Halevi, Yehuda (c. 1075–1141)

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(c. 10751141)

Yehuda Halevi, or Judah ha-Levi, the philosopher of Judaism, was born in Toledo, Spain. In his youth he received an excellent grounding in biblical and rabbinic literature, as well as in the secular, particularly philosophic, disciplines. Halevi early displayed a marked poetic gift, which culminated in a body of Hebrew poetry noted for its adaptation of Arabic poetic forms to the Hebrew idiom and for its religious profundity. He practiced the profession of medicine for most of his life, residing in both Christian and Muslim Spain, a fact that may account for his excellent knowledge of Judaism's two descendant religions. His decision to leave for a perilous pilgrimage to Palestine was the result of his intense longing to see the Holy Land, a longing that is reflected in both his poetry and his philosophic work. Legend has it that he was killed in 1141 by an Arab horseman as he kissed the soil of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but there is no historic confirmation of this, since he cannot be traced beyond Egypt on his way to Palestine.

Yehuda Halevi's philosophic work Kuzari: The Book of Proof and Argument in Defense of the Despised Faith, written shortly before his departure for Palestine, uses as its framework the historically verified conversion to Judaism of the Khazar King Bulan II and most of his people about the year 740. This event had assumed almost legendary proportions by Yehuda Halevi's time, serving as a source of great religious satisfaction to the otherwise badly suppressed Jewish masses. In his work Yehuda Halevi reconstructed imaginatively the discussions that led to the king's conversion. At the beginning we are told that an angel has appeared to the king in his sleep and has informed him that the Creator was pleased with his intentions but not with his way of acting. In the hope of learning a better way of life the king calls in representatives of Aristotelian philosophy, Christianity, and Islam, but they all fail to satisfy him. The king did not originally plan to call on a representative of Judaism, judging this religion unworthy of serious consideration because of the misery of its adherents, but his dissatisfaction with the other presentations causes him to alter his decision and to call for a rabbi. The discussion with the rabbi constitutes the rest of the volume.

The rabbi begins his presentation by asserting his belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who led the Israelites out of Egypt and whose intervention in the history of Israel has been continuous ever since. By beginning in this way, Yehuda Halevi broke sharply with the tradition of Aristotelian rationalism that characterized the bulk of medieval Jewish philosophy. He was very much aware of the profound abyss separating the God of the philosophers, who is self-contained, unmoved, and nonpersonal, from the personal and historic God of the Bible. For this reason he dispensed entirely with traditional proofs for the existence of God, the usual prolegomena of medieval Aristotelianismwhether Jewish, Christian, or Muslimto the defense of the faith. For Yehuda Halevi it was history that was decisive. The God who reveals himself in the history of Israel could not have been reached by philosophical speculation but only by revelation. Similarly, Yehuda Halevi's interest in miracles reflected his view of history as the realm in which revelation takes place. The superiority of Judaism over its competitors follows, for Yehuda Halevi, from the public character of the Sinaitic revelation upon which Judaism is based. At Sinai, 600,000 men, women, and children were addressed by God, a mass revelation that no other religion can claim. This precludes the possibility of error or deception, a possibility that cannot be discounted in those instances where the revelation is restricted to one or to a few.

Yehuda Halevi's attitude toward the knotty problem of anthropomorphism also reflected his anti-Aristotelian orientation. Although he was not in sympathy with a literal interpretation of many of the terms applied to God by the biblical authors, realizing that this would lead to a humanization of God even to the extent of attributing corporeality to him, Yehuda Halevi was not willing to go the other extreme and strip God of all attributes, making it all but impossible to speak about him. There are events that can be experienced as proceeding from God directly. When biblical authors, such as the prophets, applied a term like merciful to God, they were referring to those actions of God that are experienced by man as merciful and as coming from God. Although the term merciful is therefore applicable more to the effects of God's actions than to his essence, to the extent that his actions are his discourse about God becomes possible.

The religious particularism that is fundamental to biblical religion was no source of embarrassment to Yehuda Halevi. The election of the people of Israel and of the land of Israel were fundamental concepts of his religious nationalism. This nationalism was based on the divine election of a people and a land for the proclamation to all humankind of those demands that God makes of all people, but for the special representation of which he has chosen one nation, whose suffering derives from its unfaithfulness to its mission. These themes permeate Yehuda Halevi's poetic works as much as they do his philosophical writings.

See also Aristotelianism; Nationalism; Rationalism.


works by yehuda halevi

The Kuzari or Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Despised Religion is Yehuda Halevi's magnum opus on religion, philosophy, and theology in general and Judaism in particular. The first critical edition of this work was based on Yehuda ibn Tibbon's medieval Hebrew translation and published together with a modern German translation and commentary by David Cassel, Das Buch Kusari des Abū-l-Hasan Jehuda Hallewi, Zweite verbesserte Auflage (Leipzig: Friedrich Voigt, 1869). A revision of this Hebrew translation with useful notes can be found in A. Zifroni, Sefer ha-Kuzari (Tel Aviv: Mahbarot le-Sifrut, 1948). The original Judeo-Arabic text was first edited by Hartwig Hirschfeld and published with Ibn Tibbon's translation as Das Buch al-Chazari (Leipzig: Otto Schulze, 1887). A new and much more comprehensive critical edition of the original Judeo-Arabic text has been published by David H. Baneth and Haggai Ben Shammai as Kitāb al-Radd waʾ l-Dalīl fīʾl Dīn al-Dhalīl (al-Kitāb al-Khazarī) (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1977); this edition is now the basis of all contemporary scientific translations. Hirschfeld eventually translated his Judeo-Arabic edition into English as the Book of the Kuzari (London: Routledge, 1905); this translation has been republished several times. Isaac Heinemann published a much abridged and revised English translation with notes, based on Hirschfeld's work, which originally appeared in Three Jewish Philosophers, edited by Hans Lewy, Alexander Altmann, and Isaac Heinemann (New York, 1945); this translation has likewise been republished several times. Modern Hebrew translations with notes include: Yehudah Even-Shmuel, Sefer ha-Kozari le-R. Yehudah Halevi, 2nd ed. (Tel Aviv: D'vir, 1972); and R. Joseph Qafih's combined edition and translation, Sefer ha-Kuzari: Maqor Ve-Tirgum (Qiryat Ono: Machon Mishnat Ha-Rambam, 1997), which is very close to the original Judeo-Arabic. Equally valuable is Charles Touati's French translation, Le Kuzari: Apologie de la religion méprisée (Louvain and Paris: Peeters, 1994). A new English translation of the Kuzari with notes, begun by the late Lawrence V. Berman, is being revised, continued, and prepared for publication by Barry S. Kogan under the auspices of the Yale Judaica Series of Yale University Press.

works on yehuda halevi

The single most valuable resource on Yehuda Halevi's life is Moshe Gil and Ezra Fleischer's Yehudah Ha-Levi and His Circle (in Hebrew; Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 2001). A short biographical portrait, in English, reflecting recent research, is S. D. Goitein's "Judah Halevi: Poet Laureate, Religious Thinker, Communal Leader, Physician," in A Mediterranean Society, Vol. 5: The Individual (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). Book-length studies of Halevi's thought include Yochanan Silman, Philosopher and Prophet: Judah Halevi, the Kuzari, and the Development of His Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995); and Diana Lobel, Between Mysticism and Philosophy: Sufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah Ha-Levi's Kuzari (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000). All chapter-length studies of Halevi in standard histories of Jewish philosophy remain useful: Isaac Husik, A History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1916); Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism, translated by D. W. Silverman (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1964); Colette Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1985); and L. E. Goodman, "Judah Halevi," in History of Jewish Philosophy, edited by Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman (London: Routledge, 1997). Articles and chapter-length studies on specific topics include: D. H. Baneth, "Judah Halevi and al-Ghazali," in Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship, edited by A. Jospe (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981; original Hebrew version with notes in Knesset 7 [19411942]: 311329); Michael S. Berger, "Toward a New Understanding of Judah Halevi's Kuzari," in Journal of Religion 72 (1992): 210228; Herbert A. Davidson, "Reverberations [of the Theories of Alfarabi and Avicenna] in Medieval Jewish Philosophy," in Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroës on Intellect: Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect, and Theories of Human Intellect (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); Kenneth H. Green, "Religion, Philosophy, and Morality: How Leo Strauss Read Judah Halevi's Kuzari," in Journal of the American Academy of Religion 61 (1993): 225273; Barry S. Kogan, "Al-Ghazali and Halevi on Philosophy and the Philosophers," in Medieval Philosophy and the Classical Tradition, edited by John Inglis (Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 2002); Barry S. Kogan, "Judah Halevi and His Use of Philosophy in the Kuzari," in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, edited by Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Tsvi Langerman, "Science in the Kuzari," Science in Context 10 (1997): 495522; Diana Lobel, "A Dwelling Place for the Shekhinah," Jewish Quarterly Review 90 (1999): 103125; Shlomo Pines, "Shiʿite Terms and Conceptions in Judah Halevi's Kuzari," Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 2 (1980): 165251; Eliezer Schweid, "The Artistry of the Dialogue within the Kuzari and Its Theoretical Meaning," in Feeling and Speculation (in Hebrew; Ramat Gan: Masada, 1970); Leo Strauss, "The Law of Reason in the Kuzari," Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952); Harry A. Wolfson, "Maimonides and Hallevi: A Study in Typical Jewish Attitudes towards Greek Philosophy in the Middle Ages" and "Maimonides and Hallevi on Prophecy," in Studies in the History of Philosophy and Religion, Vol. 2, edited by Isadore Twersky and George H. Williams (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977.

Michael Wyschogrod (1967)

Bibliography updated by Barry Kogan (2005)

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Halevi, Yehuda (c. 1075–1141)

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