Duran, Profiat

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DURAN, PROFIAT (Profayt ; d.c. 1414), scholar and physician, one of the outstanding anti-Christian polemicists of Spanish Jewry. Duran was probably born in Perpignan and later moved to Catalonia. He was the son of Duran Profiat, himself the son of Profiat de Limos, both Jews of Perpignan. His Hebrew name was Isaac b. Moses ha-Levi, and he signed his books and letters with the pseudonym אפד ("Efod"), the Hebrew acronym of אני פרופיאט דורן, Ani Profiat Duran ("I [am] Profiat Duran"). Duran acquired an extensive knowledge of sciences and languages and associated with Ḥasdai *Crescas. He was the author of two polemical tracts against Christianity, the dates of which are not known with certainty: Al Tehi ka-Avotekha and Kelimat ha-Goyim. The decisive event in his life was the wave of anti-Jewish persecutions in Spain in 1391. According to R. Isaac *Akrish's introduction to Al Tehi ka-Avotekha (Constantinople, 1570), Duran himself had been forcibly converted to Christianity in 1391 but reverted to Judaism. However, documents recently discovered in the archives of Perpignan show that Duran lived there as a Christian, under the name of Honoratus de Bonafide, for about 12 years after 1391/2, serving as astrologer to Juan i of Aragon. This presents obvious difficulties, as it is certain that he continued his Hebrew literary activity throughout this period. Tradition has it that he wrote the Al Tehi ka-Avotekha when his friend David Bonet *Bonjorn, who was compelled to undergo conversion with him, became a sincere Christian. Duran apparently considered that the other should have remained like himself a Christian only in name, continuing to believe and act like a Jew. Nevertheless, how he managed to do this remains a mystery.

Al Tehi ka-Avotekha is a penetrating satire on Christianity, its tenets, and the affairs of the Church (the schism between Rome and Avignon), and especially on the Jewish converts attracted by the Church. Duran emphasizes the irrationality of Christian doctrine and its insistence on feelings and on "faith" alone. In contrast, he presents the view of Judaism in accordance with the approach of the Jewish philosophers that salvation is attained by faith that does not contradict the demands of the intellect, combined with the performance of the practical mitzvot. Because of its witty ambiguities several Christians of the period understood the epistle as a panegyric of Christianity and it was cited by Christian authors, who referred to it as "Alteca Boteca" a distortion of the opening words of the letter. When its real intention was recognized, the epistle was condemned to public burning.

Kelimat ha-Goyim, an attack on the tenets of Christianity by historico-critical method, was written by Duran at the initiative of Ḥasdai Crescas. Duran reviewed the writings of the Church Fathers and clarified inaccuracies and fabrications in the translations of Jewish writings by those who attacked Judaism. Kelimat ha-Goyim served as a source for subsequent Jewish apologetic literature.

Duran's grammatical work, Ma'aseh Efod (Vienna, 1865), shows his extensive knowledge of Semitic and Romance languages and Greek. More than a methodical presentation of grammatical rules in the conventional manner, the work is outstanding in its original approach to grammatical problems and its incisive logical analysis of a number of principles in the same field through an impartial critique of his predecessors. Duran arrived at a new evaluation of the conjugations of the verb by a system resembling that of modern Semitic linguistics. His discussion of the theory of pronunciation reveals exact observation of the functions of the organs of speech and describes in passing the accepted pronunciation of the Hebrew of his time in Spain. He emphasizes the social function of language and stresses that writing is a matter of convention. Unique to Ma'aseh Efod is the discussion of the essence of Jewish music, to which Duran attributes two basic styles: chant, such as the cantillation for the reading of the Bible, which is addressed to the mind and understanding, and free melody which arouses the feelings, such as used by supplicants in prayer and by righteous men. Duran regards Jewish melody as having a spiritual object and thus different from the music of other nations, which aspires to aestheticism for its own sake.

Important historical details and an outline of his philosophical ideas are found in a letter of condolence which Duran wrote in 1393 to his friend Joseph b. Abraham on the death of his father, R. Abraham b. Isaac ha-Levi of Gerona, a leader of Catalonian Jewry. In the letter, Duran describes the desperate plight of the Jews in his day whose sufferings had increased to such an extent that the loss of their leaders and scholars was not even felt. He blames the people for not observing the mitzvot with proper care and for being concerned only for personal benefit. On the other hand he comforts Jews who had been converted under duress and encourages them to repent.

The other works by Duran include replies on philosophical subjects; elucidation of various parts of the commentary on the Pentateuch by Abraham *Ibn Ezra and of some of his poems; works on astronomy including Heshev ha-Efod on the Hebrew calendar (1395); explanations to the commentary of *Averroes on the Almagest; a criticism of the Or Olam of Joseph ibn *Nahmias; Ma'amar Zikhron ha-Shemadot, a history of the persecutions and expulsions from the destruction of the Second Temple until his own times (mentioned by Isaac *Abrabanel but now lost). The work was used by Jewish historians of the 16th century such as Solomon *Ibn Verga, *Joseph*ha-Kohen, and Solomon *Usque. Many of his writings remain in manuscript; some were published as supplements to Ma'aseh Efod. New editions of Al Tehi ka-Avotekha were published by A. Geiger in Koveẓ Vikkuḥim (Breslau, 1844) and in some copies of Melo Chofnaim (Berlin, 1840); by P.M. Heilperin in Even Bohen (Frankfort, 1846); and J.D. Eisenstein in Oẓar Vikkuḥim (1928), which also includes Kelimat ha-Goyim. His commentary on the Guide of Maimonides appeared after 1500 together with other commentaries.

[Jacob S. Levinger /

Irene Garbell]


The introduction to Ma'aseh Efod contains Duran's philosophical views. The Torah, he writes, is perfect, and its study is the only means of attaining eternal, supreme felicity as well as happiness on earth. There are those who maintain that only the observance of mitzvot can lead to eternal life. However, while Duran does agree that the observance of the mitzvot is very beneficial, he maintains that only knowledge can lead to eternal felicity. He criticizes the talmudists, who reject the study of anything other than the Talmud, refusing even to study the Bible. The philosophers, on the other hand, are also misled. In attempting to reconcile two contraries – Aristotelian philosophy and the Bible – they attribute only a moral function to the Torah. In reality, Duran states, philosophy too is consonant with Jewish teachings, since gentile philosophers borrowed extensively from Jewish sources. However, when Maimonides places the philosopher closest to the throne of God, he is speaking of philosophy in the sense of true knowledge, which is the privileged property of Israel alone. The kabbalists, whose aim is to achieve communion with God, also realize that the worship of God can reach perfection only in the Land of Israel, since the commandments are in harmony with the stars which guide the destiny of that land. Thus the Kabbalah, too, conforms to the Torah and the prophetic books. Nonetheless, since the principles of the Kabbalah are not easily demonstrable and the dissensions among its adherents clearly indicate its dangers, Duran concludes that the surest course is the study of the Torah. The Bible, like the Temple of Jerusalem, has virtues which preserve Israel's physical existence; for example, the Jews of Aragon were saved from persecution as a reward for having recited the Psalms continually. In addition, the Torah has intellectual virtues: it is only the Torah which contains both moral precepts and all of true philosophy. The sine qua non of Jewish survival and of eternal life is to preserve the Torah, its text, and its grammar. Thus, for Duran, the real doctrine of Judaism, which he ardently defended, encompasses both philosophy and the whole range of the human sciences, without being limited as are the latter. His commentary on Maimonides' Guide (first published 1553) is quite literal. He rejects any interpretations of Maimonides which would portray the latter as a philosopher who holds the Torah in contempt. Nevertheless, he also emphasizes the dangers in-herent in certain Maimonidean doctrines. He is very close to the astrological teachings of Abraham ibn Ezra. In response to questions raised by his student, Meir Crescas, he wrote commentaries on various passages of ibn Ezra's commentaries.

[Colette Sirat]


Baer, Spain, index s.v.Profet Duran; F. Cantera Burgos, Alvar Garcia de Santa Maria (1952), 318–20; R.W. Emery, in: jqr, 58 (1967/68), 328–37; Renan, Ecrivains, 395–407.