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A Treat For World Philosophy Day

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Philosophy is defined by dictionary.com as “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge or conduct.” Judaism, being a religion, is a system of living according to set principles of belief. From as early as the time of the Greeks, the era of Aristotle and Plato, Jews used the tools of philosophy to clarify Jewish beliefs.

One of the earliest written works to incorporate philosophy and Jewish thought was The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs, written by Saadia Gaon (Egypt-Baghdad, 882-942 CE). The book’s introduction reveals that Saadia Gaon felt that such a work was essential in his era, when people, both believing and non-believing, based their beliefs on erroneous principles.

The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs was originally written in Arabic and was translated into Hebrew by Judah Ibn Tibbin (entitled Emunot v’Deot) in the 12th century. The format through which Saadia Gaon chose to express himself is said to be highly reflective of the Islamic culture in which he lived. In delivering his theological arguments, Saadia Gaon arranged the ten chapters of The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs in the style of the Islamic mu’tazila kalam, a common philosophic system of that time and place, that centered on five tenets. The ten chapter subjects are:

(1) Creation of the World, (2) the Creator’s Unity (Kalam tenet 1 – Divine Unity),

(3) Revelation and the Commandments, (4) Free Will (Kalam tenet 2 – Divine Justice)

(5) Merit and demerit (Kalam tenet 3 – Promise and Threat)

(6) The Soul and Death, (7) Resurrection of the Dead, (8) Messianic Redemption,

(9) The World to Come (Kalam tenet 4 – the Intermediate Position [Faithful Sinners])

(10) Moral Conduct (Kalam tenet 5 – Promotion of Virtue/prevention of Bad Practices)

Saadia Gaon’s use of this familiar philosophical system allowed Babylonian Jews to better relate to their own Torah belief system.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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