The Captivating Beauty of the Divine Spark—Breslau and the Reception of Yehuda Halevi’s Sefer Kuzari (1877–1911)

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The article follows the reception of the philosophy of Yehudah Halevi (1075–-1141) within the Breslau school of Jewish thought during the second half of the nineteenth century. Special focus is given to the discussion of Halevi in the writings of David Kaufmann and Julius Guttmann. Both scholars admire Halevi’s Sefer haKuzari because they discovered a certain analogy between his medieval project of an intellectual apology of Judaism and their own endeavors in Breslau to philosophically justify the existence of Judaism in modernity. In their point of view, Halevi has achieved his results, however, without forcing the wealth of traditional Jewish teachings into an artificial system of thought, as did Maimonides after him. Thus, Halevi became for the Breslau scholars a personal example of Jewish integrity, combining faithful adherence to Judaism with intellectual penetration of its doctrines.


The article follows the reception of the philosophy of Yehudah Halevi (1075–-1141) within the Breslau school of Jewish thought during the second half of the nineteenth century. Special focus is given to the discussion of Halevi in the writings of David Kaufmann and Julius Guttmann. Both scholars admire Halevi’s Sefer haKuzari because they discovered a certain analogy between his medieval project of an intellectual apology of Judaism and their own endeavors in Breslau to philosophically justify the existence of Judaism in modernity. In their point of view, Halevi has achieved his results, however, without forcing the wealth of traditional Jewish teachings into an artificial system of thought, as did Maimonides after him. Thus, Halevi became for the Breslau scholars a personal example of Jewish integrity, combining faithful adherence to Judaism with intellectual penetration of its doctrines.

The founding director of the Breslau seminary, the conservative Rabbi Zacharias Frankel (1801–1875), was rather skeptical as to the contribution of the newly invented discipline of historiography and the much older, but always somewhat antinomian field of religious philosophy, to the daily practice of the rabbi.1 Therefore, for the first years of the seminary, he had the most talented young philosopher on the Breslau faculty, Manuel Joel (1826-1890) a graduate from the University of Berlin, teach Greek and Latin to his students, and the soon-to-be famous historian Heinrich Graetz gave Talmud classes. Medieval Jewish philosophy, however, was taught by a religiously orthodox philologist, Jacob Bernays, the son of Samson Raphael Hirsch’s teacher Isaac Bernays. Hermann Cohen at the age of seventeen one of Jacob Bernays’ students, wrote in his reminiscences about the Breslau years that Bernays’ “gravest defect of character was his personal relationship to philosophy. He knew it, he understood it—but only as a philologist and historian.”2

But this situation would soon change. With the 1860s, a general rediscovery and an intensive academic study of medieval Jewish philosophy began within the movement of Wissenschaft des Judentums, and now Germany’s modern institution for the training of rabbis, the Rabbinical Seminary in Breslau, also took the lead on this field. With Manuel Joel, the first real philosopher of the Wissenschaft movement was allowed to teach philosophy at the seminary from 1862, and Joel’s many and influential publications about the Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages founded an entire school of scholars working on this field, among them, Jacob and Julius Guttmann, David Kauffmann, David Neumark, Hermann Cohen, and many others. Joel published in 1859 the first ever academic monograph on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed and in 1862 a groundbreaking book on the philosophical thought of Gersonides (1288–1344), a thinker he virtually rediscovered for the academic world.3 Also Heinrich Graetz was eventually teaching history in Breslau. But, nevertheless, Graetz frequently included longer philosophical discussions in his landmark Geschichte der Juden (History of the Jews), published in 11 volumes between 1853 and 1870. It was Graetz, and not Joel, who in 1861 first devoted a comprehensive and rather euphoric passage to the major philosophical work of Yehudah Halevi (1075–1141), the Sefer ha Kuzari.4 This treatise had formed like no other the intellectual reflection of Judaism on its own religious theories—because it was not only less radical than Maimonides’ Guide but also much easier readable. The book essentially contains an elaborate fictive dialog between the King of the Kusars and a Jewish theologian about Judaism and its doctrines. The King’s wish to convert to the Jewish religion provides Halevi with a perfect literary frame for his actual intention: the philosophical justification of the truth of Judaism, as he conceives it.

Now, interestingly, the theological differences between the Guide and the Kuzari gave rise to two rivalling camps within Jewish intellectual history, and the antagonism expressed through those two works continued in a certain sense far into modernity. The division is usually described as the difference between particularism and universalism in approaching the basic tenets of Judaism, but in fact it goes far beyond that paradigm. While, for the followers of Halevi, the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai was a historical fact, a singular supernatural event that not only secured the authority of Jewish law but in fact first established the Jewish people as an almost impenetrable national unit, for the Maimonidean school, revelation seems to be rather an ongoing process: every new generation has to discover the essence of knowledge, the unchangeable “divine truth,” for itself. For Halevi, the factual bearing witness by hundreds of thousands of Israelites at Mount Sinai grounded the truth of Judaism, which from that time on existed outside and above history, both as a nation and as a religion. For Maimonides and his modern disciples, the validity of Judaism’s legal regulations is disconnected from the assumption of a historically experienced “divine source” of this law. Validity must exclusively be measured against the law’s content and its effectiveness to facilitate the constant and infinite approaching of divine holiness that Maimonides viewed as man’s task in history.

In light of this context, it seems to be interesting, which of the above-mentioned medieval philosophical schools, that of Halevi or that of Maimonides, would prevail in the modernizing enterprise of the Wissenschaft scholars, working at the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary of the nineteenth century. Much points to a preference of the rationalist Guide over the revelationist Kuzari, given the overall tendency of these scholars to approach Jewish literature for the first time with academic and thus unbiased criteria. It seems that Maimonides’ religious universalism and his uncompromising quest for philosophical truth was more to the taste of the Breslau theologians than Halevi’s purpose-driven and particularistic romanticism. But as the present study will show, for the second half of the nineteenth century, almost the opposite of this assumption is the case: Many of the Breslau pioneers of the Wissenschaft movement prefer, at least in their personal assessment, the thought of Yehuda Halevi over what they see as “soulless” Maimonidean rationalism. Still under the influence of a philosophically Hegelian and an aesthetically romantic worldview, they see nothing in the Guide but cold intellectualism applied to their beloved “spiritual” Judaism.5

Halevi’s Kuzari, however, was completely different—in the eyes of both the Breslau chief rabbi Abraham Geiger (unaffiliated with the seminary) and Heinrich Graetz.6 “Never before has the great significance of Judaism and the Jewish people been expressed more eloquently,” Graetz summarized the Kuzari emphatically, “thoughts and feelings, philosophy and poetry are melded in this original system of Yehuda Halevi, the Castilian, in order to establish a high ideal, representing the point of unification of heaven and earth.”7 Graetz account of the Kuzari’s theology, in the sixth volume of his Geschichte der Juden from 1861, was consciously biased towards Halevi. What is more, Graetz claims that Halevi, with his “true opinion about the worth of the speculative knowledge of dogmatic metaphysics,” not only stood alone in his own time but was even ahead of his time by several centuries.8 This early, enthusiastic assessments of the medieval treatise by a Breslau scholar set the tone for many years to come.

In 1853, David Cassel had published in Berlin his long-announced first ever academic edition of the entire Kuzari, including a German translation and commentary,9 and already in 1859 and 1860 Jacob Bernays read philosophical lectures about the Kuzari “for the advanced student” of the Breslau seminary. During the 1870s and the 1880s, lectures and reading courses on the Kuzari became an integral part of the seminary’s curriculum and thus standard knowledge of a whole generation of Breslau-trained rabbis.10 Halevi’s thought had a lasting influence on some of the most influential Breslau graduates, as two major examples shall show in what follows: that of David Kaufmann, and 30 years later, the example of Julius Guttmann.

On January 28, 1877, the young scholar David Kaufmann (1852–1899) gave his official farewell address to the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary where, for the previous 10 years of his life, he had first studied and later became a teacher himself. The subject that Kaufmann chose for this speech was indicative both for the seminar’s increasing orientation towards research into medieval Jewish philosophy and for Kaufmann’s own theological preferences: he spoke about the Characterization of Yehuda Halevi, as the title of the lecture has it. Kaufmann was a lifelong and ardent follower of Halevi, as a poet certainly, but to a large extent also as a religious philosopher. Indeed, Kaufmann was quite arguably the most passionate admirer of the Kuzari within the whole of the Wissenschaft des Judentums. At the time of Kaufmann’s farewell address to Breslau, his first and most important scholarly work was already in press: a detailed study of the teachings regarding the divine attributes in several medieval Jewish philosophers, among them, Yehuda Halevi.11 In the printed version of the lecture that appeared still the same year, Kaufmann already referred to the discussion of Halevi in this book, which was to be published yet later on in 1877.

Explaining the choice of his subject, Kaufmann exclaims that Halevi was for him nothing less than “a revelation of religious genius and the supreme bloom of Jewish thought” [die herrlichste Blüte des jüdischen Geistes]. Kaufmann would not hesitate to call Halevi the “richest and deepest thinker of the Jewish Middle Ages,” and though conceding that probably Ibn Gabirol was the better philosopher and that Maimonides was more knowledgeable and possessed a sharper intellect, yet only Halevi is a cohesive personality, because he “thinks what he feels and lives what he thinks.” Halevi, as described in Kaufmann’s striking superlativism, is “unmatched in the wealth of new perspectives and unrivaled in the loftiness of his ideas.” And even if we were “in need of shadows in order to demarcate his luminous figure,” the shady sides in Halevi could only be blamed on the conditions of his time, and not at all on the thinker himself, as Kaufmann is convinced.12 The secret of Halevi’s character, Kaufmann noted, is the same as the basic characteristic of Judaism itself: a miraculous mixture of religion and nationality. Halevi’s love for Palestine (the “lost but unalienable fatherland”) would give his religious faith a realistic aspect, avoiding the otherwise almost unavoidable impression of “empty enthusiasm and mawkish adoration.” Conversely, it is his religiosity that softened and idealized Halevi’s otherwise exaggerated patriotism, “preserving his national fervor from wild outbursts of thirst for vengeance.”13

After Kaufmann had summarized the basic religious and philosophical doctrines of the Kuzari over five pages in the printed lecture, he himself raised the obvious objection against Halevi’s denial of reason as the only source of knowledge—and subsequently Kaufmann rejected this “Socratic appeal” against the overall epistemology of his hero in the name of Halevi himself: Socrates would have objected that even though he could not deny the existence of a “divine wisdom” beyond human reason, being human he was unable to fathom it, because he himself possessed only human wisdom. To this, Halevi would have replied, Kaufmann wrote, that he has never declared to be able to rationally prove his doctrine of the “divine spark” burning in the souls of special human beings who are empowered by God with this gift.14 Therefore, Socrates has no right to demand such proof. “Those who despair of the arrogance of reason eschew creating logical enthusiasm,” Kaufmann added poetically, obviously identifying here from the depth of his heart with Halevi’s fictive defense. Facts cannot be denied by intellectual concepts, repeating Halevi’s well-known argument, as logical conclusions cannot disprove sense perception. Even “if reason sneers at this, its own platitudes are established from the outset”—God must and can only be felt and experienced.

This argument in Halevi would constantly remind him of the German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Kaufmann writes here, and interestingly the same comparison was used at the exact same time by another German-Jewish scholar, discussing the Kuzari. In 1876, Moritz Eisler (1823–1903), the principal of the Jewish school in the Moravian capital Nikolsburg, published the first of a three-volume Lectures about the Jewish Philosophers of the Middle Ages, presenting medieval Jewish philosophy in a comprehensive yet erudite way.15Eisler’s account of the Kuzari continues over more than 30 pages of this book and gives mainly an unbiased introduction to Halevi’s metaphysical thought in the context of his medieval contemporaries, and much less a theological analysis. At one point, however, Eisler wrote that as much as Ibn Gabirol and his theory of nature and Weltseele might be reminiscent of the natural philosophy of Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling (1775–1854), Yehuda Halevi strongly reminded him of another widely known German philosopher of the eighteenth century—Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743– 1819).16

This comparison to Jacobi is interesting in several respects. In general, it certainly means that Eisler and Kaufmann viewed the Kuzari not only in its medieval philosophical context but also that they in fact considered its importance, at least subconsciously, in the light of modern thought, if not a priori in the context of timeless philosophical truths about religion. More specifically, in the 1780s, Jacobi was the great adversary of Moses Mendelssohn in what came to be known as the pantheism controversy. Jacobi took an anti-rational stance against Mendelssohn’s attempt to reclaim Spinoza for natural religion, and thus to defend not only his friend Lessing but first and foremost their common enlightenment project.17 When Jacobi is compared to Halevi, therefore, inevitably the notional controversy between Maimonides and Halevi comes to mind, with Mendelssohn now consequently (and surprisingly, although not entirely justifiably) representing the author of the Guide.

One can only speculate about David Kaufmann’s position on the controversy between Mendelssohn and Jacobi, given his obvious identification with the religious thought of Halevi, who supposedly was the theological predecessor of Jacobi.18 Kaufmann, though, who knew Arabic and was an expert in Islamic medieval philosophy, was probably the first modern scholar to immediately identify the actual source of Halevi’s thought in Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), an important Persian philosopher and theologian, and Kaufmann would explore the relation of the two in his book on the divine attributes at great length.19

In his farewell address to Breslau, Kaufmann rather further emphasized Halevi’s own exemplary approach to the difficult relationship between religion and philosophy: if we accept that weltanschauung is never only a product of reason alone but actually results from all spiritual faculties [allen Kräften des Geistes], as Halevi and Kaufmann indeed suggest, and if we accept further that “all truly wise men indeed live up to their [own] teachings,” then Halevi was simply the “ideal philosopher.” Kaufmann praised not only Halevi’s astonishing tolerance towards other religions, as other Wissenschaft scholars had noted before him,20 he further pointed out how precisely Halevi described the theological content of those religions, especially of Islam. This was the same kind of “academic tact” the Kuzari displayed toward the achievements of the Talmudic sages in natural sciences, Kaufmann added. Interpreting the same Kuzari passage about the Talmud (III, 73) that the Reformer Abraham Geiger had also discussed in his account of Halevi’s relation to rabbinical law, Kaufmann arrives at a somewhat different view: While Geiger felt that Halevi was “agonized” [gequält] by his inability to explain each and every Talmudic regulation,21Kaufmann saw this declaration of failure by Halevi as an estimable form of religious humility. The Kuzari is “one of the most remarkable works of medieval literature in general,” Kaufmann concluded his address to the Breslau audience, and his extraordinary knowledge of this literature, far beyond the limits of Jewish philosophy, makes this statement significant.22

The same admiration for Halevi’s religious philosophy is expressed in Kaufmann’s seminal study on the divine attributes, also published in 1877. Halevi had redeemed religion from the paternalism of philosophy by deliberately denying the right to judge the truth of religious belief. As the first medieval Jewish thinker, Halevi understood the concept of a self-sufficient faith, confidently despising the frail crutch of human speculation. For the same reason, Halevi refused to force the wealth of traditional Jewish teachings into an artificial system of thought. While others anxiously tried to prove the existence of God, Halevi believed that God was an indisputable precondition of all philosophy. For Halevi, the Divine was not the conclusion of a speculation but an absolute certainty of intuitive knowledge. In the Kuzari, religion would no longer “pleadingly look up at sublime philosophy but rather glance down at her with merciful sympathy” for not having found this certainty in all her exertion of thought, although it could have been gained much more easily.—To all those introductory remarks regarding his treatment of Halevi in the book, Kaufmann has nothing to add, thus apparently indicating his agreement to a substantial extent.23

Kaufmann is the first Halevi-scholar of the Wissenschaft movement who consistently worked with the Arabic original of the Kuzari, at several places correcting Cassel’s German translation from 1853 according to the Arabic manuscript he used.24 Kaufmann also contradicted Heinrich Graetz’ theory of the originality of Halevi’s epistemology: It was Halevi’s philosophical innovation that he first “had the courage to assign to human thought its natural limits,” Graetz wrote in 1861.25 The restriction of human reason to certain limits is already found in Al-Ghazali, Kaufmann repeats here. More interesting is Kaufmann’s discovery that thus the influence of Al-Ghazali on Jewish medieval philosophy must be dated 300 years earlier than it had so far been assumed to have incepted, with histories of the development of Jewish philosophy usually referring to the impact that Al-Ghazali had on the thought of the Jewish philosopher Hasdai Crescas (1340–1410).26

Concerning Kaufmann’s own project, to write the history of medieval thought on the divine attributes, he is forced to ask this crucial question: How can we expect Halevi, who tried to ban speculation completely from the realm of religion, to give a philosophical theory of God’s attributes? But Halevi is far from being afraid of a contest between philosophy and religion, Kaufmann explains. To assume that Halevi claimed that precisely the absurdity of a religious doctrine would prove its religious validity was erroneous and would only confuse our understanding of Halevi’s thought.27 For the author of the Kuzari, pursuing religious philosophy was dispensable but not wrong, Kaufmann argued. Religion is not reliant on speculative justification, according to Halevi, but rational proofs are helpful for those weak and misled believers who exclusively trust in them.28 For Kaufmann’s modern adaption of the Kuzari, it is extremely important to emphasize that Halevi was not an outright proponent of irrationalism, holding religion to contain truths that reason must reject. Both Breslau scholars, Graetz and Kaufmann, insist that Halevi’s re-establishing of the rights of religious faith, as opposed to speculative thought, is not necessarily dependent on a rejection of reason as such—a position that they obviously felt to be a precondition for their agenda of Halevi’s integration into their own concept of a spiritually renewed Judaism in modernity.

In the years to follow, the study of medieval Jewish philosophy within the Wissenschaft movement further intensified not only in Breslau but also at the other three modern rabbinical seminaries that were founded in the 1870s. Between 1884 and 1909, about 15 doctoral dissertations were written by graduates from the four seminaries as surveys of the history of medieval Jewish philosophy of a specific field (theodicy, prophecy, freedom of will, etc.). This phenomenon was due to these rabbinic students being obligated by their institutions to earn a doctorate from a German university in order to qualify for a rabbinic career. Among those dissertations was the thesis of Ludwig Stein (1859–1930), the later famous sociologist and diplomat, written at the orthodox Hildesheimer Seminar in Berlin.29 The study of the Kuzari increased outside of Breslau, very likely in the wake of the scholarly results achieved at the seminary. In 1885, the Arabist Hartwig Hirschfeld (1854–1934) published his new German translation of the Kuzari, this time relying on the Arabic original, which in the meantime had become available for the Wissenschaft scholars in four different manuscripts. In 1887, Hirschfeld also published an academic Arabic edition, and then in 1905, after he had become professor at the Jews’ College in London, he published the first translation of the Kuzari into English.30

In Breslau itself, it was first and foremost the scholar and rabbi Jacob Guttmann (1845–1919) who worked extensively on medieval Jewish thought, publishing on Ibn Daud (1879), Saadia (1882), Ibn Gabirol (1889), and Isaac Israeli (1911).31 Concerning the Kuzari, however, it was ultimately only Jacob Guttmann’s son, the philosopher Julius Guttmann (1880–1950), whose discussion of the Kuzari gave the most comprehensive, the most analytic, and, at the same time, the most relevant account for contemporary questions of religious philosophy.32 Writing in 1911, Guttmann succeeded in his great essay on The Relation between Religion and Philosophy in Yehuda Halevi to offer a sharp, prioritizing analysis of the structure, the originality, and also of the inconsistencies and the contradictions in Halevi’s work.33 But actually Guttmann’s main interest lies elsewhere. The central objective of his text is to identify Halevi’s contribution to the attempt of modern liberal theology in defining the place of religion as a specific and independent part of human thought and spirit; not identical with philosophical ethics, but also not irrational or mystical. For this definition, which seems to be Guttmann’s most important project throughout his intellectual life, Halevi’s thought is clearly of some support to him.34

At the outset of his work, Guttmann, like Kaufmann und Eisler, compares Halevi to Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, whose famous statement that a demonstrated god is no longer God resembles the Kuzari’s theory that it would be a deficiency in God, should we be able to know Him.35 Knowledge, according to Halevi, is limited to historical events. The self-sufficient belief in the truth of Judaism and its teachings, advocated by Halevi, is merely built on and justified in knowing history; it can neither be demonstrated by pure reason, nor is it rooted in what Guttmann calls “a function of our soul,” the specific human behavior called religion. While the Kuzari is otherwise full of descriptions of the incomparability of the religious experience and the pleasures of religious feelings, Guttmann argued, religious belief for Halevi is a mere act of knowing.36 Like most medieval thinkers, he is still unaware of the concept of religion as “an aspect of the spirit [Geist], underlying different religions in equal measure.” Religion is thus not at all a capacity of human consciousness for Halevi, who is not yet interested, as Guttmann himself obviously is, in the relation between philosophy and religious consciousness, but only in the relation between knowledge and revelation.37

In order to solve this contradiction between belief in history and religious experience, Guttmann refers to Halevi’s theory of the reasons behind the commandments: Many of the Biblical precepts are essentially hidden to rational understanding according to the Kuzari, their sole purpose being to create an intimate connection between man and God. This life with God, being the effect of religious belief and observance, is Halevi’s version of actual religious behavior. While Halevi’s line of argument for the truth of Judaism “never overcame a superficial, reason-based supernaturalism,” Guttmann explained, he penetrated “into real depths where he described the religious life unfolding within the believing Jewish community.” This description was the real contribution of the Kuzari to an understanding of religion, surpassing mere historical reproduction. Here, Halevi drew on his own religious consciousness, according to Guttmann, and thus detected, at the same time, the essentials of religious behavior in general.38

The modern and relevant aspect in the teachings of the Kuzari lies for Guttmann precisely in the sharp juxtaposition of the discursive thinking of the philosopher, for whom God will always remain a theoretical problem, and “the absolutely new psychological fact of a feeling for God.” Nothing else is meant when modern thinkers contrast knowledge [Erkenntnis] with religion, seen “as a specific behavior of the soul,” Guttmann claimed. The uniqueness of religious behavior consists for both Guttmann and Halevi in a life with God, not in possessing knowledge of God, because “the actuality of God is not a result of cognition, but the result of a personal connection with God.”39 Halevi’s account of human consciousness of the divine moves him very near a modern concept of religion, Guttmann concluded—despite the many drawbacks of this still very vague and unspecific theory.

Giving examples, Guttmann argued that Halevi was not only unable to find a clear expression for the certainty of God’s reality, but he apparently contradicted the modernity of his thought on religion with his peculiar insistence that Israel alone was destined (by natural disposition) for a life with God. Guttmann goes to great effort to disprove this classical point of criticism of Halevi. Probably as the first modern scholar discussing the Kuzari, he pointed out that the apparent assumption of a biological, qualitative difference between Jews and other peoples in their closeness to God would create a strange antagonism to the frame story of the book, that is, the attempted conversion of the king of the Khazars. According to Guttmann’s reading of the Kuzari (especially of V, 2), the difference cannot be absolute, but at best gradual, for even the king, albeit as a convert to Judaism, is able to enter the intimate connection with God that is the specific feature of Israel’s national disposition. If thus the absolute principle is broken, the way to God is paved for the other peoples too, even without officially joining Judaism, and the ability to associate with God becomes a part of human nature. This last step is realized for Guttmann in Halevi’s concept of Messianism. The messianic idea of the Biblical prophets was from the 1840s a basic tenet of Jewish reform theology, understood now as a significant contribution of the Jewish religion to the ethical development of world civilization, and thus philosophically justifying the continued existence of Judaism in modernity.40 When Halevi (in Kuzari IV, 23) wrote that Israel is the root from which the tree of a unified mankind grows, rejecting idolatry and accepting the one God, Guttmann argued accordingly that it then follows that the “precondition for this education of humanity for its messianic future must necessarily be seen, in that all men originally possess a religious disposition, which is only in need of a gradual increase in order to culminate in true community with God.”41

There are other weak points in Halevi’s doctrine of religious consciousness that cannot be removed by the modern theologian. Halevi shared with his Aristotelian adversaries the religious ideal of individual contemplation of God, though not in the form of rational intuition, but as the awareness of the immediate presence of God. “From this state of pious bliss, no inner necessity leads to the moral deed,” Guttmann complained in the wake of the neo-Kantian religious teachings of Hermann Cohen, for whom “holiness is a mode of action.”42 In the Kuzari, the link between “the love of God and ethical action remains entirely on the surface, because the ethical character of the certainty God is not sufficiently asserted.”43 Halevi’s doctrine of the community with God and its spiritual repercussions is in the end not more than a description of religious behavior; it does not yet contain a philosophical justification for the reliance on the inner certainty of religious feelings. That must be achieved by the modern philosopher of religion, according to Guttmann, and the last pages of his essay on the Kuzari are devoted to an interesting outline of such a justification—especially in carving out the difficult relation of religion and moral reason. But the appreciation of Yehuda Halevi shall not be affected by the decision of this question, Guttmann wrote in summary, because “even if the right of religious belief is based on rational ethics—the immediacy of the feeling still represents the psychological form of religious life.” It was the enduring merit of the Kuzari to have revealed this fundamental insight in the nature of religious behavior.44

In summary of the two elaborate accounts of Yehuda Halevi’s Kuzari, discussed here, it can be emphasized that both Breslau scholars, David Kaufmann and Julius Guttmann, agree as to the contemporary relevance of the medieval treatise for Jewish theology. In resistance to the long centuries of the iron rule of the Talmudic legalism over Jewish thought, the modernizing theologians of the nineteenth century attempted to replace legal fiction with true spirituality, formal or intuitive acceptance of religious law with an honest Jewish lifestyle, combining faithful adherence to Judaism with intellectual penetration of its doctrines. Here the thought of Yehuda Halevi proved to be highly advantageous, more than any other medieval philosophical system. Halevi was both a philosopher and a romantic, and, what was most important for the Breslau scholars, he was a personal example of Jewish integrity—he “thinks what he feels and lives what he thinks,” as Kaufmann put it. Eventually, with the turn of the twentieth century, Halevi’s philosophy was integrated by a new generation of neo-Kantian scholars of Judaism into their own reflections about the then most pressing question in front of them: the share religiosity had as a distinct function of the human consciousness in its relation to moral reason.45



On Frankel, see Andreas Brämer, Rabbiner Zacharias Frankel. Wissenschaft des Judentums und konservative Reform im 19. Jahrhundert, Hildesheim: Olms, 2000.


Hermann Cohen, „Ein Gruß der Pietät an das Breslauer Seminar” in: Das Breslauer Seminar, ed. Guido Kisch (Tübingen: Mohr, 1963), 306.


Manuel Joel, Die Religionsphilosophie des Mose ben Maimon (Breslau: Korn, 1859) and Manuel Joel, Lewi ben Gerson (Gersonides) als Religionsphilosoph (Breslau: Schletter, 1862). See the almost complete bibliography of Joel published by Görge K. Hasselhoff, “Philosophie und Rabbinat: Manuel Joel,” in: Religion und Rationalität, ed. Görge K. Hasselhoff und Michael Meyer-Blanck (Würzburg: Ergon 2008), 285-313.


For a comprehensive reception history of Halevi’s Kuzari before and outside of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, see: Adam Shear, The Kuzari and the Shaping of Jewish Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.


For the rediscovery and reception of Maimonides’ philosophy within German Jewish thought, see George Y. Kohler, Reading Maimonides’ Philosophy in 19th Century Germany, Dordrecht 2010.


Geiger had introduced in the middle of a 1851 volume of his German translation of Halevi’s poetry a short chapter on “The Philosopher,” summarizing the Kuzari over several pages and concluding that Halevi’s theological thought and his poems “are of homogeneous spirit,” see Abraham Geiger, Diwan des Castiliers Abu’l -Haßan Juda ha-Levi (Breslau: Kern, 1851), 75-76. A more elaborate discussion of the Kuzari is found in Geiger’s lectures on the history of Judaism: Abraham Geiger, Das Judenthum und seine Geschichte, 3 vols., here: vol. 2 (Breslau: Schletter, 1865), 120-122.


Heinrich Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, 11 vols., here: vol. 6, (Leipzig: Leiner, 1861), 150.


Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, vol. 6, 150. This fully agrees with the main points of Graetz’ later direct criticism of the philosophy of the Guide, see: Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, vol. 6, 377-380.


Jehuda ha-Levi, Das Buch Kusari. Nach dem hebräischen Texte des Jehuda Ibn-Tibbon hrsg., übersetzt und mit einem Commentar, so wie mit einer allgemeinen Einleitung versehen von David Cassel, Leipzig: Colditz, 1853 (second edition 1869, five editions until 1922). Cassel worked on that project for more than 10 years, beginning the edition as a student in Berlin together with rabbi Heymann Jolowicz.


From 1872 to 1873, 1876 to 1878, 1882 to 1884, and 1886 to 1887, Jacob Freudenthal (1839–1907) read lectures and gave a reading course on the Kuzari.


See David Kaufmann, Geschichte der Attributenlehre (Gotha: Perthes, 1877). Kaufmann continued from Breslau to Budapest, where he taught for the rest of his short life at the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest. Kaufmann became not only one of the most important representatives of Wissenschaft des Judentums in the late nineteenth century but also a successful collector of Judaica, discovering several invaluable manuscripts. Although he never practiced as a rabbi, Kaufmann was engaged in actively defending and explaining Judaism for many decades, being especially embittered about the lack of interest in the results of Wissenschaft des Judentums by the non-Jewish scholarly world. For Kaufmann, see recently Mirjam Thulin, Kaufmanns Nachrichtendienst: Ein jüdisches Gelehrtennetzwerk im 19. Jahrhundert (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012).


David Kaufmann, Jehuda Halewi: Versuch einer Charakteristik, (first published: Breslau 1877), here quoted from David Kaufmann, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. II, ed. Markus Brann, (Frankfurt 1910) 101-102.


Kaufmann, Jehuda Halewi, 113.


See here Louis Jacobs, “The Doctrine of the Divine Spark in Man in Jewish Sources”, in: Studies in Rationalism, Judaism & Universalism, ed. Raphael Loewe (London: Taylor & Francis, 1966), 87-114, who for some reason fails to mention Halevi in this essay.


Moritz Eisler, Vorlesungen über die jüdischen Philosophen des Mittelalters, vol. I, Wien: Winter, 1876.


Eisler, Vorlesungen, vol. I, 101.


For the pantheism controversy between Mendelssohn and Jacobi, see: Micah Gottlieb, Faith and Freedom – Mendelssohn’s Theological-Political Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).


For Mendelssohn’s treatment of Halevi, see the summary in Shear, Kuzari, 230-35.


Kaufmann, Jehuda Halewi, p. 122-123. For the comparison, see Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, S. 123-134. On Al-Ghazali, see: Massimo Campanini, “Al-Ghazzali”, in: History of Islamic Philosophy, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (London: Routledge, 1996), 258-274.


See, for example, David Cassel’s introduction to his German translation of the Kuzari, second edition 1869, p. 12-13.


Geiger’s earlier discussion is in: Abraham Geiger, Das Judenthum und seine Geschichte, vol. 2 (Breslau: Schletter, 1865), 120-122.


Kaufmann, Jehuda Halewi, 124-126.


Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, p. 119


The Royal Library in Munich had generously provided him with a copy (cod. Monac. arab. 936) it held of the famous Oxford original of the Arabic Kuzari manuscript. (Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, 118).


Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, vol. 6, 150.


Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, 134. For Crescas and Al-Ghazali, see Mauro Zonta, “Influence of Arabic and Islamic Philosophy on Judaic Thought”, in: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (spring 2011 online edition).


Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, 135.


Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, 137. The same argument was used by Nahmanides (1194 –1270) in his defense of Maimonides’ rationalism. In a letter to the French rabbis who had banned the author of the Guide, Nahmanides wrote that Maimonides’ treatise was not intended for those of unshaken belief, but for those who had been led astray by the works of Aristotle. A critical edition of Nahmanides’ epistle was published by Joseph Perles (one of the first Breslau graduates) in the Monatsschrift as early as 1860. See: Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 5 (1860): 184-195, here 186-187.


Stein called Halevi already “the Jewish Al-Ghazali”; see: Ludwig Stein, Die Willensfreiheit und ihr Verhältnis zur göttlichen Präscienz und Providenz bei den jüdischen Philosophen des Mittelalters (Berlin: Baer, 1882), 64.


Hartwig Hirschfeld (transl.) Das Buch Al-Chazari, Aus dem Arabischen des Abu-l-Hasan Jehuda Hallewi, Breslau: Koebner, 1885.


In 1892, Jacob Guttmann became chief rabbi of Breslau as the successor of Manuel Joel.


Julius Guttmann (1880–1950) was the son of the Breslau chief rabbi Jacob Guttmann, a scholar of medieval philosophy himself. Julius studied in Breslau and came to Berlin in 1919, teaching at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums until 1933. After his immigration to Palestine, he became professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His major Die Philosophie des Judentums (1933) is a standard work on the history of Jewish thought from the Bible to Rosenzweig. See for Guttmann especially the essay of his student Fritz Bamberger, “Julius Guttmann – Philosopher of Judaism”, in: Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 5 (1960): 3-30 and the introduction by Zwi Werblowski to the English translation of Guttmann’s classic: Philosophies of Judaism (New York: Doubleday, 1964).


Julius Guttmann, “Das Verhältnis von Religion und Philosophie bei Jehuda Halewi”, in: Festschrift zu Israel Lewy’s siebzigstem Geburtstag, ed. M. Brann und J. Elbogen (Breslau: Marcus, 1911), 327-358.


Guttmann’s own answer to this question is influenced by both Kant and Schleiermacher—and awaits scholarly attention. See Bamberger’s essay, page 28-30. The question of the relation between religious feelings and moral reason strikingly re-appears in Guttmann’s published lectures from 1943, 30 years later. See the English translation “The Principles of Judaism,” in: Conservative Judaism 14 (1959): 1-23.


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 329. The reference is probably to Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Von den göttlichen Dingen und ihrer Offenbarung (Leipzig: Fleischer, 1811), 137.


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 334-335.


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 330-331.


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 335-336.


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 348.


For the development of reform messianism, see the German introduction to George Y. Kohler, “Der jüdische Messianismus im Zeitalter der Emanzipation” (Berlin: deGruyter, 2013).


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 353.


See Alan L. Mittleman, A Short History of Jewish Ethics (Chichester: Wiley & Sons, 2012), 184. For Cohen, practical ethical action is the expression of man’s relation to God; Cohen’s religious ethics is one of imitatio dei in the sense of fighting evil, poverty and human suffering. This has often been criticized as ignoring the religious needs of the sinful individual and dissolving religious particularity in abstract philosophical ethics. However, the emphasis on moral deed as the essence of religion (instead of pious contemplation) is not affected by this criticism.


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 355.


Guttmann, Verhältnis, 358.


Interestingly, many of the interpretations of the Kuzari found in the texts discussed in this essay, so the reading of Halevi as philosophical poetry or Halevi’s probably unintended surrender to philosophical thought, reappear (consciously or not) in 20th century scholarship on the Kuzari and the best way to understand this work.


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