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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works


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Yehuda ben Shmuel HaLevi
Hebrew Name(s): יהודה בן שמואל הלוי; ריה׳׳ל
Other Names: Judah ha-Levi, Judah ben Samuel HaLevi, Yehudah HaLevi
Period: Rishonim — 12th Century
Location: Toledo, Spain
Dates: 1075–1141

Yehuda ben Shmuel HaLevi (Judah Halevi) was a poet and religious philosopher. He was also a physician. He was a student of the RIF (Rabbi Isaac of Fez, Alfasi) and a friend of many, including Joseph ibn Migash of Lucena (who succeeded the RIF,) Baruch Albalia and Moses ibn Ezra and his brothers, Judah, Joseph and Isaac.
Judah HaLevi's Kuzari is a work on Jewish religion and philosophy and incorporates both religious and secular poetry which has been influential and extensively studied by Jewish theologians. Its influence can be traced in Kabbalistic writings of the Middle Ages. Many commentaries on the Kuzari where produced (at least six in the first half of the fifteenth century. Translations (the work was written in Arabic) and commentaries on the work abound.
Judah haLevi is remembered as a great Hebrew poet. One of his poems "Ode to Zion" has become well known. Some of his other poetry has found its way into liturgy. Yehuda ben Shmuel HaLevi died in Jerusalem.

Sefer HaKuzari

Sefer HaKuzari (The Kuzari) is a work on Jewish religion and philosophy. Originally written in Arabic with the title Kitab al-Khazari it was translated into Hebrew by Judah ibn Tibbon. The Kuzari deals with Jewish fate and exile and takes the form of an imaginary dialogue between a Jewish scholar and the king of the Khazars who converted to Judaism in the 8th Century. The Kuzari is less concerned with the influence of the Greek rationalism and philosophy of the time than with expounding the superiority of Judaism over other religions. HaLevi argues that there is no need for rational proof of the existence of the God of Judaism because God has been manifested in history through the people of Israel. Israel is like the heart which supplies blood to the organs of the body. Israel supplies the world with ethical and spiritual nourishment.


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