Page 53 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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a technique to hold them together in the face of the surrounding
dangers. And this they found in their religion, in their tradition,
and in that great complexity of laws and ordinances which spread
a glow of cheer and warmth over their dismal life.
In such an atmosphere, stimulated by such emotions, Joseph
Albo’s work,
Sefer ha-Ikkarim
(Book of Principles), which persisted
through half a millenium to become a folk-classic, was written.
Although lay readers took kindly to it, treated it lovingly and
passed it on from generation to generation, it has not fared as well
at the hands of the professional philosophers. The Jewish phi-
losophic genius, these claim, had manifested itself in profounder
and more original minds than that of Albo. In range of knowledge,
depth and originality his book is a far cry from the works of the
luminous spirits of the Babylonian or Spanish school of Jewish
thought. He was an imitator, a follower rather than a trail-blazer,
a man who summed up brilliantly the ideas and conclusions of his
predecessors without adding anything novel of his own.
Yet Joseph Albo must be credited with having been the last of
the philosophical and theological writers of the Spanish school,
the last to carry forward a tradition of more than a thousand
years, the last to search for a synthesis which might make phi-
losophy more Jewish and Judaism more philosophical. Ir he
leaned heavily upon his predecessors, he popularized their teach-
ings, made them accessible to thousands. For he was, indeed, an
ideal
parshan
, expounder. Ideas that were vague and nebulous
emerged crystal clear under his treatment. He was well read,
acquainted with the philosophical currents of his time and familiar,
in Hebrew translation, with the principal works of the classical
Greek and Arabic thinkers. Above all, he possessed a style so
fluent and eloquent that, without difficulty, he could distil the
wisdom of the sages, projecting it so lucidly that the simplest
could understand it.
Sefer ha-Ikkarim
may be said to have grown out of a religious
controversy. Religious disputations between Jews and Christians
were quite common in those days, especially when some high
ecclesiastical dignitary was in need of Jewish converts to bolster up
a damaged reputation. The Jews naturally never cheerfully
joined in these verbal combats, for they well knew that, win or
lose, in the end they would suffer. Learning and eloquence helped
nothing when the Church held all the cards. The priests could
fulminate, but the Jews had to be on their guard lest a careless
word call down upon them the wrath of their adversaries.
I t was the Jewish renegades who for the most part engineered
these disputations so that thereby their piety might be vindicated
and their social position improved. But there was another, sadistic
motive for the conspiracy against their former co-religionists. As
neophytes, they were extremely unhappy in their new position.
Scorned and despised by their erstwhile brethren, they were not
much more loved or trusted by their new friends. They simulated
devotion to the Church, but there was an air of suspicion about
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