Isaac ben Abraham
ISAAC BEN ABRAHAM
Eminent Karaite physician, apologist, and polemical writer, and powerful opponent and disputant of the doctrines and dogmas of Christianity whose work in defense of Judaism titled Ḥizzuk Emunah (Strengthening of the Faith) gave rise to violent controversies within Christian circles; b. Troki, Province of Vilna, Lithuania, 1533; d. Troki, 1594 (or 8 years earlier in both cases; see Mann, 726, 1475). From the name of his native town he is commonly known as Troki.
As a student of the Karaite Ḥazzan and Ḥakham Zephaniah ben Mordecai, he became highly competent in Biblical studies and Hebrew literature. For his knowledge of Polish and Latin he was indebted to Christian scholars. Through them he gained access to the Christian community and was able to count Christians of all faiths and sects among his closest associates. Soon Troki found himself enveloped in religious controversy and challenged to participate in heated debates. He therefore studied Christian theology in general and read the NT extensively. He became familiar with the religious writings of his contemporaries and with the tenets of the various Christian sects. Troki felt that he must make manifest the truths of Israel's faith. In the preface to his famous apology he stated:
I refer my coreligionist to the attentive perusal of Ḥizzuk Emunah, wherein he will find an ample supply of arguments and proofs in favor and support of our venerable creed…. I have endeavored to arraign before the tribunal of common sense the assertions made by Christians which tend to throw discredit on the truths of the Jewish Faith. For this purpose, I found it advisable to sub-divide this work into two parts. The first portion is devoted to an examination of the objections raised by Christians against our religion, and to the proofs cited by them for the corroboration of their own doctrines. The refutation I have given it is, in many cases, based on the contradictory nature of their own statements. The second portion comprises a careful review and refutation of the glaring inconsistencies that are discoverable in the New Testament.
Death had summoned Troki before the completion of his work. On his deathbed, however, he had commissioned his favorite disciple, Joseph ben Mordecai Malinovski, to supply the missing preface and index and prepare the work for publication. Spanish authors of a previous period (e.g., Profiat duran) had contributed equally significant books in defense of Judaism, but none could compare with the extensive popularity of the Ḥizzuk Emunah. For years it remained in manuscript, and interested readers and copyists felt inclined to modify, amplify, or change the text in accordance with their own views and beliefs. One such corrupted manuscript that had been written by a rabbinite who had substituted Talmudical concepts for Troki's philosophical arguments came into the possession of the Hebraist Johann Christoph Wagenseil (1633–1705). Wagenseil published it (Altdorf 1681) with a Latin translation under the startling title of Tela Ignea Satanae (The Fiery Darts of Satan). Thus he helped to publicize it and to propagate its contents, although this may not have been his desire; and the extensive and violent refutations that he had supplied with his edition served only to fan the flames of controversy and cause passionate debates among Christians. Eventually, the free-thinkers and anticlerical philosophers of the 18th century quoted freely from Troki's writings in their campaign against Christianity. To voltaire, for example, the Ḥizzuk was "a masterpiece in the treatment of its subject." In addition to Wagenseil's Latin edition, the book was translated into Judeo-German (Amsterdam 1717), into English by Moses Mocatta (London 1851), and into German by David Deutsch (Sohran 1865, 2d ed. Breslau 1873).
Bibliography: j. mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, v.2 (Philadelphia 1935) 714–720, 726, 1475. i. broydÉ, The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. j. singer, 13 v. (New York 1901–06) 12:265–266. l. nemoy, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 10 v. (New York 1939–44) 10:311. s. m. dubnow, Weltgeschichte des jüdischen Volkes, 10 v. (Berlin 1925–29). a. m. goldberg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 5:773.
[n. j. cohen]