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The fifth and last essay is devoted to a criticism of the various philosophical systems known at the time of the author. Judah attacks by turns the Aristotelian cosmology , psychology , and metaphysics. To the doctrine of emanation, based, according to him, upon the Aristotelian cosmological principle that no simple being can produce a compound being, he objects in the form of the following query: "Why did the emanation stop at the lunar sphere?

Why should each intelligence think only of itself and of that from which it issued and thus give birth to one emanation, thinking not at all of the preceding intelligences, and thereby losing the power to give birth to many emanations? He argues against the theory of Aristotle that the soul of man is his thought and that only the soul of the philosopher will be united, after the death of the body, with the active intellect.

How is it that the soul of one man differs from that of another? How can one forget a thing once thought of? He shows himself especially severe against the Motekallamin , whose arguments on the creation of the world, on God and His unity, he terms dialectic exercises and mere phrases. However, Judah ha-Levi is against limiting philosophical speculation to matters concerning creation and God; he follows the Greek philosophers in examining the creation of the material world.

Thus he admits that every being is made up of matter and form. The movement of the spheres formed the sphere of the elements, from the fusion of which all beings were created. This fusion, which varied according to climate, gave to matter the potentiality to receive from God a variety of forms, from the mineral, which is the lowest in the scale of creation, to man, who is the highest because of his possessing, in addition to the qualities of the mineral , vegetable , and animal , a hylic intellect which is influenced by the active intellect. This hylic intellect, which forms the rational soul, is a spiritual substance and not an accident, and is therefore imperishable.

The discussion concerning the soul and its faculties leads naturally to the question of free will. Judah upholds the doctrine of free will against the Epicureans and the Fatalists , and endeavors to reconcile it with the belief in God's providence and omniscience. As mentioned above, six commentaries were printed in the fifteenth century, four of them known to us:. For more information, see the translation of Yehudah Even-Shemuel, preface, p.

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Judah Halevi (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Views Read Edit View history. In other projects Wikisource. This divided response confirms from the outset that the king is himself a divided man, someone open to and impressed by philosophy, but at the same time open and plainly responsive to the claims of religion and particularly claims regarding the importance of correct action. As the dialogue unfolds, therefore, he will often draw upon the philosopher's skeptical stance or the various ideas introduced by him in responding to other speakers in different contexts. However, the importance he accords to his own experience and that of others possessing genuine empirical knowledge will play a decisive role in how he seeks to have his particular concerns addressed and in the decisions he ultimately makes regarding his own beliefs and actions.

To illustrate, he denies the need to purify his soul because he already knows from his dream experience that his soul is pure. After all, his intentions were described as pleasing to God, but his actions were not. Surely, then, pure intention is not enough; certain actions must be pleasing in themselves. Moreover, if this consideration is not sufficiently probative, the collective experience of both Christians and Muslims is offered to establish the point. Together, they divide the entire inhabited world among themselves and sincerely direct their intentions towards pleasing God, even to the point of killing each other and readily sacrificing themselves in their wars.

Yet, however similar they may be in the purity of their intentions, their forms of religious praxis are at odds. Even more to the point, it is rationally impossible for both Muslims and Christians to be right.


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Whether Halevi's point, here, is to emphasize the importance of collective experience through time in deciding matters of correct behavior or to point out instead that the philosopher's general indifference to praxis beyond recommending prudent behavior as an aid to philosophical understanding borders on relativism is not clear; his purpose may be either or both. What is clear is that the king's rejoinder represents the beginning of a critical appraisal of the philosopher's position that continues long after the philosopher has left the scene.

This becomes clearer still after the philosopher replies that the religion of the philosophers does not allow for killing either of the contending parties—surely, a humane consideration that no victim of religious discrimination or persecution, and especially no Jew, could fail to appreciate. Yet, even though the king evidently shares the philosopher's doubts about the religious doctrine of creation in six days and goes on to highlight his own skepticism about the possibility of divine-human contact in connection with it, he nevertheless points out a glaring discrepancy between the philosopher's theoretical account of prophecy and its prerequisites and actual experience.

He notes that given the philosopher's exemplary standards for virtuous behavior, knowledge of the sciences, and personal effort, prophecy should have been well known and widespread among them.

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They should also have had a reputation for performing wondrous feats. However, the facts show that this is not the case.

The Kuzari

On the contrary, veridical or prophetic dreams do come at times to people who are unconcerned with the sciences and purifying their souls, and they do not come to those who have deliberately sought such things. This reference to the divine order and to the mysterious character of the souls of those who have prophetic experiences associated with it introduces one of the central themes of the Kuzari.

While it will ultimately be a Jewish scholar who explicates and illustrates these notions for the king, it is nonetheless significant that the king is the one who first mentions them. His doing so raises, at the very least, the possibility that a pious pagan who acknowledges what is hidden or mysterious may perceive reality more completely and accurately than an overconfident philosopher who immediately dismisses such things.

The king's statement also calls attention to the fact that whatever the divine order may signify in subsequent discussions, a pious pagan and presumably any others who come to speak of it are familiar with its meaning and general use. In other words, the basic concept is not unique to any particular religion. After the philosopher departs, the king decides to speak with the Christians and the Muslims on the assumption that one of their forms of practice must be pleasing to God, but he declines to speak with the Jews owing to their paltry numbers, despicable condition, and the universal contempt in which they are held.

In their attempt to address the king's practical concerns, each one also presents his religion as the culmination of a prophetic tradition going back to the experiences of biblical Israel. Nevertheless, the king rejects both presentations, in the former case, because its principal claims are judged to be at odds with reason, and in the latter, because it fails to provide adequate empirical evidence that a revelation actually occurred and that its alleged content is itself miraculous.

Despite these negative appraisals, both exchanges K —9 have the positive effect of making clear that what the king seeks is a statement of praxis supported by incontrovertible evidence that grips the heart completely. Building upon the paradigm of how natural scientists explain extraordinary phenomena, the king maintains that if direct experience, however unlikely or unexpected, is well founded and grips the heart, it must be accepted.

This is because experience is primary and foundational, while the task of theory is to show rationally how what initially seemed unlikely is actually plausible. Ultimately, he proposes four criteria for evaluating claims of divine contact with flesh and blood. The evidence in favor of a convincing claim must be: 1 genuinely miraculous in the sense of describing effects that are clearly transformative and beyond human powers to produce; 2 witnessed by multitudes; 3 seen with their own eyes; and 4 capable of being studied and examined repeatedly.

Because both his Christian and Muslim interlocutors had grounded their beliefs on God's widely attested revelation to ancient Israel, the king concludes that he has no alternative but to speak with a Jewish sage and ask about his belief. The sage replies with an affirmation of his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, who is described as having miraculously rescued all of the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, provided for them in the wilderness, given them the Holy Land, and sent Moses with the divine Law. To this, he adds that God subsequently sent thousands of prophets to support this Law through their promises and warnings.

In addition to the statement's remarkable brevity, it is significant in several ways. The statement is also notable for not basing faith on one momentous experience within a single individual's lifetime, but rather for linking it with a long series of memorable experiences over the lifetime of an entire people.

Shiur #01: Rabbi Yehuda Halevi and the Kuzari

Beyond this, the narrative alludes directly and indirectly to divine contacts with human beings that were supported by public, empirical, and miraculous evidence that could be studied, re-examined, and, in some sense, tested repeatedly. Indeed, the dispatch of thousands of prophets in support of the Law over the centuries suggests that there was a recurrent need for re-studying the evidence and testing its import with the passage of time.

Finally, the statement is programmatic insofar as it identifies many topics and themes to be addressed later, such as evidence for believing in the existence of God, the relationship between familial ties and experience of the divine, prophets and prophecy, revelation and divine Law, the Holy Land and its significance, and divine providence, among others.

In the discussion that immediately follows, Halevi puts forward the first of a series of distinctions and rejoinders that collectively amount to a broad-ranging critique of the philosopher's statement and even of philosophy as such.

Still, as will become clear, his critique is not so comprehensive that it precludes selective appropriation and adaptation of certain philosophical ideas for his own purposes. Thus, the king expresses surprise that the sage said nothing about God's being the Creator of the world, who orders and governs it in such a way that people strive to imitate God's wisdom and justice in their own actions.

To this, the sage replies that the king is referring to the kind of syllogistic, governmental religion to which speculation leads. In contemporary terms, this would now be called a civil religion designed to govern and educate human passions based on practical reason. The sage continues by saying that the king is overlooking the fact that such religions contain many doubtful claims.

What is more, he adds, the king will find that the philosophers do not agree on any single action or belief, and this is contrary to the idealized picture of union and unanimity among the great thinkers that is mentioned in the philosopher's speech. To be sure, they make many claims, but only some of these are strictly demonstrable. Others are, at best, merely probable or persuasive, and still others do not even reach that level. Here, then, one finds the sage using basic philosophical distinctions about the varying degrees of validity and soundness by which premises and syllogisms are classified as either demonstrative, dialectical, rhetorical, poetic, or sophistical, to call into question the presumed soundness and certainty of whatever the philosophers have to say.

Why the Kuzari Argument Fails

By contrast, however, the sage contends that matters of direct observation, such as those he had described in his opening statement, require neither proof nor demonstration. They are and ought to be accepted as foundational. The king quickly indicates that he regards the sage's critical observations as more likely to be persuasive than his opening statement was, but he requests additional proof. When told that the sage's opening statement was the proof, he is plainly at a loss to understand how that is possible.

It is with this expression of puzzlement K that the introductory exchanges between the king and his successive interlocutors comes to an end. Clearly, the Jewish sage has not taken the king very far from his skeptical moorings, but he has nevertheless succeeded where his predecessors did not. He has caused the king to wonder just how a person as critical and astute as the sage seems to be could regard his extraordinary claims as constituting proof for their own veracity.

His success, simply stated, was to engage the king's latent interest in his reply and, by doing so, to keep their conversation going. The sage proposes to resolve the king's puzzlement by means of a thought experiment comprised of two hypothetical situations.