[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.


Textual issues in [I, 109 and 110]; they might make a difference for Hallevi’s views on the afterlife and on the power of words!

It is well-known among students of the Cuzari that the original Judaeo-Arabic text has not survived in a complete form. There is only one manuscript of the full text, but it is defective in places. Clearly, Judah Ibn Tibbon worked with a different and probably better copy of the original.

The edition of Baneth-Ben Shammai indicates a lacuna on p. 26, one line up from the bottom. The sentence may be able to stand as it is from a strictly syntactic point of view, but it would get across a point that seems to be the opposite of the one Hallevi wishes to make; I’ll skip the details. Baneth suggests filling in with the phrase enclosed here in square brackets: “ but the promises of all of those revealed codes (sharā’i‘) [are not guaranteed, since they come after death, but all of our promises] are encompassed by a single principle, which is the hope for coming close to God and His angels.” Baneth also points out that, if his completion in correct, the defect in the manuscript would be due to a homeoteleuton (the word כלהא features twice, and the scribe skipped over the words in between)—a very common cause of copying errors. Baneth’s emendation was accepted by both Rav Qafih and Professor Schwarz.

However, Ibn Tibbon’s text reads smoothly: “This revealed code and all of its promises are guaranteed, none will be unkept, and its promises are encompassed by a single principle, which is the hope for coming close to God and His angels.” Presumably, Ibn Tibbon’s Arabic text read as smoothly, and differed significantly here from the one surviving (and defective) manuscript. But does it make a difference as far as Hallevi’s teachings are concerned? If this were the only passage concerned with the afterlife, we might suggest that Hallevi is saying that Judaism promises nothing about life after death; instead, Judaism promises a chance to come close to God in this life, and whoever does this, need not fear death. I don’t think that this is his intent at all; at the end of his wonderful liturgy, לך אלי תשוקתי, Hallevi imagines that after his earthly life is done, God will send his angels to welcome him, and they will bring him to paradise. Still, the difference between the two versions gives cause for thought.

The other point concerns a remark in [I, 110], a short passage which contains jabs at the “philosophers” and at other religions. Hallevi scoffs at the philosophers for maintaining that humans who lead a meaningless life will die like animals, and insisting that only philosophers (like them!) have some sort of endurance after death. The “people of religions” (‘ahl al-adyān), by contrast, hold that a person can attain unending felicity by a simple utterance, even if he doesn’t understand what it is that he is saying. Professor Schwarz glosses this as a reference to Islam and the shahāda; but Hallevi speaks in the plural about “religions”, so the Nazir notes that he has in mind Christianity as well, and the saving word is “credo”.

Hallevi uses the word תארהא to describe the wasteful, idle life which, the philosophers say, will lead one to an animal death. Hirschfeld and Touati suggested emendations, basing themselves on Ibn Tibbon; Professor Schwarz does not see the need to emend. I agree; but I think the point comes across better if we adopt one of the meanings for the verb taraha given in Hava’s dictionary, which is “to utter idle words”. This gives us a nice contrast: the philosopher says that one who utters idle words has no hope for the afterlife, whereas the “religions” say that a certain phrase, even if muttered like idle words, will guarantee felicity forever.

On Hallevi’s knowledge of Islam; his debating strategy; and does he speak of “natural law”?

How well does Hallevi know Islam? He surely knows a good deal of its religious vocabulary, and he alludes to some Quranic verses. However, his jab at Islam in I, 99, indicates that his knowledge may not have been very deep. In I, 99, he argues for the superiority of the Torah on account of its having been delivered by Moses from God directly to the Jewish people; there was no need for a riwāya isnād afrād, “a report by a chain of individuals” for every sūra and every āya. But “a report by a chain of individuals” is critical for ḥadīth, the extra-Qur’anic traditions of Islam, whereas sūra and āya, “chapter and verse”, are terms which apply to the Qur’an but not to ḥadīth. This is rather elementary and indicates that Hallevi’s knowledge of Islam is far shallower than it has been thought to be.

When your opponent asks a tough question, it’s a good strategy to change the subject! This is what Hallevi does deftly in I, 102-103. The Khazar king asks (I, 102) why Moses’ prophecy was not directed at all of humanity, rather than just to the Jewish people. This is indeed the question of questions asked by readers of the Cuzari, who admire much of what Hallevi has to say, but are put off by his implicit racism. (It cannot be true racism, since in the end the Khazar king—whose “race”, according to the medieval conception, was at the fringes of civilization—was able to convert, and become a full-fledged Jew.) So, in I, 103, after honestly setting forth his ideas on the selection of Jacob and his descendant, the haver changes the subject. He ends by speaking of the afterlife and immortality. The Khazar king falls for this and continues the discussion on the new topic.

The Nazir (ed. Dov Schwartz, I, 140) remarks that this section of the Cuzari displays a “natural literary progression”, culminating in a discussion of the afterlife. If this were not a dialogue, I could agree; but given that it is a dialogue, and the selection of the Jewish people is a topic that might be pressed, I think it not unfair to suggest that Hallevi is changing the subject.

In the course of his exposition of the selection of the Jews in I, 109, Hallevi’s haver says that the affairs of the Jewish people “do not happen (laysa yajrī) according to a natural qānūn, but rather a willful (irādī) one”. Professor Michael Schwarz translates qānūn by חוק, “law”, and that is certainly the lexicographical equivalent. But does it fit the context? Does Hallevi have in mind here a natural law, for example (for the medieval), that all terrestrial elements move in a straight line? Or is he repeating what he said a few lines above, that the entire world follows a natural course of events (majrā), with the exception of the Jewish people? Rav Qafih thought so, and he translates qānūn by מנהג, the very same word he sued to render majrā.

A number of points can be made in support of Rav Qafih’s straying from the dictionary definition. First, as noted, Hallevi doesn’t appear to be speaking of natural law. Moreover, the use here of the verb yajrī indicates that majrā should follow; if not the term, then a word that would mean the same thing. Finally, and perhaps most compellingly for some, Judah Ibn Tibbon also employs here מנהג. Students of the Cuzari are well aware that Ibn Tibbon had access to a more complete, and perhaps better, version of the original Judaeo-Arabic text, than any one available today. Ibn Tibbon was probably more conservative than Rav Qafih and so it is likely that his version displayed majrā.

This is not say that Hallevi had no idea of natural law. He held, for example, that only the most precise ratio of elements in any compound would ready it to receive a particular natural form. For this reason, alchemy—the attempt to replicate those ratios in the laboratory—is futile. I discuss this in my “Science and the Cuzari”, posted on my sites at researchgate.net and academia.edu.

When God comes knocking on the door—a post for Tisha b’Av, referencing Cuzari II, 24


On Tisha b’Av I usually listen to audio recordings of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, reciting and explaining the Kinot. Today I heard him refer to the Cuzari in connection with a dirge of the Kalir and a verse from Shir ha-Shirim (Son of Songs)—a verse which is the title of one of the Rav’s greatest essays, though he doesn’t mention it. The recording is on line at:


and the idea is expressed about 1 hr 21 min into the tape.

The Kina begins: אאדה עד חוג שמים, it’s one of those that no one skips. The lines that the Rav explains are these:

אדוה בכל לב להמצהו / אדעה מלין בם לאמצהו

אדאג רועה ולא אמצאהו / אקונן מי יתן ואדעהו

The meaning is this: sometimes God comes looking for us, knocking on our door.; but we don’t have the courage to let Him in. Perhaps we’re distracted by foolish thoughts and by the time we realize Who it was that knocked, it’s too late, He’s gone. The Kalir is saying: I wish with all my heart that God would knock at my door. If He does, I’ll be ready, I won’t miss the opportunity. I’ll let Him and I won’t let Him out.

This is the idea behind the verse from Shir ha-Shrim 5:2, קול דודי דופק, the title, as noted, of one of the Rav’s most powerful essays, a messianic essay before “messianic” became (in Israel at least) a political slur. But the Rav did not refer to his own essay, instead he referred to Cuzari II, 24, where Hallevi speaks of a different missed opportunity. According to Hallevi, had the Jews in Babylon answered Ezra’s call to return to the Promised Land, the Second Temple would have stood; but most did not respond to the call. Hallevi here cites the verses from the beginning of Shir ha-Shirim, chapter two.

In our own day, we cannot avoid thinking of the Six Day War and the missed opportunities. I remember my late, revered mentor, Rav Yosef Qafih, remarking, “God did His part!” הקדוש ברוך הוא עשה את שלו. But we were sleeping, and we still haven’t woken up.