Page 54 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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them which made the best Christians shun their company. Their
disappointment rankled but, not being able to wreak their revenge
on the strong and powerful, they did their best to annoy and
irritate their former brethren by provoking them into religious
disputations, hoping thereby to confound and, in the end, con-
vert them.
Joseph Albo was the unhappy participant in one such Judaeo-
Christian controversy, unhappy although it was the most brilliant
and magnificent of them all — the famous Tortosa Disputation.
For two long years (1413-1414) the arguments dragged on to and
fro before an imposing assembly, without either side acknowledging
defeat or claiming victory. The Jewish delegation stood frightened
and trembling but without yielding ground. The point at issue
touched a vital doctrine of Christianity and an important creed
of the synagogue. Had the Messiah come, and if so, was he realized
in the person of Jesus? The Jewish representatives could point to
the twelfth creed in the Articles of Faith of Moses Maimonides
and settle the argument. But would it be politic? Would it not
offend the Christian Church which had definite views of her own
on the subject? The argument was left undecided and the dis-
putants were sent back to their homes, but in the mind of Joseph
Albo it set ideas in motion which resulted in
Sefer ha-Ikkarim.
He decided to revise the dogmas, or principles of the Jewish
religion and coordinate them not only with the essential beliefs
of Judaism but also with the peculiar delicate condition under
which the Jews lived at that time.
Since time immemorial, Jewish philosophers grappled with the
idea of reducing the principles of religious Jewish thought and
practice to short, crisp and simple sentences. Already as long ago as
in the days of the Talmud (Makkot 23b) such an attempt was
made. But it was Moses Maimonides, the peer of Jewish philos-
ophers, who succeeded in devising a set of creeds which obtained
universal acceptance, found its way into the synagogue and was
embodied in the liturgy. They are the Thirteen Articles of Faith.
Later philosophers enlarged or reduced them, but in the main
they remained the standard of Jewish religious requirement.
But as a result of his experience, Joseph Albo was convinced of
their inadequacy, especially relating to the changed times in which
he lived. I t was well enough for Moses Maimonides, who lived
in the tolerant atmosphere of a Mohammedan civilization, to
speak of the immutability of the Law and the future coming of the
Messiah, but what of the Jews who lived in other climes, in Chris-
tian countries where the reverse of these things are taught and
believed? To entertain such notions publicly would be to
endanger their safety, if not their lives.
Albo, therefore, set about to reconstruct the essential elements
of the Jewish religion on a broader survey of Judaism than was
ever attempted before. Casting about for a statement on what
is vital in the Jewish religion, he found it in the Existence of God,
Providence, and Reward and Punishment. These, he said, at once
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