Jewish philosophy

Jewish philosophy (Hebrew: פילוסופיה יהודית‎) includes all philosophy carried out by Jews, or in relation to the religion of Judaism. Until modern Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) and Jewish emancipation, Jewish philosophy was preoccupied with attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism, thus organizing emergent ideas that are not necessarily Jewish into a uniquely Jewish scholastic framework and world-view. With their acceptance into modern society, Jews with secular educations embraced or developed entirely new philosophies to meet the demands of the world in which they now found themselves.

Medieval re-discovery of ancient Greek philosophy among the Geonim of 10th century Babylonian academies brought rationalist philosophy into Biblical-Talmudic Judaism. The philosophy was generally in competition with Kabbalah. Both schools would become part of classic Rabbinic literature, though the decline of scholastic rationalism coincided with historical events which drew Jews to the Kabbalistic approach. For Ashkenazi Jews, emancipation and encounter with secular thought from the 18th century onwards altered how philosophy was viewed. Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities had later more ambivalent interaction with secular culture than in Western Europe. In the varied responses to modernity, Jewish philosophical ideas were developed across the range of emerging religious movements. These developments could be seen as either continuations of or breaks from the canon of Rabbinic philosophy of the Middle Ages, as well as the other historical dialectic aspects of Jewish thought, and resulted in diverse contemporary Jewish attitudes to philosophical methods.

Ancient Jewish philosophy

Philosophy in the Bible

Rabbinic literature sometimes views Abraham as a philosopher. Some have suggested that Abraham introduced a philosophy learned from Melchizedek;[1] Some Jews ascribe the Sefer Yetzirah "Book of Creation" to Abraham.[2] A midrash[3] describes how Abraham understood this world to have a creator and director by comparing this world to "a house with a light in it", what is now called the argument from design. Psalms contains invitations to admire the wisdom of God through his works; from this, some scholars suggest, Judaism harbors a Philosophical under-current.[4] Ecclesiastes is often considered to be the only genuine philosophical work in the Hebrew Bible; its author seeks to understand the place of human beings in the world and life's meaning.[5]

Philo of Alexandria

Philo attempted to fuse and harmonize Greek and Jewish philosophy through allegory, which he learned from Jewish exegesis and Stoicism.[6] Philo attempted to make his philosophy the means of defending and justifying Jewish religious truths. These truths he regarded as fixed and determinate, and philosophy was used as an aid to truth, and a means of arriving at it. To this end Philo chose from philosophical tenets of Greeks, refusing those that did not harmonize with Judaism such as Aristotle's doctrine of the eternity and indestructibility of the world.

Dr. Bernard Revel, in dissertation on Karaite halakha, points to writings of a 10th-century Karaite, Jacob Qirqisani, who quotes Philo, illustrating how Karaites made use of Philo's works in development of Karaite Judaism. Philo's works became important to Medieval Christian scholars who leveraged the work of Karaites to lend credence to their claims that "these are the beliefs of Jews" - a technically correct, yet deceptive, attribution.