The Jewish Eye
Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages
Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages
By Raphael Jospe
Academic Studies Press, 2009, 605 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 7, 2010
Dr. Raphael Jospe, a professor at Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University in Israel, is one of today's preeminent scholars of medieval philosophy, Greek, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. He is the author of several outstanding books on philosophy and numerous scholarly articles. This volume is another great achievement.
Dr. Jospe begins by describing Jewish philosophy and what prompted it by describing the ideas of the first Jewish philosopher whose writings still exist, the first century Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Egypt. He then introduces his readers to all of the important Medieval Jewish philosophers, including Saadiah Gaon, Isaac Israeli, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Bachya ibn Paquda, Abraham ibn Ezra, Judah Ha-Levi, Abraham ibn Daud and, of course, the great Moses Maimonides.
Many ideological, theological and philosophical teachings affected Jewish philosophers. Jospe discuses and clarifies them. These include Kalam, a Muslim theology that impacted Saadiah Gaon, and Neoplatonism, a mystical outgrowth of Plato's philosophy that underlies many supposedly rational medieval philosophies.
Dr. Jospe introduces a half dozen generally unique features that are extremely useful.
- His book can be used as both a textbook and reference book because of its clear and extensive index of names and topics. Yet the clarity of the book's presentation and its readability make it a perfect introductory volume for a lay reader.
- Dr. Jospe is careful not to present only a single view. He surveys representative scholarly opinions when he interprets various points, and gives his readers a clear and colorful panorama of views.
- While the book focuses on the general history of Jewish philosophy and the specific ideas of a host of Jewish philosophers, Jospe talks about the Greek and Arabic backgrounds that stimulated the Jewish ideas, such as Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism and Kalam.
- He introduces charts that help make his subjects easy to understand. For example, he explains Isaac Israeli's cosmology on page 100 and Solomon ibn Gabirol's cosmology on page 114, and the spheres and the scheme of emanation in the appendices. It is important to know about these notions to understand medieval philosophy.
- He gives the Hebrew and the Arabic terms for the important philosophical concepts so that readers will be able to use his work as a handy reference when perusing other books on philosophy.
- His introductory chapter "What is Jewish Philosophy" alone is worth the price of the book because it surveys the wide variety of approaches of Jewish philosophy.
Dr. Jospe discusses many subjects, as they were understood by the various Jewish philosophers, such as what is the world to come, the messiah, the basic principles of Judaism, what is prophecy, why do many Jews reject Maimonides' philosophy, why are some Jews against any kind of philosophy, can faith and philosophy be reconciled, and what is it that men and women should strive to achieve in life.
There is, as Dr. Jospe makes very clear, no single, uniform Jewish philosophy. Thus, many Jews who understand this, become confused, throw up their hands and ask, "If so, what should I believe?" Jospe's excellent book helps people reach an answer.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.
The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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