The article reconstructs and examines the debate between Leo Strauss (1899–1973) and Julius Guttmann (1880–1950) on the interpretation of the essence of Jewish medieval philosophy. Is Jewish medieval philosophy characterised by being essentially a philosophy of religion or, as Strauss objected in his critique of Guttmann, is it better understood if we consider that Jewish medieval rationalists conceived the problem of the relationship between philosophy and Judaism primarily as the problem of the relationship between philosophy and the law?Though both Guttmann and Strauss seem to discuss in their works the question of the interpretation of medieval Jewish philosophy in a historical way, their arguments were in fact rooted in a theoretical and philosophical interest. Strauss and Guttmann followed different philosophical methods, had different personal attitudes toward Judaism and faith, but both tried to learn from medieval and ancient philosophy to understand the problems of modern and contemporary rationalism.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the German historian of philosophy Heinrich Ritter and the Jewish scholar and Orientalist Salomon Munk had a debate on the history of Jewish Philosophy. This debate is an example of how Salomon Munk’s work functioned to point up the reciprocal influences between Jewish, Arab and Christian Thought in the Middle Ages.
Munk, who was a scholar within the Wissenschaft des Judentums, a Jewish movement that promoted the scientific study of Judaism, criticized Ritter’s History of Philosophy. In fact, Munk noticed that in his work, Ritter mentioned only a few references to Jewish thinkers like Maimonides. Ritter’s response was that Christian historians of philosophy knew too little about this subject in order to give a qualified judgment. Nevertheless, later on, in the second edition of his History of Philosophy, Ritter added many important details on Al-Gazali, Ibn-Badja and Ibn-Roschd after the reading of Munk’s articles. Ritter also shaped an entirely new paragraph on the history of Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages using above all Munk’s seminal studies on Avicebron’s Fons Vitae.
The correspondence of the Italian Hebraist Samuel David Luzzatto (1800–1865) and the German-Jewish Orientalist Salomon Munk (1803–1867) sheds light on the trans-European dimension of the movement known as the Science of Judaism. This article is based on the reconstruction of the friendship between Luzzatto and Munk as reflected in Luzzatto’s letters to Munk in Paris. Their relationship was personal as well as intellectual: Luzzatto sent his son Philoxène, a promising Orientalist, to study under Munk’s supervision. Together with Munk’s letter to Philoxène, these letters provide us with details central to an understanding of the relationship between the two scholars. Although differing in their attitude toward Jewish faith and philosophy, Munk and Luzzatto shared a common interest in Hebrew and Oriental languages. Through their philological and linguistic studies, they challenged the Orientalistic attitude prevalent among European scholars and historians of philosophy in the first half of the nineteenth century.