Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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crystallize the essential teachings of Judaism as well as the require-
ments of every other revealed religion, as he called it,
dat elohit.
They are the
principles, the irreducible minimum, so to
say. But there are also
, branches, which logically follow
from the cardinal principles incumbent upon a Jew to accept if he
is to partake of the bliss of the world to come. On the other hand,
there are also
, or twigs, which, like the twigs of a tree, do
not hurt the trunk when they wither or decay or are broken off
by the human hand. They are the multifarious customs and
practices of the Jewish religion which, though they may confer
happiness upon those who exercise them, nevertheless do not, when
discarded or fallen into dissue, constitute a vital breach of Judaism.
I t is easy to see how revolutionary Albo’s doctrine was and how
it was bound to bring down upon him the criticism and condem-
nation of the strict literalists. Don Isaac Abarbanel was among
the first to pour upon him the wrath of his religious indignation.
I t was both heroic and courageous on the part of Joseph Albo to
sponsor a philosophy of Judaism which even five hundred years
after his death has not found universal acceptance among Jews.
He was courageous in many another respect, for he upheld the
sovereignty of reason and stood squarely for the free and un-
hampered investigation of religion. “An absurd idea,” he said,
“which cannot be conceived by the mind need not be believed
even if it is plainly expressed in the Torah.”
Such, then, is the spiritual and intellectual image of the man and
such is his importance for our day five hundred years after he had
died. He was a torch for his generation and guide for the perplexed
of our own time. In an age of darkness, superstition and fanatic-
ism, he was a pillar of light and direction. He kindled a light by
which thousands walked and recovered their faith, and which may
still warm and inspire the hearts of thousands of others.
Unfortunately, the man who shed light upon thousands re-
mained obscure as far as his own personal life is concerned. In
place of certainty there is only conjecture, instead of verified
positive information there is only speculation. Not even the exact
time of his birth and death is above dispute. By a series of deduc-
tions and inferences, Graetz, Guttmann and Husik established
1380 and 1444 as the years of his birth and death, although others
dispute them upon equally vague deduction.
I t is known, however, that he was born in Monreal, Aragon,
that he served as preacher and physician to his community in
Soria, Spain, and that it was in the year 1428 that he had com-
pleted his still famous work.
Originally intended to be complete in one part, he was compelled
to expand it to three additional parts in order to meet the objec-
tions and criticism which the first part of his manuscript had
aroused. The first edition of
Sefer ha-Ikkarim
appeared in Soncino
in the year 1485, or forty-four years after the author’s death.
Subsequently it was published in many other editions as well as
in several translations.
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