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Jedaiah ben Abraham Bedersi


JEDAIAH BEN ABRAHAM BEDERSI (Ha-Penini ; probably born in the 1280s and died about 1340), poet and philosopher. Possibly a native of Béziers, Jedaiah is known to have spent time in Perpignan and Montpellier. Little is known of his personal history. He may have been a physician. Jedaiah's intellectual interests were literary and philosophic, although the two spheres were not clearly separated. In his youth, he composed a poetic prayer of 1,000 words titled " Bakkashat ha-Memim," every word of which begins with the letter mem (in Olelot ha-Boḥen, 1808). He is also credited with a similar composition, every word of which begins with alef, but many believe that this latter poem was written by Jedaiah's father. In popular style he composed Ohev Nashim ("In Defense of Women," ed. by A. Neubauer in Jubelschrift… L. Zunz (1884), pt. 1, 138–40; pt. 2, 1–19). His best-known literary work is Sefer Beḥinat Olam ("The Book of the Examination of the World"), a lyrical, ethical monograph on the theme of the futility and vanity of this world, and the inestimably greater benefits of intellectual and religious pursuits. Beḥinat Olam, written in florid prose and rich in imagery, combines philosophic doctrine and religious fervor with a good measure of asceticism and pessimism.

Published originally in Mantua between 1476 and 1480, the work has been reprinted numerous times. It has been translated into English (Beḥinat Olam or An Investigation of… Organization of the World, London, 1806), Latin, French, German, Polish, and Yiddish, and numerous commentaries have been written on it. Jedaiah also wrote Sefer ha-Pardes (Constantinople, 1516; reprinted by J. Luzzatto, in Oẓar ha-Sifrut, 3 (1889–90), 1–18), which consists of reflections on isolation from the world, divine worship, the behavior of judges, grammar, and astronomy. The last chapters deal with rhetoric and poetry. Jedaiah was the author of commentaries on various Midrashim (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Ms. 738; De Rossi, 222), as well as a commentary on Pirkei Avot (Escorial, Ms. g. iv, 3). He may also have written a supercommentary on *Ibn Ezra's commentary on Genesis (see Steinschneider, Cat Bod., 1283).

Jedaiah wrote a number of works which are more strictly scientific and philosophical. He was the author of explanatory notes on Avicenna's Canon (Bodleian Library, Ms. Mich. Add. 14, and Mich. 135), and on Averroes' commentary on Aristotle's Physics (Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 109; hb, 12 (1872) 37). A number of Jedaiah's philosophical works are found in manuscript 984 of the Hebrew manuscript collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (see S. Munk, in Archives Israélites (1847), 67–72): Ha-De'ot ba-Sekhel ha-Ḥomri ("Theories Concerning the Material Intellect"), an epitome of Aristotle's De Anima; Ketav ha-Da'at ("Treatise on the Intellect"), a paraphrase of Sefer ha-Sekhel ve-ha-Muskalot, the Hebrew translation of al *Fārābī's Kitāb al-'Aql wa al-Ma'aqulat ("Treatise on the Intellect"); Ma'amar be-Hafkhei ha-Mahalakh ("Treatise on Opposite Motions"), in which Jedaiah criticizes the views of another scholar, whose name he never mentions, concerning *Averroes' commentary on Aristotle's De Caelo Bk. 1, ch. 4; and Ketav ha-Hitaẓẓemut ("Book of Confutation"), a refutation of the scholar's reply to Jedaiah's Ma'amar be-Hafkhei ha-Mahalakh. It has recently been suggested that this scholar is Levi ben Gershom (see R. Glasner, A Fourteenth-Century Scientific-Philosophical Controversy). This same manuscript contains a treatise titled Ma'amar ha-Dan ba-Ẓurot ha-Peratiyyot o Ishiyyot ("A Treatise Upon Personal or Individual Forms"), which deals with the problem of whether individuals of the same species differing in accidents also differ in their essential forms. In this latter treatise there is reference made to another essay by Jedaiah, Midbar Kedemot, which is a commentary on the 25 propositions with which Maimonides opens the second part of the Guide of the Perplexed. This treatise is no longer extant.

It has recently been suggested that Jedaiah was influenced by Christian scholasticism (see S. Pines, Scholasticism After Thomas Aquinas and the Teachings of Ḥasdai Crescas and His Predecessors (1967), 1–5, 52–89). Jedaiah's contention in Ma'amar ha-Dan ba-Ẓurot ha-Peratiyyot o Ishiyyot that individuals of the same species differ in their essential forms reflects the position of Duns Scotus and his disciples on the question of personal forms. Even his arguments are similar to those employed by the Scotists (see also John *Duns Scotus). In Ma'amar be-Hafkhei ha-Mahalakh and Ketav ha-Hitaẓẓemut, Jedaiah maintains that the mathematical concepts of number, of one, of the discrete, and the continuous, have no existence outside the soul or the intellect. This theory resembles that of the Nominalists, i.e., William of Ockham, his predecessors and disciples, more than the views of any Jewish or Arabic thinkers. While chronologically it is impossible that Jedaiah was influenced by William of Ockham himself, it appears likely that he was influenced by some of his predecessors. As yet, however, no conclusive evidence has been advanced to demonstrate this influence.

Jedaiah is also known for his Iggeret ha-Hitnaẓẓelut ("The Apologia," in She'elot uTeshuvot… Rabbenu Shelomo ben Adret (Venice, 1545), 67a–75b; printed separately, Lemberg, 1809; reprinted Warsaw, 1882). In this epistle, addressed to Solomon b. Abraham *Adret, after the latter's pronouncement of the ban on philosophic study in Barcelona in 1305, Jedaiah attempted to exonerate the Jewish communities of Provence of the charges of heresy and disrespect to the Torah which had been leveled against them by Adret, as well as to argue the benefits of religious belief which result from the study of philosophy. Greek philosophy, Jedaiah points out, provided the scientific basis for belief in God's unity and incorporeality, and in man's free will. Adret's major accusation against the Jews of Provence was that they denied the historicity of the Torah by interpreting it entirely as an allegory. Jedaiah argued that in their allegorical interpretations these scholars were merely following the teachings of Maimonides. If they were guilty of anything it was of making these interpretations known to the masses.


A.S. Halkin, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1967), 165–84; J. Chotzner, in: jqr, 8 (1895/96), 414–25; N.S. Doniach, ibid., 23 (1932/33), 63–69; I. Davidson, ibid., 349–56; S. Pines, in: Wolfson Jubilee Volume (1965), 187–201 (Hebrew section). add. bibliography: M. Saperstein, "Jedaiah Bedershi's Commentary on the Midrashim," in: wcjs, 8:3 (1982), 59–65); "Selected Passages from Yedaiah Bedersi's Commentary on the Midrashim," in: Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, 2 (1984), 423–40; R. Glasner, "Yedaʿya ha-Penini's Unusual Conception of Void," in: Science in Context, 10 (1997), 453–70; idem, A Fourteenth-Century Scientific-Philosophical Controversy: Jedaiah ha-Penini's Treatise on Opposite Motions and Book of Confutation (Heb., 1998).

[Abraham Solomon Halkin /

Ruth Glasner (2nd ed.)]

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