Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rabbi `Oḅadyah Maimūnī on Reason, Purity and the Mitzvōt

Were an individual to remain steadfast and persevere continuously until he achieved this state, then the phenomena that were previously concealed from him and others, would be revealed to him. Reason’s will shall strengthen and reveal that which is inscribed on the Tablet (al-lawḥ) Divine visions will be manifested to him without his knowing whence they came. He will walk by the light of his intellect, directed by its guidance. So take heed of your soul and safeguard its form, for the former has no lasting beatitude unless accompanied by Reason... [Like Moses taught the tribes] imparting to each individual in accordance with his capacity of understanding; this is similar to the manner in which reason itself proceeds [with us]. Chapter 6

Know that prolonged consumption of harmful foodstuffs causes acute ailments... Likewise a man who neglects his soul, abandoning it to its illness through his indulgence in worldly affairs, spending night and day buying and selling and so forth, will have nothing but fearful and alarming dreams upon retiring to sleep... It is for this reason that our pure and purifying Law has cautioned us concerning all external and internal defilement. The former, such as menstruation and nocturnal emission, are to be cleansed through immersion in a miqvah. Thus, Aaron and his descendants were enjoined “to wash their hands and feet, that they do not perish” (Ex. 30.21) this being the reason for the act of purification. For through the conviction man’s soul acquires after immersion that all veils, as it were, have been lifted, there ensues a state similar to spiritual predisposition (tahayyu’) and communion (ittiṣāl) with God. If not in need of immersion, then one must carry out the ablution of the hands and feet in order that the natural heat circulates in the body and arouse thereby the soul... “Say not v’neṭme’tem and (you shall become defiled) but v’niṭamṭem (and you shall become feeble-minded). (Yōmā’ 39a) Chapter 7.49-51, 53

In a similar spirit, other prohibitions have been instituted by the religious law in order to restrain man’s lust and keep him from resembling the beast. Among these rank the class of forbidden unions and those not legitimately contracted... Also belong to this group the precept of circumcision which is carried out on the physical organ through which marriage is consummated. As for the commandments concerning the wearing of tzītzīt and tefilīn and the fixing of an inscription to the mezūzah, they were instituted in order to remind the soul at the moments of inadvertence of its purpose and it is said concerning the tzītzīt, “That you may look upon it and remember all the mitzvōt of YHVH’. (Num. 15.39)... Hence it behooves the wise man not to ascend to a state which is too elevated for him but to be aware of the extent of his soul’s (capacity) and advance gradually, as is the wont of nature, which assimilates things progressively... be heedful of your soul, so that when you far upon the Path, you will be free of fear, “For the ground upon which you stand is holy” (Ex. 3.5) Mark these my words.” Chapter 5

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Ḥaqq from Rabbi `Oḅadyah Maimūnī

Let not your intent (himma) falter upon seeing the difficulty and remoteness of the task. Say not that you are the prisoner of lust, anger, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, fear or disease, thus weakening your resolve to search. Instead fortify your determination, toiling in your effort, for whosoever persevere in this pursuit is a true man (al-insān `ala l-ḥaqīqah), concerning whom David has said ‘Happy is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways.” (Ps. 84.6), “Happy is the people whose God is YHVH.” (Ps. 144.15) It is proper that this verse is in the singular for this pursuit is the exclusive concern of the individual. But he who remains remiss (therein) is regarded as a dead man, (Ned. 64b)… (Chapter 2.19-20)

There exists no pre-determination (jabr) and therefore man should close his thoughts to all and awaken his intellect, devoting himself to it since it is the bond (wuṣla) between him and his Creator. Were he continually to think of It, he would not fail to find It, as the prophet has said, Seek YHVH while It is to be found… (Is. 55.6) Were an individual to remain steadfast and persevere continuously until he achieved this state, then the phenomena that were previously concealed from him and others, would be revealed to him. Reason’s will shall strengthen and reveal that which is inscribed on the Table (al-Lawḥ)… [the soul] has no lasting beatitude unless accompanied by Reason. (Chapter 6.37-41)

Reason is the bond (wuṣla) between the Creator and Its creatures… Consider how milk flows from the breast of the nursing mother whenever she thinks of her suckling; even though the latter be not with her, her compassion is moved ‘as a father has mercy upon his children’. (Ps 103.13) In a similar manner upon encountering a mutual affinity (munāsaba) with a certain individual, Reason will abide with the latter and never forsake him, “I will be with him in adversity (Ps. 91.15) “Fear not for I am with you (Is. 43.5) “when you pass through the waters I will be with you” (ibid.2) Be then attentive of this noble discipline and engage therein all your time… (Chapter 1.9-14)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Exilarch and the Scepter of Judah

They are know as the ten Batlaaneem (men of leisurely devotion to the community), for they occupy themselves with nothing other than the needs of the community... Over all of them is Daniel b. Chasday, who is called the "Exilarch of All Israel." ...The Jews address him as Our Lord the Exilarch and the Muslims address him as Sayyidnaa Ibn Daa'ud. He has been invested with supreme authority over the congregation of Israel by the Ameer al-Mu'mineen, the lord of the Muslims. For thus Muhammad commanded concerning the Exilarch and his descendants, and he issued him a seal of authority over all the sacred congregations living under his rule. Likewise, he ordered that every individual, be he Muslim or Jew, or member of any other people within his kingdom, should rise up before him and salute him, and that whoever does not rise up before him should receive one hundred lashes.

Every Thursday, when he goes to behold the face of the great Caliph, he is accompanied by Gentile and Jewish horsemen, and heralds cry out before him: "Make way for our Lord, the scion of David, as is due him!" In their language they say: "I'maloo tareeq li-Sayyidnaa Ibn Daa'ood." He rides on horseback wearing garments of embroidered silk with a large turban on his head. Over the turban is a large white shawl upon which is a chain. And on it is the seal of Muhammad. When he comes before the Caliph, he kisses his hand. Then the Caliph rises before him, seats him upon a throne which Muhammad had ordered to be made in his honor. And all of the Muslim princes who have come to behold the face of the Caliph rise altogether before him. The Exilarch then sits upon his throne facing the Caliph, for thus did Muhammad command in order to fulfill the scriptural verse:

The scepter shall not pass from Judah,
Nor the rule's staff from between his feet;
Until he come to Shiloh,
and the homage of peoples be him. (Gen. 49.10)

Benjamin of Tudela's Description of Baghadadi Jewry (Second Half of the Twelfth Century), cited in Norman Stillman's The Jews of Arab Lands, (JPS, 1979) pp. 253

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rabbeinu Baḥya on al-`Aql (Reason)

“Make reason your `amīr, understanding your vizier (wazīr), science (`ilm) your guide (hādī), and (zuhud) your friend (walī).” Baḥya ben Yuṣūf ibn Paquda

Thursday, March 11, 2010


"As for he who accepts taqlīd, it is as if he were never born. 'An untimely birth is better than he.' (Qohelet/Ecc. 6.3)" `Oḅadyah Maimūnī

Professing Shahādah yet not belonging "to the Community of Islām"

"[The Īṣunīyīm Jews] profess the full Shahādah, hold that Islām is a true religion, perform some of the Five Pillars, and yet are not considered to belong to the Community of Islām." - Al-Baghdadī, Usūlu-l-Dīn (Istanbul, 1928) 325-6; Al-Farq bain al-Firqa (Beirut, 1973) 9

John Bar Penkaye on Muhammad the Jew

"[In the Muhammadī Era] there was no distinction between pagan and Christian, and the [Muhammadī] Believer was not differentiated from a Jew." - Mesopotamian Christian monk John Bar Penkaye (151/179, ca. late 7th century)

`Oḅadyah Maimonides: "All is revealed to him"

"Rabbi `Oḅadyah, the eminent Sage to whom mysteries are revealed, in whom 'light, understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the angles are to be found' (Dan. 5.11), 'no secret mystifies him, he lies down and all is revealed to him.'" (Dan 6.6) - From a Genīzah document, on the Judeo-Sufi rabbi `Oḅadyah Maimūnī (Grandson of the Rambam)