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Book of Beliefs and Opinions

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Book of Beliefs and Opinions

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Book of Beliefs and Opinions
(Yale Judaica Series)
By Saadiah Gaon
Translated by Samuel Rosenblatt
Yale University Press, 1989, 498 pages
ISBN-10: 0300044909
ISBN-13: 978-0300044904

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 3, 2010

Samuel Rosenblatt, who translated Saadiah Gaon's (882942) philosophical classic The Book of Beliefs and Opinions into English in 1948, called Saadiah's magnum opus "the first systematic presentation of Judaism as a rational body of beliefs."

Saadiah's goal was to teach the truth of Judaism. He insisted that Jews should not adhere to traditions without thought. People must use their intelligence. They should not be afraid to ask daring questions about doctrine. This is not only permitted, it is mandatory. The source of the truth is irrelevant. Whether Greek philosophy or Moslem theology, the sole test of an idea is whether it is logical and consistent with science and experience. Any truth that helps clarify the Bible is welcome.

Yet, he insisted that reason cannot negate divine revelation. People do not have sufficient intelligence and knowledge to be certain that what they reason is true. Thus God aided Jews by giving them "ready-made truths" through revelation with which to govern their lives. Philosophical reflection, therefore, only furnishes secondary evidence of the authenticity and value of Torah teachings, for the Torah is the first and most reliable source of the truth.

Thus, Saadiah took his ideas from whatever source satisfied his inclination. However, despite his statements about the use of reason, because he relied upon his understanding of the Torah's revelation, Saadiah accepted improvable notions because they were ancient traditions.

Saadiah's Book of Beliefs and Opinions influenced many of his coreligionists and his book contains ideas that many Jews still accept. However, it should be recognized that the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) refuted virtually all of Saadiah's beliefs. He considered them a theology developed to dampen fears and give unfounded hopes not philosophy, which is founded on reason, science and provable truths. Readers may want to read my review of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed.


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 www.yutorah@yutorah.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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