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Happiness in Pre-Modern Judaism

Happiness in Pre-Modern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge, and Well-Being

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson
Volume: 29
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 608
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt169zt8j
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  • Book Info
    Happiness in Pre-Modern Judaism
    Book Description:

    It is not common to think that Jews were interested in happiness or that Judaism has anything to say about happiness. On the contrary, the concept of happiness was a central concern of Jewish thinkers. Hava Tirosh-Samuelson shows that rabbinic Judaism regarded itself primarily as a prescription for the attainment of happiness, and that the discourse on happiness captures the evolution of Jewish intellectual history from antiquity to the seventeenth century. These claims make sense if one understands happiness as human flourishing on the basis of Aristotle’s thought in the Nichomachean Ethics. Linking virtue, knowledge, and well-being, Aristotle’s analysis of happiness can be traced in Jewish understanding of human flourishing as early as the Greco-Roman world, but the fusion of Greek and Judaic perspectives on happiness reached its zenith in in the Middle Ages in the thought of Moses Maimonides and his followers. Even the controversies about Maimonides’ ideas could be viewed as discussions about the meaning of happiness and the way to attain it within Judaism. Much of this book, then, concerns the reception of Aristotle’s Ethics in medieval Jewish philosophy.This book shows how a certain notion of happiness reflects the intellectual culture of a given period, including cultural exchanges among Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Demonstrating the discourse on happiness as a dramatic interplay between Wisdom and Torah, between philosophy and religion, between reason and faith, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson presents, to specialists and non-specialists alike, a fascinating tour of Jewish intellectual history.

    eISBN: 978-0-87820-105-1
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Thinking Happiness: Greek and Hellenistic Views (pp. 9-54)

    Written for nonspecialists in Greek philosophy, this chapter focuses on Aristotle’s analysis of happiness in theNicomacheanEthics. It exposes the teleological framework of his philosophy, his rationalist understanding of human nature, the role of reason in molding the good character, the place of pleasure and friendship in the virtuous life, and the relationship between contemplation and action in human flourishing.

    Why do we begin with Greek and Hellenistic notions of happiness, rather than with the Bible? First, in order to be able to understand how Judaism could be viewed as a pursuit of happiness, we need to move away...

  6. 2 Ashrei: Wisdom, Torah, and Living Rightly in Ancient Judaism (pp. 55-100)

    We now turn to the Bible, the canonic Scripture of Judaism. The Bible, of course, is not a work of philosophy. It does not contain sustained logical argumentation, and no topics are presented systematically. Moreover, on any given theme, the Bible speaks in more than one voice, reflecting not only the diverse literary genres of which it is comprised and the long and convoluted process that brought its text into existence, but also the complexity of ancient Israelite civilization. Thus we cannot expect to find in it a fully articulated theory of human happiness. Nonetheless, I submit that the Bible...

  7. 3 The Happy Life of Torah in Rabbinic Judaism (pp. 101-142)

    With the physical destruction of Alexandrian Jewry in the early second century C.E., Judeo-Hellenistic philosophy came to an end. The Judaism that became normative came into existence after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. It was the creation of the rabbis, a small intellectual elite in Palestine and Babylonia that emerged as the dominant variant out of multiple and conflicting viewpoints about the meaning of being Jewish. In this chapter I will argue that despite the diversity and multivocality of rabbinic literature, its texts share a coherent outlook that I will call “the happy life of Torah.”...

  8. 4 Happiness and the Cultivation of Character in Islam (pp. 143-191)

    By the seventh century, when the rabbis’ exposition of Scriptures was accepted as normative Judaism, Jews found themselves living in a new religious civilization—Islam. For the Jews in the Near East, the Mediterranean Basin, and Iran, the Muslim conquests of the seventh century spelled profound economic, social, and cultural changes. While persecution was not totally absent from the Muslim world, it was sporadic and short-lived. Jews were recognized asdhimmis—members of the legal pact, thedhimma—and enjoyed legal protection of life and property and the freedom to practice their religion in return for the payment of taxes.¹...

  9. 5 Perfectly Happy: Maimonides’ Conception of Happiness (pp. 192-245)

    Moses Maimonides (1138–1204) was the first to show systematically how the rabbinic notion of religious perfection (shelemut) could be understood in the context of Aristotelian virtue ethics, Plato’s political theory, and the cosmology and psychology of Islamic rationalism. Believing rabbinic Judaism to be true because its foundation is divinely revealed and Greek philosophy to be true because its central claims are rationally demonstrable, Maimonides sought to show that there is no necessary conflict between Judaism and philosophy, if both are properly understood. Maimonides’ conception of happiness was the crux of his comprehensive and subtle integration of religion and philosophy,...

  10. 6 The Maimonidean Controversies: Debating the Meaning of Happiness (pp. 246-290)

    After Maimonides, all Jewish philosophers reflected about happiness within the contours he left for posterity. Whether they agreed with him, elaborated upon the meaning of his views, or took issue with him, they all held that happiness could be attained only within the confines of the perfect political order, that such order must be founded on the divinely revealed Law, and that the Torah is the one and only such Law. However, the Maimonidean approach was by no means universally accepted. In fact, it became the focus of a very intense controversy that lasted throughout the thirteenth century and resurfaced...

  11. 7 The Kabbalistic Prescription for Happiness (pp. 291-342)

    As the Maimonidean Controversy was raging, another program for the interpretation of rabbinic Judaism came to the fore—kabbalah. Literally,kabbalahmeans “received tradition,” but the term is used specifically to denote mystico-theurgic speculations and practices that constituted a distinct intellectual strand in medieval Judaism. While the roots of kabbalah go far back to the Second Temple period, it became a self-conscious program for the interpretation of Judaism only in the late twelfth century, appearing first in Provence, the hotbed of the Maimonidean Controversy, from where it spread to Spain. There, it flourished during the thirteenth century in several schools...

  12. 8 Intellectual Perfection and Jewish-Christian Rivalry (pp. 343-393)

    As we have seen, the ultimate end of human life and the way to attain it were the core issues of the Maimonidean Controversies of the thirteenth century. They were also the issues that fueled the emergence of kabbalah as a conceptual alternative to rationalist philosophy. Yet despite the passionate debates engendered, Jewish rationalist philosophers and the kabbalists agreed that ultimate happiness pertained primarily to the well-being of the individual soul, that the final end of human life could be attained only in the afterlife, and that the world to come was a state of being of the immortal soul...

  13. 9 Religious Perfection and the Interplay of Philosophy and Kabbalah (pp. 394-438)

    With the gradual demise of medieval Jewish Aristotelianism and the emergence of kabbalah to become the dominant exposition of rabbinic Judaism during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the premodern discourse on happiness ended. This final chapter of our story, then, traces the transformation of the concept during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is the most fascinating period in our study, but also the most puzzling: the interplay of philosophy and kabbalah appears to be full of contradictory trends.

    In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Jewish intellectuals in Spain, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire continued to reason about human happiness...

  14. Postscript (pp. 439-449)

    This book has traced the evolution of the discourse on happiness in Judaism from antiquity to the seventeenth century. Though its scope is broad, it was not intended to be a definitive study that exhausts all the issues under consideration. On the contrary, it was written with the hope that other scholars would supply additional information and correct, modify, or challenge specific claims made herein. More importantly, I intended it to be an invitation to all academic and general readers to reflect on their own views of human happiness in light of the views expounded in this book.

    I chose...

  15. Notes (pp. 450-549)
  16. Bibliographic Essay (pp. 550-573)
  17. Index (pp. 574-596)