Joseph Albo and Judaism’s 3 Principles

The 15th century Spanish rabbi is best known for his Sefer Ha'ikkarim, Book of Principles.

Joseph Albo was a 15th-century Spanish rabbi and theologian, best known for his Sefer Ha’ikkarim (Book of Principles), a classic work on the fundamentals of Judaism.

While little is known of the details of his life, Albo is believed to have been born in Monreal, a town in the Spanish region of Aragon, no later than 1380. He is widely believed to have died in 1444, although some place his death closer to 1430.

Some have speculated that Albo was, like Maimonides, a physician, because he used medical illustrations in his work and was well versed in the philosophies of Arabic Aristotleans. Albo studied with Ḥasdai Crescas and was influenced by his work.

In The Jewish Religion, Rabbi Louis Jacobs describes Sefer Ha’ikkarim as an “eclectic work based on the ideas of earlier teachers such as his own mentor Hasdai Crescas, but important as the last great system of medieval Jewish philosophy.”

In Sefer Ha’ikkarim, Albo, according to Jacobs, “sets out the principles of the Jewish religion by which Judaism differs from other religions, especially Christianity.”

Albo distilled Judaism’s fundamentals to three principles: the belief in the existence of God; in revelation; and in divine retribution, or immortality. While he noted that other principles are important, he viewed these as subcategories of these three principles and thus not essential on their own.

Adapted from the Jewish Encyclopedia.

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