Jewish Socratic Questions in an Age without Plato

Permitting and Forbidding Open Inquiry in 12-15th Century Europe and North Africa

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Author: Yehuda Halper
Winner of the 2022 Goldstein-Goren Book Award from the Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Yehuda Halper examines Jewish depictions of Socrates and Socratic questioning of the divine among European and North African Jews of the 12th-15th centuries. Without direct access to Plato, their understanding of Socrates is indirect, based on legendary material, on fragmentary quotations from Plato, or on Aristotle. Out of these sources, Jewish authors of this period formed two distinct views of Socrates: one as a wise, ascetic, monotheist, and the other as a vocal skeptic. The latter view has its roots in Plato's Apology where Socrates describes his divine mandate to question all knowledge, including knowledge of the divine. After exploring how this and similar questions arise in the works of Judah Halevi and the Hebrew Averroes, Halper traces how such open-questioning of the divine arises in the works of Maimonides, Jacob Anatoli, Gersonides, and Abraham Bibago.

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Yehuda Halper is Associate Professor of Jewish Thought at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. He is a recipient of the Alon Fellowship and director of the ISF-funded project "Hebrew Traditions of Aristotelian Dialectics" at Bar Ilan University.
All those interested in the history and reception of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Averroes as well as those interested in open inquiry among medieval Jewish thinkers, including Maimonides and Judah Halevi.