Monday, October 22, 2012

Why was THE KUZARI written in Arabic ?


"Sefer Ha'Kuzari - The Kuzari" is playing a tremendous role in most Israeli Yeshivot. Besides Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzattos (Ramchal's) "Path of the Just" it is being taught almost everywhere. As well as in national religious as in haredi Yeshivot. 

The great Spanish Rabbi and Philosopher Yehudah HaLevi (born approx. 1075, was murdered by an Arab near Jerusalem in 1141) actually wrote THE KUZARI in Arabic and not in Hebrew or Spanish. A few years later, the famous translator  Yehudah ibn Tivon translated the book into Hebrew. His translation is known to be a very literal translation without any personal remarks or interpretation as we see in other translations. 

My KUZARI edition translated by Ibn Tivon

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Nevertheless, why did Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi wrote his book in Arabic and not in Spanish or any other more common European language ? Most Jews in medieval Europe didn't know any Arabic.

Rabbi Chaim Eisen from Jerusalem provided the answer to my question: For many years, medieval Spain had been occupied by Muslims and therefore, the official language of Spain was Arabic and not necessarily Spanish. However, Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi wasn't the only one publishing a book in Arabic. Almost 200 years later,  Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (theRAMBAM, 1135 – 1204) wrote his famous MOREH NEVUCHIM (Guide for the Perplexed) in Arabic. Please note that both Rabbis quoted Gemara texts in Hebrew and not in Arabic.

THE KUZARI mainly dealt with questions the King of the Khazars had. He pointed his questions to a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and to a philosopher in order to find out the true religion / ideology. In the end, the Jew convinced the King that only Judaism is the true religion and the Khazars converted to Judaism. An apparently historical fact although Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi probably made up the conversation between the King and the others in order to discuss the purpose Judaism in this world. 

In those days, Spanish Jewry seemed to get very much involved in Greek and Arabic philosophy and in order to prevent Jews from going astray, Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi presented a discussion between the King, a Jew and further religions and the philosopher in order to show where the latter are wrong and Judaism is right. The Jew, however, didn't just make a few claims but presented proof the King couldn't ignore.  

As a matter of fact, later on, the Rambam again approached the Jews in his MOREH NEVUCHIM trying to break apart the arguments of Greek philosophy. Especially Aristotle's ideas but, on the other hand, the Rambam also agreed to some of Aristotle's statements or, at least, he was extremely familiar with his philosophy.  

THE KUZARI was written for Spanish Jewry in order to teach them the beauty and basics of Judaism. Nevertheless, it would be great if someone, maybe a well - learned Rabbi could write a book or essays on "How Greek and other philosophies actually did find their way into Jewish thought. At least up to a certain extend". This would be a great subject. Actually I know one chassidic Rabbi writing about this particular subject but I am not sure whether he is able to continue due to health problems. 

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