Albalag, Isaac

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ALBALAG, ISAAC (13th century), translator and philosopher. Albalag probably lived in Catalonia. In 1292, Albalag composed the only work of his which has come down, a Hebrew version of al-*Ghazālī's Magāsidal-Falāsifa (Hebrew, Kavvanot or De'ot ha-Filosofim), with a prologue and 75 more or less elaborate notes to which he gave the special title Tikkun ha-De'ot. In this independent addition to his translation, Albalag sought not so much to elucidate the basic text as to subject it to a critical evaluation, for the real purpose of his annotated translation was to determine the respective roles of revelation and philosophy in the speculations of the intellectual Jew.

According to Albalag, philosophy is identical with Aristotle's teachings as interpreted by *Averroes. This affirmation necessarily placed him in direct opposition to *Avicenna and to *Maimonides, an opposition to which he often gives expression. Yet, although he is closely dependent upon Averroes, he does not follow him blindly, or in all matters. According to Albalag, four fundamental beliefs are common to revelation (Torah) and to philosophy: the existence of God, reward and punishment, the soul's survival of physical death, and Providence. (It should be noted that rejection of the eternity of the universe is not listed among these beliefs.) Revelation addresses itself to the mass of believers in terms which are within their power of comprehension. An appropriate allegorical exegesis can always extract philosophical truths from the Torah; thus, Albalag interprets the first two chapters of Genesis (Ma'aseh Bereshit) in the sense of eternal *creation, though he does say that such exegesis does not yield absolute certitude. Albalag does not deny that the Torah, which is above all a "political" book, a guide for life designed to ensure good order in human society, contains truths inaccessible to human reason. However, those truths, described as "prophetic," are of as little interest to the common man, whose welfare is assured by obedience to the letter of the Law, as to the intellectual who is capable of attaining through philosophy the truths necessary for the beatitude of his immortal soul. Albalag seems to acknowledge some sort of individual immortality (see Immortality of *Soul); at any rate, he does not follow Averroes in the latter's radical doctrine of the total fusion of the disembodied rational souls with the Active *Intellect. As for the vaunted "tradition" of the esoterics, it has, according to Albalag, no serious claims to authenticity. Even though he speaks in respectful terms of three contemporary kabbalists (*Isaac b. Jacob ha-Kohen, Todros b. Joseph *Abulafia, and *Moses b. Solomon b. Simeon of Burgos), it is precisely the demonology which was so dear to them that he discards. In those cases where allegorical exegesis fails to resolve the contradiction between the indisputable facts of scriptural faith and the results of philosophic speculation, there is no alternative but to acknowledge each in its own sphere, namely, the truth laid down by the revealed text and the contrary truth irrefutably established by rational demonstration. Albalag's line of thought and his vocabulary (truth imposed by way of nature, truth believed by way of miracle) indicate with great plausibility the influence of contemporary Latin Averroists who were accused of professing the theory of the "double truth." In the final analysis it is, however, doubtful whether Albalag would have granted full validity to a truth which was not exclusively rational, at least in the case of any man who was not a prophet. One of Albalag's notes on the part of al-Ghazālī Magāsid devoted to logic, which is in some of the manuscripts, was borrowed from a certain Abner, who could only have been *Abner of Burgos.

Although later Jewish philosophers and theologians made frequent use of Albalag's translation of al-Ghazālī, Tikkun ha-De'ot brought him, except for the praises of his younger contemporary Isaac b. Joseph ibn Pollegar, nothing but censure and abuse on the part of the kabbalists, such as Shem Tov *Ibn Shem Tov, and the fideist opponents of Aristotelian philosophy in the 15th century, such as Abraham *Shalom and Isaac *Abrabanel. Nevertheless, his work was eagerly copied and undoubtedly read with interest in the Jewish intellectual circles of southern Italy and Greece during the same century. Beginning with the 16th century, however, his name and work were almost forgotten. They owe their emergence in the history of Jewish thought to the researches of J.H. *Schorr who published extracts of the Tikkun ha-De'ot.


G. Vajda, Isaac Albalag (1960; contains an almost complete French translation of Albalag's notes and a bibliography of works on Albalag); J.A. Schorr, in: He-Ḥalutz, 4 (1859), 83 ff.; 6 (1861), 85 ff.; 7 (1865), 157 ff.; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 299–306; Guttmann, Philosophies, 200–3, 205, 245, 259; Touati, in: rej, 2 (1962), 35–47.

[Georges Vajda]