R. Isaac abravanel on the principles of judaism

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Within mainstream Judaism Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) was the first thinker to formulate principles of faith. This innovation did not go unchallenged. Maimonides was attacked from two directions. Some critics accepted his claim that Judaism had principles of faith but disagreed with his formulations of them. Others rejected the project of creedal formulation altogether. They did not claim that Judaism had no beliefs but, rather, that all the beliefs of Judaism were its foundations and that one could not single out any particular beliefs as "principles" of Judaism. The locus classicus for the enunciation of this position is the twenty-third chapter of Isaac Abravanel's Roš Amanah, an annotated translation (with introduction) of which I present here. This dispute is of considerable importance since what is at stake here is two entirely different views of what Judaism is. Maimonides and those who followed him held that Judaism had some philosophical essence or basis from which the religion as a whole could be derived in some fashion. Those whom Abravanel (1437-1508) represents denied this claim and maintained, in effect, that the heart of Judaism was its entire body.In the introduction to the translation, Maimonides' formulation of the Jewish creed is described and briefly analyzed. Abravanel's critique of it is also summarized. His approach to the Maimonidean dogma was complex. Although an outspoken critic of the Jewish Aristotelians, Abravanel had profound respect for Maimonides. This ambivalence is reflected in the Roš Amanah which is ostensibly dedicated to a defense of Maimonides' creed in the face of attacks by Hasdai Crescas and Joseph Albo. In the first twenty-two chapters of the book Abravanel defends Maimonides' formulation and enumeraton of the principles of Judaism. In chapter twenty-three, however, Abravanel attacks the very possibility of formulating a Jewish creed. In the introduction I suggest that Abravanel defended Maimonides because of the great respect in which he held him and because he felt that if there had to be creedal formulations there ought not to be a proliferation of them since that would breed doubt and confusion.In the notes to the translation I elucidate the text and trace the sources of Abravanel's literary borrowings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Religion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1978
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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