Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Proper Jewish Education

David ibn Yahya (1465-1543) was a Spanish exile who went to Naples and served as a Talmud teacher. In addition to Talmud, he also taught a variety of other topics. He offered the following description of the curriculum he taught.

In addition, I studied with them a daily chapter of Talmud, and other subjects such as grammar and poetics and logic and [al-Ghazali’s] Intentions of the Philosophers and [Jediah Bedersi’s] Book of the Examination of the World. And on the Shabbaths [I would] sometimes teach [Judah ha-Levi’s] Kuzari and at times [Maimonides’] Guide for the Perplexed. And all this, even though I was only required to teach one Talmudic lesson every morning, in order that they should know what is required, and to rule on what they ask me each day. But in order to fulfil(l) what is required of me by heaven and by the people, I went beyond my [required] quota, with great effort and painful labor. (Robert Bonfil, Rabbis and Jewish Communities in Renaissance Italy pg. 148-49.)

Ibn Yahya viewed the teaching of philosophy as a requirement from heaven, alongside the teaching of Talmud. Not only that but the philosophers in his curriculum included not only Jewish philosophers like Judah ha-Levi, Maimonides and Jediah Bedersi, but also the Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali. Ibn Yahya’s use of al-Ghazali and his use of the Intentions of the Philosophers in particular was not an anomaly with the Spanish Jewish tradition; he formed a basic part of the Jewish philosophical educational system. (See Steven Harvey “Why Did Fourteenth-Century Jews Turn to AlGhazali’s Account of Natural Science?” JQR XCI(2001): pg. 359-76)

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