Page 69 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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Bachya also shows remarkable tolerance towards other religions.
The explanation he gives for God being called “ the God of the
Hebrews” is that “possibly God revealed himself to them because
they were the only persons in their generations who worshipped
Him, all their contemporaries being idolaters.” He quotes approv-
ingly the Rabbinic saying “whosoever utters a wise word, even
if he belongs to the Gentiles is called a sage.” In the Introduction
he mentions that he quoted also “ the saints and sages of other
nations whose words have come down to us.” Elsewhere I tried
to show that he was referring to Jesus when he mentions in the
Examination of the Soul
“a saint (Hasid) who spoke to
his disciples” that “ they should not swear at all” (Matthew 5:33-
37). In the section on
, when he treats of the attitude one
should assume towards one’s enemies, he writes that when en-
emies are the cause of man’s suffering and injury, one “should
nevertheless be well-disposed towards them . . . not requite them
according to their evil deeds, but rather show them kindness and
do them all the good he can.”
Towards Mohammed Bachya showed strong antagonism. One
can see that he alludes to him in his treatise on
he mentions but one case for which repentance cannot be ac-
cepted, namely the case of one who misled mankind by a religion
that he invented and forced others to believe in, who erred and
caused others to err. These words no doubt refer to Mohammed.
There seem to me to be a few striking analogies between the
Guide to the Duties of the Heart
and Maimonides’
Guide to the Per-
Not that Maimonides had to lean on Bachya, but the
book may have evoked in him the idea of writing a
guide to the
Their approach from opposite angles is not as contradictory
as appears. Bachya’s heart is guided by reason, and Maimonides’
reason is tempered by feelings. Bachya specifies for which group
of people his book would be “of great and comprehensive use”
and to whom it would be “of no use whatsoever.” But Bachya’s
aim was not so much the rationalization of the traditional laws.
What weighed on his mind was the overmechanization of precepts
tending to convert means into ends and thus travestying the
ends of God’s creation. His was the continuation of the prophet’s
mission, expressed philosophically in the technical language and
methods of presentation of his time. What he borrowed from
his contemporaries helped him clothe his own thoughts with a
richer exposition and a more methodical approach.
The book, written in Arabic, was for more than a hundred
years buried among some weather-worn manuscripts. It was
brought to life more than one hundred years later by Jehuda
Ibn Tibbon who subsequently translated it into Hebrew. There