Spain in the early Middle Ages was a breeding ground for philosophers. As the peninsula shifted from Christian control to Muslim and back to Christian again, philosophy became the common language of scholars. Of the many noted and important Jewish philosophical tracts that survived from this time, one of the most famous is known as The Kuzari.
The Kuzari, the complete name of which is The Book of Refutation and Proof on Behalf of the Most Despised Religion, was written by the Spanish poet, philosopher, physician and scholar Rabbi Judah Halevy. In an era and area of violently conflicting religions, Halevy’s work was meant to strengthen the faith of the Jewish people.
The book is called The Kuzari because Halevy chose to use the legend of the Khazar king as background for his philosophical text. For several centuries there had existed a small Eastern European kingdom where Judaism was the primary religion. According to the legend, the Khazars became Jewish after their king chose to convert to Judaism. In his search for a new religion, this pagan king, according to Halevy, interviewed a Christian scholar and a Muslim scholar and found their philosophies wanting. Since both acknowledged that their religions stemmed from Judaism, he invited a rabbi to speak with him. When he chose Judaism, his people followed.
While there is no record of this specific conversation, Halevy drew upon the idea of the conversation and the imagined dialogue to question and discuss God and creation, God’s role in the world as expressed through His names, the special nature of Israel, the idea of free will, and more.
Popular among scholars of the time, The Kuzari, which was written in Arabic, gained a resurgence in popularity after it was translated into Hebrew (the translation by Judah ibn Tibbon went into 11 editions). Today there are translations of The Kuzari in multiple languages, and it is a commonly studied text throughout the Jewish world.
Today’s Treat is in honor of World Philosophy Day.
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