Yehudah HaLevi and Medieval Philosophy

in Philosophy

While his works reveal some Platonic philosophical influence, the overall views of Yehudah HaLevi do not belong to any specific philosophical school. In his fact, HaLevi's major philosophical work, The Book of Argument and Proof in Defense of the Despised Faith, popularly known as the Kuzari, includes a serious critique of philosophical speculation. In contrast, the works of the rabbi and philosopher Maimonides reflect a deep commitment to Aristotelian philosophy though also influenced by Platonic thought in certain areas. His principal work, the Guide to the Perplexed is written with the goal of reconciling Jewish faith and the challenges to it by someone very well versed in the western philosophical tradition. Consequently, HaLevi and Maimonides hold different attitudes towards medieval philosophy and these differences are found throughout their works including the nature of prophecy.

HaLevi's work the Kuzari, while written as an apologetic for Judaism against Christianity and Islam, also includes a reflection of his attitude towards philosophy. For HaLevi, the medieval philosopher is concerned primarily with the theoretical knowledge of God rather the experiential and actual knowledge of God. His critique does not end there, as HaLevi denies the possibility of philosophy in achieving certainty in the metaphysical arena. As Julius Guttman notes, for HaLevi, a principle critique is that they possess only pseudo-knowledge.

In contrast to the general views of medieval philosophy that prophecy was a universally accessible experience, HaLevi believed that the people of Israel alone among the nations possessed the gift of prophecy.

For HaLevi, immediate religious experience it superior to deductive reasoning. For HaLevi the prophet is one who by an inner sense is able to comprehend spiritual reality. The prophet experiences directly the presence of God.

The prophet does not teach men eternal truths, but rather the path of observance that leads men to God's presence. Unlike most Jewish philosophers of the medieval period and certainly Maimonides, HaLevi is not concerned with any inconsistencies between Jewish tradition and philosophical tradition or reconciling them. HaLevi does not reproach philosophical inquiry because he does not credit them with either scientific or religious discovery, as Isaak Heinemann notes in his review of HaLevi's approach to philosophy.

For HaLevi, the prophet's role and in fact the distinction of the people of Israel is based upon the historical revelation at Sinai and in the sign and miracles that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel performed for their children in Egypt. The source of religious truth is biblical revelation whose veracity is based upon the public nature of the revelation.

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Jacob Lumbroso has 1 articles online

Jacob Lumbroso is a world traveler. He writes articles on history and languages for and has used Pimsleur courses to learn various languages.

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Yehudah HaLevi and Medieval Philosophy

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This article was published on 2011/01/12
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