Chapters on Jewish Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 153 pages of information about Chapters on Jewish Literature.



Graetz.—­III, 4.

Translations of Poems in Editions of the Prayer-Book, and J.Q.R.,
  VII, p. 460; IX, p. 291.

L.N.  Dembitz,—­Jewish Services, p. 222 seq.



     Translation of the Bible into Arabic.—­Foundation of a Jewish
     Philosophy of Religion.

Saadiah was born in Fayum (Egypt) in 892, and died in Sura in 942.  He was the founder of a new literature.  In width of culture he excelled all his Jewish contemporaries.  To him Judaism was synonymous with culture, and therefore he endeavored to absorb for Judaism all the literary and scientific tendencies of his day.  He created, in the first place, a Jewish philosophy, that is to say, he applied to Jewish theology the philosophical methods of the Arabs.  Again, though he vigorously opposed Karaism, he adopted its love of philology, and by his translation of the Bible into Arabic helped forward a sounder understanding of the Scriptures.

At the age of thirty-six Saadiah received a remarkable honor; he was summoned to Sura to fill the post of Gaon.  This election of a foreigner as head of the Babylonian school proves, first, that Babylonia had lost its old supremacy, and, secondly, that Saadiah had already won world-wide fame.  Yet the great work on which his reputation now rests was not then written.  Saadiah’s notoriety was due to his successful championship of Rabbinism against the Karaites.  His determination, his learning, his originality, were all discernible in his early treatises against Anan and his followers.  The Rabbinites had previously opposed Karaism in a guerilla warfare.  Saadiah came into the open, and met and vanquished the foe in pitched battles.  But he did more than defeat the invader, he strengthened the home defences.  Saadiah’s polemical works have always a positive as well as a negative value.  He wished to prove Karaism wrong, but he also tried to show that Rabbinism was right.

As a champion of Rabbinism, then, Saadiah was called to Sura.  But he had another claim to distinction.  The Karaites founded their position on the Bible.  Saadiah resolved that the appeal to the Bible should not be restricted to scholars.  He translated the Scriptures into Arabic, and added notes.  Saadiah’s qualifications for the task were his knowledge of Hebrew, his fine critical sense, and his enlightened attitude towards the Midrash.  As to the first qualification, it is said that at the age of eleven he had begun a Hebrew rhyming dictionary for the use of poets.  He himself added several hymns to the liturgy.  In these Saadiah’s poetical range is very varied.  Sometimes his style is as pure and simple as the most classical poems of the Spanish school.  At other times, his verses have all the intricacy, harshness, and artificiality of Kalir’s.  Perhaps his mastery of Hebrew is best seen in his “Book of the Exiled” (Sefer ha-Galui), compiled in Biblical Hebrew, divided into verses, and provided with accents.  As the title indicates, this book was written during Saadiah’s exile from Sura.

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