Rabbi Joseph Albo belongs to the most famous authors of the Spanish epoch, yet little is known about his personal life. It is believed that he was born around the year 5150 (more than 560 years ago) in a small town in Aragon, Spain, called Monreal. He must have come from a well-to-do family, and received a very fine Jewish education, as did the best young Jewish scholars of his time. He was a pupil of the great Jewish philosopher Rabbi Hasdai CresCas" and had a good knowledge of the best scholarly writings up to his time.

Rabbi Joseph Albo was a gifted speaker, and he served as a preacher, travelling from city to city to encourage his brethren to adhere faithfully to the Torah. In those days, many Catholic missionaries tried to influence the Jewish people and convert them. Rabbi Albo's sincere and impressive sermons did a great deal to counteract un-Jewish influences that seemed a constant threat, because the Jewish economic position was getting ever more difficult.

Soon Rabbi Albo was called to be one of the twenty Jewish representatives who were elected to defend their faith at the famous, Disputation of Tortosa.

This Disputation had been called by 4 Spanish nobleman, Benedict XIII, who had been proclaimed head of the Church by the opponents of the Pope in Rome. He was a ruthless and intolerant man who had a tremendous influence over the royal courts of Spain, especially Aragon.

Behind the Disputation were two men, Paulos of Burgos and Geronimo de Santa Fe, who were born as Jews, but later gave up their faith for power and wealth and declared themselves to be faithful Catholics. Geronimo had studied the Talmud and claimed to be an authority on it. He was the personal doctor of Benedict. In his desire to show his loyalty and service to the Church, but in reality wishing to do harm to the people he bad abandoned, he persuaded his master to arrange a public debate with leading Jewish scholars. He promised to prove that the Talmud was an evil work and that the Jewish faith was based on falsehood. A Dominican monk, no less fanatical, whose name was Vincent Ferrer, joined him willingly.

Such a debate, in those days, meant public insult to the Jewish representatives, and open abuse of their faith. But they had no choice in the matter, and had to accept the challenge.

The Jews selected twenty scholars to defend their faith. At their head were the Chief Rabbi of Saragossa, the Nasi Vidal Beneveniste, Rabbi Astruch Halevi, Rabbi Zerach, and, last but not least, Rabbi Joseph Albo. These four men were well known for their scholarship and wisdom, and they prayed to G‑d to guide them aright in their difficult and painful task.

The Disputation started on February 7, 1413, at Tortosa, and lasted for seven months. There were seventy cardinals, archbishops, and other high dignitaries of the church present at the opening. They were surrounded by all the pomp and glory befitting their high rank. There were about a thousand other officials and guests, none friendly to the Jews and the delegation that came to defend a "hopeless" cause.

The opening speech was made by Benedict XIII. He stated that there was no-need for a discussion as to the question which was the true religion. All the Jews had to do was to answer Geronimo's arguments, "based" on the Holy Scriptures. The Jews were further humiliated by Geronimo, whose speech contained threats that the Jews would be wiser to give in, or else...

Despite the open and veiled threats, the Jewish delegation had the courage to upset the plans of Benedict and his men. The arguments were long drawn out and very often led to stormy debates. Most of the Jewish delegates tried hard to maintain a calm and dignified attitude towards their opponents, but Rabbi Albo often used strong language in his protests against the insults and false accusations hurled at them. He became the chief spokesman for the Jewish delegation, and confirmed his own faith in such a clear and convincing way, that it dashed to the ground all argument presented by the traitor Geronimo and Benedict himself.

In an effort to disturb and provoke the Jewish delegation, hundreds of unfortunate Jews were led into the hall of the Disputation, to declare themselves sincere Converts to the Church before the eyes of the Jewish leaders. They had been persuaded to do so by force or bribery. At other times Benedict and his men spread rumors that some of the leaders themselves had been converted. Yet, despite the various tricks, Benedict had to see his great plan fall. The Jews conducted themselves with dignity, and were able to reject all arguments against them. Benedict lost face, and soon the all powerful Church Council of Constance denounced him as a "withered branch of the church that has to be chopped off."

Thus ended the long and painful disputation of Tortosa. The attempt to suppress the Jewish faith failed, but the feeling of hatred to the Jews was fanned and ran high.

Some good, however, did come of it, for it put Rabbi Albo to thinking about methods of defense of Judaism, and to formulate the basic principles of the Jewish faith, and strengthen trust in G‑d, in the Torah, and in the Redemption of Israel through the righteous Messiah.

With this in mind, Rabbi Joseph Albo wrote his famous book, "Sefer Haikarim," the Book of Principles, which belongs to the outstanding Jewish writings of all times.

It consists of four parts, of which the first was published separately. When it was very favorably received, Rabbi Joseph Albo added three more parts, to enlarge his work.

The main principles upon which his work is based are the belief in G‑d, belief in the Torah as given by G‑d at Mount Sinai, and belief in Divine reward and punishment. But the final goal of religion is to be found in the daily practice of the Mitzvoth, which are, by far, more important than all philosophical thinking.

The "Sefer Haikarim" was one of the first books printed by the famous Soncino press in Italy, in 1485. This shows how much in demand it was. It has never lost its appeal to the thinking Jewish masses, and is now, as ever, one of the best sources of piety and faith in the truths of Torah-true Judaism.