50.01 Intellectuality (pps.36-39)

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the Divine essence is inscrutable and unfathomable. However, the relationship between the Divine and man is not relegated to those unfathomable domains. The distinction is crucial.

Certainly, Judaism is quite averse to the idea of an arbitrary God. According to the pagan Atrahasis epic (of the Great Deluge), the god Enlil engineered the flood for a somewhat arbitrary reason, namely, because the noise of humanity was disturbing his sleep. But in the biblical version human vice was the catalyst.145

The philosophy of medieval Spanish Jewry, generally considered the “Golden Age” of Jewry, placed reason quite high on the pantheon of Jewish values. It treated reason as the very mode in which and by which man and God relate to each other. According to Saadia, we will reject any prophet if he calls upon us

to follow that which is contrary to our reason. . . . I state it as a rule, that all which may be found in the books and words authored by one of us, who believe in One God, speaking of Our Creator and His deeds in language which true speculation contradicts, we may be absolutely certain that the expressions are used figuratively. Those who search for their true meaning will find it.
—Saadia146

But for Judaism, intellectualism, while crucial, is still only a base. It is a necessary, but not sufficient component. Ultimately, it is a means toward an end. From this finely crafted intellectual base the Jew constructs a spiritual ladder heavenward, parallel- ing Jacob’s dream.147

It is this dual approach which distinguishes the Jew, and which has been the key to his survival through the millennia. But the intellectual base still remains crucial.148

The crucial nature of the intellect is a central theme of Abraham Ibn Ezra,149 who goes beyond our position in extolling the primacy of the intellect.

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——————- NOTES ——————-

145 Agus, The Evolution of Jewish Thought, p. 19.

146 Saadia Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Opinions 1 :3.

147 See ibid., Prolegomena. “If both the scholar and student will follow this (the conceptual) path .. . the believer who blindly relies on tradition will turn into one basing his belief on insight and understanding.”

148 “Yehudah Halevi argues (Kuzari 5:l) that a ‘skeptical soul will be content only after speculative investigation when, subsequently, knowledge and tradition combine and become one and the same.’ ” Stitskin, Eight Jewish Philosophers, p. 20.

149 See Stitskin, Eight Jewish Philosophers, p. 126. “Maimonides regarded the works of Ibn Ezra superior to any other Jewish scholar. In his ‘Letter of Instruction to His Son Abraham,’ he admonished him as follows: ‘As for you, my faithful son, I exhort you not to pay attention or distract your mind by concentrating on commentaries, treatises and books other than those of Ibn Ezra’s which alone are meaningful and profitable to all who study them with intelligence, understanding and deep insight. They are distinguished from the writings of other authors, for Ibn Ezra was in spirit similar to our patriarch Abraham.’ ”

~continued~


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