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Bahya ibn Paquda

Bahya ibn Paquda (also: Pakuda.) Full name: Bahyna ben Joseph ibn Pakuda

Ibn Paquda was a rabbi and philosopher who lived at Saragossa, Spain, in the first half of the eleventh century. He was the author of the first Jewish system of ethics, written in Arabic in 1040 under the title "Al Hidayah ila Faraid al-hulub" (Guide to the Duties of the Heart), and translated into Hebrew by Judah ibn Tibbon in the years 1161-80 under the title "Hovot ha-Levavot" (Instruction in the Duties of the Heart).

Of his life nothing is known except that he bore the title of dayyan, judge at the rabbinical court. In composing the work toward the close of his life, Bahya desired, as he says in the introduction, to supply a great need in Jewish literature, neither the Talmudists nor the philosophical writers having theretofore made any attempt to bring the ethical teachings of Judaism into a system. Bahya found, on the one hand, the majority of the rabbis paying attention only to the outward observance of the Law, "the duties to be performed by the parts of the body" ("Hovot ha-ebarim"), without regard to the ideas and sentiments embodied in the 613 laws of Moses, "the duties of the heart" ("Hobot ha-lev"); and, on the other hand, the people at large disregarding all duties incumbent upon them, whether outward observances or moral obligations. Even the student of the Law was often prompted only by selfish and worldly motives. Bahya therefore felt impelled to make an attempt to present the Jewish faith as being essentially a great spiritual truth founded on Reason, Revelation (the written Law), and Tradition, all stress being at the same time laid on the willingness and the joyful readiness of the God-loving heart to perform life's duties.

An original thinker of high rank, thoroughly familiar with the entire philosophical and scientific Arabic literature, as well as with the rabbinical and philosophical writings of the Jews, Bahya combined in a rare degree great depth of emotion, a vivid poetic imagination, the power of eloquence, and beauty of diction with a penetrating intellect; and he was therefore well fitted to write a work the main object of which was not to argue about and defend the doctrines of Judaism, but to appeal to the sentiments and to stir and elevate the hearts of the people. He was also broad-minded enough to quote frequently the works of non-Jewish moral philosophers, which he used as a pattern. The "Hovot ha-Levavot" was intended to be, and it deservedly became, a popular book among the Jews throughout the world, and parts of it were recited for devotional purposes during the Penitential Days.

Bahya's Neoplatonism

From the style of his writings and the frequent and apt illustrations he uses, it appears more than probable that Bahya was a preacher of rich experience; while his great personality-a soul full of the utmost piety coupled with touching humility and a spirit of tolerance-shines through every line. Though he quotes Saadia Gaon's works frequently, he belongs not to the rationalistic school of the Motazilites whom Saadia follows, but, like his somewhat younger contemporary, Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1070), is an adherent of Neoplatonic mysticism, often closely imitating the method of the Arabian encyclopedists known as "the Brothers of Purity," as has been shown by Kaufmann, "Die Theologie des Bachya ibn Pakuda," pp. 202-204. Strangely inclined to contemplative mysticism and asceticism, Bahya eliminated from his system every element that might obscure monotheism, or might interfere with Jewish law. He wanted to present a religious system at once lofty and pure and in full accord with reason.

See also: Rabbi, Duties of the Heart



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