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.