Aaron ben Elijah


Aaron ben Elijah

Aaron ben Elijah (Aharon son of Eliyahu), "the Latter, of Nicomedia" (אהרון בן אליהו האחרון; born 1328 or 1329 in Nicomedia [http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9003210 "Aaron ben Elijah."] "Encyclopædia Britannica". 13 January 2007] – 1369 in Constantinople) is often considered to be the most prominent Karaite theologian"...theologian of Constantinople (now Istanbul), the only scholar to seek a philosophical basis for Karaite beliefs." "Encyclopædia Britannica", 2006] . He is referred to as "the Younger" to distinguish him from another Aaron ben Elijah, also a theologian from Constantinople, which was then the center of Karaite learning. Even though Aaron lived for much of his life in Constantinople, he is sometimes distinguished from the other Aaron Ben Elijah by the title "of Nicomedia," signifying another place he lived.

Background

While little is known about his personal life, he is considered by Karaites to be the equivalent of his contemporary, Maimonides, the most distinguished Jewish scholar of the time and an outspoken critic of the Karaites. In fact, it seems likely that Aaron made it his ambition to rival MaimonidesFact|date=February 2007 by defending the Karaites from his attacks. To achieve this, he studied the extensive religious literature of both rabbinical Judaism and Islam, as well as that of the Karaites.

The result of his studies was "Etz HaChayyim" ("Tree of Life"; 1346), a philosophical work modeled after Maimonides' own "Moreh Nevuchim" ("Guide to the Perplexed"). In fact, one of the chief criticisms of the work is that it attempts to imitate Maimonides' "Guide" far too slavishly, in terms of both structure and style. In 1354, while living in Constantinople, he composed his second major work, "Gan Eden" ("The Garden of Eden"), about the commandments of the Bible and an attempt to defend the Karaite legal code and in 1362 he wrote "Keter Torah" ("Crown of the Torah"), a comprehensive commentary on the Pentateuch using a literal interpretation of the writings.

Aaron was neither as profound or independent-minded as Maimonides, for whom he maintained great esteem even when opposing him. Nevertheless, he was a versatile compiler and eclectic, if not always original, philosopher, who succeeded in restoring some prestige to the Karaite community, which have been in decline ever since it was forced to fend off the attacks of Saadia Gaon. Furthermore, some of his critiques of the Maimonidean worldview can be considered reasonable and sound.

Aaron's Philosophy

Like Maimonides and other Jewish philosophers active in the Islamic world, Aaron was heavily influenced by the works of Aristotle. Unlike Maimonides, however, Aaron accepted the Muslim Motazilite philosophical system of Kalam, combining atomism with Aristotelean views to reconcile revelation with philosophy — in this, he differed not only from Maimonides but also from Aaron Ben Elijah, the Elder, who sided with Maimonides in this debate. According to the younger Aaron, in the first chapters of "Etz HaChayyim", the theology of the Kalam is the natural religion arrived at by Abraham through meditation and systematized by the Mosaic Law; while Greek philosophy, adopted by Christianity because of its hostility to Judaism, is a heterogeneous foreign product, harmful to the development of the Torah in its purity. He then declares that the object of his work is to restore the theology of the Kalam by presenting it in a clear manner.

"Etz HaChayyim"

The book "Etz HaChayyim" consists of 114 chapters:
* Chapters 1-15 discuss the doctrine of God's existence, God's incorporeality, and the creation of the world. Like Maimonides' "Guide", he considers the heavenly spheres to be governed by separate intelligences, or angels. By showing that his conclusions are nothing more than logical deductions, Aaron argues that they precede his own work, which is nothing more than the confirmation of established truths.
* Chapters 16-62 discuss biblical anthropomorphism, explaining them as figurative expressions of Divine energy and activity. In these chapters, he often cites Maimonides , but claims that Maimonides himself was simply following an even earlier work, "Ha-Eshkol", by Judah Hadassi. Aaron follows Maimonides' example in stating that Ezekiel's theophany of the Divine Chariot, like the descriptions of the Tabernacle and its symbolism, has a physical meaning.
* Chapters 63-77 discuss the unity of God. Here Aaron opposes the approach of both Maimonides and Hadassi, who reject all but God's negative attributes (God is not...). According to Aaron, however, power, knowledge, life, will, and existence are all positive attributes inseparable from the very essence of God and in no way infringing upon His unity. This leads him to an explanation of the usual names of God denoting God's activity, as distinguished from the Tetragrammaton, which denotes the essence of God as the author of all existence.
* Chapters 78-94 discuss the concept of Divine Providence. Special emphasis is placed on the fourfold nature of evil: physical, psychical, moral, and non-moral. This was a favorite topic of older Karaite philosophers such as Joseph al-Bazir (and of Maimonides), that evil is only a defect inherent in matter, and therefore not to be ascribed to God, unless God makes it the means of man's moral improvement. While Maimonides assumes that God's providence extends only to rational human beings, Aaron extends Divine providence to all beings, since God's universal knowledge embraces all. Whereas Maimonides sees Divine action as guides by God's wisdom, according to Aaron, it is guided by God's justice.

:Accentuating the superiority of moral over intellectual power, Aaron takes a higher view of the question of why the righteous suffer than either Maimonides or some of his own Karaite predecessors. He rejects the concept of "temurah", or compensation for grief, postulating instead that all trials imposed on people are for their spiritual benefit (citing Abraham and Job as examples of this). Humanity is incapable of comprehending the purpose of Creation, being limited to conceiving of its own role in the world as God's servant.
* Chapters 95-114 discuss revelation, the Divine Law of the Torah, the perfection of the soul, and its immortality. The two trees in the Garden of Eden are seen as metaphors for the higher and the lower spheres of human existence. After the Fall, the commandments of the Torah become necessary means of restoring humanity to its true, twofold nature. This leads to a discussion of the nature of prophecy in general and its highest degree, as attained by Moses. It continues by explaining the objectives of the Torah and its commandments as means of achieving the perfection of both the individual and of humanity as a whole.

:According to an ancient tradition of both Karaite and Rabbinic Jews and cited by Aaron, the Torah was intended for and offered to all nations. It can never be changed, improved, or (in contrast to Rabbinic Judaism) augmented by an Oral Law. Essentially different from the attitude of Maimonides, and in fact from that of all Aristotelian thinkers, is Aaron's attitude toward immortality, which he bases chiefly upon moral grounds, citing the idea of retribution. For this reason, however, his eschatology is rather obscure, being a semi-rational, semi-mystical blend of many different beliefs. He concludes his work with a call to repentance.

"Gan Eden"

Aaron's work on the Commandments, entitled "Gan Eden", consists of twenty-five sections and 194 chapters, as well as nine smaller juridical articles, which became of paramount importance to the Karaites. He follows a rational approach to the commandments, similar to the one espoused by Maimonides. He opens with the principle that instilling the belief in God's unity, and especially in His government of the world, is the ultimate purpose of every commandment, so that it is the duty of humanity to seek the underlying objective of each commandment. For example, the goal of the Sabbath is inculcating a belief in the Divine creation and guidance of the world; other festivals are intended to counteract the influences of paganism and fatalism.

Two parts of "Gan Eden" have appeared as separate books:
* One, consisting of five sections and twenty-two chapters on "shechita" (the laws of slaughtering animals for food)
* "Tzafnat Paneach" ("Discloser of Secrets") consists of eight chapters on incestuous marriages.

In its entirety, "Gan Eden" is probably the best and most comprehensive exposition of the Karaite system of the Law, presenting the opinions of all Aaron's predecessors with impartial and frank criticism. It is mainly because of this work that Aaron continues to wield such a great influence upon the Karaites.

"Keter Torah"

This is a commentary on the Torah, styled after Abraham Ibn Ezra's earlier work. Like all of Aaron's earlier writings, it also contains a review of the philosophical and exegetical interpretations given by his predecessors, with critiques of their views where necessary. Particularly interesting is his "Preface," in which he states the main differences between the approach to biblical exegesis of Rabbinic and Karaite Judaism.

Divine Providence

In chapters 78-95 divine providence is then discussed with special reference to the existence of evil in its fourfold nature, physical and psychical, moral and non-moral. This had been a favorite topic of the older Karaite philosophers such as Joseph al-Bazir and Joshua, based upon the Aristotelian view, followed also by Maimonides, that evil is only a defect inherent in matter, and therefore not to be ascribed to God, unless — and this is well brought out by Aaron and his Karaite predecessors — God makes it the means of man's moral improvement. While Maimonides assumes an especial providence of God only for man and not for creatures without reason, Aaron extends divine providence over all beings, God's universal knowledge embracing, according to Karaite theology, also sympathy with all beings. The ruling principle of divine action he takes to be not His wisdom, as does Maimonides, but, with a far deeper theological insight, His justice.

Accentuating the superiority of the moral above the intellectual power, Aaron takes a higher view of the suffering of the righteous than do Maimonides and some of his Karaite predecessors, who speak of "temurah" (the law of compensation for grief, which also rules over animal life); and he postulates, with especial reference to Abraham and Job, goodness as a divine principle underlying all trials imposed upon man for his spiritual benefit. As to the purposes of the world, man can only comprehend his own sublunary world, of which he forms the highest end as God's servant. From chapter 95 to the end of the work, revelation and law, with the soul's perfection, its immortality and future bliss, are the subjects treated. The two trees in paradise are taken as symbols of the higher and the lower spheres of human life, man's fall from the one to the other necessitating the special commandments of God, until finally the Law becomes the means of man's full restoration to his twofold nature. This leads to a discussion of the nature of prophecy in general and of its highest degree attained by Moses; also of the object of the Law and its various commandments given for the purpose of the perfection of the individual as well as of the human race in general.

The Law of Moses was intended for and offered to all nations, and it can never be changed, improved, or (as the Rabbinites claim) augmented by an oral law. Essentially different from the attitude of Maimonides, and in fact from that of all Aristotelian thinkers, is Aaron's attitude toward immortality, which he bases chiefly upon moral grounds, the postulate of retribution; but for this very reason his eschatology is rather obscure, being half-rational and half-mystical, a blending of many beliefs. A call to repentance forms the conclusion of his work.

Interpretation of the law

In his great work on the Commandments, entitled "Gan Eden," consisting of twenty-five sections and one hundred and ninety-four chapters, besides nine smaller juridical articles, which became of paramount importance to the Karaites, Aaron follows a system of rationalism similar to the one expounded by Maimonides in his "Moreh Nebukim," whereas the Karaites prefer to compare it with the "Yad haHazakah." He starts with the principle enunciated in the " 'Etz ha-Ḥayyim," that the inculcation of the belief in God's unity, and especially in His government of the world, is the main purpose of every single precept of the Law; wherefore it is our duty to search after the object of each commandment. The Sabbath day has for its special object the inculcation of the belief in the divine creation and guidance of the world, while other festivals are intended to counteract the influences of paganism and fatalism. Two treatises of this work have appeared as separate books: one comprising five sections and twenty-two chapters on "sheḥitah" (the law for the slaughtering of animals); another, "Tzofnat Pa'aneah" (Discloser of Secrets), comprising eight chapters on incestuous marriages. The whole work is the best and most comprehensive exposition of the Karaite system of the Law, and presents the opinions of all Aaron's predecessors with impartial and frank criticism. It is chiefly owing to this work that he exerts a great influence upon the Karaites.

Aaron's third work, "Keter Torah" (the Crown of the Law), is composed after the manner of Abraham ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch. Like his other works, it also contains a review of the philosophical and exegetical interpretations by all his predecessors, with a fair criticism of the same, and helps to supplement and elucidate his ritual work. Of special interest is his preface, in which are stated the main differences between the Rabbinites and Karaites in regard to Biblical exegesis.

Editions of Aaron's works

The " 'Etz ha-Ḥayyim," of which many manuscripts exist in Leiden, Munich, Vienna, and Leipzig, was first published, with a large commentary ("Or ha-Ḥayyim") by Luzki, in Koslov, 1835. A critical edition, with valuable information and a summary of the one hundred and fourteen chapters in Hebrew by Caleb Afendopulo, and one in German by the editor, Franz Delitzsch, appeared in Leipzig, 1841. Of the "Keter Torah" there is extant a Eupatoria edition (1866), besides manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in Vienna, and in Leipzig; while the "Gan Eden" exists, in manuscript only, in Leiden and Leipzig. Portions of the latter have been published by Schuparth, Trigland, Danz, and Lanzhausen.

References

* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=33&letter=A&search=Karaite Abraham ben Elijah the Younger, of Nicomedia] . "Jewish Encyclopedia". Funk and Wagnalls, 1901-1906, which contains the following bibliography::*Jost, "Annalen," 1839, No. 11;:*Jost, "Gesch. d. Judenthums," ii.362-366;:*Fürst, "Gesch. d. Karäert." ii.261-280;:*Neubauer, "Aus der Petersburger Bibliothek," p. 58;:*Hamburger, in Winter and Wünsche's "Jüdische Literatur," ii.99-108, where a few specimens of Aaron's writings are given in German translation;:*M. Schreiner, "Der Kalam in der Jüdische Literatur," in "Thirteenth Report of the Berlin Lehranstalt," 1895, pp. 57-60.
*


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