Kuzari – The “Kuzari: In Defense of
the Despised Faith,” the magnum opus of Rabbi
Yehudah HaLevi (1075-1141), completed in 1140, is a profound and
comprehensive guide to Jewish thought, written in the form of a
philosophical, historical novel. It is based on the historical event of the
conversion to Judaism of Bulan, King of the Khazars, and the majority of his
People. The story is told that the monarch had been having the recurring
dream of being told by an angel that the Creator approves of his intentions,
but not of his deeds.
To attempt to find the truth, the King summons a Greek philosopher, a
Christian priest, an Islamic mullah, and a rabbi. The philosopher speaks
first, then the representatives of the two daughter religions of Judaism.
The King quickly exposes flaws in their world-views and turns to the rabbi,
without expecting to hear much from that source. But the latter engages the
King in persuasive arguments, and the resulting work is called by the
Vilna Gaon “holy and pure, and the
fundamentals of Israel’s faith and the Torah are contained within it.”
The work is divided into five parts, in which the rabbi explains and
responds to the King’s questions concerning Jewish thought, of which the
following is not even a smattering of a Table of Contents:
Essay 1: the role of the forefathers, the Exodus, Torah from Heaven,
prophecy, reward and punishment, the “Chosen People,” the nature of
Essay 2: the conversion of the King, Divine Attributes, the Holiness of
Israel, Animal Sacrifices, Positive and Negative Commandments, the Holiness
of the Hebrew Language,...
Essay 3: Servants of HaShem, the Shabbat and the Festivals, Blessings and
Prayer, the Written and the Oral Torah,...
Essay 4: Names of G-d, senses of the human being and their relationship to
the true nature of things, the Unity of G-d, scientific knowledge of the
Essay 5: proofs for the existence of the soul, determinism vs. “Bechirah
Chofshit,” Free Will - At the end of the discussions referred to in Essay 5,
the rabbi indicates his desire and intention to leave for the Holy Land. He
fends off the criticism of the King, and wins his admiration and approval.
The “Kuzari” is a classic work of Jewish philosophy, and has occupied the
hearts and the minds of Jews in all the generations since its appearance.