ON THE 26th of November 1412, Antipope Benedict XIII (Pedro da Luna) sent a letter from Tortosa to the Jewish community of Gerona, which read in part as follows: Being obliged by the bond of charity which constrains us and by the duty of our office to work with all our strength to procure the salvation of the souls of all, believers and unbelievers, … Therefore we order and exhort that you send four or at least two of your most learned men versed in the Law of Moses. These men shall appear before us at the time indicated, here or elsewhere, i. e., wherever we may be located in the States of our very dear son in Christ, Ferdinand, King of Aragon, to hear what we shall say and to reply to the above mentioned articles.… You must not forget that if you will not obey our injunctions, we will proceed against you effectively by means of the proper remedies as is prescribed by the laws, human as well as divine. Similar letters were sent to other Jewish communities of the Kingdom of Aragon.
On the first of January, 1413, and thereafter, the delegates of the Jewish communities arrived at Tortosa. The spokesman for the Pope was Jerome de Sancta Fide, the physician of Pope Benedict XIII, a converted Jew, whose Hebrew name was Joshua ben Joseph ibn Vives ha-Lorki, and the author of a treatise in Hebrew entitled Sefer ha-Pikurim, defending Christianity and attacking Judaism. A good deal of it is based on the Pugio Fidei of Raymond Martini.
When the delegates arrived before the Pope, he said to them: Master Jerome says that he desires to prove that the Messiah has come, and that too from the Talmud which is before you. We shall see whether he has said the truth or not. As for you, you need have no fear of him, for as regards the controversy you have equal right with him.
The Colloquium or Conference was opened, on the 7th of February, 1413, with great pomp by the Pope himself in the presence of the entire curia, with all the requisite formalities to which it is customary to conform on such occasions and with the solemnity which the importance of the subject demanded. The debate lasted from the 7th of February, 1413, to the 13th of November, 1414. Altogether sixty-nine sessions were held, sixty-two at Tortosa and seven at San Mateo. At the last two sessions, held on the 12th and 13th of November, 1414, was published the constitution or bull entitled, Et si doctoris gentium, against the Talmud and other books attacking Christianity. Jerome then travelled through the Kingdom of Aragon to give effect to the constitution and to confiscate the existing copies of the Talmud.
Among the eight principal spokesmen for the Jews at this debate is mentioned one Joseph Albo of Daroça. At the third session held on the 9th of February, 1413, Jerome cited a passage from the Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b, as follows: Elijah said to Rabbi Judah, brother of Rab Sala, the Pious, The world counts no less than eighty-five jubilees, and in the last jubilee the son of David will come. Now eighty-five jubilees, explained Jerome, make 4250 years. Hence the Messiah has already come. The Pope agreed with Jerome, whereupon Joseph Albo with a sort of rage cried out: Posito Messiam mihi probari iam venisse, non putarem deterior esse Judaeus. His name is mentioned again as having taken up the defence of the Talmud in the subsequent sessions.
This disputation no doubt made a strong impression on Albo and may account for some of the features of Albo’s treatise on the Dogmas of Judaism, or as it is called in Hebrew, Sefer ha-‘Ikkarim, Book of Roots, i. e., fundamental principles of the Jewish Faith, which has been very popular among the Jews since its appearance in the fifteenth century. A critical Hebrew text with an English translation and explanatory notes is offered to the reader in the present work.
The ‘Ikkarim is the last of the philosophical and theological classics of mediaeval Judaism, belonging to the same genre of literary works as the Emunot ve-Deot of Saadia, the Hobot ha-Lebabot of Bahya ibn Pakuda, the Cusari of Judah Halevi, the Emunah Ramah of Abraham ibn Daud, the Moreh Nebukim of Moses Maimonides, the Milhamot ha-Shem of Levi ben Gerson, the Or Adonai of Hasdai Crescas and other less important works, constituting the mediaeval philosophy of the Jews, for a detailed study of which the reader is referred to the present writer’s History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy, published in 1916. The eighteenth chapter of that work is devoted to a study of the philosophy of Joseph Albo.
Being virtually the last of the mediaeval Jewish philosophers and having no knowledge of the new spirit that was beginning in Italy as a result of the Renaissance—Albo was a contemporary of Georgius Gemisthus Pletho, who was most influential in reviving the study of Plato and Neo-Platonism in the Occident, and of his pupil Bessarion—Albo has nothing new to contribute to genuine philosophic thought. On the other hand, he was familiar with the works of his predecessors, Saadia, Judah Halevi, Maimonides, Gersonides, Crescas, and summed up their ideas in the ‘Ikkarim in a very popular and attractive style. There is a good deal of the homilist in Albo and he devotes many pages and chapters to lengthy—one might be so unkind as to say long-winded—interpretations of biblical and rabbinic passages, reading into them all sorts of metaphysical, ethical, psychological and theological ideas without regard to context, a method sanctioned by long usage which goes back to early rabbinical literature.
Albo’s interest was, however, primarily concerned with Jewish dogma. Maimonides had made a list of thirteen fundamental principles of the Jewish faith, and Hasdai Crescas, the teacher of Albo, found fault with Maimonides and made a list of his own, distinguishing between fundamental doctrines, which he reduced to six, and true beliefs of which he enumerates eight. Albo followed in Crescas’ footsteps and reduced the basic dogmas to three: Existence of God, Reward and Punishment, and Revelation. Under these three he subsumes the derivative principles, of which he enumerates eight, making in all eleven.
Albo’s classification of law into divine, natural and conventional (I, ch. 7) seems new in Jewish philosophic writings, though Maimonides (Guide, II, 40) makes a distinction between conventional and divine law. There is a certain similarity between Albo’s classification and that of Thomas Aquinas if we omit eternal law. Both of them, too, make use of the nineteenth Psalm in their discussion of the superiority of the divine law to the natural and the conventional. Hence it is possible that in some indirect manner Albo was indebted to the angelic doctor. But one can not be certain.
As was said before, Albo was much exercised by the aggressive attitude of the Church, which attempted by compulsory disputations to force upon the Jews an admission of the truth of Christianity. As he had taken part in such a disputation himself, the questions raised on that occasion must have haunted his mind and we should expect to find evidence of this in his work. There are, indeed, certain discussions in the ‘Ikkarim which seem to owe their existence to the circumstances mentioned above. Thus Book I, chapter 18, is devoted to a discussion of the test of a genuine divine religion. Chapter 24 of the same Book raises another question whose motive is similar to the first: Is it permitted to investigate one’s religion to see if it is genuine or not, and is one at liberty to abandon it if on a comparison with another religion, the latter is found to be better? And there are other direct and indirect references to Christianity, as in III, chs. 8 and 19, and IV, ch. 31.
The chapter in the ‘Ikkarim which deals most directly with the conflict between Judaism and Christianity is the 25th in the Third Book, which is a record of an actual disputation, but hardly that of Tortosa. The ordinary editions omit important portions thereof and even some MSS. and early editions, including the first, either delete certain portions or cut out the entire chapter. As the chapter reads in the Warsaw edition, one can only guess that the opponent of Albo was a Christian, as all reference to Christianity has been excised. The criticisms of the Mosaic law have been retained, but the New Testament with which the opponent compares the law of Moses to the disadvantage of the latter, is not mentioned. Only part of the opponent’s words is given and all reference to the Gospels is omitted even when they are cited as being superior to the Mosaic law. It is not surprising, therefore, that in Albo’s reply, in which he defends the Mosaic law against the strictures of his opponent and points out the superiority of the Pentateuch and the imperfections and errors of the New Testament, only his defence and praise of the Mosaic law are retained, while his criticism of the New Testament is expunged.
Albo shows wide reading and a great familiarity with the writings of his predecessors, Jewish and non-Jewish. He lays under contribution the literature not only of philosophy and theology, but also writings on Cabala, science, medicine and history. He is a great compiler, and while in many places he names his authorities, he is in as many others quite negligent of such courtesy, though he borrows whole discussions and analyses bodily from other writers. This has earned him the charge of plagiarism in mediaeval as well as in modern times. In particular it is his dependence on his teacher Crescas and on Simon b. Zemah Duran, author of a philosophico-theological work Magen Abot, which is cited in justification of such a serious charge. While he mentions Crescas once or twice, he should have done so more often and have been more frank in acknowledging his indebtedness. He never mentions Duran at all, and yet he seems to have borrowed from the Magen Abot and from Duran’s Commentary on Job, Oheb Mishpat and Mishpat Zedek, even more perhaps than from Crescas. Among non-Jewish writers he uses Aristotle’s ideas quite freely, without naming him, as, for example, in his discussion of love in chapters 35 to 37 of Book Three. He has been praised, however, by such Christian Theologians as Hugo Grotius and Richard Simon. The former speaks of him (Com. on Matthew, 5, 20) as Judaeum acerrimi judicii and in his letters (p. 14 and 111) he expresses a wish that the ‘Ikkarim should be translated. Richard Simon praises him in his Supplements to the Ceremonies of the Jews, p. 116. Joseph De Voisin in his Theologia Judaica, Paris, 1647, 4, cites the ‘Ikkarim frequently and criticises it.
The following translation, the first complete version of the ‘Ikkarim that has appeared in English, is based upon a critical text which is a composite of the first edition published at Soncino on the 21st of Tebet, 5246 (= 1485), and MS. A described below. For other editions see the Bibliography. For the complete collation of the Soncino edition I used the copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and in the course of making and revising the translation I also used the two copies of the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.
I also made a complete collation of a MS. in the National Library of Paris listed as 740 in Zotenberg’s catalogue. It was written in Venice בלאגונה סירקה ניגריליוש by Abraham, son of Jacob, Benieto for Don Isaac Albilia, and was completed in the month of Tammuz 5214 (= 1454). This MS., designated in the critical notes as A, suffers from frequent omissions, partly through homoioteleuton and partly through skipping of lines by the copyist. But on the whole it represents a text which is far superior to that of the editions.
In addition to the editio princeps, which is designated in the critical notes to the Hebrew text as S, and MS. 740, designated in the notes as A, I have compared in cases of doubt the following MSS.
741. This is also in the Paris National Library. It was written in Pisa by Joseph, son of Samuel the Spaniard, and given by him to his patron David of Tivoli. It was finished on the 16th of Elul 5229 (= 1469). The polemical chapters against Christianity, Book III, chapters 25 and 26, are mutilated or erased. This MS. is designated in the critical notes as B.
742. Also in the Paris National Library. This MS. was written in 5234 (= 1474). Here, too, the polemical sections in Book III, 25 and 26, are cut out. This MS. is designated in the notes as C.
A MS. in the Mayer Sulzberger collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York (D. 157). It was written by Perez, son of Nathaniel Elijah Traboti of France, and was completed on the 12th of Kislev, 5259 (= 1499). Except for the first 3½ lines the polemical chapter III, 25 is entirely cut out. This MS. is designated in the notes as D.
A MS. in the Elkan Adler collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. There is no indication of copyist or date. The greater part of the polemical chapter is here also cut out. An entire sheet must have been torn out between פד and פה and the pagination added later. This MS. is designated E.
While the basic text is a composite of S and A, I departed from them where they were obviously incorrect, and for the rest all the variants of A and S and some variants of B, C, D and E are given in the critical notes, thus enabling the reader to adopt such readings as he chooses. I have tried as far as possible to indicate all sources, biblical, rabbinic and philosophical, Jewish as well as non-Jewish. Most of the Jewish sources are given in the Warsaw edition. The mistakes in these references, which are considerable in number, have been corrected in Schlesinger’s translation, and some new references added which are not given in the Warsaw edition. But Schlesinger’s references are also incomplete and in trying to improve upon my predecessor I could do no better than consult the renowned Talmudist, Professor Louis Ginzberg, to whom nothing rabbinic is difficult or unknown. What others would have to spend weeks in searching he has at his fingers’ ends, and his generosity in coming to my aid fills me with gratitude and obligation.
Dr. Michael Higger also was kind enough to find a few references for me, for which I am very grateful. Professor Alexander Marx of the Jewish Theological Seminary showed his kindly interest in my work not merely by lending me books and MSS. from the great Seminary Collection, of which he is the head, but took pains, in his capacity as a member of the Classics Committee of the Jewish Publication Society, to read carefully certain parts of the text and translation and the notes. The valuable suggestions and corrections which his great bibliographical and other knowledge enabled him to supply will certainly give completeness, and add accuracy and precision to the work. I take great pleasure in acknowledging my indebtedness to him. Professor Israel Davidson was equally diligent in reading other parts of the work and giving me the benefit of his scholarship, which I greatly appreciate. I also wish to express my thanks to Professor J. Z. Lauterbach of the Hebrew Union College, Rev. Dr. Samuel Schulman and Dr. Solomon Solis Cohen, the other members of the Committee, who have read parts of the work and given me valuable suggestions. Prof. Harry A. Wolfson of Harvard University kindly responded to questions of mine and put at my disposal the proofs of his learned work on Crescas, while in press, which I found useful and to which I refer in my notes. I thank him. Any shortcomings this edition may have—and there are plenty, no doubt—are of course due to the present writer himself.
Dr. Julius Grodinsky, the Secretary of the Society, deserves commendation for the efficient aid he gave me in the mechanical part of the work. Dr. Baruch Weitzel is to be credited with the preparation of the Index and the Lists of biblical and rabbinic passages. My thanks to both.
Last, but not least, I take especial pleasure in expressing my thanks and obligations to the Chairman of the Publication Committee, Dr. Cyrus Adler, for the kindly interest he has shown in my work as it was going through the press, by giving freely of his valuable time to facilitate its progress.