The Karaite reception of Gersonides

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Early in his career, the nineteenth-century Karaite bibliophile, collector, and forger, Abraham Firkowicz (or: Firkovich; 1787–1874), wrote a very acerbic anti-Rabbanite polemic entitled Massah u-merivah, attacking his opponents for having made up a false religion.* Not all Rabbanites are attacked equally; in fact, Firkowicz considered some of them secret Karaites who also suffered at the hands of their Rabbanite co-religionists. Exhibit One on his list of Rabbanite supporters of Karaism is Maimonides, whom he defends at length. Other sympathetic Rabbanites, he wrote, are Abraham Ibn Ezra, Isaac Abarbanel, and Joseph Solomon del Medigo (Yashar of Candia); in addition, the Karaites are presented positively in Judah Halevi’s Kuzari. Firkowicz continues: “Who is as great as Maimonides and all his commentators; as well as Baḥya the Righteous, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Gersonides and all their scholars.” I have already discussed how Maimonides became a Karaite cultural hero despite his ruling in his youth that they were liable for the death penalty as sectarians. Although the Kuzari may have been written originally as an anti-Karaite polemic, and even though roughly a tenth of it consists of anti-Karaite arguments, Judah Halevi is important for the Karaites because he distinguished them from the Sadducees, indirectly providing Karaites, at least from the fifteenth century, with their standard explanation of the division between the two communities. Similarly, even though Ibn Ezra includes many anti-Karaite statements in his commentaries, including some acerbic polemics against them, he was also strongly influenced by their exegetes and cites a number of them approvingly, most notably Yefet ben Eli. In turn, he was admired by later Karaites for his peshat commentaries on the Bible. So these three Andalusian Rabbanites, despite their attacks on the Karaites, were perceived by later Karaites as well-wishers and not opponents. There are scattered references to Baḥya Ibn Paquda’s Duties of the Heart in Karaite writings, but it is unclear how he made it onto Firkowicz’s list of Karaite sympathizers. The discussion here will center on the last name on his list, Gersonides. Why does Abraham Firkowicz cite him so positively?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGersonides' Afterlife
Subtitle of host publicationstudies on the reception of Levi ben Gerson's philosophical, Halakhic and scientific oeuvre in the 14th through 20th centuries
EditorsOfer Elior, Gad Freudenthal, David Wirmer
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9789004425286
ISBN (Print)9789004425279
StatePublished - Jun 2020

Publication series

NameStudies in Jewish History and Culture
ISSN (Print)1568-5004


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