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Rabbi Abraham Ibn Daud

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Daud

(4870-4940; 1110-1180)

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During the "Golden Era" of Jewish history in Spain, there lived in Toledo the great Jewish historian, philosopher and defender of our faith, Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud HaLevi. On his mother's side he was a descendant of the noble family of Albalia of Cordova. The faMous Talmudist Rabbi Yitzchak Albalia was his great grandfather, and Rabbi Baruch Albalia of Cordova, a disciple of the famous Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi (RIF), was his uncle and teacher. It was customary for the great rabbis in Spain of those days not to make their livelihood from the rabbinate, but rather from some profession. Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud was a physician by profession, and he was well known for his great knowledge of astronomy, mathematics and physics.

Despite his great secular knowledge, Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud always stressed that the Jew's holy task was not to spend his time on science or other secular studies, but to devote himself to the study of the Torah and the understanding of the truth and eternal character of the Jewish religion and tradition. To this holy task he devoted his life's work. In his time there were two dangers to the Jewish faith: one was the spread of the Karaitic sect among the Jews of Spain; the other was the influence of all kinds of dangerous philosophies popular among the educated classes with whom Jews came in contact. In defense of the Jewish faith both against the Karaites and the philosophers, Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud wrote his two major works, one on history and the other on philosophy.

The Karaites were a Jewish sect who claimed that only the written Torah (the TeNaCh) was true and G‑d given; but the traditional explanations and interpretations of the Torah, which came down orally (by word of mouth) from Moses generation after generation, and later written down in the Mishnah and Gemara-all this Torah sheb'al Peh (Oral Law) they did not have to accept. They interpreted the Torah in their own way, and made an Oral Law of their own, and introduced very strange customs and practices, which were abhorrent to the faithful Jews. But the Karaites tried hard to spread their teachings. Rabbi Saadia Gaon who lived in Babylonia about 100 years before Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud, was one of the first to take up the fight against the Karaites. Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud set out to prove historically that the chain of tradition was never broken -since the days of Moses, and was faithfully handed down from generation to generation to his own day. When Moses was given the Torah, he was also given the proper interpretation of it orally, without which it would be impossible to understand the Torah. Together with the Torah, Moses handed it down to Joshua and the Elders, and they in turn to the Prophets and the Sages of the Great Assembly, the Tannaim, Amoraim, Rabbanan Seburai, Geonim and their successors, the leading Rabbis of Israel. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Daud wrote down their names, the times they lived in and the history of our people in his famous book, Sefer Hakabalah, the Book of Tradition. We do not know what effect this book had on the Karaites, and to what extent it checked their bad influence. But this work became one of the important sources for the study of Jewish history, especially in the times of the Geonim of Babylonia, and of the great Jewish centers in Egypt, Kairwan, and other places, including the Spanish period down to his time. He shows how Divine Providence took care that the spiritual leadership of the Jewish people should never be interrupted, and how the spiritual centers wandered about with the Jews on their way through the various countries of their exile. The guiding hand of G‑d can be seen especially clearly in the case of the Four Captives, the four great Rabbis who set out from Babylonia, were captured by pirates, and ransomed in different countries, where they set up new centers of learning. One of them Rabbi Moshe ben Chanoch, settled in Cordova in the time of Hasdai ibn Shaprut and founded the first of the great Talmudic academies in Western Europe.

Among the wealth of information which we find in his book, there is the information about the people of the Khazars, whose king Bulan gave up idol worship and became a Jew, and with him all his court and his people. Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud tells us about the correspondence which the Jewish ministers of state Hasdai ibn Shaprut had with the then ruling king of the Khazars, and the author also states that he had seen descendants of those Khazars in Toledo.

To Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud we also owe an eyewitness account of the catastrophe that befell the Jews of Andalusia (in Spain) when the fanatical Muslim tribe, the Almohades, the followers of Muhammad ibn Tumart of Morocco, crossed the Straights of Gibraltar, deterMined to convert all the "unbelievers" bv the sword. The Almohades destroyed such great Jewish centers as Seville, Cordova, Lucca and Malaga. The Jews fled to the northern part of the peninsula, under the rule of the Christians. Rabbi Abraham describes the terrible plight of the Jewish refugees who fled for their lives, naked and barefoot, without food and water; when many parents lost their children. Fortunately, as Rabbi Abraham lbn Daud tells us, G‑d prepared the medicine before the sickness, in the person of Rabbi Yehudah ibn Ezra, a close friend of King Alfonso VII who appointed him commander of the fortress of Calatrava. Here many unfortunate rcfugees found a haven of refuge, and Rabbi Yehudah provided them with food, water, clothes and protection, and enabled them to continue on their way to Toledo. Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud tells us also of the courageous resistance of the Jews of Granada and other cities to the fanatical invaders. Thus, again, with the help of Providence, the center of Jewish life was shifting from Mohammedan Spain to the Christian north. And though the Christians generally were far from friendly to the Jews, in Spain, that time they welcomed them with an eye to their own expansion and fight against the Mohammedans.

Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud wrote still another pamphlet against the Karaites, in which he refuted the false claims of their leader Abu Alfarag, "in order to, how to all students their falsehood." He also wrote two other historical treatises Of lesser importance: one is entitled "Divrei Malchei Yisrael Babayit Sheini" (History of the Jewish Kings in the Time of the Second Beth Hamikdosh) and "Zichron Divrei Rom" (History of the Jewish Community in Rome). He also wrote a valuable treatise on astronomy which was hailed as a great work and praised by many outstanding scholars among them Rabbi Yitzchak Israeli, a disciple of the ROSH (Rabbenu Asher ben Yechiel).

The second front on which Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud defended the true Jewish faith, as mentioned above, was in the field of philosophy. Like Rambam (Maimonides) after him, he showed that there is nothing in the Jewish religion which is contrary to reason. Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud wrote his great philosophical work in Arabic, and it was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Solomon ben Labi under the title "Emunah Ramah" (Exalted Faith). It was translated a second time by Rabbi Samuel Motot, and although this was a better translation, it was never published.

. It was not the intention of Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud to encourage the study of philosophy. On the contrary. for he writes in the introduction of his book, "Those who are untroubled by philosophical problems, or who are well versed in philosophy, should not read this book." His purpose was to help those who were troubled by doubts and apparent conflict between faith and reason. This was also the purpose of the famous "Guide for the Perplexed" by Maimonides, which appeared soon after the "Emunah Ramah" and completely overshadowed it. The Emunah Ramah makes difficult reading and with the appearance of the Guide it could not hold its own against the more important and more popular Guide. Nevertheless, along with the Emunot ve-De'ot of Saadia Gaon, Hovot ha-Levavot of Rabbi Bahya ibn Pakuda, the Kuzari of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, Moreh Nevukim of Maimonides, Milhamot ba-Shem of Rabbi Levi ben Gerson (Gersonides), Or ha-Shem of Rabbi Hasdai Crescas ind Sefer Halkarim of Rabbi Joseph Albo, the Emunah Ramah is one of these classics of Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages.

Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud, who dedicated his life in defense of the Jewish faith, died also for the sanctification of G‑d's Name. King Alfonso VIII was friendly to the Jews and made some of them his closest advisers and friends. This called forth much jealousy among the Christians, and a mob was incited to attack the Jews. Abraham ibn Daud was seventy years old when the attack broke out and many Jews were killed, himself included. It is related that he could have saved himself by renouncing his faith and accepting the Christian faith, but he preferred to die for his faith. Thus, both in his life and in his death, Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud proved himself a great and faithful son of Israel.

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