Roslyn Weiss

Nov 27, 2023

Hasdai Crescas: Collected Writings

Library of the Jewish People 2023

Today I talked to Roslyn Weiss, editor of Hasdai Crescas: Collected Writings (Library of the Jewish People, 2023).

Hasdai Crescas spent his life in public service - as a rabbi and community leader in desperate times in 14th-century Spain. Despite having limited time for writing, he produced several important works, which Collected Writings presents in their entirety. The first of these, Epistle to the Jews of Avignon, he wrote in the immediate aftermath of the anti-Jewish riots in Aragon in 1391, chronicling the unimaginable horrors the Jewish communities endured - mass conversions, suicides, deaths, and the loss of great Torah scholars - as well as his own personal tragedy, the murder of his only son, "a lamb without blemish." 

To counter Christian efforts to convert Jews, Crescas composed two polemical works, only one of which has survived, The Refutation of the Christian Principles. Written in 1397-8, it offers reasoned arguments to challenge ten principles of Christianity. A great halakhist, Crescas penned many responsa, some of which are known because they were quoted by later halakhists. But only one extant work contains halakhic material - the Passover Sermon, dealing (in part) with the laws of Passover. Because of the urgent communal demands on his time, Crescas was unable to complete Lamp of the Lord, the two-volume work which was to be his response to Maimonides' Mishneh Torah and Guide of the Perplexed. His magisterial work, Light of the Lord, a work of intellectual rigor and deep religious sensibility, was his answer only to the Guide. In this brilliant work, completed in 1410, just before his death, Crescas rejects the purely intellectual Aristotelian God in favor of Judaism's God of love. It is a work suffused with love for God, the Torah, the rabbinic tradition, and the Jewish people.

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Ari Barbalat holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of California in Los Angeles. He lives in Toronto with his family.

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