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ARISTOTLE ° (fourth century b.c.e.), Greek philosopher and founder of the peripatetic school. Aristotle achieved a unique rank in the estimation of Muslim and Jewish medieval philosophers, who often refer to him simply as "the philosopher." Maimonides stated that Aristotle had "reached the highest degree of intellectual perfection open to man, barring only the still higher degree of prophetic inspiration" (letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon, in: jqr, 25 (1934/35), 380; cf. Averroes, Commentarium Magnum in Aristotelis De Anima (1953), 3:2, 433). While Aristotelian influences made some inroads into medieval Jewish philosophy from its beginning (when it followed the teachings of the *Kalām and *Neoplatonism), Aristotelianism, in varying forms, became the predominant trend from Abraham *Ibn Daud (12th century) to the middle of the 17th century. As a reaction, a countermovement arose in traditionalist and kabbalistic circles from the 13th century onward, which included a critical evaluation of Aristotelian teachings, and can hence be considered a part of medieval Aristotelianism. Ḥasdai *Crescas was the most eminent philosophical critic in this movement.

Jewish Aristotelianism

Jewish Aristotelianism may be divided into two periods. From the ninth until the end of the twelfth century, Jews, living in the Muslim world and knowing Arabic, had available to them the Aristotelian literature existing in that language; from the thirteenth century on, Jews, living in the Christian world and using Hebrew for their philosophic writings, depended on Hebrew translations of Aristotelian works. During the first of these periods, the works of Aristotle (with the exception of the Politics, the Eudemian Ethics, Magna Moralia, and the Dialogues), together with many of the Greek commentaries on his works, became known through Arabic translations which were made between about 800 c.e. and 1000 c.e. (for the history of these translations see R. Walzer, Greek into Arabic (1962), 6–8, 60–113; in eis, 1 (1960), 630 ff., s.v. Arisṭūṭālīs). In addition, Jews became familiar with the teachings of Aristotle, at times interspersed with neoplatonic doctrines, through the summaries, commentaries, and independent works of such Islamic philosophers as al-*Fārābī (c. 870–950), *Avicenna (930–1037), and Ibn Bājja (*Avempace, d. 1138). In the Islamic world, Aristotelian studies were put on a firm footing as early as the tenth century when al-Fārābī, in his The Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, outlined the differences between the two philosophers. The Aristotelian orientation established by al-Fārābī was shared by two tenth-century Jews of Mosul, Ibn Abi Saʿīd al-Mawṣilī and his pupil Bishr ibn Samʿān (see Pines, in: paajr, 24 (1955), 103–36); though, as has been noted, Jewish philosophy did not become predominantly Aristotelian until Abraham Ibn Daud. This philosopher, in his Emunah Ramah, attacked the neoplatonic metaphysics of Solomon ibn *Gabirol, and expounded an Aristotelianism derived from the teachings of Avicenna. During the Islamic period, Aristotelianism reached its highpoint with *Maimonides, who tended toward the teachings of al-Fārābī.

Hebrew Translations

The opening of the second period was marked by Hebrew translations, from the Arabic, of works by Aristotle, by Hellenistic commentators, and by Islamic commentators and compilers. These Hebrew translations brought about knowledge of the following works by Aristotle: the logical writings (Organon, lit. "instrument"; Heb. keli); Physics (Ha-Shema ha-Tivi);De Caelo (Sefer ha-Shamayim ve-ha-Olam); De Generatione et Corruptione (Sefer ha-Havayah ve-ha-Hefsed); Meterologica (Otot ha-Shamayim); De Animalibus (Sefer Ba'alei Ḥayyim); De Anima (Sefer ha-Nefesh); De Sensu et Sensato (Sefer ha-Ḥush ve-ha-Muḥash); Metaphysica (Sefer Mah she-Aḥar ha-Teva); and the Nicomachean Ethics (Sefer ha-Middot). (For a listing of manuscripts, see Steinschneider, and the catalogues of the major libraries possessing collections of Hebrew philosophical manuscripts.) Most of this literature exists only in manuscript form.

Of special attraction to Jewish translators, commentators, and philosophic authors were the works of *Averroes (1126–1198), most of whose commentaries on Aristotle were translated from Arabic into Hebrew between 1189 and 1337, some of them twice. In fact, the Hebrew translations of Averroes became the major source for the knowledge of Aristotle in Jewish circles.

In addition to Hebrew translations of genuine Aristotelian works, there also existed Hebrew translations of a number of works, which, though not written by Aristotle, were attributed to him. These were Liber de Pomo (Sefer ha-Tappu'aḥ), purporting to prove that Aristotle had changed his views in his old age (see below: Aristotle in Jewish Legend), which Maimonides rejected as spurious (see above; letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon); Secretum Secretorum (Sod ha-Sodot) or Pseudo-Politics (Sefer ha-Hanhagah, Hebrew version with an English translation in M. Gaster, Studies and Texts); Liber de causis, based on Proclus' Elements of Theology; and Theology of Aristotle, representing excerpts from Plotinus' Enneads, which, except for a few quotations, has been lost in Hebrew translation. The Aristotelian literature in Hebrew, in turn, gave rise to Hebrew commentaries and to summaries. In addition, independent works in Hebrew were based on it. Philosophers who contributed to the Aristotelian literature, at times as followers of Aristotle, at times as his critics, included, during the 13th and 14th centuries – Samuel ibn *Tibbon, Jacob *Anatoli, Shem Tov ibn *Falaquera, Levi b. Abraham of Villefranche, Joseph *Kaspi, Zerahiah b. Isaac *Gracian, *Hillel b. Samuel of Verona, Isaac *Albalag, Moses *Abulafia, *Moses b. Joshua of Narbonne, and *Levi b. Gershom (Gersonides), their most outstanding representative; from the 15th to the 17th century – Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran, Joseph *Albo, the brothers Joseph and Isaac *Ibn Shem Tov, Abraham *Bibago, *Judah b. Jehiel Messer Leon, Elijah *Delmedigo, Moses *Almosnino, and Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo. (The exact relation of these philosophers to Aristotle may be gathered from the entries appearing under their names.)

Issues in Jewish Aristotelianism

Jewish Aristotelianism is a complex phenomenon, the general trends of which can be seen from some of its characteristic discussions. Jewish Aristotelianism differs from the antecedent types of medieval Jewish philosophy in its heightened awareness of the boundaries of faith and reason (see *Belief). Jewish Kalām and Neoplatonism used a variety of rational arguments to establish the truth of revelation, without seeing, on the whole, any sharp boundaries between philosophy and religion. By contrast, Jewish Aristotelians held that philosophic speculations must proceed without any regard to theological doctrines. They recognized as valid only demonstrative arguments, that is to say, arguments based on the standards for such arguments laid down by Aristotle (see Analytica posteriora, 73a, 21 ff., and passim). Once the content of faith and reason had been delineated independently, it could be asked how the two realms are related. According to one view, represented by Maimonides, the teachings of religion and philosophy could be harmonized only in part. For example, Maimonides maintains that while many doctrines, such as the existence of God and His unity, can be demonstrated scientifically, the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo cannot, and one therefore has to be guided by prophetic revelation (Guide, 2:15). By contrast, Jewish Averroists like Isaac Albalag, Joseph Kaspi, and Moses of Narbonne (Narboni) opposed the tendency to harmonize faith and reason. Thus, e.g., they accepted the doctrine of the eternity of the world, holding that it had been demonstrated by Aristotle. More than that, Kaspi and Narboni more or less openly alleged that Maimonides' defense of creatio ex nihilo was only apparent, i.e., exoteric, and that his real, i.e., esoteric, view agreed with Aristotle's (Kaspi, Maskiyyot Kesef, 99–101; Moses of Narbonne, Commentary to the Guide, 34a; see on the latter Joseph Solomon Delmedigo's Epistle, published by A. Geiger, in his Melo Ḥofnajim, Ger. pt. 18 and 65, n. 70). Using the terms of the Christian Averroists, Albalag opposes the way of faith based on the prophets (ex prophetis) to the way of reason (via rationis), the one being the way of miracle, the other the way of nature. The two realms, according to Albalag, are distinct and incompatible (see G. Vajda, Isaac Albalag, 153–7, 165–75, 251–66; and Ch. Touati, in: rej, 1 (1962), 35–47). A central and most crucial issue in Jewish Aristotelianism was the question of *creation. Aristotle based his notion that the world is eternal on the nature of time and motion (Physics, 8:1–3; Metaphysics, 12:6, 1–2; De Caelo, 1:10–12) and on the impossibility of assuming a genesis of prime matter (Physics, 1:9). In contrast to the Kalām theologians, who maintained the doctrine of temporal creation, the medieval Muslim philosophers interpreted creation as eternal, i.e., as the eternal procession of forms which emanate from the active or creative knowledge of God (see *Emanation). The task with which the Jewish Aristotelians were faced was either to disprove or to accept the notion of the world's eternity. Maimonides offers a survey and refutation of Kalām proofs for creation and advances his own theory of temporal creation (Guide, 2:17), for which he indicates the theological motive that miracles are possible only in a universe created by a spontaneous divine will (2:25). He rejects the emanationist theory of the Muslim Aristotelians since it fails to account for the origin of matter (2:22). In the course of the subsequent discussion, the more radical Aristotelians veered toward the Muslim philosophers' position, namely, the doctrine of eternal creation. Isaac Albalag, echoing Avicenna, regarded eternal creation as much more befitting to God than temporal creation (see Vajda, loc. cit., 134 ff.). Gersonides maintained the notion of creation in time, but denied the possibility of a temporal origination of prime matter (Milḥamot, 6:1, 7). Crescas, on the other hand, sought to combine the concept of creatio ex nihilo with that of eternal creation of the world by God's design and will (Or Adonai, 3:1, 4–5). For a survey of the problems involved and the main positions taken, see Isaac *Abrabanel, Shamayim Ḥadashim. In the period following Crescas, when there was greater emphasis on the possibility of miracles, the doctrine of temporal creation gained greater adherence. Closely allied to the problem of creation is that of divine *providence. The Muslim philosophers, who accepted the doctrine of eternal creation, understood Aristotle to teach that providence is identical with the operations of nature, which safeguards the permanence of the species, but is unconcerned with individuals. To bring the Aristotelian position more into harmony with the teachings of religion, Ibn Daud (Emunah Ramah, 6:2) makes the point, later elaborated by Maimonides (Guide, 2:17), that divine providence extends to individual men according to their degree of intellectual perfection. The question of divine providence and the related problem of God's knowledge gave rise to a concurrent problem, that of divine foreknowledge and man's *free will. Narboni shows that God's foreknowledge does not necessarily preclude man's free action (see Guttmann, Philosophies, 203–7). Crescas, on the other hand, adopts a determinist position, but states that this does not invalidate the divine commandments (Or Adonai, 2:5, 3; see Guttmann, op. cit., 238–40). The topic of providence is linked with that of *reward and punishment in the hereafter, which, in turn, raises the question of individual immortality. Since Jewish Aristotelianism inherited not only Aristotle's own rather ambiguous doctrine of the soul, but also the discussions of the Greek commentators and Muslim philosophers that revealed sharp disagreement in the interpretation of Aristotle, there was a division among the Jewish philosophers with relation to the soul's immortality, which stemmed from their differences of opinion with regard to the nature of man's material (potential) intellect at birth. Ibn Daud follows Avicenna in regarding the soul as an individual eternal immaterial substance capable of survival after death (Emunah Ramah, 1:7). Maimonides' position is somewhat ambiguous. He affirms, on the one hand, the immortality of the individual soul (Guide, 1:41, 70; 3:22, 27, 54), but adopts, on the other, the description of the material intellect at birth as a "mere disposition" (1:70) and also speaks of the numerical unity of all souls (1:74, 7), from which it would appear to follow that immortality is collective (see S. Pines, Guide of the Perplexed (1963), cii–civ). In the post-Maimonides period, the discussion was dominated by Averroes' theory of the ultimate elimination of the individual coloring of intellect and the absorption of the individual intellect into the universal Agent Intellect. Gersonides, however, rejects the doctrine of the unity of souls and affirms the individual immortality of man's acquired intellect (Milḥamot, 1:1–14). The ultimate felicity of man, he says, consists in the enjoyment of the intellectual perfection achieved during life. No further increase of knowledge is possible after death. Crescas expresses the general mood of the anti-Aristotelianism of his period and attacks the intellectualist orientation in his statement that the ultimate felicity lies in the love of God (Or Adonai, 2:6, 1–2).

[Alexander Altmann]

Aristotle in Jewish Legend

In addition to his considerable influence upon medieval Jewish philosophy Aristotle also appears in Jewish literary works in which history and legend are found side by side. Aristotle as a legendary figure antedates Aristotle as an actual philosophical force in Jewish thought. The theme that all the Greek philosophers, including Aristotle, were influenced by Judaism first appeared in Hellenistic-Jewish literature. The most important specimen of this motif is the report in *Josephus' Against Apion. Josephus cites a passage from the lost treatise On Sleep of Clearchus, a pupil of Aristotle, where Aristotle meets a Jew and converses with him in Greek on philosophical topics. The report concludes with the remark that Aristotle learned more from the Jewish sage than conversely (Jos., Apion, 1:176–82; cf. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 9:5; 13:12). As Aristotle's philosophical works were assimilated by the medieval Jewish philosophers, Aristotle's legendary status also grew, and in different directions. Utilizing the rabbinic accounts of the meeting between Alexander the Great, a pupil of Aristotle, and Simeon the Just (Yoma 69a), several medieval authors include Aristotle as a member of Alexander's entourage, and accuse him of plagiarizing from King Solomon's writings (M. *Aldabi, Shevilei Emunah, ch. 8). This story is a variation of the theme that Greek philosophy is Jewish in origin. Another recurring motif is the story of Aristotle's recantation of certain principles inimical to Judaism, and in some versions of his actual conversion to Judaism. Basing their accounts on the pseudo-Aristotelian treatises De Pomo and Letter of Aristotle, several medieval and Renaissance Jewish writers relate the story that as the result of his meeting with Simeon the Just Aristotle realized his mistakes, wrote a letter to Alexander the Great confessing his errors, and then converted to Judaism (Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya, Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (1962), 241–43). The most fantastic story is the report of Abraham *Bibago that Aristotle was actually a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. Bibago cites Eusebius' account of Josephus' aforementioned story as the source of his claim (Derekh Emunah (Constantinople, 1521), 46b). This theme is, however, rejected by Azariah dei Rossi, the great Renaissance Jewish historian; indeed dei Rossi is skeptical of the whole legendary history of Aristotle (Me'or Einayim, ch. 22). As the result of greater Jewish historical sophistication, of which dei Rossi is an example, and the decline of Aristotle's philosophical influence after the 16th century, the legendary Aristotle has virtually disappeared from Jewish literature.

[Seymour Feldman]


Guttmann, Philosophies, 134–241; Husik, Philosophy, 197 ff.; idem, Philosophical Essays (1952); G. Vajda, Introduction à la pensée juive du moyen âge (1947), 125–93; Munk, Mélanges; M. Steinschneider, in: hb, 15 (1857), 44–45; idem, in: mgwj (1883), 89, 143–4; J.L. Teicher, in: Homenaje a Millás-Vallicrosa, 2 (1956), 403–44; H.A. Wolfson, Crescas' Critique of Aristotle (1929); idem, in: paajr, 11 (1941), 105–63; S. Horovitz, Die Stellung des Aristoteles bei den Juden des Mittelalters (1911); L. Strauss, Philosophie und Gesetz (1935); F. Bamberger, Das System des Maimonides (1935); H. Davidson, in: paajr, 31 (1963), 33–50; L. Berman, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1967). aristotle in jewish legend: Ginzberg, Legends, index; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 229–75; E.N. Adler, in: rej, 82 (1926), 91–102. add. bibliography: jewish aristotelianism: A. Altmann, "Defining Maimonides' Aristotelianism," in: R.S. Cohen and Hillel Levine (eds.), Maimonides and the Sciences (2000), 1–7; L.V. Berman, "Greek into Hebrew: Samuel ben Judah, 14th Century Philosopher and Translator," in: A. Altmann (ed.), Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1967), 289–320; M. Fox, "The Doctrine of the Mean in Aristotle and Maimonides: A Comparative Study," in: S. Stern and R. Loewe (eds.), Studies in Jewish Religious and Intellectual History (1974), 93–120; D.H. Frank, "Maimonides and Medieval Jewish Aristotelianism," in: D.H. Frank and O. Leaman (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy (2003), 136–56; R. Glasner, "Gersonides' Lost Commentary on the Metaphysics," in: Medieval Encounters, 4 (1998), 130–57; J. Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism, 134–241; S. Horovitz, Die Stellung des Aristoteles bei den Juden des Mittelalters (1911); A. Hyman, "Demonstrative, Dialectical and Sophistic Arguments in Maimonides," in: Eric Ormsby (ed.), Moses Maimonides and his Time (1989), 35–51; J. Kraemer, "Maimonides' Use of (Aristotelian) Dialectic," in: R.S. Cohen and Hillel Levine (eds.), Maimonides and the Sciences (2000), 111–30; J.T. Robinson, "Hasdai Crescas and Anti-Aristotelianism," in: The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy (2003), 391–413; N.M. Samuelson, "Medieval Jewish Aristotelianism," in: D.H. Frank and O. Leaman (eds.), History of Jewish Philosophy (1997), 228–44; C. Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1990), 141–362; H. Wolfson, Crescas' Critique of Aristotle (1929); idem, "The Amphibilous Terms in Aristotle, Arabic Philosophy and Maimonides," in: Harvard Theological Review, 31 (1938), 151–73.