Judah Halevi

A Spanish poet, philosopher, and proto-Zionist.

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Defending Judaism

On revelation, Halevi remarks that Judaism, unlike Christianity and Islam, affirms that God revealed himself not to a single person but to the 600,000 Israelites who came out of Egypt. He implies that an event witnessed by so many people must be true, whereas a claim by an individual to have received a divine revelation can easily be the result of sheer delusion. That Halevi did not see that he was begging the question, since we are informed that the 600,000 were present only in the Torah itself, is to be explained on the grounds that Christianity and Islam, Judaism's rivals, admitted that the original revelation to Israel took place, but, they claimed, it had been superseded by the revelation to Jesus or Muhammad.

Halevi's basic point here is that the onus of proof, that the original revelation has been superseded, rests on those who make the claim not on those who cling fast to the faith of their fathers, since God does not change his mind. By the Torah Halevi understands both the Written and the Oral Torah, the latter found now in the Rabbinic literature. A considerable portion of the Kuzari is devoted to a defense of the Talmud and with it the whole doctrine of the Oral Torah. Obviously influenced by Muslim claims for the Koran, Halevi goes so far as to say that the Mishnah must have been inspired by God since no unaided human mind could have produced a work compiled in such exquisite style.

Some moderns have seen Halevi's particularism as racist in that it sees the doctrine of the Chosen People in qualitative terms. It has to be appreciated, however, that Halevi never suggests that God is unconcerned with the rest of mankind. On the contrary, in Halevi's view, Israel is the "heart of mankind." When the heart is healthy the whole body is sound. When the heart is sick the whole body is affected adversely. And while Halevi does see the Jews as endowed with a superior spiritual nature, he adds that just as a dead plant is more repulsive that stagnant water, a dead animal more than a dead plant, and a human corpse more than a dead animal, so a Jewish sinner can be far worse and far more repulsive than a non-Jew who falls from grace. It can be put in this way. For Halevi, no adherent of another religion can ever be as good as a Jew but, by the same token, none can ever be as bad as a bad Jew.

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