The Second in a Series on the Un-Maimoneans: ibn Gabirol, Halevi, and Ramban
|Statue of Judah HaLevi in Caesaria|
Yehudah Halevi- Poet and anti-Philosophy Philosopher, Par Excellence
For the video recording of this discussion, go to:
Judah ben Samuel Halevi (c. 1075–1141) was the premier Hebrew poet of his generation in medieval Spain. ..nearly 800 poems, both secular and religious… sought to develop a reasoned defense of the Jewish religion, comprehensive education in both Hebrew and Arabic sources, encompassing the Bible, rabbinic literature, grammar, Arabic and Hebrew poetry, philosophy, theology, and medicine.
Like the Rambam, Maimonides, who lived half-a -century later, he was both a trained physician and well versed in the study of Talmud and philosophy, including the increasingly popular Aristotle. Unlike the Rambam, who adopted the methods of Aristotelian reason wholeheartedly, Halevi made a 180 degree turn against it.
In his last years, he made his way to the Land of Israel to settle in his last years. He died there, it is said, at the gates of Jerusalem.
It is related that as he came near Jerusalem, overpowered by the sight of the Holy City, he sang his most beautiful elegy, the celebrated "Zionide," "Zion ha-lo Tish'ali." At that instant he was ridden down and killed by an Arab, who dashed forth from a gate (Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya, "Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah," ed. Venice, p. 40b).
Samples of poems & musical versions
Eti Ankari sings
: יְפֵה נוֹף מְשׂוֹשׂ תֵּבֵל קִרְיָה לְמֶלֶךְ רָב לְךָ נִכְסְפָה נַפְשִׁי מִפַּאֲתֵי מַעְרָב הֲמוֹן רַחֲמַי נִכְמָר כִּי אֶזְכְּרָה קֶדֶם כְּבוֹדֵךְ אֲשֶׁר גָּלָה וְנָוֵךְ אֲשֶׁר חָרַב וּמִי יִתְּנֵנִי עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים עַד אֲרַוֶּה בְדִמְעָתִי עֲפָרֵךְ וְיִתְעָרָב דְּרַשְׁתִּיךְ וְאִם מַלְכֵּךְ אֵין בָּךְ וְאִם בִּמְקוֹם צְרִי גִּלְעֲדֵךְ נָחָשׁ שָׂרָף וְגַם עַקְרָב הֲלֹא אֶת אֲבָנַיִךְ אֲחוֹנֵן וְאֶשָּׁקֵם וְטַעַם רְגָבַיִךְ לְפִי מִדְּבַשׁ יֶעְרַב
Beautiful heights, city of a great King,
From the western coast my desire burns towards thee.
Pity and tenderness burst in me, remembering.
Thy former glories, thy temple now broken stones.
I wish I could fly to thee on the wings of an eagle
And mingle my tears with thy dust.
I have sought thee, love, though the King is not there
And instead of Gilead’s balm, snakes and scorpions.
Let me fall on thy broken stones and tenderly kiss them—
The taste of thy dust will be sweeter than honey to me.
Longing for the Homeland of Zion
USC Baroque Sinfonia, directed by Adam Knight Gilbert, March 2019. Adam Gilbert illustrates the interplay between Eastern and Western influences by joining a solo vocal melody in the style of Sephardic cantillation with an instrumental ritornello reminiscent of seventeenth-century Spanish compositional style.
Libi bamizrach- My Heart is in the East
לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרָב
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וָאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאֲנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב
יֵקַל בְּעֵינַי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקַר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחֱרָב.
------- English translation of Hebrew text: My heart is in the East, yet I am in the utmost West. How can I taste the food I eat and enjoy its flavor? How will I keep my vows and my bonds, while Zion remains in the chains of Edom, and I in the chains of Arabia? It seems as easy in my eyes to leave the splendor of Spain, as it would be glorious to see the dust of the Temple’s ruin.
A plea for the end of Exile
Tziyon Halo Tishali- Zion-Do You Not Wonder about your Captives?
For the Love of Shabbat
then, some romantic love
He built his work of philosophy around the accounts of a Jewish kingdom to the East:
The Story of the Khazars
The Khazars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people with a confederation of Turkic-speaking tribes that in the late 6th century CE established a major commercial empire covering the southeastern section of modern European Russia, southern Ukraine, Crimea and Kazakhstan. Astride a major artery of commerce between Eastern Europe and Southwestern Asia, Khazaria became one of the foremost trading empires of the medieval world, commanding the western marches of the Silk Road and playing a key commercial role as a crossroad between China, the Middle East and Kievan Rus'. For some three centuries (c. 650 – 965) the Khazars dominated the vast area extending from the Volga-Don steppes to the eastern Crimea and the northern Caucasus
At some point, the royalty adopted Judaism, perhaps as a way of keeping themselves out of the reach of both Moslems, invading from the south, and Christians, established in Byzantium to the west. The political theorist, noted for his denunciation of the Stalinist show trials, Arthur Koestler, posited that Ashkenazic Jews were really “The Thirteenth Tribe.” He believed that if he proved Jews were not Jews, we would disappear, and so would anti-Semitism! There have been theories that they may have been the core of Ashkenazic Jewry, or even the ancestors of the Crimean Jews, but DNA evidence points to the contrary.
Judah Halevi used the reports of this powerful Jewish kingdom as a stage for his philosophical defense of Judaism against philosophy.
The Message of the Kuzari
Sefer Kuzari Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Despised Religion
ספר הכוזרי https://www.sefaria.org/Sefer_Kuzari
The King of the Khazars inquired of a philosopher concerning his religious persuasion.
The philosopher ( הַפִּילוֹסוֹף) replied: There is no favor or dislike in [the nature of] God, because He is above desire and intention. A desire intimates a want in the person who feels it, and not till it is satisfied does he become (so to speak) complete. If it remains unfulfilled, he lacks completion. In a similar way He is, in the opinion of philosophers, above the knowledge of individuals, because the latter change with the times, whilst there is no change in God's knowledge. He, therefore, does not know thee, much less thy thoughts and actions, nor does He listen to thy prayers, or see thy movements. If philosophers say that He created thee, they only use a metaphor, because He is the Cause of causes in the creation of all creatures, but not because this was His intention from the beginning. He never created man. . . Everything is reduced to a Prime Cause.
the Khazari: Your words are convincing, yet they do not correspond to what I wish to find. I know already that my soul is pure and that my actions are calculated to gain the favor of God. . . .,
. . . one might expect the gift of prophecy quite common among philosophers, considering their deeds, their knowledge, . This proves that the divine influence as well as the souls have a secret which is not identical with what you say, O Philosopher.
After this the Khazari said to himself: I will ask the Christians and Muslims, since one of these persuasions is, no doubt, the God-pleasing one. As regards the Jews, I am satisfied that they are of low station, few in number, and generally despised.
The Christian Scholastic (לחָכָם מֵחַכְמֵי אֱדוֹם)replied: I believe that all things are created, whilst the Creator is eternal; that He created the whole world in six days; that all mankind sprang from Adam, and after him from Noah . . . [I believe] in all that is written in the Torah and the records of the Children of Israel. . . . the Son of God, and He is the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. …Our laws and regulations are derived from the Apostle Simon, and from ordinations taken from the Torah, which we study. Its truth is indisputable, …it came from God. …
Then said the Khazari: I see here no logical conclusion; nay, logic rejects most of what thou sayest which they would not believe if they only heard of them without seeing them…. My duty is to investigate further.
The Doctor of Islam חָכָם מֵחַכְמֵי יִשְׁמָעֵאל said: We acknowledge the unity and eternity of God, and that all men are derived from Adam-Noah. . . .. Our prophet is the Seal of the prophets, who abrogated every previous law, and invited all nations to embrace Islam
Said to him the Khazari:
If any one is to be guided in matters divine, and to be convinced that God speaks to man, whilst he considers it improbable, he must be convinced of it by means of generally known facts, which allow no refutation, and particularly imbue him with the belief that God has spoken to man. Although your book may be a miracle, as long as it is written in Arabic, a non-Arab, as I am, cannot perceive its miraculous character; and even if it were read to me, I could not distinguish between it and any other book written in the Arabic language.. . .
The Doctor: Is not our Book full of the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel? No one can deny what He did to Pharaoh, how He divided the sea, saved those who enjoyed His favour, but drowned those who had aroused His wrath. . . . [Add to this] what happened previously, viz. the Flood, the destruction of the people of Lot; is this not so well known that no suspicion of deceit and imagination is possible?
Al Khazari: Indeed, I see myself compelled to ask the Jews, because they are the relic of the Children of Israel. For I see that they constitute in themselves the evidence for the divine law on earth.
The Rabbi חָכָם מֵחַכְמֵי הַיְּהוּדִים also הֶחָבֵר replied: I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles; who fed them in the desert and gave them the land, after having made them traverse the sea and the Jordan in a miraculous way; who sent Moses with His law, . . . Our belief is comprised in the Torah--a very large domain.
Al Khazari: I had not intended to ask any Jew, because I am aware of their reduced condition and narrow-minded views, as their misery left them nothing commendable. Now shouldst thou, O Jew, not have said that thou believest in the Creator of the world, its Governor and Guide, and in Him who created and keeps thee, and such attributes which serve as evidence for every believer, and for the sake of which He pursues justice in order to resemble the Creator in His wisdom and justice?
The Rabbi: That which thou dost express is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts ) הַדָּת הַהֶקֵּשִׁית הַמִּנְהָגִית(
The Rabbi. . .. In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him: 'The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,' viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: 'The God of heaven and earth,' nor 'my Creator and thine sent me.' In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: 'I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,' but He did not say: 'I am the Creator of the world and your Creator.' Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. [He then explains the history of humanity from Adam]
Al Khazari: It is strange that you should possess authentic chronology of the creation of the world.
An arrangement of this kind removes any suspicion of untruth or common plot. Not ten people could discuss such a thing without disagreeing, and disclosing their secret understanding; nor could they refute any one who tried to establish the truth of a matter like this. …
Is it likely that any one could to-day invent false statements concerning the origin, history, and languages of well-known nations.
Al Khazari: Such a thing would only have been possible if they had all come to an agreement. This, however, is improbable, unless all men are the descendants of Adam, of Noah, or of some other ancestor from whom they received the hebdomadal calculation ( seven-day week).
The Rabbi: That is what I meant. East and West agree on the decimal system. What instinct induced them to keep to the number ten, unless it was a tradition handed down by the first one who did so?
The Rabbi: ( On the extreme antiquity of the universe)There is an excuse for the Philosophers. Being Grecians, science and religion did not come to them as inheritances.
Al Khazari: Does this mean that Aristotle's philosophy is not deserving of credence?
The Rabbi: Certainly. He exerted his mind because he had no tradition from any reliable source at his disposal. He meditated on the beginning and end of the world but found as much difficulty in the theory of a beginning as in that of eternity.
Al Khazari: Is there any decisive proof?
The Rabbi:…. The question of eternity and creation is obscure, whilst the arguments are evenly balanced. The theory of creation derives greater weight from the prophetic tradition of Adam, Noah, and Moses, which is more deserving of credence than mere speculation
Al Khazari: Let us now return to our subject, and explain to me how your belief grew, how it spread and became general.
The Rabbi:… A religion of divine origin arises suddenly. It is bidden to arise, and it is there, like the creation of the world.
Al Khazari: Thou surprisest me, O Rabbi.
The Rabbi: It is, indeed, astonishing. The Israelites lived in Egypt as slaves, six hundred thousand men above the age of twenty, descendants of the Twelve Tribes. … Notwithstanding their lowly position as compared to the tyrant in his might, God sent Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh with signs and miracles, allowing them even to change the course of nature. … The Israelites left the country of Pharaoh's bondage, by the command of God, the same night and at the same moment, when the firstborn died, and reached the shores of the Red Sea…. Pharaoh and his host were drowned, and the waves washed their corpses towards the Israelites, so that they could see them with their own eyes. It is a long and well-known story.
Al Khazari: This is, in truth, divine power, and the commandments connected with it must be accepted. No one could imagine for a moment that this was the result of necromancy, calculation, or phantasy. . .: This also is irrefutable, viz. a thing which occurred to six hundred thousand people for forty years.
The Rabbi: …. They also saw Moses enter it and emerge from it; they distinctly heard the Ten Commandments, which represent the very essence of the Law. . . .The divine allocution was followed by the divine writing. For he wrote these Ten Words on two tablets of precious stone, and handed them to Moses. The people saw the divine writing, as they had heard the divine words…. But the result was that every one who was present at the time became convinced that the matter proceeded from God direct…. Thus disappear from the soul of the believer the doubts of philosophers and materialists.
For me it is sufficient that God chose them as His people from all nations of the world, and allowed His influence to rest on all of them ( הָעִנְיָן הָאֱלֹהִי- divine influence, divine element), and that they nearly approached being addressed by Him. It even descended on their women, among whom were prophetesses, whilst since Adam only isolated individuals had been inspired till then.