Yehudah Halevi

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Main article Judaism and Other Religions

Yehuda Halevi lived in the twelfth century, heir to Spanish philosophical and poetic traditions. He wrote a defense of Judaism, called the Treatise in Defense of a Despised Tradition, popularly known as The Kuzari. The work has been popular over the centuries and is still read today by students seeking a guide to basics of Jewish theology.

Israel among the nations is like a heart among the organs of the body. It is the healthiest, as well as the one most prone to disease. As the verse [Amos 3:2] states, "Only you have I known from all of the families of the earth; therefore shall I punish you for your iniquities.” (Kuzari II:36)

Similarly, all religions that came after the Torah of Moses are part of the process of bringing humanity closer to the essence of Judaism, even through they appear its opposite. The nations serve to introduce and pave the way for the long-awaited messiah. He is the fruit and they, in turn, will all become his fruit when they acknowledge him. Then all nations will become one tree, recognizing the common root they had previously scorned. (Kuzari IV:23)

For Yehudah Halevi, Israel is a chosen people, who transform the world. Other religions share a common root of Judaism; all religions are of the same tree with Judaism as the trunk.[9] The religions are not needed for Jewish self-understanding, but to fail to recognize the nature of the branch religions is to fail to properly understand the world and, in effect, God’s providential plan.

Many misread Yehudah Halevi's position as teaching the uniqueness of Judaism and the corollary falseness of other religions; we are true and they are wrong. However, as the above passage shows, the correct reading is that the other religions are only limbs on the trunk of Judaism. Even Halevi's limiting of prophecy to Judaism does not preclude the availability of some form of revelation for all. The book itself opens with a story of a king getting inspiration from God through a true dream and thereby coming to learn of the higher Mosaic revelation.[10]

While I dealt with Yehudah Halevi, some of the same sentiments are found in Maimonides' writings, embedded within a more theologically contradictory halakhic grid. The complexity of Maimonides' position is beyond the scope of this paper.