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Saadia Gaon: The Book of Beliefs and Opinions (Yale Judaica Series) Paperback – September 10, 1989
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Original Language: Arabic, Hebrew --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Book of Opinions and Beliefs" is the first systematic treatment of the fundamentals of Judaism, and a classic of Jewish philosophy. It consists of ten treatises besides for an introductory treatise, and the topics covered include the relationship between faith and knowledge, creation and the existence of God, the nature of God, divine commands and prohibitions, obedience and disobedience, reward and punishment, the nature of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, the redemption, and proper conduct and virtues. A variant version of the treatise on the resurrection is included as an appendix.
In my opinion, the most difficult treatises are the introductory treatise on the relationship between faith and knowledge, and the treatise on creation and the existence of God, which includes an ingenious version of the cosmological argument. Nevertheless, the book is generally accessible. It is also very well organized, the argumentation is rigorous, and the treatment of the topics is comprehensive and deep.
I recommend this book highly for those interested in the fundamentals of Judaism and Jewish philosophy. An abridged translation by Alexander Altmann of "The Book of Opinions and Beliefs" is also available. Readers may also be interested in the more difficult "Guide for the Perplexed" by Maimonides, and the easier "Duties of the Heart" by Ibn Pakuda. The latter focuses on ethics, but also includes chapters on the existence and nature of God.
Saadiah's goal was to teach the truth of Judaism. He insisted that Jews should not adhere to traditions without thought. People must use their intelligence. They should not be afraid to ask daring questions about doctrine. This is not only permitted, it is mandatory. The source of the truth is irrelevant. Whether Greek philosophy or Moslem theology, the sole test of an idea is whether it is logical and consistent with science and experience. Any truth that helps clarify the Bible is welcome.
Yet, he insisted that reason cannot negate divine revelation. People do not have sufficient intelligence and knowledge to be certain that what they reason is true. Thus God aided Jews by giving them "ready-made truths" through revelation with which to govern their lives. Philosophical reflection, therefore, only furnishes secondary evidence of the authenticity and value of Torah teachings, for the Torah is the first and most reliable source of the truth.
Thus, Saadiah took his ideas from whatever source satisfied his inclination. However, despite his statements about the use of reason, because he relied upon his understanding of the Torah's revelation, Saadiah accepted improvable notions because they were ancient traditions.
1. He insisted that Jews believe that God created the world from nothing.
2. God is indivisible, unique and incorporeal. Biblical statements depicting God acting as a human must be understood as figures of speech, for God has no body.
3. God created the world as an act of grace, to make people happy.Read more ›
As concerns philosophy certainly the first treatise on creation is the most impressive, I found his first treatise incredibly succinct in certain places and very powerful.
The rest of the book philosophically seems less sophisticated but has good moments as well.
Probably one of the best things about this book is how it acts as an overview on various aspects of Jewish belief
Scripture is quoted frequently, throughout, very frequently. I'd also point out despite being head of a Talmudic School, and no doubt well educated in the Talmud quotations of the Talmud are rather infrequent.
Often his exegesis is fanciful, but sometimes valid and interesting.
I recommend the first treatise as an incredibly rigorous defence of creation by one God. The rest of the treatises for a representation of Jewish belief.
The first two chapters (or "treatises") address tbe nature of creation. In the first (and deepest) chapter, Saadia seeks to prove that God created the universe out of nothing. This chapter was a bit over my head in spots. One interesting sidelight: Saadia addresses a dozen alternative theories, and implies that the first alternative is the most credible, the second is the second most credible, and that the last is the weakest. But in my untutored opinion Saadia's order of proceeding is not obviously logical: his top alternative is that God created the universe out of "eternal spiritual beings" (p. 50) and the allegedly weakest alternatives are "skepticism" (i.e. that "it is proper for man to refraining from believing anything becuase they calim that human reasoning is full of uncertainties" (p. 80) and the views "of those who feign complete ignorance" (p. 82). But the latter alternative seems to me stronger than the former. Either 9th-century people viewed the world very differently than I, or Saadia was putting the weaker alternative first in order to strengthen his argument.
The second chapter discusses the nature of God- asserting that God is One and has no body. Interestingly, Saadia rejects the common midrashic view that the various names of God in the Torah refer to different Divine attributes. Instead, Saadia points out that Scriptures often uses names interchangeably (p.Read more ›