"The voice is the voice of jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau": Isaac Abravanel between Judah Halevi and Moses Maimonides

Liron Hoch, Menachem Kellner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The authors of this essay originally hypothesized that Abravanel was attracted to Halevi with his heart, as it were, but in the end was forced back into the Maimonidean fold by his intellect. However it became clear that Abravanel was much closer to Halevi than we originally thought. Both Abravanel and Halevi distinguish between the realm in which philosophic naturalism, science, and intellect reign and the realm in which prophecy reigns. Philosophy, science, and intellect have much to contribute to the first realm (and thus it is unfair to characterize either of them as anti-rationalist) but-and here Abravanel and Halevi differ crucially from Maimonides-they have nothing to contribute to the second realm. Maimonides had earned an immovable place in the heart of Judaism. His radical interpreters, who according to Abravanel were not always wrong, presented a figure who was dangerous to the beliefs of the average Jews. His response was complex: where he could, he rescued a conservative Maimonides from the clutches of his radical expositors; where he could not, he often ignored Maimonides' dangerous views while presenting a more traditional picture of Judaism, a picture very close to that presented by Halevi. Nevertheless, he cited Halevi only rarely for two reasons: First, Abravanel accepted much of what Halevi taught as simply the correct interpretation of Judaism. Second, too much reliance on Halevi might draw attention to the fact that Maimonides often disagreed with him, and, by implication, with the teachings of Torah as properly understood. Abravanel's great intellectual honesty forced him to admit this on various occasions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-83
Number of pages23
JournalJewish History
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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