Ibn Shem Tov, Joseph ben Shem Tov

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IBN SHEM TOV, JOSEPH BEN SHEM TOV (c. 1400–c. 1460), Spanish philosopher. A son of Shem Tov ibn Shem *Tov, Joseph, in contrast to his father, was a devotee of philosophical and other secular studies. He served in the Castilian court of King John ii and his successor Henry iv. While it is not clear what his function was at the court of the former ruler, he served in the court of the latter as physician and auditor of accounts. His political position provided him with the opportunity to debate religious and philosophical questions with Christian scholars. In 1452 he was sent by Henry to Segovia in order to suppress an antisemitic movement. After apparently falling into disfavor with the king around 1456, he wandered restlessly around the country giving lectures to audiences on the Sabbath, parts of which he wrote down. In a manuscript of his Ein ha-Kore there is a note that states that because of blindness Joseph dictated the work. From a remark by Isaac Alḥākim, the first publisher of Joseph Jabez's Or ha-Ḥayyim, it appears that Joseph suffered a martyr's death. Although Joseph was an exceptionally productive author, only three of his works were printed. His major work, Kevod Elohim, was written in 1442 (Ferrara, 1556). He also composed a commentary on Profiat *Duran's polemical letter Al Tehi ka-Avotekha (edited and printed together by Isaac Akrish, Constantinople, c. 1577; reprinted in A. Geiger's Koveẓ Vikkuḥim, 1884); and in Alcalá de Henares in 1451 he prepared a Hebrew translation and explication of Ḥasdai *Crescas' anti-Christian work Bittul Ikkarei ha-Noẓerim (Frankfurt on the Main, 1860; ed. by E. Deinard, 1904).

Commentaries on Aristotle and Averroes

Joseph wrote the following commentaries on *Aristotle and *Averroes:

(1) a very detailed commentary on the Hebrew translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, written in Segovia in 1455 and preserved in manuscript;

(2) a twofold commentary on Averroes' "Epistle on the Possibility of Conjunction" (on the conjunction of the human intellect with the agent intellect): an extensive commentary written shortly before 1454, in the manner of Averroes' long commentaries on Aristotle; and a shorter commentary, completed in Segovia in 1454, in the manner of Averroes' middle commentaries. Only two incomplete manuscripts of this twofold commentary are extant. In addition, the long commentary is extant in a manuscript of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and a complete manuscript of the shorter commentary, entitled Be'ur Efsharut ha-Devekut ha-Kaẓer, exists in the Bodleian Library;

(3) a commentary on Averroes' paraphrase of *Alexander of Aphrodisias' work on the intellect, completed in Segovia in 1454. To this commentary Joseph added the following appendices, found in the Oxford manuscript: an explanation of Moreh Nevukhim 1:68; a section on the unification of the intellect, the intelligence, and the intelligible, according to Averroes; the explication of a passage in *Moses of Narbonne's commentary to Averroes' "Epistle on the Possibility of Conjunction"; and finally, a presentation of the Aristotelian view of the intellect as interpreted by Averroes in his long commentary on Aristotle's De Anima (Book 3). Prominent as a Bible commentator, Joseph wrote a commentary on Lamentations in 1441 in Medina del Campo de Leon (Parma, de Rossi Ms. 117, 4). Joseph's Ein ha-Kore, on the fundamental principles of the art of preaching, was written after 1455 (Paris, Ms. héb. 325, 2; Oxford, Ms. Mich. 350). This work, probably the only one of its kind in the literature of the Middle Ages, is rich in quotations from Muslim and Christian sources. In Sefekot be-Ikkarim al Ma'aseh Yeshu ha-Noẓeri Joseph set forth the results of his religious disputations, criticizing the Christian dogmas of original sin, incarnation, and salvation (see D.S. Loewinger and B.D. Weinryb, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Library of the Juedisch-Theologisches Seminar in Breslau (1965), 250, 2; 345, 2). Benjacob claims that this work is merely an extract from Joseph's commentary on Profiat Duran's Al Tehi ka-Avotekha (Benjacob, Oẓar, 424, no. 479).

Works no Longer Extant

A number of Joseph's works are no longer extant: a commentary on Porphyry's Isagoge; Hanhagat ha-Bayit, presumably a commentary on Aristotle's Economics, cited in Joseph's Ein ha-Kore; a commentary on *Jedaiah ha-Penini's Beḥinat Olam, also cited in Ein ha-Kore; Da'at Elyon, a refutation of the deterministic attitudes expressed in Sod ha-Gemul by the apostate, *Abner of Burgos, together with polemical remarks directed against Ḥasdai Crescas. This work is cited in Joseph's commentary on Aristotle's Ethics (originally contained in the Oppenheimer manuscript collection, see Wolf, Bibliotheca, 3 (1727), 428); homilies on individual passages from the Pentateuch, probably components of a larger collection of sermons, excerpts of which are found in Schorr's He-Ḥaluẓ (4 (1869), 85n.); a commentary on his father's Sefer ha-Yesodot (identified by some as Sefer ha-Emunot), quoted in Ein ha-Kore. Steinschneider identified this work with Kevod Elohim.

Philosophy of Religion

Joseph's religious-philosophical views are set forth in his Kevod Elohim, in which he compares the Aristotelian and Jewish conceptions of the greatest good (summum bonum). Polemicizing against his father's Sefer ha-Emunot, Joseph advanced the opinion that the results of philosophical inquiry can be of valuable service to religious knowledge. He maintained that the philosophizing Jew is superior to the Jew who practices his religious duties blindly. Yet, in spite of this, he delineated some of the major differences existing between Aristotelianism and Judaism. The attempt of Maimonides and his successors to bring these two divergent systems into agreement at any price was firmly rejected by Joseph. Following *Naḥmanides, he was of the opinion that the deeper meaning of religious commandments is inaccessible to rational investigation and is capable of being comprehended only by means of mystic intuition or esoteric tradition such as the Kabbalists claim to have. Joseph, together with his son Shem Tov (see *Ibn Shem Tov, Shem Tov ben Joseph ben Shem Tov) and Isaac *Arama, is representative of the school of Jewish philosophy which was influenced by the Kabbalah. In opposition to the Aristotelians, who perceived the greatest good of man in intellectual perfection, Joseph maintained that the immortality of the soul in no way follows from the development of the intellect, but is dependent on the conscientious observance of religious precepts. Joseph's philosophical system represents a compromise between Aristotelian-Maimonidean rationalism and the anti-philosophical tendency of which his father was representative. Joseph took a mediating position on the question of the study of secular disciplines. Following the teachings of Solomon ben Abraham *Adret, he wanted to restrict the study of philosophy and the sciences to those who were mature. While Joseph's Kevod Elohim was not as popular as the Ikkarim of his older contemporary Joseph *Albo, it was widely read (Kaufmann, Schriften, 2 (1910), 260–1) and copiously quoted by later authors, as were his other works. Joseph's philosophical views exerted a strong influence on the dogmatic and speculative Hebrew literature of the following centuries.


Guttmann, Philosophies, 252–3; Husik, Philosophy, 429–30; M. Steinschneider, Jewish Literature (19653), 97, 100, 104, 127, 309, 317; idem, in: mgwj, 32 (1883), 459–77; Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, index, s.v.Josef ben Schemtob; Graetz, Hist, 7 (1949), index, s.v.Joseph ben Shem Tob Ibn-Shem Tob; H.A. Wolfson, Crescas' Critique of Aristotle (1929), index; Ghirondi-Neppi, 152, no. 37; Fuenn, Keneset, 512–3; D. Neumark, Geschichte der juedischen Philosophie des Mittelalters, 1 (1907), index, s.v.Josef ben Schemtob; Guttmann, in: mgwj, 57 (1913), 336–40, 418–47.

[Moshe Nahum Zobel]

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Ibn Shem Tov, Joseph ben Shem Tov

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