pump proves that air has weight as a point of departure for his own defence of the theory that everything, including air and fire, has weight – a theory that Zamosc shares with modern non-Jewish scientists (Ìakhmei ha-¨ammim ha-aÌaronim).42 He also makes use of Zamosc’s commentary on RuaÌ Ìen when discussing the temperature of the various strata of air; here too he follows his source and rejects the ancients’ view on this subject.43 Another issue on which Hurwitz wholeheartedly agrees with Zamosc is his criticism of the ancients’ theory of how the exhalations that arise from earth and water produce meteorological phenomena. In particular, Hurwitz and Zamosc refuse to accept the Aristotelian view that the elements strive for their natural places. Hurwitz mocks this view with the same words as his source: ‘Do they [air and fire] have human eyes to watch for their proper place and yearn to return to their estate?’44 A third modern view on air, which Hurwitz accepts, in agreement with
the expression Hurwitz uses for atmosphere, ¨iggul ha-neshimah (e.g., p. 95), is found in RL (e.g., §32a, p. 16b), where Lindau gives Dunstkreis and Atmosphäre as its equivalents. These two terms appear on p. 102 of SB. 38 The authorship of this thirteenth-century treatise has not yet been established. It has been attributed to Judah Ibn Tibbon, Samuel Ibn Tibbon, and Jacob Anatoli. See Colette Sirat, ‘Le Livre Rouah Hen’, Proceedings of the Sixth World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, 1977), 3: 117–23. 39 SB I.7.11 (p. 104; cf. also I.10.8, p. 175); cf. RuaÌ Ìen (Warsaw, 1864), p. 27 (hereafter RH). 40 SB I.7.11 (p. 104); cf. RH, (Warsaw, 1864), p. 22. SB I.7.15 (p. 109). 41 Ibid. I.7.23 (p. 119). 42 Ibid., pp. 98–9; cf. SB 98.14 to RH, p. 22.5–7. Cf. also SB. I.10.4 (p. 172) to RH, 21.21–3. For Zamosc on the gravity of air and fire, see RH, p. 22.10. 43 SB I.7.14; cf. RH, pp. 17ff, esp. 25. 44 SB, p. 172; cf. RH, pp. 21.29–22.4.
37 Likewise,

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Zamosc, is that air expands and contracts because it has pores.45 In sum, his words ‘all this [the ancients’ theories on exhalation] is of no worth to me, and the wisdom (Ìokhmah) of the later ones is better on this question’ express the same attitude found in his source. Zamosc writes that he sees no need to detain himself everywhere with the many errors of the ancients who were not versed in the sciences.46 It is possible that Hurwitz drew on a third Hebrew textbook, namely Maˆamar haTorah ve-ha-Ìokhmah (1771) by Gumpel Schnaber, alias George Levisohn (1741– 1797), another Jewish scholar who incorporated the new theories about air in his work.47 However, Levison’s chapter on air does not show any literal parallels with SB, apart from the statement that the air pump was invented by Otto von Guericke of Magdeburg (1602–1686) and that Boyle (1627–1691) improved it – information that Hurwitz could have found in many other sources, Jewish and non-Jewish.48 In any event, it appears that Hurwitz drew on Hebrew sources much more than he seems to be willing to admit and that he follows these sources in adopting views held by non-Jewish scientists. However, while it is obvious that Hurwitz employed contemporary non-Jewish sources along with RL and RuaÌ Ìen, it is not easy to determine which of these he had at his disposal, because he could have found the relevant information in various eighteenth-century textbooks of physical science. Johann Christian Polykarp Erxleben’s Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre; Johann Gottlob Krüger’s Die ersten Gründe der Naturlehre, and Petrus van Musschenbroek’s Grundlehren der Naturwissenschaft, as well as encyclopaedias like Zedler’s Universal-Lexicon and d’Alembert’s and Diderot’s Encyclopédie, are likely candidates. To identify Hurwitz’s exact sources one would have to carry out a thorough comparison of Sefer ha-Berit with the writings on natural philosophy by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century nonJewish authors in their various editions, as well as a comparison of Hurwitz’s Jewish predecessors in the period under consideration.49 This would shed light not only on the question of Hurwitz’s sources, but also on the more general question of how familiar eighteenth-century Jewish scholars actually were with the work of their nonJewish colleagues. Such an examination clearly exceeds the bounds of the present paper, however. I will therefore limit myself to a few preliminary observations.
pp. 172–3. For Zamosc’s description of experiments with the air pump to prove the elasticity of air, see Ruderman, Jewish Thought, p. 333. An abridged version of this description is found in SB I.7.6, p. 100. 46  SB I.10.4, p. 172; cf. RH, p. 24.12–13. 47 On this author, see Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 345–68. 48  SB I.6.6, p. 92; cf. Maˆamar ha-torah we ha-Ìokhmah (London, 1771), p. 70. Hurwitz’s spelling of proper nouns differs from Levison’s. This text also contains some of the Latin words found in SB, such as globus celestis (SB, p. 64; Maˆamar, p. 15); globus terrestris (SB, p. 63; Maˆamar, p. 70), polus articus/polus antarcticus and antipodes (SB, p. 63; Maˆamar, p. 20); antlia pneumatica (SB, p. 87; Maˆamar, p. 20). It remains to be investigated whether Hurwitz knew these words from Levison or from a German textbook that also contained Latin names, such as Erxleben’s (see below). In general, Hurwitz refers to Latin as bi-leshonam (e.g., SB, pp. 81, 139–40), although occasionally one comes across bileshon latin (p. 276). 49  A detailed investigation would also have to compare the first edition of SB with the second, as Hurwitz claims that the second edition contains some 350 additions and corrections. In his first preface Hurwitz mentions some of the sections that were enlarged. These do not include the chapters under discussion here. I have briefly compared portions of SB I.10 and I.14 in the two editions and found no significant differences. However, the situation may well be different for other sections.
45 SB,


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To begin with, it should be borne in mind that all these books cover roughly the same material with regard to meteorological phenomena. Given Hurwitz’s prolonged stay in Germany, though, German sources would seem more likely. Furthermore, it seems plausible to assume that for his systematic account Hurwitz would have preferred handbooks as primary source texts over an encyclopaedia with alphabetical entries. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the order of the meteorological phenomena discussed in Chapter 10 largely corresponds to that adopted by Erxleben (1744– 1777) in his Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre (1772), a work that was very popular and widely used during the late eighteenth century.50 A modern scholar describes it as ‘the best German physics text of the eighteenth century’.51 Much of the material presented in this work can be found in SB, even though Hurwitz’s explanations of how the various phenomena come about are more extensive. In addition, some of the Latin terms that Hurwitz inserts from time to time can be found in this work, such as the antlia pneumatica (air-pump). As for Van Musschenbroek (1692–1761), this author’s Grundlehren der Naturwissenschaft and SB are both marked by their frequent references to God’s providence. Like his contemporaries, Erxleben too certainly believed that the earth had been produced by a wise, mighty and good creator; unlike Hurwitz and Van Musschenbroek, however, he does not refer in his meteorology to any beneficial effects of meteorological phenomena that should be ascribed to divine providence. Hurwitz lists such effects, alongside harmful ones, for phenomena such as earthquakes, winds, and dew. His description of the effects of wind reveals several similarities to Van Musschenbroek’s: wind cleanses the air and removes plague; it transports rain clouds, clears the air by blowing away bad odours that are harmful to man’s health; by cooling the air in hot regions it makes it possible for human beings to live there; and it makes it possible to sail the seas.52 Another example of God’s providence is the high salinity of the waters around the equator. Were it not for this added salt, Hurwitz states, the waters there would produce an unbearable stench, because of the extreme heat of the sun in that region.53 Interestingly, Hurwitz’s statement that it is thanks to divine providence that the air can expand and contract also has a parallel in Van Musschenbroek.54 Hence when Hurwitz refers to non-Jewish authors who studied the natural world in order to provide arguments for God’s providence, he may well have had this scholar in mind (see above, n. 16). An acquaintance with this author’s work is all the more plausible, given that earlier research has established that Van Musschenbroek was known to Jewish scholars.55 One striking parallel between the
50 Johann Christian Polykarp Erxleben, Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre (Göttingen, 1768). My references are to the sixth edition (1794), §§727–60 in Chapter 13, ‘Von der Erde insbesondere’. The only difference in order is that SB places snow before hail. Also, Erxleben does not discuss earthquakes here. 51  John Lewis Heilbron, Electricity in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Berkeley, 1979), p. 16. 52  Petrus van Musschenbroek, Grundlehren der Naturwissenschaft (Leipzig, 1747), §1375, p. 801. 53 According to Van Musschenbroek, it is the tides that have this effect; see his Introduction to Essai de Physique, the French translation (1762) of his Beginselen der Natuurkunde (Leiden, 1736), p. 3. 54 SB I.10.4, pp. 172–3. The view that the Creator made the air elastic is ascribed to Newton in the appendix to Van Musschenbroek’s work about experiments with the air pump (see preceding note), p. 18. 55 See: Ruderman, Jewish Thought, p. 351; Shim¨on Bolag, ‘A Selection of Scientific Sources in the

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two works is found in Hurwitz’s discussion of the barometer. Here he describes, among other things, the rise and fall of mercury in the barometer and what these changes indicate about the clarity and humidity of the air. He notes that scientists keep tables of their daily barometric observations and thus found that in Holland, where the air is always humid, the maximum height of the mercury is never more than 30 inches, while the minimum is 27 and two lines. The very same observation can be found in Van Musschenbroek.56 Moreover, Hurwitz shares with this Newtonian scholar not only the theological justification of the study of nature, but also his conviction that physical science should be based on observation and experiment.57 Another issue on which Hurwitz displays more similarity to Van Musschenbroek than to Erxleben is his explanation of the origin of lightning, a subject that occupied the minds of university professors and laypersons alike in the eighteenth century. Hurwitz contrasts the position of the ancients (that is, Aristotle and his mediaeval followers) to that of the moderns and then decides in favour of the latter.58 According to the moderns, says Hurwitz, lightning originates in the hot dry exhalation that rises from the earth and gathers into clouds, mixed with particles of sulphur. Through their motion the clouds are heated and ignited when they are pressed together upon meeting cold air. The phrasing reveals that this account is based on RL.59 The explanation, however, seems to reflect Van Musschenbroek’s view that the cause of lightning must be sulphur combined with an admixture of exhalation.60 Hurwitz presents this as the modern view. Erxleben, however, explicitly states that lightning and thunder are without any doubt the result of the workings of electricity.61 As might be expected, he refers to the experiments of Benjamin Franklin.62
Hebrew Writings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’ (Hebrew), Korot 9 (5–6) (1987): 127– 47, esp. 141–5. I wish to thank Professor Steven Harvey for sending me a copy of this article. 56  Cf. Grundlehren, §1077, p. 628: ‘Die kleinste und grösste Höhe desselben die man in Holland bemerket hat, ist 27 Zolle und 2 Lin. und 30 Rheinländischen Zolle’. 57  In this regard it is noteworthy that several of the experiments conducted with the air pump, as described in SB, are parallel to those described in Van Musschenbroek’s list. Likewise, Hurwitz’s reference to the invention of an instrument by which wine can be pumped out of a barrel (in German: Heber), and his comparison of the pumping of air with a sucking baby have parallels in this author. For Heber; cf. SB I.7.7, p. 101 with Grundlehren, §1091, p. 639; for the baby (or animal), cf. SB loc. cit. with Grundlehren §1090, p. 639). 58  SB I.10.13, pp. 181–2. 59 RL §37a, 18a. 60  Van Musschenbroek, Grundlehren §1341, p. 747: ‘Weil die vom Wetterstrale angezündeten Sachen nach Schwefel riechen, so kann man wohl nicht zweifeln, dass die meiste verbrennliche Materie desselben der Schwefel sei’. 61 Cf. Erxleben, Anfangsgründe §747, pp. 717–8: ‘Dass heutiges Tages nicht mehr daran gezweifelt werden kann, dass Blitz und Donner nur Wirkungen einer starken Elektricität sind’; cf. §750, ‘Der Blitz ist ein grosser elektrischer Funken’. The same view is found in Johann Gottlob Krüger, Die ersten Gründe der Naturlehre (Halle, 1750), §241, p. 295. However, in a later edition (1771, pp. 554–72), electricity is presented without reference to Franklin; cf. Heilbron, Electricity, p. 263. In Zedler’s Universal-Lexicon, a work that precedes the discoveries of Franklin, we read, s.v. Blitz, that there is no certainty as to the cause of lightning. According to the Lexikon, one can observe that lightning is a fire and that this fire consists of ‘Schwefelichten Theilen’. It is also noted that several causes for lightning have been posited: natural ones, God, or the devil (Johann Heinrich Zedler, ed., Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschafften und Künste, 64 vols. (Halle and Leipzig, 1732–1750; repr. Graz, 1961–1964), vol. 4 (1733), p. 166. 62  Anfangsgründe §746, p. 717.


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Curiously, Franklin does not figure at all in the relevant discussion in SB; this is all the more remarkable as Hurwitz reports extensively on the invention of the lightning rod and the experiments carried out with it, even providing instructions for building one.63 Hurwitz credits (Johann Gottlob) Krüger (1715–1759), a professor at Halle, with the invention of the ‘Wetterleiter’ (p. 184) and relates how this scholar was commissioned by ‘the famous king of Prussia’ to build an insulated house near the palace where one could hide during lightning (p. 186). In other words, his inclusion of the earlier eighteenth-century view shows that, notwithstanding Hurwitz’s proclaimed preference for ‘the moderns’, his accounts are not always up-to-date. Incidentally, Hurwitz’s section on lightning and thunder is a good illustration of the heterogeneous character of the information he assembled in his book. Not only is the reader informed about the natural explanation of meteorological phenomena, he also learns about the religious aspects associated with them. Lightning and other meteorological phenomena, Hurwitz states, are intended to make people turn away from their bad ways and return to God (p. 185). Likewise, he interprets earthquakes as divine punishment, admonishing the reader to repent, pray, and do good deeds to ward off the danger. As stated above, such moral lessons are not found in the mediaeval encyclopaedias of science and philosophy, but they are found in eighteenth-century science books. For example, in his Universal-Lexicon, Johann Heinrich Zedler (1706–1751) asserts that God uses earthquakes to demonstrate his majesty and his power and to punish humanity for its sins.64 In Zedler’s lemma on lightning we read that an incorrect perception of God’s providence is one of the causes of the fear of lightning. Here he recommends praying and singing as means to overcome fear. Although Hurwitz mentions only praying, the religious orientation is the same in the work of both authors. This leads us to yet another aspect of SB, one in which it again differs from mediaeval encyclopaedias. This concerns the practical advice that Hurwitz lavishes on his readers. In the section on lightning he warns them not to stand beneath tall trees during lightning and thunder, and to stay away from draughts when indoors;65 he adds that people who are born with a caul need special protection.66 Another example of this practical advice is found in his account of the air. Here he warns against overheating houses during the winter, because it causes people to get sick and die, so that their houses turn into graves. In particular, the room of an infant with smallpox should not be overheated.67 To return to Hurwitz’s attitude towards his sources in his discussions of meteorology and the elements, Hurwitz’s dismissal of mediaeval theories is more marked here than in the chapter on zoology. At the same time, however, this section is more revealing about his appreciation of mediaeval learning than his zoology. His discussion of the inhabited sections of the earth, a subject that Hurwitz brings up in several pas63 These

instructions derive from RL, §37, p. 18b; cf. SB, p. 184. Universal-Lexicon, vol. 8 (1734), p. 1527. 65 Cf. RL §38, pp. 18b–19a. 66 SB, pp. 185–6. 67 Ibid. I.7.20, p. 115.
64 Zedler,

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sages and in different contexts, may serve as an illustration. Mediaeval scholars were of the opinion that the northern and southern polar region were uninhabited, due to extreme cold, while the torrid zone around the equator was unfit for habitation due to extreme heat. Hurwitz explains how modern discoveries have proved these authors wrong, for the torrid zone is in fact inhabited. The northern polar zone is inhabited as far as Greenland, even though human settlement there is not as extensive as it is further south. As for the southern polar region, he observes that although no expedition has yet demonstrated that it is habitable, it is nonetheless probable, seeing that other regions once believed to be uninhabitable has since been found to be inhabited. Hurwitz rejects as incorrect the theory that the southern hemisphere was covered with water, mentioning in this regard some ‘great and distinguished Jewish sages’ of the Middle Ages who held this view, namely David KimÌi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Abraham bar Îiyya, Isaac Israeli, Meir Aldabi, and Solomon Ibn Gabirol.68 But he hastens to add that one should not jump to the conclusion that the mediaeval authors he quoted, ‘the philosophizing ancients of our people’ (ha-qadmonim mibenei ¨ammenu ha-mitpalsefim), were less intelligent than the moderns. Hurwitz ‘exonerates’ them by noting that it is only the progress of time and new discoveries that have rendered their theories outdated.69 Moreover, when it comes to exegetical explanations Hurwitz allows himself to draw on mediaeval authors, as he explicitly acknowledges. For example, when dealing with the rainbow he acknowledges that Gersonides and NaÌmanides provided him with explanations of why God should have preferred the rainbow, of all natural phenomena, as a sign for his covenant (pp. 180–1). In other words, although Hurwitz emphatically sides with the moderns in this chapter, the presence of the mediaevals is nonetheless more evident than in the chapter on zoology. All in all, it appears that Hurwitz’s attitude vis-à-vis ancient and mediaeval notions on the one hand and ‘modern’ ones on the other is not the same for the two disciplines under discussion here. This difference also seems to reflect the difference in the ‘state of the art’ of the two disciplines in his day. Whereas for zoology Hurwitz could rely on Buffon’s accomplishments, as expounded in various sources, meteorology in the eighteenth century had not crystallized into an independent discipline. It was still studied within the framework of physics, a branch that was in a constant process of change and redefinition.70 The Aristotelian system had been abandoned, but no new system had taken its place, with the result that many different explanations of meteorological phenomena were in circulation and provided Hurwitz with a variety of options. The account of meteorology in SB seems to reflect the transitional status of this science during the eighteenth century.

68 Ibid. I.9.6, p. 145; cf. p. 143, and I.9.13, pp. 161–2, where Hurwitz rejects the seven-clime theory of the ancients, replacing it by an eightfold division of the earth. 69 Ibid. I.9.6, p. 146. 70 See John Lewis Heilbron, ‘Experimental Natural Philosophy’, in The Ferment of Knowledge: Studies in the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Science, ed. G[eorge] S[ebastian] Rousseau and Ray Porter (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 357–88, esp. 361–4.


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Traditional versus Modern and Ancient Views Thus far we have discussed Hurwitz’s attitude towards modern and ancient views, leaving his use of sources from the third category out of consideration. As we shall shortly see, his use of traditional and kabbalistic sources in the chapters under discussion constitutes yet another difference between the chapters on meteorology and zoology. As will be recalled, his zoology invoked rabbinic views only occasionally and hardly referred to kabbalistic literature at all. In fact, the only reference to the latter is that, according to Isaac Luria (the Ari), a certain fish, although kosher, is not fit for human consumption, as it is lethal (SB, p. 215). By contrast, in the chapters under consideration Hurwitz adduces ‘traditional’ views on a number of occasions. Concerning the number of elements, for example, Hurwitz states, building upon RH, that the ancients who taught that there are four elements were in agreement with the view held by the Sages and Kabbalists. But, he continues, the new generation rejects everything and posits the existence of only three elements, while others allow only one element.71 The chemical philosophers, for their part, believe that everything is composed of five elements: sulphur, salt, mercury, water, and earth.72 One should therefore not rely on the philosophers, Hurwitz concludes, for each teaches according to his own whims. Instead, one should follow the Kabbalists who taught that there are four elements, as explained by Îayyim Vital. In other words, here we find Hurwitz adhering to an ancient philosophical view on the authority of the Kabbalists. In his discussion of whether air has weight, it is rather modern theories that prove the Kabbalists to be right instead of the ancients. As Hurwitz relates, (otherwise unspecified) non-Jewish Aristotelian scholars derided the kabbalists for believing that air has weight and claimed that there was no wisdom among Jews because Jews did not engage in the study of philosophy but limited themselves to kabbalah. Now that experiments using modern inventions and instruments have proven that every body, including air, has weight, it appears that the Kabbalists were right after all and that their views are trustworthy.73 The influence of traditional sources is also to be found in another passage in his account of air, where Hurwitz accepts the existence of demons on the authority of the Sages and the Kabbalists. According to him, scientists believe that the air is filled with tiny living creatures that lay eggs, whereas the Kabbalists believe that the air contains demons (shedim). Hurwitz decides in favour of this view because the talmudic Sages postulated their existence.74 Yet another example of this attitude is provided by Hurwitz’s discussion of the distribution of land and water over the earth, a theme that also engaged the mediaeI.5.4–5, pp. 84–5; cf. I.10.15, p. 189. Jewish Thought, p. 341. 73 SB I.7.3–4, pp. 97–9. 74 Ibid. I.7.22, p. 118. Interestingly, in his description of the meteorological phenomenon of will-o’-thewisps he criticizes the behaviour of the ¨ammei ha-areÒ who, out of fear and due to their lack of scientific knowledge, believe that these lights are a kind of shedim. Hurwitz mocks people who in their panic recite the Shema and put on tefillin and, when they reach home, tell their families that a miracle has happened, thereby grossly exaggerating the matter so as to inspire fear in people’s hearts (p. 187).
72 Ruderman, 71 SB

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vals.75 In the section on mountains Hurwitz explains that the earth is the only element that is not surrounded in its entirety by another element. Not only is this another sign of God’s mercy; it also proves, against the heretics, that the world was created by a Creator who possesses a will, and not by chance or nature. However, the fact that parts of the earth are not covered by water raises the question of what happened to the surplus of water. Hurwitz finds the solution in a theory he encountered in Abraham Cohen Herrera’s neo-platonist and kabbalistic Sha¨ar ha-shamayim (early seventeenth century). According to Herrera, there is a large hole in the earth near the North Pole, through which the waters of the ocean enter the earth.76 Hurwitz adds that this is what the words yiqqavu ha-mayim ‘let the waters be gathered’ (Gen. 1:9) refer to. The existence of this hole was already known to the Sages, who often refer to the waters inside the earth. Elaborating on the theme of the water inside the earth, Hurwitz adds that David KimÌi’s and Abraham Ibn Ezra’s interpretation of Ps. 104:10 is far from the truth, whereas the explanation of Eliezer Ashkenazi (Greece, eighteenth century), although also incorrect, at least assumes the existence of a water opening.77 With respect to Hurwitz’s use of the third group of sources, it is important to note that on several occasions he emphasizes that many modern discoveries and inventions were in fact known to the Sages. They were, for example, aware of the existence of America, which they called ‘Ofir’, and they foresaw that new planets would be discovered in the course of time.78 Elsewhere he defends the rabbis against people ‘who are wise in their own eyes’ who ridiculed and despised their interpretations.79 In this regard, the chapter on water contains a most revealing passage.80 Here Hurwitz describes with great enthusiasm how in his day it has become possible to explore the seabed by means of the diving bell, a large metal construction that can hold people standing upright. He lists the signals by means of which those inside it can communicate with the sailors on board the ship to which the diving bell is connected and relates how they are provided with fresh air by a new device, thanks to which they can stay under water ‘for many days’. Here Hurwitz is probably referring to the hand-operated pump introduced by John Smeaton in 1788. Hurwitz expresses regret that he could not augment his description with an illustration or copper engraving, because he could not afford the extra expense involved. Clearly the author was fascinated by this invention. He then goes on to note that the people of Europe were most excited by this discovery, which caused them to adopt an arrogant attitude towards the Jews, claiming that Jews possess only knowledge of the Talmud. Hurwitz countered this allegation by arguing that in fact
75 This problem is addressed by Gad Freudenthal, ‘(Al-)chemical Foundations for Cosmological Ideas: Ibn Sina on the Geology of an Eternal World’, in Physics, Cosmology and Astronomy, 1300–1700, ed. Sabetai Unguru (Dordrecht, 1991), pp. 47–73. 76  SB I.9.4, pp. 141–2. See Abraham Cohen de Herrera, Gate of Heaven, trans. Kenneth Krabbenhoft (Leiden, 2002), p. 351. Interestingly, Hurwitz does not take over from his source that this is also the place from which evil spirits come. 77 SB I.9.4, p. 143. 78  Ibid. I.1.3, p. 36. Here Hurwitz reports about the discovery of Uranus in 1781. 79 Ibid. I.2.9, p. 45. 80  Ibid. I.8.4, pp. 128–9.


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the technique underlying the construction of the diving bell was already known to the Sages, for in M Miqvaˆot 10:1 we read that no water can enter a vessel that is immersed upside down – precisely the principle underlying the technique of the diving bell. In other words, the Sages were great natural scientists, who merely lacked the technical means to construct such instruments. In adopting this apologetic stance Hurwitz stands in a long tradition of Jewish authors who attempted to vindicate rabbinic knowledge that had been discredited by scientific theories.81 In sum, Hurwitz’s use of the third group of sources in the sections studied here is dictated partly by his scepticism vis-à-vis modern views and partly by polemical zeal. Moreover, the ultimate criterion for whether or not a scientific view (ancient/mediaeval or modern) should be accepted appears to be whether or not it accords with traditional talmudic or kabbalistic views. Given this hierarchy, the mediaevals often appear to be the ‘big losers’ in Hurwitz’s coverage of contemporary science. Yet while it is clear that mediaeval notions and sources are less prominent in SB and less important for Hurwitz than are the other sources for his encyclopaedia – contemporary (Jewish and non-Jewish), early modern Jewish, and ‘traditional’ sources – it would be rash to conclude that they are insignificant.82 As we have seen, Hurwitz accepts them when they accord with the traditional view, even if they are at variance with modern theories. Moreover, as noted above, there appears to be a difference with regard to Hurwitz’s use of mediaeval sources in the chapter on meteorology and that on zoology. Therefore, the situation may well be different in other sections. For example, the introduction, which introduces basic philosophical notions such as substance, accident, form, matter, etc., reads to a large extent like a mediaeval treatise and employs mediaeval Hebrew terminology.83 The same holds for Hurwitz’s discussion of the vegetative, animal, and rational souls and their faculties (chs 15–18). More importantly, the structuring principle for his account of living beings is the same classification of the various faculties of the soul that we find in mediaeval psychological treatises. We may thus conclude that Hurwitz borrowed more elements from the mediaeval scientific heritage than he leads us to believe in his preface. Hurwitz’s Motivation As will be clear from the foregoing, Hurwitz’s attitude towards contemporary natural science was ambivalent. One the one hand, he displays great enthusiasm for contemporary science, as can be inferred from his detailed and spirited descriptions of new instruments and the experiments conducted with them. Moreover, he deems it important to supply instructions for building these instruments, such as the thermometer and air pump. It is no exaggeration to say that he was fascinated by the achievements of the science of his day.84 His account of the hot-air balloon clearly testifies to his
Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 263–72. a list of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jewish treatises referred to by Hurwitz, see the article by Ruderman in the present volume. 83 Cf. the section on SB in the article by Steven Harvey in the present volume. 84 On the attraction of the air-pump experiments for Jewish scholars, see Ruderman, Jewish Thought, pp. 332–8.
82 For 81 Cf.

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excitement. He describes not only how one is built, but also how spectacular it is to sail through the air with a friend, or perhaps with a lady. Here too he offers practical advice, carefully noting that one can make the balloon fly higher by throwing overboard sand from bags brought for that purpose, but that one should never throw stones overboard, to avoid hurting people on the ground.85 Obviously the author is eager to provide his readers with knowledge of every new discovery. On the other hand, he appears just as eager to prove that in fact ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, because the Sages were familiar with the principles underlying these inventions. It is the same sceptical attitude towards modern science that leads him to emphasize that non-Jewish scientists are divided on many issues, such as the correct explanation of tides (I.10.15, p. 188) and of the sea’s salinity, or the number of elements.86 Hurwitz’s scepticism with respect to contemporary science is clearly expressed at the end of the chapter on meteorology. In a long digression, Hurwitz states that it is imperative for Jews to study physical science, not only because it teaches tiqqun ¨olam, but also because it equips them with the knowledge they need in their contacts with non-Jewish scholars.87 However, Jews should not learn sciences from non-Jewish books, for some of them contain heretical views, in that they ‘ascribe everything to nature’ instead of to the Creator. Such things are harmful for young readers, which is why one should avoid these books and learn science only from SB. Moreover, one should not assume that the moderns are more intelligent than the ancients (cf. above); their only advantage is the progress of time, thanks to which they possess instruments and can perform experiments. However, Hurwitz notes sceptically, the new findings will, in turn, be annulled by the discoveries of a next generation, and these by the next, when even more wondrous instruments have been invented and more experiments have been carried out, and so on. New findings will invariably overthrow what had been established on the basis of rational proofs. Logical reasoning cannot guarantee the validity of any theory whatsoever.88 All sciences are far from the truth, except for geometry and arithmetic. To this he adds that those who pursue the sciences are lacking in faith, although science itself serves God.89 Therefore, Hurwitz concludes, referring to Ecclesiastes 3:11 and 8:17, one should not waste one’s time, lose sleep, and ruin one’s health in the pursuit of the sciences, for
 SB I.7.21, pp. 115–6. I.5.3–5, pp. 83–5. Hurwitz’s observation on the uncertainty that results from scholarly disputes reminds one of Erxleben’s observation in his Anfangsgründe §774, p. 753: ‘Mit aller der Hochachtung aber, die ich für die Chemie habe, muss ich gestehen, dass ich immer weniger von den Elementen der Körper mit Gewissheit behaupten mag, je länger ich mich mit dieser Wissenschaft beschäftige’. With respect to salinity, Erxleben lists various theories and concludes by saying: ‘Hat die Frage: woher das Meer sein Salz erhalte wirklich einen vernünftigen Sinn? Kaum’ (Anfangsgründe §676, p. 652). 87 SB I.10.15, pp. 187–90. 88  Ibid., p. 189. In this regard, Hurwitz refers to Kant, stating that this philosopher has ruthlessly ‘uprooted’ all the foundations of the philosophers. Although Hurwitz declares in his first preface (p. 14) that, unlike other authors, he will refrain from referring to later chapters of his book, here he refers the reader to I.20.25, announcing that there he will deal with Kant and ‘his book’ ‘that has spread all over the world’. It is true that almost all the references that Hurwitz lavishly inserts in his expositions are to preceding sections. Apparently this issue is of special importance to him. 89  Here Hurwitz seems to contradict himself, for elsewhere he wrote that non-Jewish scholars study nature with a view to praising God (see above).
86 Ibid. 85


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the closer one thinks he has come to truth, the further it recedes from him. Nor will one be rewarded for this pursuit in the next world; instead, punishment will be meted out because of the neglect of the study of the Torah. It is in view of all this, Hurwitz maintains, that he has ‘filtered’ and assembled in his own book all that is worth knowing. Curiously, these sceptical words were written by a man who himself toiled day and night to acquire scientific knowledge until he ruined his eyes and nearly lost his sight as a result, and who, moreover, did not stop working on SB after he recovered.90 This leads us to the question of Hurwitz’s goal and motivation. In his first preface, Hurwitz states that SB was in fact meant to serve as an introduction to Îayyim Vital’s Sha¨arei qedushah. Hurwitz considered this a most important book because it enables human beings to attain their goal, namely achieving a degree of the Holy Spirit (ruaÌ ha-qodesh) even when not in the Holy Land. However, according to Hurwitz, the last part of Vital’s book is incomprehensible without knowledge of natural science and remains ‘a sealed book’, a situation that Hurwitz seeks to remedy.91 Hurwitz thus presents himself as a commentator on Vital. As Hurwitz explains it, herein lies the first of the three utilities of SB, the other two being that it reveals God’s glory and helps human beings come closer to God. In addition, he mentions other useful aspects: it obviates the need for non-Jewish books on science (see above), thereby freeing time for the study of tradition and Kabbalah; it enables one to understand ma¨aseh bereshit and ma¨aseh merkavah as explained by Luria; moreover, the reader will ‘know what to answer a freethinker (apiqoros)’.92 Furthermore, it offers ‘something for everyone’. Perhaps this explains why the book was in such great demand. As Hurwitz relates in the preface to the second edition (pp. 18–9), the book was much sought after throughout the Jewish world. The 2,000 copies of the first edition were sold within a few years, leading to a pirate edition in 1801. The second edition of 1807 was reprinted frequently.93 Moreover, SB was translated into Yiddish and Ladino. It appealed to both enlightened circles and traditional Jews. What explains its success? What was Hurwitz’s true aim? Was it indeed his intention to lead his fellow-Jews to the attainment of the Holy Spirit? If so, how helpful would it have been for them to know how to build a balloon and fly it, with or without a lady friend? In a review of SB that appeared in Ha-Meˆassef in 1809, that is, after the publication of the second edition, the reviewer found it hard to accept Hurwitz’s claim that he had written the book with a view to facilitating understanding Sha¨arei qedushah.94 He considers it incredible that Hurwitz wrote such a voluminous work merely
90 Hurwitz relates this story in his preface, p. 13. For a comprehensive account of the ‘making of’ SB, see Rosenblum, ‘Ha-enÒiqlopedyah ha-¨ivrit ha-rishonah’. 91 SB, first preface, p. 4 and introduction, p. 31. See also the section on SB in the article by Steven Harvey in this volume. 92 SB, first preface, p. 9. 93  Fourteen editions were published during the nineteenth century; see Zeev Gries, The Book as an Agent of Culture, 1700–1900 (Heb.) (Tel Aviv, 2002), p. 134 n. 41, who refers to Ch. B. Friedberg, Bet Eked Sepharim (Tel Aviv, 1951–56), 1:170, No. 1474. 94 The review is signed dalet heh. Thomas Kollatz suggested that this may be an abbreviation for ‘der Herausgeber’.

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to serve as a prolegomena to a brief treatise of 40 pages. If that really was Hurwitz’s aim, he continues, the book would certainly not have become so successful, for who is still interested in Kabbalah? Why should the author have hidden his true aim, namely, the diffusion of scientific knowledge? For the reviewer, who was not the least interested in Kabbalah and who moreover criticized Hurwitz for his adherence to traditional views that are patently wrong and for his deficient Hebrew, the value and utility of the book lay exclusively in its scientific content. The reviewer’s perception of Hurwitz’s motives actually says more about the reviewer than about SB. The reviewer was evidently unaware that Hurwitz had written kabbalistic treatises before he embarked on SB.95 Moreover, Hurwitz’s kabbalistic orientation in SB can hardly be overlooked, as will have become manifest above. Indeed, the end of the introduction (p. 31) and the beginning of the first section (p. 33) make it sufficiently clear that his description of the world of the elements, for all its Aristotelian-philosophical orientation, is embedded in a kabbalistic perception of the universe. The few modern scholars who have studied SB do not doubt that Hurwitz was a Kabbalist.96 As to his true aim and the explanation of the success of his work, however, they have suggested different interpretations. According to Ira Robinson, its success was due to Hurwitz’s synthesis of modern science with Kabbalah. As he puts it, Sefer ha-Berit provided a ‘modernization strategy’ that enabled Orthodox Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth century to accommodate modern science and technology within a traditional-kabbalistic worldview.97 M. Harris also views SB as a synthesis of science and kabbalah. More specifically, he thinks it was meant to serve as an alternative to Hasidism, which Hurwitz shunned due to its character as a mass movement. In the wake of the shock caused by Sabbatianism, Hurwitz preferred to address the question of how the individual can acquire the Holy Spirit on his own and in solitude.98 Rosenblum, by contrast, suggests a more down-to-earth motivation. He argues that Hurwitz first wrote the second part of his book with a view to using it during his years as a wandering scholar in order to earn a living. But after he became familiar with the rationalistic orientation in western Europe he decided to add the part on science, in order to enhance its chances of publication; this is why he emphasized its many-sidedness and various useful aspects. In other words, in Rosenblum’s view, Hurwitz’s main aim was to sell his book.99 If this was indeed his focus, it cannot be denied that he succeeded. Here we can cite Zeev Gries’ explanation of its success, namely, that it was acceptable to Orthodox circles because it quotes from maskilic works with reservations and at the same time served as an original source book for enlightened Jews.100 Scholars are not only divided about Hurwitz’s true aim, but also about the related question of whether or not SB should be viewed as a maskilic book, and, conse95 See: 96 For

Rosenblum, ‘Ha-enÒiqlopedyah’, pp. 38–9, 41; Horodetzky, ‘Yahadut ha-sekhel’, p. 388 n. 4. the relation between Vital’s work and SB, see Rosenblum, ‘Ha-enÒiqlopedyah’, pp. 41–6. ‘Kabbalah and Science’, p. 284. 98 Harris, ‘Book of the Covenant’, p. 52. 99 Rosenblum, ‘Ha-enÒiqlopedyah’, pp. 46, 60–3. 100 Gries, ‘Book’, p. 133–4.
97 Robinson,


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quently, about whether Hurwitz was a Maskil, a forerunner of the Haskalah, or an anti-maskil.101 Relevant as these questions may be, it is not possible to go into them in great detail here. It is clear that any attempt to answer them should be based on a full study of the contents of the book; even then it is doubtful whether any definitive answers can be provided, given that SB somehow seems to elude categorization. With this reservation in mind, I would nonetheless venture to suggest that the absence of any idealization of the mediaeval rationalists or of the Sephardi heritage speaks against the notion of SB as a work of the Haskalah. It cannot be said that this heritage served as a source of inspiration. Nor do the mediaeval philosophers figure as cultural icons. On the contrary, Hurwitz emphatically ascribes the lack of scientific progress among Jews to the authority of Maimonides, which deterred people from undertaking an independent search for truth.102 Indeed, for all his pursuits to collect secular knowledge, Hurwitz shows himself to be hostile to the study of philosophy. In the long penultimate chapter of Part One he repeatedly and energetically criticizes the philosophers, from Aristotle to the moderns, even though he asserts that he does not intend to discredit the mediaeval Jewish philosophers, mentioning BaÌya Ibn Paquda by name.103 From another passage, however, it can be learned that Hurwitz saw himself called upon to ‘fight’ against Jewish philosophers, too, for even though the good among them did not violate the Torah, they ‘left the paths of righteousness’ by spending all their days reading foreign books on philosophy.104 Against the philosophers Hurwitz claims on several occasions that it is God’s will that faith (emunah) be based not on speculation and philosophical proofs, but on ‘trustworthy tradition’.105 None of this seems to fit in with Enlightenment ideals. However, whether or not SB is a Haskalah book is perhaps ultimately not all that relevant. As we have seen, Hurwitz himself considered it a musar-book.106 Moreover, in my view, it is more important to underscore that SB represents an attempt to provide an answer to contemporary challenges, and as such is no novelty. As Ruderman points out, similar attempts had been made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centu101  Cf. Robinson, ‘Kabbalah and Science’, pp. 276–7. Mahler writes (History of Modern Jewry, p. 559): ‘These writers, like all forerunners of Haskalah, still relied on the ethical and philosophical works of medieval Jewish authors, and even Aristotle, for their principal intellectual inspiration’. This observation, including the appellation ‘forerunner of Haskalah’, requires some qualification in the case of Pinchas Hurwitz. The same applies to Mahler’s statement that ‘The influence exerted by contemporary European science and literature was barely discernible in their ideas’. As for terminology, see Shmuel Feiner’s typology in The Jewish Enlightenment (Philadelphia, 2004), pp. 27–35: ‘“Precursors of the Haskalah” or “early Maskilim”?’ For Feiner’s qualification of Pinchas Hurwitz as an ‘enemy of Enlightenment’, see ibid., p. 349. 102 SB I.2.6, pp. 41–2. It should be noted that other passages express admiration of Maimonides. Hurwitz’s ambivalent attitude towards Maimonides is a topic that deserves further study. 103 Cf. SB I.20.20, p. 349; I.20.6, p. 324. 104  SB I.20.25, p. 357. 105 See SB I.20, pp. 324, 349, 350, and the end of the chapter on p. 389. Interestingly, in this last passage Hurwitz notes that, after having written his book in Buczacz, he came across Joseph Jabez’s Or haÌayyim, which was prompted by the same motives. However, Hurwitz goes on to state, Jabez’s book differed from his own in that it did not present arguments and refutations against the philosophers and, moreover, was written out of bitterness. 106  My colleague Shlomo Berger characterizes SB as ‘a Yiddish musar-book written in Hebrew’.

Resianne Fontaine


ries.107 One can go one step further, though, and say that in this respect SB reveals a likeness to the mediaeval encyclopaedias whose contents Hurwitz did not know or chose to ignore. Even though the parameters had changed, Hurwitz’s aim of making contemporary non-Jewish secular knowledge available to Jews was not very different from the mediaevals’ goal. Curiously, a comparison of SB with one of these encyclopaedias, Judah ha-Cohen ten Solomon's Midrash ha-Ìokhmah, reveals many interesting similarities. This mediaeval encyclopaedist felt called upon to disseminate the new knowledge of his time (namely Aristotelian philosophy, as explained by Averroes), but was sceptical about its value and validity.108 Like Hurwitz, he appears to have been ambivalent about contemporary secular science and about philosophy in particular. Like Hurwitz (SB I.7.3, p. 97), he justified the necessity of his encyclopaedic undertaking by referring to the fact that ‘the nations’ derided the Jews for their lack of scientific knowledge, invoking the same Biblical verse (Deut. 4:6 – ‘a wise and understanding people’) in this regard. Moreover, in spite of his critical stance towards the authority of his day, Aristotle, Judah made allowances for him, saying that had Aristotle possessed knowledge of the Jewish tradition he would not have erred. In the same vein, Hurwitz is convinced that had Maimonides known Kabbalah he would have accepted it.109 Hurwitz defends Maimonides’ position on the spheres (SB I.2.10, p. 48), saying that he may have had defective manuscripts at his disposal. Likewise, Judah seeks to exempt Ptolemy from the ascription of base character-traits to Jews in his astrology, suggesting that the Arabic manuscript tradition may be responsible for such an attribution. As for Maimonides, both Judah and Hurwitz display an ambivalent attitude, combining admiration with a critical attitude towards his thought (in the case of Judah, towards the underlying sources of his thought). Moreover, both authors urged their readers to read the entire encyclopadia, from cover to cover. Such words betray the authors’ self-esteem, of course, but they may also reflect their conviction that their work, when studied as a whole, can help readers define their position vis-à-vis contemporary challenges – definitely a concern shared by Judah and Hurwitz. In this regard, it is also significant that both authors deliberately chose Hebrew as the vehicle for the transmission of secular knowledge. Judah claims to have first written his work in Arabic (the original has not survived) and to have translated it into Hebrew at the request of friends who could not read Arabic. Yiddish was Hurwitz’s mother tongue, but he preferred to write his encyclopaedia in Hebrew. Both authors refer to the difficulties they encountered in writing Hebrew and apologize for their errors (e.g., SB, preface p. 12). Both, however, evidently considered the effort worthwhile in view of their goal of reaching a wide audience, given the impact of the foreign knowledge they were confronting.110 Another shared characteristic is the fact that
Jewish Thought, pp. 340–1. what follows I have drawn on Colette Sirat, ‘Judah b. Salomon Ha-Cohen: Philosophe, astronome et peut-être kabbaliste de la première moitié du XIIIe siècle’, Italia 2 (1977): 39–61, and on my own research on this text. See Resianne Fontaine, ‘Judah ben Solomon ha-Cohen’s Midrash ha-Hokhmah: Its Sources and Use of Sources’ in Harvey (ed.), Hebrew Encyclopaedias, pp. 191–210. 109 SB I.20.15. With respect to Judah’s statement about Aristotle, see Kuzari I.64. 110 It is no exaggeration to say that the two books in fact belong to the genre of Hebrew translation literature, at least for the parts where the authors present contemporary science.
108 In 107 Ruderman,


Natural Science in Sefer ha-Berit

both authors supplemented their surveys of contemporary secular knowledge with sections devoted to religious topics, which can be taken as intended to offset these surveys. Finally, they both emphasize that they have collected all worthwhile knowledge in one book, to save readers time and enable them to return to studying the Torah. In sum, the parallels and similarities between the eighteenth-century Ashkenazi encyclopaedia and its thirteenth-century Sephardi predecessor can be explained by their authors’ common concern to help their fellow Jews define their position vis-àvis the secular knowledge of their day and to explain the extent to which it can be made compatible with Jewish tradition. Hurwitz’s endeavour thus stands in a long tradition of Jewish writing that is not bound to any specific historical era. Such endeavours have emerged whenever Judaism was confronted with new challenges – a process that is timeless. In view of this, it does not seem too far fetched to suggest that the very name of Hurwitz’s captivating book, Sefer ha-Berit, may be interpreted on two levels: it is an encyclopaedia that ‘connects all things’, all things worth knowing, while at the same time it is ‘a book of the covenant’, a Jewish book.

Resianne Fontaine



Natural Science in Sefer ha-Berit

Warren Zev Harvey

Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge

In their respective exegeses of the biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) and Solomon Maimon (1754–1800) were critically influenced by Moses Maimonides (1135/8–1204), but neither could accept his view that moral rules are merely ‘generally accepted opinions’, each rejecting it for his own reason. Mendelssohn In the Beˆur on Genesis 2:9, Moses Mendelssohn discusses the meaning of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.1 He begins by presenting the interpretations of Maimonides (1135/8–1204) in his Guide of the Perplexed, I, 2, and Moses NaÌmanides (1194–1270) in his Commentary on Genesis, ad loc. He presents NaÌmanides’ interpretation first, even though it is dependent on Maimonides’ interpretation. He does this presumably because NaÌmanides (together with Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra) is one of the four medieval commentators whose works are consulted systematically throughout the Beˆur, and also because Mendelssohn’s own interpretation will be closer to NaÌmanides’ than to Maimonides’. NaÌmanides had interpreted ‘knowledge of good and evil’ as referring to the will (raÒon), that is, the ability to choose good or evil.2 The Hebrew term da¨at, which underlies the term ‘knowledge’ in ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’, is understood by him to mean ‘will’. The fruit of the tree gives one the ability to choose. The ability to choose is, according to him, a divine attribute, as proved by Genesis 3:5, ‘ye shall be as God knowing [i.e., choosing between] good and evil’, and by Genesis 3:22, ‘And the Lord God said: Behold, man has become as one of us to know [i.e., to
1 Îummash

Netivot shalom, containing the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, the Aramaic Targum of Onqelos, the Commentary by Rashi, the German translation by Moses Mendelssohn, and a Hebrew commentary (= Beˆur) edited by Mendelssohn (Berlin 1783), on Genesis 2:9, s.v. ve-¨eÒ ha-da¨at †ov vara¨. The commentary on the pericope of Bereshit (Gen. 1:1–6:8) was written chiefly by Mendelssohn. The first part of the commentary on Genesis 2:9 may have been written by Solomon Dubno, not Mendelssohn, or by Dubno and Mendelssohn together; the second part (preceded by the comment: ‘But I shall inform you of the opinion of the German translator [i.e., Mendelssohn] on the solution of [the problems], and these are his words’) was obviously written by Mendelssohn. In my discussion, I treat the first part as having been written by Mendelssohn; for if he did not author or co-author it, he edited it. 2 See Rabbi Moses ben NaÌman (NaÌmanides), Perush ha-Ramban ¨al ha-torah, ed. Îayyim B. Chavel (Jerusalem, 1962), pp. 35–37; English translation by Chavel, Commentary on the Torah (New York, 1971), pp. 71–3.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Warren Zev HarveyAcademy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Royal Netherlands


choose between] good and evil’. While the ability to choose is, according to NaÌmanides, a divine attribute, it is in his analysis disastrous in human beings, who are unable to control their lusts. Adam and Eve, according to him, engaged in sex in the Garden of Eden before their sin, but did so with no sexual desire. They acted by the necessity of nature, in the unchanging manner of the motions of the heavenly bodies, and felt no lust. This, he suggests, is the sense of Ecclesiastes 7:29: ‘God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions’. There is only one right path that accords with human nature, but human beings, using their will, invent many wrong ones. Mendelssohn introduces his presentation of Maimonides’ interpretation by remarking on its similarity to NaÌmanides’ interpretation: ‘Near to this is the opinion of Maimonides, but according to him good and evil [†ov and ra¨] are the same as beautiful and ugly [naˆeh and megunneh], and are not in his view intelligibilia, but generally accepted opinions [mefursamot]’.3 The view held by Maimonides that ‘with regard to what is of necessity’ there is no good and evil but only true and false is branded by Mendelssohn as Aristotelian.4 Knowledge of good and evil, Maimonides had taught, is not divine, but represents the rejection of divine knowledge, which is that of true and false, i.e., the intelligibilia. In order to maintain that knowledge of good and evil is not divine, Maimonides had to explain the two difficult biblical texts that seem to attribute the knowledge of good and evil to God: ‘Ye shall be as God [elohim] knowing good and evil’ (Gen. 3:5) and ‘Behold, man has become one of us [mimmenu] to know good and evil’ (Gen. 3:22). He is able to neutralize both texts by reading them in accordance with the Aramaic translation of Onqelos. Since the Hebrew word elohim may mean ‘rulers’ as well as ‘God’, he understands the first text: ‘Ye shall be as rulers knowing good and evil’. Since the Hebrew word mimmenu may mean ‘of him’ (third person singular) as well as ‘of us’ (first person plural), he understands the second text: ‘Behold, man has become unique, of himself he knows good and evil’. Mendelssohn, who was far more committed to the literal exegesis of Scripture than was Maimonides, considers these interpretations far-fetched.5 Furthermore, Mendelssohn rejects Maimonides’ interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil on the grounds of ethics, since in his judgement moral rules about good and evil are indeed intelligibilia, and do not have the same epistemological status as aesthetic propositions (‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’), which are not intelligibilia. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’, writes Mendelssohn in criticism of Maimonides, are not synonyms of ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, for they are said ‘with regard to the intellect’ (beÌinat ha-sekhel), while ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ are said ‘with regard to the senses’
3 See Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago, 1963), pp. 23–6. Mendelssohn and Maimon used Samuel Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew translation (available in many editions). 4 In fact, Maimonides’ view is original, although it has partial antecedents in the Aristotelian literature. See Pines, ‘Truth and Falsehood versus Good and Evil’, in Studies in Maimonides, ed. Isadore Twersky (Cambridge, MA, 1991), pp. 95–157. 5  Maimonides interprets Genesis 3:5 in Guide, I, 2, p. 23. He interprets 3:22 in his commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to Avot (= Eight Chapters), chap. 8, and in his Mishneh Torah, Book of Knowledge, Hilkhot Teshuvah 5:1. Mendelssohn discusses Onqelos’ translation at length in the Beˆur on Genesis 3:22, s.v. Vay-yomer Ha-Shem Elohim. Cf. my ‘Maimonides on Genesis 3:22’ (Hebrew), Da¨at 12 (1984): 15–22.


Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge

(beÌinat ha-Ìushim). Like Cicero, Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, Thomas Aquinas, and Kant, but unlike Maimonides, Mendelssohn held that ethical rules are rational or natural laws. For Maimonides, the ethical and the aesthetic are epistemologically equal; for Mendelssohn, the beginning of vice is precisely in the confusion of ethics and the aesthetics, and the consequent relativization of ethics. A true Aufklärer, Mendelssohn considers Maimonides’ equation of the ethical and the aesthetic to be profoundly subversive. He prefers NaÌmanides’ interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though his own views on human excellence are much closer to those of the Philosopher from Cordoba than to those of the kabbalist from Girona. The observation made by Mendelssohn concerning the similarity of Maimonides’ and NaÌmanides’ interpretations is astute. NaÌmanides, as Mendelssohn perceived, built his interpretation on that of Maimonides. The main point of similarity Mendelssohn evidently had in mind concerns human choice. According to both Maimonides and NaÌmanides, Adam did not have ‘choice’ until he ate of the forbidden fruit. For Maimonides, this means merely that the purely rational person, like Adam in his original state, has no choice, for reason limits us to that which is true. If I am purely rational, I have no choice as to the sum of 3 + 4, and am coerced to answer 7; but if I am not purely rational, I have countless choices. For Maimonides, the proposition that Adam had no choice before he ate of the forbidden fruit is solely epistemological and has nothing to do with the problem of physical determinism. For NaÌmanides, however, the proposition that Adam did not have choice before his sin explicitly concerns physical action. Upon eating the forbidden fruit, Adam’s nature changed: before eating it, he had acted without will or desire; after eating it, he acted with will and desire. In effect, NaÌmanides turned Maimonides’ epistemological proposition into a mythical one. Mendelssohn prefers NaÌmanides’ interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to Maimonides’ interpretation. However, he modifies NaÌmanides’ interpretation significantly. He cannot accept NaÌmanides’ view that Adam and Eve did not have desire or free choice when they engaged in sex before having eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He cannot accept the implication that sexual desire is bad or sinful. He does not describe NaÌmanides’ view as ‘Christian’ or ‘Augustinian’, but he must have been aware that the view that Adam did not have libido until he sinned is Augustinian. Pines has in fact argued convincingly that NaÌmanides was influenced by Augustine not only with regard to the view that Adam did not have libido until he sinned, but also with regard to the view that knowledge of good and evil is positive in God but negative in human beings.6 As we shall see, Mendelssohn modifies NaÌmanides’ interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in accordance with an essentially Platonic doctrine, which he has borrowed from the Kuzari of Rabbi Judah Halevi (before 1075–1141). His own interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil may thus be understood as a Halevian reading of NaÌmanides’ variation on Maimonides’ interpreta6

 See Pines, ‘Truth and Falsehood’, pp. 155–7; idem, ‘NaÌmanides on Adam in the Garden of Eden’ (Hebrew), Galut aÌar Golah (Jerusalem, 1988), pp. 159–64.

Warren Zev Harvey


tion. Alternatively, it may be understood as a Platonization of an Augustinian variation on an Aristotelian interpretation. In Mendelssohn’s view, the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil did not create in Adam the faculty of desire, but it increased that faculty. It thus brought about the disruption of the harmonic balance between the faculty of reason (koaÌ ha-sekhel or koaÌ ha-hassagah) and the faculty of desire (koaÌ hateshuqah), which harmony is a prerequisite for the attainment of the noble virtues. The forbidden fruit increased the power of the faculty of desire, thus destroying the equilibrium between it and the faculty of reason. Having eaten of the forbidden fruit, human beings devoted themselves to material luxuries and sensual pleasures, and forsook the noble virtues. The preponderance of the faculty of desire over the faculty of reason is ‘the cause of all sin and rebellion in the human being’ [hiˆ sibbat kol Ìe†ˆ ve-khol meri ba-adam]. Mendelssohn’s theory about the harmonic balance between the faculties of reason and desire was borrowed from Rabbi Judah Halevi’s Kuzari, although Halevi is not mentioned by him here. Influenced directly or indirectly by Plato’s Republic, IV, 439d–443e, Halevi had argued in Kuzari, II, 50, that the Law of Moses aims to achieve a just equilibrium between all the faculties of the soul, giving each its due, in neither excess nor deficiency: ‘for an excess in one faculty causes a deficiency in another faculty, and one who inclines toward the faculty of desire (koaÌ ha-taˆavah) causes a deficiency in the faculty of reason (koaÌ ha-maÌashavah), and the converse.’ In his Commentary on the Kuzari, ad loc., Mendelssohn’s onetime teacher, Rabbi Israel Zamosc (c. 1700–1772), remarks that God has fixed the proper equilibrium (gevul ha-shaveh) between the faculties. Mendelssohn similarly writes in his explanation of the Tree of Knowledge that God has fixed the proper equilibrium (yaÌas ha-shivvui) between the faculties. This is an example of a case in which Mendelssohn’s mature philosophic position reflects his formative study of the Kuzari with Zamosc.7 As already mentioned, Mendelssohn rejects NaÌmanides’ view that before Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they engaged in sex without desire. He cannot accept the Augustinian implication that sexual desire is bad or sinful. In his view, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden experienced sexual desire and enjoyed sex. When sexual desire is properly balanced, Mendelssohn affirms, ‘it is not a reproach [genut] or a disgrace [Ìerpah] to a human being, as some scholars [meÌaqqerim] have thought’. On the contrary, it is a thing of beauty for the human being (ve-hiˆ lo le-tifˆeret). Mendelssohn’s comments here manifestly reflect those of Pseudo-NaÌmanides in his popular kabbalistic treatise Iggeret ha-qodesh, who argued that sex is ‘holy and pure’, and attacked Aristotle and Maimonides for holding that it is a reproach (genut)
7 Judah Halevi, Kuzari, Hebrew translation by Judah Ibn Tibbon, with the commentaries Qol Yehudah by Judah Moscato and OÒar neÌmad by Israel Zamosc (Warsaw, 1880), p. 57b. During his early years in Berlin, Mendelssohn, then in his mid-teens, studied philosophy under Zamosc, and transcribed a copy of his commentary on the Kuzari. See Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn (Philadelphia, 1973), pp. 21–3, 25, 346. One might think it odd that the German Socrates, celebrated author of the Phaedon, who read Plato in the Greek original, should have absorbed this Platonic doctrine through an intermediary, but Mendelssohn had read Judah Halevi in Hebrew years before he read Plato in any language.


Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge

or disgrace (Ìerpah).8 His use of the term ‘beauty’ (tifˆeret) alludes to a mystical secret, found later in the same passage of this kabbalistic treatise, according to which the male partner in the sex act is like the divine sefirah of Tifˆeret and the female like the divine sefirah of Malkhut.9 Mendelssohn thus sides with Pseudo-NaÌmanides against NaÌmanides. If he accepted Iggeret ha-qodesh as an authentic work of NaÌmanides, he would have seen himself as arguing with NaÌmanides against NaÌmanides. According to Mendelssohn’s interpretation, Adam and Eve, before they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, enjoyed properly balanced sex, but after they ate of it their sexual desire exceeded its proper bounds. Such powerful desire is appropriate for God or angels, but causes problems for us human beings, because our faculty of reason is not sufficiently powerful to control such mighty and glorious divine lusts. Whereas Augustine and NaÌmanides had spoken about the generation of desire after the sin, Mendelssohn speaks about the generation of an overpowering or disproportionate desire after the sin. Desires and lusts, insists Mendelssohn against NaÌmanides (and Augustine) are in themselves vital and positive. Without them human beings would never be moved to great deeds. He quotes the Talmudic dictum: ‘whoever is greater than his fellow has a greater desire [yeÒer] than he’ (B Sukkah 52a). Similarly, the angels on high, who have puissant intellects, have equally puissant desires to match. Thus, Mendelssohn, with the help of Judah Halevi, Platonized NaÌmanides’ Augustinian version of Maimonides’ Aristotelian interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Maimonides’ Adam and Eve, before their sin, were purely intellectual; NaÌmanides’ Adam and Eve, before their sin, were purely desireless; and Mendelssohn’s Adam and Eve, before their sin, enjoyed a perfect equilibrium between reason and desire. Maimon Solomon Maimon discusses the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Giv¨at hamoreh, his Hebrew commentary on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, when com The Holy Letter, ed. and trans. Seymour J. Cohen (New York 1976), chap. 2, pp. 40–9. Current scholarship tends to ascribe the treatise to the circle of Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla (1248–c. 1325). Cf. chap. 5, pp. 110–11, where the philosophers are called Ìakhmei ha-meÌqar (‘sages of inquiry’), with Mendelssohn’s use of the term meÌaqqerim (‘inquirers’). 9  Ibid., chap. 2, pp. 58–59. The text (not translated literally by Cohen) reads: ‘The conjoining of a man to his wife, if he is worthy, is the image of the coitus of heaven and earth’. On ‘heaven’ as Tifˆeret and ‘earth’ as Malkhut, see Moshe Idel, ‘Sexual Metaphors and Praxis in the Kabbalah’, in David Kraemer, ed., The Jewish Family (Oxford, 1989), pp. 211, 220–1. This doctrine of human and celestial tifˆeret is echoed in the continuation of the passage in the Beˆur, where Mendelssohn asserts that the immense desire of the ‘angels on high’ (malˆakhei ma¨alah) or the ‘high ones’ (ha-¨elyonim) is their tifˆeret. On Mendelssohn’s penchant for Kabbalah (particularly NaÌmanides and Gikatilla), see Rivka Horwitz, ‘Moses Mendelssohns Interpretation des Tetragrammaton: Der Ewige’, Judaica 55 (1999): 2–19, 132– 52; eadem, ‘Kabbalah in the Writings of Mendelssohn and the Berlin Circle of Maskilim’, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 45 (2000), pp. 3–24; eadem, Yahadut rabbat panim (Beersheba, 2002), pp. 11–74 (= the Hebrew originals of the two essays). Cf. Andreas Kilcher, Die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala als ästhetisches Paradigma (Stuttgart, 1998).

Warren Zev Harvey


menting on Maimonides’ interpretation of it in Guide, I, 2. He expands on the topic of good and evil in his comments on I, 15.10 Closely following Maimonides, Maimon agrees with him that the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represented the rejection of Reason. He still fairly explicates Maimonides when he writes that the human being, having eaten of the forbidden fruit, no longer used Reason to determine the final end of life, but used it only to determine various means to achieve irrational ends. The generally accepted opinions, which Maimonides had identified with moral rules, are identified by Maimon with ‘things that are not good or bad in themselves’. Thus, reason for a human being is good in itself, since it makes a human being a human being. However, food, sex, money, and honour, for example, are not good or bad in themselves for a human being, but only good or bad as means to achieve the true human end, which is reason. In other words, they are only relatively good and bad for a human being.11 Maimon explains that it is the imagination that confuses the means with the end. Knowledge of the relative or imaginary ‘good and evil’ thus comes to replace the knowledge of the natural or rational good and evil. Maimon makes a statement regarding the relationship of the relative good to the natural good that is analogous to Mendelssohn’s statement about reason and desire: ‘upon the increase in the perception of the accidental and imaginary relationship [between means and ends], there follows a weakening in the perception of the natural and rational relationship [between means and ends]’. The more one becomes obsessed with the means, the less one can perceive the end. The more reason is employed in attaining means, the less it can be employed in attaining the true end, the natural good. This is what Ecclesiastes meant when he said: ‘He that loveth silver shall not be sated of silver’ (5:9).12 This explication by Maimon of Maimonides’ position is accurate and perceptive as far as it goes. However, it omits a basic proposition in Maimonides’ interpretation. Maimon explicates Maimonides’ discussion of the ‘generally accepted opinions’ without mentioning Maimonides’ view that these generally accepted opinions are the moral rules, including not only the moral rule that one should not appear naked in public (Gen. 3:7), but also the moral rules found in the Ten Commandments, such as ‘Thou shalt not murder’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; cf. Guide, II, 33). When Maimonides, in Guide, I, 2, says that Adam was able to be commanded by God because he was created in ‘the image of God’ (Gen. 1:26–27), that is, having pure reason, Maimon adds, in a splendid example of the genre of ‘subversive commentary’ discussed by Gad Freudenthal: ‘and for the sake of his intellect God also
Maimon, Giv¨at ha-moreh, ed. Samuel Hugo Bergman and Nathan Rotenstreich (Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 35–8, 48–51. The work as known today covers only Part I of the Guide, although it originally may have covered the entire book. The cited passages are analyzed by Pines in ‘Truth and Falsehood’, pp. 146–50. 11 Giv¨at ha-moreh, pp. 35–6. 12 Ibid., p. 37. Cf. I, 73, premise 10, note, pp. 140–9: Maimon states (pp. 142–3) that the intellect knows things in themselves (noumena), whereas the imagination knows only the appearances of things (phenomena); it thus follows that the imagination cannot know the true ends of things, but only apparent ends or ‘relative good and evil’.
10 Solomon


Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge

commanded him, “He who spilleth the blood of man, by man his blood shall be spilt, for in the image of God made He man” [Gen. 9:6]’.13 While Maimonides had held that the moral rule against murder was merely a ‘generally accepted opinion’, Maimon, like Mendelssohn – and Cicero, Saadia, Halevi, Aquinas, and Kant – holds that the moral rule against murder is indeed rational. Moreover, he holds that Maimonides held that it is rational! After all, Genesis 9:6 seems prima facie to force such a position on him.14 This is subversive exegesis at its best. Like Mendelssohn, Maimon cannot accept Maimonides’ proposition that the moral rules are not intelligibilia but merely generally accepted opinions. However, whereas Mendelssohn had explicitly criticized Maimonides’ proposition, and rejected it, Maimon interprets Maimonides’ proposition out of existence, and affirms its contrary! Maimon, however, goes further. In his Commentary to Guide, I, 15, he argues that the propositions of ethics are founded on Reason more than are those of natural science: the former are a priori, the latter a posteriori. Moral rules are universal propositions, known directly by Reason. They are not empirical propositions deduced from the accidents of life. The propositions of natural science, however, are empirical, based on observation and experiments. Thus, the propositions of ethics are more rational and more certain than those of natural science.15 Maimon is here clearly influenced by Kant.16 He is also attributing to Maimonides a position contrary to that set down in the Guide: for in the Guide Maimonides cites propositions of natural science as examples of intelligibilia, and ethical rules as examples of generally accepted opinions.17 For Maimon, the beginning of vice is in the confusion of a priori ethical reasoning with the a posteriori reasoning of the empirical sciences. This leads to a relativism in ethics. Maimon’s remarks about the confusion between ethical propositions and scientific propositions are similar to Mendelssohn’s remarks about the confusion between ethical propositions and aesthetic propositions. As Mendelssohn was concerned to give ethics epistemological priority over aesthetics, Maimon was concerned to give it epistemological priority over natural science. Mendelssohn and Maimon were both fascinated by Maimonides’ discussion of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but neither could accept his view that the rules of ethics are no more than generally accepted opinions. Both considered this view morally subversive, but for different reasons. In seeing where Mendelssohn and Maimon differed from their medieval Master, we may better understand their own respective philosophies.
13 Ibid., 14

p. 35. Cf. Maimonides, Guide, p. 24. See Freudenthal’s essay in this volume, pp. 25–67.  Maimonides does not discuss this verse in the Guide. He quotes it in Mishneh Torah, Book of Torts, Hilkhot RoÒeaÌ 2:3, omitting the part about the ‘image of God’. It may be surmised that if he had to interpret the verse, he would hold that the ‘image of God’ justifies not the law against murder, but the function of the judge. Cf. Rabbi Joseph Bekhor Shor, Perush ha-Torah, ed. Y. Nevo (Jerusalem, 1994), ad loc., p. 21, s.v. ki be-Òelem. 15 Giv¨at ha-moreh, pp. 51–2. Cf. Pines, ‘Truth and Falsehood’, pp. 147–9. 16  See ibid., p. 150. 17 See Guide, I, 2, pp. 24–25. Cf. Pines, ‘Truth and Falsehood’, p. 149.

Warren Zev Harvey


A Final Historicistic Note In our own era of pragmatism, existentialism, logical positivism, deconstructionism, and now postmodernism, most of us would probably agree with Maimonides that moral rules are not intelligibilia, but merely conventions or opinions. Mendelssohn and Maimon were two completely different kinds of philosophers, but both represented the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Both disagreed with Maimonides and with most of us. In trying to understand why they rejected Maimonides’ position, we perhaps can also understand why they disagree with most of us, and why the rationality of ethics was so important to them. And this may teach us something significant about what it meant to be a Jewish philosopher of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.


Mendelssohn and Maimon on the Tree of Knowledge

Carlos Fraenkel

Maimonides, Spinoza, Solomon Maimon, and the Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

In a note on an article of the German scholar Herr Obereit, Maimon describes the philosophical project underlying his famous Essay on Transcendental Philosophy (1790) as a ‘Salto mortale’ consisting in the attempt ‘to unify Kantian philosophy with Spinozism [die Vereinigung der Kantischen Philosophie mit dem Spinozismo]’ (III, 455, note).1 In light of this statement it is at first view surprising that in the only reference to Spinoza in the Essay itself (II, 365), Maimon emphasizes that Spinoza is not the source of his argument. The thesis for which I will argue in this paper is that, notwithstanding the disclaimer, Maimon’s springboard for this Salto mortale is to a large extent built on a Spinozist interpretation of the medieval Jewish Aristotelian Maimonides. I suggest characterizing Maimon’s philosophical project in the Essay as the completion of Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy with the purpose of solving the problems that in his view haunted Kant’s theory of knowledge.2 Maimon’s solution in nuce consists in positing cognitive activity as the source of both form and matter of the object of cognition, unlike Kant, for whom cognitive activity is the source only of the object’s form. Since the key concept in this solution is the metaphysical doctrine of the ‘infinite intellect’,3 my focus will be on clarifying how this doctrine is related to Maimonides’ doctrine of the divine intellect on the one hand, and to Spinoza’s doctrine of Deus sive Natura on the other. My contention is that Maimon’s doctrine of the infinite intellect is the result of the transformation of Maimonides’ doctrine of the divine intellect on the basis of Spinoza’s doctrine of Deus sive Natura. I would like to emphasize from the outset that my interest is primarily historical. I will not discuss systematically, or attempt to evaluate Maimon’s interpretation and critical transformation of Maimonides, Spinoza, and Kant. The paper is subdivided into three parts. The first part provides a brief account of Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy, then discusses Maimon’s critical assessment of it, as well as his solution for what he believed to be its inherent prob1 I quote Maimon according to Solomon Maimon, Gesammelte Werke, ed. Valerio Verra (Hildesheim, 1965). The Roman numerals refer to the volume, the Arabic numerals to the page of this edition. 2 For a good account of Maimon’s general philosophical project based on a careful study of the primary texts, see Achim Engstler, Untersuchungen zum Idealismus Salomon Maimons (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 1990). 3  In Maimon’s German writings, ‘unendlicher Verstand’; in his commentary on the Guide, ‘‫שכל בלתי‬ ‫ .’בעל תכלית‬For the central role of this doctrine in Maimon’s thought, see ibid., pp. 143–65.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz CarlosNetherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Royal Fraenkel


lems. The second part discusses how Maimon presents his relationship to Maimonides, and then examines in detail how his doctrine of the ‘infinite intellect’ is related to Maimonides’ doctrine of the divine intellect. The third part explains how Maimon used Spinoza’s doctrine of Deus sive Natura in order to transform Maimonides’ doctrine of the divine intellect, who is only the formal cause of the world, into his doctrine of the ‘infinite intellect’, who is both the formal and the material cause of the world. The impact of Maimonides and Spinoza on Maimon has been the object of a considerable amount of scholarship.4 To the best of my knowledge, however, there is neither a plausible account of Maimon’s use of Maimonides’ doctrine of the divine intellect,5 nor any account of how Maimon transformed it in the light of Spinoza’s concept of Deus sive Natura.6 Though the pieces of the puzzle have been known for
 On Maimon and Maimonides, see: Curt Rosenbaum, Die Philosophie Salomon Maimons in seinem hebräischen Kommentar gibath-hammoreh zum moreh-nebuchim des Maimonides, Diss., Gießen, 1928; Samuel Atlas, ‘Solomon Maimon’s Treatment of the Problem of Antinomies and its Relation to Maimonides’, in Hebrew Union College Annual 21 (1948): 105–53; idem, ‘Maimon and Maimonides’, Hebrew Union College Annual 23 (1950/1951): 517–47; Samuel Hugo Bergman, The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon, trans. Noah J. Jacobs (Jerusalem, 1967), esp. ch. 10, ‘Maimonides and Maimon’; David Lachterman, ‘Mathematical Construction, Symbolic Cognition and the Infinite Intellect: Reflections on Maimon and Maimonides’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 30(4) (1992): 497–522; Maurice Ruben Hayoun, ‘Introduction’, in Commentaires de Maïmonide, ed. and trans. into French by idem (Paris, 1999), pp. 7–55. [The introduction is identical to two articles by Hayoun: ‘Publications récentes sur Salomon Maïmon’, Revue des études juives 156(3–4) (1997); ‘Salomon Maimon, Moïse Maimonide et Kant’, in La philosophie allemande dans la pensée juive, ed. Gerard Bensussan (Paris, 1997).] On Maimon and Spinoza, see: Samuel Atlas, ‘Solomon Maimon and Spinoza’, Hebrew Union College Annual 30 (1959): 233–85; Bergman, The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon, esp. ch. 11, ‘Spinoza and Maimon’; Sylvain Zac, ‘Maimon, Spinoza et Kant’, in Spinoza entre Lumières et Romantisme. Les Cahiers de Fontenay 36 (1985): 65–75; Achim Engstler, ‘Salomon Maimons Versuch einer “Vereinigung der Kantischen Philosophie mit dem Spinozismo” ’, in Die Goldene Regel der Kritik: Festschrift für Hans Radermacher zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Harald Holz (Bern, Frankfurt a. M. etc., 1990), pp. 39–54; Achim Engstler, ‘Zwischen Kabbala und Kant. Salomon Maimons “streifende” Spinoza-Rezeption’, in Spinoza in der europäischen Geistesgeschichte, ed. H. Delf, Julius Schoeps, and Manfred Walther (Berlin, 1994), pp. 162–92. See also Samuel Atlas, From Critical to Speculative Idealism: The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon (The Hague, 1964), considerable parts of which are based on his studies, cited above, of the influence on Maimon of both Maimonides and Spinoza. 5 That Maimon’s doctrine of the infinite intellect is in some way related to Maimonides’ doctrine of the divine intellect is obvious, because Maimon explicitly links the two in Giv¨at ha-moreh, his Hebrew commentary on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed. The question, therefore, is not if the two doctrines are related, but how. In their attempt to answer this question, even scholars like Samuel Atlas and Samuel Hugo Bergman, who emphasized the importance of Maimonides’ influence on Maimon, are rather vague. Typical of this vagueness is Atlas’s remark about Maimon’s commentary on a passage in Guide I, 1, in an article supposed to elucidate the ‘historical relations’ of Maimon’s doctrine of the infinite intellect: ‘The very fact that Maimon introduces the concept of infinite reason in his commentary on that chapter in the Guide which deals with the relation of human and divine reason seems to indicate that the original impulse behind the development of this concept in his thought came to him through the influence of Maimonides. Although, in this instance, he read into Maimonides more than the passage actually warrants, he did so because of his recognition of the general similarity between his own and Maimonides’ thought’. Having stated this ‘general similarity’ between Maimonides and Maimon, Atlas immediately turns to Leibniz: ‘In order to understand Maimon’s point of view and the basis of his whole philosophy, we have to go back to Leibniz’. See Samuel Atlas, ‘Solomon Maimon’s Doctrine of Infinite Reason and its Historical Relations’, Journal of the History of Ideas 13 (1952): 168–87. Cf. Atlas, From Critical to Speculative Idealism, pp. 76–7. 6 The only article dealing with all three thinkers is not relevant to the topic of the present paper: Samuel Atlas, ‘Moses in the Philosophy of Maimonides, Spinoza, and Solomon Maimon’, Hebrew Union College Annual 25 (1954): 369–400. Bergman, commenting on Maimon’s cryptic remark about Guide I,


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

some time, they have never been put together according to what I think is the correct solution. 1. Kant’s Incomplete ‘Copernican Revolution’ in Philosophy In Kant’s view the task of metaphysics, to cognize the world from a priori concepts, can only be carried out if we inverse our understanding of the process of cognition. Through this inversion Kant thought to have accomplished a philosophical revolution similar to Copernicus’ revolution in astronomy. In the Critique of Pure Reason he writes:
Hitherto it has been assumed that all of our cognition [Erkenntnis] must conform to the objects [müsse sich nach den Gegenständen richten]; but on this assumption all attempts to establish anything about them a priori by means of concepts [Begriffe], through which our cognition would be extended, ended in failure [gingen zunichte]. One ought to try, therefore, whether we will not make more progress concerning the tasks of metaphysics, if we assume that the objects have to conform to our cognition; this would already agree better with the required possibility of their cognition a priori which should state something about objects, before they are given to us. It is with this matter the same as with the idea of Copernicus who, since he did not get very far in the explanation of the celestial motions on the assumption that the host of stars revolved around the spectator, tried whether he would not succeed better, if he let the spectator turn around, whereas the stars remained at rest.7

Kant agrees with the empiricist thesis that we cannot derive certain knowledge about the world – i.e., knowledge expressed in judgements characterized by ‘necessity and strict universality’8 – from experience (in Kant’s technical terminology: from a posteriori synthetic judgements). From the repeated observation that a stone is heated by fire,9 we cannot infer that this is a necessary causal relation (or that the physical laws governing the process necessarily produce the observed effect). All we can say is that a stone is customarily heated by fire.10 Certain knowledge, for Kant, must be a priori, i.e., derived from concepts of pure cognition where ‘pure’ means ‘independent of empirical experience’.11 The philosophical tradition, however, knew of only one kind of a priori knowledge: knowledge derived from ‘analytic judgements’. But analytic judgements do not extend the scope of our knowledge; they only ‘clarify [erläutern]’ the elements entailed by a concept we already know.12 Through analysis we will never reach the conclusion that a stone is necessarily heated by fire for the concept ‘stone’ does not entail ‘to be heated by fire’, nor does the concept ‘fire’ entail the concept ‘to heat stones’. Thus the dilemma: a posteriori
68, which I will discuss in detail below, briefly alluded to the possibility of Maimon’s Spinozist understanding of Maimonides. See Bergman, The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon, p. 34. Bergman’s note, however, falls more than short of an explanation of the connection. 7 Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B xvi [henceforth KrV]. 8  Ibid., B 4. 9 This is one of Maimon’s examples to illustrate the category of causality. Cf. II, 72. 10  Cf. Kant’s account of David Hume’s skepticism in KrV, B 792–795. As an example of a causal relation Kant uses in this passage a piece of wax being melted by the sun.

Carlos Fraenkel


synthetic judgements extend the scope of our knowledge but are not certain; a priori analytic judgements are certain but do not extend the scope of our knowledge. If, then, we assume that all our knowledge is determined through the objects of cognition, there simply would be no concepts of pure cognition. This would lead to a sceptical position concerning the possibility of certain knowledge, which Kant wishes to avoid. Now it is for Kant a fact that we possess a priori cognitions that are not analytic but synthetic, and, therefore, extend the scope of our knowledge.13 Thus the question for him is not if such cognitions are possible, but how.14 Since they cannot be derived from experience, Kant suggests inverting our assumption about the process of cognition. Our concepts are not determined by the objects of cognition; rather, the objects of cognition are determined through our cognitive activity. The forms of ‘intuition [Anschauung]’ and of ‘understanding [Verstand]’ constitute the structure of nature as we perceive it.15 Being a priori they are necessary and universal. It is this inversion which Kant compares to Copernicus’ inversion of the position of the earth in relation to the stars. If our cognitive activity constructs, as it were, the world that we experience, the examination of the forms of our cognitive activity will provide us with certain knowledge about the structure of this world. Transcendental philosophy, therefore, deals not with objects but with our ‘mode of cognition [Erkenntnisart] of objects insofar as it is possible a priori’.16 ** In Maimon’s view, however, Kant’s revolutionary elan was not sufficient for more than halfway to the goal.17 ‘Between the forms and the matter’ of the object of cognition he identified a ‘gap [Lücke]’ (II, 521) in his system: Our cognitive activity (i.e., the forms of intuition and understanding) determines only the form but not the matter of the object of cognition. Our senses receive its matter by being affected through a reality existing independently of our cognition: Kant’s so-called ‘thing in itself [Ding an sich]’.18 This Ding an sich, for Kant, remains ‘completely unknown to us [bleibt
ibid., A 11.  Cf. Kant’s account of the ‘difference between analytic and synthetic judgements’, ibid., B 10 ff. 13 Cf. ibid., B 14–8. 14  This is the central question of the KrV. See B 19. 15 Cf. Kant’s interpretation of the method of natural science: ‘Reason only cognizes that [in nature] which it itself produced according to its plan’ (ibid., B xiii). For the forms of intuition, see the first part, for the forms of understanding, the second part of the ‘Transcendental Doctrine of Elements [Transzendentale Elementarlehre]’. 16 Ibid., B 25. 17  Maimon directly addresses Kant’s analogy between his revolution in philosophy and the Copernican revolution in astronomy in his late work, Kritische Untersuchungen über den menschlichen Geist (1797). His analysis of the difference between Ptolemaic and Copernican astronomy and analogous epistemological distinctions is, however, not relevant for this paper. On the passage in question, see C. Katzoff, ‘Solomon Maimon’s Interpretation of Kant’s Copernican Revolution’, Kant-Studien 66 (1975): 342–56. 18  Cf. KrV, B 29, where Kant speaks of ‘two sources [zwei Stämme] of human cognition, which perhaps derive from a common root [gemeinschaftliche Wurzel] that is, however, unknown to us, namely sensibility and understanding [Sinnlichkeit und Verstand], through the first of which the objects are given to us, whereas through the second they are apprehended [gedacht]’. Cf. ibid., B 33–4 and B 74–6. Cf. also
12 11 Cf.


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

uns gänzlich unbekannt]’.19 According to Maimon, Kant’s dualistic account of cognition leads to a number of problems. The most prominent among them is the ‘important problem … quid juris?’, which Maimon considered to be the crucial concern of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and which prompted him to write his exposition and critical examination of the Critique in the Essay on Transcendental Philosophy. In the summary of the Essay’s genesis and content given in the Autobiography Maimon states that in it ‘the important problem [das wichtige Problem], with the solution of which the Critique is concerned: quid juris? is elaborated in a much wider sense than Mr. Kant takes it’ (I, 558). According to the Essay itself, the ‘question quid juris’ is not only Kant’s concern; it is ‘the important question, which all philosophers always [seit jeher] dealt with, namely the explanation of the community [Gemeinschaft] of soul and body’ (II, 62). In Kantian terms soul and body become form and matter of the object of cognition: ‘the forms … which must be in us a priori’, and the ‘matter, or the representation [Vorstellung] of individual objects a posteriori’ (II, 62). As a consequence the question ‘of the unification [Vereinigung] of soul and body’ can be formulated as follows:
How is it conceivable that a priori forms should correspond [übereinstimmen] to a posteriori given things [gegebenen Dingen]? (II, 63)

For a cognition to be true, ‘forms’ and ‘things’ must correspond to each other, for truth is defined as ‘correspondence between ideas and objects [Übereinstimmung der Gedanken mit den Objekten]’ (III, 182). The question quid juris, therefore, asks the philosopher to justify the application of a priori cognitive forms to a posteriori empirical objects, and the justification consists in showing how this application leads to a true cognition – that is, a cognition, in which Gedanke and Objekt correspond to each other. According to Maimon it is not possible to provide such a justification on the basis of Kant’s dualistic account of cognition. If form and matter of the cognized object derive from ‘completely different sources [ganz verschiedene Quellen]’, the problem quid juris remains ‘unsolvable [unauflöslich]’ (II, 63) – all the more so because the source of the empirical component is Kant’s mysterious Ding an sich, of which we can neither ‘demonstrate the existence’ nor ‘form any concept [gar keinen Begriff]’. It is, therefore, ‘an empty word without any meaning’ (III, 185). To solve these problems, Maimon suggests assuming cognitive activity to be the only source of our cognition. It determines not only the form, but both form and matter of the cognized object. The elements of the object’s empirical component (i.e., its matter) are, he holds, ‘intellectual ideas [Verstandesideen]’ (II, 192); ultimately, these intellectual ideas are the Ding an sich.20 The obvious objection to this solution
Kant’s account of Leibniz’s and Locke’s theories of knowledge, each of which recognized only one of the two sources of cognition, ibid., B 327. It is interesting to note that Maimon nowhere discusses Kant’s cryptic remark that the two sources of cognition ‘perhaps derive from a common root that is, however, unknown to us’. 19  Ibid., B 59–60. 20 Cf. III, 186: ‘The thing in itself is, therefore, an intellectual idea [Vernunftidee]’. These ‘intellectual ideas’ that underlie the phenomena are what Maimon elsewhere describes as ‘differentials’. The latter again he identifies with Kant’s ‘noumena’ (cf. II, 32).

Carlos Fraenkel


is that we perceive empirical objects as given and not as produced through our cognitive activity. Maimon’s reply to this objection is that empirical objects are not produced through the cognitive activity of the finite human intellect, but through the cognitive activity of God’s ‘infinite intellect [unendlicher Verstand]’, for which ‘the forms are at the same time the objects of cognition [Objekte des Denkens]’ (II, 64). We perceive the empirical objects as ‘given’, i.e., as existing independently of our cognition, because of the ‘finite [eingeschränkt]’ (II, 65) character of our intellect. From the perspective of God’s infinite intellect, however, the cognitive form is the cognized object. Since the infinite intellect ‘comprehends all possible things [alle möglichen Dinge]’ (IV, 58), the objects that we perceive as independent of our cognitive activity are ultimately God’s thoughts; and since the human intellect is ‘precisely the same [ebenderselbe]’ (II, 65) as the infinite intellect, the problem quid juris is solved: form and matter of the object of cognition are no longer heterogeneous. In the process of cognition the finite human intellect applies cognitive forms to objects, which are themselves cognitive forms in God’s infinite intellect. Given that both ideas and objects are cognitive forms, cognitions are, therefore, true since the former correspond to the latter. 2. Maimon and Maimonides At first view it will strike the reader of Maimon’s work as bizarre to find more than a quarter of his autobiography dedicated to an exposition of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed. As probably not less bizarre it will strike him to find in the commentary on the Guide (1791), in which he would have expected an exposition of Maimonides’ philosophy, mostly Maimon’s own philosophical reflections: extensive discussions of Giordano Bruno, Leibniz and Mendelssohn, and, above all, the results of his study, critique and transformation of Kant,21 published in greater detail a year earlier in the Essay on Transcendental Philosophy. In the autobiography, therefore, the surprised reader finds Maimonides; for Maimon he has to look in the commentary on the Guide. There are several possible explanations for this curious quid pro quo. One recently suggested by Y. Schwartz points to the different audiences that Maimon addressed and the corresponding different apologetic strategies that he pursued: The autobiography was written in German and aimed at a German readership. By presenting a summary of the classic work of Jewish philosophy, it sought to convince its readers that Jews had a long tradition of substantial contributions to philosophy. The commentary on the Guide was written in Hebrew and aimed at a Jewish readership. By presenting contemporary philosophy as well as his own views in the form of a commentary on an authoritative work of Jewish thought, Maimon intended to convey ideas to his readers that would not have reached them in their original setting.22

 In the preface to their edition of Giv¨at ha-moreh (Jerusalem, 1965), Bergman and Rotenstreich characterize the commentary as ‘the first Hebrew book that is a modern philosophical discussion, a discussion conducted using the concepts that were introduced in the new philosophy, in particular in Kant’s’ (p. 5). 22  I would like to thank Yosef Schwartz for sending me a draft of his still unpublished paper, ‘Causa


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

I cannot discuss Schwartz’s suggestion here in detail. I believe, however, that Maimon did not consider Maimonides’ work merely as a vehicle for either justifying Jewish philosophy, or introducing contemporary ideas to a Jewish audience. As I indicated above, in my view Maimon made substantial philosophical use of what he learned from Maimonides, in particular with regard to the doctrine at the heart of his metaphysics: the doctrine of the ‘infinite intellect’. Starting from this assumption let me give a different explanation for Maimon’s attempt to blur the line of demarcation between Maimonides and himself. When Maimon studied the Guide he did not have the impression that it comprised simply the personal views of its author. Rather, it seemed to contain ‘teachings dictated by divine wisdom [göttliche Weißheit]’ (I, 307), presented through the ‘voice of truth itself’ (I, 320). The ‘cognition of the truth’ was also the ‘main motive [Hauptbewegungsgrund]’ for Maimon’s own philosophical quest as he writes in the preface to the Essay on Transcendental Philosophy (II, 10–11). Since for Maimon the truth is immutable and eternal,23 it follows that the truth contained in the teachings of the Guide must be the same that he pursued in his philosophical quest. Moreover, when Maimon speaks of ‘divine wisdom’, his notion of the ‘infinite intellect’ is certainly in the back of his mind. After all, what is ‘divine wisdom’ if not the content of ‘God’s infinite intellect [der unendliche Verstand Gottes]’ (IV, 58)? Maimon thus must have considered Maimonides to be in some sense united to God’s infinite intellect if the latter is indeed the source of the teachings of the Guide.24 Given the central role that Maimon himself assigns to the infinite intellect, it seems safe to infer that in his view Maimonides’ and his own philosophy ultimately stem from the same source. Thus I cannot help but interpreting Maimon’s remarks on the Guide as hinting at some form of intellectual union between Sepharad and Ashkenaz, a union beyond space and time within the infinite intellect as the common source of their thought.25 Below we will see in detail how Maimon’s notion of God’s infinite intellect is related to Maimonides’ notion of the divine intellect. If for now we take this relationship for granted, the suggestion of an intellectual union appears to be consistent with
materialis: Solomon Maimon, Moses ben Maimon and the Possibility of Philosophical Transmission’. 23 Cf. I, 489. 24  This characterization of Maimonides stands in a tradition inaugurated by Samuel Ibn Tibbon, the medieval translator of the Guide from Arabic to Hebrew. In his Commentary on Ecclesiastes he describes Maimonides as the ‘true sage, the divine philosopher’ whose ‘spirit God had stirred to write very important books [‫( ’]והעיר השם את רוחו לחבר ספרים נכבדים מאד‬MS Parma Palatina 82/2 [De Rossi 272]), 5b–6a). Cf. my ‘From Maimonides to Samuel Ibn Tibbon: The Transformation of the Dalalat alhaˆirin into the Moreh ha-nevukhim’ (Hebrew), doctoral dissertation, Free University of Berlin, 2000, pp. 141–2. In a critical comment on Guide III, 18, Ibn Tibbon expresses his astonishment that a certain passage could possibly come ‘from the mouth of the Lord, the intellect of Maimonides [‫מפי הגבורה שכל‬ ‫ .’]הרב‬See my edition of the note in ibid., pp. 406–7, and its discussion, pp. 171–72. For the expression ‘‫ ’פי הגבורה‬as referring to God, see B Shabbat 88b. 25  Again the parallel to Samuel Ibn Tibbon’s description of his relationship to Maimonides is interesting to note. Cf. the discussion in Fraenkel, ‘Ibn Tibbon’, pp. 139–43. I agree, therefore, with Hayoun (Commentaires, p. 7) that the summary of the Guide in the Autobiography ‘montre que [pour Maimon] cette œuvre représentait … une partie intrinsèque de lui-même et de son existence’. I would not, however, describe Maimon as presenting himself as a ‘réincarnation en Maïmonide’; rather, Maimonides’ work is presented as a means to unite with the infinite intellect who is devoid of personal features. See below.

Carlos Fraenkel


Maimon’s interpretation of Maimonides’ doctrine of the immortality of the soul in his early Hebrew work Îesheq Shelomoh:26
You already know, from the opinion of Maimonides of blessed memory about the human soul, that it is only potentiality and preparation [‫ ,]כח והכנה‬as was the opinion of Alexander [of Aphrodisias], and the acquired intellect [‫ ]השכל הנקנה‬comes from the emanation of the active intellect [‫ ,]השכל הפועל‬through which it became a substance, and it [the active intellect] is what actualizes [the soul]. And immortality of the soul is the union of the acquired intellect with the active intellect. As a consequence, all immortal souls will be one thing in itself [‫ ,]דבר אחד בעצמו‬and this is the substance of the active intellect, since no numbering can be conceived regarding the separate [intellects] except if they are causes and effects. But what remains of Reuben is neither cause nor effect in relation to what remains of Simon. This is what can be derived from the words of [Maimonides] of blessed memory.27 (297)

The immortality of the soul is, therefore, the result of the process of perfection of the human intellect in the course of which it becomes an ‘acquired intellect’ until finally achieving union with the ‘active intellect’,28 in which all individual intellects become one and the same. It is precisely this kind of immortality which according to Maimon can be reached through the study of the Guide. In the preface to Giv¨at hamoreh he writes:
When [Maimonides’] words are explained according to what agrees with his intention, and when the passages which he of blessed memory presented in a summary fashion are elaborated, and when what was lacking in the sciences of his time has been completed by means [of the sciences] in our time – then this treatise will be found to be a treasure, containing valuable sciences and esteemed knowledge [‫]החכמות היקרות והידיעות הנכבדות‬ that guide man to [intellectual] perfection [‫ .]המדריכים את האדם לשלימותו‬And for this reason it is appropriate for us to be grateful to the Master, the author of blessed memory, who left a blessing for our life, as is now the case [cf. Deuteronomy 6:24]. (GM, 4)

The ‘life’, of which the Guide – after having been explained and scientifically updated through Giv¨at ha-moreh – becomes the source, is clearly the eternal life of the intellect achieved through intellectual perfection.29 Now, if the study of the Guide leads to intellectual perfection, and if Maimon was a student of the Guide, then, sub specie intellectus, there is no real difference between teacher and student, between
26 My translation is based on MS 8°6426, Jewish National and University Library. An edition of the text is being prepared by Gideon Freudenthal and Yitzhak Melamed. I wish to thank Melamed for sending me a copy of his transcript of parts of the manuscript. 27  Cf. Giv¨at ha-moreh on Guide I, 74, the seventh method. 28 Note that in the cosmology of medieval Aristotelians, the ‘active intellect’ is the last in a series of intellects separate from matter, of which the first is the divine intellect. For a general account of this theory in Muslim Aristotelianism, see Hebert A. Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect (New York and Oxford, 1992). For Maimonides’ version of this theory, see ibid., pp. 197–207. 29 Cf. Guide III, 27: intellectual perfection is ‘the only cause of the eternal life [‫’]החיים המתמידים‬ (p. 470). If not indicated otherwise, quotations from the Guide are based on S. Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew translation, ed. Judah Even-Shmuel (Jerusalem, 1987). Since Maimon read only Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew version of the Guide, the translation is more important for the purpose of this paper than the Arabic original.


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

Maimon, Moshe in twelfth-century Sepharad, and Maimon, Shelomoh in eighteenthcentury Ashkenaz.30 But let us leave aside these variations on an Averroistic theme. The role that the Guide played in Maimon’s intellectual biography31 is in my view sufficiently important to explain both its place in the Autobiography, and the place of Maimon’s own philosophical concerns in his commentary on the Guide. In a sense, I believe, the Guide is Maimon’s intellectual biography and his intellectual biography is a commentary on the Guide. ** Let us now turn to the result of this intellectual collaboration between Maimonides and Maimon and examine how the former’s concept of God is related to the latter’s. The central chapter, in which Maimonides describes God in terms of noÕv, i.e., in terms of the divine intellect of the Aristotelian tradition, is Guide I, 68. In this chapter Maimonides presents what the ‘philosophers concerned with divine science … have demonstrated’ regarding the nature of God. Only ‘ignoramuses’, according to Maimonides, ‘hold that the knowledge of the necessary truth concerning this [‫ידיעת‬ ‫ ]אמתת חיוב זה‬is concealed from the minds’ (140):
You already know that this saying of the philosophers with regard to God, may He be praised, is generally admitted: the saying that He is the intellect as well as the subject of intellection and the object of intellection, and that these three notions form in Him, may He be praised, one notion, in which there is no multiplicity [‫ושאלו השלשה ענינים בו ית' הם‬ ‫.]ענין אחד, הוא השכל והמשכיל והמושכל אין ריבוי בו‬

God’s unity thus consists in the identity of ‘the intellect, the subject and the object of intellection [Arabic: ‫ 23 .’]אלעקל ואלעאקל ואלמעקול‬In Giv¨at ha-moreh Maimon explains this formula first according to Kant, then according to Leibniz:
According to the opinion of the philosopher Kant, cognition [die Erkenntnis] requires two things [‫ ]יצטרכו אל ההכרה שני דברים‬that are different from one another, i.e., the inshould be mentioned in this context that, as Bergman noted, the ‘first source’ of Maimon’s own doctrine of immortality was ‘Maimonides’ teaching concerning “the acquired intellect” that man gains throughout his life on earth by the acquisition of truths’ (Bergman, The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon, p. 199). 31 In the Autobiography, he describes Maimonides’ ‘most decisive influence [entscheidendster Einfluß]’ on his intellectual development (I, 306–8). Cf. I, 455. A precise assessment of the scope of this influence remains difficult, however. In his works and essays written in German Maimon discusses Maimonides twice: in his ‘Probe Rabbinischer Philosophie’, written in 1789 (I, 589–98); and in his ‘Über das Vorhersehungsvermögen’, written in 1791 (III, 276–98). The first is a comment on a passage in Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah; the second, a discussion of the concept of prophecy as set forth in the Guide. His Hebrew works are for the most part either in manuscript or lost. Of Giv¨at hamoreh only the part on Guide I was printed in Berlin in 1791. Unfortunately, Maimon’s manuscript, which according to a remark in the Autobiography contained also the commentary on Guide II and III (cf. I, 574), is not extant. In addition, Maimon apparently had already written a commentary on the Guide before his first visit to Berlin in 1777 (cf. I, 268), and planned a new edition of the Guide together with his commentary (cf. I, 269–70). 32 Quotations from the Arabic source: Dalalat al-Ìaˆirin, ed. Salomon Munk and Issachar Joel (Jerusalem, 1931), p. 112.
30 It

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tellect (der Verstand) and the sensibility (die Sinnlichkeit) [‫ ;]השכל והחוש‬the sensibility receives (from the external object that is inaccessible to us) the matter [‫ ]חומר‬of cognition, and the intellect produces through itself the form [‫ ]צורת‬of cognition; and the cognition is the relation of the intellectual form to a particular matter. … For this reason both are necessarily required and in this way the intellect, the subject and the object of intellection will be one thing in itself [‫ ]אחד בעצמו‬only with respect to the form of cognition, when it [the form] in itself is the object of cognition (Objekt der Erkenntnis) – as I have explained. (GM, 107)

As we saw above, Kant, in Maimon’s view, assumes two ‘completely different sources’ to explain form and matter of the object of cognition. If Kant’s account is applied to Maimonides’ notion of the intellect, it follows that the unity of intellect, subject, and object of intellection is restricted to the form of the object produced and known through our cognitive activity. It is this epistemological dualism that I described above as Kant’s incomplete ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy and which, according to Maimon, leaves the problem quid juris ‘unsolvable’ making it impossible to justify the application of the form to the matter of the cognized object. The problem can be solved, however, if we assume that both form and matter of the cognized object are the product of cognitive activity. This solution Maimon presents as the Leibnizian interpretation of Maimonides’ divine intellect formula:
But according to the opinion of the philosopher Leibniz, the distinction between intellect and sensibility is not real [‫ ,]הבדל נושאיי‬but only formal [‫( ]הבדל צוריי‬ihr Unterschied ist nicht reell, sondern nur formell), and every sensible concept can be dissolved [‫ ]יותר‬into an intellectual concept, since the sensible concept is the confused intellectual concept in itself. For this reason the intellect, the subject of intellection, and the object of intellection are not only one in itself with regard to the intellectual form when posited as the object of cognition, but also with regard to the relation [‫ ]יחוס‬of the intellectual form to the object of the intellect, or the sensibility. And between the Infinite Intellect [‫השכל‬ ‫ ,]הבלתי בעל תכלית‬exalted be He, and our intellect the difference is only formal – as I have explained. This is so because the Infinite Intellect, exalted be He, produces by means of the intellectual forms the objects of these forms, which are the objects of intellection [‫ .]מוציא אל הפועל באמצעות הצורות השכלייות נושאיהם עצמם שהם המושכלות‬This possibility will become clear through the example of the objects of arithmetic, because the numbers are nothing but intellectually cognized relations, i.e., forms of intellection and their objects as a unity. But the cognition of the finite intellect necessarily distinguishes the form of apprehension from the apprehended object itself not through a substantial [‫ ]הבדל עצמיי‬but at least through a formal distinction. This is so because the form of apprehension [‫ ]צורת ההשגה‬is an intellectual relation for [the finite intellect], and the apprehended object, although in itself also an intellectual relation, is only the object of the relation for [the finite intellect], because it does not apprehend the mentioned relation clearly. (GM, 107–8)

In mathematics, therefore, ‘we are similar to God [Gott ähnlich]’ (IV, 42) as Maimon puts it in the famous phrase of his ‘On the Progress of Philosophy’ (1792). While our intellectual activity in a single act both produces and apprehends the objects of mathematics (these objects being ‘nothing but intellectually cognized relations’), the infinite intellect in a single act both produces and apprehends nature as a


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

whole. From the perspective of the finite human intellect, form and matter of the objects of mathematics are determined through and are identical to its intellectual activity. From the perspective of the infinite intellect, form and matter of all objects in nature are determined through and are identical to its intellectual activity. To quote again from ‘On the Progress of Philosophy’:
God produces the objects of nature [die Objekte der Natur] in the same way as we [produce] the objects of mathematics, namely through real thinking [durchs reelle Denken] that is through construction [Konstrukzion]. (IV, 58)

Due to its finite nature the human intellect perceives the empirical objects as ‘given’, i.e., as objects that exist independently of its cognitive activity. As a consequence, cognition and empirical object appear to the finite intellect as distinct. Since, however, the objects of cognition are God’s thoughts, and our intellectual activity is only ‘formally’ but not ‘substantially’ different from God’s intellectual activity, it follows that the intellectual activity which cognizes the empirical object is the same as the intellectual activity which takes on the shape of the object. Since intellectual activity is thus the source of both the object’s form and matter, the application of the former to the latter is justified. For Maimon, this interpretation of Maimonides’ divine intellect formula thus solves the problem posed by its Kantian interpretation. But since it is presented in the name of Leibniz, it is at first not clear whether it has anything to do with Maimonides himself. When describing the difference between the human and the divine intellect as ‘formal’, Maimon refers back to an explanation he has given previously in Giv¨at ha-moreh. In the passage, which occurs in his commentary on Guide I, 1, we not only learn what ‘formal’ in this context means; Maimon also explicitly presents his concepts of finite and infinite intellect as an interpretation of Maimonides’ explanation of the relationship between human and divine intellect. Maimonides again presents his explanation as an exegesis of the verse Genesis 1:26, in which God declares his intention to ‘make man in our image [‫,]צלם‬ after our likeness’. The Hebrew word ‘image’ [‫ ,]צלם‬according to Maimonides, refers to the ‘natural form, I mean to the notion in virtue of which a thing is constituted as a substance and becomes what it is’. With regard to human beings the natural form is ‘intellectual apprehension’: It is ‘because of the divine intellect conjoined with man that it is said of the latter that he is “in the image of God and in His likeness”’. Human beings, therefore, are said to have been created in God’s image because, in their substance, both are intellect. Maimon in his turn explains Maimonides’ exegesis as follows:
This distinction between the way of appreheding from the prior to the posterior [‫מהקודם‬ ‫ ]אל המאוחר‬or from the posterior to the prior is appropriate only for the apprehension of a finite intellect, because the being of the things does not follow upon [the finite intellect’s] apprehension [‫ ,]בלתי נמשכת אחר השגתו‬but on the contrary; that is, its apprehension follows upon the actual being of the things. But with regard to the apprehension by an infinite intellect, the two become one, because the being of things always follows upon [the infinite intellect’s] apprehension. … The infinite intellect can conceive an actually existing intellect outside itself, if it conceives itself in a limited way [‫;]בדרך מוגבל‬ in the same way the finite intellect can conceive the existence of an infinite intellect if it

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conceives itself by negation of the limitation. But because quantity does not enter into the definition of the substance [‫ ,]בגדר העצם‬the substance of the infinite intellect and of the finite intellect is one in itself, and they will only be distinguished in degree [‫.]במדרגה‬ This is the explanation of the meaning ‘in the image of God he made the human being’ according to the opinion of Maimonides, may his memory be blessed. (GM, 33–4)

Whereas for Kant a cognition results from the conjunction of a posteriori objects that affect our cognitive faculty, with a priori forms that our cognitive faculty applies to them, for Maimon this distinction is valid only with regard to the finite human intellect, which does not produce the empirical objects but finds them as existing independently of itself. With regard to God’s infinite intellect, on the other hand, the cognitive forms are the cognized objects: cognition and production are the same act. Divine intellect and human intellect are, according to Maimon, of the same substance, differing only ‘in degree’ or quantitatively: the former is unlimited, i.e., infinite in scope, whereas the latter is limited, i.e., finite in scope. It is this quantitative difference, which Maimon describes as ‘formal’ in his commentary on Guide I, 68. The last sentence of the quotation shows clearly that Maimon intends his account of the infinite intellect, the finite intellect and the relation between them to be understood as an explication of Maimonides’ account of the divine intellect, the human intellect, and the relation between them in his exegesis of Genesis 1:26. The more important question, however, is whether he is entitled to present it in this way. Let me explain why I think he is. In the commentary on Guide I, 68 Maimon introduced the notion of the infinite intellect in the context of his Leibnizian interpretation of Maimonides’ divine intellect formula. The description of God’s intellect as ‘infinite’ only tells us that its scope has no limits. It does not provide a positive account of its content. In the essay ‘On the Progress of Philosophy’ Maimon gives such an account:
In the way I conceive the system of Leibniz (and if a disciple of Leibniz does not approve it, it may be called the system of Spinoza), God’s infinite intellect comprehends all possible things [beziehet sich der unendliche Verstand Gottes auf alle möglichen Dinge] …, which are at the same time real with regard to it. (IV, 58)

The scope of the infinite intellect, therefore, extends to ‘all possible things’. Keeping this in mind, let us return to Maimonides’ account of the structure of the divine intellect in Guide I, 68. We saw that, according to Maimonides, God’s unity consists in the identity of ‘the intellect, the subject and the object of intellection’. As an example for this unity Maimonides describes the intellectual cognition of a ‘tree’33 by a human intellect. When ‘a man … has stripped’ the form of the tree ‘from its matter, and has represented to himself the pure form – this being the act of the intellect [‫פועל‬ ‫ – ]השכל‬at that time the man would become one who is intellectually cognizing in actu [‫ .’]משכיל בפועל‬In an intellect in actu there is no distinction between intellect and apprehension for ‘the true being and essence of the intellect is apprehension [‫ .’]השגה‬Maimonides contrasts this unity of an intellect in actu with the threefold na33 Hebrew:

‫ ,אילן‬Arabic: ‘‫ , כ'שבה‬which means ‘piece of wood’.


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

ture of an intellectual cognition in potentia: ‘The man … who is the intellectually cognizing subject in potentia, the potentiality that is the intellect in potentia; and the thing apt to be intellectually cognized, which is the potentially cognizable object’. In the above given example these three ‘would be …: man, hylic intellect, and the form of the tree’ (141). Maimonides describes ‘apprehension’ further as ‘the act of the intellect [Arabic: ‫ 43,’]פעל אלעקל‬and thus concludes that the act of the intellect is ‘its true reality and its substance’ (141). This ‘act of the intellect’, therefore, constitutes the unity of the intellect, the subject and the object of intellection. At first view Maimonides does not seem to go beyond what Aristotle says in Metaphysics XII, 7 and 9:35 God is intellectual cognition,36 which cognizes itself. Aristotle explicitly rules out that God can cognize an object other than himself, or pass from cognizing himself to an object other than himself.37 God only ‘thinks … himself [aütòn … noe⁄]'.38 Since God is pure ‘thinking [nójsiv]’39 his ‘thinking is thinking of thinking [nójsiv noßsewv nójsiv]’.40 To convince us that there is a way leading from Maimonides’ account of God’s knowledge to his own account of the content of the infinite intellect, Maimon would have to show that Maimonides’ God, unlike Aristotle’s, is not absorbed in eternal self-contemplation but also produces, apprehends and is identical to the tree as well as all other objects that the human intellect perceives as ‘given’, i.e., as existing independently from its cognitive activity. The example of the apprehension of a tree by a human intellect shows that, for Maimonides, the doctrine of the unity of the intellect in principle characterizes the ‘true reality of every intellect [‫ .)241( ’]בחוק כל שכל‬The distinctive feature of God’s intellect, according to Maimonides, is that in God’s intellect ‘there is absolutely no potentiality [‫אין בו כוח‬ ‫ ,)241( ’]כלל‬whereas the human intellect acquires knowledge by successively passing from potentiality to actuality. Before knowing the tree it is intellect in potentia with regard to the tree; if it acquires knowledge of the tree it becomes intellect in actu with regard to the tree, but remains intellect in potentia with regard to the table, and so forth. The claim that in God’s intellect ‘there is absolutely no potentiality’, therefore, could be understood as implying that God is intellect in actu with regard to all objects of intellectual cognition. This is precisely how Maimon understood it, as we learn from the summary of Guide I, 68 in the Autobiography:
113.  I cannot follow Lachterman, ‘Mathematical Construction’, 511 ff., in his attempt to show that a Neoplatonic rather than the Aristotelian version of the formula underlies Maimonides’ notion of the unity of the divine intellect. The former in his view is the ‘ancestor of the theme of self-knowing as selfconsciousness’ (522). I see no evidence for this thesis in Maimonides’ claim that in the divine intellect noÕv, nójsiv, and nojtón are identical. On the other hand, Lachterman misses the point, on which Maimonides indeed differs from Aristotle and which is of paramount importance for Maimon’s interpretation: the object of God’s thought (see below). In light of Maimonides’ thesis that the intellect’s ‘true reality and its substance’ is ‘the act of the intellect’, Lachterman’s contention that Maimon’s ‘modern reading of thinking as essentially making or even self-making’ reflects his ‘“productive” modification of Maimonides’ (522) also requires reexamination. In my view, Maimon’s reading of Maimonides is on the whole quite close to the latter’s intention. 36 Or ‘intellectual activity’: Greek nójsiv, the nomen actionis of noe⁄n. 37  1074b23ff. 38 XII, 9, 1074b15–34. 39  As already established in XII, 7, 1072b15–30. 40 XII, 9, 1074b34–35.
35 34 Dalalat,

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Since in God there is no potentiality but everything thinkable (possible) is actually thought by him [alles Vorstellbare (Mögliche) von ihm wirklich vorgestellt wird]; it follows from this, that God as thinking subject, his thought and the object of thought … are one and the same thing. The thinking reader can easily see where this leads.

Here Maimon describes the content of the divine intellect in Guide I, 68 in almost the same words he used in the passage from ‘The Progress’ quoted above to describe ‘God’s infinite intellect’ according to the ‘the system of Leibniz’ (or, if you prefer, ‘the system of Spinoza’): ‘God’s infinite intellect comprehends all possible things [beziehet sich der unendliche Verstand Gottes auf alle möglichen Dinge]’. Incidentally, Leibniz himself understood Maimonides in this way. In a note on Guide I, 68 he writes:
God is intellect, subject and object of intellection, and these three in him are one. An intellect that exists in actu is the same as the object of intellection: for example the abstracted form of the tree. But an intellect in potentia and the tree intellectually cognized in potentia are different things. But since God is always cognizing intellectually in actu without any potentiality with regard to all objects of intellection [Cum autem Deus sit semper actu intelligens sine ulla potentia respectu omnium intelligibilium], in him the subject and the object of intellection are always the same.41

If Maimon’s interpretation of Maimonides is correct, the structural similarity between their respective concepts of God’s intellect and the human intellect is indeed striking. For both, the divine and the human intellect are of the same substance, and differ only quantitatively: The scope of God’s knowledge extends to all intelligibles and in this sense is unlimited. The scope of the human intellect in actu extends only to a segment of all intelligibles and in this sense is limited. What is the implication of this interpretation of Maimonides, to which according to Maimon the ‘thinking reader’ will be led? 42 If God thinks all possible things, and if subject and object of intellection are identical in God, it follows that God is all possible things. In other words: God produces, cognizes and is identical to the intelligible structure of reality as a whole.43 If this interpretation is correct, Maimonides’ God is indeed very close to Spinoza’s. As we will see later, Maimon was aware of the fact that Spinoza himself hinted at this similarity. It follows that when the human intellect cognizes a posteriori an element of this structure – such as the form of a tree – the object of its cognition is ultimately one of God’s thoughts: our intellectual activity apprehends God’s intellectual activity that took on the form of a tree. Let us now see whether we find support in Maimonides himself for Maimon’s interpretation of the content of the
41 Gottfried W. Leibniz, ‘Observationes ad Rabbi Mosis Maimonidis librum qui inscribitur Doctor Perplexorum’, in Alexandre Foucher de Careil, La philosophie juive et la cabale (Paris, 1861). Reprinted as an appendix to Maimonides, Doctor Perplexorum, Latin trans. Johannes Buxtorf (Basel, 1629; repr. 1969), pp. 2–46. The quotation is from the gloss on Guide I, 68, 10 (emphasis added). 42 By ‘thinking reader’ Maimon means a reader who, in contrast to the dull reader, is able to grasp the conclusions hinted at – but not explicitly stated – by the author. 43 Maurice Ruben Hayoun, in a note to his French translation of the autobiography, interprets Maimon’s reference to the ‘thinking reader’ as implying that, for him, ‘l’auteur du Guide professait secrètement l’éternité du monde’ (Commentaires, p. 100, n. 1). In my view this is clearly not the case.


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

divine intellect in Guide I, 68. In Guide III, 21 Maimonides indeed provides a detailed explanation of the genesis and structure of God’s knowledge of the universe, with which Maimon’s interpretation is wholly consistent:
There is a great disparity … with regard to that which exists taken as a whole in its relation to our knowledge, and [in relation to] His knowledge, may He be exalted. For we know all that we know only by looking at the existents [‫ ;]מפני ההסתכלות בנמצאות‬therefore, we can neither know future events, nor the infinite. Our cognitions are renewed and multiplied according to the things from which we acquire their knowledge. He, may He be exalted, is not like that. I mean that His knowledge of things is not derived from them, so that there is multiplicity and renewal, but the things in question follow upon His knowledge, which preceded and established them as they are [‫אבל הדברים ההם נמשכים‬ ‫ – ]אחרי ידיעתו הקודמת המישבת אותם כפי מה שהם עליו‬either as a separate existence, or as the existence of an individual endowed with permanent matter, or as the existence of what is endowed with matter and has changing individuals, [but] follows in an incorruptible and immutable order. Hence, with regard to Him, may He be exalted, there is no multiplicity of cognitions and renewal and change of knowledge. For through knowing the true reality of His own immutable essence, He knows the totality of what necessarily derives from all His acts [‫בדעתו אמתת עצמו אשר לא תשתנה ידע כל מה שיתחייב לפעולותיו‬ ‫)2–144( .]כולם‬

From this passage it is clear that Maimonides’ God, in contrast to Aristotle’s, knows not only himself but also his creation, which for Maimonides means the entire Aristotelian universe with its threefold structure: the separate intellects (the ‘separate existence’); the celestial spheres, (‘the existence of an individual endowed with permanent matter’); the objects of the sublunar world, (‘the existence of what is endowed with matter that has changing individuals, [but] follows in an incorruptible and immutable order’). God’s knowledge of the existents is presented as the consequence of God’s self-intellection and the causal dependence of the universe on God. The argument is simple: By knowing himself God knows the first cause of nature. Knowledge of the cause entails knowledge of the effect. Therefore God knows what follows from his causal activity, i.e., his creation. Maimonides thus combines two characteristics of the divine intellect according to Aristotle’s account in the Metaphysics: (1) the characterization of the essence of the divine intellect as self-intellection;44 (2) the functional characterization of the divine intellect as the first cause in the order of nature.45 From these two Aristotelian characterizations, Maimonides draws the un-Aristotelian inference that the object of God’s knowledge is not only God himself, but his creation as well. Since according to Maimonides nothing exists ‘besides God, may He be exalted, and the totality of things He has made’ (Guide I, 34, 63), and since God knows himself and his creation, it follows that his knowledge indeed comprehends everything ‘thinkable’ or ‘possible’ as Maimon has claimed. Although Maimonides does not explicitly affirm the identity of God with the intelligible form of his creation, it clearly follows from his account of the divine intellect in Guide I, 68, and his account of God’s knowledge in Guide III, 21. An early ‘thinking
44 45 Metaphysics,

 Cf. the references given above to Metaphysics XII, 9. XII, 7; cf. Physics, VIII.

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reader’, Profiat Duran, one of Maimonides’ medieval commentators, had already pointed out this obvious conclusion:
In this chapter [Maimonides] solved a certain doubt without mentioning this doubt, viz., how God, exalted be He, knows all existents without being subject to change and multiplicity, and he solved the problem as follows: All existents are inscribed in His essence [‫ ,]מוטבעות בעצמו‬blessed be He, and His essence, exalted be He, is one form which comprises all existents according to their subdivisions [‫צורה אחת כוללת כל מיני הנמצאות‬ ‫ :]למיניהם‬intellectual existents, spherical existents, and terrestrial existents.46

Profiat Duran thus spells out what is implied in Maimonides’ account of God’s knowledge: that the divine intellect is identical to the order of nature. Maimon himself was clearly aware of this consequence. In his commentary on Guide I, 74 he refers back to what has ‘already been explained in chapter 68 of this treatise’:
And since, as we all agree, everything possible [‫ ]כל האפשר‬in God, exalted be He, is always in actuality, since there is absolutely no potentiality in Him [‫ ]אין בו כח כלל‬and since what is intellectually cognized by God, exalted be He [‫ ,]המושכל אל השם יתעלה‬is necessarily true; that is, corresponds to its object, or47 the intellectual cognition is the object itself. Now, what is intellectually cognized by God is the notion of the world, i.e., the notion of all possible things, their order and their relation to one another. It clearly follows from this that the world is in Him, exalted be He, as the intellectual cognition is in the intellect [‫( .]מבואר מזה היות העולם נמצא בו יתעלה כמציאות המושכל בשכל‬GM, 165)

Note how Maimon again bases his interpretation on the key phrase in Guide I, 68: that ‘there is absolutely no potentiality in God’. In sum, for both Maimonides and Maimon God’s intellect produces, cognizes and is identical to the order of all things. Moreover, it seems to me very probable that Maimonides’ distinction between divine and human cognition in Guide III, 21 is the basis for Maimon’s distinction between the cognition of the infinite intellect and the cognition of the finite intellect in his commentary on Guide I, 1. Both claim that, in the case of God’s intellect, objects follow upon and are determined by his knowledge, whereas in the case of the human intellect, knowledge follows upon and is determined by objects that appear to exist independently of its intellectual activity. The thesis of Maimon’s dependence on Maimonides on this point becomes yet more plausible if we consider his explicit reference to Guide III, 21 in his account of God’s knowledge in Îesheq Shelomoh:
The Ein-Sof apprehends always in actuality the totality of things [‫ ]הכל‬because from Him come all things, and He actualizes and determines them [‫הוא המוציאם אל הפועל‬ ‫ ]והמגבילם‬with regard to their disposition, their time and their place. … The Ein-Sof apprehends the future as He apprehends the present because through the knowledge of Himself He knows all things [‫ ]כי בידיעתו עצמו ידע כל המתחייב לפעולותיו‬that necessarily follow from his actions as Maimonides of blessed memory has said. (126–7)

46 Profiat Duran’s (Efodi) commentary is printed in the 1872 Warsaw edition of Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew translation of the Guide. The passage quoted is from the commentary on Guide III, 21, 31b. 47 In my view, here ‘or [‫ ’]או‬is not disjunctive but introduces an explanation of the meaning of the preceding ‘corresponds [‫.’]מסכים‬


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3. Maimon’s Spinozist Transformation of Maimonides The major difference between Maimonides’ and Maimon’s concepts of God is that for the former God’s intellect only produces, cognizes and is identical to the form of all things, whereas for the latter God’s intellect produces, cognizes and is identical to both form and matter of all things. This difference is due to what in Maimon’s view is the main problem that remained unsolved in Maimonides’ system: the problem of the origin of matter. In a sense, therefore, Maimonides’ cosmology is haunted by the same problem as Kant’s theory of knowledge. In fact, in the Essay on Transcendental Philosophy, Maimon explicitly presents the problem of the origin of matter as a second version of the problem quid juris. As we saw above, according to Maimon, all philosophers were concerned with the problem quid juris when they tried to explain ‘the community between soul and body’ (II, 62). Then he adds: ‘or … the genesis [Entstehung] of the world (with regard to its matter) from an Intelligence [Intelligenz]’. Thus the epistemological and the cosmological problem are two versions of the same fundamental philosophical concern. With regard to the former the question is how ‘a priori forms’ could ‘correspond to a posteriori given things’. With regard to the latter Maimon formulates the question as follows:
How is the genesis of matter as something only given [bloß gegebenes] conceivable through the assumption of an Intelligence since they are so heterogeneous? (II, 63)

As a thinker within the framework of Aristotelianism, Maimonides was committed to God’s incorporeality. To give up this doctrine would have meant to abandon the entire system of Aristotelian physics and metaphysics, on the premises of which his proofs for God’s existence, unity and incorporeality in Guide II, 1 are based. As pure, incorporeal intelligence, however, the God of a medieval Aristotelian could only be the efficient, formal and final cause of the world, but not its material cause. In Guide I, 69, which discusses God’s relation to the world, Maimonides writes accordingly:
In natural science, it has been made clear that there are causes for everything that has a cause; that they are four, namely: matter, form, the efficient, and the final cause [‫החמר‬ ‫ … .]והצורה והפועל והתכלית‬Now one of the opinions of the philosophers, an opinion with which I do not disagree, is that God, may He be precious and exalted, is the efficient cause, that He is the form, and that He is the final cause. (144)

On the assumption that God is incorporeal, Maimon contends, one cannot explain how the material component of the corporeal world could have originated from God. In his commentary on Guide I, 69, Maimon criticizes Maimonides’ exclusion of matter from God, and presents his own concept of God as not only the world’s efficient, formal, and final cause but its material cause as well:
That God, may He be exalted, is the efficient cause, that He is the form, and that He is the final cause etc. The author says: One has to wonder about the philosophers why they did not say that God, may He be exalted, is also the matter [‫ ,]החומר‬I mean to say the ultimate subject for all things [‫ ,]הנושא האחרון לכל הדברים‬which in itself is not a predicate [‫ ]נשוא‬of anything else. If this were the case He, may He be exalted, would be the ultimate cause with regard to all kinds of causes that we mentioned. Because if we as-

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sume Him, may He be exalted, to be only the efficient cause, the form and the final cause without being also the material cause, we must necessarily posit the existence of eternal matter [‫ ,]חומר קדמון‬I mean to say [matter] that does not have a cause. And this contradicts the concept of God, may He be exalted, i.e., the all-comprehensive cause of every existent [‫ .]הסבה הכוללת לכל נמצא‬But in truth it is as I have mentioned, i.e., that God, exalted be He, is the ultimate cause in every respect. (GM, 109)

According to this passage, the extension of God’s causality to include the world’s material cause is required if we are to defend a pure and unadulterated monotheism. Denying that God is the world’s material cause leads to a dualistic view, for eternal, uncaused matter would become a second cause of the world alongside, and independent of, God. Maimon’s account of God as the ‘material cause’ is complex, and I cannot discuss it exhaustively here. Yitzhak Melamed has convincingly argued that the description of the material cause as ‘the ultimate subject of all things, which in itself is not a predicate of anything else’ ultimately goes back to Aristotle’s definition of the ‘underlying [üpokeímenon]’ in Metaphysics VII, 3 as that, of which ‘the other things [tà ãlla] are predicated, whereas it itself is not predicated of another’ (1028b36–37).48 But since for Maimon the material cause is the subject of ‘all things’, no entity corresponds to it in Aristotle’s cosmology; in fact, for Aristotle even the sublunar and the supralunar realm do not share the same material substrate. Here it seems to me more fruitful to look for Neoplatonic sources such as PseudoEmpedocles’ Book on the Five Substances, which was probably the source for Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s concept of matter set forth in the Fons Vitae.49 Ibn Gabirol is quoted by Giordano Bruno in his De la causa, principio et uno, and Maimon translates Bruno’s account of matter and form in his commentary on Guide I, 69, including the reference to Ibn Gabirol. Since he was unaware that the ‘Arab Avicebron’ quoted by Bruno was Ibn Gabirol, he refers to him as ‘the Arab Sage’ who claimed ‘matter to be the God containing all existence [‫’]היות החומר האלוה הכולל כל המציאות‬ (112). Moreover, it is important to note that Maimon’s account of the material cause quoted above corresponds to only one of three notions of matter that he introduces in the commentary on Guide I, 69, in part translating Bruno literally, and in part summarizing his views. Following Bruno, he first distinguishes between two kinds of matter, of which the second kind reflects the Aristotelian concept of prime matter that underlies the physical world below the sphere of the moon: ‘matter of the second kind’ is the ‘subject for the natural things that change [‫ .)411( ’]נושא לדברים הטבעיים המשתנים‬Matter of the first kind, on the other hand, is contrasted with form whereby both terms, in view to their ontological scope, are used in a clearly un-Aristotelian sense: God’s matter and God’s form are the totality of being, both intellectual and physical, both cogitatio and extensio. They are distinct only in that matter is undetermined while form is determined. To describe God as the formal cause of the world Maimon uses Bruno’s
48 Yitzhak Melamed, ‘Salomon Maimon and the Rise of Spinozism in German Idealism’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 42(1) (2004): 67–96, on p. 80 and n. 48. 49 Cf. David Kaufmann, ‘Pseudo-Empedocles as a Source of Solomon ibn Gabirol’, in Studies in Medieval Hebrew Literature (Jerusalem, 1962), pp. 78–165 (Hebrew).


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concept of the ‘worldsoul [‫ ,’]רוח העולם‬which ‘is the form of the world as a whole [‫ .)011( ’]היא צורת העולם בכללו‬In his Philosophical Dictionary he describes the worldsoul as ‘the formal and final cause of all objects [die causa formalis und finalis aller Objekte]’ (III, 194), where ‘final cause’ simply means the realization or actuality of the form. As for the concept of matter, he quotes Bruno:
In the same way as sensible things [‫ ]הדברים המורגשים‬with regard to their sensible nature participate in one corporeal subject [‫ ,]בנושא אחד גשמי‬also intelligible things [‫הדברים‬ ‫ ]המושכלים‬necessarily participate in one intelligible subject. And the two mentioned kinds necessarily participate in one subject as well, which comprises both of them. … The mentioned comprehensive matter [‫ ]החומר הכולל‬is on the one hand multiple, i.e., with regard to its comprising in itself all possible forms; on the other hand it is one, i.e., with regard to itself. And it truly is everything that can exist as a unity [‫כל מה שאפשר‬ ‫ .]להיות כאחד‬And for this reason it is not a determined thing at all, and (as has been made clear) matter is not only disposition [‫ ,]הכנה‬as some of the philosophers think – to which all activity and perfection is denied – but in truth it is a power striving towards actuality [‫ ,]כח משתדל על היציאה אל הפעל‬similar to a woman sitting on a travailing chair in relation to birth. (114)

Matter, therefore, is the totality of things as undifferentiated unity, and at the same time is activity: the power striving towards actuality. Thus while the ‘worldsoul’ is the formal and final cause, matter covers the two remaining of the four causes: the material cause and the agent (or efficient cause). Let us now turn to Maimon’s third notion of matter, which he presents as a summary of Bruno’s discussion of matter and form (or ‘worldsoul’). According to this third notion, which Maimon unfortunately does not clearly define as an independent concept, all the distinctions relating to matter versus form that we saw above are not real distinctions, but merely describe different aspects of one active subject: a monistic totality, which determines itself and in the act of self-determination, unites the undetermined and the determined, or ‘matter of the first kind’ and form. In this sense Maimon can speak of the ultimate unity of the four causes and reduce them to this third and most comprehensive notion of matter:
The conclusion of this account is that the four kinds of causes …, i.e., the material, the formal, the active and the final cause, are one thing in itself with regard to being as a whole [‫ .]בבחינת כלל המצאיות דבר אחד בעצמו‬Matter is the absolute subject [‫הנושא‬ ‫ ]המוחלט‬for all existents, the corporeal and the intellectual, and it is also the form, because it contains in itself all possible forms in a way concealed from us; and it [matter] in itself is the agent, i.e., that which differentiates the forms and reveals them to the outside [‫ ,]מגלה אותן אל החוץ‬and it is also the end [‫ ,]תכלית‬which is the existence of everything that can exist. But I dealt with this in detail because it is a very subtle investigation, difficult to understand when one begins to reflect. Nonetheless this investigation is very important and useful for apprehending the true essence of nature and its actions and [for apprehending] that the whole of reality [‫ ]כל המציאות‬is one thing in itself and nothing except that. (GM, 114–115)

This transformation of Maimonides’ God, which I will argue below is best characterized as Spinozist, solves the second version of the problem quid juris: the explana-

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tion of ‘the genesis of the world (with regard to its matter) from an Intelligence’ (II, 62). The act of intellectual self-cognition of Maimonides’ God, in which subject, object, and act of intellectual cognition are one, becomes the act of self-determination of Maimon’s God, in which the undetermined, the determined and the act of determination are one. In contrast to Maimonides’ God, Maimon’s God is no longer pure intelligence. For Maimon, the undetermined (identified with ‘matter of the first kind’), and the determined (identified with form) comprehend both the intelligible and the material dimension of reality. In this sense, ideas and things are indeed identical in God; or, as Maimon puts it: ‘the forms are at the same time the objects of cognition’ (II, 64). The fact that Maimon in other passages refers to his God as ‘infinite intellect’ is, therefore, somewhat misleading, since his God has only the structure with Maimonides’ divine intellect in common. This terminological ambiguity was probably deliberate since a straightforward presentation of his Spinozist God would not have been received with much sympathy by his readers, as we will see below. Let us now turn to the role that in my view should be assigned to Spinoza in the transition from Maimonides’ monotheism to Maimon’s monism. My general suggestion is that God’s matter and God’s form, as described in Maimon’s commentary on Guide I, 69, are best understood in terms of Spinoza’s Substance or Natura naturans and Spinoza’s order of modes or Natura naturata50 (if we limit the ontological scope of Spinoza’s God to the two attributes known to us, namely, thought and extension). Moreover, Maimon’s third notion of matter, which unites the four causes, and makes it possible to understand ‘the whole of reality’ as ‘one thing in itself’, corresponds in my opinion to Spinoza’s Deus sive Natura as the unity of Natura naturans and Natura naturata. Let me explain what I think supports this suggestion. In the Autobiography, Maimon explicitly notes that the ‘complete solution’ of the problem quid juris ‘necessarily [leads] to a Spinozist or Leibnizian type of dogmatism’ (I, 558). Kant himself remarked in a letter to Markus Herz that Maimon’s ‘approach [Vorstellungsart]’ is ‘the same as … Spinoza’s [mit dem Spinozism … einerlei]’.51 In addition, in the note on the article of the German scholar Obereit referred to above, Maimon writes that in his Essay on Transcendental Philosophy ‘he attempted to unify Kantian philosophy with Spinozism [die Vereinigung der Kantischen Philosophie mit dem Spinozismo]’ (III, 455, note). On the other hand, in the Essay itself he presents his solution for the problem quid juris as based on the ‘system of Leibniz and Wolf’ (II, 63) and openly rejects its association with the philosophy of Spinoza (cf. II, 365). In Giv¨at ha-moreh as well, Spinoza is not mentioned in the context of the discussion of God as the material cause of the world; instead, Maimon here uses Giordano Bruno. To understand this seemingly curious absence of Spinoza it is in my view helpful to recall the audiences
E I, Prop. 29, Scholium (in Opera, 4 vols, ed. Carl Gebhardt [Heidelberg, 1925], 2: 71). In Spinoza, the terms Natura naturans and Natura naturata describe the causal relationship between God (or Substance) and his modes: ‘… by Natura naturans we mean … God, insofar he is considered as a free cause [causa libera]. But by [Natura naturata] I mean all that follows from the necessity [ex necessitate] of God’s nature…, i.e., all the modes of God’s attributes’. Cf. Korte Verhandeling van God, de Mensch, en des zelfs Welstand I, chapter 8 and 9 (Opera, ed. Gebhardt, 1: 47–8). 51 Letter dated 26 May 1789, in Kant, Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin and Leipzig, 1902–), 11: 50.
50 Cf.


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for which Maimon was writing. The substitution of the ‘system of Leibniz and Wolf’ to Spinoza can be understood, I believe, in the light of the following passage from the Autobiography:
I read Spinoza; I very much liked the deep thought of this philosopher and his love of the truth, and since I was led to his system [auf das System desselben gerathen war] already in Poland on occasion of [my study of] kabbalistic writings, I began again to reflect about it. I became so convinced of its truth that all efforts of Mendelssohn to dissuade me from it were fruitless. I responded to all objections made against it by the disciples of Wolf [and] made myself objections against their system. … I could also not explain to myself the insistence of Mendelssohn and the disciples of Wolf in general that their system is something other than political tricks and hypocrisy [politische Kniffe und Heuchelei], through which they diligently tried to approach the way of thinking of the vulgar [Denkungsart des gemeinen Mannes], and I expressed this publicly and without any restraint. (I, 469–70)

We learn from this passage that Maimon became familiar with ‘the system’ of Spinoza even before he read Spinoza himself, namely in the context of his study of Kabbalah in Poland. As we will see below, the concept of God in Lurianic Kabbalah, according to Maimon, is essentially the same as Spinoza’s concept of God.52 Moreover, we learn that Maimon was convinced of the truth of Spinoza’s philosophy,53 that Mendelssohn and his circle did not receive his enthusiasm for Spinoza with sympathy, that he rejected the system of Leibniz and Wolf, on which the official position of Mendelssohn and his circle was based, and, finally, that he assumed them to be adopting this position for political reasons only, i.e., in order to speak ad captum vulgi, to quote Spinoza’s famous ‘rule of living’.54 In this context it may be noted that Maimon described Mendelssohn’s critique of Spinoza, and his emphasis on the differences between Leibniz and Spinoza as part of Mendelssohn’s ‘exoteric exposition [exoterischen Vortrage]’ (IV, 59). In light of the passage from the Autobiography, I would suggest that the motive for Maimon’s seemingly inconsistent attitude towards Spinoza was that exoterically he found it more convenient to present himself as a disciple of Leibniz. In addition, several remarks of Maimon imply that he distinguished between an exoteric and an esoteric content of Leibniz’ doctrine,55 and that
52  This passage in the autobiography has frequently been misunderstood as implying that Maimon actually studied Spinoza in Poland. See, e.g.: Zac, ‘Maimon’, p. 67; Engstler ‘Vereinigung’, p. 40. It seems very unlikely, however, that Maimon could have had access to Spinoza’s writings in that period. As Melamed remarks (‘Maimon and the Rise of Spinozism’), ‘the Ethics was translated into Hebrew and Yiddish only in the second half of the 19th century’. Although it is not inconceivable that Maimon got hold of a German translation, and studied it with the little German he already knew, it seems to me much simpler to read Maimon here as suggesting that he realized retrospectively he had already encountered Spinoza’s ‘system’ when studying Kabbalah. This interpretation of the passage is compatible with its wording and much more plausible than the traditional interpretation. It is also supported by the fact that Spinoza is not mentioned in Maimon’s early Hebrew work Îesheq Shelomoh, which would be surprising had Maimon already been familiar with his philosophy when he composed the treatise. 53 Cf. also I, 488, where Maimon states that ‘no independent thinker [kein Selbstdenker] can find fault’ with the ‘inclination [Neigung] to Spinozism’. 54 Cf. Spinoza’s Tractactus de intellectus emendatione (Opera, ed. Gebhardt, 2: 9). 55  Cf. IV, 52, where Maimon refers to Leibniz’s ‘exoteric way of teaching [exoterische Lehrart]’. Cf. also IV, 42.

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in his view Leibniz’s esoteric position was ultimately the same as that of Spinoza.56 If, therefore, Leibniz himself could be read as a disguised Spinozist, Maimon could remain loyal to Spinoza even while pretending to be following Leibniz. Political reasons may also account for the replacement of Spinoza through Giordano Bruno in Maimon’s commentary on the Guide as has been suggested by Yitzhak Melamed. The commentary was commissioned by members of the Berlin Haskalah with the aim of diffusing their ideas among Jewish readers. Since Maimonides’ authority was accepted in traditional circles, the Guide provided an appropriate vehicle to carry out this program. The explanation of Maimonides’ doctrines in light of the reviled heretic Spinoza would, however, obviously have defeated the purpose. Giordano Bruno, on the other hand, was unknown to this audience.57 That Maimon was indeed thinking of Spinoza when he used Bruno is in my view conclusively proven by the fact that he used Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi’s German translation of Bruno’s De la causa, principio et uno. Jacobi had published this translation as an appendix to the second edition of his On the Teachings of Spinoza in Letters to Mr. Moses Mendelssohn, and stated explicitly in the preface: ‘It is my main aim … to demonstrate [darzulegen] in my book the Summa of the philosophy of the ¨En kai Pan through the juxtaposition [Zusammenstellung] of Bruno with Spinoza’.58 It may be noted in this context that in 1793 – two years after the publication of Giv¨at ha-moreh – Maimon wrote a short commentary on Jacobi’s German translation of Bruno.59 But aside from these somewhat speculative arguments for Maimon’s esoteric Spinozism, there is also textual evidence that he considered the material and formal cause in Bruno’s account of God to correspond to the two basic constituents of Spinoza’s ontology: the notion of substance (or Natura naturans) and the notion of modes (or Natura naturata). To make this link visible, let us consider a passage from Îesheq Shelomoh in which Maimon gives an account of the relation of God and the world that is clearly related to the account we saw in his commentary on Guide I, 69:
My intention in this chapter is to clarify the relationship of God, may He be praised, to the world. It is already known that every existent has four causes; they are the material and the formal cause, the efficient and the final cause. … Also the world as a whole
56 Cf. the passage quoted above (IV, 58), in which Maimon refers to ‘the way I understand Leibniz’s system’, which ‘may be called Spinoza’s system’ in case Leibniz’s disciples disapprove of his understanding. Maimon was not the only representative of a Spinozist reading of Leibniz. See, e.g., Lessing as quoted by Jacobi, in Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn (Hamburg, 2000), pp. 29ff. Later, Fichte mentions Maimon as having demonstrated that ‘the system of Leibniz, if thought through to its conclusion [in seiner Vollendung gedacht] is nothing but Spinozism’ (Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre, §1, ed. Wilhem Gustav Jacobs, 4th ed. [Hamburg, 1988], p. 21). In Maimon’s view, Leibniz’s esoteric doctrine agreed with Spinoza on two crucial issues: First, that in God all possible worlds are real and that the distinction between real world and possible worlds is a result of the finite nature of the human intellect; second, that the doctrine of monads does not imply a plurality of substances; rather, the monads are different degrees of limitation of one substance. On Maimon’s interpretation of Leibniz, see Wolfgang H. Schrader, ‘Leibniz versus Kant – Die Leibniz-Rezeption Salomon Maimons’, in Leibniz, Werk und Wirkung, 4th International Leibniz Congress (Hannover, 1983), pp. 697–707. 57 Cf. Melamed, ‘Maimon and the Rise of Spinozism’, pp. 83–5. 58  Jacobi, Lehre des Spinoza, 159. 59 ‘Auszug aus Jordan Bruno von Nola. Von der Ursache, dem Prinzip und dem Einem’ (IV, 617–52).


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

[‫ ]העולם בכללו‬has the four mentioned causes: the one is the material cause, i.e., the subject [‫ ]הנושא‬which received the form of the world, and this is the substance [‫ ]העצם‬of the Ein-Sof, may He be praised. … The world as a whole received a form after not having had a form at all, and this is the meaning of creation ex nihilo. Understand this! And the second cause is the form, i.e., the form of the world as a whole and of its parts, and [this form] is appropriate to make visible His glory, may He be praised, in the same way as the form of the body as a whole and of its parts is appropriate to make visible the actions of the soul. … And the third cause is the agent, and it also is He Himself, may He be praised, Who acts in the world. And the fourth cause is the end, and it is also He Himself, may He be praised. … You should know that the material and the acting [or: efficient (‫ ])הפעליית‬causes are attributed to Him with regard to the Ein-Sof, but the formal and the final [causes] with regard to the Sefirot. Understand this! I have shown now that He, may He be praised – His relation to the world [‫ ]יחוסו אל העולם‬is the relation of the four mentioned causes, and from now on it shall be impossible to conceive a being other than Him, may He be praised, … and this is the secret of unity [‫)9–831( .]סוד האחדות‬

Several elements in this passage recall Maimon’s commentary on Guide I, 69.60 But what is crucial for our context is the association of the four Aristotelian causes with the two basic constituents of kabbalistic ontology: the Ein-Sof and the Sefirot. From this association it is clear that the Sefirot, to which the formal and final causes are attributed, have the function assigned to the form or ‘worldsoul’ in the commentary on the Guide, while the Ein-Sof, to which the material and efficient causes are attributed, has the function assigned there to ‘matter of the first kind’. Now, Maimon’s identification of Kabbalah with Spinoza’s system in the Autobiography is based precisely on the identification of the basic constituents of kabbalistic ontology, the Ein-Sof and Sefirot, with the basic constituents of Spinoza’s ontology, substance and modes:61
Indeed, Kabbalah is nothing but extended Spinozism [erweiterter Spinozismus], in which not only the genesis of the world is explained from the limitation [Einschränkung] of the divine being in general, but also the genesis of each kind of being [Wesen] and their relation to all other [kinds of being] is derived from a specific property [Eigenschaft] of God. God as the ultimate subject and as the ultimate cause of all beings is called Ein-Sof (the infinite, of which, considered in itself, nothing can be predicated.) In relation to the infinite beings, however, positive properties are attributed to Him; these are reduced by the kabbalists to ten, which are called the ten Sefirot. (I, 141)

What Maimon means when describing Kabbalah as ‘extended’ Spinozism is simply that the Kabbalists develop in detail the generation of individual things from the
60  E.g., the description of the actualization of the form of the world as creation ex nihilo recalls the determination of the undetermined in the translation of Bruno in the commentary; the comparison of the form of the world as expressing God’s activity with the form of the body as expressing the soul’s activity recalls the role assigned to the ‘worldsoul’. 61  For a recent study of Kabbalah in Maimon’s Autobiography, see Christoph Schulte, ‘Kabbala in Salomon Maimons Lebensgeschichte’, in Kabbala und die Literatur der Romantik, eds. Eveline Goodman-Thau, Gerd Mattenklott, and Christoph Schulte (Tübingen, 1999), pp. 33–67. For the history of the kabbalistic interpretation of Spinoza, see Andreas Kilcher, ‘Kabbala in der Maske der Philosophie: Zu einer Interpretationsfigur in der Spinoza-Literatur’, in Delf, Schoeps, and Walther, Spinoza, pp. 193–242.

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Sefirot, whereas Spinoza only provides a general account of the generation of finite modes from infinite modes. Note already here the similarity between the description of God as Ein-Sof and the description of God as the material cause in the commentary on Guide I, 69: the former characterized as ‘the ultimate subject and as the ultimate cause of all beings’, the latter as ‘the ultimate subject of all things’. That the identification of Spinoza and Kabbalah is indeed based on what Maimon takes to be the analogous structure of the ontology of the Kabbalists and that of Spinoza becomes clear from the following short summary of Spinoza’s ‘system’ in the Autobiography:
The system of Spinoza … assumes one and the same substance as immediate cause [unmittelbare Ursache] of all the different effects, which have to be considered as predicates of one and the same subject. Matter and mind [Materie und Geist] are in Spinoza one and the same substance, which appears once under this, once under that attribute. This unique [einzige] substance is, according to him, not only the only possible self-sufficient [selbständige] (from an external cause independent) [being], but also the only being subsisting by itself [für sich bestehende Wesen], the kinds (modes) of which (these attributes limited in a particular way) are all the so-called beings outside itself. (I, 153)

Both the Ein-Sof and Spinoza’s substance are the cause of all things (for the kabbalists of the Sefirot and everything that derives from them; for Spinoza of the order of infinite and finite modes) and both are related to their effects as a subject is related to its predicates. The passage in Îesheq Shelomoh, therefore, provides the link that makes the Spinozist background of the account of God as matter and form in the commentary on the Guide visible: ‘matter of the first kind’, Ein-Sof, and Substance (or Natura naturans) on the one hand, form (or ‘worldsoul’), Sefirot, and order of modes (or Natura naturata) on the other hand are synonymous concepts derived from Giordano Bruno, Kabbalah, and Spinoza. Matter and Ein-Sof and form and Sefirot are associated respectively with the same two of the four Aristotelian causes (material and efficient causes the former, formal and final causes the latter); Ein-Sof and Sefirot, in their turn, are identified with substance and modes in ‘the system of Spinoza’. The two series of concepts refer, therefore to the same entities in Maimon’s ontology. Ultimately they describe the structure of his God or infinite intellect. That Spinoza is the most important of the three mentioned sources becomes clear, I think, if we take the following points into account: first, Maimon’s statements about his study of Spinoza in the Autobiography; second, his view that the philosophical value of the kabbalistic system consisted in its being ‘nothing but extended Spinozism’; and third, that Bruno’s text replaces Spinoza in the commentary on the Guide primarily for political reasons. Maimon’s Spinozistic transformation of Maimonides’ notion of the divine intellect thus provides a solution for the cosmological version of the problem quid juris: ‘the genesis of the world (with regard to its matter) from an Intelligence’ (II, 62). It follows that, if God is the world’s formal and material cause, an infinite intellect can be conceived that not only produces and is identical to the intelligible form of the objects of cognition (as was the case of Maimonides’ God) but produces and is identical


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

to both their form and matter. Thus the ‘gap’ (II, 521) in Kant’s system, stemming from the assumption of two ‘completely different sources’ (II, 63) for the components of the cognized object is closed – at least with regard to the infinite intellect. What are the implications of this Spinozist bridge over the ‘gap’ in Kant’s system for Maimon’s concept of the apprehension of the human intellect, in particular with regard to the question which Kant proved unable to answer: how ‘a priori forms should correspond to a posteriori given things’ (II, 63). Now, correspondence, in the strong sense of unity of ideas and objects, is precisely what characterizes Spinoza’s order of modes. In the last passage from the Autobiography quoted above, Maimon paraphrased, by and large accurately, a passage in the Ethics (‘matter and mind are in Spinoza one and the same substance, which appears once under this, once under that attribute’) which is immediately followed by a passage (not paraphrased by Maimon), in which Spinoza makes the same claim about the order of modes. Using Maimon’s terminology one could paraphrase this claim as follows: there is only one order of modes, which under the attribute of ‘matter’ appears as the ‘order of things’, and under the attribute of ‘mind’ as the ‘order of ideas’. Given this context it is not particularly surprising that Maimon’s answer to the correspondence question is clearly inspired by Spinoza.62 In the entry ‘truth’ of his Philosophical Dictionary he writes:
According to Mr. Kant, the thing in itself is that outside our cognitive faculty [Erkenntnißvermögen], to which the concept [Begriff] or the representation [Vorstellung] refers. I claim, in contrast, that the thing in itself, so understood, is an empty word without any meaning, inasmuch as one is not only unable to demonstrate the existence of this thing, but one also cannot form a concept of it; according to me, on the other hand, the thing in itself, and the concept and representation of a thing are objectively one and the same thing and distinguished from one another [voneinander unterschieden] only subjectively, that is with regard to the completeness [Vollständigkeit] of our cognition. (III, 185)

The incompleteness of human cognition, which in this passage explains why, subjectively, ideas and objects are distinct, refers to Maimon’s by now familiar claim about the limitation of the human intellect, which is finite in contrast to the divine intellect, which is infinite. The passage that Maimon paraphrases in his account of the unity of ‘matter and mind’ as characteristic of Spinoza’s notion of substance, is the scholium to Ethics II, proposition 7, and it is apparently the description of modes in this same scholium, which Maimon had in mind when he speaks of the objective unity and subjective distinctness of ideas and objects with regard to the human intellect. Let us, therefore, examine this passage more closely. The proposition states the identity of the order of things and the order of ideas, and the scholium explains this identity in light of Spinoza’s ontology:
Prop. 7: The order and connection of ideas [ordo et connexio idearum] is the same as the order and connection of things [ordo et connexio rerum]. Schol.: Here … we must recall what we showed above, viz. that whatever can be perceived by an infinite intellect as constituting the essence of substance [substantiae essen62

 See also Engstler, ‘Spinoza-Rezeption’, p. 176.

Carlos Fraenkel


tiam constituens] pertains to only one [unicam] substance, and consequently that the thinking substance and the extended substance are one and the same substance, which is now comprehended under this attribute [sub illo attributo comprehenditur], now under that. So also a mode of extension and the idea of that mode are one and the same thing, but expressed in two ways [duobis modis expressa]; which some of the Hebrews appear to have seen, as if through a cloud [quidam Hebraeorum quasi per nebulam vidisse videntur], who maintain that God, God’s intellect, and the things by him intellectually cognized [res ab ipso intellectas] are one and the same thing. For example, a circle, and the idea of the existing circle, which is also in God, are one and the same thing, which is explained through different attributes. …63

In my view, this scholium is not only a crucial passage in the Ethics for Maimon’s understanding of Spinoza and for his Spinozist transformation of Maimonides’ notion of the divine and human intellect; it also seems to imply, if we pursue the reference to the God of ‘some of the Hebrews’, that Spinoza himself considered his notion of God to be no more than an unclouded version of Maimonides’ notion of God, and, moreover, that Maimon was aware of this. The reference to the God of ‘some of the Hebrews’ is, to be sure, not devoid of travesty. Looked at more closely the God of the Hebrews turns out to be none other than the God of the Greeks – more precisely the divine noÕv, ultimately derived from Aristotle’s Metaphysics XII, 7 and 9. From this we must infer that the alleged ‘Hebrews’ were not the Hebrews of Biblical times, but medieval Jewish Aristotelians, in particular Maimonides,64 who had transformed the God of Aristotle into the God of the Bible. They had provided the divine noÕv with a Hebrew garb, and, draped in this costume, Spinoza made his acquaintance. Spinoza’s claim that in order to reach his monism from the monotheism of the Hebrews all he had to do was dissipate a ‘cloud’ seems to be justified if we recall the structure of God’s intellectual activity in Maimonides: The unity of substance reflects the unity of God as the subject and object of the act of self-intellection. The unity of the order of modes reflects the unity of the intelligible order of nature and its intellectual cognition in God’s apprehension of everything that follows from his causal activity. Elsewhere I have reconstructed in detail the path that in my view leads from Maimonides’ monotheism to Spinoza’s monism, and I have presented the textual evidence from Spinoza’s early works as well as the Ethics, which supports my reconstruction.65 Briefly summarized my thesis is that, on the one hand, Spinoza applied the structure of the intellectual activity of Maimonides’ God to the relation of substance and modes (or Natura naturans and Natura naturata) of his Deus sive Natura; on the other hand he extended God’s ontological scope by integrating the attribute of extension into his being. The intellectual activity that for Maimonides
 Opera, ed. Gebhardt, 2: 89–90. commentators take ‘Hebrews’ to be a reference to Maimonides. See Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Process of His Reasoning, (Cambridge, Mass., 1934), 2: 24–27; Warren Zev Harvey, ‘A Portrait of Spinoza as a Maimonidean’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 19(2) (1981): 165. For a general account of Spinoza’s medieval Jewish sources, see Manuel Joël, Spinozas theologisch-politischer Traktat auf seine Quellen geprüft (Breslau, 1870); idem, Zur Genesis der Lehre Spinozas (Breslau, 1871). 65 See Carlos Fraenkel, ‘Maimonides’ God and Spinoza’s Deus sive Natura’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 44 (2006): 169-215.
64 Most 63


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

constitutes God’s essence recurs in what Spinoza describes as God’s essentia actuosa in the scholium to Ethics II, 3. This ‘active essence’, however, is no longer limited to intellectual activity but becomes extension (or, if you wish, extensive activity) as well.66 The ‘cloud’, therefore, which Spinoza had to dissipate in order to reach his monism from the monotheism of ‘some of the Hebrews’, refers to the same problem that Maimon addressed in his commentary on Guide I, 69: the exclusion of matter (or extension) from God, i.e., the cosmological version of the problem quid juris. To sum up the argument of this paper: In his Essay on Transcendental Philosophy, Maimon claims that ‘the greatest difficulty’ that in his view haunts Kant’s theory of knowledge can be solved if we assume first, an ‘infinite intellect in which the forms are at the same time the objects of cognition’, and second, that our human intellect is in substance ‘the same’ as the infinite intellect differing from it only in degree, because of its finitude (II, 64–5). In Giv¨at ha-moreh we saw that Maimon presents his account of the infinite intellect, the finite intellect, and the relation between them as an explication of Maimonides’ account of the divine intellect, the human intellect, and the relation between them, and I argued in detail why in my view he is justified to do so. Maimon, I suggested, found in Maimonides a key for the solution of the first version of the problem quid juris: how ‘a priori forms should correspond to a posteriori given things’ (II, 63). Following Maimonides, he could argue that the things given to the human intellect a posteriori are not heterogeneous to it, but are themselves intellectual forms produced and cognized by the divine intellect as a consequence of the act of self-intellection. Maimonides’ account, however, leaves the cosmological version of the problem quid juris unsolved, for in the worldview of the medieval Aristotelian there is no place for the material component of objects in either the divine or the human intellect. This second version of the problem can be solved only through the Spinozist transformation of Maimonides’ God: from a God who is only the formal cause of the world into a God who is both the formal and the material cause of the world. Thus the ‘gap’ (II, 521) in Kant’s system, due to the twofold source of the cognized object, is closed. The infinite intellect now secures the unity of ideas and objects. This unity, according to Spinoza, also characterizes the order of modes; whence in my view Maimon derived his thesis that for the human intellect ideas and objects are ‘objectively one and the same’ (III, 185), and that the distinction between them is only ‘subjective’, a consequence of the incompleteness, i.e., finite nature of human cognition. Finally, Maimon’s paraphrase of the scholium to Ethics II, proposition 7, in which Spinoza himself acknowledges his debt to the God of Maimonides, leaves no doubt that he was aware that his attempt to complete Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy is based on the metaphysical line of thought leading from Maimonides to
66 Note that in his early work, Cogitata Metaphysica, Spinoza uses the peculiar term essentia actuosa to describe the activity of God conceived as pure cognition (CM II, 11; Opera, ed. Gebhardt, 1: 275). This passage is in my view crucial for an understanding of the development of the concept in Spinoza’s thought.

Carlos Fraenkel


Spinoza, and from Spinoza to himself.67 The ‘voice of the truth’ that presented to him the teachings of the Guide must have been the same that convinced him of the truth of Spinoza’s philosophy. In the infinite intellect, therefore, in which Maimon, Moshe, and Maimon, Shelomoh were united, there certainly was a place for Baruch Spinoza as well.

67 Bergman (The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon, p. 34) overlooked the connection described above and thus claimed that Maimon was not aware of Spinoza’s implicit reference to Maimonides in the scholium to Ethics II, proposition 7.


Completion of the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy

Shlomo Berger

From Philosophy to Popular Ethics: Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol’s Keter Malkhut

Sephardi medieval culture was incorporated into the Ashkenazi Haskalah through various channels; not all of them took a linear course. One route passed through Ashkenazi Yiddish culture, which provided an important venue for the exchange of ideas that facilitated the transformation. Although scholars may question the role of Yiddish here – after all, the maskilim themselves were so biased against this language – this irony cannot be swept under the rug. As two students of eighteenth-century Jewish culture have suggested lately, Yiddish served as an instrument of modernization and stood on the threshold of the early Haskalah. Zeev Gries made three points: First, Hebrew and Yiddish books triggered a revolution in the Jewish world in the early modern period. Second, starting in the eighteenth century there was a steady increase in the printing of books not intended for educational and ritual purposes. Third, Yiddish literature was the main beneficiary of the above-mentioned trend in the eighteenth century.1 According to Rena Fuks-Mansfeld, translations into Yiddish, like Moses Frankfort’s version of Isaac Aboab’s Menorat ha-maˆor (Amsterdam, 1722), are evidence of a modern mode of thinking.2 Reading the introductions of both the translator and publisher of Menorat ha-maˆor, Fuks-Mansfeld claims that the idea of spreading knowledge among Jews, and comparing their approach to knowledge with that of the gentile world, occupies a central position: Yiddish is permissible because it helps fulfil this task. Thus, in addition to the intrinsic importance of analysing Yiddish translations of a famous medieval philosophical poem like Keter malkhut from Sepharad, what follows may also provide vivid insights into several key questions discussed by scholars of Yiddish and Jewish culture. These include the role of the internal bilingualism (or Hebrew-Yiddish diglossia) and its effect on Yiddish texts, the study of genres of Yiddish literature, and the impact on Yiddish of translations into it from Hebrew. We shall see how Yiddish writers and/or translators introduced methods that were later characterized, albeit in a different setting, as ‘enlightened’. The study of Yiddish versions of Keter malkhut is rewarding for two reasons: first, the poem has a high stand1 Zeev Gries, ‘The Book as Cultural Agent in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Printing Books, Reading Books and Book Criticism’, Jewish Studies 39 (1999): 5–33. 2 Rena Fuks-Mansfeld, ‘The role of Yiddish in the Early Dutch-Jewish Haskalah’, in Shlomo Berger et al., eds., Speaking Jewish – Jewish Speak: Multilingualism in Western Ashkenazi Culture = Studia Rosenthaliana 36 (2002/03): 147-55.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Shlomo Berger Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


ing within the canon of Jewish and Hebrew literature; second, we possess two different translations, published within the compass of a single century – one in Italy, the other in Amsterdam.3 The comparative nature of the study may bring features of the Yiddish Weltanschauung of the pre-modern and/or early modern era to light. The first translation, from Italy, was printed by Juan Di Gara of Venice in 1600.4 The circumstances that led the translator, R. Jacob Halperon, to take up such a venture are fairly clear.5 From this and two other Yiddish translations he published through Di Gara in a space of four years (1598–1602), it is obvious that he hoped to earn a living from such endeavours.6 All three books are dedicated to a Jewish woman with whose family he had some relationship. Each translation is accompanied by a long dedicatory letter in which Halperon declares that he composed the Yiddish text as a token of friendship for the woman and her family.7 We may nevertheless assume that he also hoped to be compensated for his efforts. Indeed, other available evidence attests to Halperon’s dire economic situation. He was employed by the Jewish community of Padua and between 1612 and 1623 Halperon was the sofer, or scribe, responsible for copying community’s decisions into the local pinkas. On 23 January 1623, on the verge of retirement, he asked the community’s leaders for financial support for himself and his family. The parnassim agreed. Halperon retired, published his volume of responsa, NaÌalat Ya¨aqov, and died before Passover of 1625. From two later entries in the Padua pinkas we learn that the community agreed to make a one-time grant to his impoverished widow on condition that she left the city and never returned.8 From the Yiddish dedicatory letter attached to Keter malkhut, addressed to Keyle, the wife of Rabbi Mendele Oteling (= Ottolenghi), we learn that he considered the
3 Title pages: I. ‫כתר מלכות דז האט גימאכט איין קושטליכר רב כמהר'ר שלמה 'ן גבירול זצ"ל אין לשון הקדש פר‬ ‫לנגן צייטן. דרינן ווערט דער צילט גוטז ית' וואונדר וויא ער די וועלט הוט בישאפן אונ' דר נוך איין תפלה אונ' איין‬ ‫וידוי גאר שוין. איז ווארדן פר טויישטן ]![ אין טייטשר שפרוך אונ גיריימנט אונ' גישריבן פון איין פרומן אונ' ערליכן רב‬ ‫אונ אזו איז עז גיברוכט גיווארדן איצונדר אין דרוק דורך האנט הר'ר יעקב היילפרון דער האט אך פיל צו גיזעצט וואז‬ ‫אב גאנגן איז, דר מיט דז ווערט עז גלייך זיין צו דעם לשון הקדש מיט צו מזכה זיין פרומי ווייבר אונ עטליכי מאנן. דער‬ ‫עז ווערט קאפן אונ זאגן אלי וואוך ווערט זוכה זיין לחיי העולם הבא. גידרוקט בויניציאה בייא זואן די גארה שנת שס‬ ‫לפ"ק‬ Con licentia de Superiori. II./‫כתר מלכות. דש )כתר מלכות( גידרוקט אויף טייטש היפש אונ' פיין/ אזו גוט אז עש קאן גיווין/ ווער עש וויל קויפין‬ /‫זאל קומן צו לויפן/ גאטש מאכט דרינן צו לייאן/ אייער הערץ ווערט זיך דער פרייאן/ דער דורך ווערט איר זוכה זיין‬ ‫צו קומן אין הייליגן לנד אריין/ אמן סלה. נדפס בדפוס המשובח כמ"ר אורי וייבש בל'ארר כה'רר אהרון הלוי‬ .‫. זצל'הה: פה באמשטירדם בשנת תגאל לפ"ק‬ For bibliographical details, see the works by Habermann (n. 4) and Shmeruk (n. 5). 4 See Abraham Habermann, Giovanni Di Gara: Printer, Venice 1564–1610 (Jerusalem, 1982); see also Jean Baumgarten, ‘Giovanni Di Gara, Imprimeur de livres Yiddish à Venise (milieu du XVe-début du XVIe siècle) et la culture juive de la Renaissance’, Revue des études juives 159 (2000): 587–98. 5 See: Chone Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yiddish be-I†alyah’, I†alyah 3 (1982) 130–1, Chava Turniansky, ‘Meydlekh in der altyidisher literatur’, in Walter Röll and Simon Neuberg, eds., Jiddische Philologie: Festschrift für Erika Timm (Tübingen, 1999), pp. 7*–16*. On Yiddish literature in Italy, see Chava Turniansky, ‘La letteratura yiddish nell’Italia del Cinquecento’, La Rassegna Mensile de Israel 62 (1996): 63–93. 6 The two other books are Sefer Orekh yomim and Dinim ve-seder; see below. 7 For the texts of the dedicatory letters, see Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yiddish be- I†alyah’, pp. 161–3, 164–6 (Keter malkhut), and 172–3. 8 See Daniel Carpi, Pinqas va¨ad q“q Padova (5)364–(5)390 (Jerusalem, 1979): no. 513 (Halperon’s request for financial aid, 1623); no. 585 (terminus ante quem of Halperon’s death, Passover 1625); no. 623 (Halperon’s widow’s request for financial aid, 1626).


Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol's Keter Malkhut

family to be his ‘cousins’ (kuzines) and that he stayed as a guest in their house on two occasions: in 1579 and in 1586. Pursuing the common tack of finding a link between the book’s title (and subject matter) and the deeds and character of his benefactor, Halperon did not elaborate on the poem’s philosophical theme of God’s creation and the structure of the universe. Instead, he played with the word keter ‘crown’, insisting that in Italian Keyle’s name is Corona and so too in Yiddish, by the change of the initial qof to kaf. He further elaborates how Keyle’s father (whose family name was Katz, an acronym for kohen Òedeq) was honoured with the priestly crown or keter kehunnah; her husband, with the keter Torah; and Keyle herself with the crown of a good name or keter shem †ov. He writes that he initially intended to dedicate the book to one of Keyle’s four daughters, who had been his pupil (most probably during one of his so-called ‘visits’, indicating that he was also a simple melammed). Because, however, he did not wish to arouse jealousy among the sisters he decided to pay tribute to the mother. Consequently, in the name of mother and daughters, the entire family will be crowned with keter malkhut, a royal crown. Evidently, Halperon had no particular reason for translating this poem for that lady. The translator of the second Yiddish version of Keter malkhut, published in Amsterdam in 1673, is not named on the title page. The name of the bokher zetser or typesetter, Na¨im Barukh ben SimÌah ha-Levi, appears at the bottom of the last page of the Yiddish text. He was a native of the village of Wambach (or Wampach) in Germany and a member of the Jewish community of Friedburg. But as the introduction reveals, the translator was also the person who decided to print Ibn Gabirol in a Yiddish version. Hence we cannot rule out the possibility that Na¨im Barukh ben SimÌah was also the translator, but preferred to conceal this fact, honouring the Hebrew poet and minimizing the importance of his own role in producing the Yiddish translation (f. 1v): /‫אני איך שפל ארימר מאן/ דער ניט פיל לערנין קאן/ איין מאל אין ליגן אויף מיין בעט בייא נכט‬ ‫זיין אויף גנגין מייני גידאנקין אונ' האב גיטראכט/ וואש זאל איך אנטקיגן מיינה זינד שטעלן‬ ‫ביוויליגט צו ווערן/ ווען איך ווער קומן פאר דען הוכי הערין/ דערנט האלבין האב איך מיר פיר‬ ‫גנומן/ איך וויל וואש לאזין אין דער דרוק קומין/ איין חשובה תפילה דיא דא האט גמאכט איין‬ ‫חכם גדול ר' שלמה בן גבירול/ אונ' בפרט דיא גאר קיין לשון הקודש פאר שטין אז מיידן …טוט‬ ‫מאן אין נענן/ אונ' ווייבר/ אונ' אלה דיא דא ליב האבין גאט מיט אלה אירי לייבר/ דרום האב איך‬ ‫דיא חשובה תפלה כת'ר מלכות' נוך מיין קורציר פאר שטאנד פאר טייטשט אונ לאזן דרוקין‬ .‫פיין‬ Like so many before and after him, the Yiddish translator claimed to have translated for the benefit of the female readers: ‘girls and women and all those who have the love of God in their bodies’. The Amsterdam version does not betray any unambiguous link to the earlier Yiddish translation. There is no evidence that Na¨im Barukh knew Halperon’s version and deliberately opted for a prose rather than a poetic translation. The occasional parallelisms, for instance in word choice, do not allow us to conclude that the earlier version influenced the later one.

Shlomo Berger


These two translations enriched the corpus of Yiddish literature with a highly refined poem composed by one of the most celebrated Hebrew poets and philosophers of the Golden Age of al-Andalus.9 Keter malkhut, probably one of Ibn Gabirol’s last poems, is of particular importance within his oeuvre.10 It is usually associated with his philosophical magnum opus, Meqor Ìayyim, composed in Arabic and widely disseminated in its Latin translation Fons Vitae. Although Keter malkhut is not a direct poetical expression of Meqor Ìayyim, as Jacob Schlanger determines,11 it nevertheless contains traces of Ibn Gabirol’s philosophy. In Keter malkhut, Ibn Gabirol tries to combine two worlds into one: the world of belief and the world of philosophical contemplation and brings together ideas that are not necessarily complementary. Meqor Ìayyim was meant for philosophers (both Jews and non-Jews), whereas Keter malkhut was written for a Jewish readership. Hence the former was composed in Arabic and the latter in Hebrew. The philosopher Ibn Gabirol writes in Meqor Ìayyim that the road to wisdom passes by way of the supremacy of the soul over the body. The devout Jew Ibn Gabirol, writing Keter malkhut, does not believe in such a division of body and soul; on the contrary, they complement each other and share a common duty to serve God in accordance with His commandments. Nevertheless, in their effort to achieve wisdom and knowledge on the one hand and to fulfil God’s will on the other hand, human beings call on the soul as created by Him. Thus in Keter malkhut Ibn Gabirol praises, not the God of wisdom and the God of the believers, but the One God in His various aspects. According to Schlanger,12 Ibn Gabirol did not recognize two sets of Truth, since he himself was not conscious of the existence of such a position and did not deliberately elaborate on this dualism. Rather, the poem reflects Ibn Gabirol’s state of mind: for him, the division is not between two diametrically opposed Truths but between two different approaches to a single worldview. That there remains a contradiction between the Jewish and Neoplatonic systems is no cause for alarm. Ibn Gabirol chose to live according to the rules of one system, the Jewish; his philosophical speculations did not lead him to deny revelation. Hence no one need have misgivings about turning his Hebrew poem into a widely read piece of literature. Neither Yiddish translator was a philosopher. And, as will soon become clear, they were not reading either a ‘philosophical text’ or a poetical exposition of theological ideas. The two translators used similar Hebrew texts of the poem. The history of its textual transmission has not been studied in full, but it is clear that several variants of the Keter malkhut circulated in manuscript and in print.13 There are two important textual
9  See, for instance, the critical anthology by Raymond Scheindlin, Hebrew Medieval Poems on God, Israel and the Soul (Philadelphia, 1991). 10  The following is based on Jacques Schlanger, Ha-filosofyah shel Shlomo Ibn Gabirol (Jerusalem, 1979). 11  Ibid., pp. 39–42. 12 Ibid. 13  On the manuscript tradition, see Uwe Kornberger, Salomon Ibn Gabirols Keter Malchut: textkritisch bearbeitet, übersetzt und kommentiert (Heidelberg, 1992); there is no study of the printing history of the text.


Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol's Keter Malkhut

traditions. One includes the text later adopted for literary editions of the poem. The other, which has a different conclusion and occasional lexical variations, is that printed in the prayer book for the Day of Atonement according to the Sephardi rite.14 The various different branches of the latter stemma are the basis of both Yiddish translations. Here are both conclusions of the poem: ‫ולך יי חסד על כל הטובה אשר גמלתני, ואשר עד יום מותי תגמלני. ועל כל זה אני חייב להודות‬ ,‫להלל לפאר ולרומם אותך; תשתבח בפי ברואיך, תתקדש בפי מקדישיך, תתיחד בפי מיחדיך‬ ‫תתפאר בפי מפאריך, תתרומם בפי מרוממיך, תתנשא בפי מנשאיך, כי אין כמוך באלוהים אדוני‬ (‫ואין במעשיך. יהיו לרצון אמרי פי והגיון לבי לפניך יי צורי וגואלי. )ירדן‬ ,‫ולך יי חסד על כל הטובה אשר גמלתני, ואשר עד יום מותי תגמלני, וביראתך הטהורה תחזקני‬ ,‫ובתורתך התמימה תאמצני, ועל כל זה אני חייב להודות, להלל, לשבח, לפאר, לרומם, לברך‬ ,‫ולקדש, וליחד את שמך הגדול, הגבור, והנורא, בפי ישרים תתרומם, ובשפתי צדיקים תתברך‬ ‫ובלשון חסידים תתקדש, ובקרב קדושים תתהלל, ובלהקת אראלים תתפאר ותתהדר, תשתבח‬ ‫בפי רחומיך, תתקדש בפי קדושיך, תתרומם בפי מלאכיך, תתיחד בפי מיחדיך, תתנשא בפי‬ ‫מנשאיך. כי אין כמוך באלוהים אדוני ואין כמעשיך, ובמחנות חיות ואופנים וכרובים ועירין‬ ‫קדישין, תתנשא ותתעלה בשמים ממעל, ותתיחד בפי מיחדיך במורא ופחד. עמך ישראל גוי אחד‬ ‫בארץ. אתה הוא אלוהים בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת אין עוד; יהיו לרצון אמרי פי והגיון‬ (‫לבי לפניך יי צורי וגואלי. )מחזור ליום הכיפורים‬ Evidently both men took the poem from the prayer book and not from a literary edition. The two translators worked in places (Italy, Amsterdam) with flourishing Sephardi communities and relied on the Sephardi prayer book for their text. Neither entertained major literary ambitions at the outset of the project. The Yiddish versions were not intended to arouse aesthetic appreciation. As will be shown below, neither translator was interested in Ibn Gabirol the philosopher and his philosophical tour de force. In fact, the other two books that Halperon translated into Yiddish deal with the education of children (Sefer Orekh yomim) and with the preparation of kosher meat (Dinim ve-seder). When he offered a Yiddish book to his Jewish ladies he was not looking for literary gems that could inspire them, and certainly not for philosophical contemplation. On the contrary, the practical nature of the venture is obvious. Keter malkhut clearly satisfied the same desideratum, as a prayer worth reading and reciting each week, as announced on the title page (‫.)זאגן אלי וואוך‬ The nature of the Amsterdam version is obvious from its form and content. Although he does not follow the Sephardi practice of reading the poem before the Morning Service on the Day of Atonement, the Amsterdam translator envisages the recitation of the poem as an act of regular devotion. This translation is divided into seven sections, one for each day of the week. In fact, there is no evidence that seventeenth-century Ashkenazim read Keter malkhut on the Day of Atonement and that the
14 On the various manuscript traditions of the text, see ibid., pp. 23ff., 158–60 (a schematic description of the last section of the poem). For variants in printed prayer books, see Shem ™ov Gaguine, Keter shem †ov: New Year and Day of Atonement (London, 1955), pp. 344–9.

Shlomo Berger


Ashkenazi prayer book included the poem.15 Nevertheless, two Ashkenazi prayer books published in Amsterdam – by Emanuel Benvenishti in 1649 and by Joseph Athias in 1667 – include Keter malkhut as an additional prayer not associated with a specific occasion. Benvenishti’s title page explicitly notes the poem’s inclusion, thereby confirming that it was unusual for Keter malkhut to appear in Ashkenazi siddurim. More importantly, in both prayer books the poem is divided into sections corresponding to the days of the week – the division adopted by the Yiddish translator. It is most likely, then, that the text of the poem as found in one of these two prayer books, or a similar one, was used by the Amsterdam Yiddish translator. The Amsterdam translator was probably influenced by several genres of Yiddish literature, all of which can be subsumed under the heading ‘ethical literature’ (muser sforim), whose role was to mould and propagate ideals of behaviour for individual Jews and the community as a whole.16 To make such books accessible to Jewish readers and achieve their goal, the authors of muser sforim employed many devices, stylistic and otherwise. The use of the vernacular was one of them. Although it is primarily a philosophical poem and does not provide practical advice for daily living, as ethical literature customarily does, both Yiddish versions of Keter malkhut can be subsumed under this tradition and could be interpreted in the light of ethical literature. Reading (and re-reading) a section of the poem each day, pious Jews could pray to God and perceive their own position on earth. Repeating the maxims about God’s nature, deeds, role, and place in the universe, and about human beings’ humble position, sinful character, and constant pleas for divine forgiveness would guide them to follow the path of righteousness. Given that both translations were addressed to women and that Yiddish literature in general was often referred to as ‘women’s literature’, the Yiddish versions can also be interpreted in this vein.17 Both could function as a somewhat intellectual tkhine or supplication. Tkhines written for a broad spectrum of events and occurrences in the lives of women were published regularly from the middle of the seventeenth century on; an early and famous example is a volume printed in Amsterdam in 1648.18 Such collections often included prayers for each day of the week and for important dates on the calendar.19 The Amsterdam version of Keter malkhut might have been in this
Daniel Goldshmit, MaÌzor la-yamim ha-noraˆim: Yom Kippur (Jerusalem, 1970), introduction. Leopold Zunz (Die Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienst [Berlin, 1859], p. 147), mentions the popularity of Keter malkhut in Poland, but it is clear that it was not part of the Yom Kippur liturgy. On the influence of the Sephardi liturgy on the Ashkenazi, see Hirsch Jacob Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Relations, Differences and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa (London, 1958), esp. pp. 122–3 and n. 3 (on Keter malkhut in nineteenth-century German prayer books). Gaguine, Keter shem †ov, also mentions Zunz’s reference and adds ‘[although it is known that] the ancient Polish and German Jews ran away from studying philosophy like someone who runs away from a fire’ (p. 348). 16 See: Yosef Dan, Sifrut ha-musar ve-ha-derush (Jerusalem, 1975); Zeev Gries, Sifrut ha-hanhagot (Jerusalem, 1989), pp. 28–30; Chava Turniansky, Sefer Massah u-merivah (Jerusalem, 1985), esp. pp. 58–86. On muser sforim in Yiddish, see Max Erik, Geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur fun der elteste tsayt biz di haskole tkufe (Warsaw, 1928), pp. 207–319. 17 On the question of ‘women’s literature’ and Yiddish readership, see Chava Turniansky, Bein qodesh le-Ìol: Lashon, Ìinnukh ve-haskalah be-mizraÌ Eiropah (Polin) (unit 7) (Tel Aviv, 1994), pp. 61–78. 18 Chava Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women (Boston, 1998). 19 Ibid., p. 13.
15 See


Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol's Keter Malkhut

tradition. Because the poem’s subject is God’s Creation, which took place in seven days, it was appropriate to divide the poem into seven sections as well.20 A woman could read this poem within a week or a section of it on a particular day. It became an individual prayer rather than public synagogue liturgy. Moreover, Ibn Gabirol’s use of figures of speech like repetition lends the poem an aura of a repetitive prayer and disguises the ‘difficult’ philosophical premises that might have deterred readers from approaching it. The down-to-earth prose of the Amsterdam translation, with its line-by-line fidelity to the Hebrew original, could only support the notion that it is a simple prayer, a recitation of axioms about the essence of God’s universe. Difficult passages could be understood as a ‘godly riddle’ that can be grasped only by clever students of His wisdom. In fact, such riddles enhance the poem’s aura of power: the rational, classical form of the Hebrew original is converted into a popular/‘mystical’ and not totally understood reading experience. Keter malkhut becomes an ethical-religious poem rather than a philosophical one. It was popularized through its translation strategy and provided the masses with a dose of Sephardi culture. The Italian Yiddish Keter malkhut, though also within this ambit, has a different character. Trying to do justice to the original Hebrew poem, Halperon opted for a translation in verse. It cannot be proven that he was influenced by illustrious ‘Italian’ examples, such as the Bove mayse of Elijah Levita (BaÌur); Halperon’s verses are rhymed but not metrical.21 Giving primacy to the poetic form, he paraphrased and even summarized Ibn Gabirol’s text when necessary, inevitably simplifying or obscuring the author’s ideas. Halperon abridged some passages so drastically that they are no longer faithful to the original: for instance, naming and explaining the functions of the ten planets, he neglects the characteristics of each planet as presented in the Hebrew.22 Occasionally he added short prayers and invocations to God not found in the Hebrew;23 in a number of instances he merges sections of the original Hebrew.24 The idea that Keter malkhut is a sort of prayer in rhymed verse rather than a poem is also reflected in Halperon’s decision to affix a title to the last part of the poem, sections 34 to 40: ‫‘ ,א וידוי‬A Confession’.25 Although Halperon suggested that his readers recite this piyyut every week, the added section title nevertheless associates the Yiddish version with the Day of Atonement, when a confession is added to the ¨amidah prayer.26 Indeed, in his translation of Section 39 Halperon added a sentence

 The division of the Amsterdam version of the poem does not entirely correspond to the contents. Raphael Loewe (Ibn Gabirol [London, 1989], pp. 108–12) divides the poem into four parts: (1) Ch. 1– 9, (2) Ch. 10–29, (3) Ch. 30–32, (4) Ch. 33–40. The Yiddish poem is divided as follows: Sunday: Ch. 1–9; Monday, 10–15; Tuesday, 16–23; Wednesday, 24–32; Thursday, 33–35; Friday, 36–37; Shabbat, 38–40. Loewe subdivides his fourth section, chapters 33–40, as follows: 33–37a, 37b–d, and 38–40, which does not correspond to the Yiddish poem’s sections for Thursday through Shabbat. 21  On Elijah Levita, see Chone Shmeruk, Perokim fun der yidisher literatur-geshikhte (Tel Aviv, 1987), pp. 141–56. 22  See, for instance, f. 7r. 23 See, for instance, eight lines on ff. 8v–9r. 24  See, for instance, ff. 10v–11r. 25 The confession is also mentioned on the title page. 26  Goldshmit, MaÌzor la-yamim ha-noraˆim, 10*–12*.

Shlomo Berger


not found in any Hebrew text of Keter malkhut: ‫אונ זייא מיר ניט בור זויכן אונ טוא מיך‬ ‫ ,שרייבן אין דיינם בוכן‬which is a direct allusion to the Yom Kippur liturgy. As modern scholarship confirms, the addition of the vidduy to the Ashkenazi rite stimulated the composition of piyyutim to accompany it.27 Halperon may have been aware of this practice. Indeed, both translators occasionally introduced their own redivision of the original Hebrew chapters as found in the known literary editions. In several cases both men conclude a section with the opening sentence of what is the next section in the Hebrew. It must be borne in mind, however, that prayer books include many textual variants, reflecting their editors’ whims, so it is difficult to determine any fixed textual tradition in this matter.28 The translators’ success in finding Yiddish equivalents for many Hebrew scientific, astronomical, or philosophical terms is an index of their knowledge, linguistic abilities, and cultural surroundings. Since such words play a significant role in the original Hebrew poem, the translators’ treatment of these words may indicate their basic disinterest in philosophy and how difficult they found it to come up with appropriate Yiddish equivalents. In fact, they relied on their readers’ willingness to accept their choices without question. But this strategy may also be intended to mystify the terms, as already suggested above. Their emphasis was not scientific accuracy but the sense of astonishment at God’s created universe. The Amsterdam printer went one step further and set such Hebrew words in a large and bold square type, three times the size of the tsur font of the Yiddish text.29 Interrupting the flow of the Yiddish line, the Hebrew terms stand out as particularly important. Evidently this reflects a semiotic or semantic shift of philosophical notions into a set of religious ones. These terms are Hebrew markers that readers should memorize, because they denote fundamentals of Jewish culture and religion. The two translators’ choice of Yiddish equivalents for such terms merits investigation. Almost at the start of the poem we confront the first tricky notion: in line 7 (Yarden’s edition) Ibn Gabirol writes (quoting Psalm 139:14): ‫נפלאים מעשיך ונפשי‬ ‫ .יודעת מאוד‬Halperon chooses ‘ziel’/‘zel’ for ‫ ;נפש‬the Amsterdam version opts for ‘layb’ instead. The latter is more correct, since in biblical usage nefesh is equivalent to ‘body’ and frequently denotes ‘a human being’. Indeed, forty lines later (l. 47), Halperon faced an acute problem: the Hebrew text reads, ‫אתה חי ולא כנפש ונשמה כי‬ ‫ ,אתה נשמה לנשמה‬requiring him to find a suitable lexical differentiation between body and soul or between God’s soul and that of His human creatures. Here Halperon does
27 Ibid.

28 I do not know which prayer books were used by the two translators. What follows is based on a comparison of the text as printed in literary editions (those of Jefim Shirman, Dov Yarden, and Raphael Loewe) with that in several prayer books (including a nineteenth-century Dutch-Sephardi prayer book). 29 On Yiddish fonts, see: Herbert Zafren, ‘Variety in the Typography of Yiddish: 1535–1635’, Hebrew Union College Annual 53 (1982): 37–163; idem, ‘Early Yiddish Typography’, Jewish Book Annual 44 (1986–87): 106–19. I would like to thank Dr. Adri Offenberg, the former curator of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, for clarifying matters of fonts and printing possibilities.


Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol's Keter Malkhut

employ layb for nefesh and writes of the opposition between ‘layb un ziel’ on the one hand and ‘ziel tsu ziel’ on the other hand. But in l. 64 he again uses ‘ziel’ for ‫.נפש‬ In l. 473 Ibn Gabirol writes, ‘You gave me a ‫ ,’נפש קדושה‬rendered by Halperon as ‘ayn rayn neshome’ (rather than ‘ziel’, and in the masculine!). Note too the unexpected replacement of qedoshah ‘holy’ by rayn ‘pure’. The Amsterdam version is consistent: nefesh is ‘layb’ and neshamah is ‘ziel’ (in several cases neshome); thus l. 473 becomes, ‘ayn haylige layb’. So where Ibn Gabirol writes (l. 364), ‫והנפש‬ ‫‘ ,החכמה לא תראה מוות‬and the wise soul will not see death’, the Amsterdam translator is hoist on his own petard: ‫– דש לייב דש קלוגה דש זעלביגה איז דיא נשמה זיכט קיין טויטא‬ ‘and the wise body, which is the same as the soul, will see no death’. Here he had to interpolate a link between nefesh and neshamah, since only the soul knows immortality. This may also indicate that his usage of ‘layb’ intended the body in the most earthly fashion. Alongside these terms for soul and body, we ought to note that when the Hebrew text has ‫( גוף‬meaning not always a human body, but also any body), it is also employed in the Yiddish in both translations. Two other examples can help clarify the two translators’ word choices, and the maze they had to navigate. The Italian occasionally takes over the Hebrew word ‫ ,שכל‬which is a legitimate Yiddish word; elsewhere Halperon writes ‫ גידנאקן‬and ‫ ,גידדאנקן לוב‬which is also found in the Amsterdam version: ‫ .לויב אונ גידנקין‬The Amsterdam translator also uses ‫ גידנקין‬for the Hebrew ‫ ,רעיון‬and loyb ‘praise’ refers to sekhel. It is also used to render ‫ .תהילה‬When Ibn Gabirol refers to the cunning human mind he writes ‫דעת‬ ‫ .ומזימה‬The Amsterdam Yiddish text has ‫ ;זין אונ טיכטונג‬Halperon simply skips over this term. We should notice, though, that the Amsterdam version also uses ‫ טיכטונג‬for ‫ ,הגיון‬or human intellectual ability. Another important notion is ‫( יש מאין‬ex nihilo or de non esse ad esse30). Finding a Yiddish form as concise as the Hebrew was evidently difficult. So we find ‫ויצא מאין‬ ‫ ליש‬rendered as ‫( איז אויז גיגאנגן פון נישט איז צו יא איז‬Amsterdam); ‫ ואל היש ונתקע‬as ‫( אונ עפיז הוט דראיט מאכן אויף האלטן‬Halperon); and ‫ למשוך משך היש מן האין‬as ‫צו ציהן‬ ‫( דז דא איז פון דז דא ניט איז‬Amsterdam) or ‫צו אויש ציהן אלז דז דו אישט עצוויש אויש ניכט‬ (Halperon).31 The Yiddish versions rely on pure description and primitive forms of expression; both translators seem to be totally unaware of the possible philosophical interpretations of ‫23.אין ויש‬ Both translations also reflect the world of Ashkenazi religious notions. In the Italian version, the Hebrew ‫ חסידים‬becomes ‫ .צדיקים‬God’s universe also contains demons (‫ )טוייבל‬and the angel of death (‫ ,)מלאך המוות‬who are not mentioned in the Hebrew original. When Ibn Gabirol writes ‫ ,מלאך המשחית‬Halperon again has ‫.טוייבל‬ ‫ מעללים‬becomes ‫ יצר הרע‬and the prophets are turned into soothsayers or ‫.ווארזעגר‬ The sharp dichotomy between good and evil, the existence of demons, and similar
is the term used in the Latin Fons Vitae; see below, n. 32. modern usage, ‫ יש מאין‬is a legitimate Yiddish noun in both the singular and the plural (yesh meˆayins): see YiÒÌaq Niborsky and Simon Neuberg, Verterbukh fun loshn-koydeshshtamike verter in yidish (Paris, 1997), p. 117. 32 See Shlomo Pines, ‘ “Ve-qaraˆ el ha-ˆayin ve-nivqa¨ ”: Le-Ìeqer Keter malkhut li-Shlomo Ibn Gabirol’, Tarbiz 50 (1980): 339–47.
31 In 30 This

Shlomo Berger


notions are to be found in the ethical literature and accordingly surface here as well. Both translators insert a first-person narrator ‫ נון וויל איך דר צילן‬and use ‫ כלומר‬or ‫דז‬ ‫ היישט‬to introduce an explanation in Yiddish of a concept stated in the Hebrew but which they believe must be correctly understood by the readers.33 Translations are also commentaries and such glosses were typical of Yiddish ethical literature and books like the Tsene rene. The Yiddish and Hebrew languages are inseparable. Yiddish cannot undo its Hebrew background, from its use of the Hebrew alphabet to it substantial vocabulary of Hebrew words. In addition, Yiddish legitimizes and perpetuates the primacy of its mother tongue within the Jewish cultural system. This polysystem34 enabled Yiddish to develop a full range of expressive forms that paralleled those found in Hebrew. Because Hebrew books were translated into Yiddish in order to provide reading matter for an initially less-sophisticated public, the process entailed various sorts of transformation.35 The translations of Keter malkhut disclose a general process of transformation from one set of cultural signs to another. At the linguistic level, we indeed have a translation that cannot match the Hebrew text. Both translators had to resort to ingenious solutions that failed to do justice to the original. The translators had to grapple with medieval Hebrew, which borrowed extensively from the Bible; so their effort was doomed to failure from the outset. Nevertheless, the anticipation of such a failure may have led the Amsterdam translator to opt for a prose version and the transfer of Ibn Gabirol’s text from its original domain to that of ethical literature. The emphasis given to Hebrew words in the Amsterdam printed book – bold square letters within parentheses – should not be ascribed solely to a ‘tradition’ that defined the lexicographical relationship between Yiddish and Hebrew.36 It should also be understood as the placing of cultural markers, signs that denote that the range of Yiddish culture is wider than the possibilities available in this language. These markers work in two directions: internally, they give the Hebrew terms a special position within the Yiddish text;37 externally, they preserve the link to the other language in the cultural system and provide Yiddish readers with a tool for referring to the Hebrew text.
Simon Neuberg, Pragmatische Aspekte der Jiddischen Sprachgeschichte am Beispiel der ‘Zenerene’ (Hamburg, 1999), pp. 158–60. Even-Zohar launched the study of polysystems in 1970. See his Polysystem Studies = Poetics Today 11.1 (1990). See also the methodological inquiry by Gideon Toury, ‘Li-sheˆelat teˆur ha-sifrut kerav–ma¨arekhet’, Ha-Sifrut 18–19 (1974): 1–19. For a discussion of polysystems in Yiddish, see Benjamin Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish (Berkeley, 1990), passim. 35 Itamar Even-Zohar, ‘Aspeq†im shel ha-rav–ma¨arekhet ¨ivrit-yiddish’, Ha-Sifrut 35–36 (1986): 46– 54, esp. 50–2. 36 The writing conventions involving the incorporation of Hebrew words into Yiddish and the subsequent use of grammatical symbols in Yiddish is a neglected subject. See my ‘On the Use of Hebrew Words in Parenthesis in a Yiddish Text: The Case of Keter Malkhut (Amsterdam 1673)’, Zutot: Perspectives on Jewish Culture 3 (2003): 34–9. 37 On the place of Hebrew words in Yiddish, see, for instance, Uriel Weinreich, ‘Ha-¨ivrit ha-ashkenazit ve-ha-¨ivrit she-be-yiddish: beÌinatan ha-geˆografit’, Leshonenu 22 (1960): 242–52.
34 Itamar 33 See


Two Seventeenth-Century Translations of Ibn Gabirol's Keter Malkhut

By associating the Yiddish version with the Day of Atonement or with ethical literature, the translators relocated the religious text into the Ashkenazi religious world of ideas.38 The philosophical notions were transformed into a set of religious ones. These are no mere simplifications, since one wonders how many Sephardim could in fact decode Ibn Gabirol’s meaning. Because the Yiddish text could never become canonical, the translators could expand and comment, play with their word choice, and rework their versions to the point where they found their own place within an independent Yiddish hierarchy. The Yiddish versions of Keter malkhut were an exploration of the potential of the Jewish vernacular, essential to the evolution and expansion of the language, the construction of its own literary norms, and the enlargement of its corpus. Armed with a Yiddish Keter malkhut, readers could reassess the status of the Hebrew original within the canon and redefine the functions of both the Hebrew and Yiddish texts. This mode of operation demands an openness and flexibility of the sort employed by the maskilim of later generations.39 Yiddish books accordingly served as a cultural agent that unintentionally introduced ideas and methods later employed and developed by the maskilim. In 1794, Zeev Wolf Buchner composed a Hebrew ‘maskilic’ version of Keter malkhut that imitated the original medieval poem. Unlike the original, with its refined classical and universal forms, Buchner’s Keter is marked by a romantic, emotional, and almost exclusive Jewish character. According to Naomi Zohar,40 Buchner had an anthropocentric view located within a ‘Jewish national’ background, whereas his medieval model was theocentric and universalistic. She interprets Buchner’s view as characteristic of enlightened Jewish and gentiles alike. The Yiddish versions of Keter malkhut turned medieval philosophical thinking into popular ethics with an Ashkenazi form. A maskil like Buchner tried to re-elevate this to the level of philosophy within an Ashkenazi setting. Thus was Sepharad incorporated into Ashkenazi culture through Yiddish and redefined in Hebrew by the Haskalah.41

the efforts by authors to introduce Yiddish liturgy and their failure to make inroads into the synagogue, see Max Weinreich, ‘Inevaynikste tsveyshprakhkayt in Ashkenaz biz der haskole: fakt’n un bagrif’n’, Di Goldene Keyt 35 (1959). On Eastern European religious world of ideas, see Gershon D. Hundert, ‘Jewish Popular Spirituality in the Eighteenth Century’, Polin 15 (2002), pp. 93–104. 39 See, for instance, the tradition of ‘nach Literatur’: Îayyim Shoham, Be-Òel haskalat Berlin (Tel Aviv, 1992). 40 Naomi Zohar, ¨Olelot mi-baÒir: Haskalah-Ìasidut-mitnaggedut biÒirot nishkaÌot (Jerusalem, 1987), pp. 19–81, esp. 52–81. 41 I would like to thank the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the University Library in Rostock for providing me with copies of the Yiddish texts of Keter malkhut. Special thanks to Heike Tröger and Arie Schippers.

38 On

Shlomo Berger


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Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization’ of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in Pre-Modern and Modern Times

Introduction An examination of the history of Ashkenazi liturgy and liturgical poetry, or piyyu†, in the late medieval and early modern periods produces a rather confusing image. Here I will share a few thoughts about the historical range of attitudes to liturgical poetry. I hope these will provide some information about approaches to the tradition of Ashkenazi liturgy in the Haskalah and Wissenschaft periods. Hebrew poetry – Sephardi and to a lesser extent Ashkenazi, both secular and liturgical – was a major preoccupation of the ‘Science of Judaism’. What were the motives for this interest? Where did it come from? Can we arrive at some new insight into what I would like to call ‘the liturgical downfall of piyyu† and the scientific rise of piyyu† in preWissenschaft and Wissenschaft times’? First of all, piyyu†, by its very nature, can be viewed as having originally been a non-standard liturgical element, which gained popularity in the first centuries CE.1 The synagogues of late Antiquity incorporated new hymns, composed in verse with acrostics and rhyme, into their communal prayer and ritual. The fourth to the sixth centuries give us less or more evolved compositions like the qinah, the seliÌah, the yoÒer, and, above all, the qerovah or qedushta. The qedushta for every Sabbath and festival consists of between seven and nine stanzas with alphabetical and name acrostics and strophic rhyme schemes. The length of both the yoÒer and the qedushta, as well as the versification of biblical and midrashic themes, reflects the high status of these poems, which were apparently performed from the bimah by the cantor, who was often also the composer, while a small choir or perhaps even the whole congregation joined in some refrains. The most impressive achievement of these (mostly Palestinian) cantor-poets is undoubtedly their poetic excellence and the variety of lyrical devices they introduced. These hymns also played a role in education. Along with the synagogue prayers, they introduced worshippers to the elements of Jewish theology. Recall that even Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles are better known to a wider audience in their versified form, Yigdal, than in his original formulation. But as Jakob Petuchowski has observed, piyyu†im, far from imposing orthodox theology, tended to embody and maintain individual creativity:
1 Leon

Weinberger, Jewish Hymnography, A Literary History (London, 1998), pp. 7–9.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Wout van Bekkum Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Royal Netherlands


Statements and arguments which, in prose, would immediately be branded as ‘heretical’ have become, once they were couched in poetic form, ingredients of the liturgy, and continue to be rehearsed – often with more devotion than comprehension – by multitudes of the unsuspecting pious who would be utterly shocked to discover the true intent of their authors.2

Although Petuchowski is right about the theological flexibility and literary spontaneity of liturgical poetry, he uses rather strong words for its supposed incomprehensibility and obscurity, as if hardly anyone ever understood what was going on in these sacred verses. In that sense, his remarks coincide with the centuries of opposition to piyyu†. Critics in medieval and modern times have pointed out that piyyu†, as an integral part of the religious tradition, has removed itself from the normal sphere of poetry by placing elegance of language above clarity of meaning. Similar considerations led the nineteenth-century European Reformers to excise most of the hymns from the synagogue liturgy. Hebrew liturgical verse as a living phenomenon in Jewish worship remains in grave peril in modern times, but academic studies of piyyu† have broken new ground and yielded novel insights. Considering the state of affairs in Hebrew poetic research at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can be exceedingly grateful to the Cairo Geniza treasures, which have permitted dramatic advances in the scholarly study of piyyu†. Thanks to the Jewish practice of not destroying texts that contained God’s name, the Jews of Fostat preserved their documents and letters, as well as liturgical codices and others books, when these were no longer fit for public use, in a room of the Ibn Ezra synagogue. The Geniza provides us with many fragments and more various extensive texts than are available from standard sources and editions. Scholars like Davidson, Zulay, Schirmann, and Fleischer have published and classified thousands of works of hitherto little known or unknown synagogue poets. They have divided Late Antique and medieval Hebrew poetry into a pre-classical and a classical stage in Palestine, a post-classical stage in Babylonia, and a more or less neo-classical stage in Muslim and Christian Spain. The last of these – Spanish secular and liturgical poetry – became the standard for later hymnological developments in Sephardi and Ottoman-Jewish culture, mostly thanks to the refugees from Spain and Portugal after the expulsions of 1492 and 1496. The decipherment, reconstruction, and identification of poetic texts in the Geniza yielded numerous new insights into the dynamic character of piyyu†, relevant to the liturgy of Ashkenaz to a limited extent. Unfortunately, the history of Central- and West-European piyyu† is much more difficult to reconstruct. In recent decades, however, Daniel Goldschmidt and Yonah Frankel published their festival maÌzorim, which contain a tremendous amount of information about variant readings. For me, their selections and compilations of hymns represent a kind of modern scholarly canonization of Ashkenazi piyyu† for the holidays; thanks to the inclusion of the standard prayers, their critical editions can be used during synagogue services. Although the hymnists of France, Italy, and Germany in the High Middle Ages built their works on earlier classical models, they permitted themselves numerous additions and innovations in genre, style, language, and theme. All the while, classical composi2 Jakob

Petuchowski, Theology and Poetry (London, 1978), p. 5.


Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization' of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry

tions, notably those of Eleazar ha-Qalir or Qilir, who resided in Palestine late sixth and early seventh centuries, continued to be popular. Qilir and later works in his style were indeed not easy to understand. The phenomenon of commentaries on traditional piyyu† compositions, most of them works in the style of Qilir, was not a novelty in Jewish learning. As Elisabeth Hollender has shown in her Habilitationsschrift, there are many parallels with the literature of biblical exegesis and linguistics.3 For many centuries a large number of piyyu†im were held in high esteem by the Jewish congregations of Western and Central Europe. However, criticism of piyyu† became louder in modern times. The famous chief rabbi of Copenhagen, Abraham Alexander Wolff (1801–1891), listed the objections of medieval and early modern Jewish authorities in defense of his elimination of piyyu†im from the service in a series of articles in Literaturblatt des Orients.4 An outstanding opponent of piyyu† quoted by Wolff is Rabbi Jacob Emden, who wrote, in his prayer book ¨Ammudei shamayyim (1750):
May God grant the moment that one can make a distinction between true minhagim and pseudo-minhagim, that is, to purify and to cleanse obligatory prayer from the lumber of later times, from the piyyu†im! Oh the piyyu†im! They are the ones that blacken our reputation and inflict on us indignities!

The publications in Literaturblatt des Orients were considered a sinful aberration by an anonymous author from Leeuwarden (most probably Baruch Bendit Dusnus, chief rabbi of Leeuwarden from 1840 until 1886), who in 1842 adhered steadfastly to the traditional position of piyyu† in Jewish liturgy.5 Piyyu† had become a contested issue; a large number of hymns were very vulnerable and liable to disappear in an age of religious renewal and liturgical reform. Although German Orthodox rabbis and cantors objected to any changes in synagogue services, they too were not always eager to have the piyyu†im recited in full. In some ways, the question of the place of piyyu† in modern Jewish culture accords with the situation in earlier times. Individual poems or longer series of poems reveal
3  Mittelalterliche hebräische Kompilationsliteratur am Beispiel aschkenasischer und französischer Pijjutkommentare (Duisburg, 2000), pp. 55–63; eadem, “Hebräische Kommentare hebräischer liturgischer Poesie: eine Taxonomie der wichtigsten Kommentarelemente”, in: Der Kommentar in Antike und Mittelalter: Beiträge zu seiner Erforschung, Clavis Commentatoriorum Antiquitatis et Medii Aevi 2, ed. Wilhelm Geerlings and Christian Schulz (Leiden, 2002), pp. 163–82; eadem, Clavis Commentariorum of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in Manuscript, Clavis Commentariorum Antiquitatis et Medii Aevi, 4 (Leiden, 2005). 4 No. 23, 5 June 1841, pp. 337–41; No. 24, 12 June 1841, pp. 359–62; No. 25, 19 June 1841, pp. 369– 80; No. 26, 26 June 1841, pp. 385–93. These articles were published under the curious pseudonym Aniam ben Schemida. Wolff used his own name in 1856–57 when the collected articles were published in a booklet entitled Ateret Shalom we-Emet: Die Stimmen der ältesten glaubwürdigsten Rabbinen über die Pijutim (Leipzig, 1857). Cf. also Wolff’s Lehrbuch der israelitischen Religion (Copenhagen, 1836), on matters of Jewish theology. 5 Kinath Schalom Weëmeth: Eifer der Wahrheit und des Friedens! Die Stimmen der ältesten, glaubwürdigsten Rabbienen, über die Pijutim; Eine Gegenschrift wieder das kürzlich herausgekommene Werk des Aniam ben Schemida genannt Angthereth Schalom Weëmeth (Leeuwarden, 1842), p. 8: ‘You say that all your great authorities are in favour of eliminating piyyu†im; you have made a fool of yourselves! Who among them has said to eliminate them all? You should consult their books again and see that no one discusses the piyyu†im for ¨amidah, only those [yoÒrot] for the reading of Shema¨.’

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a complex textual history both in manuscripts and in printed editions: copyists could inadvertently or deliberately alter words and phrases, omit lines and strophes, or skip entire poems. The preferences of both cantor and congregation might produce variant readings. When the printing press became responsible for siddurim and maÌzorim, further changes might occur. Printing added a new dimension to the transmission of piyyu†im, affecting both readings and presentation: often the structure of a poem was ignored and the lines were printed one after another, with no display of acrostics and rhyme schemes. With regard to minhagim, the extant sources reflect several major trends: Western Ashkenaz (for instance, the Worms maÌzor), Eastern Ashkenaz (Poland, Galicia, Lithuania, etc.), France (both the northeast and Provence), Rome, and Romania.6 The Genizah manuscripts offer essential additions to the reception history of classical Palestinian piyyu†im still found in Ashkenazi liturgy (e.g., some ¨avodot for the Day of Atonement by Yossi ben Yossi [fourth-fifth centuries], a few compositions by Yannai [sixth century], and a large number of works by Qilir). Another factor complicating the reception history of piyyu†im is the impact of the (self-)censorship of prayer in both traditional and modern contexts. While it is true that censorship was frequently unsystematic and inefficient, prayers and hymns were more influenced by censorship than is often realized. Some of the texts were as ancient as the ¨Alenu prayer, which caused controversies even in modern times because of its supposed anti-Christian and anti-Muslim contents.7 Wolf Benjamin Heidenheim As traditional attitudes toward liturgy and poetry changed during the early modern period, it was increasingly felt that the fashion for freer interaction between Jewish and European literature posed a new challenge to synagogue hymns.8 The linguistic and textual study of Jewish prose liturgy and hymnology goes back to the geonic period, when the leaders of Rabbanite Judaism, notably Saadia Gaon, sought to formulate a basic canon of the prayers in their pristine form, for the use of the entire Jewish community. For the maskilim of the eighteenth century, both Saadia and the Spanish poets provided a crucial precedent for the introduction of liturgical poetry based on
 Stefan Reif, Judaism and Hebrew Prayer (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 256–93. Elbaum, ‘On Two Changes to the Text of ¨Alenu’ (Hebrew), Tarbiz 42 (1972–73): 204–8; Naphtali Wieder, ‘Regarding an Anti-Christian and Anti-Muslim Gematria (in the “¨Alenu le-shabeaÌ” prayer)’ (Hebrew), Sinai 76 (1975): 1–14; repr. in The Formation of Jewish Liturgy in the East and the West (Jerusalem, 1998), pp. 453–68. 8 Such a general view needs a more discriminating formulation, one that distinguishes between the options of interaction on a majority-minority basis. Maskilic and modernist ideals do not imply a strict dichotomy of religious practice or erosion of traditional values. See the thought-provoking argument in David Sorkin, The Berlin Haskalah and German Religious Thought: Orphans of Knowledge (London and Portland, OR, 2000), pp. 125–9: ‘The time has therefore come to cease using the Berlin Haskalah as the symbolic whipping boy for Jewish modernization. Its politicization in the closing decades of the [eighteenth] century did implicate it in a fateful polarization of Jewish society which on the one hand contributed to the formation of the conventional view, and thus to our continued misunderstanding of the Haskalah itself, and on the other has endured in a variety of fateful permutations (orthodox vs. reform, nationalist vs. assimilationist, secular vs. religious) to the present time and incontrovertibly constitutes one of the hallmarks of Jewish modernity.’
7 Jacob 6


Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization' of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry

the vocabulary of biblical Hebrew. This biblicist approach toward the traditional language of the piyyu† was implicitly a demand for adaptation and modification of the time-honoured synagogue hymns. Isaac ben Moses ha-Levi Satanow (1732–1804) took a rather radical stand when he introduced his various sedarim and tefillot. His brusque attempts to liberalize and reshape Ashkenazi liturgy were to no avail.9 The biography of Wolf Benjamin Heidenheim, a traditionalist who kept his study of the literary and historical aspects of piyyu† within the rabbinic tradition, helps place the modern challenge to Jewish liturgy into focus. Heidenheim was born in Heidenheim in 1757; an outstanding Hebrew scholar, translator, and publisher, in 1798 he established the first modern printing press for Jewish books at Rödelheim. Between 1798 and the year of his death in 1832 he published editions of the maÌzor,10 the prayer books Safah berurah and Sefat emet, the Pentateuch, the Haggadah, Pirqei avot, the prayers for Tish¨ah be-Av, and the seliÌot, each with his own translations and commentaries. He also produced a text on the Hebrew language (Mevoˆ halashon), a book on Hebrew pronunciation (Mishpe†ei ha-†e¨amim), and a commentary on the Pentateuch (Havanat ha-miqraˆ). His meticulously produced and annotated prayerbooks made his name among Jewish scholars and laymen. Heidenheim’s contribution to liturgical reform awaits scholarly analysis, but he can certainly be considered as having set an example for the later efforts of scholars like Leopold Zunz. As an appendix to the maÌzor, in 1798 he published a booklet on piyyu†im and their authors, an introduction that combines liturgical and historical interests:
The pay†anim and their poems, which became a part of our prayerbooks, are our heritage. Most of them were scholars, some from EreÒ Yisrael and Babylonia, others from Spain as well as France and Germany. They were all active during a span of three hundred years, that is, from the middle of the eighth century of the fifth millennium until the end of the millennium [i.e., c. 990–1240 CE]. There are no rhymes in all the prayers and devotions that the Men of the Great Assembly instituted for us. Many prayers and hymns of our masters, the talmudic sages, can be found in the chapter ‘One who sees’ [B Berakhot, ch. 9] and other places; and in B ¨Avodah zarah 24b as well as Genesis Rabbah, ch. 54, p. 61a, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 11, and Midrash Shmuel end of ch. 12 [we find] the song of the cows, ‘Rejoice, rejoice, acacia tree’ (q.v.). None of them is rhymed, and so too in all the texts written before the period mentioned, like ‘who on account of the fathers’ and ‘who frustrated’11 and others, and the piyyu†im ‘you understand the meditations of the heart’, ‘do not come to us with reproofs’, and ‘Lord of every being’, which are in manuscript and were mentioned by Rabbi Saadia Gaon of blessed memory in his Book of Beliefs, the fifth treatise, where he said they were written by the ancient sages – all of them are arranged alphabetically, without rhyme or meter or the author’s signature. Nor is it necessary to say that there is no rhyme or meter in the Holy Scriptures. What we find in a few verses, such as ‘who forgives all your sins (¨avonekhi), who heals all your diseases (taÌaluˆaikhi)’ (Ps. 103:3), ‘those who make them are like them (¨osehem); so
9 Just as his edition of and commentary on the Kuzari were not used by contemporary and later maskilim. See Nehama Rezler-Bersohn, ‘Isaac Satanow: An Epitome of an Era’, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 25 (1980): 81–99. 10  The maÌzor appeared in 1800–1805. Heidenheim used every manuscript he could find when he published his maÌzor reflecting the liturgical customs of West Ashkenaz and Poland. As was the custom of printers in that age, he never indicated the names and numbers of manuscripts he used. 11 An alphabetic acrostic recited after the reading of the Megillah on Purim night.

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are all who trust in them (bo†eaÌ bahem)’ (Ps. 115:8, 135:18), ‘Is not he your father, who created you (qanekha), who made you and established you (vay-yekhonenekha)?’ (Deut. 32:6), and a few others like them, because the rhyme is not intentional but accidental. If rhyming were a regular feature of the Holy Language, there should be thousands or ten thousands of them, and not just in a single verse, but in entire passages. Were the rhyme intentional in [Ps. 103:3], as those who advocate rhyme believe, namely, the sage Ben Îabib12 and the sage Archivolti,13 why is it followed [v. 4] by ‘who redeems your life from the pit (Ìayaikhi), who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy (ha-me¨a†rekhi Ìesed ve-raÌamim)’, when he could have inverted the order and written ve-Ìesed ve-raÌamim me¨a†rekhi, producing a perfect fourfold rhyme? In fact, rhyme is foreign to our language, not one of the Hebrew children [Ex. 2:6], for its excellence is only in the sound, but it loses the greater excellence that is unique to the Hebrew language, namely thematic excellence, as all of this is demonstrated in what the rabbi tells the king of the Khazars in Part II, §72ff. But the two cannot co-exist; when one rises the other falls and they are mutually antagonistic. It is logical that an aural excellence give way to a thematic excellence that is natural to the language. Hence as long as our ancestors lived in their own land they made absolutely no use of rhymes, whose excellence they accounted of little worth, because its cost exceeded its benefit. Much later, though, when they had settled in a foreign land and heard the lovely rhymes in the poems of the nations, they became envious of them, learned from their practices, and imitated them. This is the testimony of the saint14 in his Sefer Îasidim, §781, as well as the rabbi there [in the Kuzari] at the end of §78. How pleasant are the remarks of the sage, Rabbi Samuel Ibn Tibbon, at the start of his commentary on Ecclesiastes, which were copied by the author of Qol Yehudah,15 end of §71, as follows: ‘The craft of poetry has other rules that are general to all and specific to each and every nation. They were mentioned by Aristotle in his Poetics,16 who also noted that some nations did not repeat the final letters in their poems but only made them equal in the time it takes to read them. He also says that in the poetry of some nations the metre – the [alternation of] full vowels and semivowels – need not be constant and uniform, but only correspond to the melody. And there is no doubt that this worked for them, since nothing seems to be missing. I have written you this because it seems that in the generations of David and Solomon, peace be upon them, their poems were like this, for we find neither metre nor rhyme [in them]. We can say that those poems had an advantage over those produced today, because their path was not strait and they could present in their poems whatever theme they wanted, to perfection. But in these generations they have imposed many rules on their poetry, both to be followed and to be avoided, and severely straitened their path so that they cannot deviate to the left or right. And this leads them to force and abridge and leave out and permit themselves carcasses. But with all this they lose the meaning or at least make it harder to understand. I have gone on about this at length in honour of the poems of David and Solomon and to proclaim their merits.’ This is enough of this for now, when this idea is not our main concern. I will return, God willing, to expound the other causes mentioned and investigate the manner of composition of piyyu†im and the changes in their names and the changes in their paths and the
 Moses Ibn Îabib (late-fifteenth–early-sixteenth century), author of Marpeˆ lashon. Archivolti (1515–1611), author of ¨Arugat ha-bosem. 14  R. Judah the Pious of Regensburg (c. 1150–1217). 15 Qol Yehudah, a commentary on Judah Halevi’s Kuzari by Judah Moscato (c. 1530–c. 1593). 16  In our Greek texts, the discussion of paromoiosis and homoioteleuton is in the Rhetoric (1410a23ff.).
12 13 Samuel


Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization' of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry

course of every man’s language. Before you, my masters, my companions and friends [Ps. 55:14], I lay my case [Job 5:8]. Consider [Hag. 2:15, 18] these matters and pay attention to the wisdom [after Prov. 22:17] of the sages mentioned. Inform me of anything I have forgotten. And if I have erred in any name or date, enlighten me, for I have written all this in love of truth and to increase knowledge, to remove obstacles, straighten out confusions, and eliminate corruptions. May lies and falsehood be kept far [after Prov. 30:8] from my book, and your true and straightforward words [after Prov. 8:9] be inscribed in a book [Job 19:23], and enlighten and instruct generations.17

Thus Heidenheim offers his readers a rather puzzling historical framework of only 300 years for the composition of piyyu†im, perhaps because of the information in Saadia’s work about the qadmonim, the ancient sages, and continues with an extensive discussion of the use of rhyme in Hebrew.18 To rephrase Heidenheim’s observations in the terminology of modern scholarship, he compares compositions from the anonymous pre-classical period (third–fifth centuries) with hymns of the classical period and with the eastern branch of Hebrew hymnography; to play on the famous rabbinical dictum, ‫‘( אין מוקדם ומאוחר בפיוט‬There is no early and late in piyyu†’). But we also find a clear outline of historical development and change. In Heidenheim’s opinion, rhyme appears in some compositions by coincidence, for which he adduces proof from the Bible. His conclusion is that rhyme is a foreign device that intruded into Hebrew poetry in the course of time for aesthetic reasons. Interestingly enough, he adduces the conflict between aesthetics (‘aural excellence’) and message (‘thematic excellence’), along with the historical circumstances of the Jews; life ‘in a foreign land’, to explain the appearance of rhyme. The passage from Ibn Tibbon’s commentary on Ecclesiastes, in Moscato’s version, supports the superiority of biblical poetry. Heidenheim’s work won the rabbis’ approbation. In only one instance did he come dangerously close to a reformer – the university-educated mathematician and educator Michael Creizenach (1789–1842) from Mainz. In the 1831 edition of the Siddur li-Bnei Yisrael, Heidenheim included Creizenach’s German translations of prayers in Gothic script rather than Hebrew characters.19 Some prayer texts were omitted. The siddur included a preface incorporating Creizenach’s historical and critical analysis of the liturgy and his suggestions for its gradual reform. Two years later Creizenach began publishing his own reformist ShulÌan ¨arukh, which he subtitled, ‘an encyclopaedic exposition of the Mosaic law, as it has developed through rabbinic statutes,
17 One cannot avoid noting the delicious irony that the last lines of this introduction, starting from ‘to remove obstacles’, are rhymed! [Translation and annotation: Lenn Schramm]. The text was also published in Heidenheim’s edition of the German maÌzor (Sefer Qerovot) for the Feast of Shavuot (Hannover, 1839), pp. X–XX. 18 For instance, in Heidenheim’s view Qilir is not a tanna, as Abraham Ibn Ezra makes him in his commentary on Ecclesiastes 5:1; see Yalqu† Avraham Ibn Ezra, ed. Israel Levin (New York and Tel Aviv, 1985), pp. 291–7. An interesting point in Ibn Ezra’s commentary is his idea that piyyu†im are intended essentially for private use. 19 Wolf Heidenheim, Siddur li-Bnei Yisra}el: Israelitisches Gebetbuch in hebräischer und deutscher Sprache (Rödelheim, 1831). See Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (Detroit, 1995), pp. 119–21.

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with directions for reforms that have become useful and possible over time’. Truly ‘secularized’ Jews were not attracted to a return to talmudic rule, as the Talmud was generally viewed by them as the spiritual reflection of ghettoism and particularism.20 Heidenheim was a traditionalist who remained inside mainstream Ashkenazi Orthodoxy. A full discussion of his work requires consideration of the transition from an ‘inside’ use of traditional piyyu†im to their elimination from the liturgy and the judgment that a majority of these hymns are unsuited to modern Jewish worship. Piyyu† was removed from the liturgical domain and entered the world of literary science. One of the cultural and scholarly arguments advanced by its opponents was that Ashkenazi hymns were not up to standards, in light of the grandeur of Sephardi poetry.21 A shift of interest to Sephardi poetics and poetry, contrasted with Ashkenazi piyyu† to the detriment of the latter, can be found in the work of Michael Sachs (1808–1864). In Die religiöse Poesie der Juden in Spanien he writes of ‘Qilir’s obscurity’, which was inherited by the French and German hymnists.22 The Protestant theologian Franz Delitzsch (1813–1890) explored the literary qualities of SpanishHebrew poetry; so did Abraham Geiger in his Salomo Gabirol und seine Dichtungen (1867) and Leopold Dukes in his Moses ben Esra aus Granada (1839). In his preface, Dukes expresses his frustration and apologizes: ‘I have in mind to show the reader that there were days when Israelites had a taste for beauty and even showed their taste for beauty. Anything beautiful or good does not exclusively belong to a particular land or people or faith; it belongs to the human spirit’.23 The general tendency to focus on Sephardi poetics and poetry inspired the Reformists to plead for the replacement of Ashkenazi by Sephardi hymns during the Hamburg Tempelstreit which was realised in the Hamburger siddurim of the 1840s; these prayerbooks omitted all classical and Ashkenazi hymns, replacing them with the compositions of faShulÌan ¨arukh appeared in Frankfurt am Main in 1833–40. See also: Hollender’s previously mentioned Habilitationsschrift, p. 59, n. 25. Cf. also Louis Lewin (Kattowitz), Heidenheimiana: Sonderabdruck aus dem “Jeschurun”, No. X (Berlin, 1924). 21  Cf. Jefim Schirmann’s introduction to the Thesaurus of Medieval Hebrew Poetry by Israel Davidson (New York, 1924–38, four volumes), esp. pp. XII–XXII. 22  Michael Sachs, Die religiöse Poesie der Juden in Spanien (Berlin, 1845), p. 212 (cf. also Simon Bernfeld, Vorwort zur zweiten Auflage [Berlin, 1901]); Sachs clearly intended his German translations of Sephardi piyyu†im in the many editions of Sämtliche Festgebete der Israeliten and in Tefillat Jeschurun: Das Gebetbuch der Israeliten (Breslau, 1893; repr. Frankfurt am Main, 1928) to be used in the synagogue; cf. also his Beiträge zur Sprach- und Alterthumsforschung aus jüdischen Quellen, 2 vols (Berlin, 1852–54); cf. also Heinrich Graetz, Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart, vol. 11: Vom Beginn des Mendelsohnschen Zeit (1750) bis in die neueste Zeit (1848) (Leipzig, 1870), pp. 510–28; cf. also Franz D. Lucas and Heike Frank, Michael Sachs: Der konservative Mittelweg, Leben und Werk des Berliner Rabbiners zur Zeit der Emanzipation (Tübingen, 1992), pp. 74–8, 113–6. 23  Leopold Dukes, Moses ben Esra aus Granada: Darstellung seines Lebens und literarischen Wirkens nebst hebräischen Beylagen und deutschen Übersetzungen (Altona 1839; repr. Hildesheim, 1973), p. iii. In 1837, Dukes published his Ehrensäulen und Denksteine zu einem künftigen Pantheon hebräischer Dichter und Dichtungen: Ein Versuch mit hebräischen Beilagen und Übersetzungen in Vienna. Dukes may have been influenced by a letter of Samuel David Luzzatto written to him in 1836. Luzzatto scolded him for his negative statements about Qilir and the Ashkenazi pay†anim; cf. Abraham Meir Habermann, Liturgical Poems of Rabbi Simon bar YiÒÌaq with an Appendix of Liturgical Poems of R. Moshe bar Kalonymos (Hebrew) (Berlin and Jerusalem, 1938), p. 10. 24  Dr. Abraham Geiger, Der Hamburger Tempelstreit, eine Zeitfrage (Breslau 1842), pp. 69–74; Abraham Geiger: Leben und Lebenswerk, ed. Ludwig Geiger (Berlin, 1910), pp. 328–51.
20 Creizenach’s


Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization' of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry

mous Sephardi poets like Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra, and Halevi.24 Ismar Schorsch has argued that modern Jewish scholarship often concentrated on the Sephardi contribution to medieval Jewish culture, believing the Iberian ‘golden age’ to be a kind of proto-Wissenschaft period, while neglecting and downplaying Ashkenazi developments, which nineteenth-century German scholars associated, at least subconsciously, with the Ostjuden, whose immigration from Poland and Russia caused them acute embarrassment.25 Stefan Reif correctly observes that current scholarship is gradually rectifying these biased assessments. They are mentioned here not to invalidate the scholarship of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, much of which remains basic and sound, but to sound a note of caution about the dangers of uncritical acceptance of all theories, particularly when they date from more than a century and a half ago, when the Jews in the countries of emancipation were engaged in new theological battles about tradition, progress, and change in the modern world.26 Leopold Zunz But not all scholars decried Ashkenazi piyyu†. In particular, Leopold Zunz (1794– 1886) and Samuel David Luzzatto (1800–1865) were among the few who did not yield to the general tendency to deny the Ashkenazi religio-cultural identity and stress the significance of Sephardi culture and literature, in pursuit of the objectives of modern Judaism, against the influential opinions of Solomon Judah Leib Rapoport in his Ashkenazi liturgical studies and Isaac Marcus Jost in his Ashkenazi historical studies. On the other hand, Zunz’s personal idea of the emancipated Jew was very much one of an intellectual and cultural Sephardi in boorish Ashkenaz. This can be demonstrated by Zunz’ judgement27 of Judah Halevi’s poetry:
Each of his numerous works is beautiful, clear, full of ardour and thought. He always uses the appropriate word, the most expressive biblical passage; a great spiritual life in a few words, every part of his thought seems to move like the limb of an organism, as if all of it had developed out of itself, without the poet’s assistance. And this life is animated by a God-filled spirit; no filth adheres to its purity; it is warmed by a holy fire, the power of which projects through the centuries; it is accompanied by a sharp-thinking reason, that never loses its way in obscurity. … From the mid-tenth century, the Spanish Jews gradually worked their way up from piyyu† to poetry.28
Schorsch, ‘The Myth of Sephardic Supremacy’, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 34 (1989): 47– 66. Aesthetic feelings are also associated with the Jewish prayer service itself. The service was reformed to make it conform to notions of what was generally acceptable and respectable, that is to say, the standards of proper behaviour entertained by Christian Germans of the time. See George L. Mosse, ‘The Secularization of Jewish Theology’, in Masses and Man: Nationalist and Fascist Perceptions of Reality (New York, 1980), pp. 249–63; idem, ‘Jewish Emancipation between Bildung and Respectability’, in The Jewish Response to German Culture from the Enlightenment to the Second World War, ed. Jehuda Reinharz and Walter Schatzberg (Hanover and London, 1985), pp. 1–16. 26 Reif, Judaism and Hebrew Prayer, pp. 269–70. 27 Leopold Zunz, Die synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters (Berlin, 1855–1859), pp. 214 and 231. 28 ‘Jedes seiner zahlreichen Werke ist schön, klar, voll Wärme und Gedanken. Stets bietet sich ihm das passende Wort, die ausdruckvollste Bibelstelle dar; ein großes Geistesleben auf kleinem Wörterraume, scheinen die einzelnen Teile des Gedichtes sich wie Glieder eines organischen Wesens zu bewegen, als hätte das Ganze sich selber aus sich heraus, ohne Zutun des Dichters, entwickelt. Und dieses Leben wird
25 Ismar

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The last sentence epitomizes Zunz’s aesthetic evaluation of medieval Hebrew poetry. Strikingly unique is his scientific ‘rehabilitation’ of Ashkenazi piyyu†. In contrast with Heidenheim, Zunz was the outsider whose historical approach to poetry and homiletics was intended primarily for academic study. Zunz expressed his view in an article in one of the first issues of the Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. After Jewish historiography gains the capacity to elucidate the inner life and striving of the Jews, their inherited and acquired ideas, and their persistence down to the present, he wrote, ‘then we will rediscover the great laws of history and nature, of permanence and change, in every paragraph of Jewish history, and we will understand how to separate the divine from the mundane.”29 Zunz himself was educated in a reformist environment at the Samsonsche Freischule in Wolfenbüttel, as we can learn from the fact that he had his Konfirmation there in 1807.30 From 1815 he was actively involved in moderate synagogue reforms in Berlin and Prague but in the 1820s he already showed his disillusionment in contemporary rabbinical authority. What Zunz had in mind was liturgical adaptation (or reform) by a winnowing and reselection of existing prayer and piyyu† in combination with German translations.31 Any change could be justified by the fact that the current liturgy was itself the product of historical vicissitudes. At the same time, he sought a scientific and nondogmatic study of rabbinic literature. He preferred to call the corpus of rabbinic sources Jewish literature or modern Hebrew literature, comprising all fields of scholarship: history, liturgy, poetry, ethics, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and so on. This is how we should understand Zunz’s work in the framework of the Wissenschaft des Judentums. His first publication in this vein was Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge, which appeared in Berlin in 1832.32 Die synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters appeared in Berlin in two volumes, in 1855 and 1859. Die Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienstes appeared in 1859; Literaturgeschichte der synagogalen Poesie was published in three volumes between 1865 and 1889.
von einem gotterfüllten Geiste beseelt, an dessen Reinheit kein Schmutz haftet, von einem heiligen Feuer erwärmt, dessen Kraft über Jahrhunderte hinausragt, von einer scharfdenkenden Vernunft geleitet, die sich nie in dunkle Wege verirrt.’… ‘Die Juden Spaniens hatten, etwa seit der Mitte des zehnten Jahrhunderts, allmählich sich aus dem Piut zur Poesie emporgearbeitet.’ 29 The article appeared in Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums (1822–23): 117–8; cf. also Meyer, Response to Modernity, p. 76. 30 Zunz was confirmed after answering questions about his belief in God and the concept of Torah min ha-shamayyim. There is an obvious linkage between the ‘Germanizing’ and ‘Englishing’ components of the modern Jewish confessional attitude as expressed in the German Konfirmation and the Anglo-Jewish catechism; see Jakob Petuchowski, ‘Manuals and Catechisms of the Jewish Religion in the Early Period of Emancipation’, Studies in Jewish Religious and Intellectual History: Presented to Alexander Altmann on the occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. Siegfried Stein and Raphael Loewe (Alabama, 1979) pp. 47–64; David Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry’s Construction of Modern Jewish Thought (Princeton, 2000), pp. 249–60. 31 Samuel David Luzzatto defended Zunz against the accusations that he held reformist ideas. In his view, Zunz was so well versed in the tradition and history of Hebrew poetry that he should be accepted as a valid authority on contemporary Jewish religious matters, cf. Judah Leo Landau, Short Lectures on Modern Hebrew Literature, From M. H. Luzzatto to S. D. Luzzatto (Johannesburg and London, 1923), pp. 165–6: ‘My love of the man who has devoted all his life, his wisdom and energy, to the revival of the Paitanim, to the glorification of their works, to strengthen the only bond that still knits our people together, has prevailed over my religious zeal.’ 32  The revised 1892 edition was the basis for Î. Albeck’s translation into Hebrew (1954).


Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization' of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry

Zunz certainly did not perform his scholarly research in a total vacuum. Judah Leib Ben Ze}ev (1764–1811) had published his OÒar ha-shorashim, a dictionary of Hebrew roots and their translation from Hebrew to German and from German to Hebrew – a breakthrough in modern Hebrew lexicography – in Vienna in 1806.33 Fifty years later, Eliezer (Leser) Landshuth (1817–1887) assembled his ¨Ammudei ha¨avodah (Columnae Cultus), an onomasticon of Hebrew hymnists and their works, with biographical and bibliographical notes.34 Finally, Samuel David Luzzatto was equally involved in translation activities related to the Ashkenazi and Italian prayer books. He also composed an anthology of medieval Hebrew poetry that demonstrates his great familiarity with piyyu†.35 With his Italian heritage he was well aware that the Jewish cultural ambience in that country had for centuries accepted the adaptation of Hebrew liturgical poetry to the Italian aesthetic of chant and music.36 Zunz’s books on Hebrew poetry show a great concern for texts, translations, and explanations; the Hebrew sections are limited to appendices and lists. This amounts to the ‘secularization’ of Hebrew liturgical poetry – the removal of these hymns from their liturgical context and transposition to an academic textbook. Zunz was eager to have his work recognized as belonging to the domain of general scholarly activity. Stripped of all its ostensible mystery and esotericism, piyyu† defined as ‘synagogue poetry’ (in accordance with the title of his book) was worthy of inclusion in the general context of literary studies, not just ‘our heritage’, as Heidenheim wrote, but a legacy for all humanity. This is very much in accordance with Zunz’s general ideas about modernity. For him, Jewish emancipation and progressive Judaism meant the emancipation of Jewish knowledge and its integration into that of the human race at large. This meant, first of all, fighting dogmatism among the Jews themselves and asking them to accept a new vision of tradition; and second, giving Judaism the right to figure among the great civilizations and be studied as part of the cultural heritage of humanity – in his words, ‘the right to be part of the world of mind and reason’. It is no wonder that he opposed any segregation of Jewish or Judaic studies in separate Hochschulen and Lehrhäuser and the like.37 But his universalist concept of the scienha-shorashim: kolel shorshei ha-lashon ha-¨ivrit… ve-ha¨ataqam… me-¨ivrit le-ashkenazit ume-ashkenazit le-¨ivrit (Vienna, 1806–08). 34 Two parts were published in Berlin in 1857 and 1862. 35 Samuel David Luzzatto, ™al Orot: hebräische religiöse Gedichte aus verschiedenen Manuskripten (Przemysl, 1881); cf. also Daniel Goldschmidt’s introduction to Luzzatto’s MaÌzor Bnei Roma (Livorno, 1856; repr. Tel Aviv, 1966): ‘Luzzatto, like Zunz and others, saw the peculiarities of prayer rituals and studied their origins and developments in their piyyu†im… His purpose was to index the names of the composers and to describe the piyyu†ic genres and occasionally solve a linguistic problem and various exegetical issues’; cf. also Robert Bonfil, Isaac Gottlieb, and Hannah Kasher, Samuel David Luzzatto: The Bi-Centennial of His Birth (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 2004), esp. pp. 11–24, pp. 145–65. 36 See Edwin Seroussi, ‘Livorno: A Crossroad in the History of Sephardic Religious Music’, in The Mediterranean and the Jews, vol. II: Society, Culture and Economy in Early Times, ed. Elliot Horowitz and Moises Orfali (Ramat Gan, 2001), pp. 131–54; Wout Jac. van Bekkum, ‘Judaism in Umbruch: Jews in Renaissance and Baroque Italy’, Tradition and Innovation in an Era of Change / Tradition und Innovation im Übergang zur frühen Neuzeit, ed. Rudolf Suntrup and Jan R. Veenstra (Frankfurt am Main, 2001), pp. 257–66. 37 Céline Trautmann-Waller, ‘Leopold Zunz Declines an Invitation to the Inauguration of the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums’, in Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096–1996, ed. Sander L. Gilman and Jack Zipes (New Haven, 1997), pp. 199–204.
33 OÒar

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tific value of such a stubbornly particularist tradition could not withstand the pressure of Christian prejudice, modern Jewish dogmatism, and Zionism. Was there any lasting success with regard to Hebrew religious poetry as a branch of scholarship? Zunz displayed a strong interest in and had a great knowledge of the Jewish literary past, but his attitude was not the same as that of a modern critical historian of literature.38 Reading Die synagogale Poesie is first and foremost an introduction to the ‘painful history’ (German: Leidensgeschichte) of the Jewish people. Zunz deals extensively with the genre of seliÌot or penitential hymns. Although Zunz does not subscribe to the traditional idea of a divinely ordained history of suffering, his conclusion of the second chapter takes on moralistic overtones:
Our historical survey mainly serves the purpose of understanding the synagogue prayers; it explains the reasons for rage and bitterness, opens the wells of tears, shows us the pains and wounds; we feel the suffering, hear the curses, and share the hopes. The harsh words in these Jewish psalms, for which no Christian ever paid with his life – despite being a cry of the blood of hundreds of thousands of people, coming from the earth – could be transformed into atonement only by love, never by mocking disdain, only by righteousness, never by oppression.39

Conclusions The modern assumption of a liturgical downfall of piyyu† and its ‘annexation’ by scholarship leads to a number of observations: 1. The change of approach towards piyyu† as an object of research has often been described as ‘secularization’. This term can be used in either a purely descriptive fashion or with a deprecatory implication. When used derogatorily, it usually indicates that a secular approach to Jewish studies involves the destruction of the normative character of Jewish religious tradition. This is not necessarily true. However, Modern Judaism, in its formative and reformative period, was ambiguous about the legacy of the past. This ambivalence led in two directions. On the one hand, the scientific study of piyyu† ‘secularized’ the hymns, divorc38 In Etwas über die rabbinische Literatur Zunz introduces his studies with the following words: ‘We are not afraid of being understood. Here, the whole literature of the Jews, in its largest extent, is set up as an object of research, without our being concerned whether its total content shall or can also be a norm for our own judgement.’ Cf. Fritz Bamberger, ‘Zunz’s Conception of History. A Study of the Philosophic Elements in Early Science of Judaism’, Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research 11 (1941): 1–25, esp. pp. 6–7: ‘The Jewish scholar, before even beginning to study this truth [the tradition of Jewish learning – the interpretation of a basic truth bearing the character of revelation and unfolded in Torah and Oral Law] in its many aspects and facets, and while studying it, was bound to it as a norm directing his life and his study. Therefore, the new Wissenschaft des Judentums, though adopting the methods and principles of modern history and philology, was not an improved form of Jewish science, but a completely new beginning.’ 39 ‘Hauptsächlich dient jener geschichtliche Überblick zum Verständnis der synagogalen Gebete; er erklärt die Motive des Zorns und der Erbitterung, öffnet die Quelle der Tränen, zeigt uns die Schmerzen und Wunden; wir fühlen die Leiden, hören die Flüche und teilen die Hoffnungen. Die harten Worte in diesen jüdischen Psalmen, die noch keinem Christen das Leben gekostet, während sie selber ein aus der Erde dringender Schrei des Blutes von Hunderttausenden sind, konnten nur durch die Liebe, nie durch höhnende Verachtung, nur durch Gerechtigkeit, nie durch Bedrückungen in versöhnende verwandelt werden’ (Die synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters, p. 58).


Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization' of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry

ing them from the religious domain; on the other, piyyu†im remained part of the Jewish liturgy and continued to be relevant for the Ìazzanim or (Ober-)cantors, throughout the nineteenth and during the early twentieth century. Today, the contradiction between traditional respect and actual use is manifested in the fact that piyyu†im are still printed in maÌzorim but are hardly ever recited or sung, not even in orthodox synagogues. 2. ‘Secularization’ of Jewish studies is not secularism as such or the same as secularization of national or individual Jewish identity in modern times. The use of the term is rather a formal expression of historicization or historische Anschauung. 3. The idealization of Sephardi culture and literature and the literary (re-)construction of the Sephardi Jew helped create an attitude that Ashkenazi piyyu† was culturally deficient. 4. A by-product of the Jews’ scholarly involvement in Sephardi cultural history was an interest in the Arabic and Islamic milieu of medieval Jewish poetry and poetics. Such oriental studies and Orientalism are exemplified by Abraham Geiger in both his reformist and scientific attitudes.40 The study of Hebrew liturgical poetry, then, reveals a principal theme. Despite their theological and ideological differences, the cultures of Christianity and Islam exerted external influence on the development and flourishing of piyyu†. Occasionally one detects a modern scholarly uneasiness about obvious parallels between piyyu† and Syriac or Greek-Byzantine poetry, the profound impact of Arabic and Ottoman verse on Hebrew hymnology, the reformist choice of German translations instead of original Hebrew poems for public worship. There is still much to revise and to rethink, beyond Gershom Scholem’s Hirhurim ¨al Ìokhmat yisraˆel, about what the ‘Science of Judaism’ could have thought about piyyu†. Nevertheless, Zunz’s studies had only limited success: the poetics of piyyu† have not attracted general attention even in our time.41 One may hope that modern academic scholarship will prove able to demonstrate the importance of Jewish hymnography as it traversed various periods and entered the modern era, leaving its own traces of development and adaptation.
 Abraham Geiger, Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? (Bonn, 1833; repr. Leipzig, 1902; Osnabrück, 1971); Nahum M. Sarna, ‘Abraham Geiger and Biblical Scholarship’, in New Perspectives on Abraham Geiger, ed. Jakob J. Petuchowski (New York, 1975), pp. 17–30: ‘A soterical role was assigned by nineteenth-century scholars to Jüdische Wissenschaft… as the instrument for the achievement of the successful emancipation of Western Jewry… to gain non-Jewish recognition for post-biblical Jewish intellectual creativity as an academic discipline for its own sake…. By concentrating on post-biblical literature, Jewish scholars could avoid uncomfortable and delicate issues of faith…. Theological and political nature of Wissenschaft largely determined its attitude and direction in the field of biblical studies.’ I thank Professor Yossef Schwartz (Jerusalem/Frankfurt) for calling my attention to the discussion by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig of the question, ‘Why did not the Muslims write Piyyutim?’ in Franz Rosenzweig, Der Mensch und sein Werk: Gesammelte Schriften (The Hague, 1976), vol. I,2, pp. 923 and 925; Franz Rosenzweig, Briefe (Berlin, 1935), p. 488, 491. 41  Although it may be noted that the situation is improving. For instance, in his History of the Hebrew Language (Cambridge, 1993), Angel Sáenz-Badillos has devoted relatively much attention to the piyyu† and the language of the pay†anim. T. Carmi’s Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (Harmondsworth, 1981) was an eye-opener to many scholars in the wider academic discipline of Jewish studies.

Wout van Bekkum



Some Thoughts on the ‘Secularization' of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry

Emile G. L. Schrijver

Saul of Berlin’s Besamim Rosh: The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge

Saul of Berlin’s Besamim rosh is a cause célèbre in the history of Haskalah literature and has been dealt with quite extensively in the recent literature on the subject.1 The starting point for the present study is a rather roundabout reference to Besamim rosh. The Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana possesses one of the two known more-or-less complete medieval manuscripts of Isaac ben Moses of Vienna’s mid-thirteenth-century halakhic work Or zarua¨. The Rosenthaliana manuscript was used for the first edition of Or zarua¨, which appeared in Zhitomir in the Ukraine in 1862. At the time it belonged to Akiba Lehren (1795–1876), the Amsterdam banker and parnas of the Orthodox community. In a letter included in the editio princeps (ill. 1) he wrote as follows: ‘In earlier days this beautiful book used to be the proud possession of the author of the work Besamim rosh, R. Saul, son of Zevi Hirsch, av bet din of Berlin, as is written on the cover of the book in Ashkenazi script and as may be deduced from the handwriting of the notes found on the leaves of the manuscript, which is identical to that of notes found on a leaf in a copy of the work ™urei even, by the author of the Shaˆagat aryeh, Aryeh Leib Günzburg, which also reposed in the above-mentioned collection [that of Akiba Lehren’s older brother Hirschel], which God bestowed on me’. The history of the Or zarua¨ manuscript, which many believed had been pulled out of a stormy sea by a fisherman, who sold it to Hirschel Lehren, have been dealt with elsewhere. It is interesting to note, however, that here Akiba Lehren refers to Saul of Berlin, author of Besamim rosh, without hesitation, even though Saul’s ideas were certainly at variance with Lehren’s.2
1 Most recently: Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment (Philadelphia, 2002), pp. 335–41; Talya Fishman, ‘Forging Jewish Memory: Besamim Rosh and the Invention of pre-Emancipation Jewish Culture’, in Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, ed. E. Carlebach et al. (Hanover, NH and London, 1998), pp. 70–88. See also: Moshe S. Samet, ‘R. Saul Berlin and his Works’ (Heb.), Kirjath Sepher 43 (1968): 429–41; Moshe Pelli, ‘The Religious Reforms of “Traditionalist” Rabbi Saul Berlin (A Chapter in the History of the Struggle of Hebrew Haskalah in Germany for the Revival of Judaism) (Heb.), Hebrew Union College Annual 42 (1971): 1–23; Moshe S. Samet, ‘Rabbi Saul Berlin’s “Besamim Rosh”: Bibliography, Historiography, Ideology’ (Heb.), Kirjath Sepher 48 (1973): 509–23; Moshe Pelli, The Age of Haskalah: Studies in Hebrew Literature of the Enlightenment in Germany (Leiden, 1979), ch. 9; idem, ‘Literature of Haskalah in the Late Eighteenth Century’, Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 52 (2000): 333–48, on pp. 339–40. 2 Emile G. L. Schrijver, ‘Some Light on the Amsterdam and London manuscripts of Isaac ben Moses of Vienna’s Or Zarua’’, in: Artefact and Text: The Re-creation of Jewish Literature in Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts, ed. Philip S. Alexander and Alexander Samely [= Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 75(3) (1993)], pp. 53–82.

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Emile G.L. Schrijver Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


Saul of Berlin was the son of Zevi Hirsch Levin, who served as chief rabbi of Berlin from 1772 until 1800. Saul, born in 1740, was apparently a brilliant scholar, well versed in rabbinic literature. At the age of twenty some already thought him one of the greatest rabbis of his time. He served as chief rabbi of Frankfurt an der Oder from 1768 until approximately 1792. He settled in Berlin, where he published his most important works. In 1784 he wrote a satirical work, Ketav yosher (published posthumously in 1794), which is chiefly a defence of Wessely’s Divrei shalom ve-emet. In support of Wessely’s appeal for religious reform he ridiculed contemporary Jewish superstitions, attacked the outdated educational system, and sharply criticized what he viewed as the ridiculous number of outdated or irrelevant precepts and prohibitions that dominated the lives and minds of traditional Jews. He also strongly opposed the prevalent exegetical method of pilpul and the prominence of the Kabbalah. Moshe Pelli believes that he refrained from publishing the book during his lifetime out of respect for his father, who ‘was persuaded by other rabbis to oppose Wessely’s Divrei shalom ve’emet’.3 Saul did, however, publish other works that placed his father in an awkward position. First of all there is MiÒpeh Yoqteˆel, which he published in Berlin, at the famous Haskalah press of the Jüdische Freischule, in 1789 (ill. 2). This is a fierce attack on Torat Yequtiˆel by Raphael Kohen, the ultra-orthodox religious leader of the communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek, with insinuations about the Hamburg rabbi’s halakhic integrity (suggesting, for example, that he advocated a lenient attitude towards the dietary laws). Often considered to be the archetypal Haskalah attack on traditional eighteenth-century Jewish knowledge, MiÒpeh Yoqteˆel was published under the pseudonym Obadiah ben Barukh of Poland. Just how far Saul went to conceal his identity can be seen at the end of the book, where the following apology by the printer appears (ill. 3): ‘Since I do not know the author of this book, as his work was sent to me by someone else, I could not take proper care of all the corrections, and therefore the reader is kindly requested to act upon my request on his behalf and add the corrections listed in the following table of corrections in the margins of the book’. The book shocked the ultra-orthodox community, of course. Various rabbis, including his father Zevi Hirsch Levin, criticized its anonymous author or even issued a ban against him. When Levin learned the author’s true identity he decided to defend his son, which may have helped; but it did not mean that Saul would change his provocative behaviour. In 1793 he published, again at the press of the Jüdische Freischule, his most famous work Besamim rosh.4 Its title page (ill. 4) reveals at a glance that the tempest associated with MiÒpeh Yoqteˆel had not prevented him from going one step further: ‘Book of Responsa, Besamim rosh. There are 3925 of them and they are by the Rosh and other early sages. … They were collected by … Isaac di Molina. I prepared them for the printing press with a few annotations of a pilpul nature, which I put on their
3 Moshe Pelli, ‘Some Notes on the Nature of Saul Berlin’s Writings’, The Journal of Hebraic Studies 1 (1970): 47–61, on p. 52. 4 There have been several reprints, as late as 1984. 5 The numerical value of besamim is 392.


The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge

side, which I called Kassaˆ de-harsanaˆ. I, the young Saul, son of the excellent Zevi Hirsch, chief rabbi of Berlin.’6 Saul claims authorship only of what he calls qeÒat haggahot devarim shel pilpul and not of the responsa themselves, which he ascribes to Asher ben Yehiel and his contemporaries. This dissimulation did not turn his opponents’ hatred into love, one of the goals he proclaims in the introduction to the book. It soon became clear that he had written the entire work and that his claim, in the same introduction, that the responsa had been assembled by Isaac ben Solomon di Molina and that he had found the book during a trip to Italy, was a red herring. A cursory glance at the content of the supposedly medieval responsa makes it plain that an eighteenth-century author was responsible for them, and not Asher ben Yehiel and other rishonim. An excellent example (f. 12v, §25) deals with the case of a woman who refuses to accept a religious judgment but the king has forbidden her excommunication. Besamim rosh advises that she be flogged; for, according to halakhah, it asserts, ‘there is no difference between men and women as far as flogging is concerned’. Two other responsa (§212, on f. 71r, ascribed to Aaron Halevi of Barcelona; §251, on f. 76v, ascribed to Asher ben Jehiel) deal with the obligation incumbent on learned teachers in every generation to interpret the Torah according to their own private views. This ultra-revolutionary stance is compatible with the reformist Saul but certainly does not reflect the ideas of the Rosh. Another responsum (§375, ff. 108v–109r) allows one to ride in a carriage on the Sabbath in order to get home as soon as possible; ‘and some sages allow riding on an animal on the night of Sabbath if one would lose money otherwise, but I do not agree with them’. The very style of the work, which imitated the pilpul of his traditional contemporaries, whom Saul criticized, rather than the works of the rishonim, made it clear from the onset that a maskilic provocateur was behind it. It did not take the camp of Raphael Kohen of Hamburg long to link the text to Saul of Berlin and to attack him fiercely. Saul’s father came to his rescue again, arguing that the campaign had been launched by Raphael Kohen in order to harm his son. Zevi Hirsch Levin accepted his son’s statement that he had found the manuscript on which the printed text was based during his travels. After a careful review of the sources he added that although the work did indeed contain strange opinions with which he did not agree, he did not consider these an insult to Jewish tradition, but rather illustrative of the different approaches possible in halakhic discourse.7 Saul himself argued along similar lines, when, in defense of a responsum in Besamim rosh that questions the obligation to allow oneself to be killed rather than commit idolatry, incest, or murder, he mentioned that ample proof of the problematic nature of that ruling could be found in the old sources, alongside the more traditional opinion. Leopold Zunz, too, noticed the stylistic incongruities of the work. In his Der Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienstes (1859), he demonstrates that it cannot be authentic, but, interestingly, without ever mentioning Saul:
 According to Rashi on B BeÒah 16, kassa de-harsana is some kind of food prepared from fish. Saul of Berlin, however, takes it as an allusion to Mt. Sinai (har sinai), referring to B Shabbat 89a: Mai har sinai? Har she-yaredah sinˆah le-ummot ha-¨olam ¨alav (‘What is Mount Sinai? A mountain on which hatred came down to the pagans’). Saul was also facing the hatred of his enemies. 7  See especially Fishman, ‘Forging Jewish Memory’, pp. 73–5.

Emile G.L. Schrijver


Über diese sogenannte Sammlung von Gutachten R. Ascher’s und anderer alten Rabbinen waren schon in Asulai [i.e., Shem ha-gedolim] Bedenken aufgestiegen, die er beseitigt aber nicht beschwichtigt: die Rücksicht auf die Rabbiner band ihm die Zunge. Dass die Unächtheit des Buches schon bewiesen sei ist mir nicht bekannt. … Wer die Schreibweise der deutschen Rabbinen jener Zeit, namentlich bei halachischen Gegenständen, kennt, den wird in Ascher’s dortigen Bescheiden der Pilpul-geübte moderne Stil überraschen, der nicht die Sache trifft, obschon er weit abgeht. … In allen seinen Gutachten ist dieser angebliche R. Ascher ein Erleichternder: … In N. 251 wird erbaulich über die Glaubensartikel gesprochen; dieselben richteten sich nach der Zeit, und für heute seien des Inhalts, das wir insgesammt nichts taugen, und von uns nur gefordert werde, Wahrheit und Frieden zu lieben, Gott und seine Werke zu erkennen. Das mag schon sein, aber es ist Stil und Theologie des achtzehnten, nicht des vierzehnten Jahrhunderts. … Baruch ben Samuel führt (184) den Abraham b. David an, den er gar nicht kennt, und sagt in seinem angeblichen Gutachten (220) von den Karäern wörtlich: ‘Nicht ein einziger Fall ist in Ehesachen bekannt, der bei ihnen sich ereignet und nach talmudischem Recht unerlaubt wäre. Wollten wir derartiges beachten, – in wie vielen Satzungen sind nicht die Talmudisten, Tanaim, Emoraim, und spätere Weise bis heutigen Tag getheilter Meinung. Fürwahr, wer da sucht würde unter uns selber grössern Zwiespalt finden als zwischen uns und Karäern! Schon die Talmudisten riefen: “Eure Brüder sind die Baalei Mikra”.’ Solches Zeug schrieb kein berühmter Rabbi um das Jahr 1200.8

Soon after the charges of forgery were advanced, and despite his father’s defence, Saul decided to leave Berlin for London, where his brother Solomon Hirschel was rabbi of the Great Synagogue. There, to quote Cecil Roth, ‘he died contrite and penitent (as his will shows) on November 16th, 1794 [a year after the publication of Besamim rosh], and was buried with great solemnity in the old cemetery of the Great Synagogue, which out of compliment to his father and his brother embodied his name in the list of its departed Rabbis.’9 Other sources suggest that he went to London to take up a rabbinical pulpit but died, some say a suicide, before he could enter the post. Modern scholarship about Besamim rosh owes much to Moshe Samet’s groundbreaking contributions. In 1968 he published a bibliography of no fewer than 159 works by, reacting to, and about Saul of Berlin.10 In 1973 he published a separate article on Besamim rosh, in which he discusses most of the contemporary sources in great detail.11 He suggests that the controversy not be blow out of proportion, given that those involved were either Saul’s enemies since the time of MiÒpeh yoqteˆel or his relatives and friends – none of them disinterested parties. He concludes, somewhat romantically, that Saul Berlin was perhaps an idealist who ended up victimized by the enemies he made in Hamburg. Moshe Pelli is justifiably not content with this explanation and approaches the work from a completely different angle. He claims, in at least a dozen articles as well
8  Leopold Zunz, Der Ritus des synagogalen Gottesdienstes, geschichtlich entwickelt (Berlin, 1859), pp. 226–8. 9  Cecil Roth, The Great Synagogue, London, 1690–1940 (London, 1950), pp. 182–4. 10 Samet, ‘R. Saul Berlin and his Works’. 11  Idem, ‘Rabbi Saul Berlin’s “Besamim Rosh” ’.


The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge

as in a separate chapter in The Age of Haskalah, that Saul was chiefly a parodist. He calls Besamim rosh ‘pseudo-halakhah’ and describes it, in a recent article on the Haskalah literature of the late eighteenth century, as a ‘new ShulÌan ¨arukh’. Pelli writes, ‘I, for one, regard this book as a parody on rabbinical writings and I treat it as such. I think that through this traditional genre, Saul Berlin ridiculed the casuistry – known in Hebrew as “Pilpul” – of scholastic-like rabbinical learning, and delivered a scathing criticism on the abundance of religious restrictions, ordinances, and customs in Jewish life.’12 Another important point that Pelli makes a number of times is that Saul’s creativity as a maskil is proven by his choice of literary genre as well. Whereas Satanow, for example, in his Mishlei Asaf, imitated the Biblical wisdom literature, Saul chose the responsa genre, probably the most rabbinic of all. To quote Pelli again: ‘In the responsa he was at home so to speak; he could show his great erudition and mastery of talmudic and halachic literature. Here he was able to communicate with the traditionalist rabbis in their own language; he could expose their weaknesses and attack them on their own ground.’13 Pelli also believes that Saul intended to implant a certain scepticism in readers by undermining the halakhic authority of the rabbis. In another recent contribution that deserves attention, Talya Fishman speaks of ‘Besamim rosh’s strange double life’ and tries to bridge the gap between the notion of Besamim rosh as a forgery and appreciation of it as a halakhic work in its own right, despite its controversial content.14 This touched on an important aspect of the work, namely, the fact that until the present day there have always been Orthodox groups that hold Besamim rosh in great esteem.15 Fishman draws attention to the fact that Zevi Hirsch Levin, in his defence of his son’s work, advocates both the study of extremely hypothetical halakhic cases and the very modern notion that the actual authorship of a book is less important than its contents. Thus, she explains, Besamim rosh was indeed a very subtle ‘Trojan horse in the camp of halakha’, a deliberate attempt to forge Jewish memory ‘before any ideology of Reform had crystallized’.16 A few comments on these modern approaches seem in place. Samet’s view is based on careful study of the primary sources but fails to penetrate to the underlying mentality. Pelli and Fishman attempt to do so, but their work seems apologetic, an attempt to restore Saul’s honour where his father failed. Perhaps he did mean Besamim rosh to be satire, as Pelli suggests; but it must be admitted that it was not very successful as such, if only because discussion of the point continues more than 200 years later. Did Saul really believe that his tone would convince his Orthodox ‘enemies’, or was he addressing an audience of maskilim or perhaps trying mainly to provoke his enemies? There is no doubt that the work reflects great halakhic scholarship. But does that justify the attempt to incorporate it into the Orthodox halakhic

‘Literature of Haskalah in the Late Eighteenth Century’, p. 340. ‘Some Notes’, p. 51. ‘Forging Jewish Memory’. 15 As late as 1984, no less an authority than Rabbi Ovadiah Yossef wrote an approbation for a photooffset reissue of Besamim rosh produced in Meˆah She¨arim. 16 Fishman, ‘Forging Jewish Memory’, pp. 80–1.
13 Idem, 14 Fishman,

12 Pelli,

Emile G.L. Schrijver


discourse, as Fishman seems to intend? It seems hard to believe that that was what our sceptical genius really had in mind. Three final remarks: First, Saul of Berlin chose to attribute the compilation of his responsa to the relatively unknown scholar Isaac ben Solomon di Molina, described by Steinschneider as a sixteenth-century Egyptian rabbi. Molina was a good choice, as Fishman pointed out, because very little is known about him. No less an authority than Joseph Caro, however, ridiculed Molina for failing to understand the teachings of his predecessors; readers who knew that reference would probably not doubt the authenticity of Besamim rosh on that account, but might well question its authority. This small fact adds to our understanding of Saul’s peculiar literary taste. Second, it is important to underscore how Saul presents his ostensible primary source: a manuscript that he acquired during his travels.17 It is known that the earliest maskilim set great store by the possession and study of early manuscripts of the important medieval and later texts. It is also known that within traditional Ashkenazi Judaism there was a strong manuscript tradition alongside the printed books, which catered to the insatiable need for primary texts of eighteenth-century European Jewish scholars, including the maskilim. We have already seen that Saul of Berlin owned a manuscript of Or zarua¨. It is also known that when he went to London this manuscript remained in the house of his father, who also owned an important library. We know too that many medieval manuscripts circulated within the larger family of Zevi Hirsch Levin and Saul of Berlin, who were close relations of the Îakham Zevi and Jacob Emden, and were also connected to famous rabbinic dynasties like the Teˆomim of Poland. His choice for a manuscript ‘source’ must be interpreted against this background. Third, it is relevant to the discussion of the maskilic reception of medieval Sephardi scholarship that Saul of Berlin considered the medieval texts to be the most suitable for his purposes. He attributes his responsa mainly to Sephardi authorities and uses them to sustain the authenticity of his maskilic insights. But, we must note, the main ‘author’ of his responsa was not just any Sephardi rabbi, but Asher ben YeÌiel, an Ashkenazi scholar who left Germany in 1303 and ultimately settled in Toledo, in Spain, where he served as rabbi until his death in 1327 and became involved in the Sephardi intellectual discourse – a true example of ‘Ashkenaz in Sepharad’.

17 Lois C. Dubin’s claim that ‘interest in Azariah de Rossi’s Meor enayim, Saul Lewin-Berlin’s claim of Italian provenance for the manuscript of Besamim Rosh (the lenient responsa he forged) and the Florence Reform hoax of 1796, in which a synod of Italian rabbis was rumored to have sanctioned pork, Sabbath work, and other revolutionary changes – all showed how German radicals sought to further their own cause of religious reform by creating Italian Jews as a legitimizing spur and precedent’ (The Port Jews of Trieste: Absolutist Politics and Enlightenment Culture [Stanford, 1999], p. 134) does not do justice to the complexity of Saul of Berlin’s work. Rather than a ‘legitimizing spur and precedent to further his cause of religious reform’, Saul’s reference to Italy, the origin of so many Hebrew books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, serves to authenticate the source itself and not its supposedly political content.


The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge

Appendix In 1999 the author, together with Binyamin Richler and the staff of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem, was involved in the preparation of a catalogue of manuscripts from the library of the London Beth Din, for a sale at Christie’s in New York on 23 June 1999. The manuscripts stem from the collection of Saul of Berlin’s brother Solomon Hirschel (who died in London in 1842) and were acquired from his estate in 1845. At least eleven of the 140 manuscripts offered for sale can be traced back to Zevi Hirsch Levin’s library. No fewer than 31 manuscripts are known to have belonged to another important maskilic library, that of Daniel Itzig (1723–1799). A short-title list of these manuscripts, which are of great importance to the understanding of the maskilic appreciation of manuscripts, is presented below. For full descriptions of the manuscripts, now dispersed all over the world but available on microfilm in Jerusalem, see the lavishly illustrated auction catalogue.18 References are provided to A. Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Jews’ College … (Oxford, 1886) and to the microfilm numbers of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) in Jerusalem.
1. Aaron Berechiah of Modena (Italy, d. 1639). Ma¨avar yabboq (rites and prayers pertaining to the sick and to mourning) [Central or Eastern Europe, 18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped, and signed on fol. 10r) References: Neubauer, No. 122, p. 35; IMHM F 4788 [Alexander the Great]. The Book of the Gests of Alexander of Macedon (the life of Alexander the Great) [Mediterranean, 15th–16th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 145, p. 45–46; IMHM F 4806 Alfasi, Isaac ben Jacob (the ‘RiF’, 1013–1103). Hilkhot ha-Rif (on Rosh Hashanah, Sukkah, Yomaˆ, Mo¨ed qa†an, Shabbat, ¨Eruvin, Îullin, minor tractates, Niddah, and orders Nashim and Neziqin; with Pirqei Avot at the end) [Spain, 14th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 10, p. 4; IMHM F 4681 Aristotle. Sefer ha-Middot (Nicomachean Ethics, in the translation from the Latin by Meir Alguadez [c. 1400]) [Europe, eighteenth century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 44, p. 19; IMHM F 4713 Sefer ha-Derushim (kabbalistic homilies from the teachings of Îayyim Vital in an unknown redaction) [Italy, 1690] Provenance: Zevi Hirsch ben Aryeh Loeb [Levin] (fol. 1r) References: Neubauer, No. 92, p. 29; IMHM F 4754






 Important Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books from the Library of the London Beth Din. Sold by Order of the Trustees of the United Synagogue (Christie’s, New York, 23 June 1999). I would like to thank Moshe Brown, Judaica consultant to Christie’s International, for allowing me to work on this collection.

Emile G.L. Schrijver


32. Falaquera, Shem ™ov ibn (c. 1225–1295). Iggeret ha-vikkuaÌ and five other mainly philosophical works [southern Europe, 15th–16th century] Provenance: The manuscript was presented as a gift to R. Zevi Hirsch [Levin] in London by Judah Loeb ben Zev Wolf Praeger (fol. 1r) References: Neubauer, No. 50, p. 20; IMHM F 4718 43. HatÌalat ha-Ìokhmah and Sefer ha-Îesheq (kabbalistic works) [Central or Eastern Europe, 1651–52] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 91, p. 39; IMHM F 4750 51. Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil (d. 1280). Sefer MiÒvot qa†an (with the glosses by R. PereÒ of Corbeil and others); copied by Moses ben Eliezer for Nathan ben Solomon [Ashkenaz], 1392 Provenance: Zevi Hirsch Levin of Berlin, who indicated the title of the manuscript on the recto of the preliminary leaf in a semi-cursive pseudo-Sephardi hand, which is also attested in other manuscripts in connection with his name References: Neubauer, No. 36, p. 13; IMHM F 4704; Hebrew Paleography Project, Hebrew University, No. C 569 53. Isaac ben Samuel of Acre (late 13th–early 14th century). Sefer Meˆirat ¨enayim (major commentary on NaÌmanides’ mysticism, incorporating kabbalistic writings from the Gerona circle); copied by Îayyim ben Samuel Gatigno in Borgo Valsugan, near Trento (Northern Italy), completed on Sunday, 13 Nisan, 5334 (= 1574) Provenance: Presented as a gift to R. Zevi Hirsch Levin in London by Judah Loeb ben Ze}ev Wolf Praeger (fol. [1]r) References: Neubauer, No. 72, p. 25; IMHM F 4742 55. Jacob ben Asher (1270–1340). [Arba¨ah †urim]. ™ur OraÌ Ìayyim [Ashkenaz, 15th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 18, p. 7; IMHM F 4687 62. Levi ben Gershom (the ‘Ralbag’; Provence, 1288–1344). Commentaries on Averroes [Spain, 15th century] Provenance: Moses ben MenaÌem [Mendelssohn] of Dessau presented the manuscript to Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Levin, chief rabbi of Berlin, on Purim 5533 (= 1773) References: Neubauer, No. 43, pp. 18–19; IMHM F 4712 64. Levin, Zevi Hirsch ben Aryeh Loeb (1721–1800). Novellae (Ìiddushim) and homilies on the weekly Torah portions [Germany, eighteenth century] Autograph? References: Neubauer, No. 25, p. 9; IMHM F 4694 65. Levin, Zevi Hirsch ben Aryeh Loeb (1721–1800). Novellae (Ìiddushim; miscellaneous halakhic texts on the Mishnah, Arba¨ah †urim ShulÌan ¨arukh and other books, copied from the margins of Zevi Hirsch Levin’s books) [Germany and/or London, eighteenth century] References: Neubauer, No. 22, p. 8; IMHM F 4690 67. Lonzano, MenaÌem ben Judah (1550–c. 1624). ¨Omer man (commentary on the Idraˆ zu†aˆ and Sifraˆ de-Òeni¨utaˆ from the Zohar) [Central or Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century]


The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge

Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 113, p. 33; IMHM F 4779 68. Lonzano, MenaÌem ben Judah (1550–c. 1624). ¨Omer man (commentary on the Idraˆ zu†aˆ and Sifraˆ de-Òeni¨utaˆ from the Zohar) [Central or Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 116, p. 33; IMHM F 4781 Lonzano, MenaÌem ben Judah (1550–c. 1624). ¨Omer man (commentary on the Idraˆ zu†aˆ and Sifraˆ de-Òeni¨utaˆ from the Zohar) [Central or Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: R. Aryeh Loeb [Lowenstamm] of Amsterdam, who gave the manuscript as a present to his son Zevi Hirsch [Levin] References: Neubauer, No. 115, p. 33; IMHM F 4780 Luria, Isaac (1534–1572). Commentary on Sifraˆ de-Òeni¨utaˆ from the Zohar (with the Pirqaˆ tanyana) [Central or Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 89, p. 28; IMHM F 4756 Luria, Isaac (1534–1572). Mevoˆ she¨arim (and two other treatises of Lurianic Kabbalah) [Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped); also signed ‘Daniel Berlin’ on fol. 10r References: Neubauer, No. 88, p. 28; IMHM F 4755 Luzzatto, Moses Îayyim (the ‘RaMÎaL’; kabbalist and poet, Italy, 1707–1746). Commentary on the Idraˆ rabbaˆ [Central or Eastern Europe, 18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 63, p. 23; IMHM F 4729 Margolioth, Jacob (end of 15th century). Sefer Margaliyot or Seder Gi††in ve-ÌaliÒah (an abridgement of the author’s Yam shel Shelomoh) [Central or Eastern Europe, second half 17th century] Provenance: Judah Loeb Levi sent the manuscript to Daniel Itzig of Berlin, as indicated on the title-page in a later cursive Ashkenazi hand; Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 29, p. 12; IMHM F 4693 MenaÌem Azariah of Fano (Italian rabbi and kabbalist; 1548–1620). Kanfei yonah (five parts); copied by Îiyya Cohen de Lara of Marrakech for Naphtali Ashkenazi, Amsterdam, 1728 Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 117, p. 34; IMHM F 4782 MenaÌem Azariah of Fano (Italian rabbi and kabbalist; 1548–1620). Kanfei yonah (and four other texts); copied by Abraham ben Judah Levi of Pinczow, Landsberg, completed on Sunday, 12 Adar 5492 (= 1732) Provenance: Zevi [Hirsch Levin] of Berlin (fol. 1r) References: Neubauer, No. 118, p. 34; IMHM F 4783 Sefer ha-Peliˆah (pseudepigraphic kabbalistic work on the biblical account of Creation) [Central or Eastern Europe], completed on 1 Adar 5409 (= 1649) Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 67, p. 24; IMHM F 4734









Emile G.L. Schrijver


98. Samson ben ∑adoq (pupil of Meir of Rothenburg, 13th century). Sefer TashbeÒ (responsa) [Ashkenaz, 15th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 27, p. 9; IMHM F 4696 103. Shem ™ov, Joseph ibn (Spain, c. 1400–c. 1460). Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; copied by Shalom ben Isaac of Mezhirech [Eastern Europe], 1780 Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 47, p. 19; IMHM F 4715 110. Siddur ha-Ari (with Kavvanot, or mystical intentions, by R. Isaac Luria (1534–1572), edited by Îayyim ben Abraham Kohen of Aleppo [c. 1585–1655]), [Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 100, p. 30; IMHM F 4765 111. Siddur ha-Ari (and other treatises of Lurianic Kabbalah) [probably Western Europe, 18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 96, 97, pp. 29–30; IMHM F 4761, 4762 113. Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi; 1040–1105). Anonymous super-commentary on Rashi’s commentary on the Torah (from Va-yeÒeˆ to Îuqqat) [probably Provence, 15th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 2, p. 1; IMHM F 4671 115. Talmud Bavli. Masekhet ¨Eruvin ke-fi asher nidpas be-Ams†erdam [Cleves (Germany)]; copied by Mordecai ben Samson Altschuler [of Cologne], begun on 16 Shevat 5479 (1719) Provenance: Zevi Hirsch ben Aryeh Loeb Levin of Berlin, as indicated in various inscriptions in Hebrew and Latin, on two blank pages preceding and the one blank page following the text References: Neubauer, No. 8, p. 3; IMHM F 4677 121. Sefer ha-Temunah (pseudepigraphic kabbalistic work, attributed to Rabbi Ishmael, preceded by Sod shem ha-meyuÌad); copied by Abraham Abush of Lublin [Swarzedz (near Posen)], early 18th century Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 69, p. 24; IMHM F 4736 125. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). Sefer Adam yashar. Amsterdam, [18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 93, p. 29; IMHM F 4759 126. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). ¨EÒ Ìayyim (with some additions) [Central or Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 84, p. 27; IMHM F 4789 128. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). ¨EÒ Ìayyim (with the prefaces by Îayyim Vital and Meir Poppers, Sha¨ar ha-kelalim, and the glosses by Meir Poppers and Jacob ∑emaÌ); [copied by Jacob ben Judah Leib Shamash, Hamburg], 5494 (= 1734) Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 86, p. 28; IMHM F 4752


The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge

130. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). [Liqqu†im] (abridgements and extracts from his and other writings); copied by Jehiel Michel ben Samson Eisenstadt and his brother Mordecai, Hamburg, 1721–1724 Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 106, p. 31; IMHM F 4772 131. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). OÒerot Ìayyim; copied by Îiyya Cohen de Lara, Amsterdam, 1726 Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 79, p. 26–27; IMHM F 4746 134. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). Peri ¨eÒ Ìayyim (and four other treatises of Lurianic Kabbalah) [Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 75, p. 26; IMHM F 4740 136. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). Peri ¨eÒ Ìayyim (with 10 other treatises of Lurianic Kabbalah) [Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Various other loose sheets were found in the manuscript, including the start of a letter sent from Amsterdam in 5523 (= 1762/3) to ‘Zevi Hirsch’, the writer’s brother. It was probably sent by Saul Levin to his brother R. Zevi Hirsch Levin References: Neubauer, No. 76, p. 26; IMHM F 4743 137. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). Peri ¨eÒ Ìayyim (Branch 1, Sha¨ar ha-kavvanot, only the parts on Sabbath and festivals, followed by two other works of Lurianic Kabbalah) [Central or Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 77, p. 26; IMHM F 4744 140. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). Peri ¨eÒ Ìayyim (Branch 1, Sha¨ar ha-kavvanot, with the glosses by Jacob ∑emaÌ and Isaac [ben Abraham of Posen]) [Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 103, p. 31; IMHM F 4769 141. Vital, Îayyim (Safed; 1542–1620). Zohar ha-raqia¨ (based on his commentary on the Zohar, in the redaction of Jacob ∑emaÌ, and two other texts) [Eastern Europe, 17th–18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 58, p. 22; IMHM F 4732 146. ∑emaÌ, Jacob ben Îayyim (d. after 1655). Qol be-ramah (commentary on the Idraˆ rabbaˆ), followed by eight other treatises of Lurianic Kabbalah [Eastern Europe, 17th– 18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 65, p. 24; IMHM F 4731 147. ∑emaÌ, Jacob ben Îayyim (d. after 1655). Qol be-ramah (commentary on the Idraˆ rabbaˆ), followed by Gedaliah Halevi’s Derushei ha-melakhim she-metu (on transmigration of souls) [Central or Eastern Europe, 18th century] Provenance: Daniel Itzig (stamped) References: Neubauer, No. 64, p. 24; IMHM F 4730

Emile G.L. Schrijver



The Maskilic Appreciation of Medieval Knowledge

Andrea Schatz

Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

Among the most ambitious and most consequential projects undertaken by the early maskilim was their attempt to renew and cultivate Hebrew as the language of the Jewish nation in the diaspora. Their activities as advocates, writers, and teachers of Hebrew were not merely individual expressions of a sentimental attachment to the language of ancient political and cultural autonomy. Rather, they had meaning within the context of a comprehensive program for the transformation of Jewish bilingualism: rabbinic loshn qoydesh, consisting of Hebrew and Aramaic, was to be replaced by ‘classical’ Hebrew, based mainly on the Bible and the Mishnah; Yiddish would be replaced by German.1 The maskilim aimed to establish Hebrew as the lingua franca of a Jewish public sphere that would extend beyond the traditional sites of Jewish debate – the synagogue, the yeshiva, the rabbinical court – and would not be confined by the territorial and linguistic boundaries of the non-Jewish nations. At the same time, the maskilim did not hesitate to advocate the use of German in everyday life for secular as well as religious matters. Thus they decided to translate the books of the Hebrew Bible into German, but they also added extensive Hebrew commentaries to these translations and published – in the year of the completion of Mendelssohn’s edition of the Pentateuch – the first issues of the Hebrew periodical Ha-Meˆassef. In the eyes of the maskilim, the Hebrew language remained crucial for the possibility of Jewish self-assertion. It was conceived as the medium of a critical re-examination and re-appropriation of the Jewish tradition and as the basis of a new cultural memory that would allow the Jews to define themselves as an enlightened nation with noble roots and a promising future – or, in the words of the political agenda that was interwoven with their cultural activities, as a nation on its way to emancipation and reform. Thus Hebrew was the language in which the meanings of tradition could be negotiated, but it was also designed to become the language of a Jewish public that wished to define its perspectives on contemporary political and cultural issues in its own terms.2 It seems obvious that the idea of reconfiguring Jewish bilingualism so that it could remain the linguistic basis of a diasporic nation – an
Bartal, ‘Mi-du-leshoniyyut mesoratit le-Ìad-leshoniyyut leˆummit’, Shevut 15 (1992): 183–93. the changing meanings of Hebrew in the Jewish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, see Andrea Schatz, Sprache in der Zerstreuung: Zur Säkularisierung des Hebräischen im 18. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 2007).
2 On 1 Israel

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Andrea Schatz Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


idea utterly alien to the emerging nation-states, with their emphasis on territory and linguistic homogeneity – was inspired and supported by Sepharad. This assertion, however, raises a number of questions. Which aspects or manifestations of Sepharad did the maskilim have in mind when they invoked it as a reference for their cultural aspirations? Where did they locate ‘Sepharad’, historically and geographically? Did they look to medieval Spain or rather to the contemporary Sephardi communities of Amsterdam or Saloniki? Did they have in mind a society asserting itself in Islamic or in Christian contexts? Were they looking to a culture evolving in Hebrew and Arabic or in Hebrew and the Iberian languages, Portuguese and Spanish? Did they refer to the distant past or to the immediate surroundings of a diasporic present? How did they relate to the history of persecution, expulsion, and conversion that brought Maimonides to Fustat, Abravanel to Venice, and Manasseh ben Israel to Amsterdam? And if they found inspiration in both medieval and contemporary Sepharad, how were these two aspects of their interest in the Sephardi world tied to each other? Although these questions deserve answers based on a broad range of maskilic activities, it seems important to mention them here in order to point to the context to which an analysis of ‘Sepharad’ in maskilic writings on language in the diaspora might contribute. In what follows I will argue that the maskilim explored the Sephardi world in ways that differed significantly from its evocations in both the late seventeenth and the early nineteenth centuries.3 While the proponents of Sephardi knowledge and education in the seventeenth century found ‘Sepharad’ in the contemporary West, primarily in Amsterdam, and the proponents of the Wissenschaft des Judentums found it in the medieval ‘Orient’, in the world of al-Andalus, the maskilim developed approaches to ‘Sepharad’ that were more nuanced and complex than those of the seventeenth century and less informed by ideological and apologetic concerns than those of the nineteenth century. The maskilim were interested in more than an alternative model of learning and in something different than a historical icon. It was not imitation they had in mind. They insisted on processes of mediation, on critical investigation and adaptation. Thus they hoped to recapture both a textual tradition and a contemporary practice that would form part of the multiple cultural layers on the basis of which they would develop, amidst the struggles of the Emancipation period, their own version of a modern Jewish culture. According to Zimmels’ classic study Ashkenazim and Sephardim, it was around the middle of the eighteenth century that ‘the influence of the old Sephardic school began to assert itself again among the Ashkenazim in Germany, paving the way for a new epoch in Jewish literature and culture, viz. the age of Enlightenment’.4 On the
3 For a summary of the conventional view that does not differentiate between earlier and later evocations of Sepharad, see the description of the German-Jewish ‘romance with the Sephardim’ in Lois C. Dubin, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Italian Jewish Model in Germany: From Haskalah to Reform, 1780– 1820’, in Jewish History and Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, ed. Elisheva Carlebach, John M. Efron, and David N. Myers (Hanover and London, 1998), pp. 271–95, on p. 271. 4  H. J. Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa (Hoboken, 1976), p. 67.


Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

more specific issue of languages, Zimmels quotes Leopold Löw: ‘Has not the study of the Hebrew language … since Mendelssohn’s time mostly followed the pattern of the Sephardim?’ To support this suggestion Zimmels mentions Isaac Satanow, Israel Zamosc, Solomon Dubno, and Wolf Heidenheim as scholars ‘who either wrote commentaries on the Moreh Nebuchim and Kuzari, or made researches in Hebrew language and grammar and poetry’. He does not hesitate to compare the significance of their interest in Sepharad with the adoption of the ShulÌan ¨arukh in the Ashkenazi world two centuries earlier: ‘It was then for the second time in history that the Ashkenazim became the disciples of the great masters of Spanish Jewry’.5 Zimmels’ outline of the enlightened encounter between Ashkenaz and Sepharad is particularly suggestive, given the specific background against which it is set forth: the rather strict division between Ashkenazim and Sephardim that was only rarely bridged and that manifested itself not merely in halakhic, liturgical, linguistic, and educational differences, but also in separate spheres of social life, in the fact that intermarriage was not encouraged, and in a certain amount of arrogance on both sides.6 Despite the general tendency to insist on separate social and cultural spheres, however, Sepharad had assumed considerable significance within the Ashkenazi world already some time before Zamosc and Satanow published their works. Exegetical and philosophical works from medieval Sepharad that were printed in Italy in the sixteenth century provoked vehement opposition and remained a contested source of knowledge in Ashkenaz.7 Even more controversial was the adoption of the ShulÌan ¨arukh in the Ashkenazi world of the sixteenth century. This step, facilitated and mediated by Moses Isserles’ Mappah, is described by Zimmels as a unique moment of rapprochement that, paradoxically, resulted in a permanent division between the halakhic systems of Sephardim and Ashkenazim, because Isserles’ glosses on Caro’s code became authoritative only in Ashkenaz.8 The increasing prominence of the study of the ShulÌan ¨arukh in Polish yeshivot provoked sharp criticism, which was eventually directed against the effects of these new developments on Ashkenazi society and its institutions of learning in general.9 It was in the polemical struggle against the impact of the ShulÌan ¨arukh and in particular against the method of the new form of pilpul, the pilpul ha-Ìilluqim, that another aspect of the Sephardi tradition was invoked as an attractive counter-model: the methodical and differentiated system of instruction that could be found in contemporary Sephardi communities, with its emphasis on the Hebrew Bible, on Hebrew grammar, and on vernacular explanations of the biblical text.
 Ibid., pp. 67–8. pp. 59–63. 7  Elchanan Reiner, ‘The Attitude of Ashkenazi Society to the New Science in the Sixteenth Century’, Science in Context 10 (1997): 589–603. Jacob Elbaum mentions the controversies sparked by the dissemination of Sephardi works in Ashkenaz as evidence not against, but in favour of the view that the late sixteenth century was a time of contact and exchange: ‘Hashpa¨at tarbut yehudei Sefarad ¨al yehudei Ashkenaz u-Folin bi-meˆot ha-15–16’, in Tarbut ve-his†orya: Le-zikhro shel Prof. Ino Sciaky, ed. Joseph Dan (Jerusalem, 1987), pp. 95–120. 8  Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, pp. 52–8. 9 Elchanan Reiner, ‘The Ashkenazi Élite at the Beginning of the Modern Era: Manuscript versus Printed Book’, in Jews in Early Modern Poland, ed. Gershon D. Hundert, (London, 1997) (= Polin 10), pp. 85–98.
6 Ibid., 5

Andrea Schatz


The Ashkenazi scholars who have become famous for their admiration of Sephardi models of education include Îayyim ben BeÒalel, Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz, and Shabbetai Bass.10 Îayyim ben BeÒalel praises his Sephardi teacher who introduced him to the study of the Bible with Rashi and emphasizes – in his introduction to his unpublished grammar ¨EÒ Ìayyim – that it is above all in the lands of Ashkenaz that grammatical studies have been severely neglected.11 Horowitz depicts the excellent method of instruction in Amsterdam but refrains from referring explicitly to its Sephardi context. This allows him to recommend the adoption of a seemingly neutral model of education as a means to promote talmud torah in the entire diaspora and to bring the end of the exile nearer.12 Bass cites Horowitz in the introduction to his bibliography Siftei yeshenim, supplements the Sephardi context, and provides numerous details about the school of the Sephardi community, its six separate rooms for different levels of instruction, its library, and its teachers, who were appointed by the community and received a regular salary.13 Another work, published in Amsterdam around the same time as Siftei yeshenim was even more eloquent in its praise of the Sephardim – Blitz of Witmund’s introduction to his Yiddish translation of the Hebrew Bible.14 Blitz mentions the achievements of Italian Jewry in biblical and grammatical knowledge and then turns to the Sephardim:
None on earth can be compared to them when it comes to the nature of the Holy Tongue; it can clearly be demonstrated that they write their books in a lucid and pure language, according to the rules of grammar, because first they study the literal sense [of the Scriptures] and because the majority of the Sephardim, sons of our people, have the 24 books of the Holy Scriptures [translated] according to the nature of the Spanish language.15

Blitz deplores the lack of biblical and linguistic knowledge among the Ashkenazim and explains that in a number of difficult cases he consulted the Ìakham of the Sephardi community, Moses Raphael d’Aguilar, a man whose advice was sought, according to Blitz, not only by Ashkenazim but also by ‘the Christian rashei yeshivot, called professors’.16 Just as Bass acknowledges that his bibliography owes much to the library of the Sephardi bet midrash, Blitz asserts that his translation is indebted
10  Cf. Jacob Elbaum, PetiÌut ve-histagrut: Ha-yeÒirah ha-ruÌanit-ha-sifrutit be-Folin u-ve-arÒot Ashkenaz be-shilhei ha-meˆah ha-shesh-¨esreh (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 56–8; David Sorkin, The Berlin Haskalah and German Religious Thought: Orphans of Knowledge (London and Portland, 2000), pp. 40–1; Morris M. Faierstein, The Libes Briv of Isaac Wetzlar (Atlanta, 1996), p. 38. 11  Îayyim ben BeÒalel, Iggeret ha-†iyyul (repr. Jerusalem, 1956/7), ‘Introduction’, p. 13; idem, ‘EÒ Ìayyim, ‘Introduction', in A. Neubauer, ‘Devarim ‘attiqim me-Oqsford', Ha-Maggid 13 (1869): 293. 12  Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz, Vavei ha-¨ammudim, ¨Ammud ha-torah, ch. 5, fol. 9b, in Simcha Assaf, Meqorot le-toledot ha-Ìinnukh be-Yisraˆel, ed. Shmuel Glick, vol. 1 (New York and Jerusalem, 2002), p. 119. 13 Shabbetai Bass, Siftei yeshenim (Amsterdam, 1680), fol. 8a–b. 14  On the intricate history of the emergence of two Yiddish Bible translations in Amsterdam, see Erika Timm, ‘Blitz und Witzenhausen’, in Ke-minhag Ashkenaz u-Folin. Sefer yovel le-Chone Shmeruk, ed. Israel Bartal, Chava Turniansky and Ezra Mendelsohn (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 39–66. 15 Torah neviˆim u-khtuvim, trans. Jekutiel Blitz mi-Witmund, Amsterdam [1676–]1678, ‘Translator's introduction', fol. 3a. 16 Ibid.


Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

to the superior knowledge of the community’s Ìakham. Thus both authors refer to their own works in order to illustrate their claim that progress in the study of the Bible and the Hebrew language depends on the willingness of the Ashkenazim to learn from the Sephardim. Blitz, however, adds yet another aspect to this discussion. He vividly describes how the structured course of study that can be found in the Sephardi community will allow the Ashkenazim to acquire the knowledge they need in order to respond adequately to their Christian neighbours’ challenging inquiries about the correct interpretation of biblical verses.17 The adoption of Sephardi models of learning and Jewish self-assertion vis-à-vis the Christian world seem to be intimately linked to each other. This description of Sephardi learning and its significance for Jewish self-representation in a Christian environment was not without a paradoxical note. The emphasis on the study of Scripture and the Hebrew language in the Sephardi community of Amsterdam was the result of its specific history, a history of expulsion, conversion, and migration that had distanced many Sephardi families from Jewish learning and religious practice. The great interest in the Bible and its original language was a way to regain a lost religious tradition,18 but it was also consistent with a cultural ideal that was deeply rooted in the Christian surroundings of the Portuguese community of Amsterdam: the Bible was held in great esteem by both Calvinists and Sephardim. Indeed, biblical knowledge constituted common ground that could be turned into an arena of interpretative contest.19 The dialectical traits of a model that relied on intersecting religious and cultural trends certainly contributed in no small measure to the attractiveness of Sephardi biblical and linguistic studies for the Ashkenazi world. It facilitated the articulation of difference while providing a language of self-assertion that implied the acknowledgement of shared concepts and values. The writings of Sheftel Horowitz, Bass, and Blitz clearly suggest that it was contemporary Sepharad rather than medieval Spain that fascinated early modern Ashkenazi scholars. All the more striking is the contrast between their remarks and the evocations of Sepharad that we find a century later among the scholars of the early Wissenschaft des Judentums. Here, it is medieval Sepharad that inspires admiration, awakens scholarly curiosity, and stimulates the literary imagination. The Islamic world of al-Andalus is praised as a ‘friendly oasis’ where Jews cultivated Hebrew as a living language, wrote poetry, pursued the sciences, and were actively involved in the general history of their times.20 Obviously, the meanings of ‘Sepharad’ had

 Ibid., fol. 3b. Miriam Bodian, Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam (Bloomington, 1997), pp. 103–10. 19 Blitz’s description of d’Aguilar’s communication with the professors of Leiden points to the first aspect, while the second aspect is emphasized by Bodian, Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation, p. 105. See also Yosef Kaplan, ‘Bom Judesmo: The Western Sephardic Diaspora’, in Cultures of the Jews: A New History, ed. David Biale (New York, 2002), pp. 639–69 (esp. pp. 656–63). 20 Leopold Zunz, ‘Über die in den hebräisch-jüdischen Schriften vorkommenden hispanischen Ortnamen’, Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judentums 1 (1822/1823): 127–8. Zunz’s words seem to encapsulate the attitude towards al-Andalus that was characteristic for most of the nineteenth century, although he himself tried to balance the admiration for medieval Sepharad with attentiveness to the achievements of medieval Ashkenaz. See also: Salmon Maimon's Lebensgeschichte, vol. 2 (Berlin, 1793), pp. 308–9.
18 See

Andrea Schatz


shifted. Bass and Blitz may have recognized some of the features that figured prominently in these new depictions of ‘Sepharad’ – the cultivation of the Hebrew language and the love of poetry; but they would hardly have approved of the entirely secular context in which they now gained relevance. What had happened to ‘Sepharad’ between 1700 and 1800? Shortly after the publication of Zimmels’ Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Ismar Schorsch turned to the ‘pro-Spanish bias’ of the early Wissenschaft des Judentums. He proposed dating the emergence of a new interest in medieval Sepharad to the Berlin Haskalah and to the contemporary debates on ‘civic improvement’. According to Schorsch, the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities played an important role in the attempt to promote cultural reform and to demonstrate the capacity for self-improvement vis-à-vis both internal and external opposition: ‘To project this contemporary disparity back into the past provided inferiority-ridden Ashkenazic intellectuals with an effective critique of their own tradition and a respectable cultural claim for political equality’.21 Schorsch takes up this argument in his seminal article on ‘The Myth of Sephardic Supremacy’, summoning Moses Mendelssohn and Aaron Wolfsohn-Halle as witnesses for the positive connotations attributed to Sepharad in maskilic discourse:
[T]he full-blown cultural critique of the Haskalah … drew much of its validation, if not inspiration, directly from Spain. The advocacy of secular education, the curbing of talmudic exclusivity and the resumption of studies in Hebrew grammar, biblical exegesis, and Jewish philosophy, and the search for historical exemplars led to a quick rediscovery of Spanish models and achievements.22

Schorsch draws together various cultural trends in order to suggest that the maskilim created a distinctive and homogeneous image of ‘Sepharad’ that would serve their apologetic purposes and form the basis for the emergence of the ‘Sephardic Mystique’23 in the nineteenth century. However, a closer inspection of a variety of sources reveals a more complex and heterogeneous picture; Sepharad did not give itself easily to the maskilic efforts to create a usable past. As we have seen, as early as the seventeenth century Ashkenazi scholars advocated ‘the curbing of talmudic exclusivity and the resumption of studies in Hebrew grammar’, relying on contemporary post-Spanish rather than medieval Spanish models. At the same time, the writings of the maskilim obviously indicate a new trend, an
21 Ismar Schorsch, ‘From Wolfenbüttel to Wissenschaft: The Divergent Paths of Isaak Markus Jost and Leopold Zunz’, LBIY 22 (1977): 109–28, on p. 119. Several years later, Schorsch returned to the ‘Spanish bias’ and again – this time rather cursorily – associated it with the Enlightenment in a remark about Samuel David Luzzatto, who ‘was far less enamoured of Sephardic superiority than most of his enlightened contemporaries’; idem, ‘The Emergence of Historical Consciousness in Modern Judaism’, LBIY 28 (1983): 413–37, on p. 426. 22 Ismar Schorsch, ‘The Myth of Sephardic Supremacy’, LBIY 34 (1989): 49–66, on pp. 49–50. 23 Ivan G. Marcus coined the term ‘Sephardic Mystique’ in his critique of the historiographical narratives of Gershom Scholem and Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi: ‘Beyond The Sephardic Mystique’, Orim 1 (1985): 35–53.


Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

unprecedented interest in biblical exegesis and philosophy that was closely linked to the rediscovery of the authors of medieval Sepharad. But – as demonstrated in several contributions to this volume – the maskilim read their sources with critical attention. They admired their Sephardi teachers but did not tend to idealize them. Moreover, it may be asked to what extent maskilic readings of authors like Judah Halevi, Maimonides, and Abraham Ibn Ezra reflect an interest in the particular social and cultural circumstances in which these authors flourished. Did the maskilim contextualize the philosophical and exegetical achievements of their Sephardi teachers? Did they really draw the attention of their Jewish and Christian audiences to the Middle Ages and to al-Andalus in order to establish a historical model that would be useful in the struggle for emancipation? Or did they in fact tend to dissociate the texts of these authors from their specific historical contexts?24 Shmuel Feiner raised additional questions in his ‘Sefarad dans les représentations historiques de la Haskala’. He interprets the writings of the German maskilim as part of the larger history of the Haskalah movement, thus relating them not to developments within German-Jewish history, as Schorsch did, but to trends that eventually found their full expression in Eastern Europe. As a result of this shift of perspective, he identifies a strong tendency among the maskilim to draw a rather negative picture of Sepharad. It is the history of the Jews in Christian Spain that appears to dominate their reflections on the meanings of medieval Sepharad. In many places they highlight the intolerance and atrocities of the Inquisition, thus turning Sepharad into a synonym for the ‘dark ages’ that they hoped were yielding to an age of tolerance.25 To be sure, the maskilim created a famous pantheon of Sephardi heroes.26 But this did not prevent them from singling out certain aspects of Jewish society in Christian Spain that they perceived as problematic. Thus they sharply criticized what they saw as the cultural arrogance of the Jews in Christian Spain in times of peace and affluence and adduced the situation of the conversos to cast light on the problems of reli24  Schorsch refers to the debate on the English Jew Bill of 1753 and to Isaac de Pinto’s refutation of Voltaire as early examples of the role of Sepharad in maskilic political discourse and vaguely suggests a link between these events and Eduard Gans’ 1820 petition to the Prussian Government (Schorsch, ‘From Wolfenbüttel to Wissenschaft’, p. 119; idem, ‘The Myth of Sephardic Supremacy’, pp. 51–2). But Gans, a Hegelian and prominent member of the Verein für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, can hardly be considered a maskil. Indeed, Sepharad is quite absent from the political writings of Mendelssohn or Dohm. It figures, however, prominently in the anonymous treatise on the emancipation of the Jews that was inspired by the English debates and published in Berlin as early as 1753. This interesting though little-known text was edited by Jacob Toury and has been discussed recently by Gad Freudenthal, who suggests that its author was Aron Gumpertz (Jacob Toury, ‘Eine vergessene Frühschrift zur Emanzipation der Juden in Deutschland’, Bulletin des Leo Baeck Instituts 12 [1969]: 253–81; Gad Freudenthal, ‘Aaron Salomon Gumpertz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and the First Call for an Improvement of the Civil Rights of Jews in Germany [1753]’, AJS Review 29 [2005]: 299–353). 25 Shmuel Feiner, ‘Sefarad dans les représentations historiques de la Haskala – entre modernisme et conservatisme’, in Mémoires juives d’Espagne et du Portugal, ed. Esther Benbassa (Paris, 1996), pp. 239–51. 26  See above all the brief biographical sketches dedicated to medieval as well as early modern Sephardi scholars in the volumes of the Meˆassef: Maimonides, Manasseh ben Israel, Orobio de Castro, and others. See also J. H. Lehmann, ‘Maimonides, Mendelssohn and the Me’assefim: Philosophy and the Biographical Imagination in the Early Haskalah’, LBIY 20 (1975): 87–108.

Andrea Schatz


gious assimilation.27 Obviously, Sepharad had turned into a highly complex signifier: an inspiration and a provocation, a promise and a warning. I would now like to take a closer look at maskilic writings on the Hebrew language, in the light of the different aspects of ‘Sepharad’ in maskilic discourse, and examine how the maskilim integrated Sephardi traditions into their reflections on contemporary issues. In 1792, in Frankfurt am Main, Judah Leib ben David Neumark published the first new Hebrew grammar in the Ashkenazi world in almost sixty years, Shoresh Yehudah.28 His introduction combines the two types of narrative that shaped the discussions of the history of Hebrew in exile among the early maskilim.29 The first type drew on Maimonides’ description, in Hilkhot tefillah, of what had happened to the Hebrew language during the Babylonian exile. Maimonides took his cue from Nehemiah 13:23–24, which reports that the Jews had married foreign women whose sons adopted the foreign idiom of their surroundings and forgot the language of the Jews: u-vneihem ÌaÒi medabber ashdodit ve-enam makkirim le-dabber yehudit ve-khilshon ¨am va-¨am. Maimonides draws on this brief anecdote to describe the political, cultural and linguistic crisis the Jews experienced after the Babylonian exile. They lost their ability to define themselves according to their own political, religious, and moral laws; the most visible sign of this was the loss of their mastery of the Hebrew language. Maimonides conceived of multilingualism not as a valuable increase of linguistic possibilities but as a limitation and deprivation, indeed as a kind of speechlessness. The situation changed again, according to Maimonides, with Ezra’s prayer reform. Because the Jews were no longer fluent in Hebrew, Ezra instituted a fixed wording for the Shemoneh ¨esreh.30 As a result of Ezra’s achievements Hebrew was saved from oblivion, but its character had changed irreversibly. Hebrew was no longer a mother tongue, a spoken language and a language for everyday life. It turned into a written language and into the language of religious life. When the maskilim wanted to describe and explain the poor state of Hebrew in exile they often turned to Maimonides. They had to confront the problem, however, that his narrative hardly offered support to the idea of renewing the Hebrew language while still living in exile. Apart from the fact that it did not provide a positive image of multilingualism and cultural contact, it also left the maskilim with a language that would remain incomplete, a mere fragment of a language, as long as exile prevailed. It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that the maskilim tried to supplement Maimonides with other material. An important source of inspiration for the second type of narrative they developed was Judah Halevi’s Kuzari. The famous description of the divine origin and the unique qualities of Hebrew, in the fourth part of his book,
27  See Isaac Euchel’s account of the history of the Jews in Spain in his ‘Iggerot Meshullam ben Uria haEshtemo¨i’, Ha-Meˆassef 6 (1789/90): 38–50, 80–5, 171–6, 244–9. 28  Isaac ben Samuel ha-Levi of Posen’s SiaÌ YiÒÌaq had been published in Prague, 1628. 29 For a further discussion of these two narratives, see Schatz, Sprache in der Zerstreuung, ch. 1. 30  Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (Warsaw, 1881; repr. Jerusalem, 1974), Hilkhot tefillah 1:4.


Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

served as an excellent justification for a renewed cultivation of the language.31 The language of Adam and of ¨Ever could fall into oblivion, but it could not lose its inherent characteristics that marked it as the perfect language of mankind, since those did not depend on human linguistic practice. Hence it could be assumed that the integrity and superior qualities of Hebrew could be rediscovered and recaptured in the present. On the one hand, the metahistorical character of Hebrew saved it, according to this second type of narrative, from the vicissitudes of Jewish life in exile. On the other hand, it was precisely the impossibility of conferring a history on the language of origin that made it extremely difficult for the maskilim to explain why it might be legitimate and how it might become possible to modify and expand the Hebrew language to suit their current needs and purposes, as this would mean exposing Hebrew to historical change. Again the maskilim encountered severe difficulties when trying to use medieval Sephardi sources in order to legitimize their linguistic project. Judah Neumark’s introduction to his grammar offers a good illustration of their predicament. Neumark starts with extensive quotations from kabbalistic sources, among them Joseph Gikatilla’s Ginnat egoz and Abraham Azulai’s Îesed leAvraham,32 which in turn quotes the Kuzari – all of them full of praise for the unique metaphysical qualities of the Hebrew language as the language of divine origin.33 Neumark then turns to the realm of history, describing the dignity of the language as the language of ‘the holy Jewish nation’ (ha-ummah ha-qedoshah) before exile. He then turns to Babylonia, quotes Nehemiah 13, mentions Ezra’s reform, and laments the decline of Hebrew ever since. In his own days, he states, Hebrew appears to be better known to Christians than to Jews. It has become the victim of an act of cultural usurpation – a symbol of the Jews’ estrangement from their own tradition and of the highly problematic relationship between Christians and Jews in the diaspora. At this point in Neumark’s history of decline it has become virtually impossible to find in it any encouragement for linguistic renewal. Consequently Neumark has to start a new chapter. In fact, he begins a new paragraph and turns back to a stage previously omitted from his narrative: medieval Sepharad. Here he finds the foundations for what the grammarians of his own days are about to undertake, a second effort to overcome the linguistic crisis of exile, comparable to the first one made by Ezra. ¨Asu ma¨aseh ¨Ezra, Neumark writes, they did what Ezra had done, and they were able to do so by reviewing the grammatical tradition of Sepharad. Thus the renewal of Hebrew grammatical studies among Ashkenazi Jews is not an imitation of their (Hebraist) Christian surroundings but a reiteration of an act of Jewish self-assertion. Neumark gives an account of those Sephardi grammatical works he knew of, beginning with Judah Îayyuj, Jonah Ibn JanaÌ, and Abraham Ibn Ezra, asserting that he has not seen any of these grammatical studies except for Ibn Ezra’s exegetical writings. Only when Neumark arrives at the works of Moses and David KimÌi can he describe them briefly. He criticizes Moses KimÌi for being too concise and David KimÌi for being too verbose and for neglecting sys31 Judah

Halevi, Sefer ha-Kuzari – Das Buch Kusari […] nach dem hebräischen Texte des Jehuda IbnTibbon, ed. and trans. David Cassel, 5th ed. (Berlin, 1922), IV:25, p. 342. 32 Azulai’s work had recently become available in print: it was published in Amsterdam in 1685. 33 Judah Leib ben David Neumark, Shoresh Yehudah, Frankfurt 1692, ‘Author’s preface’ (unpaginated).

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tematic order. Thus he declares that his own intention is neither to question nor to change the grammatical tradition, but merely to offer some improvements with regard to style, logical arrangement, and didactic order. He then turns to the works of David Ibn YaÌya and Abraham de Balmes, emphasizing that it is impossible for Ashkenazim to comprehend their explanations, because they are not used to their terminology. He also mentions Elijah Levita, the great Ashkenazi scholar and writer who was active mainly in Italy, indicating that grammatical knowledge was not confined to the Sephardi world. Neumark gives his readers to understand that the tradition of Sephardi grammatical study is to be respected: there is no need for alterations or additions. At the same time, however, he emphasizes the great distance between the Sephardi past and the Ashkenazi present: the Sephardi tradition is either inaccessible, because copies of its works can hardly be obtained, or has become extremely difficult to read and decipher because of its peculiar style or lack of systematic order. Ezra’s work can be resumed, because the Sephardi tradition indicates the viability of such a project – that is, of disrupting an exilic history of decline under the conditions of exile. Yet in order to unfold its potential, the Sephardi recension of grammatical knowledge needs to be reformulated and transformed into an Ashkenazi recension of grammatical expertise. The maskilim admired Solomon Zalman Hanau as the greatest Jewish grammarian of the eighteenth century. Hanau published his first work Binyan Shelomoh, a grammatical commentary on the prayer book, in 1708. In its pages he sharply criticized the grammatical decisions of Azriel and Elijah Vilna, who had published a widely acclaimed prayer book five years earlier. Not only did Hanau attack his contemporaries with elegance and vigour; he did not spare his great predecessors, the grammarians of Sepharad and Italy, either. For example, he pointed to an error in Azriel and Elijah’s vocalization of the word galuyyot in the Amidah and states that he had wondered how both father and son fell into the same trap. He explains that as ‘his eyes fell on his ox’ he perceived ‘a bridle in their jaws, causing them to err’ (Isa. 30:28) – they had been misled by inaccuracies in David KimÌi’s grammatical work the Mikhlol.34 Given his sharp and witty criticisms it is hardly surprising that Hanau, who was 20 years old when he published Binyan Shelomoh, provoked harsh reactions. In a supplement to Binyan Shelomoh he had to apologize for his misdeeds – but not even his meÌilah, his statement of contrition, found favour with his opponents.35 In their response, the Vilnas correctly observed that Hanau’s meÌilah was no less bold than the book itself.36 His deferential remarks about the great Sephardi and Italian authorities he had the courage to correct clearly imply that he is convinced they cannot really be offended, because they – unlike the lesser authorities of his own age – had a broad mind and would have tolerated some critical remarks.
34 Solomon 35

Zalman Hanau, Binyan Shelomoh (Frankfurt a.M., 1708), fol. 61b–62a.  The Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana owns one of the rare copies of Binyan Shelomoh with the attached meÌilah (Ros. 1879 D 36). The text was published by Aron Freimann, ‘Salomo Hanau’s Widerruf’, Zeitschrift für Hebräische Bibliographie 8 (1904): 93–4. 36 Azriel and Elijah Wilna, Derekh siaÌ ha-sadeh (Berlin, 1713), ‘Preface', fol. 11a [should be 12a].


Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

Hanau insisted on an analysis of Hebrew grammar according to the principles of reason and on a critical examination of the claims of tradition, based only on rational judgement and the revealed text of the Torah. But obviously he was not satisfied with strategies of critique that included bold attacks on the tradition as well as sly retreats. In his later works, above all in ∑ohar ha-tevah and Qun†res qure ¨akavish, he chose a different approach to the tradition of grammatical study. In fact, he adopted a strategy that we have already encountered in Neumark’s work: he gave an account of the tradition that allowed him to place himself within its sphere. In his detailed narrative he divides the history of Hebrew grammar into three periods.37 The grammar of the Hebrew language was first handed down to Moses at Sinai; like the Oral Torah it was not transmitted in written form. During the second period, the period of the rishonim, which includes the tannaˆim and amoraˆim, Saadia Gaon and the grammarians of Sepharad, only the most important grammatical rules were recorded. Since they had full and clear knowledge of the rules of grammar, these masters of the Hebrew language decided not to explain them extensively and in detail. Hanau again compares Hebrew grammatical knowledge with the Oral Law: the rishonim provided a kind of Mishnah, a Mishnah, however, that never was followed by a Gemara. Only David KimÌi, the last of the rishonim and the first of the aÌaronim, recorded the knowledge that had been handed down to him in a comprehensive way – not without some additions, however, and not without some errors. Hanau is full of praise for the Mikhlol, but does not hesitate to declare that in some places KimÌi did not identify the reason for a certain rule or the correct vocalization of a word. Hanau is rather brief about the third period, the period of the aÌaronim, continuing through the grammarians of his own day: they merely repeat what they learned from the earlier generations. The Ashkenazi grammarian defines his own work as the first attempt since the Mikhlol to record, explain, and arrange the tradition of grammatical knowledge systematically. Like Neumark he claims not to question the tradition but to fulfil it. Unlike Neumark, however, he comes to the conclusion that the Sephardi legacy represents grammatical tradition in an incomplete and imperfect way. Sephardi grammatical knowledge has been affected by the conditions of exile, by cultural loss, and oblivion, and the tradition has become uncertain and inaccurate. Both Neumark and Hanau acknowledge that medieval Sepharad produced the grammatical works on which contemporary scholars can ground their efforts to revitalize the study of the Hebrew language. At the same time, neither of them shows a tendency to evoke Sepharad as a model to be emulated. In the writings of the early maskilim Sepharad remains a very real place within cultural memory: a world of authors and texts that is not completely accessible, that exists at a considerable historical distance, that assumes meaning in relation to other formative moments of tradition – from Ezra to the tannaˆim, amoraˆim, and geˆonim, and that, while providing valuable knowledge, must be saved from its own imperfections. The Sephardi legacy supports the linguistic project of the present, but also depends on it for its comple37

 Solomon Zalman Hanau, ∑ohar ha-tevah (Berlin, 1733), fol. 2a–b; idem, Qun†res qure ¨akavish (Fürth, 1744), fol. 2a–b.

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tion. It is not evoked as an isolated vision, as a perfect historical model, but rather as part of an edifice on which work must be resumed. A cheerful evocation of Sepharad within a complex set of traditions, aimed at proving the possibility of linguistic and cultural regeneration in the diaspora and at legitimizing the appropriation of non-Jewish knowledge (while holding on to Jewish knowledge) can be found in Naphtali Herz Wessely’s Divrei shalom ve-emet (1782– 1785). Wessely, four years older than Mendelssohn and a key figure of the Hebrew Haskalah, had spent several years in Amsterdam and Hamburg before moving to Berlin in 1774. His contacts with the Sephardi community in Amsterdam and his acquaintance with David Franco-Mendes and his circle had considerable impact on his writings. In Rav †uv, the second of his letters on educational reform that were published under the collective title derived from the first letter, Divrei shalom ve-emet, Wessely explains that exile does not necessarily entail linguistic and cultural decline. He does so by contrasting ‘Ashkenaz and Polin’ with medieval Sepharad and early modern Italy. Most of all, though, he is interested in the prosperous Jewish communities in the lands of the ‘Ishmaelites’.38 Wessely emphasizes that the miserable state of Jewish culture in Ashkenaz and Polin, which he addresses in his series of letters, is the result of the political and social conditions under which the Jewish communities are forced to live. He points out that the Jews migrated to Ashkenaz while it was still inhabited by barbarians and that the rise of Christianity – far from alleviating their situation – brought with it intolerance, repression, and persecution. By contrast, the ‘Ishmaelites’ adopted a liberal rule. In their lands the Jews live among various other religious groups and, like them, are permitted to practice their religion without hindrance, to pursue their chosen professions, and to engage in trade with the entire Mediterranean world. With a nod to the popular notion of doux commerce, Wessely points out that maritime trade brings with it cultural exchange, knowledge of languages, and the refinement of morals and manners.39 He dwells at length on the image of a flourishing diasporic culture, an image he derives not from the contemporary West but from what he terms ha-mizraÌ ve-ha-ma¨arav – apparently a translation of the Arabic al-mashriq wa-al-maghrib. Wessely draws his readers’ attention to a region on the map of Sepharad that so far had largely gone unnoticed: he finds it in the East – in Saloniki and Constantinople. Only after reflecting at length on the vibrant Jewish culture of the East does Wessely turn back to its historical antecedents in Italy and Spain. He touches briefly on the expulsion of 1492 and then focuses on a description of the peace and dignity, high positions, and considerable wealth the Jews enjoyed in medieval Sepharad. He concludes with a summary of their literary legacy in ethics and the sciences:
Herz Wessely, Divrei shalom ve-emet, part 2: Rav †uv (Berlin, 1782), fol. 28a. fol. 28a–b. On the concept of doux commerce see, for example, Denis Diderot, Political Writings, trans. and ed. John H. Mason and R. Wokler (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 169–70 (‘Extracts from the Histoire des Deux Indes’).
38 Naphtali 39 Ibid.,


Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

From their time date the only books that have been written in exile on ethics and sciences, like the book of the prince R. Abraham [bar Îiyya], Îovot ha-levavot by Rabbenu BaÌya the elder of Spain, Maimonides’ Guide, the commentaries on the Torah by NaÌmanides and Gersonides, the book MilÌamot ha-shem, the book ∑urat ha-areÒ by R. Abraham the prince, the book Yesod ¨olam by R. Isaac Israeli, the book Yemot ¨olam by Abraham ben Daud, Sefer ha-Nefesh by R. Solomon Ibn Gabirol, and the books of R. Isaac Abravanel, all written in a pure language, ‘they spoke of excellent things’ (Prov. 8:6).40

Wessely’s assemblage of Hebrew works and of Arabic works translated into Hebrew illustrates the easy transition from one linguistic and cultural sphere to the other, which he so fervently wished to become part of everyday life in Ashkenaz and Polin as well. Here – as in Neumark’s writings – medieval Sepharad is evoked to demonstrate that cultural regeneration in the diaspora is possible. Equally important, however, is the decision to present medieval Sepharad not as an isolated and exceptional episode in Jewish history. The medieval Sephardi tradition of linguistic, philosophical, and scientific knowledge can be evoked as an example that encourages and supports cultural transformation in contemporary Ashkenaz only because the Jewish communities of Italy and the Ottoman Empire prove that it was not a unique phenomenon. While in Neumark’s narrative it was medieval Sepharad that demonstrated the possibility of resuming ‘the work of Ezra’, for Wessely it is contemporary Sepharad that demonstrates the possibility of resuming the medievals’ enterprise. Sepharad emerges as a historical and cultural legacy that will become accessible today only if the conditions that were responsible for its formation are restored: liberal government, free commerce, and cultural contact and exchange. Therefore, the early modern and contemporary examples that show the possibility of emulating the medieval model tend to become more important than medieval Sepharad itself. With regard to the texts, to a written legacy, medieval Sepharad remained a unique source of inspiration. With regard to linguistic, cultural, and religious practice, however, the contemporary world of the Jewish communities in the lands of the ‘Ishmaelites’ attracted more attention and gained greater importance. This finds striking expression in ReÌovot, the fourth treatise of Divrei shalom ve-emet, in which Wessely explains the superiority of the Sephardi pronunciation of Hebrew and recommends its future implementation in Ashkenaz and Polin as well. He refers exclusively to the present, again first of all to the Jews of the Ottoman empire, then to the Jews of Italy and of the Sephardi communities in the Netherlands and in England. His argument does not rest on a linguistic tradition and an idealized image of the past but on the logical consistency and aesthetic superiority of a pronunciation that can be heard in the present.41 I would like to conclude with one of the most brilliant images of Sepharad to be found in maskilic literature. In 1807, Judah Leib ben Ze’ev published his Hebrew40 41 Idem,

 Wessely, Rav †uv, fol. 28b–29a. Divrei shalom ve-emet, part 4: ReÌovot (Berlin, 1785), fol. 59b–60a.

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German/German-Hebrew dictionary OÒar ha-shorashim. In his introduction he presents an outline of the history of Hebrew which in many respects echoes Neumark’s and Hanau’s introductions. Ben Ze’ev describes the Sephardi grammarians as part of the great epoch that had begun with the Masoretes of Tiberias and Babylon. He repeats Hanau’s observation that these ancient teachers did not write books in which they handed down their knowledge of Hebrew systematically and comprehensively. Thus the Sephardi tradition marks a second departure within the great epoch of linguistic studies in exile. The beginning of Sephardi grammatical studies is described as a moment of cultural exchange: the Jews learned about the science of grammar from the Arabs.42 The introduction of grammatical studies as an Arabic science, as a form of knowledge that is not an inherent part of the Jewish tradition, indicates that Ben Ze’ev, unlike Hanau, does not intend to rely on narrative strategies that stress the place of grammar within the Jewish tradition. Instead he appears to be more interested in a history of cultural contact and in grammatical studies as an instance of fruitful cultural interaction. According to Ben Ze’ev’s narrative, although the diaspora brought about a decline of linguistic knowledge, it also provided the means for its recovery. Like Neumark in his Shoresh Yehudah, Ben Ze’ev presents a short bibliography of Sephardi grammatical works, to which he adds the names of Dunash ben Labrat and MenaÌem ben Saruq. Yet although Ben Ze’ev wrote more than a century after Neumark, he, too, had to admit that he had not seen most of the Sephardi works he mentions. He is slightly more specific than Neumark was about the reasons for this, explaining that their works have not been transmitted and are not available to him and his contemporaries because they were written in Arabic. The authors he names as authorities on whom he relied are the same as those in Neumark’s introduction: Abraham Ibn Ezra, Moses and David KimÌi. Neumark and Hanau had already insisted on a critical reading of these authors, but had stressed that they could add to these earlier works only because their authors did not always represent the Hebrew grammatical tradition accurately. Ben Ze’ev sums up his sympathetic but critical attitude towards the Sephardi tradition of linguistic knowledge with less circumspection – in fact he is rather brief: ¨alehem yesh le-hosif aval en ligroa¨ (‘we may add to them, but nothing is to be taken away’). Toward the end of his outline of the Sephardi linguistic tradition, Ben Ze’ev also mentions its poetic heritage. He names Judah Halevi, al-Îarizi, Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra, and Maimonides, asserting that these poets, together with the grammarians, not only saved the Hebrew language from oblivion, but also brought about a ‘rebirth’ of the Hebrew language: hayah [sic!] ledah sheniyyah la-lashon.43 This brilliant image of the Sephardi world contrasts sharply with the gloomy picture Ben Ze’ev draws of the centuries after the expulsion from Spain. He criticizes the rise of the method of pilpul and its effect on the study of the Torah, the Hebrew language, and the sciences. He explicitly speaks of the ‘three dark centuries’ and when he eventually mentions a number of grammarians who contributed nonetheless
42 43 Ibid.

 Judah Leib ben Ze’ev, OÒar ha-shorashim (Vienna, 1807), ‘Proposal’ (unpaginated).


Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

to the knowledge of Hebrew there are only two Jewish authors among them – Elijah Levita and Solomon Zalman Hanau. The others are the Christian Hebraists, Orientalists, and theologians Johann Buxtorf (the elder), Michaelis, Hetzel, Herder, and Eichhorn. Ben Ze’ev does not praise medieval Sepharad as part of a series of reiterations or as a model for emulation. Sepharad does not appear as an example of a historical constellation that may return and give rise to a flourishing culture in Ashkenaz as well. Instead, he strongly emphasizes the uniqueness of Sepharad. His description of the Sephardi tradition seems to express not optimism, but a new kind of pessimism. As to the reasons, an explanation is soon suggested by Ben Ze’ev himself. In the paragraphs that he dedicates to his own times, he praises Mendelssohn, Wessely, and the authors of the Meˆassef for their attempts to renew the Hebrew language, but stresses that their efforts have been in vain. The very conditions that Wessely described as favouring linguistic and cultural regeneration had the effect of preventing it. Tolerance, commerce, affluence, and open-mindedness did not lead to cultural interaction and self-assertion but to acculturation and secularization. Jewish culture and the Hebrew language are being rejected and relegated to the religious or the ‘rabbinical’ sphere.44 As the focus of hopes and expectations that did not materialize, as a place of promise to which one cannot return, Sepharad becomes part of a distant past and assumes the brilliant traits of an object that is irretrievably lost. The textual material from medieval Sepharad, the example of contemporary Sephardi communities in the West and the East, and the cultural transformations in western Ashkenaz in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries left their traces on the various ways in which the maskilim depicted Sepharad when dealing with questions of language. Texts and travels, a diasporic traffic of rumours and reports, and critical reflections on both past and present led to the inclusion of numerous concrete details in their evocations of Sepharad. With regard to questions of language, Sepharad hardly ever appeared as an isolated and idealized historical instance. In most cases it was evoked as part of a configuration of traditions that reflected, restructured, and re-affirmed one another. Ultimately, medieval Sepharad was cited as part of a series of recurrences or reiterations within history that explained and re-enforced its significance for the Ashkenazi world of the eighteenth century. Ben Ze’ev shared the concern for historical detail, distinctive traditions and specific situations that we found in the writings of the earlier maskilim, but it led him to perceive the limits of their approach. He was acutely aware of the radical transformations and disjunctures that characterized his own times. History could no longer be read as a text, as a flexible structure of layered and interwoven traditions, indeed as a form of commentary. Ben Ze’ev insisted on the difference between medieval Sepharad and contemporary Ashkenaz and pointed to the disintegration of the series of historical recurrences that had provided ‘Sepharad’ with its various and complex meanings. The world of Sepharad receded into the distant past—a precondition for the emergence of both historical analysis and the imaginative ‘Sephardi Mystique'.
44 Ibid.

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Returning to Sepharad: Maskilic Reflections on Hebrew in the Diaspora

Irene Zwiep

Jewish Enlightenment Reconsidered: The Dutch Eighteenth Century

Introduction In modern historiography, the study of the Jewish Enlightenment in the Netherlands takes up a singular, if somewhat marginal, position. There is of course Spinoza, the Dutch Jewish thinker who transcended ‘national’ (Dutch and Jewish) boundaries by developing a universal philosophy of ‘European proportions’1 and accordingly received due scholarly attention. By contrast, when it came to exploring the Jewish Enlightenment in its more narrow, particular, definition, international scholarship usually disregarded the Netherlands in favour of other, more promising, areas on the European map. Dutch Jewish historians, on the other hand, devoted much effort to reconstructing and interpreting the ‘Dutch-Jewish Enlightenment’, which they – often tacitly – identified with the beginnings of Jewish modernity in the Netherlands.2 Without exception they described this enlightened modernity first and for all in socio-political terms.3 As their point of departure they chose the Emancipation Decree of 1796, which had granted equal rights and citizenship to the Jews of what was then the Batavian Republic. Virtually all research focussed upon the decades that followed this watershed and concentrated upon describing the various ways in which the ‘Dutch Israelites’ had responded to this fundamental challenge. The successes and failures of this response were measured, again, in socio-political terms, with much emphasis on processes of emancipation and acceptation, integration and exclusion, and on the dilemmas of acculturation and assimilation.
1 Cf. Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (Oxford, 2001), where Spinoza and Spinozism are systematically identified as the ‘intellectual backbone of European radical Enlightenment everywhere’ (p. 2). 2 An explicit example is Jaap Meijer’s doctoral thesis Isaac da Costa’s weg naar het Christendom: Bijdrage tot de geschiedenis der joodsche problematiek in Nederland (Amsterdam, 1941), who began his survey at the point ‘[w]hen in Europe the Enlightenment gained way and affected medieval Jewry at its core…’ (‘Toen in Europa de Verlichting baanbrak en het Middeleeuwsche Jodendom in de kern aantastte…’ (p. 12). 3 Cf. the extensive bibliography appended to the chapter ‘Enlightenment and Emancipation, from c. 1750 to 1814’ by Rena Fuks-Mansfeld, in The History of the Jews in the Netherlands, ed. Hans Blom et al. (Oxford and Portland, 2002), pp. 164-91. By using the terms ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘emancipation’ as virtual equivalents, twentieth-century historiography obviously continued a trend that had been set in the early days of Dutch Wissenschaft des Judentums, witness the previous comprehensive bibliography compiled by Jacob da Silva Rosa, Bibliographie der Literatur über die Emanzipation der Juden in Holland (Frankfurt a.M., 1912).

Sepharad in Ashkenaz Irene Zwiep Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007


This approach, in which Enlightenment and emancipation became virtually synonymous, had at least three far-reaching consequences for our conception of Jewish Enlightenment in the Netherlands. First of all, in perpetuating the topical model of a Jewish minority responding to external (political) stimuli,4 these studies did not so much draw the contours of a Dutch Jewish Enlightenment proper, as sketch the impact of more general (late) Enlightenment trends and policies upon the Dutch Jewish communities. Pre-war scholars tended to portray this interaction in unreservedly positive terms, blending legendary Dutch tolerance and exemplary Jewish integration into one unique historical condition. In order to stress the unicity of this condition, they had denied all ‘Mendelssohnian influence’, as they epitomized the German-Jewish Enlightenment.5 Echoes from French classicist culture, indeed a prominent factor in eighteenth-century Dutch culture, was all they wished to detect, the position of the Jews in the Netherlands having been so secure that there had been no need for the ‘extreme’ ideas of the Berlin Haskalah. Post-war scholars, while to some extent relinquishing the idea of the unicity of the species hollandica judaica,6 nevertheless continued to base their studies on the traditional action-reaction model; grappling with the trauma’s of recent history, some now chose to highlight its negative potential.7 It may be clear that, whether by stressing the uniquely Dutch quality of this enlightened emancipation or by continuing to presuppose its essentially reactive nature, modern scholarship failed to grasp its creative Jewish content. Secondly we find that, for all the prominence given to emancipation and its social consequences, scholars devoted comparatively little attention to the intellectual and literary dimensions of Jewish Enlightenment in the Netherlands. This literary dimension – all too easily labelled the ‘Dutch Haskalah’ – was generally presented as a vehicle for, or a cultural afterthought to political activism.8 When discussing this branch of Haskalah, scholars would mainly point at its political agenda, or at obvious parallels with its Berlin counterpart, which was now identified as its intellectual
 For the nineteenth-century, Hegelian, roots of this model, cf. Robert Bonfil, ‘The Historian’s Perception of the Jews in the Italian Renaissance. Towards a Reappraisal’, Revue des études juives 143 (1984): 59-82. 5 Sigmund Seeligmann, ‘Moses Mendelssohns invloed op de Nederlandse Joden’, Bijdragen en mededelingen van het genootschap voor Joodsche wetenschap in Nederland 2 (1925): 70-2; Jacob da Silva Rosa, ‘Heeft Moses Mendelssohn invloed gehad op de Nederlandse Joden?’, De Vrijdagavond 6 (1930): 346-7. 6 Cf. Jozeph Michman, ‘Hashpa¨at yahadut Germanyah ¨al yahadut Holland ba-meˆah ha-tesha¨ ¨esreh’, in idem, ed., Studies on the History of Dutch Jewry 4 (Jersualem, 1984): 27-43. NB: the by now legendary label species hollandica judaica was coined by Sigmund Seeligmann in his ‘Die Juden in Holland. Eine Charakteristik’, in Festskript i Anledning af Professor David Simonsens 70-aarige Fødselsdag (Copenhagen, 1923), pp. 253-7. 7  This pessimism governs the oeuvre of Jaap Meijer and, to a lesser extent, of Jozeph Michmann, cf. e.g. his ‘Gothische Torens op een Corinthisch Gebouw. De doorvoering der emancipatie der Joden in Nederland’, Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 89 (1976): 493-516, and the ensuing debate with Anton Huussen jr. in Bijdragen en mededelingen betreffende de geschiedenis der Nederlanden 94 (1979): 7583, 96 (1981): 74-82. 8 See, e.g., the inventory of literary and educational activities in the chapter ‘Haskalah – but Orthodox’, in Jozeph Michman, The History of Dutch Jewry During the Emancipation Period 1787-1815. Gothic Turrets on a Corinthian Building (Amsterdam, 1995) pp. 158-83, and the essay ‘Hebrew and the Emancipation of Dutch Jewry’, Studia Rosenthaliana 30 (1996): 88-98, by Michman’s student Patricia Tuinhout-Keuning (on the Amsterdam literary society Tongeleth).


Jewish Enlightenment Reconsidered: The Dutch Eighteenth Century

source of inspiration.9 No attempts were made at defining the movement’s particular Dutch essence, an omission which certainly contributed to its unfavourable reception among modern scholars. Salo Baron, for example, was quick to dismiss the Dutch maskilim as petty middle-class amateurs, ‘men of mediocre talent (…) [whose] superior contemporaries either continued to adhere to old-time orthodoxy, or else found their way into the camp of extreme assimilationism’.10 Haskalah as an intellectual middle of the road option – even if Baron’s verdict is a fairly adequate recapitulation of the overall quality of Dutch maskilic activity, it certainly adds little to our understanding of the quiddity of Jewish Enlightenment in the Netherlands. Thirdly, what with the emphasis on Enlightenment as emancipation, combined with the growing tendency to view the Dutch Haskalah as both a mirror and a consequence of its Berlin counterpart, the search for the immediate local antecedents of the ‘Dutch Haskalah’ was never undertaken. While enlightened emancipation of course could only be studied from 1796 onwards, the beginnings of the literary Haskalah were located either with Naphtali Hirsch Wessely’s (1725-1805) sojourn in Amsterdam in the 1760s11 or with the publication of the Dutch translation of his Divrei shalom we-emet (1782), which was somewhat rashly identified as a Jewish initiative.12 The presence of Wessely and his work, however, were examined within a total historical vacuum, i.e., without any reference to contemporary Dutch-Jewish intellectual life, neither in terms of impact nor of reciprocity. With Haskalah thus being viewed as a German import product, there seemed no need to scrutinize eighteenth-century Dutch-Jewish culture for any changes in mentality that might have heralded the coming of this enlightened movement. This third observation brings us to a final, more circumstantial, consideration. In the past decades international scholarship has made great progress in sketching the outlines of the Jewish Enlightenment (or rather, of its various manifestations) in Europe, and in determining its place among other ‘national’ varieties. By explicitly recognizing Enlightenment as only one option in a whole range of modernization strategies, it has challenged the simple equation of Enlightenment and modernity, and of Enlightenment and emancipation. Furthermore, by drawing subtle distinctions between Enlightenment in general and Haskalah in particular, it has sharpened our awareness of regional differences. And by introducing a series of new concepts and typologies, it has successfully called into question The Enlightenment’s organized and ideological character. Shmuel Feiner, for example, coined the term ‘early Haskalah’ for the sake of bringing together a number of scattered individuals who, as early as the mid-eighteenth century, attempted to transform the traditional Ashkenazi curin Frederique Hiegentlich’s ‘Reflections on the Relationship between the Dutch Haskalah and the German Haskalah’, in Jozeph Michman and Tirtza Levie, eds., Dutch Jewish History I (Jerusalem, 1984): 207-18; cf. also Patricia Tuinhout-Keuning, ‘Kitvei ha- Ìevrah ha-Amsterdamit “Tongeleth” veha-haskalah be-Germanyah’, Studies on the History of Dutch Jewry 5 (1988): 217-71. 10 Salo Baron, ‘Moses Cohen Belinfante: a Leader of Dutch-Jewish Enlightenment’, Historia Judaica 5 (1943): 1-22, esp. p. 1. 11 Cf. Michman’s The History of Dutch Jewry, pp. 162-7 (a section significantly labelled ‘The Reception of the Haskalah – the Initial Period’ [emphasis mine]). 12 Thus Hiegentlich, who attributes the translation to ‘[Moses Cohen] Belinfante cum suis’ (‘Reflections’, p. 210) and lists it as ‘an early sample of Dutch haskalah’ (ibid., p. 208).
9 E.g.

Irene Zwiep


riculum without ever becoming a programmatic movement.13 Lois Dubin introduced the notion of ‘port-Jew culture’ in order to capture the cultural climate of the Sephardim in Trieste, who pursued secular studies without articulating a maskilic agenda.14 And Shulamit Volkov added further nuance by pointing at the possibility of conscious as well as unconscious processes of change on the road towards modernity.15 While international scholarship was thus engaged in refining our understanding of the European Jewish Enlightenment, research into its Dutch branch came to a standstill.16 And so it happened that Dutch-Jewish historiography, which tended to be introverted anyway, failed to implement the results of this joint effort. It is the aim of the present article to do just that, i.e., to resume the topic after this past decade of silence and reconsider its main parameters in the light of the new state of research. Consequently, throughout this revision, centre stage will be given to the decades preceding 1796, to intellectual rather than political processes, and to Dutch Jewry’s own ‘potential for Enlightenment’ rather than to its ability to respond to foreign incentives. By thus recovering an intrinsically Dutch tradition of eighteenth-century Jewish literacy and learning, I hope not only to modify the traditional conception of what has previously been labelled ‘the Dutch Haskalah’, but also to supplement our overall evaluation of Jewish Enlightenment in Europe, and thus offer food for further reflection and refinement. For if ‘in the final analysis, Enlightenment as such was all about ideas’,17 the present exploration is all about practices; practices that do not so much betray radical changes in concepts and beliefs, but rather reflect – often minute – stirrings and shifts in mentality. In our final analysis, therefore, the term ‘Enlightenment’ may eventually prove well out of place. The eighteenth-century Dutch-Jewish Republic of Letters – Sepharad meets Ashkenaz In the following I shall discuss a number of trends which suggest that an elementary form of Dutch-Jewish ‘enlightened discourse’ did emerge in the course of the eighteenth century. If we wish to summarize its overall orientation, we could say that at its
Feiner, ‘Ha-haskalah ha-muqdemet be-yahadut ha-meˆah ha-shemoneh ¨esreh’, Tarbiz 62 (1998): 189-240; idem, The Jewish Enlightenment (Philadelphia, 2004), pp. 21-84. 14 Lois Dubin, The Port Jews of Habsburg Trieste: Absolutist Politics and Enlightenment Culture (Stanford, 1999), elaborated upon by David Sorkin, ‘The Port Jew: Notes Toward a Social Type’, Journal of Jewish Studies 50.1 (1999): 87-97. In numerous publications, Yosef Kaplan has analyzed the complex ‘modern’ identity of the ‘port Jews’ of Amsterdam; cf., e.g., his methodological considerations in idem, An Alternative Path to Modernity: The Sephardi Diaspora in Western Europe (Leiden etc., 2000), pp. 1-28. 15 Shulamit Volkov, ‘The Jewish Project of Modernity, Diverse and Unitary’, in Zionism and the Return to History: A Reappraisal (Hebrew), ed. Samuel Eisenstadt and Moshe Lissak (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 239-305. 16  The most recent monograph, Michman’s The History of Dutch Jewry of 1995, is essentially a recapitulation of research that dates back to the 1970s and 80s. 17  Thus Wiep van Bunge, ‘Introduction. The Early Enlightenment in the Dutch Republic, 1650-1750’, in The Early Enlightenment in the Dutch Republic 1650-1750, ed. Wiep van Bunge (Leiden and Boston, 2003), p. 6, summarizing the approach of influential Enlightenment scholars such as Pococke, Porter and Israel (emphasis mine).
13 Shmuel


Jewish Enlightenment Reconsidered: The Dutch Eighteenth Century

very heart lay the wish to expand the Jewish library, without – it must be stressed here – ever jeopardizing the traditional canon. The fact that in the Dutch-Jewish Republic of Letters this expansion was achieved so harmoniously, seems to contrast rather sharply with the ‘rebellious’ nature of the eighteenth-century haskalah muqdemet as observed and defined by Shmuel Feiner. In his reconstruction of the early maskilim’s (re)discovery and subsequent ‘redemption’ of the sciences and philosophy, Feiner has often emphasized the revolutionary and subversive nature of this intellectual leap forward.18 Continuing the polemical ‘rhetoric of reason’ of the mid-eighteenth-century maskilim, he characterized the outcome of their redemptive efforts as an ‘alternative library’ which, besides transforming Jewish scholarship, also amounted to a cultural critique (Feiner repeatedly uses the term Kulturkampf) of traditional Ashkenazi learning. By contrast, we shall see that the Dutch-Jewish canon that emerged in the course of the eighteenth century was by no means intended to serve as a subversive counterlibrary. If anything, it was meant to complement the traditional heritage. An exemplary case in point was the formation of a new Hebrew canon and, with it, of a new national linguistic and literary identity, by a small circle of Amsterdam Sephardi men of letters over the last decades of the eighteenth century. A large part of this contribution will be devoted to describing that major project, which encompassed virtually all elements I consider characteristic for the minor ‘stirrings and shifts in mentality’ mentioned above. In the following I shall present the main sources, analyze their principal strategies, and spell out some of their implications for our perception of (late) eighteenth-century Jewish cultural identity in the Netherlands. By way of conclusion, I shall try and trace those strategies in a few other eighteenth-century corpora, thus adding a little substance to my first, preliminary conclusions. Yet before we embark upon this exploration, I wish to highlight, aforehand, one of these characteristics. In virtually all previous studies on the history of Dutch Jewry, Sepharad and Ashkenaz appear as two separate entities and as two incompatible cultural spheres.19 Of course this first of all reflects an actual historical reality: from the start, the members of the Portuguese Naçao showed a persistent ‘tendency to selfsegregation and separation from the Ashkenazi Jews living in their midst’.20 The respective cultures thus appeared to have evolved quite independently. Unfortunately, cultural historians tended to continue this separatist attitude on a methodological level. Giving priority to the Dutch Sephardi past, especially to the seventeenth-century ‘Golden Age’, they altogether dismissed the contemporary Dutch-Ashkenazi
‘Ha-Haskalah ha-muqdemet’; idem, ‘Toward a Historical Definition of the Haskalah’, in New Perspectives on the Haskalah, ed. Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (London etc., 2001), esp. pp. 184-7; idem, The Jewish Enlightenment, esp. p. 67; comp. also Feiner’s contribution to the present volume. 19  As an exception I should mention Shlomo Berger’s contribution to the present volume, and his previous ‘Ashkenazim Read Sephardim in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam’, in Irene E. Zwiep, et al., eds., Uprooted Roots: Amsterdam and the Early Sephardic Diaspora. Studia Rosenthaliana 35.2 (2001): 253-65. 20  Yosef Kaplan, ‘The Self-Definition of the Sephardi Jews of Western Europe and Their Relation to the Alien and the Stranger’, in Crisis and Creativity in the Sephardi World, 1391-1648, ed. Benjamin Gampel (New York and Chichester, 1997), p. 130, and the previous articles by the same author mentioned ibid., n. 2, 28, 48, 49.
18 Feiner,

Irene Zwiep


culture as introverted and marginal.21 By contrast, the following survey will draw attention to a few (modest) parallels between Sephardi and Ashkenazi intellectual life in the later decades of the eighteenth century, and highlight the – again modest, yet productive – dynamic that would occasionally develop between the two cultural spaces. The new Hebrew canon of the Amsterdam Sephardim If language can be considered an important key to understanding culture, then multilingualism must be a central key to understanding Jewish culture, which has always been marked by an intense (daily as well as literary) polyglossia. The following analysis of the Hebrew literary canon that was forged, within a few decades, by the Portuguese Jews of late-eighteenth-century Amsterdam, to a large extent relies on this presupposition. In the course of the century, the linguistic landscape of the Amsterdam Sephardim had undergone incisive changes. Whereas the original Portuguese was maintained as the community’s official language, Spanish had lost its prime position as a literary language. And while in elitist circles French became increasingly important,22 the semi-elite of smaller merchants and professionals came to prefer Hebrew as their principal Kultursprache. It was this choice that caused a significant change in the language’s status and role and, eventually, in Jewish literary identity as such. In seventeenth-century Amsterdam, during the earliest decades of the community’s existence, writing the ‘holy tongue’ had been the province of rabbis and communal leaders, who had created a modest corpus of Hebrew poetry alongside a much more rich and varied literature in Spanish.23 This new poetic corpus, a characteristic mix of genres and traditions, adequately mirrored the new Jews’ chequered background. Simultaneously indebted to (Christian) Iberian poetics, to the Hebrew poetry of Seicento Italy, and to the persistent prosody of medieval al-Andalus, its seemed to reflect both their ancient history and their recent wanderings. With their return to Judaism in the seventeenth century, the choice of Hebrew as a poetic medium seemed obvious: the complex, religious as well as secular, intertextuality inherent in this archetypically Jewish language could

the most explicit summary of this conviction was voiced by Meijer, Isaac da Costa’s weg naar het Christendom, p. 13: ‘Bij de Asjkenaziem kan men tot 1795 moeilijk spreken van een scheppende historie’ (‘As for the Ashkenazim, before 1795 one cannot speak of a creative history’). 22 An early example is ms. EH 48 A 19 in the Ets Haim/Livraria Montezinos (written cq collected by Isaac de Pinto), which contains, among other items, various compositions in French. The two philosophical discourses in the volume (dating from 1742 and c. 1750) reflect the i