This front matter section of the book From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy presents the Table of Contents, the Preface, a note of usage, and a note on source references for each chapter of the book. Classical authors with Arabic names are transcribed with diacriticals, such as Yūsuf al-Baṣῑr or Dāwūd al-Muqammiṣ (not Joseph or David). When the name is in Hebrew and has no well-recognized English equivalent, then it is transcribed with diacriticals, such as Yeshuʿah or Menaḥtem. When the name is in Hebrew and has a well-recognized English equivalent, then the English name is used, such as Judah, Moses, or Abraham.
The Karaites are followers of an alternative form of Judaism, one which does not derive its authority from rabbinic literature as encapsulated in the Talmud. Karaite and Rabbanite philosophical discussions are quite similar. Discussions of common issues led to cross-fertilization of ideas between the two groups, and it was mostly the Karaites who borrowed from the Rabbanites. Karaite philosophy, therefore, should be seen as one branch of Jewish philosophy, and its study enriches our knowledge of Jewish thought as a whole. With the demise of the Karaite community in the Land of Israel, the next major Karaite community was that of Byzantium. Although Karaism in Byzantium probably goes back to the tenth century, it was only in the following century that the community was firmly established. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, new centers of Karaite intellectual creativity emerged in the Crimea and in areas of Eastern Europe.
A number of Karaites stressed that religion must be based on science and that the use of philosophy was the proper method of achieving the truth in religious matters. However, not all Karaites were committed to the proposition that philosophical knowledge of God precedes religious obligations, despite Judah Halevi's broad generalization. Since, however, Halevi saw this approach to philosophy and religion as being particularly Karaite, this chapter presents a short survey of the manner in which Karaites integrated reason into their religious worldview. After making the case for the necessity of scientific investigation as the basis of revealed religion, Yūsuf al-Baṣῑr proceeds with his proofs for the existence of God, based on standard kalamic assumptions, such as the existence of atoms. Additionally, Aaron ben Elijah's belief that scientific questions should be solved on the basis of science and not theology left its imprint on later Karaite thinkers.
Early Karaites did not develop or adopt philosophical frameworks for discussions of theological problems. Any attempt to reconstruct Karaite theology or philosophy before the end of the tenth century requires a careful reading of works-such as law codes, biblical commentaries or polemics-whose central purposes were far removed from an orderly presentation and defense of Karaite beliefs. Although later Karaites eventually turned away from the strict Kalām of their predecessors, the form and content of the kalamic discussions in the classical Karaite period always hovered in the background of subsequent theological reflections. Thus, in order to understand the legacy of Karaite thought that informed the works of the later authors, this chapter presents a short outline of classical Karaite Kalām. Maimonides points out correctly that the standard kalamic method of proving the existence of God began with a demonstration that the world was created and, therefore, a Creator must exist.
This chapter dealing with Judah Hadassi's philosophical system indicates, that Hadassi, in the twelfth century, is firmly located in the intellectual world of his Muʿtazilite Karaite predecessors of the tenth and eleventh centuries. His concepts and terminology are taken from the kalamic theological literature. Hadassi's most notable innovation was his recording of ten principles of Judaism. These principles are: (I) the existence of a Creator; (2) the Creator's eternity and unity; (3) the creation of the world; (4) the ministry of Moses and the other prophets; (5) the truth of the Torah; (6) the obligation to know Hebrew; (7) the Temple as the residence of God's glory and indwelling; (8) the resurrection of the dead; (9) accountability; and (10) reward and punishment. The chapter divides these principles into the standard kalamic taxonomy of divine unity (principles 1-3) and divine justice (4-10).
Aaron ben Joseph the Doctor, known as Aaron the Elder, would appear to be a much better candidate for the herald of the transformation of Karaite thought between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries. His world of discourse was very much that of rabbinic Judaism. In the realm of philosophy, Aaron was familiar with certain kalamic doctrines of his Karaite predecessors, but he often rejects them in favor of the Aristotelian views of the Rabbanites, especially those of Maimonides. A few examples presented in this chapter show this clearly; the examples deal with the subjects of creation and the physical world, God and divine attributes, prophecy, and providence. The examples also show that Aaron ben Joseph changed the face of Karaite philosophy.
Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia was not a typical post-Maimonidean Jewish philosopher, but the judgment that &t;he merely restates what (his Karaite predecessors) had already said&t; is exaggerated. The discussion in this chapter is devoted to the proposition that Aaron's philosophical views were not solely a throwback to classical Karaite Kalām, and so an appreciation of his place in the history of Jewish thought requires a more nuanced reading of his literary work than is usually offered. What is the nature of the philosophy in ʿEẓ Ḥayyim? Is it kalamic Aristotelianism or Aristotelian Kalām? The answer is that his ʿEẓ Ḥayyim constitutes a link in Karaite philosophical development, which passed from Kalam to Aristotelianism, in the same manner in which Rabbanite thought followed the same trajectory. In the eleventh century, Karaite thinkers were Mutakallimūn; in the fifteenth century they were Aristotelians.