Spanish preacher and theologian of the fifteenth century; known chiefly as the author of the work on the fundamentals of Judaism "'IḲḲarim" (Principles). Little is known of the details of his life. Monreal, a town in Aragon, is generally assumed to have been his birthplace; but this surmise rests upon doubtful evidence. Astruc, in his report of the prolonged religious debate held at Tortosa in 1413-14, mentions Albo as one of the Jewish participants, and says that he was the delegate of the congregation of Monreal. But in the Latin account of the great verbal battle no reference is made to this locality; and there is, consequently, good ground for doubting the correctness of the assertion. Graetz believes that Albo could not have been less than thirty years of age when he was sent to take part in the disputation referred to, and he accordingly places the date of Albo's birth not later than 1380. It seems to be certain that he died in 1444, although some have been of the opinion that his death occurred in 1430. He is mentioned, however, as preaching at Soria in 1433.
The use Albo makes of medical illustrations creates the presumption that he was an adept in medical science, which suggests that he may have practised medicine, thus emulating the excellent tradition of earlier Jewish writers on philosophical subjects. He shows himself also fairly well versed in the systems of Arabic Aristotelians, though his knowledge of their works was in all probability only second-hand and obtained through Hebrew translations. His teacher was Ḥasdai Crescas, the well-known author of a religiospeculative book, "Or Adonai." Whether Crescas was still living when Albo published his "'IḲḲarim" has been one of the disputed points among the recent expounders of his philosophy. Albo's latest critic, Tänzer ("Die Religionsphilosophie des Joseph Albo," Presburg, 1896), clearly establishes the fact that the first part of the work must have been composed before the death of Albo's master.His Significance.
The opinions of modern students of medieval Jewish philosophy are divided as to the intrinsic worth of Albo's expositions. Munk, while conceding that "'IḲḲarim" marks an epoch in Jewish theology, is exceedingly careful to accentuate its lack of value as a philosophical production (see Munk, "Mélanges," p. 507). Graetz is still more pronounced inhis refusal to credit the book with signal qualities calling for recognition. He charges the author with shallowness and a fondness for long-spun platitudes, due to his homiletic idiosyncrasies, which would replace strict accuracy of logical process by superabundance of verbiage (Grätz, "Gesch. d. Juden," viii. 157). Ludwig Schlesinger, who wrote an introduction to his brother's German translation of the "'IḲḲarim" (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1844), avers that Albo did little more than schedule, on a new plan, the articles of faith of Maimonides. On the other hand, S. Back, in his dissertation on Joseph Albo (Breslau, 1869), places him on a high pedestal as "the first Jewish thinker who had the courage to coordinate philosophy and religion, or even to make both identical." "Albo," says Back, "did not merely give the Jewish religion a philosophical foundation; he made philosophy preeminently religious in its contents." The purpose of the book was neither to coordinate religion and philosophy nor to build up a strictly logical system of dogmatics. Much fairer to the vital intentions of the author is the theory developed by Tänzer, that the "'IḲḲarim" constitutes in reality a well-conceived contribution to the apologetics of Judaism.His "'IḲḲarim."
The work was not composed in its entirety at once. The first part was published as an independent work. It develops the gist of Albo's thought; and it was only when its publication brought down upon him a perfect deluge of abuse and criticism that he felt impelled to add to it three more sections—by way, as it were, of amplification and commentary on the views advanced in the first. In his preface to the second part Albo delivers himself of a vigorous sermon on the subject of his censors: "He that would criticize a book should, above all, know the method employed by its author, and should judge all the passages on a certain subject as a whole." He castigates the hasty and careless procedure of those who will pass judgment on an author without remembering this fundamental requirement of sound criticism. Albo's opponents certainly did not handle him delicately. He was accused, among other things, of plagiarism. It was maintained that he appropriated the thoughts of his teacher Crescas especially, without giving him due credit. This accusation has been repeated, even in modern times, by no less a scholar than M. Joël. Examination of the incriminating evidence, however, does not substantiate the indictment. Crescas having been Albo's teacher, the similarities are only such as might be reasonably expected in the writings of both preceptor and disciple.Philosophy and Apologetics.
Popular as the loose statement is, that Albo was actuated to write his "'IḲḲarim" by a desire to reduce to a more handy number the thirteen articles of faith drawn up by Maimonides, it must be dismissed as erroneous. The enumeration of fundamental dogmas or principles of religion is an incidental result of Albo's inquiry, not the primary and essential motive. It is an open question how far the claim may be pressed that Judaism has produced an independent philosophy of religion. But whatever labor was devoted to this field by Jewish thinkers was, in every case, primarily prompted and inspired by the ardent desire to defend the citadel of Jewish faith against the assaults of its enemies. Taking a broad survey of the whole field, it may safely be said that at four different periods Judaism must have been under the stress of this duty. When, in Alexandria, Greek thought laid siege to the fortress of Judaism, the consequent urgency of a sufficient resistance produced Philo's system. The second reasoned exposition of Judaism was produced at the time of the controversies with Karaism and under the influence of the polemics of the Mohammedan schools. Maimonides, in turn, represents the reaction exerted by the Arabic Aristotelian schoolmen. And, finally, Albo enters the lists as Judaism's champion under the challenge of Christian doctrine. This characteristic element, in the genesis of whatever system of philosophical dogmatics Judaism evolved, must be constantly borne in mind in judging any phase or feature of the system, and especially in forming an estimate of Albo's method.Distinctive Features of Albo's Scheme.
Times of controversy concerning spiritual things call, naturally, for the systematization of one's own fund of philosophy. Much has been written on the subject of the dogmatic or undogmatic nature of Judaism. Certain it is that the inclination for elaborating creeds has tempted the Jewish theologians to frame dogmas only in critical times of heated controversy. Albo had many predecessors in this field, both among the Rabbinites and the Karaites. But, strange as it may seem, he only followed the example of Abba Mari ben Moses ben Joseph of Lunel, one of the most outspoken leaders of the anti-Maimonists (in his "Minḥat ḳenaot"), and of Simon ben Ẓemah Duran (in his "Magen Abot"), in limiting the fundamental "roots" to three—namely, the belief in the existence of God; in revelation; and in divine retribution, or, if it be preferred, in immortality. In the formulation of other articles of faith the controversies to which the compilers had been exposed, and in which they had taken part, influenced, to a large extent, both the selection of the specific principles to be accentuated and the verbal dress in which they were arrayed. Similarly in the case of Albo, his selection was made with a view to correct the scheme of Maimonides in those points where it seemed to support the contentions of the Christian dogmatists and controversialists. Maimonides himself had been influenced by a desire to obviate certain Christian and Mohammedan contentions. His emphasis upon the absolute incorporeality of God only finds its true light when the doctrine of the incarnation is borne in mind. His Messianic expectation, with the stress upon the constancy with which its future fulfilment is to be looked for, had also an anti-Christian bearing. But this very point, the Messianic dogma, had in turn—soon after Maimonides—become a source of grave anxiety to the Jews, forced, as they were, to meet in public disputations the champions of the regnant and militant Church. Among the spokesmen of the Church not a few were converts from Judaism. These were not slow to urge this Messianic dogma of Maimonides as far as they might, to embarrass the defenders of Judaism. Before Maimonides the question of the corporeality of the Messiah appears not to have been among the problems discussed and debated in the polemics between the Church and the Synagogue. But half a century after him, when his Messianic doctrine had been accepted as one of the essential articles of the faith, it is this very point that is pushed into the foreground of the discussions. Having participated in one of these public disputations, Albo must have become conscious of the embarrassment which the Maimonidean position could not but occasion to the defenders of Judaism. In his scheme, therefore, the Messiah is eliminated as an integral part of the Synagogue's faith. In its stead he lays stress upon the doctrine of divine retribution. Graetz has argued that Albo was prompted by a desire toChristianize Judaism. The contrary is the truth. In order to deprive the Christian disputants of their favorite weapon, and with the clear purpose of neutralizing Maimonides in this respect, Albo ignores the Messianic hope.
This apologetic interest marks his disquisition in its entirety. The title of his book indicates his method at the very outset. Basic to his investigation is the recognition that "human happiness is conditioned by knowledge  and conduct." But "human intellect can not attain unto perfect knowledge and ethical conduct, since its power is limited and soon exhausted in the contemplation of the things the truth of which it would find; therefore, of necessity, there must be something above human intellect through which knowledge and conduct can attain to a degree of excellence that admits of no doubt." The insufficiency of human intellect postulates the necessity of divine guidance; and thus it is the duty of every man to know the God-given law. But to know it is possible only if one has established the true principles, without which there can be no divine law. Seeing that on this vital theme there are so much divergence, confusion, and shallowness, Albo resolves to erect a structure for the true religion.Fundamental Principles.
His great criterion in this his search is the question, What principles are indispensable to a religion that is both divine and true? All revealed religions—and it is in behalf of revealed religion that he sets out on his excursion—recognize three fundamental principles. But would the identity of these three principles in revealed religions not entitle the devotees of each to claim their own as the one true religion? No, replies Albo: these three principles may be alike indispensable to the so-called revealed religions, and, therefore, basic to any religion claiming to be revealed; but only that religion is the true one that understands these basic thoughts correctly. And the test for this correctness of understanding he holds to be the further recognition of certain other truths and inferences that must follow logically from the acknowledgment of the three fundamentals. Unless a revealed religion accept all of these inferences, it is not to be recognized as the one true religion. Now Judaism is not only based upon the three fundamental principles, but it acknowledges also the binding force of the inferences from them. As a consequence, Judaism is the true revealed religion. Having drawn this conclusion, Albo has attained the end for which he undertook his investigation. His purpose, as this analysis of his introduction shows, was not to place Judaism upon a solid philosophical foundation, but to vindicate for Judaism, as opposed to the other revealed religions, the right to the distinction of being the true revealed religion. His argument may be open to serious objection. It is certainly true that he starts with a petitio principii. He assumes that religion is revealed; and writes as a theologian, not as a philosopher. But his theology is triumphant. Granting his premises, one can not but concede the consistency of his deductions.His Peculiar Terminology.
Albo's terminology is probably original with him. The three fundamentals he designates 'iḲḲarim, or roots ('iḲḲar shorashim; Dan. iv. 12 , 20 ). Hence the title of his work. The (eight) derived and necessary truths—upon the recognition and correct application of which depends whether the revealed religion prove itself to be the true religion—he calls shorashim, or secondary roots. Both of these—the 'iḲḲarim and the shorashim—are indispensable to the subsistence of the trunk of the tree. The branches, however, are not in this category. Traditional customs and other outgrowths, of which there are a great number in every religion—the 'anafim (twigs), as he calls them—are not absolutely necessary to the life of religion. They may be removed or may die off, and still the trunk will subsist. Since the three 'iḲḲarim are the same in all religions, Albo calls them also the 'iḲḲarim kolelim (the universal principles or roots; see Tänzer's work quoted above). The eight shorashim he styles sometimes 'iḲḲarim peraṭyim, as well as, in some cases, 'iḲḲarim meyuḥadim (specialized or particular roots). But his terminology is not consistent throughout the work.
In the elaboration of his scheme Albo finds ample opportunity to criticize the opinions of his predecessors. He seems to be anxious to keep all heresyhunting within proper bounds. Accordingly, he endeavors to establish the boundary-lines between which Jewish skepticism may be exercised without risk of forfeiture of orthodoxy. His canon for distinguishing heterodoxy from orthodoxy is the recognition of the truth of the Torah. But a remarkable latitude of interpretation is allowed; so much so, that it would indeed be difficult under Albo's theories to impugn the orthodoxy of even the most liberal. He rejects the assumption that creation ex nihilo is an essential implication of the belief in the Deity; and criticizes with a free hand the articles of faith by Maimonides, and also the six that Crescas had evolved. He shows that neither Maimonides nor Crescas keeps in view his own fundamental criterion; namely, the absolute indispensability of a principle without which the trunk of the tree could not subsist; and on this score he rejects most of their creed.
According to Albo, the first of his fundamental root-principles—the belief in the existence of God—embraces the following shorashim, or secondary radicals: (1) God's unity; (2) His incorporeality; (3) His independence of time; and (4) His perfection: in Him there can be neither weakness nor other defect. The second root-principle—the belief in revelation, or the communication of divine instruction by God to man—leads him to derive the following three secondary radicals: (1) The appointment of prophets as the mediums of this divine revelation; (2) the belief in the unique greatness of Moses as a prophet; and (3) the binding force of the Mosaic law until another shall have been divulged and proclaimed in as public a manner (before six hundred thousand men). No later prophet has, consequently, the right to abrogate the Mosaic dispensation. Finally, from the third rootprinciple—the belief in divine retribution—he derives one secondary radical: the belief in bodily resurrection. According to Albo, therefore, the belief in the Messiah is only a twig or branch. It is not necessary to the soundness of the trunk. It is, hence, not an integral part of Judaism. Nor is it true that every law is binding. Though every single ordinance has the power of conferring happiness in its observance, it is not true that every law, or that all of the Law, must be observed, or that through the neglect of one or the other law, or of any part of the Law, the Jew violates the divine covenant. The anti-Paulinian drift and point of this contention are palpable.
The style of Albo's work is rather homiletic. His phraseology suffers from prolixity; and his argumentation is at times exceedingly wearisome. Nevertheless, his book has come to be a standard popular treatise, and notwithstanding the severe polemics against Albo, made by Isaac Abravanel and others, it has wielded considerable influence in shaping thereligious thoughts and confirming the religious beliefs of the Jews.
The first edition of the "'IḲḲarim" appeared at Soncino, 1485; it was published with a commentary under the title of "Ohel Ya'aḲob," by Jacob ben Samuel Koppelman ben Bunem, of Brzesc (Kuyavia), Freiburg, 1584, and with a larger commentary ("'Eẓ Shatul") by Gedeliah ben Solomon Lipschitz, Venice, 1618. From the later editions the passages containing criticisms on the Christian creed, in Book III. chaps. xxv., xxvi., have been expunged by the censor, while Gilbert Genebrard wrote a refutation of the same with valuable notes. This refutation was published with his own remarks by the baptized Jew Claudius Mai, Paris, 1566 (see Schlesinger's translation, notes on p. 666). The "'IḲḲarim" has been translated into German by Dr. W. Schlesinger, rabbi of Sulzbach, and his brother, L. Schlesinger, wrote an introduction to the same, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1844.
A very favorable view of Albo's work is expressed by L. Löw, "Ha-Mafteaḥ" (Gross-Kanizsa), pp. 266-268; Karpeles, "Gesch. der Jüd. Lit." pp. 815-818; Brann, "Gesch. der Juden," ii. 208, and Bloch, in Winter and Wünsche, "Gesch. der Jüd. Lit." ii. 787-790. As to Albo's dependence on Crescas, Simon Duran, and others, see M. Joël, "Don Chasdai Crescas' Religionsphilosophische Lehren," pp. 76-78, 81, Breslau, 1866; Jaulus, in "Monatsschrift," 1874, pp. 462 et seq.; Brüll, in his "Jahrbücher," iv. 52; and Schechter, in "Studies in Judaism," pp. 167, 171, 352, and notes 19 and 24.
- Tänzer, Die Religionsphilosophie des Joseph Albo, Presburg, 1896;
- Munk, Mélanges, p. 507;
- Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 2d ed., viii. 115 et seq., 157-167;
- M. Eisler, Vorlesungen über die Jüd. Philosophen des Mittelalters, iii. 186 et seq.;
- Kaufmann, Gesch. der Attributenlehre, index, s.v.;
- idem, Die Sinne, index, s.v.;
- S. Back, Joseph Albo, Breslau, 1869;
- Schechter, The Dogmas of Judaism, in Jew. Quart. Rev. i. 120 et seq.