Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Kuzari: Philosophism

This past summer I began leading a class on the Kuzari at Sephardic Bikur Holim, Seattle.  It was such a joy studying this beautiful work with such an amazing group of people.  On the Shabbat of Parashat Noach the class went on hiatus and will resume, God willing, March 15th.  We read and discussed the first 67 sub-sections of the first (of 5) sections of the Kuzari.

Here’s a link to the text: in Hebrew and in English.

Over the next few months I will try and post as regularly as possible.  I will keep the posts short and to the point.  My goal is to create a forum for discussion.  In the first few posts I will simply review what we have already learned.  I will try and end each post with a question (or questions) that I hope will get the discussion started.

And so, let us start at the beginning.

The Kuzari begins with a dream.  The King of the Khazars (the Kuzari) had a dream in which an angel informed him that his intention was good but his deeds were not desirous to God.  The Kuzari feels driven to fulfill the demand placed on him by his dream.  First he seeks the council of a philosopher.  However, he is not terribly pleased with what he hears.  

The world, as construed by the philosophers, cannot countenance a God with desires.  To have desire is to be lacking and God, the most perfect being of all, can have no lack.  To make matters worse there is no way that God could care about the Kuzari and his particular predicament.  God, being perfect, is not subject to change.  The Kuzari is one particular individual who is constantly undergoing changes and transformations.  If God were to know the Kuzari His knowledge would change and, hence, He himself would be changing. 

The Kuzari is not satisfied with the philosopher for one simple reason—his idealistic world view contradicts his actual experience.  As much as the philosopher might not be able to construe God as having desires or knowledge of particulars and fit such a God into his logical system, the Kuzari knows what he experienced: he had the dream.

Though the path of the philosopher is rejected there is a tremendous amount to be gained from Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s presentation.  The philosopher helps us understand the intellectual milieu of the Kuzari.  Just as we, as modern Jews, might struggle against scientism (the view that everything can be known through the scientific method and only that which can be known through the scientific method exists) Yehuda HaLevi had to struggle against (let me coin a term): philosophism (the belief that everything can be known through the philosophical method and only that which can be understood through the philosophical method exists).

Question for discussion: in what ways might philosophy be valuable?  In what ways might philosophy be dangerous?

1 comment:

Dan said...

great questions Yehuda. Before I think about them more, can you to define what you mean by "philosophical method"? Also, what is the difference between the "philosophical method" and the "scientific method"?