Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Laws of
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #05: Rabbi Yehuda Halevi's Attitude Toward
As we saw in the previous lecture, R. Yehuda Halevi does not utterly
reject philosophy, nor does he consider it unnecessary; he rather limits it and
defines its borders. In this
lecture, I shall try to define these limits more clearly.
The Rabbi defines philosophy for the first time at the very beginning of
which you express is correct with respect to religion based on speculation and
directed at governance of the polity - research of thought, but open to many
doubts. (I, 13)
R. Halevi sees the role of philosophy as directed at the administration
of society. The connection between
governing and reason will be explained later in the work.
In a later
passage, the Rabbi lists the various levels of existence in the natural world,
starting with the inanimate and reaching the creature endowed with speech - man. Animals are superior to plants in that
they have a soul. This provides
them with movement, will-power, external as well as internal senses, and the
like. Man, who is endowed with
speech, is differentiated from animals in that:
Intellect is man's
birthright above all living beings.
This leads to the development of his faculties, his home, his country,
from which arise administrative and regulative laws. (I, 35)
Man's superiority over animals
lies in the fact that man has intellect in addition to the soul. The intellect provides him with
capabilities that are focused in two areas.
The first is improvement.
Man has the ability to advance, to improve, and to perfect himself. He is not a static creature who merely
survives, but a dynamic one who conquers.
Whereas about animals, the verse states: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and
fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply in the earth"
(Bereishit 1:22), man was told: "Be fruitful, and multiply, replenish the
earth, and subdue it" (ibid. 1:28).
Man's mission on earth is to repair and perfect. The world is in need of repair, and man
plays a central role in bringing about this repair.
The second area in which the intellect defines man is society. All advances and improvements are
directed at the attainment of this objective. At the first stage, man develops his own
traits and faculties, then those of his home, and finally those of his country,
giving rise thereby to the art of politics. Man develops not just an instinctual
social framework, but one that is organized and dynamic.
This explains R. Halevi's comments about the type of religion that is
directed at the administration of society.
Religion based on human intellect suffices to allow man to live an
orderly life in a just society.
Indeed, R. Halevi praises this advantage:
are full of doubts, and there is no consensus of opinion between one philosopher
and another. Yet they cannot be
blamed, nay, deserve thanks for all they have produced in abstract
speculations. For their intentions
were good; they observed the laws of reason, and led virtuous lives. (V, 14)
Man's intellectual superiority enables him to establish a just and moral
government, and the philosophers, who have brought human intellect to its
highest development, are capable of establishing a government that operates at
best and highest level possible.
We saw, however, that, according to R. Halevi, there is a whole realm of
knowledge, namely physics and metaphysics, that man cannot reach with his most
elevated quality, his intellect.
Does this mean that man has no access to this realm of knowledge?
Absolutely not. To our great
surprise, the chain of being in the natural world does not end with human
Rabbi: Which is the next highest degree?
Khazar king: The degree of great sages.
Rabbi: I only mean that degree which separates those who occupy it in a
qualitative way, as the plant is separated from inorganic things, or man from
animals. The differences as to
quantity, however, are endless, as they are only accidental, and do not really
form a degree.
Khazar king: If this be so, then there is no degree above man among tangible
Rabbi: If we find a man who walks into the fire without being hurt, or abstains
from food for some time without starving, on whose face a light shines which the
eye cannot bear, who is never ill, nor ages, until having reached his life's
natural end, who dies spontaneously just as a man retires to his couch to sleep
on an appointed day and hour, equipped with the knowledge of what is hidden as
to past and future: is such a degree not visibly distinguished from the ordinary
Khazar king: This is, indeed, the Divine and seraphic degree, if it exists at
all. It belongs to the province of
the Divine influence, but not to that of the intellectual, animated, or natural
Rabbi: These are some of the characteristics of the undoubted prophets through
whom God made Himself manifest. (I,
The Rabbi presents the Khazar king with a new level of existence that is
distinguished from the level below it in a qualitative, and not merely a
quantitative, way. This level
raises man above ordinary natural life, and removes him, as argued by the Khazar
king, from the animated and intellectual provinces to the Divine province.
Some human beings, then, are endowed not only with the animated
influence, like animals, and the intellectual influence, like the rest of
mankind, but also the Divine influence.
A separate lecture will be devoted to the Divine influence. Let it suffice to say for now that this
outlook distinguishes between two possible levels that can be reached by
man. The intellectual level enables
man to build a just society and to run its affairs in an honest, truthful, and
righteous manner. The Divine
influence is what enables man to penetrate realms that go beyond his existence
in society, realms that the human intellect cannot reach.
philosophers, according to R. Halevi, enable man to build a just society, but
when he wishes to raise himself to a higher level above that of his simple,
natural existence, he must leave his intellect behind and approach the matter
with new tools, tools that will be discussed in the coming lectures.
context, it is interesting to examine R. Kook's approach to the formation of
state is not the source of man's highest joy. This applies to an ordinary state… where
many ideas, which are the crown of man's life, hover above it, and do not touch
it. This is not true of a state
that is founded on ideals, where inscribed on its being is supreme ideal content
that is truly the greatest joy of the individual. This state is truly supreme on the
ladder of joy, and this state is our state, the state of Israel, the foundation
of God's throne in this world, whose sole desire is that God should be one and
His name one, which is truly the supreme joy. (Orot Yisrael, chap. 6, 7)
R. Kook distinguishes between two types of states. The first is concerned with maintaining
itself in a proper manner, with no person causing harm to another, and providing
its citizens with welfare, on the one hand, and protection, on the other. The values on the basis of which this
state operates are good and meaningful, but essentially they were created in
order to serve the individuals living in the state.
maintains law and order: "Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it
not for the fear of it, men would swallow each other alive" (Avot
3:2). The laws of the state are
meant to protect the individual from his neighbor, to allow him to live a normal
life, etc. Almost every state
maintains some kind of a welfare system.
The assumption is that society must support its weaker and more
values meant to improve one's personal qualities, one's home, and the state as a
whole. However, in a regular state,
an entire realm of ideas and values is left on the outside. And the filtering system is clear: That
which serves man's natural existence is on the inside, and that which doesn't is
on the outside.
"The state of Israel" - as R. Kook already at the beginning of the
twentieth century referred to the Jewish state - that would one day come into
being, is not meant to be a state of this sort. It is a state that is supposed to serve
as God's throne, that is to say, to serve a purpose higher than itself. It is a state the goal of which is to
unite God and His name, to serve as a conduit connecting the human world to the
world of God and always to reduce the distance between them. These objectives differ in their essence
from the objectives of an ordinary state in that they go beyond the inner
existence of the state. Those
living in such a state look outwards, outside of themselves. Effectively, a state of this sort is
merely an instrument - not an instrument for the sake of its citizens, but
rather an instrument to be used by its citizens to reach some exalted value that
is high above it and all its citizens.
R. Kook's words may help us reach a deeper appreciation of R. Halevi's
position. Going beyond yourself and
beyond the society that surrounds you and aiming towards eternal values located
outside of human existence is what turns a person and the members of society as
a whole into lofty creatures who have raised themselves above their natural
level of existence. According to R.
Halevi, this going beyond oneself is not possible when the only thing driving
man is his intellect. The intellect
is limited in that it is inherent to man and, as such, it can reach the limits
of his mind; this limit is indeed very high, but not any higher than man's
stature or society's stature.
In order to leap beyond this level, contact must be made "with something
on the outside." As we will see in the coming lectures, according to R. Halevi,
this contact is "the Divine influence" – revelation, the encounter with the
transcendent, that gives man a perspective that goes beyond himself.
This is the "crown of life," as R. Kook puts it.
And this is man's supreme happiness.
Accordingly, Judaism, which, as we shall see in the next lecture, is
founded on revelation, is a religion built atop the religion of philosophy. Judaism is what enables man to raise
himself from the heights of his natural-intellectual level to a new and even
R. Yehuda Halevi makes a similar distinction between rational laws and
the received "Divine" laws. This,
too, will be discussed at length in a later lecture. Here I wish merely to mention the
principle in order to note the similarity of two distinctions.
The Rabbi sees the rational laws as products of reason, which follow from
logical thinking, and they are therefore common in one form or another to all
peoples and every society, even the society of robbers:
These are the rational
laws, being the basis and preamble of the Divine law, preceding it in character
and time, and being indispensable in the administration of every human
society. Even a gang of robbers
must have a kind of justice among them if their confederacy is to last. (II, 48)
The received "Divine" laws, on the other hand, are not necessarily
intelligible, and they are meant to elevate a person above his social existence
towards the Divine level. This is
why the Sage refers to them as "Divine" laws. It is impossible to attain them by way
of speculation and deduction:
Whosoever strives by
speculation and deduction to prepare the conditions for the reception of this
inspiration… such a man is an unbeliever.
In this context, the Rabbi relates the parable of the ignoramus who
enters a pharmacy in search of the right medicine but has no idea what he is
doing. This is comparable to the
philosopher who tries to reach Divine truths through human reason.
The relationship between rational laws and Divine laws, that is, between
laws meant to serve as a tool for administrating society in a just and righteous
manner and those that aid the upward leap to a higher spiritual and metaphysical
level, is very clear according to R. Halevi: "The divine law cannot become
complete till the social and rational laws are perfected" (II, 48). A society that strives to elevate itself
spiritually above its natural level must not abandon the administration of
society and the laws that are founded upon human reason. Just as this is true about society, so
is it true about the individual, in reference to whom the Rabbi states: "The
Divine influence only dwells in a soul which is susceptible to intellect" (II,
It turns out, then, that religion based on reason, according to R.
Halevi, has a very important role in establishing the natural life of man. It provides man with the tools to push
his intellectual capabilities to the limit and reach the highest natural level,
which R. Halevi concedes was what the great Greek philosophers did.
For this reason, R. Halevi praises the philosophers for their
contribution to human culture. The
level reached by the philosophers has not only a social benefit but a Divine one
as well. When the Rabbi
distinguishes between the name E-lokim and the Tetragrammaton (as we
shall see in the lecture on Divine names), he asserts that "the idea of the name
E-lokim" – that the world has a ruler who sets it in order – may be
reached through logical speculation.
This apprehension, notes the Rabbi, is one that depends upon the person's
rational judgment. Here the
philosophers tower over all the others:
Opinions differ on the
basis of different speculations, but that of the philosophers is the best on the
subject. (IV, 15)
On the one hand, a Jew must not content himself with this level; on the
other hand, he must not be frightened by the words of the philosophers regarding
that which is above the intellectual level, because they are intruding into a
realm that is not theirs. R. Halevi
does not cut himself off from philosophy.
He merely asks of those who expose themselves to it to put it in its
proper place and to establish boundaries that are not to be violated. In order to continue beyond that level,
a person must seek his nourishment from a different source. This new source will enable rational man
to rise to a qualitatively higher level, as will be discussed in the next
(Translated by David Strauss)