The Making of Minḥat Qenaʾot (Ph.D. diss., JTS, 2013)

On Humanities Commons | On

“The Making of Minḥat Qenaʾot: The Controversy over Ideational Transgression in Fourteenth-Century Jewish Occitania” (Ph.D. diss., New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, 2013).

Abstract. The Jewish communities of Occitania, known by medieval Jews as “Provence,” were unusually involved in the repeated outbreaks of public controversy over the integration of Greco-Islamic philosophy into Jewish intellectual culture. By the time of the early fourteenth-century controversy, Maimonideanism was a dominant cultural movement in the Mediterranean communities and Occitania in particular. Its critics, led by Abba-Mari b. Moses ha-Yarḥi (fl. c. 1300) in Montpellier and Solomon b. Abraham Ibn Adret (Rashba, c. 1235-c. 1310) in Barcelona, were concerned with the potential for what I term ideational transgression. In contradistinction to the theological term heresy, ideational transgression denotes halakhic transgression deriving from a matter of conscience or ideology. This dissertation explores the motivations of proponents of a ban against the underage study of philosophy, and their approach to curtailing the activities they viewed as harmful. Ban proponents worried that rationalism would lead young people to reject the theoretical framework of Jewish law and thus, fail to observe it. Rather than developing ideational transgression as a halakhic category, however, an approach similar to that undertaken by Maimonides, ban proponents chose to regulate access to philosophy by means of excommunication. Levi b. Abraham b. Ḥayyim of Perpignan (c. 1245-c. 1315), who popularized philosophy in encyclopedic compendia and in public teaching, serves as a test case for this approach. Moreover, I argue that the moderate center of the aristocracy was artificially polarized by the proposed legislation, despite their genuine concern about the radical implications of rationalism. My examination is undertaken through a careful study of the letter collection Minḥat Qenaʾot, which permits an unusually clear window into an understudied community just as it reached a critical turning point which reverberated throughout the Jewish world.

Image: Vasily Perov, Спор о вере (сцена в вагоне) [Dispute about Faith (A Scene in the Car)], 1880. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.