Textes de référence

Alessandro Guetta

(posté le 20/12/1999)








Retour / Back


            We know a good deal about the Da Pisa family, as well as about the financial and intellectual activities of its members, thanks to the research of David Kaufmann, Umberto Cassuto and Michele Luzzati.[1] By now we know that the Da Pisa family included lenders of great importance even on a national scale, as well as rabbinical authorities who were extremely productive in the field of juridical decisions, thought (both cabalist and philosophic) and even of poetry. For at least three generations, from the last decades of the fifteenth century to half way through the following, the Da Pisas were one of the main reference points of the entire Italian Jewish community.

            Much attention has been given recently to the figure of Yechiel (Vitale) Nissim Da Pisa (1493? - before 1572), author of the important philosophical text Minchath Kenaoth (The gift of zeal), dated 1539,[2] and of two other shorter works, the Discourse on the Ten Sefiroth (Heb.), previous to the Minchath, and the Discourse on the Righteous Man and the Purpose of the World (Heb.), dated 1559,[3] as well as of a juridical text on loans with interest, the Discourse on Eternal Life (Heb.).[4] In Rabbis and Jewish Communities in Renaissance Italy, Roberto Bonfil dedicated several very dense pages to this scholar, reading his work in the context of the crisis of Medieval rationalism, a crisis which interested both Christians and Jews of the time.[5] The present study intends to develop a few parts of Bonfil's interpretation, following his general orientation. We will then try to sketch the intellectual portrait of Yechiel, both in reference to Jewish tradition and to the Italian culture of his time.

            All of Yechiel's works circulated as manuscripts, even though some of them (such as the Discourse on Eternal Life) were probably meant to be published.[6] In its scope as in its ambition, the Minchath Kenaoth distinguishes itself from the others. It is a punctual confutation of the Iggereth Hithnatzeluth (Letter of justification) written by the provençal philosopher and moralist Yeda‘yah Bedersi (known as "ha-Penini," 1270-1340) in reaction to Shelomo ben Addereth's decision to prohibit the study of the natural sciences and philosophy before the age of twenty-five.[7]

            Bedersi's Letter is a brief, but extremely clear, list of the advantages that religion draws from the study of philosophy; Yechiel examines it in detail and replies to all of Bedersi's arguments, furthering the discourse remarkably. The result is an actual treatise, in which the main problems of the philosophical tradition are analyzed according to the classical structure of the Tomistic quaestio: first the adversary's opinion is presented, along with a detailed analysis of the argument according to the main philosophers, and then the author describes his own position, which he founds on what he considers to be the authentic Jewish tradition.

            It goes without saying that by philosophy, or free rational research, Yechiel means Aristotelism, as it developed from Aristotle, through his Greek, Arab and Jewish commentators, up until the more recent discussions of the Italian "university philosophy." The work's objective is clearly presented from the very introduction, which is written in a precious rhymed prose: it opposes the position of those who want to


show the great advantages to be gained from the study and knowledge of that science called philosophy, as if without it the sacred Torah did not have the right to be placed in the highest ranks and as if its beliefs [...] did not make any sense without her: in short, the maid who passes as a lady [...] But we have the obligation to destroy and shatter these confused opinions and bad beliefs: this is what ruins our people and corrupts our patrimony [...]. The Torah deserves the primogeniture, it is the light of all other sciences.[8]


            Further on, Yechiel nuances and clarifies his idea:


My objections do not regard the intensive study of philosophy as such, because science qua science makes possible the knowledge of the causes or the natural hierarchy of things, and thus can be pursued with profit; as long as it helps to know the reality of the entities, as these were created, and as to their use, but not when it claims to be the main moment and the evaluating criterion of the Torah.[9]


            The book's long introduction continues, developing these fundamental points:

            1) the centrality of the Torah as a source of knowledge;

            2) the refutation of allegory as a means by which to explain the Bible. According to the allegorists:


in the Torah there would not be teachings relative to what is permitted and what is prohibited, to the guilty and the innocent, to the sacrifices and the offerings; instead, it would overflow with notions of incommensurable value, like the primary material called hylé that is ready to assume any form, towards which it is attracted like a man to a young woman, or the rotation of the spheres, etc.[10];


            3) the self-sufficiency of the Torah, if accompanied by its esoteric explanations:


Every thing is included in brief mentions in its letters, in its vocalization and cantillation signs, in the closed passages and in the open ones, in the marks to be added over some of the letters, just as it was delivered to the greatest of the shepherds from the mouth of the Lord [...] Such is the qabbalah, orally transmitted unto us.[11]


            All this is accompanied by an affirmation of proud particularism ("Why turn to others? [...] Why return to Egypt in search of help? Why embrace a foreign breast?"[12]) in which argumentation is replaced by a peremptory affirmation, and the concatenation of rational discourse by the rhetoric of suggestion.


1. The components of Yechiel's thought


            According to Yechiel, the alternative way to philosophy develops through these successive phases:

            1) the anti-intellectualism of Yehudah ha-Lewy (1075-1141), author of the book of Kuzari (The king of the Cazari), considered the champion of the traditional attitude vis-à-vis the rational[13];

            2) the interpretative attitude, it too profoundly anti-intellectualistic, of Mosheh ben Nachman (acrostic RaMBaN, 1194-1270);

            3) the vision of the sefiroth, according to the Italian cabalist tradition.


            1) The Spanish scholar and poet is cited at length by Yechiel, who quotes in extenso his strong declarations against the philosophical notion of prophecy as the highest level in the scale of intellection: one does not prophesy, according Yehuda ha-Lewy, after the union of the potential intellect with the agent intellect, but thanks to the constant application of the Torah's commandments. We will consider this argument in detail later on. Yechiel also appropriates ha-Lewy's declarations of the uniqueness of the Jewish people, object of a special divine love and in which alone the authentic prophecy could be realized. Yechiel is not the only Jewish intellectual in Italy to turn to Yehuda ha-Lewy as an alternative to Aristotelian-Maimonidean rationalism. During this period, the Kuzari reached the great level of dignity of Maimonides' Guide for the perplexed.[14] At the end of the previous century, with the typical Italian Jewish respect for Maimonides, the cabalist Elia di Genazzano had already affirmed that he did not want to insist in his critique of the Spanish philosopher, because there already existed a book which could function as a perfect counter-altar to the Guide: the Kuzari, "which does not have equals in its accordance with truth and its harmony with the qabbalah," a book worthy of being the object of constant attention "of the eyes and of the heart."[15]


            2) Yechiel claims to have founded his ideas entirely on Nachmanides,[16] whom he cites in support of the fundamental idea that the Torah is the origin of all the other sciences, as well as of several interpretations, both religious -- the question of individual providence -- and sometimes esoteric -- the transmigration of souls.[17] One needs to remember that Moshe ben Nachman is an uncompromising upholder of the tradition, which he naturally sees going back to Moses -- and therefore to the divine revelation -- and which he considers in antithesis to the results of autonomous reflection: "What I write on the secrets of the Torah  -- so does he conclude his dense introduction to the commentary on the Pentateuch -- certainly does not result from individual reasoning and understanding, but it was transmitted to me by a master; so does the student who is taught become a person who understands."

            Close to Nachmanides' sensibility is also the idea of God's absolute freedom in regards to the world; his action is not limited by the separate intellects, and even less by the laws of nature.[18] Omniscience corresponds to absolute freedom. And therefore the total opposition to the provençal philosopher Gersonides (1288-1344) is more than logical, for the latter denied to God the knowledge of man's single and freely performed acts. The freedom of man -- which, as we will see, is extremely vast, although not absolute -- is not for Yechiel in contradiction with divine knowledge, to which are then linked providence and justice.[19]


            3) Thanks to the studies of Moshe Idel, we can distinguish a cabalist tradition specific to Italian Jews. This tradition, which refers back to Menachem Recanati (XIII-XIVth centuries) and was developed by Yochanan Alemanno, is characterized by a strong philosophical bent, as well as by its relative degree of freedom from the influence of the Zohar's mythical thought, typical instead of the Spanish qabbalah.[20] One of the most remarkable points of divergence concerned the nature of the sefiroth. The problem, whose delicacy and importance become clear when one considers the question of the attributes in Spinoza's Ethics, regards the question of whether or not the sefiroth belong to the divine substance (‘atzmuth). Recanati, the author of an important esoteric commentary on the Torah, defines the sefiroth as instruments -- or receptacles -- (kelim) of the divine activity ("as instruments in the hands of an artisan [...] yet tightly united among themselves and with a single spirit for all")[21] -- and as such knowable -- thereby distinguishing them from the substance of God (the ein sof) which remains unknowable. In his commentary on the Song of Songs, Alemanno returns to this distinction and illustrates it through the similitude of soul and body -- a comparison which can give an idea both of the relationship between invisible cause and visible effects, and of the relationship between the unity of God and the multiplicity of forces ruling the world.[22] Yechiel's uncle, Yitzchaq of Pisa, who certainly knew Alemanno, his contemporary and long-time guest of the Da Pisas, is the protagonist of an epistolary exchange with the rabbi of Spanish origin Yitzchaq mar Chayyim; this correspondence reveals a position different from Alemanno's, in that the sefiroth are not considered solely as instrumental, but also -- at least for the first two, or three -- as essential.[23]

            We will not delve into a discussion of these difficult, though fundamental, classifications. Naturally one must wonder about the degree of "philosophical" awareness with which these minute distinctions were made. We take it for granted that the scholars in question did not limit themselves to a servile repetition of themes whose depth they ignored. Obviously, pedagogical traditions played an important -- albeit not exclusive -- role in determining their different stances; nevertheless, even beyond what may appear to be mere formulas (the statute of the sefiroth; the relationship between the sefiroth ein sof and keter; the classification of the sefiroth in subcategories), the main question is whether these authors were aware of the fact that they were treating issues of great importance, such as the relationship between God and the world, between the mystery and the knowable, the ineffable and the sayable.

            In any case, after having remembered that Yechiel seems to uphold his uncle Yitzchaq's theory,[24] it is important to signal the fact that this debate of ideas combines philosophy's conceptual terminology with the qabbalah's: the sefiroth are defined as "attributes", the Ein sof is the "primary cause." In Yechiel, critic of philosophy, the relationship between God and the world -- a relationship of entirely cabalist inspiration -- is made to overlap with Aristotelian physics and metaphysics:


God transmits his spiritual energy (shefa‘) and strength to his attributes, without undergoing any changes; from there, this transmission of energy descends to the world of the intellects, and thereafter to the spheres, and finally to the sublunar world.[25]


            This is a real overlay, in which, according to the cabalist, esoteric doctrine may complete, rather than refute, the philosophical: the first begins where the second leaves off. Alemanno had been clear on the subject: "The wise of Israel speak of a world which is not that of the philosophers: the world of the sefiroth is superior to that of the corruptible entities, as well as to the world of circular movements and that of the angels."[26]


2. Qabbalah and philosophy


            Yitzchaq mar Chayyim had already warned his correspondent in regards to the relationship between tradition and autonomous reflection, inviting him to choose the first as his reference point, that is to adapt philosophy to the qabbalah, and not the contrary. "Rational research in this field is prohibited to us," Yitzchaq mar Chayyim contends elsewhere; "instead, it is to the prophetic qabbalah that we must turn, because it is superior to reason."[27]

            This monitory of a Spanish teacher confirms a contrario the Italian qabbalah's philosophical tendency, of which Yechiel is a typical representative. Yechiel's philosophical forma mentis is for the rest confirmed by the scholastic course of his juridical argument. In the Discourse on Eternal Life, his brief text on loans with interest, declaredly written as a juridical synthesis and reference book for the numerous Jews who supported themselves on financial activities, Yechiel (a) pronounces the most general principles on which the argumentative construction is founded; (b) elaborates a syllogism from which to deduce the general conclusion; (c) announces the necessity of studying each particular case; and (d) finally proceeds to the definitions, which delimit the problems to be discussed and facilitate their solution.[28]

            Presented only to be confuted, the abundance and precision of the philosophical arguments in the Minchath Kenaoth clearly illustrate Yechiel's deep understanding of the discipline. His culture was naturally based on the Arab-Jewish Aristotelian tradition: other than the Zohar, Yechiel had personally copied Averroé's commentary on books III and IV of Aristotle's Physics[29]; thanks to his knowledge of Latin, he was also acquainted with the most recently published works in Italy. A precious source for him are the extensive syntheses of his contemporary Agostino Nifo, to whom Yechiel refers many times in his thorough analyses of particular questions.[30]

            Several philosophical expositions, on the intellect for example, are wide-reaching and exemplary in terms of their order and clarity; they can sound even more convincing than their propositive part, as this does not always present a unified and coherent thought. Roberto Bonfil has therefore argued that Yechiel finds himself at the turning point between two cultural eras and that he masters the discourse of the older era, which he refuses, better than that of the new, which isn't well defined yet. This statement, important from the point of view of historical perspective, should perhaps be nuanced in regards to Yechiel's specific competence not only in rabbinical tradition, but also in the qabbalah itself. The Pisan scholar masters basic texts like the Zohar, just as he also establishes a precise position for himself within cabalist thought -- a position which reveals both technical knowledge and deliberate intellectual choices.[31]

            Naturally the qabbalah is not simply a philosophy, or at least not in the Aristotelian sense. Independently from the issue of its origins (traditional or rational), the qabbalah represents an intuitive attitude which would function as an alternative (or complement, as we have seen) to the Aristotelian discursive reason. The relationship between unity and plurality as the cabalists intend it (as do also, ultimately, the Neoplatonists) cannot be analyzed with Aristotelian conceptual instruments. When Yechiel refrains from analyzing these subjects in further depth,[32] it is not because of any superficiality or incompetence on his part; rather, he is aware of the fact that they can only be treated in allusive and intuitive terms, with a metaphoric or even mythical lexicon:


The question of the attributes is one of the most profound of all theology (chokhmah elohith, divine science). [...] All actions which manifest themselves in reality are potentially qualities (middoth) through which God acts, as instruments in the hands of an artisan; however, they are not separated from God, rather they are united in Him in a total unity that words are not capable of describing.[33]


            Yechiel's adhesion to the philosophical dimension, and at the same time the distance that he keeps from it, are visible in his definition of the stars' and celestial spheres' constitution. They are of "sefirothic material": here the ontological character of the substance serves to define an element, be this celestial or Aristotle's "fifth element." Beyond this coincidence in terminology, however, the difference between the Aristotelians' position and Yechiel's is evident from the very beginning. Maimonides, who in this regard referred back to Aristotle, had defined the fifth element negatively (it is neither light nor heavy, etc.), for the obvious reason that we do not have any direct experience of it.[34] Where the philosopher had prudently stopped because of a lack of proof, Yechiel advances without any scruples. The combination of his anti-intellectualistic and intuitivistic attitudes culminates in a need for positive contents which the schools' philosophy could not provide. This is perhaps the most historically significant aspect of Yechiel's work, which we will discuss in further detail later on.


3. Yechiel, Renaissance man.


            Once again, it is to Idel's research that we owe the particular attention given to the magic -- and Neoplatonic -- character of a certain qabbalah. Of course this had been a well known fact for a while, in part thanks to the Christian qabbalah and its magic-alchemic elements. However, their importance had been forgotten in the shadow of the great figure of Gershom Scholem, who, in his reconstruction of the historical development of Jewish esotericism, had not highlighted these aspects.

            The magic aspect is emphasized by Idel, in the same studies mentioned above, in regards to Yochanan Alemanno and Yitzchaq of Pisa. This step marked considerable progress in linking Jewish historiography -- for a long time the prisoner of a reductive rationalism -- and European historiography, which instead had learned to see magic as an important step in the development of a "modern" consciousness. To a certain extent Yechiel shares this trust in magic: clearly a Renaissance man in his behavior, he was also one in his mental attitudes.

            After having reached the highest level of spirituality, man can attach his soul to the superior worlds and cause divine energies to descend onto the world, by means of his moral virtues and accomplishment of the precepts. Thanks to this union, in a way he too becomes divine and is thus able to intervene in the normal course of nature, which, as we have seen, is totally dependent on divine will:


When man ascends from one level to another thanks to those steps which are represented by the virtues which the Torah indicates and which our teachers call pietas [hassiduth], and after the accomplishment of the Torah in its general rules as well as in its details, his soul strongly adheres to and unites itself with the superior worlds, attracting and propagating the divine presence [shekhinah]; he will therefore provide the people with true knowledge, and will conduct them along the right way. That man will then be able to accomplish prodigies and miracles, and change the course of nature.[35]


At this level he will become entirely spiritual and divine, and while remaining in this world he will belong to the superior worlds, and these will obey him as it happened with the prophets. Thus even the teachers of Israel, when the prophecy was interrupted, by virtue of their absolute adhesion [devekuth] to God caused the dead to resurrect and the living suddenly to die. They overturned the order and nature of the world, because they adhered to blessed God, and he "fulfills the desires of those who fear him." (Psalms, CXLV, 19).[36]


            All the different components of these propositions are already in Alemanno, and many of them can be found in Florentine Neoplatonism. Alemanno speaks explicitly of the descent of spiritual energies on the world thanks to the intervention of that man who is capable of receiving and directing the divine emanations and their powers.[37] And if Pico della Mirandola describes man as "et caelestium et terrestrium vinculum et nodus si in se ipso pacem et foedera sancit,"[38] Yechiel recalls the Zohar's image of the tabernacle and the terrestrial Temple (both the historical and the future) as places in which the superior and inferior worlds have been, and will be, strongly linked, thereby fulfilling the will of God.[39] One should note, however, that despite these important mentions, in Yechiel's writing magic does not have the weight that instead it seems to possess in Alemanno's. Yechiel does not insist on the subject, and more importantly he completely ignores all descriptions of magical practices, on which Alemanno, instead, dwells at length (for example, on how to prepare to receive the divine energy through the reading of the Torah, which is the equivalent of reading the names of God)[40]; in the Minchath Kenaoth, there is a single and rapid mention of the mystical properties of the letters and of the vocalization and cantillation signs.[41]

            Yechiel is interested, on the one hand, in establishing the privileged role of man within the universe, and of the Jewish people in their relationship to God in particular, and on the other in showing the inadequacy of conceptual instruments to fulfill this destiny. He therefore limits the importance of magic, inserting it within the traditional and anti-intellectualistic framework that we have already described. As he exalts man's calling, Yechiel appears to emphasize the descent of divine energies onto the world by virtue of the just man's work, while he neglects the Zoharic concept of harmony between the sefiroth themselves as a consequence of human action. The affirmation of the absolute freedom of God is combined with the anthropocentric vision of the world created for the good and perfection of man.[42]

            Moreover, to this problem Yechiel dedicated his whole Discourse on the Righteous Man and the Purpose of the World, a short treatise written in answer to the letter of a certain Ya‘aqov from Modena which contained the following questions: is man more important than the angels? was the world created for man? Yechiel correctly links the two questions and, as already in the Minchath Kenaoth, he reviews the philosophical doctrines on the subject, to which he then opposes others drawn from the rabbinical-cabalist tradition.

            In order to understand fully Yechiel's answers, it is necessary to remember that, according to Maimonides, in this regard a faithful follower of Aristotle, man cannot be seen as the object of creation, because every entity was created for the good of that same entity, and not for any other. Furthermore, there is a hierarchy of purity of beings, within which man occupies an inferior position than the separate and celestial intellects (identified with the angels).[43]

            Yechiel's answer is the opposite of Maimonides': man is a microcosm, a model of all worlds. When he is just, he is superior to the angels; his soul originates on the throne of God's glory, to which it returns when it separates from the body, even before death. It is the Torah, which preceded the existence of the world, which allows corruptible man to ascend to the superior worlds and to unite himself with God, leaving the angels beneath him.[44] It seems almost superfluous to remark how close this idea is to Renaissance Neoplatonism, of which it represents the Jewish version.[45]


            4. The uniqueness of Israel


            Speaking of Yechiel Nissim from Pisa, Bonfil underlines how his opposition to scholastic thought also implies the revaluation of the idea of the uniqueness of the Jew -- as an individual and as a people -- which this same thought had somewhat disregarded.[46] And in fact we have seen not only how the Torah is an instrument of elevation, but also which is the privileged position of the Jewish people among men: it is like the heart among the members of the body.[47]

            Yechiel underlines the uniqueness of Israel time and again. This idea is highlighted especially in the "classical" argument, bent on proving the insufficiency of philosophy in comparison with authentic prophecy: indeed, if prophecy really were a union, favored by the imaginative faculty, of the potential intellect with the agent intellect, as Avicenna and Maimonides contended, it is not clear why the philosophers were not prophets, and why among the latter only the Jews prophesied in truth and at length. In reality, it is the performance of the mitzwoth and the knowledge of the Torah's secrets -- both reserved to Israel -- that allow one to acquire prophetic abilities.[48]

            Regarding divine providence, Yechiel establishes a hierarchy of entities which views animals as the object of divine providence qua species, humans qua individuals and the Jews qua individuals who receive a particular attention in that


their form is particular and separated from the rest of the human kind, and it is therefore right that providence be more individualized in their regard. Indeed, the more a man is close to God -- thanks to his accomplishment of the precepts -- the more He who provides is close to he who enjoys this providence, and never does He abandon him with his gaze.[49]


            It is interesting to note here that Yechiel alters Maimonides' argument, whose influence he explicitly acknowledges, right at the end. According to the Spanish philosopher, divine providence applies to animals as species and to men as individuals. The latter receive a particular attention from God in proportion to their degree of perfection, which is mainly of an intellectual order and which, in the Guide, does not seem to refer in any way to the Jews.[50] Yechiel replaces this hierarchy of intelligence with an essentialist hierarchy of form and of the accomplishment of the precepts, it too an essentialist act in that, by virtue of their own nature, the precepts are close to God.

            Furthermore, the Pisan rabbi's argument differs from the beliefs of many of his Jewish contemporaries. As humanists, they argued for the superiority of Israel on the basis of the antiquity of their laws, a claim which was also informed by a cultural pride which could represent itself in the idea of an "Israel redeemer of humanity," as well as in the -- however limited -- practice of proselytism.[51]

            The real purpose of the world is Israel, and within Israel, the just people. Yechiel therefore rejects the Aristotelian and Maimonidean idea of the internal purposiveness of every created thing, and he develops this through a parable. A man owns a field perfect for planting. He performs all the necessary preparations and plants a tree. This tree grows, develops and starts bearing fruit. But many of the fruits rot on the branches; others fall before they have ripened. There remains one single fruit, which grows and ripens as it should, and it reaches its final state. Now if it is true that the field was the cause of the tree, as also the tree of the fruit, the farmer's intention and objective in this work was to obtain that one perfect fruit; indeed, he knew very well that most of his crop would be lost. In the same way, God has prepared the world for the planting of that tree -- mankind -- with the intention of obtaining in the end one single fruit, the people of Israel with their just men.[52]

            This particularism is probably not characteristic of the Jews, as it manifests itself as well in Christian milieux associated with traditionalism and the almost exclusive reference to the Scriptures. In his Examen Vanitatis (1520), for example, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola affirmed that he "preferred the old theologians of our faith, who contended that one should undertake some action against the pagan philosophers (gentium philosophos) and destroy their teachings, rather than philosophize according to their doctrines (as those who cultivated such studies in the past centuries)."[53] These affirmations clearly recast the ethnic character of Jewish particularism. The equivalence made here -- of a cultural, and not an ethnic, character -- is therefore between an "us" and the heirs of the dogmatic tradition (to whatever camp they may belong), on the one hand, and, on the other, a "them" and the rationalists who place themselves outside this tradition.

            It is interesting to note how Yechiel's contemporary, ‘Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550), in his important philosophical work Or ‘ammim (Light of the peoples, Bologna 1537), [54] returns to the subject of man as the purpose of the universe, adapting this Renaissance idea to Aristotelian, and in particular Avverroistic, coordinates, to which he remains faithful. Sforno contends that, even admitting that superior entities cannot exist to ensure the perfection of inferior ones, one still cannot deny that man's rational soul is superior to the heavens insofar as it is separated. Indeed, the heavens, with their circular and in itself perfect movement, are the cause of the combinations among the elements of the corruptible world. It is precisely in this world that man happens to act in order to accomplish his two goals of getting closer to God by means of his intellect, and of resembling him, in accordance with the divine precept.

            Within this conceptual framework, the Jews occupy a privileged position, not as the executors of the Torah which God himself has reserved for them, but because they accepted his covenant and are better disposed than any other people to recognize his sovereignty and to serve him. Further on we will see how Sforno believes that the superiority of the Jews is justified for reasons opposite those of Yechiel: in his mind, in fact, the people of Israel are the true repositories of a rational tradition.[55]

            If Yechiel exalts the centrality of man in the universe (and, among men, of the Jews), nevertheless he is not ready to grant him absolute freedom. Several years before he wrote the Minchath Kenaoth, a heated debate had developed on free will, stimulated by the Protestant reform. Yechiel deliberately and explicitly places himself within this debate, for example denying any validity to the reformist doctrine of the "servant will." Even had there not been sufficient philosophical proofs, he argues, the mere fact that the Torah presents man with commandments implies that there is a freedom of choice: free will is therefore an indispensable element in the construction of beliefs.[56]  However, Yechiel expresses one important reservation:


free will is not absolute, and the help of God is necessary to perfect the inclination that permits man to develop fear and follow the good. This is one of the principles of the Torah: if and when on his part man disposes his heart to good actions and to the mitzwoth, he will receive from God help and energy which will give him sufficient strength to accomplish them. Most worthy actions that regard the Torah and the mizwoth, and the beginning of fear, depend on man: the help he receives from God is to be considered a reward.[57]


            In its basic structure (man's action completed by divine intervention), this idea is similar to the catholic doctrine of justification, as sanctioned a few years later by the Council of Trento. According to this doctrine, faith in a "propitiatory" Christ can compensate for the weakening of freedom after the original sin. Only in this way can man be born again to grace.[58]


5. Modernity and tradition


            One can take Yechiel's work to be utterly attached to a traditionalistic vision, as the expression of a spirit hostile to philosophy and which, within Judaism, manifested itself in a contempt of Maimonides and a return to internal sources.[59] However, we know that renewal -- without loading this term with the value judgments of any philosophy of history -- can easily appear as a return to tradition, at least initially. In this case the historian must discover, within traditional arguments, that accent or the few significant details which nuance them in new ways.

            We have seen Yechiel's reservations in regards to philosophy. Naturally, his position was far from new. Yehudah ha-Lewy takes it as one of the principles informing the Kuzari: philosophy is conceived as the ancilla prophetiae, where by prophecy he mainly means that of Moses, conserved and passed on through the oral and written tradition.[60] What characterizes Yechiel's position, within this anti-intellectualistic vein, is his insistence on the insufficiency of the philosophical method, which founds all explanations on empirical observation and on the subsequent search for the causes of the phenomenon. This search from the posterior to the anterior is deemed inappropriate by Yechiel if one wants to reach truth. The inductive procedure leads one to determine the cause through its effect, attested by the senses; but both the starting point and this procedure are marred by imprecision.


Prophetic knowledge, on the contrary, captures the effect through its cause, that is the posterior along with the anterior, and this is free from errors or confusion.[61]


            His opposition to peripatetic epistemology is clear, even if there is a tendency to emphasize its empirical aspect. One should consider, for a comparison, the Aristotelian statement made by Agostino Nifo, to whose works Yechiel referred readers desirous of more information:


Scire proprissimum est scire propter quid,


            and knowledge is only of two kinds:


Quae sunt per se notae vel per sensum, vel seipsis.[62]


            The same opposition is expressed in regards to logic as well, for according to Aristotle this is the instrument of the sciences, and as such it is external to them. According to Yechiel, instead, in order to understand the Torah there is no need to refer to external means; the necessary interpretative rules were revealed and transmitted along with the text. The Hebraic system of knowledge is configured as unitary and in itself complete.[63]

            Yechiel's tradition-based certainties are clearly very different from the torments of a Pomponazzi, for example, just as their two works also differ in intellectual scope.[64] The Pisan rabbi certainly would not have been able to reach the skeptical conclusions of the philosopher from Padova. However, this should not let one conclude that Yechiel's thought was not somewhat in consonance with the questions addressed in Christian society. The issues he considers (included that of the transmigration of the soul, which will be developed at length after the end of the sixteenth century with the Lurianic qabbalah) were of current interest even within the philosophical debate[65]; and he faces, just as his Christian contemporaries, a philosophical tradition and maybe a whole way of thinking that by then had become insufficient. Yechiel's anti-intellectualistic vis and Pomponazzi's rigorously rational knowledge ultimately reach the same conclusions: on fundamental questions, such as the soul's immortality, thought conducted according to the old rules cannot give convincing answers. The Pisan's answer is to turn to tradition; the Paduan's more prudent and perhaps more skeptical solution also seems to tend towards a religious horizon, in which, however, it is not tradition, but faith, that is foregrounded.[66]

            In a certain sense, the extremely traditionalist Yechiel was more "modern" than figures like Sforno, teacher of reason, and another prominent Italian Jewish intellectual, Mosheh Provenzalo (1503-1575).

            Sforno critiqued blind tradition harshly, exalting reason as the only means to distinguish truth from falsehood:


            The fear and zeal for the Torah (of the pure traditionalist) are founded on a story passed on from father to child. [...] God never ordered that one believe in his existence, in his power and in his providence, because faith does not depend on will, as experience has shown and as the Philosopher has demonstrated in De anima II, 153 [...] but He presented true and just ideas along with their rational argumentation.[67]


            Finding in Aristotle many conclusions that contradicted their beliefs, the traditionalists, Sforno contends, simply denied them, without the support of any proof. The Jews instead are the heirs of a rational tradition, founded by ‘Ever and continued by Abraham, and concerned with the existence of God, his attributes and many other similar questions. Rational Jewish science survived on the ruins of Chaldean science.[68]

            As to Mosheh Provenzalo, rabbi in Mantova and a jurist, grammarian and philosopher of remarkable interest, his fame is essentially linked to the extremely liberal attitude of his ritual decisions, which provoked heated debates and caused him numerous difficulties in the exercise of his functions within the Jewish community. From a philosophical point of view, however, he is a conservative, or better, a rationalist-conservative. In his commentary on Maimonides' Axioms, he tries in fact to reestablish, within the Maimonidean alveolus, that division between substantial and accidental causality, which had radically called into question an important moment of Aristotelian metaphysics. The issue at stake here is infinity in the causal chain, as well as in time and space, which according to Aristotelian presuppositions was impossible. Chisday Crescas had attacked these conclusions in depth and with productive results, opening the road to the idea of an infinite space and an infinity of worlds -- an idea which is rightly considered to be one of the main foundations of modern thought.

            Provenzalo overturns Crescas' argument. Without going into any detail, we simply recall that, as he follows Crescas in demolishing the distinctions between accidental causality (whose possible infinity had already been acknowledged) and essential causality (whose infinity had been denied), Provenzalo compares accidental causality with essential causality, instead of the latter with the former, as the Spanish philosopher had done. This inverted perspective allows him to found the non-eternity of the world and its having been created, thereby accomplishing the traditional objective of religious scholars. Thus, Provenzalo tries to integrate Crescas' explosive criticism within Aristotelian-Maimonidean thought, using the new to reinforce the old -- a defensive action which will not be crowned with success.[69]

            The great edifice of Aristotelism is therefore about to become the heredity of a superseded past, even for the Jews. It is interesting to note that the new is constructed through the very negation of a rational structure whose conceptual precision and internal coherence were very advanced. The interiorized experience of the Florentine Neoplatonists,[70] as also Yechiel's turning to the qabbalah -- like many others after him -- might respond to similar needs that will later emerge in the new philosophy of nature and in modern science. But before Galileo and the establishment of a new rationality, the rebellion against the old seems to present itself as a reaction against rationalism qua rationalism: modernity emerges, in a way, from within an anti-intellectualistic field.

            With his constant reliance on suggestion, rather than on argumentation, and with his difficult elaboration of a world vision alternative to Maimonides' -- which had been able to reconcile revealed religion and rationalism -- Yechiel moves in unison with the Italian culture of his time. An important author like Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, nephew of Giovanni, formulates a critique of Aristotelism exactly in the same terms as the Pisan rabbi:


Aristoteli demonstrandi ars incerta, quia fundatur in indicio iudicioque sensum[71]


            and he shares his idea of an authentic prophecy -- which one reaches through a free gift of God -- distinct from the one which originates in evil spirits.[72]

            While Gianfrancesco bemoaned the uncertainty and unreliability of philosophy's results, the object of continuous debates, Yechiel underlines their insufficiency. The practical criterion of the quantity and amplitude of the answers replaces the theoretical one of demonstrability. Philosophy's caution represents for him not only a symptom, but also a reason of its inferiority vis-à-vis traditional doctrines. He voices his opinion on the matter on many occasions with a surprising candor. The conclusions which philosophers can reach on the issue of the angels (corresponding to the intellects), for example, is nothing but


a drop of water in the large sea of truths revealed to the prophets by the sacred doctors.[73]


And furthermore: philosophy cannot conceive the attributes of God merely through a negative definition: God is not  corporeal, etc. But Yechiel explicitly declares that he cannot be content with this:


I would like to know what one finally knows this way, given that negation does not produce knowledge.[74]


            Yechiel takes up Crescas' famous critique of Maimonides. However, while the Spanish philosopher's observations had an epistemological starting point (the negation of an attribute is equal to the affirmation of its opposite; therefore God's attributes can be predicated as analogous to men's, but infinite and original), Yechiel underlines the entirely practical need of positive contents.[75]

            The move from rational argumentation to traditional-cabalist narrative is particularly clear in regards to prophecy, as already mentioned. Let us follow it in its development.

            As a first step, Yechiel critiques Maimonides' semi-naturalistic framework, which granted much importance to man's imaginative faculty, as well as to his ability to capture the images created by God and sent to him by means of the active intellect.[76] The next step consists in replacing the faculty of imagination with the intellect: God -- in his great goodness -- causes a knowledge, similar to that of the primary Cause, to pass from potentiality to actuality in the prophet's intellect. In this way, every naturalistic aspect of the prophecy is eliminated, and the accent is definitely shifted onto the will of God and away from human disposition.[77] The third step consists in the allusion to esoteric doctrines, which concern the vision of the merkavah (Ezechiel's divine chariot) and include the tradition relative to the "Throne of Glory" and to the "Celestial Man." But rabbis have explicitly prohibited that one speak of these doctrines, the "extraordinary secrets." This does not prevent one from speaking of the divine origin of the prophecy in positive terms. This is the last step of Yechiel's work, after the traditional distinction between Moses and the other Jewish prophets.[78] On the basis of Recanati's commentary on the Torah, Yechiel distinguishes the different sefiroth appointed to the prophecy of Israel and of the other peoples. In his examination of the maledictions of Bil’am, which transform themselves in benedictions (Numbers XXII-XXIV, Deuteronomy XXIII, 6), he arrives at the conclusion that


the nations receive the prophecy from the energy of the attribute of judgment [din], as it had happened until them to Bil'am. Thanks to the great mercy that he nourishes for his people, God caused the energy of the attribute of mercy [rachamim] to descend upon them.[79]


            In this oscillation between philosophical tradition, esotericism and a need for positive contents, the research of Yechiel Nissim Da Pisa is well represented.




                                                                                    Alessandro Guetta




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[1] D. Kaufmann, Revue des Etudes Juives 26 (1893): 83-110; D. Kaufmann, Revue des Etudes Juives  29 (1894): 142-147; D. Kaufmann, Revue des Etudes Juives  31 (1895): 62-73; D. Kaufmann, Revue des Etudes Juives  32 (1896): 130-134; D. Kaufmann, Revue des Etudes Juives  34 (1897): 309-311. U. Cassuto, Rivista Israelitica V (1908): 227-238; U. Cassuto, Rivista Israelitica VII (1910): 9-19, 72-86, 146-150; U. Cassuto, Rivista Israelitica  X (1913): 48-59. M. Luzzati, La casa dell'ebreo (Pisa: 1985) passim.

[2] The text was published by Kaufmann in Berlin in 1898 and has since been reprinted in Jerusalem in 1970.

[3] The Discourse on the Righteous Man and the Purpose of the World (Heb.) was published by Sh. G. Rosenthal in Kovetz ‘al yad ns VIII (1975): 451-478. The Discourse on the Ten Sefiroth (Heb.), has not yet been edited. Moshe Idel published several extracts from this Discourse in his article "The Three Versions of the Letter of Yitzchaq Da Pisa" (Heb.), Kovetz ‘al yad ns X (1982): 161-214 (from now on: Versions). For a description of the manuscripts, conserved in the library of the Jewish Theological seminary in New York, see U. Cassuto, Rivista Israelitica X (1913): 48.

[4] The text, dated 1559, was published by S. G. Rosenthal in New York in 1962 (Banking and Finance among Jewish in Renaissance Italy) and is accompanied by an English translation and introduction. S. Schwarzfuchs published four responsa of Yechiel's in Revue des Etudes Juives ns XVIII (1958): 116-123.

[5] R. Bonfil, Rabbis and Jewish Communities in Renaissance Italy, trans. J. Chipman (Oxford: 1990), new ed. (London-Washington: 1993) (from now on: Rabbis). Ha-rabbannuth be-Ytaliyah bi-tkufath ha-Renessans, 1st ed. (Jerusalem: 1979). Yechiel Nissim da Pisa's work is considered on pp. 43, 188, 253, 255, 284-289, 292-293, 312.

[6] See the Discourse on the Righteous Man and the Purpose of the World (from now on: The Righteous Man), p. 478. As to the Minchath Kenaoth (from now on: Minchath), the generally didactic tone of the work and its address to a potentially vast public ("and here I repeated myself because the matter is not considered elsewhere... and here I reiterated to facilitate the reading") make it appear destined for publication. See also p. 90: "I have dwelled on the subject of the soul because since the time of Hillel of Verona [1220-1295] there has not been any complete review of the philosophical positions on this matter."

[7] Bedersi's apologetic writing was published in 1539, that is the same year of the redaction of the Minchath, as a premise to Shemuel ben Addereth's Responsa, This may not have been a coincidence. Yechiel may have felt the need to react to the publication of Bedersi's Igghereth.

[8] Yechiel, Minchath 7.

[9] Yechiel, Minchath 9.

[10] Yechiel, Minchath 11.

[11] Yechiel, Minchath 12.

[12] Yechiel, Minchath 9, 13.

[13] Yechiel, Minchath 38, 39. Cf. Yehuda ha-Lewy, Kuzari V, 20; II, 57.

[14] See A. Marx, "Glimpses of the Life of an Italian Rabbi of the First Half of the Sixteenth Century," Hebrew Union College Annual (1924): 617. This article considers the alternating teaching of the two works in the Community of Naples. Cf. Bonfil, Rabbis 148.

[15] Eliyah Chayyim Ben Binyamin Mi-Genazzano, Igghereth Chamudoth (The letter of delights), ed. A. W. Greenup (London: 1912) 7.

[16] "Because we live in terms of what His mouth says." Yechiel, Minchath 16. At issue here is the transmission of the name of God. At this point Yechiel cites Nachmanides' elliptic interpretation of Exodus III, 12 sub fine, maintaining its extremely prudent tone.

[17] Yechiel, Minchath 113, 48, 89. Cf. Mosheh ben Nachman, Introduction to the Commentary on the Torah, ed. Ch. D. Shavel (Jerusalem: 1969); Mosheh ben Nachman, Introduction to the Commentary on Job (here Nachmanides has very harsh words for the philosophers who deny divine knowledge and providence: "May God erase the memory of them"). Cf. also Mosheh ben Nachman, Commentary on Genesis XXXVIII, 8.

[18] Yechiel, Minchath 21 (on the movement of skies), 41 (on prophecy), 45 (the polemic with the philosopher Gersonide), 100 (on creation ex nihilo).

[19] Yechiel, Minchath 45. See Gersonides, Commentary on Genesis XVIII, 21.

[20] On Yochanan Alemanno, see U. Cassuto, Gli ebrei a Firenze durante il Rinascimento (Firenze [Florence]: 1918) 301-316, a synthetic work which remains the most clear and exhaustive account of the Florentine scholar's work, which still remains for the most part unpublished. Cf. also M. Idel, "The Curriculum of Yochanan Alemanno" (Heb.), Tarbitz XLVIII (1980): 303-331; M. Idel, "The Magical and Neoplatonic Interpretations of the Kabbalah in the Renaissance," in B. D. Cooperman, ed., Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University UP, 1983): 186-242 (from now on: Magical); M. Idel, "Vases and Sefiroth: substantiality and hypersubstantial infinity in the cabalist theories of the Renaissance" (Heb.), Italia III, 1-2 (1982): 89-111 (from now on: Infinity); C. Mopsik, Les Grands Textes de la Cabale (Paris: 1993) 305-312. Fabrizio Lelli recently published Alemanno's Chay ha-’Olamin (The Immortal) pt. I: Rhetoric (Firenze [Florence]: 1995) with a translation, accurate commentary and comprehensive bibliography, followed by "L'educazione ebraica nella seconda metà del '400. Poetica e scienza naturali nel Hay ha-’Olamin di Yohanan Alemanno," Rinascimento XXXVI (1996): 75-136. In "Il ritorno agli antichi nella cultura ebraica tra Quattro e Cinquecento," Storia d'Italia, ed., C. Vivanti, Annali 11 pt. 1, 387-409,  Arthur Lesley contextualizes Alemanno's work within the period's rhetoric and education.

[21] Menachem Recanati, Commentary on the Torah (Venezia [Venice], 1545) f. 65a (Section Wayshlakh). For an outline of Recanati's importance in Italy, see A. Diena, Responsa ed., Ya‘aqov Boksembaum (Tel Aviv: 1977) vol. I, 133.

[22] Other than Idel's Versioni, Infinità and Magical, see also Idel, Major Currents in Italian Kabbalah between 1560 and 1660, Italia Judaica 2: gli Ebrei in Italia tra Rinascimento ed età Barocca, Atti del II Convegno Internazionale di Genova 1984 (Roma: 1986). Reprinted in D. B. Rudermann, ed., Essential Papers on Jewish Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy (New York: 1992) 345-368.

[23] Y. Nadav, "A Letter of the Cabalist R. Yitzchaq mar Chayyin on the Doctrine of the Superior Lights [tzachtzechoth]" (Heb.), Tarbitz XXVI (1957): 440-458; A. W. Greenup, "A Kabbalistic Epistle by Isaac b. Hayyim Sepharadi," Jewish Quarterly Review ns XXI (1931): 365-375.

[24] Yechiel, Minchath 23: "The first three sefiroth belong to the essence, the remaining seven are called "attributes" because they refer to His world... and they are as instruments in the hands of an artisan." Genazzano explicitly upholds Recanati's theory. See Genazzano, Igghereth Chamudoth 34.

[25] Yechiel, Minchath 24; Yechiel, The Righteous Man 470.

[26] Y. Alemanno, Chesheq Shelomoh (The desire of Solomon), quoted in Idel, Versioni 179. In the second half of the sixteenth century, this "hierarchizing" of the worlds was an established fact in the culture of Italian Jewish schools (yeshivoth). Shlomoh di Monte dell'Olmo, student in Siena, describes it in twenty Hebrew tercets conserved in the Oxford Bodley manuscript 1989/2, ff. 172-3, which will be the object of a future publication.

[27] Y. Nadav, A Letter... 456; Greenup, A Kabbalistic... 370.

[28] Yechiel, Discourse on Eternal Life 12-16.

[29] Yechiel, Minchath , Introduction IX.

[30] Yechiel, Minchath 33, 72.

[31] R. Bonfil, Rabbis 286. See also Kaufmann, Revue des Etudes Juives XXVI (1893): 93: "Parfois le critique se montre, dans son ouvrage, juge et connaisseur plus compétent que le panégiriste."

[32] Yechiel, Minchath 15, 23, 25.

[33] Yechiel, Minchath 21, 23.

[34] Yechiel, The Righteous Man 641; Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed I, 58 and 72; Aristotle, De Coelo I, 3.

[35] Yechiel, Minchath 39.

[36] Yechiel, The Righteous Man 465. See also Yechiel, The Righteous Man 469-470.

[37] See Idel, Magical 211, 237. M. Shulvass, The Jews in the World of the Renaissance, English trans. (Leiden: 1973): 328-332. Yechiel lists proofs of the reality of magic and of the existence of demons, which he takes from the Torah and from experience. See Yechiel, Minchath 48 and following.

[38] Heptaplus, V exposition, ch. 7, ed. Garin (Firenze [Florence]: 1942) 304; see E. Garin, La cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano (Firenze [Florence]: 1961); E. Garin, Ermetismo del Rinascimento (Roma [Rome]: 1988) in particular p. 18 on the "miracles of Pico through natural magic and cabalist doctrine," and p. 49 for the quotation from Pico "magiam operari non est aliud quam maritari mundum." On Ficino and the union of the male and female parts of God, see p. 67. For these questions in general, see F. A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: Chicago UP 1964); F. A. Yates, Cabala and Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan age (London-Boston: Rutledge and K. Paul, 1979). The author's wish for a vast comparative study of the Jewish and Christian qabbalah is still to be fulfilled. Chayyim Wirszubski's studies, now collected in Bein ha-Shittim (Jerusalem: 1996), constitute a first and fundamental step in this direction.

[39] Yechiel, The Righteous Man 464. See Zohar III ff. 244b-245a; Yehudah ha-Lewy, Kuzari III, 26.

[40] Idel, Magical 198.

[41]Yechiel, Minchath 108.

[42] Yechiel, The Righteous Man 477. Thus does Yechiel continue his reasoning: "And to the question that can be asked: what is the end of our existence in this state of perfection? We could answer: because thus has God willed. And to investigate his will would be the equivalent of investigating his essence, in that one and the other are the same." This passage is a literal citation of Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed III, 13 and VII, 53, and it proves how strong Maimonides' prestige was, even among the opponents of Hebraic Aristotelism. In Yechiel, the centrality of man in the universe touches on the theurgic perspective. A few decades later, with the diffusion of the Lurianic qabbalah, human activity will be seen to directly condition the life of God himself, in accordance with the saying "My Torah is in your hand, and your soul is in my hand." Cf. Avraham Portaleone, Shiltei Ghibborim (The shields of the strong) (Mantova [Mantua], 1612) Introduction. Regarding the scarce following among the Italian cabalists of the Zoharic doctrines on the harmony between the sefiroth, see Idel, Versioni 198, 248.

[43] See Maimonides, Guide II, 6 and III, 13. Y. Tishby, The Teachings of the Zohar (Heb.) (Jerusalem: 1957) p. I, 386-387 and 447. Eliah Del Medigo (1458-1493), last representative of the Aristotelian-Maimonidean orthodoxy, will decidedly oppose the idea that there be any possibility for humans to modify the course of the universe. See Bechinath ha-Dath (The religion exam), ed., J.J. Ross (Tel Aviv: 1984): 99-100.

[44] Yechiel, The Righteous Man 460-469.

[45] We are naturally thinking of Pico della Mirandola's oration De hominis dignitate, ed., Garin (Firenze [Florence]: 1942) 110: "If we will so desire, we will not in any way be inferior to the angels."

[46] Bonfil, Rabbis 290-291. To understand this issue in the Italian rabbinical context, see Bonfil, "Expressions of the Uniqueness of the Jewish People in Italy during the Renaissance" (Heb.), Sinai LXXXVI 34-46.

[47] Yechiel, The Righteous Man 471. Yechiel picks up on Yehuda ha-Lewy's famous analogy in the Kuzari (II, 36: "Israel is among the nations as the heart among the members of the body: it is the part most sensitive to sickness, as well as the most robust"), but he attributes to the heart only vitality and not delicacy or fragility, as in the original text. One can interpret this small but significant omission, keeping in mind the difficult situation in which the Italian Jews found themselves at the moment of the writing of this text, that is in 1559: the Talmud had just been prohibited five years earlier, and ghettos were starting to being built in the various cities. It was therefore appropriate to insist on the formula of encouragement. The similitude is instead quoted in its entirety in the Minchath Kenaoth p. 85, written in 1539 and therefore before these events. For a development of the similitude, see Zohar III f. 221b.

[48] Yechiel, Minchath 38; see Yehudah ha-Lewy, Kuzari V, 20, fourth premise.

[49] Yechiel, Minchath 47.

[50] Maimonides, Guide III, 17, 18.

[51] See Bonfil, Expressions of the Uniqueness 36-46.

[52] Yechiel, The Righteous man 471-2. Yechiel modifies and explains in philosophic fashion the interpretation of the Song of Songs, II, 2 "Like a rose among thorns" given by Waikra Rabbah XXIII, 3. At issue is how to save the orchard invaded by brambles thanks to the one perfumed rose therein. That rose is the Torah.

[53] Quoted in C.B. Schmitt, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola (1469-1533) and his Critique of Aristotle (The Hague: 1967) 48.

[54] For a more extensive discussion of some of the subjects of Sforno's philosophy, see R. Bonfil, "The Doctrine of the Soul and of Sanctity in the Thought of ‘Ovadiah Sforno" (Heb.), Eshel Beer Sheva’ I (1976): 200-257.

[55] Yechiel, "Luce dei popoli," Scritti, new ed. (Jerusalem: 1985) 495.

[56] Yechiel, Minchath 11.

[57] Yechiel, Minchath 45-6. Yechiel does not present in this case the usual review of philosophical opinions, but he refers to Chisdai Crescas, Or Adonai (The light of God) pt. II rule 5. Yechiel naturally does not follow Crescas in his semi-deterministic conclusions. On this subject, see the Talmudic source, Talmud Bavli, Berachoth treatise XXXIII f. 2b: "Everything is in the hands of God, except for the fear of God."

[58] See L. Cristiani, L'Eglise à l'époque du Concile de Trente. L'Histoire de l'Eglise XVII (1948) 233; Enciclopedia Cattolica (Città del Vaticano [Vatican city]: 1951), sub voce  "Giustificazione."

[59] For the consideration of Maimonides in Jewish Italy in this period, see M. Schulvass, "The Italian Jewish Study of the Torah during the Renaissance" (Heb.), Choreb X (1948) 105-128 and Bonfil, Rabbis 251-272.

[60] See for example Yehudah ha-Lewy, Kuzari V, 14.

[61] Yechiel, Minchath 117-118; see also pp. 9, 82, and Yechiel, The Righteous Man 460.

[62] Augustini Niphi Suessani Philosophi in Aristotelis Libros Posteriorum Analyticorum Subtilissima Commentaria (Venezia [Venice], 1558) 43. 1 and 61. 4. F. Cf. Aristotle, Physics 184 A 16.

[63] Yechiel, Minchath 88. In this context, the contrast between the Torah and philosophy is forcefully expressed: "To compare the two forms of knowledge means subverting true judgment, because their relationship is that of reciprocal aversion [ki hem tzaroth zo le-zo]."

[64] See P. Pomponazzi, De fato 709, quoted in Garin, Storia della filosofia italiana (Torino: 1966) 509: "Ita sunt quae me insomnem et insanum reddunt, ut vera sit interpretatio fabulae Promethei (...) Prometheus vero est Philosophus qui dum vult scire Dei arcana, perpetuis curis et cogitationibus roditur." See also T. Gregory, in Grande Antologia Filosofica VI (Torino [Turin]: 1964) 625.

[65] See E. Garin, Storia della Filosofia Italiana 536, regarding Nifo's early adhesion to the transmigration theory.

[66] "Whoever wants to persevere in it [in philosophy] shall always move in uncertainty and vagueness [...]. Those who proceed along the way of faith remain strong and sure": "De immortalitate animae," Grande Antologia Filosofica 717. But also "Oportet in Philosophia haereticum esse qui veritatem invenire cupit" (in Garin, Storia della filosofia italiana 511).

[67] Sforno, "Luce dei popoli," Scritti di ‘Ovadiah Sforno 418.

[68] Sforno, "Luce dei popoli," 414-415.

[69] See R. Bonfil, "The Commentary of Mosheh Provenzale on the Twenty-five Axioms of Maimonides" (Heb.), Kiriath sefer 50 (1974-75): 157-176.

[70] See E. Garin,  La cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano (Firenze [Florence]: 1979) 118.

[71] Examen veritatis doctrinae gentium et veritatis disciplinae Christianae V, 2. Quoted in Garin, Storia della Filosofia Italiana 593.

[72] Yechiel, Minchath 48-50. In "Talmudists, Philosophers, Kabbalists: The Quest for spirituality in the Sixteenth Century," Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century 446, Isadore Twersky highlights Yechiel's aspiration to completion, or spiritual perfection, which manifests itself in an exaltation of religious practice over pure intellectual activity. Indeed, the allusions to corporeity in his writings are not few: in Minchath Kenaoth, p. 78, he speaks of the corporeal remains in the soul after death. The service of God is described in the Discourse on the Righteous Man and the Purpose of the World, as an activity "of feelings and of all the members of the body" (and in the Minchath Kenaoth, p. 88: "the soul's perfection is in its union with the body"). Moreover, a certain importance is granted to the sense of touch, in contrast to Aristotle's and Maimonides' devaluation of said sense (Maimonides, Guide II, 36; Yechiel, Minchath 81). This change in sensibility also merits further study.

[73] Yechiel, Minchath  36.

[74] Yechiel, Minchath  22.

[75] See J. Gutmann, Philosophies of Judaism (Philadelphia: 1964) 232. Maimonides, Guide I, 51-54; Crescas, Or Adonai 1, III, 3.

[76] Yechiel, Minchath 43; Maimonides, Guide II, 36. For the analogous theory of Avicenna, see S. M. Afnan, Avicenna, His Life and Works (London: 1958). Elia Genazzano elaborated the same kind of critique of this idea, referring however not to Maimonides, but to Yosef Albo's Book of Principles. See Genazzano, Igghereth Chamudoth 11.

[77] Yitzchaq Abravanel, in his commentary on this passage of Maimonides, highlights the role of the intellect as well. The philosopher and political man of Spanish origin had been in close contact with Yechiel Da Pisa, grandfather of our Yechiel Nissim. See the quoted articles by Kaufmann and Cassuto.

[78] The references to this distinction are in the Babilonian Talmud, Yevamoth treatise, 49b sub fine, and Zohar I, 170.

[79] Yechiel, Minchath 44.