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The present study sheds light on the tortured relationship between Iberian Kabbalah and medieval Christian doctrine by shifting the scholarly focus from the self-consciously para-Trinitarian speculation developed in late thirteenth-century Castile to the messianism of earlier kabbalistic writing composed in Catalonia. It documents a filiation of texts—leading from the threefold theosophical speculation incubated by Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona to Moses Naḥmanides’s messianic assertions in the context of the 1263 Disputation of Barcelona—concerned with the interpretation of a single biblical episode: God’s investiture of Bezalel, the chief artisan of the Tabernacle, with three intellectual attributes operative in the divine act of creation. On the foundation laid for him by Ezra ben Solomon and Azriel of Gerona, Naḥmanides identified Bezalel’s knowledge of sacred architecture with knowledge of Kabbalah. Moreover, he intimated that the redeemer of Israel would resemble Bezalel as one endowed with such knowledge. This prompts the question: Did the Catalonian authors anticipate that Kabbalah would prove instrumental for the practical task of building a new sanctuary?

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In: Maimonides Review of Philosophy and Religion Volume 2, 2023


This chapter provides a general overview of approaches to the commandments in medieval Judaism, particularly among Jews who embraced the authority of the ancient rabbis. It focuses on the intertwined development of two discourses: commandment enumeration and commandment rationalization. And it highlights the decisive roles played by Saadia Gaon and Maimonides in framing these two subjects, charting these topics from the intellectually fertile period of the tenth century, at the height of Judaeo-Islamic acculturation, to the wave of kabbalistic creativity in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This chapter proposes that the commandments—whether enumerated, contemplated, rendered symbolic, or embodied—functioned as vessels into which medieval Jewish thinkers of all stripes poured a variety of competing and contradictory ideas. However ramified, multiple, and internally debated, the chapter theorizes medieval treatments of the commandments as a single generative matrix of Jewish thought and life in the posttalmudic period.

In: Accounting for the Commandments in Medieval Judaism
Accounting for the Commandments in Medieval Judaism explores the discursive formation of the commandments as a generative matrix of Jewish thought and life in the posttalmudic period. Each study sheds light on how medieval Jews crafted the commandments out of theretofore underdetermined material. By systematizing, representing, or interrogating the amorphous category of commandment, medieval Jewish authors across both the Islamic and Christian spheres of influence sought to explain, justify, and characterize Israel’s legal system, divine revelation, the cosmos, and even the divine order. This volume correlates bodies of knowledge—such as jurisprudence, philosophy, ethics, pietism, and kabbalah—that are normally treated in isolation into a single conversation about a shared constitutional concern.

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