Hadassi, Judah (Ha-Avel) ben Elijah

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HADASSI, JUDAH (ha-Avel) BEN ELIJAH (12th century), *Karaite scholar of Constantinople. His greatest work is the Eshkol ha-Kofer (or Sefer ha-Peles), which according to his own testimony he began in 1148. The work is arranged according to the Ten Commandments and alphabetically. Written partly in verse, it explains the mitzvot and the halakhot and the reasons for their observance in accordance with the specific commandment on which they depend. It represents an encyclopedic corpus of Karaite belief and knowledge as it existed in the author's time. According to Hadassi, Karaite doctrine derives and may be learned from the Torah and the Prophets by way of a complete system of homiletical exposition, which he specifies in detail. The discussion on the mitzvot is preceded by a comprehensive treatment of the rules of vocalization and grammar in the Bible. Hadassi believed in man's free will in matters of faith and methods of Torah study. The rationalist trend in Karaism is recognizable in his attacks on the legends in the Talmud and the customs and interpretations of the *Rabbanites. There is also a certain measure of social criticism in his argument that the Rabbanites circumvent the prohibition against lending money on interest. Hadassi sharply attacked Christianity and Islam, but, like his Karaite predecessors, he attributed the corruption of Christianity to the Apostles, especially St. Paul; he stated that "Jesus was an exemplary, wise, and righteous man from the first … the scholars encompassed him … and killed him as they killed other pious men who criticized them."

The description given of the world and nature by Hadassi evidently reflected the current beliefs of the Jews living in the Byzantine Empire. He had an unqualified belief in astronomy and accepted demons and sorcerers. He knew of strange creatures in distant lands – a mixture of images from rabbinic legends, ancient mythology, and Eastern tales – and also of "the tribes of Jeshurun hidden beyond the Sambatyon River." Hadassi was thus a compiler rather than an original thinker, and in spite of his anti-Rabbanite bias he drew much of his material from Rabbanite sources. His Hebrew style, however, unlike that of his Rabbanite contemporaries, is awkward and not easily understandable and the rhymed arrangement often makes it obscure. Eshkol ha-Kofer was published by the Karaite press in Eupatoria, Crimea (1836). A few hymns by Hadassi are included in the official Karaite prayer book.


S. Pinsker, Likkutei Kadmoniyyot (1860), 223–5 (first pagination); B. Frankl, in: mgwj, 31 (1882), 1–13, 72–85, 268ff.; W. Bacher, ibid., 40 (1896), 14ff.; idem, in: jqr, 8 (1895/96), 431–44; L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952), 235–377; Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium (1959), index s.v.Yehudah Hadassi.

[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]