Kuzari

February 12, 2014

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 “Nature,”…
  • 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 Sages, Z”L,…
  • 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.