Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Book of Abraham

I am pleased to present the following guest post from Rabbi Dr. Seth (Avi) Kadish, the first in a series in which he will publish his dissertation:

In 2006 I finished my Ph.D. dissertation in Jewish Philosophy under the supervision of Prof. Menachem Kellner at the University of Haifa, entitled The Book of Abraham: Rabbi Shimon ben Zemah Duran and the School of Rabbenu Nissin Gerondi. It tests the kinds of reception Maimonidean philosophy had in Spain during the time of Rabbenu Nissim Gerondi and two generations of his students, with its primary focus on Rabbi Shimon ben Zemah Duran (Rashbaz), showing that the openness of Gerondi's beit midrash allowed for a wide range of approaches that shared some common characteristics, but also sometimes conflicted on a conceptual level (with Rashbaz and R. Hasdai Crescas as polar opposites).

It also deals at length with medieval science, from botany and biology to mathematics and astronomy and on to metaphysics (Rashbaz was deeply concerned about establishing Hazal as authoritative in all the myriad details of these fields). Two other important issues in the specific context of the school of Rabbenu Nissim Gerondi that are dealt with in depth include (a) the late medieval theories of Ikkarim (fundamental principles of the Torah), and (b) the philosophy of prayer. Full chapters are devoted to each of these two topics.

When I finished writing in 2006, Professor Kellner offered to help me get the dissertation published as a book, perhaps through the Littmann Library. But it still needed a lot of work: to clean up the writing (from typos to style), and more fundamentally to re-organize it in ways that would make it more appealing to educated readers without expertise in the field. And, at the time, I just didn't have the time.

I've now come back to it again, yet decided to publish it in a non-traditional way, having come to the conclusion that getting a book printed nowadays actually means making it less available to the public (as opposed to making it available online). So I decided to publish it online in installments in a forum that targets the specific public that might find it valuable. I hope to continue revising one chapter per month (roughly) until the book is complete.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s Rationalist Judaism blog is just such a forum, and I am very grateful to him for providing an appropriate location to publish, publicize, and foster positive discussion of my book. I am also grateful to Menachem Kellner for facilitating the contact between us. My hope is that the feedback in the comments will contribute towards further improvements, making the material ever more useful.

I’ve also decided to make the book available under a free license (namely CC-BY-SA) so that others can build upon it in new ways in the future. This means that the book can be reproduced freely and adapted to new purposes, so long as credit is given and any future versions grant the same liberties. Since my research was funded both by the Israeli public and by a generous philanthropist (who supports advanced scholarship at the university), it is appropriate that this book be made freely available to the public under an open license. Any future version of this book or parts of it should credit Seth (Avi) Kadish, and also provide links to this post at the Rationalist Judaism blog and to the license itself.

Here is a copy of the first chapter in PDF form, which will be convenient for most readers. The file includes not just chapter 1 itself, but also the preliminary material at the beginning of the book and the introduction. The PDF can also be read here directly in Google Docs without any need for download. For those who would like to make use of the text in editable form, it is available here in ODT format (best read with LibreOffice). An index to all the chapters is being built here (currently just a draft).

I suggest that potential readers begin with the two quotations on page 6, to see if the topic interests them. In the comments to this blog posting, please feel free to make corrections and offer criticisms on anything from typos to stylistic improvements to substantive issues. The wonderful thing about open digital publications is how easy it is to improve them.

The first day of Rosh Hodesh Iyyar (30 Nisan) is my wedding anniversary. This online edition, commencing on that date, is publicly dedicated to my wife Sheri (Shoshana). Thank you for your love, patience, and support. Completing this book, like everything I have done since our aliyah, is only due to the fact that you enabled me to do it. Whatever we have accomplished, we have done together.


  1. Unable to open the PDF file, says it's damaged or an unsupported file type.

  2. File opens fine for me.
    Perhaps it was a bad download?

    I'm curious though about Open Torah in Ma'alot / Karmiel
    I read something that mentioned that in an article on YNet

  3. robert,

    I had no problem opening the file.

  4. Thanks Robert and sorry about the trouble.

    Please check your Adobe version. I've tried on Adobe at my home computer, a university computer, on Google Docs, and with other software that reads PDF, and none of them have caused any problems.

  5. R'Avi,

    let me commend you greatly on your decision to make your work available to the public (especially when the alternative was Littman Library with their prohibitive pricing policy)!

    I look forward to reading it.

    Extra cookies for not charging anything for the download (wink wink RNS).

  6. I also commend Rabbi Dr. Kadish.

    With his permission, you can also read it using Google PDF Viewer, here, without having to download it:


  7. Ameteur, I don't remember anything in Ynet. Once several years ago I published an article called "The Open Jewish Community" in Makor Rishon. You can find "Open Torah" material at my website.

    To Shimon and S. thanks for the compliments. Your help in publicizing this at any appropriate forum or blog can help prove to the skeptics (and there are many!) that online publication is the best way to make sure that a book or an article will be well-read.

  8. Littman is not prohibitive. Brill is prohibitive. Littman is merely expensive. And to some extent, it depends on the rather limited market for a lot of what they publish.

    I waited 2 years to get Tishby's book on the Ramchal at the Seforim Sale, the only place I could find it at any discount from $65. And reading it, it's pretty dry and technical - it's not the sort of thing that will be on every coffee table like Sliding to the Right.

  9. Typo on page 7 - in line 6, relevation should be revelation.

  10. Mordechai GordonMay 6, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Shimon S, that's unfair criticism of RNS for not making his articles available freely, Rabbi Kadish was funded for the work whereas RNS doesn't get a penny ...
    I know you didnt mean it nastily but even so, i think he deserves our support. As a musician who often finds himself in a similar quandary I know how even lighthearted comments can make one unsure.

  11. Bob, thanks for the correction, it's been fixed. I hope more people will continue to offer ideas for improvement regarding things both small and large.

    Mordechai (and Shimon), the topic calls for creative thinking and for nuance. On the one hand, it's true that I am promoting a non-traditional model by example, and I do hope that it will encourage more people to publish things this way when appropriate. But on the other hand, that certainly doesn't make it the right model for every author in every single case. It's possible that I'll address the topic in the future.

    Shabbat Shalom

  12. Avi - Thank you for publishing your dissertation on R' Slifkin's website. Your topic is one I know basically nothing about, and I found the chapter very informative. I am looking forward to the next chapters.

    First, a grammatical quibble, from page 8, ".. when properly conducted, they are in accordance..". The antecedent of "they" seems to be "argumentation and conlusions"; however, conclusions cannot be conducted.

    Typo, page 16 line 6 - "set a created a" - one of those two phrases is extra.

    I do have a question for you about Rivash's attitude towards kabalah
    (discussed in fn 63), but I will have to save that for another time.

  13. Hi Bob, thanks for the corrections; the text has been fixed and updated.

    Feel free to open a discussion on the Rivash and his attitude to Kabbalah whenever convenient. Maybe just give me a heads-up though when you do, because this blog-post isn't so recent anymore. :-)


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

Tzedakah: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

How do you tell apart a good charity from a bad one? It can be very difficult to know who is actually honest. But the first step is to be aw...