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Ibn Shem Tov, Shem Tov


IBN SHEM TOV, SHEM TOV (c. 1380–c. 1441), Spanish rabbi, kabbalist, and anti-Maimonidean polemicist. A witness to the persecutions and conversion movements of the late 14th- and early 15th-century Spain, Shem Tov held Maimonidean Aristotelianism responsible for facilitating apostasy. In his Hebrew work Sefer ha-Emunot ("Book of Beliefs," Ferrara, 1556; photoedition, 1969) he attacks Jewish rationalists from Abraham ibn Ezra through *Levi b. Gershom and Isaac *Albalag, but especially Maimonides. He wrote unabashedly against the esoteric doctrine of the Guide of the Perplexed, as he understood it. Although he revered Maimonides for his talmudic writings, he considered his philosophy a thousand times more pernicious than Aristotle's, because it came from an adherent of the Torah. Unlike his contemporary Ḥasdai *Crescas, he does not seek to undermine philosophically the foundations of Maimonidean Aristotelianism, nor does he seek to provide an alternative philosophy: he argues almost exclusively from faith. According to Shem Tov's explication, Maimonides taught that the soul is non-substantial; that there is neither divine reward for the righteous nor punishment for the wicked; that there will be no resurrection; that the only human immortality is that of the intellect, achieved by philosophers alone; that there is no providence save that occasioned by intellectual conjunction with God; that the world is eternal and immutable, and there have been no miracles; that the commandments are merely means for the development of the intellect, and human excellence is attained only upon mastery of logic, mathematics, natural sciences, and metaphysics; and that the stories of the Torah were designed for the multitude, for were the truth publicized, it would annihilate all political order. Shem Tov was unsuccessful in winning many adherents to his fideism. His sons Joseph b. Shem Tov *Ibn Shem Tov and Isaac ben Shem Tov *Ibn Shem Tov and his grandson Shem Tov b. Joseph b. Shem Tov *Ibn Shem Tov adhered increasingly to Maimonides' views. Moses ben Isaac *Alashkar (late 15th–early 16th centuries) wrote a vehement attack on the Sefer ha-Emunot, Hassagot ("Animadversions," Ferrara, 1556). These animadversions, however, are little more than citations of Maimonides' exoteric pronouncements as supposed disproof of the existence of his esoteric doctrine. Because of his unmitigated, non-philosophic attack on Maimonidean philosophy, Shem Tov was often caricatured as a fanatical warrior for faith against reason. Yet, his undeniable zeal does not invalidate either his analysis of Maimonideanism or his testimony that Maimonidean intellectualism facilitated Jewish apostasy in Spain. In the history of the *Kabbalah, Shem Tov is known for maintaining that Keter ("Crown") is not one of the ten *Sefirot but above them, that consequently Ḥokhmah ("Wisdom") is the first Sefirah, and that Da'at ("Knowledge") is a Sefirah. He is not considered, however, a creative contributor to the Kabbalah, his views being essentially elaborations of those of Shem Tov ibn Gaon. Shem Tov also wrote a treatise on the Sefirot and a commentary on Avot, the sixth chapter of which was published (Y. Daitch, Perush Rabbenu Baḥya al Massekhet Avot… u-Ferush Rabbenu Shem Tov ben Shem Tov al Perek Shishi, 1962).


Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 234–9; G. Scholem, in: ks, 8 (1931/32), 398–400; J. Guttmann, in: mgwj, 57 (1913), 177–95, 326–36.

[Warren Zev Harvey]

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