Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions(CISMOR)Doshisha University > Public Lectures > Jewish Cultural Creativity in Medieval Times and its Relations with Christian and Islam Traditions of Thought

Public Lectures

The 7th Annual Conference on Jewish Studies

Jewish Cultural Creativity in Medieval Times and its Relations with Christian and Islam Traditions of Thought

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Date: 2013/06/29 13:00-15:00
2013/06/30 13:30-15:30
Place: Divinity Hall Chapel, Imadegawa Campus, Doshisha University
Lecture: [6/29 SAT] Marc Saperstein (George Washington University, DC)
[6/30 SUN] Warren Zev Harvey (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
■[6/29 SAT] Marc Saperstein (George Washington University, DC)
The term “Jews in medieval Christian Europe” often reminds us of “intolerance,” “discrimination” and “oppression,” because Jews in medieval times were subjected to violence, expulsion and various other forms of persecution. In his lecture, Professor Marc Saperstein, a Reform rabbi and historian, discussed four cases of Jewish persecutions: the ravage of Jewish communities in the Rhineland during the First Crusade in the eleventh century; the anti-Jewish riots in the Iberian Peninsula in 1391; the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492; and the massacre of Jews led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, a Cossack leader, in Poland in 1648. He also discussed medieval Jewish culture in light of two types of literature that record these incidents: (1) chronicles recording experiences of persecutions, and (2) texts of admonition and rebuke to Jewish society.

(1) Chronicles
Medieval Jews had little interest in recording daily affairs, and the scope of their intellectual activities and cultural creativity was mostly confined to the fields of the Bible, the Talmud and the Midrash. However, they wrote chronicles of persecutions out of the necessity to pass down their experiences to subsequent generations. The chronicles contain detailed descriptions about the destruction of Jewish communities and Jews martyred for their faith taking their own family members with them, as well as records of priests who saved Jews. With the understanding that these persecutions had been foretold in the Bible, authors of the chronicles believed that positive restoration and redemption through the Messiah would be fulfilled, just as the negative prophecies had been fulfilled. Because of his strong faith, Abraham was tested by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Likewise, Jews were subjected to these hardships because of their deep piety and gallantry, not because of the sinfulness of respective Jewish generations. The authors were steadfast in their insistence and thus made no attempt to explore the causes of the persecutions.

(2) Texts of admonition and rebuke to Jewish society
Conversely, there are some texts that place greater importance on exploring the causality behind persecutions rather than recording the facts. There are texts of admonition and rebuke, which were written to analyze the faults of Jewish society that invited the wrath of God and to explore socio-economic causes behind the persecutions, based on the theological belief that God has everything in this world under control and that persecution, too, reflects the will of God. Authors of these texts recognized the persecution as punishment that God gave to Jews as a result of non-performance of their obligations under the covenant with God. Specifically, the authors blamed Jews for losing their faith and humility, violating the Sabbath, and being content with performing rituals only superficially, without thinking of the deeper significance of the rituals. The authors also blamed rabbis for being too concerned about “insignificant details” of the Talmud, for being devoted to fruitless discussions, and for being affected by the Greek philosophy in their preaches and commentaries of the Bible. Furthermore, their criticism was directed to court Jews who, under patronage of the ruler, indulged in vanity, neglected the importance of industriousness and diligence, and shifted their responsibility to other Jews. They insisted that the public voiced their outrage over Jews who forgot their status as the people of Diaspora, behaved as if they had been Christian noblemen, and earned properties and profits by lending money at exorbitant interest rates. Such behaviors of Jews resulted in the persecutions, which God orchestrated using Gentiles to punish Jews.

These texts call for Jews to go back to the traditional belief that everything that happens on the earth is under the control of God, and communicate a constructive message that the wrath of God is a temporary one and Jews can regain the love of God by repenting their sins, while urging them to keep faithful to God and return to the tradition. The texts also tell us that not all medieval Jews were pious people, but many of them lived in society rife with contradiction and inconsistency just as contemporary Jews do. With this remark, Professor Saperstein concluded his lecture. The audience then asked questions eagerly, to which he responded attentively.
(Kenichiro Iida, Doctoral Student of the Graduate School of Theology, Doshisha University)

■[6/30 SUN] Warren Zev Harvey (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
In his lecture, Professor Zev Harvey discussed how Maimonides’ monotheistic thought evolved, by referring to his four books: Kitāb al-Sirāj (Perush ha-Mishnayot: Commentary on the Mishna), Kitāb al-Farāʾid (Sefer ha-Mitsvot: The Book of Commandments), Mishneh Torah, and Dalālat al-hāʾirīn (Moreh Nevukhim, The Guide of the Perplexed).

Moses Maimonides was born in 1138 in Cordoba when it was under Islamic rule, and died in 1204 in Fustat (old Cairo). The theme of monotheism mattered greatly to the life of Maimonides, both as a Jew and as a philosopher.

He first presented his view on monotheism in Kitāb al-Sirāj which he wrote in Judeo-Arabic in 1168. In the introduction to the tenth chapter on Tractate Sanhedrin of this book, he enumerates the thirteen fundamental beliefs of Judaism and insists on the “oneness of God” in a sense that nothing is comparable to God. In Kitāb al-Sirāj, Maimonides uses the following two-pronged approach to explain the oneness of God: (1) he relies on the view of Aristotle when discussing the incorporeality of God; and (2) he emphasizes the biblical view when discussing the incomparability of God. In this way, Maimonides attempts to explain the oneness of God from two perspectives – one is philosophical, the other is biblical, which is characteristic of his thought.

In 1169, he wrote Kitāb al-Farāʾid in Judeo-Arabic in Fustat, in which he refers to the oneness of God in light of the second commandment. However, he does not define monotheism and makes no mention of the incorporeality and incomparability of God in this book.

The third book, Mishneh Torah, was written in Hebrew in 1178 in Fustat. This is a summary of the entire body of Code of Jewish Law and consists of 14 volumes. In “Fundamentals of Torah” (1:7-8) in the Book of Knowledge of Mishneh Torah, Maimonides discusses the oneness of God referring to verses of the Bible, including Deuteronomy (6:4, 4:15) and Isaiah (40:25). While he analyzes various considerations about “oneness” provided by Aristotle including the one made from the perspective of physics, he attempts to prove the incorporeality of God not only by referring to Aristotle but also in light of the descriptions of the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:15, 4:39). Conversely, he quotes the verse of Isaiah 40:25 when discussing the incomparability of God, an aspect on which the Bible places special emphasis. It is apparent that the concept of the oneness of God seen in Mishneh Torah is a combination of Greek and Hebrew elements. What Maimonides attempts in this book is to prove that the oneness of God is both incorporeal and incomparable.

Maimonides’ philosophical work, Dalālat al-hāʾirīn, was written in Judeo-Arabic and completed in Fustat around 1190. In this book, he discusses the oneness of God from the Aristotelian perspective in the section II, 1-2, while giving greater importance to the biblical concept of incomparability of God than Aristotle’s notion of the incorporeality of God in the section II, 4. After all, Maimonides does not clearly state his position in this book. This book quotes the verse of Deuteronomy 6.4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” only once: this verse is quoted only in the section III, 45 with an aim to consider the relationship between God and angels. The discussion of Maimonides in Dalālat al-hāʾirīn indicates that (1) God is only one, while angels are incorporeal but there are many of them (Deuteronomy 6:4); and (2) God is only one and incomparable (Isaiah 40:25, Jeremiah 10:6). It seems that the former represents an Aristotelian view and the latter shows a Hebrew concept and if this is the case, the point of Maimonides’ argument might be that monotheism in its purest form can be seen in Isaiah and Jeremiah (incomparability) rather than in Moses and Aristotle (incorporeality).

What is the difference between Aristotle’s Greek monotheism and Isaiah’s Hebrew monotheism in a moral or religious sense? When we find an answer to this question, we will see why Maimonides relied on both Aristotle and Isaiah, or in other words, both a philosopher and a prophet, instead of either one of them, in his in-depth consideration of the issue of monotheism.
(Anri Oiwane, Doctoral Student of the Graduate School of Theology, Doshisha University)
*This lecture will be given in English.
*Admission Free, No Reservation Necessary

Hosted by CISMOR & School of Theology, Doshisha University
6/29 SAT
6/30 SUN

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