Hallevi appropriates Talmudic visibility theory for his own Sabbath theory (Cuzari II, 20)

The Babylonian Talmud, Rosh ha-Shana 20b makes a problematic statement about the first possibility sighting of the lunar crescent at the beginning of the lunar month:

נולד קודם חצות בידוע שנראה סמוך לשקיעת החמה לא נולד קודם חצות בידוע שלא נראה סמוך לשקיעת החמה

This is usually taken to mean that if the new moon is “born”, i.e., moves out of conjunction with the sun, before mid-day, then it can be seen around sunset; but if it is born after mid-day, then it will not be seen around sunset. One can interpret this in many ways, but on the face of it, it states that six hours suffices for the moon to be distant enough from the sun so as to be visible at sunset—something which is patently not true. I believe that Hallevi was aware of this fact, and he brilliantly appropriated it for his own purposes, which is to have the Sabbath centered on Jerusalem, in line with his Land-of-Israel-centric ideology. He cites the Talmudic passage correctly, but adds, “it is as if it said (ka-‘annahu qāla)”; and he then reproduces the statement in Hebrew, but with some significant additions:

נולד קודם חצות יום שבת בירושלים בידוע שנראה ביום שבת  סמוך לשקיעת החמה

Some astute commentators saw that Hallevi is in fact “correcting” the Talmud so as to allow 24 hours for the moon to distance itself from the sun, which is a reasonable value; they are cited by Michael Schwarz, p. 84 note 182: “ Since, according to the Sages, the moon is not visible until about 24 hours have passed since its “birth”, then, if the moon is “born” around noon in Israel, which is a little before the beginning of the Sabbath in China, it will be seen there [in Israel] around the time that it [the Sabbath] ends there [in China]”. I found it necessary to identify the pronominal suffixes in the Hebrew passage. The idea is that we take the 24 hours to be measured from the beginning of the Sabbath in China, after which time—if the moon left conjunction at the beginning of the Sabbath in China, which is noon in Israel—it will be visible in Israel around sunset—that is, sunset on Sunday evening, meaning that we have given the moon 30 hours to move away from the sun, thus greatly increasing the chances of it being visible.

In short, Hallevi has totally appropriated the Talmudic discussion of visibility theory for his own doctrine of the centrality of Israel. He is not talking at all about visibility theory, though, as I understand him, he clearly sees the need to allow thirty hours to pass from conjunction. His concern is with the Sabbath; he says this over and over again. His highly original appropriation of the Talmudic passage led him to make one of the first and most important statements about the date line in Jewish literature.


Where was the sun “hung” on Day 4 of the Creation?

Cuzari II, 20 is rightly considered to be one of the most difficult passages in the book. The Haver is in the midst of describing the special character of the Land of Israel, the Promised Land to the Chosen People. In this passage he speaks mainly about the special significance of the Land of Israel for the calendar. As part of this exposition he remarks:

“Do not raise an objection on the basis of those who begin the day at local mean noon, at the western extremity of civilization. For that corresponds to sunset in Israel. That [i.e., the western extremity] was where the first light was created, and afterwards the sun. It shone and then set, all in a moment; and then it was dark in the civilized world. Things continued in that order, that is, with the evening preceding the day…” This state of affairs agrees with the repeated statements in Genesis, that it was evening and then it was day; and it agrees with Jewish practice in having the day begin at sunset.

I have cited the translation I published (but with one correction) in “Science and the Kuzari,” which appeared in Science in Context 10.3 (1997), 495-522. My translation differs significantly from almost all others. Where I gloss, “ That [i.e., the western extremity] was where the first light was created,” most would gloss, “ That [i.e., the Land of Israel] was where the first light was created.” Apparently the feeling is that Hallevi must have assigned this point, that is, the point where light was first created and the sun “hung” on Day 4, to the Land of Israel, whose virtues he is extolling here. But this simply cannot be the case. The idea is that after being “hung” the sun immediately set for the entire civilized world, so that the order will be first night and then day, as in Genesis and in Jewish practice.

Just to refresh our medieval geography: the earth is a sphere—yes, a sphere, not flat—but civilization extends only over about half the circumference. According to Hallevi, the Land of Israel is at the center of this band of 180 degrees. When the sun sets at the western extremity, the entire civilized world plunges into darkness. This would not be the case if the sun had been “hung” over the Land of Israel.

The philologists fret over whether the pronominal suffix is masculine or feminine, fīhi or fīhā, but seem sure that either way, it refers to the Land of Israel; see Michael Schwarz’ note 160 on page 82 of his translation. However, there is no reason to reject the masculine, nor to reject Kassel’s remark that it refers back to maghīb al-shams, “the setting of the sun”. Only this reading makes sense.

Schwarz refers also to Nahmanides, who may have referenced the Cuzari—and the correct interpretation of the passage—in his commentary to Genesis 1:4. (Note that Nahmanides rejects this interpretation because it would add a “small day” to the six days of creation.) However, Nahmanides cites an anonymous source, and it adds something of great significance that is not in the Cuzari. Nahmanides writes:

Some [or: one] commentators say this light was created before (לפניו, literally “to the face”) of the Holy One Blessed is He, that is, in the west, and then set immediately for the length of a night, and the shone for the length of a day.”

This passage adds a tremendous cosmic significance to having light (the primordial light, and then sunlight) being created first in the west. The west is before, or facing God; clearly this evokes Jewish tradition that the shekhina, usually rendered “divine presence”, is in the west (Bava Bathra 25a)—a feature that has ramifications for ritual as well as “sacred geography”. Hallevi says nothing about this, and Nahmanides may have had some other source in mind; or else he may have had reason to think that this cosmic implication of having light first appearing in the west was not lost on Hallevi,

A Link Between Halevi and the Hasidim of Egypt?

  1. I call your attention to the article by M.A. Friedman, “A Letter to Abraham the Pious in Praise of the Prayer Ritual in Fustat,” Kobez al Yad vol. 25 (35), 2017, on page 369. Professor Friedman raises there the tantalizing possibility that Avraham he-Hasid, Abraham Maimonides’ “senior colleague” in hasidut (Jewish pietism heavily influenced by Sufism) was the grandson of Sulaymān Ibn Gabbai, who accompanied Judah Hallevi on the voyage from Spain to Egypt. The familial connection is speculative, though not far-fetched; and we know nothing about the religious proclivities of Ibn Gabbai. Still, if, as is not so unlikely, he shared in some or most of Hallevi’s religious views, which are also pietistic, then we may have here a direct link between the old Andalusian pietism (going back at least to Bahya Ibn Pakuda) and the Hasidim in Egypt, and the descendants of Maimonides, who were strong supporters of the movement.
  2. In II, 16, Hallevi says that the festivals celebrated by the Jews are, as the Torah says, “God’s appointed times” (Mo‘adei ha-Shem, Leviticus 23:2). “They are not conventions (muṣṭalaḥ ‘alayhā) nor are they derived from the sciences of the stars”. But what does he mean by “conventional”, or, as the word is often translated, “agreed upon”? The only explanation I have found is in Otsar Nehmad by Israel of Zamosch, who cites the festival in the eighth month invented by King Jeroboam solely for having fun and good times (Kings I, ch. 12). I’m still unconvinced and unsatisfied. It seems that some Jewish festivals are harvest festivals (in addition, of course, to commemorating the Exodus, which is a rational for all Jewish sacred time) and so may be thought of as conventions; many peoples around the globe have harvest festivals. This matter requires more study, צריך עיון.
  3. I would like to suggest, as gingerly as I can, a fine point of distinction between niẓām used in II,6 and intiẓām used in II, 17. The former describes the order that God has impressed upon the universe, according to Hallevi; the latter describes the order that the Khazar king sees in the Land of Israel, as described by Hallevi in the preceding paragraph. According to Blau’s dictionary, p. 704, column, the eighth form, intiẓām, is used in literary theory to describe “the final arrangement of the verse, the virtual meaning of the sentence”. Transposing to our texts, it seems to me that Hallevi is saying that there is order in the universe, but there is a higher, more sublime order, in the Land of Israel, as manifested in the special virtues of the Jewish people when they reside there and celebrate God’s festivals, etc.

[II, 8] Who is talking about The Glory of God?

In [II, 7] the Khazar king says that the issue of the (divine) attributes has been clarified; the conversation then moves to some specific Hebrew phrases that seem to be related: kavod (the Glory of God), mal’achut (Haggai 1:13), and shekhina.  According to all the textual traditions –the single Judaeo-Arabic manuscript used in the Baneth—Ben-Shammai edition, and the text translated by Ibn Tibbon, the Khazar king states that these concepts have also been explained to him, indaraja lī. He then elaborates upon them for several lines, citing no less than six other phrases from the Hebrew bible, and explaining them in terms of some optical theories.

Does this make sense? The Khazar king is still very much a novice. The Hebrew phrases and connotations have not yet been explained to him, nor has he gained any expertise in the Hebrew bible. Here Even-Shmuel makes what seem to me necessary emendation. The speech of the Khazar king should contain only the remark about having received an explanation of the divine attributes (in general), followed by a request for an elucidation for the problematic Hebrew terms. Even-Shmuel clearly vocalizes the Arabic as the imperative indarij, rather than the perfect indaraja: “I should like to know”, as he renders it. The explanations, citations from the Bible, and the optics are the words of the haver, as one would expect.

Rav Qafih follows this emended division of the dialogue, but attributes the correction to the former Sephardi chief rabbi, Rabbi Ben-Zion H. Uziel. He does not say if Rabbi Uziel ever suggested this in print. However, Rabbi Qafih keeps indaraja as the third person perfect, which seems out of place. Neither Baneth-Ben Shammai or Prof Schwarz even note the difficulty that the textus receptus presents.

Personally, I am extremely hesitant to “emend” any text, and so I wouldn’t criticize anyone for leaving this section of the Cuzari as it stands in the manuscripts. However, I do think that Prof. Schwarz ought to have at least noted the problem and referred to Even-Shmuel’s suggested reading, which I find to be compelling.

[II, 6] More on ‘Amr Ilāhiyy

No element of Hallevi’s vocabulary has attracted as much attention over the past century than ‘amr ilāhiyy. It is well known, and I believe that I have posted on this before, that ‘amr has two different meanings, “thing” and “command”. It is not clear if Hallevi exploits the ambiguity (which would not be surprising for a poet of his caliber), or whether it really has a single meaning in his discourse.

There is an important clue at the end off II,6. The Khazar king asks the Haver how he would deal with the attribute of will (irāda), which the philosophers deny outright. The Haver does not exactly give a straight answer. He says that we will come close to have a good response if we pay attention to the order of the cosmos, which proves that things did not come about on their own; the cosmos did not auto-create, or spontaneously burst into being. Instead, it is the product of something (al-‘amr)–”the same something that fashioned the air to make [us] hear (al-ismā‘) the ten maxims (kalamāt, scilicet the Ten Commandements) and which fashioned the script that was engraved on the tablets, call it “will” (irāda), ‘amr, or whatever you like.”

It seems to me from the context as well as the apposition to will that ‘amr must mean here “command”. It is a divine directive, whatever name you may choose to give it. Rav Qafih therefore translates pequdah, Hebrew for command. Even-Shmuel chooses ma’amar—very nice, because it contains both the meaning of speech and of command. I would render it here “oral command”. It is a homonym for the Arabic, insofar as the letters of the root are the same in both languages; but the Arabic ‘amara does not mean “to say”. Still—even if Hallevi may have thought in Arabic (who knows?)–when writing this book of particularist Jewish thought, he may well have had the Hebrew ma’amar in mind when choosing to use al-’amr—God created the world in ten ma’amarot. My suggestion doesn’t negate Shi’ite or other influences, but it does make for a fuller understanding. Hallevi may have been attracted to the Shi’ite term because it recalls the Hebrew ma’amar.

[II, 2] Is God (an or the) Intellect?

At the end of II, 2, there is a non-trivial variance between the unique surviving Judaeo-Arabic mannuscript and the Hebrew translation of Judah Ibn Tibbon. Somehow this was overlooked in the Baneth-Ben-Shammai edition, and (presumably as a result of this omission) it is not noted in the new Hebrew translation of Michael Schwarz. The only one to call attention to it, and to offer some thoughts as to its significance, is the Nazir.

The passage deals at length with the divine attributes, which Hallevi equates with the divine names. The third category consists of those names that are bound (muta‘allaqa) to the ineffable name. They refer to the Creator God, including the creation of miracles by direct intervention, rather than by working through the forces of nature. The last two sentences seem to display some housekeeping, by that I mean, brief remarks on two biblical expressions that call for further explanation. The first of these is חכם לבב (wise in heart; Job 9:4). The original reads:

“And we call Him ‘wise in heart’ because He is a being of intellect (dhāt ‘aql), and He is the intellect; the intellect is not an attribute (ifa) of His.”

Ibn Tibbon has instead: And we call Him ‘wise in heart’ because He is the essence of wisdom (‘eṣem ha-ḥokhma); wisdom is not an attribute of His.”

It seems that in Ibn Tibbon’s manuscript, the copyist skipped over two words: “li-annahu dhāt ‘aql wa-huwa al-‘aql,” has been compressed to “li-annahu dhāt al-‘aql”.The original version emphasizes the identification of God with Intellect, something I might have thought to have been an idea held by “philosophers”. (There is also some uncertainty as to whether Ibn Tibbon’s text displayed ‘aql or perhaps ḥikma instead. This can be checked against other translations of his, but in my view anyway, the uncertainty will always remain. Presumably, though, he chose here ḥokhma to have it match the Hebrew verse in Job that Hallevi cites.)

How should we interpret this statement? Professor Schwarz refers to Maimonides, Guide I, 68, and the dictum which states (in the translation of Shlomo Pines), “He [God] in the intellect as the well the intellectually cognizing subject and the intellectually cognized object”. Rav Qafih refers to the Hebrew version of the same dictum that is found in Mishneh Torah, Fundamental Laws of the Traw, chapter two. My feeling is that the simple statement “He is the intellect” may imply more than just the type of union that occurs in cognition, and which applies as well to human cognition, as Maimonides explains in the Guide. Perhaps for this reason Rav Qafih chose the Hebrew version, to get away froma ll the philosophical and theological baggage of ‘aql. The Nazir who, as noted, is the only one to call attention to the variant, observes that Hallevi will then agree with Saadiah that God has at least one attribute, namely Wise; but then goes on to say that even if this is so, God is Wise, but not in the same way that a human wise. He too cites the dictum from Guide I, 68.

[I, 115] On conversion to Judaism; on the noble-born; and on al-khaḍir.

Hallevi contrasts the ease with which one converts to other faiths (presumably he has Islam in mind), by uttering a simple declaration (see my previous post) and Judaism which makes a long list of demands: purification (immersion in the miqvah?), study, circumcision, “and many religious acts, wa-l-aḥrā, that he adopt our way of life.” Ibn Tibbon and Michael Schwarz translate wa-l-aḥrā as “all the more so”, and that is certainly correct lexically. I, however, would prefer the somewhat freer “and above all”. Just what does this mean? Well, that may be too controversial, so let change the question: what might that have meant for Hallevi?

Maybe Maimonides can help. In the discussion of conversion in his great codex, Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Issurei Bi’ah, chapter 14), he writes: “They inform him [the potential convert] of the fundamental tenets of the religion, namely, the unity of God and the ban on idolatry; the y expound on this at length. They inform him about some of the unchallenging commandments and some of the challenging ones, but do not go on at length about this. They inform him of the sin connected to leqet, shikhikhah, and pe’ah…”. Leqet, shikhikhah, and pe’ah are three gifts to the poor. When harvesting the field, one must leave whatever falls out of one’s hands, or one forgets, and, in addition a corner of the field which is left untouched, for the poor to gather. These acts of charity, consideration, and kindness seem to Maimonides to characterize the Jewish way of life, and hence they are singled out here, in the context of the initial training of the convert. Note that these specific commandments are not mentioned in the Talmudic discussion on which this portion of Maimonides’ code is based (Yebamot 47). Perhaps Hallevi had the same idea in mind; perhaps both he and Maimonides tap into an Andalusian Jewish tradition whose “source” if there is one has not yet been uncovered.

Hallevi goes on to elaborate on conversion, which he labels a “divine marker” or “divine flag” (‘allāma ilāhiyya) on the “organ of lust”. If that member is employed properly (the details are not totally clear), then the offspring may be “nājib, and worthy of receiving the divine thing”. Ibn Tibbon and Schwarz render by “fitting”; Rabbi Qafih prefers memullaḥ, which means something like “excellent”, “choice”. The verb najuba means “to be noble-born”, and that presumably should be the meaning of the adjective nājib, though the dictionaries hat I have seen list only the intensive form, najīb, “noble-born”. (Yes, that’s the first name of the Egyptian Nobel-winning novelist.) It thus seems to me that Hallevi is indicating here that there is something in the native constitution of the Jew who was born from a properly executed sexual act, not genetic in the modern sense, but more like “gifted” in current English—something the person is born with, rather than something acquired by education and upbringing. This is of course fits well with Hallevi’s ideas generally speaking.

Later on in the same paragraph, Hallevi talks about the promised return of the Prophet Elijah in order to revivify the dead. The Cuzari is written in Judaeo-Aabic, that is, Arabic in Hebrew characters. In Judaeo-Arabic, Biblical characters are always called by their Hebrew names. For some reason, next to the Hebrew name for Elijah (אליהו), the unique manuscript has in one place אלכ׳צ׳ר, al-khaḍir or al-khiḍr. (See the long entry by John Renard, “Khaḍir/Khiḍr”, in Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University, Washington DC.) This mysterious figure is mentioned in the Quran and other Islamic texts; some identify him with Elijah, but the traditions concerning him are very different from those in the Jewish tradition concerning Elijah. More to the point of this post, it is strange to see his name inserted here, as if someone would not have recognized the Hebrew. Baneth astutely regarded it as a scribal intervention. But who would have needed it? I can find only one more usage of the term, in the anonymous anti-Christian polemic published by Daniel Lasker and Sarah Stroumsa (The Polemic of Nestor the Priest: Introduction, annotated translations and commentary, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, 1996).

[1, 115] “Bringing the Ge’ulah”: is this something that Jews must actively pursue?

It is a commonplace among “religious” Jews, reinforced but not invented by Chabad, that we are supposed to accelerate the coming of the redemption. Every day I ought to ask myself: what did I do bring on the redemption? What did I do to bring the Moshiach?

This was not always thought to be an obligation, a commandment, a must-do. True, the Sages in Sanhedrin 98, in a homily on Isaiah 60:22, remarked that the redemption will come at its appointed time (no matter what), but if Israel is worthy, it will come sooner. I don’t think, however, that they wished to imply that it is a duty to make it come sooner. Moreover, they didn’t specify just what sort of worthiness will accelerate the coming of the redemption.

With this in mind I call attention to Hallevi’s remarks at the beginning of I, 115, which I translated here from the Judaeo-Arabic: “If we had borne this exile and tribulation for God’s sake (fī dhāt Allāh), as it should be, we would the pride of the generation that is awaited, along with the messiah, and we would bring closer the moment of the awaited redemption.” This remark is found near the beginning of the final speech of the haver in part one, capping a dialogue that begins in I, 111, where the haver says that even though Jews enjoy a certain superiority, they do not deny that people from any nation will be rewarded by God for proper behavior. The Khazar king has pointed out the lowly status of the Jews and the persecution and violence that they endure. The haver replies that the first Christians and Muslims also endured suffering and martyrdom, and they are proud of it; so why should this not be a source of pride for the Jews as well? The Khazar king retorts: because you are forced to endure it? Were you ever victorious, you would kill!

In [115] the haver begins by conceding: yes, on the whole you are right, most of us endure persecution because we have no choice, but “if we had borne this exile and tribulation for God’s sake (fī dhāt Allāh), as it should be, we would the pride of the generation that is anticipated, along with the messiah, and we would bring closer the moment of the anticipated redemption.” In other words, there is a purpose to the persecution: it offers Jews a chance to endure it with the proper intention, meaning to maintain some consciousness, some internal will, while being killed and tortured, that it is all for the sake of heaven. To do this would bring the redemption nearer. Is it too much to say that Jews ought not to resist or flee, but rather firmly endure persecution, all the while focusing their minds on the meaning of it all. I am suffering for God’s sake, and by doing so, I am bringing on the redemption.

I find this extraordinary, and one of the earliest references to doing something in order to bring on the redemption.

The same ideas come up, even some of the same language is used, in IV 22-23, but the idea of bring on the redemption by suffering does not feature there.