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Jewish philosophy began in the Hellenistic Diaspora in the first centuries B.C.E., at the time of the confrontation between Greek philosophy and the Jewish religion. It flourished in both Islamic and Christian environments during the Middle Ages, when it influenced and was influenced by Aristotelianism and Scholasticism; the concerns of Jewish philosophy, such as the existence of God, the fundamentals of faith, and general ethics, were often similar to those of the non-Jewish philosophical schools. With Spinoza and Mendelssohn, Jewish philosophy entered the modern period, although the former consciously wrote outside of the Jewish tradition. A selection reflecting the breadth of Jewish philosophical interests from antiquity through the 19th century is displayed here.

Philo Judaeus 1552
Philo Judaeus, of Alexandria,
ca. 20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.

[ Eis ta tou Moseos kosmopoietika ... ]
Philonis Iudaei in Libros Mosis ... Libri
Singulares. Ex Bibliotheca Regia
Paris: Adrian Turnebus, 1552.

Turnebus, Professor of Greek at Paris and Royal Typographer, edited this editio princeps of the majority of Philo's works, consisting mostly of a philosophical exposition of the Pentateuch, and several purely philosophical treatises.

Hai b. Sherira, Gaon of Pumbedita,
939-1038, and
Jehoseph b. Hanan b. Nathan Ezobi,
of Provence, 13th century

[ Shirei musar haskel ... ve-ka'arat kesef ]
Cantica Eruditionis intellectus ...
cum Latina interpretatione
Paris: Guilielmus Morelius, 1559.

Hai Gaon's ethical poem is often accompanied by "The Silver Plate," the best-known hymn of Jehoseph Ezobi, who urges his son to study Talmud rather than be misled by Greek philosophy. Jean Mercier's Latin translation of the two poems, cited on the title page of this edition, was actually issued in a second part in 1561.


[ Igeret ha-Musar ]
Riva di Trento: Jacob b. David
Marcaria, 1559.

The Hebrew version of the Epistola Ethica ascribed to Aristotle was made by the 13th-century translator Judah al-Harizi from the Arabic of Ali ibn Ridhwan, an 11th-century Egyptian doctor. This first edition, issued as a small pamphlet, is extremely rare.

Thomas Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274
Prima pars Summae Theologiae
Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1477.

St. Thomas' monumental Summa Theologica demonstrates an intimate knowledge of Jewish philosophy, particularly the ideas of Maimonides; some of Aquinas' works were later studied by Jews in Hebrew versions. This early edition of the first part of the Summa was edited by Franciscus de Nerito, among others.

Joseph Albo, of Spain, ca. 1360-1444

[ Sefer ha-Ikarim ]
Soncino: Israel Nathan and Joshua
Solomon Soncino, 31 October -
29 December 1485.

Albo's Book of Principles on the fundamental articles of Jewish faith, influenced in part by Aquinas, was very popular in Jewish circles. This first edition was published shortly before the Soncino family's flight to Casalmaggiore in 1486.

Jacob b. Samuel Koppelman,
of Freiburg and Brzesc-Kujawsk,

[ Ohel Ya'akov ]
Freiburg im Breisgau: Israel Zifroni,
for Ambrosius Froben, 1584.

One of six Hebrew books printed in Freiburg in the 16th century, Koppelman's commentary on Albo's Principles contains a number of mathematical illustrations and diagrams of the Zodiac.

Spinoza. Opera posthu- ma
Baruch de Spinoza, of Amsterdam
and The Hague, 1632-1677
Opera Posthuma
Amsterdam: Jan Rieuwertsz, 1677.

Excommunicated by the Jewish community of Amsterdam, Spinoza was the last major European philosopher to write in Latin, and the greatest thinker ever to write a treatise on Hebrew grammar. This first edition of his posthumous writings, edited by Jarig Jellis, contains the Ethics, his magnum opus, as well as the Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae, the first Latin grammar of the Hebrew language written by a Jew.

Moses Mendelssohn, of Dessau
and Berlin, 1729-1786
Phädon, oder über die Unsterblichkeit
der Seele, in drey Gesprächen
Carlsruhe: Schmiederische
Buchhandlung, 1791.

The Phaedon, on the immortality of the soul and modeled on Plato's dialogue of the same name, was the main philosophical work of Moses Mendelssohn, the first Jewish philosopher of the modern period. One of the most popular books of its time, it was republished many times; this edition was the first published after Mendelssohn's death.

Aristotle, of Stagira and Athens,
384-322 B.C.E.

[ Sefer ha-Midot ]
Lemberg: U.W. Salat, 1867.

The Ethics of Aristotle was first translated into Hebrew, from the Latin of Boethius, by Meir Alguadez of Castile in the early 15th century. This edition, a joint enterprise of medieval learning and east European Jewish enlightenment, includes the commentary of Isaac Satanow, a Polish student of a disciple of Mendelssohn.

Simon Isaac Finkelstein,
of Syracuse (N.Y.), 1861-1947

[ Bikurei anavim ]
Chicago: Eliezer Meites, 1899.

The Talmud relates a legendary disputation of the "wise men of Athens" and the Jewish sage Joshua b. Hananiah. One of various works which attempt to explicate the riddles contained in the talmudic account, the book by Rev. Finkelstein was among the first rabbinic works published in America. The approbation of the Lithuanian rabbinic authority, Isaac Elhanan Spektor, prefaces the book.

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